I have always argued, especially in my Star Trek: Voyager Season 1 reviews, that Neelix was a good character, a kind of Deep Space Nine’s Quark who, if used well, could enrich the adventures in the Delta quadrant of the most unfortunate Starfleet ship in the Universe.
Admittedly, however, Neelix hasn’t become one of the most interesting characters in the group. His relationship with Kes has never been deepened and honestly the two characters have never shown great chemistry (and what about their break-up seen in Warlord?). The role of the Talaxian as an ambassador has gradually diminished to a few lines of dialogue here and there, like those at the beginning of Macrocosm, but nothing substantial. The daily news program has disappeared after being at the center of the action in Investigations, and I cannot express enough hatred in words for the recent holographic program devised by Neelix and perfected (so to speak) by Paris and Kim. Not to mention the death he was responsible for in the second part of Basics!
Surprisingly, here’s the excellent Fair Trade to rescue the character played by Ethan Phillips. The USS Voyager passes through a threatening territory (the Nekrit Expanse) and Janeway asks Neelix for guidance on what to expect. He hesitates a bit and then points to a space station where to stop for supplies before entering unknown territory. The suggestion proves useful, then! But shortly thereafter, and thanks to an meeting with an old friend named Wix (James Nardini), Neelix seems worried that he will no longer be able to provide services to Captain Janeway. In fact, he admits that he has never gone beyond this part of the quadrant, so his role as a guide is about to end. Thus, he does everything he can in order to get a star map to become useful again, and this proves to be a bad move since the good Wix involves him in shady deals from which he’s barely able to get out alive only.
This is a classic Star Trek episode where the actions of the characters have moral repercussions and the plot with intrigue and action is an opportunity to develop high moral themes. In short, that’s exactly what all of us Star Trek fans love! In this case, we ask ourselves if doubts about our abilities justify shady actions even if the objective is simply to make ourselves useful for our friends and the people close to us. Plus, there’s the theme of loyalty to old (Wix) and new friends (Janeway, Chakotay and Paris). And there’s also a commentary on growth and change, given that the Neelix of now has a much higher moral caliber than the Neelix just arrived on board in Caretaker.
Not bad, I would say! It’s true that at a certain point the episode plays it the easy way by introducing some generic villains, the Kolaati (with a really threatening make-up), to be exploited to help Neelix get out of trouble in a neat way, but Janeway’s final speech is far from a happy ending for him. Wrong actions have consequences, and simply throwing in the towel isn’t an option on Voyager!
In short, this is a great episode (there’s also an amazing character in charge of the space station called Bahrat played by Carlos Carrasco), albeit with its weaknesses. Among other things, I find the absence of Kes inexplicable in a story centered on his (former?) partner, is it possible that these two never discuss about serious things with each other? Ok, I know, the writers of Star Trek have always written friendships very well but they are weak on love stories… Ciao!
PS: What a beautiful scene the one in which Neelix asks Tom Paris for help and the latter says that he ended up in prison because he didn’t tell the truth! This makes his backstory compatible with that of Nick Locarno, played by Robert Duncan McNeill himself in the fantastic episode of fifth season of The Next Generation entitled The First Duty.
PPS: The Delta Flyers podcast shout out: Garrett Wong and Robert Duncan McNeill highlighted the first appearance of the Vulcan Vorik played by Alexander Enberg who’s the son of… Jeri Taylor, who created Star Trek: Voyager alongside Rick Berman and Michael Piller!
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