There are an astounding number of amazing women to be appreciated in Star Trek, and none more so than those in Voyager. The series gave us our first female captain, Captain Janeway, something long overdue. Seven of Nine bridged the gap between human and machine with a surprising look at the Borg. Kes brought curiosity, warmth and kindness in the face of mortality, and B’Elanna Torres showed how your past trauma doesn’t have to define you, how racial stereotypes don’t define you, and how a woman can achieve whatever she puts her mind to, even when that mind wants to work against her.
There should be more appreciation for B’Elanna Torres.
Torres arguably has one of the best arcs of any character on Voyager. Not only does she develop as a character over all seven seasons, but she grows in a multi-faceted way with great depth. She starts as an angry outlaw who has been tortured and seen great trauma, someone who is fiercely at war with herself and her half-Klingon heritage, and someone who is loathe to trust anyone. Yet she finds herself on the U.S.S. Voyager posted as a lieutenant in engineering and has to adapt to an entirely new way of life.
Early on, in the episode “Faces,” B’Elanna finds herself split into two different people. One is full Klingon, the other is fully human. It’s in this episode she has to truly wrestle with her identity, rather literally in some parts. It’s an in-depth look at not only self-hatred, but at self-love. While it’s a continual theme throughout multiple seasons, B’Elanna’s struggle with her identity starts off with a bang in this scenario. She is given the choice of who she wants to be, which parts of herself she wants to accept. B’Elanna ultimately has the choice whether to look fully human or not, but she ultimately decides to choose herself as she has always been.
This doesn’t wrap up those struggles however, which is actually to be appreciated. Her struggles don’t go away, nor do her thoughts of hating her Klingon heritage or struggling to come to terms with it. But it changes, slowly by slowly. She grows to accept herself over the course of the series, showing the audience that self-love and acceptance is a process. There’s no magical switch or procedure that can make you adore yourself. Not even in the 24th century.
“Extreme Risk” is another episode that truly highlights the importance of B’Elanna’s character, this time in relation to depression and suicidal thoughts. Upon finding out many of her Maquis friends were killed by the Cardassians and the Dominion, with whom they were recently allied, she intentionally puts herself in grave danger, almost hoping it will kill her. Her diagnosis of clinical depression is an important moment not only for her character, but for Star Trek itself. It’s handled with care and compassion by the writers as well as by B’Elanna’s friends and colleagues on Voyager.
They give her the space she needs while also making sure to help her in any way that they possibly can. It gives depth to B’Elanna’s character. She hasn’t forgotten her trauma with the Maquis and her fellow crew, or the suffering she watched others endure. It becomes a part of her character as much as it helps propel her forward. She is able to cope with the memories and depression, but it isn’t magically cured. It won’t define her, but it is a part of her.
B’Elanna starts Voyager as a lieutenant in engineering, but a year into her position she is promoted to Chief of Engineering. No small feat, and one that is definitely worth celebrating and appreciating. B’Elanna being Chief of Engineering is still, sadly, somewhat surprising in Voyager. This could very well be because of the fact women are not appreciated as engineers today. Only 13% of engineers are women, despite there being a 58% increase in bachelor degrees awarded in engineering and computer science to women from 2012-2017 according to the Society of Women Engineers. The same report states that only 6.1% of those degrees were awarded to women of color, which is particularly important to note as both B’Elanna Torres and her actress, Roxann Dawson, are Latinx.
One would like to think that by the time Voyager takes place in the 24th Century that it would be relatively commonplace for women to be Chief Engineers. If nothing else, B’Elanna Torres displays a bravado and determination, as well as the skill, to be a prime example of what is possible.
Ultimately B’Elanna finds love with Tom Paris, something she never thought she would given her heritage and appearance, and moreover she has a child with him. In a sense one could say B’Elanna eventually got it all. However, it wasn’t easy. She struggled, she failed, and she suffered. But she also kept fighting. So raise a glass to Chief of Engineering B’Elanna Torres, be it champagne or red bloodwine. She deserves it.
Kristina Manente is a freelance writer and audio engineer, as well as a huge nerd. Her work has appeared on SYFY, Fanbyte, Polygon, Grok Nation, and FANDOM. Find her @CurlyFourEyes