Voyager rewatch 3.19 – “Rise”

To quote the philosopher Knowles, “Of course sometimes shit go down when there’s a billion dollars on an elevator.”

I completely forgot this episode existed. The Netflix summary is something like, “Stranded together on a planet, Neelix struggles with Tuvok’s negative attitude”.  I had it confused with a DS9 episode where Quark and Odo are stranded together on a planet and Quark struggles, etc.

TURNS OUT this is actually a neat little episode, combining:

  • an actually good Neelix plot, we are long overdue
  • some nifty sci-fi concepts dating back to Arthur C Clarke
  • a clever alien invasion
  • a locked room elevator murder

up in this bitch like elevators

My science fiction origin story started, naturally enough, with Star Trek. That led me to the Star Trek tie-ins, and when I had exhausted those, I started reading original SF and pretending it was … you know.

I spent the better part of eighth grade reading the Classic Dudes of SF. Asimov. Wyndham. Clarke. Not Heinlein, though, even thirteen-year-old Liz had standards.

I like “Rise” because it combines Clarke’s concept of an space elevator with Wyndham’s alien invasion that commences with a meteor shower. Only here, the meteors are more like GIANT ASTEROIDS, and the invaders are unfortunately not malevolent houseplants.

It’s also a very solid character piece, addressing the extremely one-sided affection between Neelix and Tuvok, and the fact that Tuvok is, frankly, a bit of a dick.

Also there’s a murder.

I did try to find a lyric from “Flawless” for Neelix

This is a much better Neelix story than “Fair Trade” because he doesn’t spend the entire episode mired in self-pity and bad choices.

Not that it starts off well! Neelix’s first scene is set to MAXIMUM IRRITATION as he goes through a bit of awkward physical comedy and establishes that he’s super-duper-nervous about working with Tuvok! Because he loves Tuvok! And wants Tuvok to love him back, or at least to respect him!

Now, you know that I adore Tuvok. And I have complained, in the past, that Neelix does not respect his boundaries. And that’s still true, along with the fact that Tuvok is completely entitled to find Neelix’s whole “cultural appropriation as gesture of friendship” routine off-putting!

But as Neelix’s commanding officer on this mission, Tuvok is … a jerk. Like, yes, Neelix needs to be kept on-task, but Tuvok shouldn’t be reprimanding him in front of others. That’s not cool, man.

(Maybe Tuvok’s decades-long hiatus from Starfleet isn’t the only reason he’s still just a lieutenant. His command skills are a bit lacking.)

It’s frankly a relief to have an episode where Neelix finally pushes back against Tuvok’s attitude, and demands to be treated with respect. Like, yes, Neelix has a problem with self-loathing, so of course he’s pursuing affection from the one guy on the ship who can’t give it, but at the same time … Neelix, you need to love yourself. Only then will you be a person Tuvok can love.

(I don’t ship it, but I kind of maybe ship it a bit?)

At the same time, though, he’s still Neelix, so naturally he has maybe exaggerated his experience with orbital elevator technology. Just a bit. Purely as a matter of scale.

Neelix also meets a girl

Despite her kissing his cheek in the end, I choose to believe that Neelix’s relationship with Lillias was purely friendship. Just because, well, she’s been through a lot, and he’s a hedgehog, and also I like it when men and women are friends and that’s all.

The alien characters are unfortunately a bit generic, which is the episode’s biggest weakness. They’re very pointy — except for their ears, which I found odd — but personality-wise, there’s not much we haven’t seen before:

  • Ambassador (personality trait: is an ambassador)
  • Bureaucrat (personality trait: treason weasel)
  • Scientist (personality trait: SCIENCE followed by death)
  • Lillias (personality traits: engineer, traumatised, untrusting, girl)
  • One or two other guys maybe? (personality traits: are there. Unless I misremembered and they’re not.)

So yeah, Lillias is the standout. There’s not much to her, but compared with the others, she’s downright three dimensional, and I enjoyed the actress’s chemistry with Ethan Phillips.

(She avoids a lot of the behaviours common to female love interests in Star Trek, which leads me to think she was indeed written as Just A Friend.)

Did I mention there’s a murder?

Unfortunately, the actual is a bit of an anticlimax. And that’s, again, because the aliens are generic — it’s hard to care about the murder of a guy we barely know. It’s clever, but not emotionally engaging.

Maybe the alien invaders needed to be more eldritch?

I was also disappointed that, after the whole scheme to lob fake asteroids at a planet until its inhabitants evacuate, then take possession, the invaders themselves are just … Star Trek aliens. They’re not bad! It’s a perfectly clever story!

But I look at concepts like this and feel sad that they’re constrained to 44 minutes. They deserve a full season in which to roam free! To explore all the nooks and crannies and weirdos and murders! I want free range organic Star Trek, dammit!

According to Memory Alpha, Jeri Taylor considered this episode a bit weak because it never quite achieved a balance between plot and character right. And even though I enjoyed this, I can’t disagree.

A brief costuming note

I’ve spent a lot of time this season complaining about the male gaze, but I have to acknowledge that the second character to get a tight, sexy action catsuit was … Neelix.

Wow. Guys, thanks ever so much.

(Though I’ve gotta say, Ethan Phillips was in great shape for this.)

Other observations

  • There’s a lot of Classic Mid-Nineties CGI in this episode. Some of it’s pretty ropey; other shots are actually quite good — you wouldn’t mistake them for reality, but they’re … aesthetically pleasing? I’m thinking mainly of the opening shot of the asteroid, which is clearly CGI, but I liked it.
  • This isn’t a Janeway episode as such, but she still has a great “I claimed these people as mine, and I will die to defend them” attitude.
  • Honestly, after last week, it’s a relief to have an episode that isn’t actively off-putting to me as a woman.

In conclusion

If you’re invested in Neelix and/or Tuvok and/or their relationship, this ep marks a turning point. If, like me, you have a lot of residual affection for ye olde SF and its concepts, you might get a kick out of it. Otherwise, this is probably skippable? Two and a half space elevators out of five, but in an affectionate way.

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