Retro Review: Revulsion

While Seven and Kim work on an astrometrics lab, the Doctor and Torres meet an alien hologram who is the sole survivor of his ship’s complement.

Plot Summary: After murdering his ship’s crew, an isomorph – an energy construct like the Doctor – sends out a distress call. When Voyager responds, the isomorph Dejaren claims that his crew died unexpectedly and he needs assistance on his ship. Janeway sends Torres to work on the engineering issues and allows the Doctor to accompany her so that he can meet another sentient holographic individual. The Doctor is troubled to learn that Dejaren was abused by his crew, but Torres is more concerned because Dejaren seems to be unstable, not only in his holographic matrix but in his attitude toward “disgusting” organic life forms. When she realizes that he may be scheming against her, she investigates the lower deck and discovers the crew’s corpses. Meanwhile, Kim is ordered to work with Seven of Nine on a new astrometrics lab, which Kim finds difficult because he’s attracted to Seven. He confesses to Paris that he has a crush on her, and although Paris has recently become involved with Torres, he advises Kim to be wary of a relationship with someone so unlike himself. When Seven recognizes Kim’s attraction, she offers to have sex with him, which embarrasses Kim. Dejaren tries to persuade the Doctor to leave Voyager and see the galaxy with him. Soon after the Doctor refuses, the isomorph tries to murder Torres; because the Doctor defends her, Dejaren attempts to disable him as well and steal his portable emitter. Torres is able to deactivate Dejaren and return the Doctor to Voyager, where Kim is afraid that Seven has reported him for their misunderstanding, but Chakotay explains that Seven would like to keep working with Kim since they’re making good progress together.

Analysis: My temptation to write a one-sentence review – “‘Revulsion’ is revolting” – is pretty strong. I mentioned to friends that I was having trouble coming up with nice things to say about the episode and was lectured about my indifference to the episode’s use of Gothic conventions, which I’m more inclined to call Gothic cliches, since Voyager doesn’t adapt the genre to the particulars of the Delta Quadrant or to a forward-thinking sci-fi franchise, but tries to shoehorn characters into a typical haunted-house-with-a-killer framework in ways that reveal nothing about the individuals or the reasons Gothic tropes can be compelling even set outside the era in which they were created. If you adore certain sorts of horror, well, sure, you may love “Revulsion”…though that’s not even the plot I dislike the most in this pairing of an A story about a constructed person who finds sexuality revolting with a B story about a former drone who can’t wait to try sexual intercourse with the first person who seems interested. Maybe Dejaren had been stuck on a ship full of puerile humanoids like the ones responsible for this episode, and that’s why he finds their “slovenly carnal pleasures” so vile. There’s a single instant when we seem to be watching a different sort of episode altogether, when it sounds as if the writers are going to address the subject of sentient beings cultivated as sex slaves, as Dejaren segues from expressing his aversion to humanoid erotic activity to the chilling statement, “They took advantage of me!” But then Dejaren adds that he is never returning to the organics, the Doctor casually declares that that’s a little extreme, and the conversation shifts to the physical limitations of holograms.

We’ve seen episodes before that broached the topic of whether a progressive alliance like the Federation should judge, let alone interfere with, cultures that treat women as chattel, whether it’s the situation of Elaan of Troyius or of empathic metamorph Kamala. It has unfortunately been a problem in many human societies throughout history as well, which is one reason the topic keeps recurring in Star Trek, though there’s also some of the same titillation factor with Orion slave girls that runs through Seven’s plan to leap naked into human sexual experience. But more on that later, because the missed opportunity with Dejaren is worth discussing. The female Roman sex slaves of “Bread and Circuses” and the Bajoran “comfort women” abused by Cardassians are both loosely based on Earth history and treated as chillingly normal developments for those societies, but it’s comparatively rare for male bodies to be treated as if they’re designed solely for the pleasures of others. Asking viewers to identify with a male in an advanced society who’s required to serve every perverse sexual whim of any “organic” would open up broader issues of personal autonomy and erasure than we’ve seen explored with erotic servants thus far in the Trek franchise or most filmed science fiction. When we do meet such characters as the android Gigolo Joe from Spielberg’s A.I., we’re expected to be horrified to see someone capable of human emotion reduced to a life of erotic servitude. For the one instant when it seems that Dejaren might not only have been forced to clean up from but to participate in his crew’s sexual forays – a subtle, brilliant effect of Leland Orser’s terrific performance in a role written too broadly – everything else Dejaran has done becomes understandable, even forgivable.

But “Revulsion” doesn’t go there. Instead it creeps right back to the conventions of the horror movie in which the first girl who gets kissed will be the first to get attacked by the monster…oh yeah, Paris and Torres kiss at the start of the episode, so if P/T is your major area of fan engagement, you might love this episode as much as horror fans. Of course, since Torres is a regular, she doesn’t die, though she doesn’t quite walk away as the plucky heroine, either. The Doctor has to save her twice from Dejaren before she grabs the one piece of equipment we learn at the beginning of the episode can disrupt an isomorph’s matrix – predictable, but typical for both Gothic horror (Use the window as a mirror! Use the cross as a stake!) and Star Trek (Use the deflector dish as a particle emitter! Use the matter induction coil as a weapon!). We see the end coming from the beginning, since the episode plays its hand prematurely when it tells us in the first thirty seconds that Dejaren’s a conniving murderer, and since there are no gratuitous red-shirts to send belowdecks, we don’t even get the gory fun of a splatter film. What could be the incident that triggers the Doctor’s interest in holographic rights and protection from abuses becomes less than nothing, since the Doctor must appear bland and calm in the face of Dejaren’s psychosis, making jokes, dismissing the disadvantages of organic life. Suppose the Doctor had enough depth to think about the advantages of leaving Voyager and its dirty, decaying organic crew? If Kes had been around, she would probably at least have asked him how he felt about the experience, whether he learned anything, but the Doctor’s no longer the primary onetime mechanical observer. That’s Seven of Nine’s role now.

This is a retro review, so we know now what we couldn’t know when “Revulsion” first aired, that Seven is not an inexperienced girl in the body of a grown woman but a mutated drone who had a passionate psychological love affair in Unimatrix Zero. Thing is, Seven doesn’t remember that outside of a regeneration chamber either, so her knowledge and understanding of her physical drives and desires should be like those of an adolescent. We see that her body’s response to physical stimuli, like the pain when she cuts her hand, causes her emotional as well as physical distress. Even if we assume that she’s been exploring her sexual capabilities by herself in the not-even-remotely-private area where she regenerates – titillated yet? – she has no context for erotic contact with another being. Rather like Dejaren, she declares it in principle to be inefficient and messy. Yet we’re supposed to accept that the moment Harry Kim looks at her googly-eyed, she wants to skip kissing and go directly to naked twister. This is so transparently a male fantasy of female sexuality rather than any sort of characterization that even Garrett Wang looks like he doesn’t want to be there – astoundingly, considering the way the camera zooms in on every angle of Jeri Ryan’s stunning figure, he can’t make Kim’s attraction to Seven convincing. He looks tense and unhappy rather than flustered and excited. Harry is mostly protecting himself, but maybe he’s smart enough to realize that a woman who can barely cope with the pain of an accidental cut is not ready for full physical intimacy with a near-stranger.

Paris worries about Harry’s emotional state, not Seven’s, which is fair because it’s Harry and not Seven who talks to Tom about his interest in the other. Considering that Paris has been telling Seven that he can overlook her Borg past, it’s disheartening to hear Paris warning Kim that Seven is a recent killer and assimilator of humans; Torres should be careful how much she trusts what Paris says behind her back. It’s hard to say that the Paris/Torres relationship been rushed given that the seeds were sown back during the first season, but it’s still played out awkwardly – a first post-confession kiss that’s played for laughs with an artificial life form interruption ripped straight from Han and Leia’s first kiss in The Empire Strikes Back. Even though Paris still hasn’t said he loves her too, we hear the EMH gossipping about the relationship to Torres as acknowledged fact, with offer of a tranquilizer when she objects, and it seems that much of the potential dramatic tension has been squandered. There could have been a buildup to that kiss, more interruptions and duty calling, concern over whether and when to tell their friends, Chakotay smirking around them the way he smirks around Kim over the latter’s apparent crush on Seven. Who knows what Janeway would think, since she’s barely in the episode for five minutes and then only to needle Tuvok at his promotion party by telling an unfortunate story that comes from Janeway’s official biography, the novel Mosaic – yet another aggressive cross-promotion with Pocket Books. I miss the captain being the center of the show, though in an episode with two storylines displaying troubling immaturity about sexuality, maybe it’s just as well she’s not dragged into the slovenly animal filth of the organics.

What do you think? Chat with other fans in the Star Trek: Voyager forum at The Trek BBS.

Michelle Erica Green


Michelle Erica Green

Writer, mother, reader, traveler, teacher, partner, photographer, activist, friend, fangirl, student, critic, citizen, environmentalist, feminist, vegetarian, enthusiast. TrekToday staffer for many years, former news reporter, current retro reviewer.

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