the story: Torres proves herself qualified to fill the role of chief engineer.
what it's all about: Now, here's where the pilot continues, and in some respects it's the episode every fan who argues Voyager never figured out its premise really needs to see. As sketched above, it's the one where B'Elanna Torres earns her way into the command crew position of chief engineer. Torres was one of the Maquis stranded along with Chakotay in the Delta Quadrant, and arguably the one who most exemplified the group's inability to conform to Starfleet standards of conduct. In fact she'd struggle with her temper and general discontent (mostly with herself) for the duration of the series. But in "Parallax," Janeway is able to see past the surface and accept her valuable contribution to the combined crew, a brilliant mind not afraid to challenge even the captain herself.
Honestly, I have no idea why Torres isn't more embraced by fans. In a lot of respects she, along with Deep Space Nine's Kira, was patterned after Next Generation's Ro Laren, a popular character who addressed frequent concerns about everyone being too chummy chummy in Star Trek. But like Kira, Torres branched off in unique directions; it wasn't so much her background as an internal conflict with her mixed race identity that set Torres apart from nearly everyone around her, and yet the result was one of the most endearing characters in franchise history, capable of great depth and therefore the "humanity" Star Trek was always about. And wasn't that the point of Voyager's premise, to discover that quest for identity all over again?
She embodies everything that set the Maquis apart, and why they were set apart, a continuation in some respects of Ro's story, where it might have picked up again if we'd ever seen her past "Preemptive Strike." The first time we saw her ("Ensign Ro"), she'd already been struggling with much the same issues as the ones that drove her to the Maquis. Torres would struggle, too, as I've already said, but it was finding not just one or two helpful individuals (Guinan, Picard) but a whole crew, united in unique circumstances, less able to ignore the problems that would usually have divided them, that saw her find a positive way forward.
Of course, "Parallax" is also the first appearance of Seska, the very embodiment, eventually, of fan expectations for the Maquis, and she was never really embraced for what she represented, either. So go figure.
"Parallax" also makes it clear that the producers were always going to be interested in embracing a part of the franchise legacy Deep Space Nine neglected, for the most part, which was to be a vehicle for cool sci-fi storytelling, where just about anything is possible. Though thinly sketched, the subplot of the episode involves the crew having to figure out how to handle an echo of the ship, and eventually Janeway and Torres being forced to decide which is the real one. It's fascinating that Janeway decides Torres is fit to assume the post of chief engineer even after they violently disagree over it. Clearly Janeway values someone whose passion, though not always contained, is capable of the bold thinking required of leaders.
- franchise - For skeptical fans who still don't understand what Voyager was all about, this is pretty much the poster episode.
- series - Features the mechanics of how the Starfleet and Maquis crews learn to integrate.
- character - The first spotlight episode for B'Elanna Torres, arguably the series MVP.
- essential - As "merely" a character episode, it proves that everything fans like to claim Voyager wasn't...probably was, all along.
Martha Hackett (Seska)
Josh Clark (Carey)