Voyager rewatch 1.15 – “Jetrel”

Neelix is a sad hedgehog.

’90s era Trek had this … challenging … trope where a character who has been affected by war or violence is required to forgive a representative of their oppressor.

Do it well, and you get a layered story about guilt, responsibility and finding peace. Do it badly, and you get multiple episodes where Major Kira learns a very important lesson about not being mean to the men responsible for invading her planet and alternately exiling or enslaving her people.

This is Voyager‘s take — the first of several, as I recall — and it’s a sad, bittersweet story … about Neelix.

Despite that challenge, it’s actually … good?

A quick summary

Fifteen years ago, the Talaxians were at war with another race, and Neelix’s entire family was wiped out when the moon on which they lived was struck by a shocking weapon of mass destruction. Neelix was one of the first people to return in search of survivors.

Now the scientist who designed that weapon — Jetrel — has sought out Neelix, claiming his exposure to the weapon’s radiation will kill him. Jetrel claims to be on a journey to make amends by creating a cure for the disease; his actual goal is … honestly? A bit weirder.

The bit where I write something vaguely resembling a review

This isn’t a perfect episode, but it’s one of the highlights of Voyager‘s first season. There’s more technobabble than the story actually needs, but that is now and forever will be Voyager‘s brand. It’s still one of the better examples of the trope I outlined above.

It helps, of course, that by centering Neelix, we avoid the unpleasant gender dynamic of forcing Kira to do all the work of managing an oppressor’s feelings. I’m still not hugely comfortable with the outcome, but at least Janeway and the rest of the crew are supportive of Neelix when he prefers to avoid engaging with Jetrel — we’ve come a long way from the TNG episode where everyone tries to guilt-trip and manipulate Worf into donating blood to a Romulan.

This is your classic talky Trek — quite a few scenes are just Ethan Philips and James Sloyan, and the ton of latex each are wearing, having tense conversations. Both give great performances, but I suspect a lot of viewers had already made up their mind about Neelix by this point.

And why not? Even here, we have fresh missteps, like a rather cheesy nightmare in which Neelix imagines Kes — you know, his girlfriend — as the terribly injured child victim he couldn’t save.

I’m like, I realise that Kes is a symbol of innocence to Neelix and all — which is a terrible basis for a relationship, by the way — but really no one in the writers room went, “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t conflate his much younger (but adult) girlfriend with a literal child?”

But it’s otherwise solid, right down to the revelation that Neelix was not the heroic soldier he has always claimed to be, but a conscientious objector on the run from the authorities at the time the moon was destroyed.

My friend Grant, in his review, takes Neelix’s claim of cowardice at face value, but I disagree. I’ve read a lot about conscientious objectors, and it’s very common for them to spend the rest of their lives grappling with the question of whether they were truly following their principles, or whether they were simply afraid. And this is particularly true of conscientious objectors in the Second World War, after they learned of the extent of Nazi crimes.

As soon as he saw his home’s destruction, Neelix volunteered to join the rescue forces. Which probably involved turning himself into the authorities, or at least making himself known to his government. And then he went straight to ground zero and exposed himself to both the weapon and terrible trauma. Is that a cowardly act? I don’t think so.

Where it fell apart, for me, was the reveal at the end — not that Neelix is healthy and it’s Jetrel who is dying, but that his actual goal was to use Voyager’s transporter to reconstitute the victims. It’s all set up very nicely, but Janeway is far too quick to agree to this cockamamie scheme, and the execution is … far less gross than it should have been.

(And, like, these people have been reduced to their component atoms for a decade and a half! Even if they could be brought back, would they still have consciousness? What about the psychological impact on both the victims and survivors? Is this ethical?)

But that might just be a nitpick. I also think that Neelix forgives Jetrel too easily in the end, but it’s a kindness to a dying man, and maybe he’s a better person than I am. Except, you know, in his love life.

Other things

  • I’m just gonna keep on harping about this: everyone is way sadder to learn that Neelix might have a terminal illness than they were about Chakotay being actually brain dead.
  • I’m counting down the episodes until we abandon the pool hall set, but I’m very much here for Tuvok failing at pool.
  • Kes has a couple of outfits here, and they are both adorable.
  • This episode makes clever use of the fact that transporter technology is unknown at this end of the Delta Quadrant.

In conclusion

I don’t rewatch this episode much, because it’s a bit of a downer and my love for Neelix only goes so far. But if this is your first time watching Voyager, I’d give it a burl. Three weapons of mass destruction out of five.

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