Valentine’s Day is this Friday. In celebration, we’re spending the week celebrating love in all the forms it takes throughout the quadrants. L(ove)LAP ?
In the immortal words of Voyager Chief Engineer B'Elanna Torres, "There's room in every good story for a little bit of passion." Even, and especially, Star Trek.
As a child, I was a huge Star Trek: The Next Generation fan. I wished I could be like Deanna Troi — beautiful, sensual, compassionate, and irresistible. Will Riker might have been a charming playboy, but she was his one true love. You never had to think too deeply about the roadblocks for that relationship. As I grew up, I became much more cynical and guarded about romance in fiction and in real life. Star Trek: Voyager is now my favorite Trek, and it’s much-less idyllic love story ignites my cold spinster heart.
Voyager, for all its quirks, is infused with passion. It's the Trek that gets to your heart, and the crackling, sometimes dysfunctional, and ultimately redemptive love story of Lieutenants Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres embodies the best qualities of the show itself. Theirs, the longest-running on-screen relationship in the franchise's history, is a testament to the idea that love is messy and complicated, and that it’s possible for two flawed individuals to grow together. What’s more romantic than that?
In Voyager’s second-ever episode, “Parallax,” B’Elanna loses her temper and breaks Joe Carey’s nose. By the end of the episode, she’s promoted to Chief Engineer over him (“You’re a better engineer than he is,” Chakotay says simply). When she bristles at the first impossible task ahead, Chakotay says, “Maybe you should try breaking a few noses. Or at least bend a few.” The implication is that her stubborn will doesn’t have to be a flaw. It can be channeled to make her a good leader. It’s a remarkable introduction to a female character, especially in nineties television. The show never shies away from the fact that she isn’t the easiest to get along with — she knows this about herself, in fact. Her childhood trauma has left her struggling with deep self-loathing and abandonment issues. But she’s also a brilliant and innovative scientist. In her journey through the Delta Quadrant, B’Elanna becomes a wife and mother and learns to be at peace with her own vulnerability.
Meanwhile, Tom Paris goes through arguably the greatest transformation of anyone on the Voyager crew. Tom is initially meant to be the Riker-esque playboy, but there is something darker about him from the beginning. Riker might be insufferable sometimes, but he never accidentally killed three people or ended up in prison. Tom’s bravado is portrayed as a mask for his own insecurity and sensitivity. It’s a product of the toxic masculinity ingrained in him by his emotionally-stunted admiral father. Tom becomes a genuinely great officer and husband by season 7 by confronting his own vulnerability, and it always feels earned.
As is common on Voyager, both of these characters dismantle tropes, especially when it comes to gender. “What I remember most about being a kid are the times I spent in my room crying,” Tom says in the second season episode “Threshold,” which actually provides valuable insight into his character before it all descends into salamander babies. “Torres doesn’t cry,” he says in that same speech. “Do you ever notice that?”
One of the quintessential Tom-and-B’Elanna episodes, season 3’s “Blood Fever,” lays the groundwork for their relationship to come. People remember this episode for being as close as Star Trek comes to ridiculously horny, and also for the way Tom rejects B’Elanna’s sexual advances because the pon farr (which she contracted from a Vulcan crewmate) has impaired her judgment. But it reveals more than his basic knowledge of consent. It shows that he is capable of honestly caring about her. B’Elanna’s situation is awful, but there is a palpable suggestion in their scenes that while she is physically vulnerable, he is emotionally vulnerable. The dynamic is kind of fascinating.
In “Real Life,” the Doctor creates a holographic wife and children in order to understand what it’s like to have a family. B’Elanna and Tom, separately, are the characters who give him sound advice. In the middle of the episode, there’s a wonderful scene where Tom flirts openly with B’Elanna over the Klingon romance novel she’s reading — a nod to both her heritage and her own “vigorous” romantic side. It’s also foreshadowing. These two, who understand strained family relationships more than anyone else on the crew, will eventually start a family of their own. Of course, the romance wouldn’t have worked without Roxann Dawson and Robert Duncan McNeill, who were so dedicated to the development of these characters that they could communicate Tom and B’Elanna’s relationship through body language alone. The way they exchanged glances was often better than any dialogue.
Season 4’s “Day of Honor” marks the official beginning of their relationship. The episode largely deals with B’Elanna’s discomfort with the idea of celebrating the Klingon holiday. It ends with the beautifully-acted scenes of Tom and B’Elanna floating in space together, facing death, with their bodies growing progressively closer. In her mind, B’Elanna’s choice to finally confess her feelings to Tom is directly tied to her sense of Klingon honor and her self-acceptance.
In the later seasons, it would have been predictable for the writers to break them up and possibly justified. Their fights in seasons 5 and 6 are no longer as flirtatious or as harmless as before. As Duplicate Seven of Nine says at the wedding of Duplicate Tom and B’Elanna in “Course: Oblivion,” “Given the volatile nature of their relationship, one might have predicted homicide instead of matrimony.” And yet, breaking up Tom and B’Elanna would be like Voyager finding a nice M-class planet and giving up on the journey home. It’s sound, Vulcan-Style logic, but it wouldn’t have been the bravest or most satisfying choice.
Instead, season 7 features their actual marriage in “Drive” and the impending birth of their daughter in “Lineage.” B’Elanna still struggles with her childhood trauma and with being Klingon, but Tom has re-learned to appreciate her, and his ability to be a good husband feels like an emotional culmination for the character. On the show, the journey of mature and happy Tom and B’Elanna ends with the birth of Miral Paris in “Endgame,” an event that happens at exactly the same moment as Voyager finally reaches home. It’s no coincidence. Voyager is about hope in the face of impossible odds and the family you create in the darkest of times. The unlikely love story of the fiery half-Klingon and the cavalier “flyboy” fits the theme perfectly.
Though I once wanted to be Deanna Troi, I’m proud to be mostly B’Elanna Torres. I like to believe every story needs passion too. When she says that line in “Worst Case Scenario,” Tom replies, “Maybe you’re onto something. I could add a steamy love scene between the Starfleet conn officer and the Maquis engineer.”
She rolls her eyes. “Oh that’s realistic.”
Not long after that, she’s making out with him on top of a wildly-beeping engineer console, proof that they were both right.
Breana Harris (she/her) is a screenwriter, mental health worker, and Delta Quadrant fangirl from Los Angeles. She doesn't even go here, but she just has a lot of feelings. You can find her @breanaeharris on Twitter