Thanks to angrygoblingirl on Tumblr for suggesting I review this episode. It’s one I don’t think I’d watched since it first aired, and I’m interested to see how I feel about it 17 years later. What does it say about relationships, sex and consent? I know B’Elanna gets to be tough in this episode, but does she get to be empowered?
“Blood Fever” starts out on a promising note, feminism-wise. It passes the Bechdel Test less than one minute into the episode, when Janeway tells B’Elanna to stake a claim to gallicite deposits on a planet they’ve found.
Then, less than two minutes in, Ensign Vorik tells B’Elanna he wants to marry her…
Vorik starts by complimenting B’Elanna, saying he appreciates her technical skills, bravery and sense of moral duty. But when she politely declines, he gets more aggressive. First he questions her judgment, implicitly threatening that she will end up alone because her “choices for a mate are currently limited to seventy-three male crew members.” Of course there’s a shitload of assumptions there: that B’Elanna needs/wants a romantic partner, that she’s straight, that the male crew members are all straight. Even a human could spot the flaws in his logic.
So when she still resists he starts talking about his “superior physical strength” and how that would be necessary to complement Klingon mating practices. He grabs her face with both hands in a way that is clearly violent; something she most definitely did not consent to. She grabs his arms, breaks his hold, and punches him in the face.
I find Vorik’s proposal pretty disturbing because it mirrors the kind of escalation many women experience, and many more women know to fear, when rejecting male advances.
Vorik has this incredible sense of entitlement to B’Elanna’s affections and to her body. And while, in this case, his judgment is clouded by pon farr, the situation of an unwanted advance escalating into violence is anything but alien.
It’s great that B’Elanna was strong enough to fight Vorik off, but her being strong doesn’t make what he did any less serious.
In Sickbay, however, all concern is for Vorik. B’Elanna’s rattled but no one asks her if she’s okay, and the Doctor asks her to leave so he can tell Vorik what’s wrong with him privately. Then he consoles Vorik, telling him: “you have nothing to be embarrassed about” (except maybe hitting on and then assaulting your boss?).
He eventually allows him to be confined to quarters to try curing himself with meditative techniques. On the plus side, he gives a great lecture to Tuvok on Vulcan prudery:
Doctor:: For such an intellectually enlightened race, Vulcans have a remarkably Victorian attitude about sex.
Tuvok: That is a very human judgement, Doctor.
Doctor: Then here’s a Vulcan one: I fail to see the logic in perpetuating ignorance about a basic biological function.
Meanwhile, B’Elanna, Tom and Neelix get ready to go grab some gallicite. B’Elanna seems a little off, a bit overly cheerful and aggressive at the same time.
When they arrive in the tunnels they have to rappel down a huge cliff. Neelix’s line slips and B’Elanna tries to grab him but they both fall. Tragically, Neelix is only slightly hurt, but B’Elanna tears into him like many of us wish we could do on a weekly basis.
Paris? He accuses her of “overreacting.”
I mean, she did just fall down a massive cliff the day after her subordinate assaulted her.
But it soon becomes clear that more than just that is up when she leaves Neelix unable to walk, and bites Paris on the face hard enough to draw blood.
When Tuvok hears, he confronts Vorik and asks him to say exactly what happened between him and B’Elanna.
Vorik: I believe I approached her. I, I touched her face. I meant to be gentle, but she tried to move away, and then I was holding her more tightly, both hands on her face like this. It felt very important not to let go. I’m, I’m not certain why.
The way he describes it sounds much less violent than what actually happened, and his language seems to blame her for his level of force, as if him holding her more tightly was the reasonable response to her trying to pull away. Tuvok then explains he seems to have initiated a “telepathic mating bond” that is affecting Torres, so it was not just a physical but also a psychic assault.
Vorik’s response is super creepy:
Vorik: I have to go to her.
Tuvok: You cannot. Lieutenant Torres is out of contact on the planet.
Vorik: I’ll find her. B’Elanna needs me and I need her.
Tuvok: It is a far more sensible strategy to get her safely back to Voyager, and then decide on the proper resolution.
Vorik: The resolution must be that we become mates. It is only logical.
Uggghhhh. Luckily Tuvok nixes that idea but he also sorta puts the blame back on Torres, saying the reason Vorik’s plan to mate with her at all costs won’t work is because: “Lieutenant Torres has never been a great follower of logic.” instead of because: “It’s not logical to think every lady will want to sleep with you just because you want to sleep with them.”
Tuvok comes down to the planet to help find Torres. When they locate her and tell her she has pon farr, she refuses to admit anything is wrong. And then they find out the planet is far from uninhabited.
Unfortunately, B’Elanna freaks when one of them tries to protect her from an earthquake, and she attacks him. The others disappear, along with Chakotay and Tuvok.
Paris convinces her to come with him back to where they can beam up to Voyager. Still no one has told her what pon farr is or how she has it. She seems, understandably, a little scared. Paris promises he’ll tell her but says they have to get going. Compare this to how blunt and straightforward everyone has been to Vorik in the same situation.
Speak of the devil, Vorik’s having issues controlling his pon farr but tells the Doctor he has already humiliated himself “and Lieutenant Tuvok by allowing a private matter to become so public.” Um, you just humiliated you and your Vulcan bro? Aren’t you forgetting anyone?
Grrrr. Vulcan bros.
But the Doctor tries to get him to cut himself more slack:
Doctor: Give yourself a little credit. You’re doing the best you can under unusually difficult circumstances. If you were back on Vulcan, you’d have your family and friends there to help you.
Vorik: I shouldn’t need any help.
Doctor: I know that self-sufficiency is very important to a Vulcan, but there is nothing shameful in getting a little guidance every once in a while.
The Doctor’s backup plan? He creates a holographic mate for Vorik. Although she is obviously not self-aware like the Doctor, it feels icky that someone who is such an advocate for holograms’ rights would so cavalierly create a holographic Vulcan sex toy, a woman who is designed solely to please a man.
Quite honestly, I don’t want to think about Vorik getting it on with any one, hologram or not, after how he’s been so far this episode.
Back in the tunnels Paris has explained what’s going on. When B’Elanna asks what can be done, Paris says they need to get her to the Doctor.
“Or there’s always Vorik!” he jokes.
Luckily for him she doesn’t punch him, influenced by pon farr or not.
When Tom and B’Elanna struggle over a phaser rifle, Tom finally lays down the whole truth:
Paris: B’Elanna, stop it! This isn’t about the gun. This is about sex. But that’s not gonna happen right now.
Torres: I think it is. See, I have picked up your scent, Tom. I’ve tasted your blood.
Paris: No. No. I’m your friend, and I have to watch out for you when your judgement’s been impaired. If you let these instincts take over now, you’ll hate yourself, and me too for taking advantage of you. I won’t do that.
Okay, Tom, you’re moving back up in my estimation. He knows that even though she says she wants sex, she is too impaired to know what she really wants, so he refuses to take advantage of the situation.
Oh yeah. Some stuff happens with the Sekari and Tuvok and Chakotay. But it’s the most boring sub-plot possibly ever, so we shall move ahead to more sex stuff.
Now I have to note that Tom has also been the victim of sexual assault by this point. B’Elanna bit him earlier, and then struggles to touch him again. Now she also throws him to the ground and then presses him to the wall and kisses him. She calls him out, saying he knows he’s interested in her and urging him not to resist. While he kisses her back a few times, he again backs away and says he hopes someday she can say she wants him and mean it.
But I think the key difference in the way B’Elanna assaulting Tom is handled is that Tom is never shown as out of control – he doesn’t seem to feel any serious threat – whereas B’Elanna is out of control almost immediately after Vorik’s attack on her. She never knew what she was dealing with until it was too late; after the bite, Tom knows what’s going on and is more prepared.
But that makes it kind of awful when Tuvok and Chakotay rescue them and Tuvok says that Paris must “help her now” or else she will die. Note he is not a doctor and hasn’t even pulled a tricorder on her – he’s basically telling Paris to rape his friend or else she’ll die, based purely on observation.
So Paris goes off with B’Elanna, but then Vorik shows up.
Believe it or not, this is when B’Elanna gets her power back. Vorik says he will “fight for his mate” and she proclaims loudly: “I am not your mate! If anyone is going to smash your arrogant little face in, I will! I take your challenge myself.”
Go B’Elanna, Go B’Elanna, Go B’Elanna! Smash his arrogant little face in!
Sadly no lirpas around, but B’Elanna wins with the help of a stick and some sick fighting moves.
Suck it, you smarmy creep!
The “blood fever” is purged and everyone goes back to Voyager. And things are a little bit awkward between Tom and B’Elanna.
Damn, after what’s mostly been a really problematic episode, this last scene is actually a great glimpse into the dynamics that make Tom and B’Elanna’s relationship so great to watch as the series progresses. He wants to talk about what they experienced on the planet to try to make her feel more comfortable, but he only pushes so far. When she doesn’t immediately respond, he stops pushing and respects her need for space. And then after she’s had a moment to sit with her feelings, she comes back with the perfect response.
B’Elanna: Look, Tom, I really appreciate what you did, what you were willing to do for me. But as far as I’m concerned, I was under the influence of some weird Vulcan chemical imbalance, and, and whatever I did, whatever I said, it wasn’t me.
Tom: Yeah, I know. You’re afraid that your big, scary Klingon side might have been showing. Well, I saw it up close, and you know, it wasn’t so terrible. In fact, I wouldn’t mind seeing it again someday. Computer, resume.
B’Elanna: (steps out of the turbolift) Careful what you wish for, Lieutenant.
Bechdel Test: Pass. Janeway and B’Elanna talk about gallicite on the surface.