Thoughts on “Scents and Sensibility”

Written by  on February 8, 2000 

Thoughts by Thomas Lee

By Thomas Lee

Shortly after Lesa released the finale of "Scents and Sensibility" to the RiF list, I had a discussion with another person who had recently begun watching Voyager episodes again (and who best remains anonymous for reasons that will soon become apparent). When the subject turned to how TPTB were messing up Voyager, I asked this person for an opinion about EMH/7 versus K/7—and was told that the EMH/7 pairing was far preferable to K/7 because, in that person’s words, "The Doctor and Seven deserve each other." The way "deserve" was said, however, prompted me to ask for an explanation.

It turns out that the aforementioned person hates both Seven of Nine and the EMH (Seven being the more despised, with the Doc as a very close second)—and that "deserve" was meant in the same way as "deserve punishment." In that person’s opinion, any relationship involving either the Doc or Seven was doomed to fail due to their "hopeless flaws"—and the EMH/7 pairing was not only the ideal way for both the Doc and Seven to get hurt by a failed relationship without harming anybody else in the process, but it was also the most hurtful relationship for both the Doc and Seven that the EMH/7 "proponent" could imagine as well.

Lesa’s "Scents and Sensibility" has been a story that shows how, barring a credibility-straining force-fit by TPTB, an EMH/7 relationship would be unsatisfactory for both the Doctor and Seven (if in a much gentler way than what the aforementioned EMH/7 "proponent" had in mind). But we’ve also seen how, in contrast, Seven can find happiness and contentment in a relationship with Harry—and as a bonus, we saw the Doctor find a social lifestyle he is happy with as well.

About Seven’s "efficient" break-up—IMHO, that was not exactly "efficient." "Efficient" would have been simply informing the Doctor that the relationship was not working, and why (as Seven would do in the Mess Hall). What Seven did at Sandrine’s was "thorough." It required much of a day of programming, nearly an hour to "set up" the Doctor, the involvement of Janeway, Chakotay, and Tuvok to correct the damage, and ultimately punishment. Worse, in the process, she almost alienated the man she wished to start a new relationship with (and would have too, if that man didn’t love her so much). Given that it was based to a large extent on what B’Elanna had told her about how she was perceived by the rest of the crew, it also appeared to be revenge for (unintentionally) injured pride. (I guess Seven can’t stomach the notion that, as she looks down upon others, they can look down upon her as well). Furthermore, I think that one of the major reasons why "letting down easy" is an ideal is because it minimizes the damage done to the initiator’s social reputation. Going in the opposite direction as Seven did is only practical when one can depend on one’s acts being automatically forgiven and disregarded.

Janeway has a point in that messing with the Doctor’s program can’t be ignored. How would Seven appreciate a (reversible) shutdown/malfunction of her Borg implants, deliberately induced by someone she cared for and trusted, for the express purpose of humiliating her in public? (I was thinking of what Seven experienced in the first half of Voyagerbabe’s "A Hand to Hold") I don’t think that she would appreciate any "creative alterations" to the workings of her regeneration alcoves either.

A number of RiFers have already commented on the Doctor’s humiliation when dressed up in outfits similar to what he designed for Seven. The Doctor failed to realize that what makes a set of clothing desirable to wear has a lot to do with intangibles such as the wearer’s personal taste and nuances—which aren’t as readily quantifiable as one’s coloring and measurements. Just because Ensign Jenkins would be happy to wear a given design of clothing doesn’t mean that Seven would, despite the two having similar "coloring." He tried to rely exclusively on the tangible without appreciating how much of it, like human society, depended on the unspoken and the intangible, and that set himself up for the nature of his humiliation.

However, the Doctor isn’t the only one to blame for Seven’s outfits. If how popular the Doctor’s designs are among Voyager‘s female junior officers and crew are any indication, I think that the major reason why Seven was laughed at was not so much because of the outfits themselves that she was wearing, but that she mindlessly trusted the Doctor to dress her based solely on her faith in his infallibility as a "technological being." (not to mention her own "sour grapes" tendency to dismiss what she can’t explain, such as her own personal tastes, as "irrelevant"). It was a case of the legally blind leading the blind, and both the Doctor’s and Seven’s reputations suffered as a result of their mutual stumbling.

As for B’Elanna and Seven’s discussion about the (in)equity of male vs female "festive attire," I asked a relative of similar age about this. She pointed out to me that the average female outfits are "more revealing" simply because women have far greater range/freedom in what modern American society accepts them wearing than men do—something that is immediately apparent to anyone who visits a department store.

It is understandable that the "non-technological" Senior Staff members with human blood didn’t take seriously Seven’s assertion of her and the Doc’s superiority as "technological beings," given that they are quite aware of the extra logistical support that the "superior" technological nature depends on. (Of course, Seven did add the qualifier of "average,"—and the folks on Voyager were hardly average to begin with). Furthermore, as "technological beings," their skills and abilities were not due to their own efforts, but almost exclusively through the efforts of others. The Doctor owes his medical knowledge and skills to hundreds of holoprogrammers and doctors, and his physical abilities to those who designed and built the holoemitters of both Voyager and the mobile emitter. Seven’s knowledge, skills, and abilities are a result of Borg hardware, with the data for the first two originating from the beings the Borg assimilated.

This belief in superiority merely through who they are has detrimental effects as well. One resulting weakness of note is the persistent belief in one’s infallibility. Given how poorly Seven had treated Harry following her night over in his quarters, it was critical for her to be able to keep her promised time of 2030 to explain herself. However, her inability to accept, and accordingly allow for, the possibility that she could fall behind schedule in ending her relationship with the Doctor, resulted in Harry Kim discovering her whereabouts at the worst possible moment.

One common theme throughout most of "Scents and Sensibility" is Seven taking Harry’s affection for granted. We saw this in Part 1 when Seven resented Harry being with Jenkins—she felt that his affections should be reserved for herself (Seven) alone, even while she was romantically involved with the Doctor. During Part 2, B’Elanna told Seven, "You pulled him close to see his reactions, then you pushed him away when he showed you how he felt." In many ways, that is what happened in Part 3 and the start of Part 4 (if much more severe and over a much longer scale of time than the events B’Elanna was referring to).

Looking back, Seven probably pushed Harry away after her "night over" in order to ensure that he could not take the blame for what she was about to do to the Doctor. But implicit in her actions was also the assumption that, no matter what she did, Harry would still jump at any chance for her affections (Seven was fortunate that Harry didn’t inform B’Elanna about how she had treated him after the night-over). Despite that, Harry followed Seven’s instructions to wait for her well past her deadline of 2030.

All in all, it served to underscore what B’Elanna told Seven in Part 2—that it was Seven who was "not good enough for Harry." But at long last, Seven finally realized that Harry could be pushed too far when she found out that he hadn’t elected to remain in his quarters long after her deadline—a realization that was reinforced when he not only didn’t apologize for that, but pushed her deplorable conduct back in her face (though much more gently than how she had treated him previously in the day). Her subsequent apology for her behavior, along with the qualification to her (second) request for Harry to join her in a romantic affiliation, showed that she now understood that his affections for her was not something he owes her regardless of what she does. The doubt in her voice (slight as it was) did much to lend badly-needed sincerity (instead of detrimental arrogance) to her words.

Seven’s casual expectation of what her punishment would be, combined with Harry’s observation that "…work had been her life, her refuge even," is revealing as to why that expected punishment, as applied to Seven, is hardly more than a private, gentle slap on the wrist. Given how uncomfortable Seven is with social events, being confined to Cargo Bay Two and Astrometrics would hardly have any more deterrent effect than sentencing to 20 hours community service someone who already volunteers at least that much per week. It’s a punishment that, in the absence of a relationship to be interfered with, is practically invisible to Seven, not to mention the rest of the crew.

In contrast, Janeway’s newly devised punishment for Seven, mild as it was, proved effective by addressing what made "the usual" that Seven expected so ineffective. Not only is airponics duty something that Seven finds distasteful, it is in a very popular place that makes her—as well as her punishment—visible to the rest of the crew. The deliberate use of both Ensigns Delaney to instruct Neelix in Astrometrics instead of Seven was a clear message to Seven that she could no longer expect her talents to shield her from serious disciplinary measures any more than Mr. Paris could be likewise protected by his piloting skills.

Lesa has a knack for using elements of popular culture symbolically. "Crush" was definitely symbolic of the K/7 interaction, as was "Roll to Me" at the start of "Scents and Sensibility." The intended humor aside, "I Love Paris" certainly applied to the P/T relationship.

Likewise, the drinks Tom had selected for B’Elanna, Harry, and Seven were quite appropriate ("Seven-Seven" for Harry, indeed). However, I’m not quite so sure about Tom’s own drink of "a vodka martini, shaken not stirred." I have a few doubts about its safety for Tom, and I’m not referring to its intoxicative properties. Does Tom’s choice of drink indicate that he shares a fondness for "Secret Agent" holoprograms with Dr. Bashir? Somehow, I’m not sure that B’Elanna would appreciate the reference…

Regarding B’Elanna’s reference to a "submachine sandwich"—either she is starting to gain an interest in 20th-21st century firearms, or the Maquis experienced some really hard times during her time as one. <g>

Through her K/7 scenes in Parts 3 and 4, Lesa did a very good job of showing why Harry is so good for Seven as a romantic partner. It quickly becomes clear that Seven’s nature as a "technological being" is utterly irrelevant to her worthiness as a romantic partner. Through his love, decency, and honor, Harry (unintentionally) proved the validity of B’Elanna’s words that Seven was "not good enough for Harry." But this serves to motivate Seven to try to become worthy of him, and to do so, she has to grow as a human being.

One of the primary differences between the Doctor’s and Harry’s influences on Seven is that the Doctor influences by specific instruction, while Harry influences by example. The Doctor’s way is more in line with Seven’s way of thinking, but the infinite possibilities of social interaction inevitably result in areas where specific instruction is inadequate, as we saw in the the "bathroom" scene—a case of going through the motions only. In contrast, Harry’s way results in Seven learning—and understanding—why the social guidelines are what they are, and gaining a motivation to follow them for her own sake as well as Harry’s. It is noteworthy that, in the first week in which she could fully pursue her relationship with Harry, Seven has grown far more as a person than she did after a month with the Doctor, especially if her remarks about "atmosphere" are any indication. That B’Elanna can now laugh at Seven’s remark about the inhabitants of Deck 9, Section 12 is especially telling as to how well Seven has been able to integrate herself with Harry’s inner circle of friends.

At the same time, Harry has also noticeably changed. During Part 1, he was essentially passive, allowing Seven to bring about most of the interaction. By Part 4, he has become significantly more assertive, as especially evidenced by his quick addressing of Seven’s concerns about the "distractions" brought about by a relationship. This is essential given how erratic Seven has been regarding her interactions with him, and it kept his new relationship with Seven from collapsing due to her inability to handle, by herself, how successful it had been so far. Furthermore, Seven’s "observations" no longer rattle him, and he was even able to pull of his "full circle" exchange with Seven at the end of S & S with a little more calm than she could.

As for the Doctor and his new post-Seven social life… I suppose it is appropriate, given that TPTB have lavished more romantic partners on the Doc than any of the other recurring characters. Given his "enhancements" and his knack for women’s clothing design, I guess it does make sense that he would be the new "ship’s playboy" (As a benefit, the non-binding nature of the implied relationships would minimize any tendency for him to attempt to manage every detail of his partners’ lives). That his styles of women’s clothing design is popular among the ship’s female junior officers and crewmembers did much to point out that his styles were not deliberately demeaning of women in general, but simply not compatible with the conservative personal tastes of B’Elanna and Seven.

Which brings us to Ensign Jenkins. It’s interesting how her subplot was set up in Part 1, where she accompanied Harry to Sandrine’s and had a greater appreciation for the Doctor’s clothing designs than Seven did. By the end of Part 4, Harry is with Seven, and Jenkins now receives a lot more attention (perhaps in more ways than one) from the Doctor (though she does have to share… but she and the Doctor don’t seem to mind this).

The EMH/7 premise of "Scents and Sensibility," while intended as a "what if" when Lesa began writing it, has become something that may have to be dealt with by future K/7 stories. Hopefully, TPTB will not make that necessary, but if nothing else, "Scents and Sensibility" has shown us that K/7 can be made out of even a realized EMH/7 relationship. That alone is sufficient for Lesa to deserve our thanks and congratulations.

Memorable Quotes from "Scents and Sensibility Part 4":

  • "That’s not enhancing, that’s just bragging."
    —Tom about a certain subroutine of the EMH
  • "That’s just not fair. We poor flesh and blood slobs have to actually practice our skills to get them right."
    —Tom about the EMH’s programs for "multiple techniques"
  • "…Look at what’s happened to you on Voyager. You’ve come back from the dead, experienced alternate timelines, been turned into an alien and brought back, saved Voyager from the Hirogen. Made no impression on anybody. But, now the guys think you’re some kind of a hero because Seven spent the night in your quarters…"
    —Tom to Harry
  • "Are you up for a little conversation, or do we have to go to the bathroom again?"
    —B’Elanna to Seven
  • "So, Seven’s been keeping you fed, watered and rested in order to keep you ready for um, services. How does it feel to be treated like the prize horse on the stud farm?"
    —Tom to Harry
  • "Besides, you do, don’t you?"
    "Do what?"
    "You do love Paris."
    —Tom and B’Elanna
  • "It’s not a big deal."
    "Well, I wouldn’t say that."
    —B’Elanna and Tom about what motivated the Doc’s new companions

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