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The Trek Nation - Barge of the Dead

Barge of the Dead

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 13, 2004 - 10:17 PM GMT

See Also: 'Barge of the Dead' Episode Guide

Torres lands an unsteady shuttle aboard Voyager, but passes out over the control panel. When she comes to, Paris tells her she has a concussion and treats her injuries. "That's the best thing that's happened to me all day," she grumbles and goes off to face Captain Janeway, who lectures her for risking her life just to save a probe. The captain calls Torres "Lanna." Torres is surprised since that is the nickname by which her mother used to call her. "Then I'm in good company," Janeway smiles, not knowing that Torres and her mother haven't spoken for ten years.

Chakotay comes to Torres' quarters to show her the cause of her accident: a piece of an ancient Klingon ship got caught in her machinery, suggesting that the Klingons made it to the Delta Quadrant centuries earlier than anyone had previously known. He gives her the artifact as a souvenir, but after he leaves, the metal drips blood all over her table and makes Klingon screams echo in her quarters. Torres asks Kim to scan it, but he thinks she needs to focus on her concussion rather than the hunk of metal. Neelix comes by to congratulate her on the find and to tell her he's throwing a party in her honor, complete with Klingon blood wine. Torres decides she'd better get some rest.

The next day, Torres meditates with Tuvok, who tells her that her self-loathing probably led her to see blood and hear Klingon cries. Torres objects to his labels, but the Vulcan reiterates that she despises her Klingon side, therefore she had a manifestation of that subconscious feeling. He offers her a bat'leth, which she calls a clumsy, overstated weapon - like everything else Klingon. Tuvok, however, calls the weapon graceful and demonstrates its agility, then cuts her face with it and barks that if she were a true Klingon, she would kill him where he stood. "You're dismissed, and take your dishonor with you," he sneers.

Later, at the party, Torres gets woozy listening to Seven and the Doc sing Klingon opera and recalls that her mother sent her to study in a Klingon monastery to teach her discipline. She begins to hallucinate during Janeway's speech about Klingon honor, seeing a Klingon warrior approach Janeway with a bat'leth and strike her down. The vision then kills the rest of Voyager's crew while the chief engineer watches helplessly. She blacks out, then wakes on a ship where she is ordered to be silent: "The dead ask no questions." Klingons try to brand her cheek, but the mark won't take. She is on the barge of the dead, headed to Grethor, the Klingon equivalent of Hell.

Torres is informed that her memories of her last day on Voyager were an illusion, the dream that she could go on living instead of passing into the realm of the dishonored dead, where souls not worthy of paradisal Sto-Vo-Kor are sent. Voices try to lure her into the river of blood where torment worse than death plagues victims. The captain of the barge, Kortar, calls her a mongrel child and recalls all the times she almost got onto the barge of the dead before - a near-drowning as a child, for instance. Torres identifies Kortar as the legendary first Klingon who tried to kill his gods and as punishment was sentenced to ferry the dishonored dead across the river for eternity, but though she dismisses the legend, he told her that perhaps if she had believed, she would not be on the barge now. Then a new arrival reaches the barge. It's Miral, Torres' mother.

Just then Torres wakes in sickbay on Voyager, where the Doctor and Paris tell her they took her off the shuttle in a coma. She asks about the artifact, but they look blank. Later, Chakotay visits her in her quarters, and she asks him whether he believes in an afterlife. The man who spoke glowingly of legends of the afterlife to Neelix in "Mortal Coil" allows that he believes there are things which can't be scanned by tricorder, but reiterates Tuvok's previously expressed beliefs that the images come from her own subconscious. "What if it was real?" Torres demands, pointing out that her mother may be going to Hell because of her. Chakotay gently retorts that his grandfather believed that he was a wolf, and it was real to him, but he never grew fur.

The next day Paris finds Torres reading an ancient Klingon sacred scroll. She has learned that a parent may be consigned to Grethor for the sins of a child, and also that a relative may rescue another just as Kahless rescued his brother to take him to Sto-Vo-Kor. "I have to go back," Torres tells Paris, but Janeway balks at her chief engineer's request to enter a near-death state, citing the need for her Chief Engineer. "This isn't about freedom of worship," the captain says haughtily, noting that she would not allow Torres to sacrifice a child to her gods, either, but Torres is rightly insulted by the comparison. Arguments that it's her own life do nothing to sway Janeway, and Torres snaps that the captain is just like Torres' mother - she's as obsessed with Starfleet principles as Miral was with Klingon culture. She laments aloud that her mother will never know how much she changed as an officer on Voyager, wishing she could be remembered as something other than a disgrace.

This argument works with the captain, who gives Torres one hour to return to the barge of the dead and do whatever she needs to do to free her mother. The Doctor and Paris return her to a near-death state in a sickbay lit by Klingon ritual candles, and tank top-clad Torres wakes once more to find herself on the barge, this time in Klingon warrior gear (not as revealing as Lursa and B'Etor's, regrettably). Her mother rejects her, first believing Torres is an illusion, then enraged that her daughter has brought such dishonor upon her, but Torres snaps that Miral drove her away the way she drove away her father with all the Klingon culture shoved down their throats. When she reveals her plan to take her mother's place in Grethor, then have her crewmates save her life, Miral sneers that her daughter would choose the easy way: "I will not cheat my way into Sto-Vo-Kor."

Torres offers to take her mother's dishonor onto herself and die, but Kortar knows of her deception, the plan to reawaken on Voyager, and refuses the deal. Then Torres says she will die and go to Grethor if it's the only way to save her mother, honorably, like a Klingon. Though Miral says she won't abandon her daughter, Kortar says it's Torres' choice, and her mother vanishes to Sto-Vo-Kor. This time the mark on Torres' face sticks, and she is sent to walk the plank into Grethor.

In Voyager's sickbay, the Doctor and Paris try frantically to wake Torres, while in Grethor, Torres awakens in a replica of Voyager's sickbay...only this one has red lights, and Neelix is her guide through Hell. "I don't consider Voyager Hell!" Torres exclaims, but Neelix argues that she has never really been happy there, and if she thought fifty years on the ship was going to be bad, wait till she experiences eternity there. In the mess hall, Harry Kim says she never really cared about any of them, not even Tom Paris, while Janeway gloats at Torres' dishonor. Tuvok tosses her a bat'leth and tells her to defend herself, but Torres instead sees her mother in Janeway's place, wearing the Starfleet uniform. "The ritual is meaningless...you have to free yourself," insists Miral, for otherwise they will both be trapped in Grethor.

Torres finally agrees to fight...as a Starfleet officer or Maquis, as a Klingon, daughter, whatever, but she's tired of all the anger; she throws the bat'leth into the river of blood. The mother congratulates her on having taken the first step on her journey and embraces her, saying they will meet again in Sto-Vo-Kor...or perhaps when Torres gets home. Waking in sickbay, Torres sees the captain and clings to her the way she held her mother in the hallucination.

Analysis:

B'Elanna Torres has a very bad trip, though the journey through hell was nothing compared to the bad hair day she was having...look, one has to keep a bit of a sense of humor about these things, right? "Barge of the Dead" is the episode which reportedly caused writer Ron Moore to leave Voyager, and although none of us will ever see the original so we can't really compare scripts, I do wonder what went wrong. Despite some screamingly bad redundancies from previous Trek episodes and from movies like Flatliners about wanting to experience life after death - which all seemed built into the premise - "Barge of the Dead" played pretty well. It featured an excellent performance by Roxann Dawson, a highly enjoyable performance by Tim Russ (I do love out-of-character Tuvok even if that happens too damn often), and a decent performance by Kate Mulgrew even if she was playing the most annoying incarnation of Janeway we've seen yet.

It's odd - although Sisko was the Emissary on Deep Space Nine and therefore presumably a father figure of sorts to all the Bajoran people, no one on his crew seemed to expect him to behave like their father. Everyone on Voyager, however, seems to expect Janeway to be Mom, from wild child Seven (who thankfully did little in this episode besides sing duets with the Doctor - I am getting really tired of that) to "Favorite Son" Harry Kim who dreamed that Janeway was his mother. In the past two weeks she has sent or threatened to send four different senior officers to their rooms...I mean, confined them to quarters. In "Barge of the Dead," she very nearly turned into Tyrannical Dictator Janeway and insisted on imposing her values on Torres yet again, like she did in "Nothing Human" when she refused to allow Torres to choose death and let an unscrupulous Cardassian operate on her against her wishes. But she allowed her feelings to be swayed here, not because she respects individual rights, but because of the filial argument made by her chief engineer.

I guess Janeway, who blamed herself for her own father's death in "Coda," relates to all this classic parent-child guilt transference which Chakotay should have identified with all his Jungian psychobabble. A common theme not only on this series but on all of Trek has to do with not living up to parental expectations - Spock suffered from it, Riker suffered from it, Data suffered from it, Kira suffered from it, Worf suffered from it, Bashir suffered from it, Chakotay and Paris and Neelix suffered from it...you get the idea. It was nice that for once it was the mother's expectations which were the issue, and the fact that even patriarchal Klingon culture imposes the same standards on men and women. I don't like Klingon culture and I reach a point where the word "honor" sets my teeth grating, but I like seeing Torres getting to suffer the same way Worf did - it makes sense.

However, must ALL afterlives involve visions of people who look just like one's own shipmates? That device was overused on DS9 from the first time we saw the Prophets, and Neelix's experience in the Talaxian afterlife in "Mortal Coil" involved evil twins of the crew who acted just like the ones in Torres' vision in "Barge of the Dead." I realize the writers want to use the regular cast and avoid paying for expensive doubles, but boy does it look stupid for Torres to learn that Hell involves not the Klingon torment she always feared, but her mundane everyday life! She should have laughed and stayed there with her mother. I guess there is something to be said, however, for the idea of Hell as being trapped in eternal reruns of a bad TV show...

Oh, but this is too critical, when there were many things I liked about this episode. We got to see more of Torres than we have in the past two years. Her relationship with Tom not only took a back seat to the plot but even took a backseat to her emotional connection with Janeway...and if Janeway hadn't been structurally identified as her mother, I would have a lot of fun with the image of the two of them burying their faces in each other's hair at the end. I also liked getting to see her talk seriously with Chakotay, even if he reiterated dumb New Age-y ideas from "Mortal Coil" and "The Fight" - hey, weak character consistency is better than no character consistency! And the visuals were charming. The Barge of the Dead doesn't look all that different from any Klingon Great Hall we've seen on Worf episodes, but it certainly doesn't let you forget how much that culture enjoys blood, to drink and to spill.

Best line of the episode was unquestionably Torres' to Paris when she thought he was encouraging her to let loose her Klingon side: "I'll rip out your tongue and wear it as a belt." As a belt? How long is Tom's tongue anyway? Oh my...that explains a lot about why Torres has been dating Paris all this time.

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green reviews 'Enterprise' episodes for the Trek Nation, for which she is also a news writer. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.