Voyager rewatch 3.13 – “Fair Trade”

Neelix learns an ~important lesson about ~honesty. I run out of sarcastic tildes.

This is an episode about how Neelix feels unable to confide in people or ask for help. So it’s churlish to complain that he never confides in anyone or asks for help as events spiral out of control.

AND YET.

Here’s the problem: Neelix fears that, if Janeway learns they are reaching the limits of his knowledge of the delta quadrant, he’ll be put off the ship.

You know. Kathryn Janeway, the woman who has so far wielded a phaser rifle three times this season to rescue crewmembers from danger. Kathryn “no one gets left behind” Janeway.

Anxiety isn’t logical — sorry, Tuvok — but this nevertheless makes no sense whatsoever.

And that’s strange! Because we know that Neelix can be paranoid and insecure, and that he desperately needs to feel valued. But the Neelix-is-jealous subplot was left behind in early season 2 — and hey, he’s not even dating Kes anymore! So the return of those traits, with no effort made to tie Neelix’s behaviour now into his earlier fears about losing Kes, feels like it comes almost out of nowhere.

I’m not sure this episode can be saved

I can certainly see places where the script can be improved — a scene between Neelix and Kes, for example, establishing the new post break-up status quo, and maybe highlighting that, without that relationship, Neelix feels less secure in his place on Voyager.

And, if I could go back in time with a red pen, I would completely rewrite the scene between Neelix and Tom, which is less about letting the characters interact than Imparting A Lesson To Neelix.

But truthfully, I think this is a weak concept, poorly executed. The script tries to get into the gritty side of delta quadrant life — corrupt station managers, drugs, theft, murder — but also wants to impart an important lesson about honesty. It’s like trying to add a PSA to every episode of The Wire — it undermines the story AND insults the audience.

Now, I’m biased — I do not like didactic fiction. One of the challenges of writing for young readers is finding a balance between modelling good behaviour versus imparting a moral lesson. Voyager is aimed at a primarily adult audience, and this half-assed moralising is just insulting.

The good news is that this is the low point of the season.

Probably. I just looked over an episode list, and there are a couple of episodes I recall being less-than-stellar, but nothing quite this dreary. Certainly I don’t expect to find myself with nothing to say about some of the upcoming episodes, regardless of whether or not they’re actually good!

Is it a Neelix problem?

I like Neelix more than most fans, but I really do think that he should have been demoted to a recurring role by now. Which is no reflection on Ethan Philips, who seems great, or on his performance, but as usual, I’m looking at this enormous regular cast and asking, what purpose do these characters serve?

(Given time travel and complete control over the Voyager side of the franchise, I’d have moved Neelix to recurring status in season 3, likewise demoted Kes in season 4 — but kept her around — and I’d have ended season 5 by killing Chakotay, whose narrative purpose by that point was limited. Season 6 would see Tuvok moving into the first officer role, Harry — promoted to lieutenant — shifting over to tactical, with various subplots about Tuvok and Harry adjusting to their new positions, and Seven goes to ops so she’s nice and central on the bridge. There, the regular cast goes from nine people to a more manageable six, and the recurring cast is deepened.)

Speaking of recurring characters: Ugh, Vorik

Sometimes, a showrunner casts their kid as a weird creep and you get a great character like Glen from Mad Men.

Other times, you get … Vorik. Who is merely odious and a bit mansplainy here, but he’s a couple of episodes away from assaulting B’Elanna. You know I love Vulcans, even the terrible ones, but I have to draw the line at Vorik.

Other observations

  • There were, like, no women on this space station full of criminals. Certainly none with speaking roles, and I didn’t seen any female extras.
  • Have you ever noticed how merchants in Trek always speak with a particular oily cadence? It jumped out at me because I also watched an episode of ENT over the weekend. Merchants are always sleazy and a bit desperate; no one is ever just working a shitty retail job to get by.

In conclusion

Look. You already know that lies, theft, murder and drug trafficking are bad. One space narcotic out of five.

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