Thursday, August 10, 2017

Voyager 3x16 "Blood Fever"

rating: ****

the story: B'Elanna gets to enjoy pon farr.

what it's all about: One of the most irrational fears Star Trek fans have exhibited over the years is revisiting familiar territory.  This fear has some basis from franchise creators themselves, including Gene Roddenberry, who initially wanted to distance Next Generation from the original series.  Then, of course, Worf became a signature character of the new series, and as a result the Klingons underwent an incredible renaissance.

But fans still fear revisiting familiar territory.  They became obsessive about it with Voyager and Enterprise, and they're threatening to do it all over again with Discovery.  They insist that the only true Star Trek is the stuff that explores the further future.  They seem to have conveniently ignored what Star Trek itself has said about the further future, in sometimes exquisite detail.  But I digress.  Somewhat.

"Blood Fever" calls this to mind as it's basically an update of the classic "Amok Time," in which a Vulcan (originally Spock, this time the recurring Vorik) experiences pon farr, which temporarily drives them crazy.  The big difference with "Blood Fever" is that Vorik was created for this specific purpose.  He makes a few appearances before it and a few appearances later, but basically his only purpose is to tell a story that would otherwise have involved Tuvok (he later experiences pon farr, too, by the way), an inevitability in the premise of a series where the crew is stranded for an extended period of time away from home. 

The benefits are legion.  First, the existence of Vorik confirms that since Spock served in Starfleet, Vulcan presence has increased, so that two Vulcans serving on the same ship happens.  Second, a Vulcan with whom audiences are not emotionally attached is allowed to get even crazier than Spock did.  Third, it further contrasts Tuvok with what we've seen from other Vulcans.  He turned out to be even more cerebral (as chief of security he undertook criminal investigations on a routine basis) and spiritual than Spock, who tended to focus almost exclusively on logic and the contrasts he noticed with humans like Bones McCoy. 

Fourth, and this is actually the big one, has nothing to do with Vulcans at all, because this is actually a B'Elanna episode.  I still have no idea how she never became one of the show's most beloved characters, because arguably she was consistently the best in the series, from the very start, a trailblazer who took what Ro Laren and Major Kira began before her and managed to be a fierce, independent woman who rarely compromised.  Except being the one out of the three to find lasting happiness with someone, an arc that begins in "Blood Fever," with Tom Paris.

Paris was the Starfleet rebel who had the most in common with the former Maquis crew, had actually tried joining the Maquis, but had never shared much screen time with B'Elanna.  But from this point onward, they would develop a romance where their personalities, their sometimes-alienating instincts, would come together at last, culminating in a marriage and a daughter in the final season.

Wait, and fifth: this episode also marks the beginning of the Borg in the series.  Arguably Voyager did more than Next Generation (second only to First Contact) in fleshing out the Collective beyond the bogeymen who once assimilated Picard and launched an epic invasion into the Alpha Quadrant.  It marks the slow burn to the season finale, "Scorpion," in which the Borg make their official debut, Voyager updating and improving on the approach Next Generation originally took to the Collective.

I know, a lot of that is blasphemy.  But I don't fear Star Trek fans.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Between pon farr and the Borg, this one speaks to the heart of Star Trek mythology.
  • series - The pon farr was inevitable in the long journey home, and so were the Borg.
  • character - B'Elanna in another stellar spotlight, a nearly unblemished record.
  • essential - In a lot of ways the beginning of a bold new era.
notable guest-stars:
Alexander Enberg (Vorik)

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