Voyager rewatch 4.12 – “Mortal Coil”

In which Neelix is having a really nice day, right up until he dies. Anyway, content warning: suicide.

In retrospect,1 it’s a sign of things to come: Bryan Fuller’s second Voyager script, and his fourth-ever Star Trek script, is a grim meditation on death that looks profound at first glance, but doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

At least, unlike his future contributions to the franchise, no women of colour die and no one gets eaten.

Here’s the thing: I don’t really like “Mortal Coil”

It might be a good episode? Maybe? It’s just, like, such a downer, maaaaaaan. Neelix dies; Seven brings him back to life with nanoprobes; the experience causes him to lose his faith and prepare a suicide attempt, only to be saved by the love of an innocent child. OR IS HE????

(Meanwhile, in the background, I assume, everyone else on board is suddenly preparing their DO NOT RESUSCITATE forms.)

Just so I’m not a total downer, here’s a list of the things I liked:

  • Neelix throws a festival from his own culture instead of appropriating someone else’s
  • the Great Forest mythology makes sense, in that you suddenly look at Neelix and go, “Yes, this man definitely evolved from tiny woodland creatures!”
  • it’s nice to see Ensign Wildman again

Everything else is like, uggggggghhhhhhhh, fine, whatever. Sure, the Borg have an afterlife now. Oh, so do Vulcans, I guess?

I complain a lot about the problematic degree to which religion has been erased in the Star Trek universe, but I have to say it: this episode needed an atheist. Just one character to go, “Hey, I don’t believe in an afterlife, I really do think that once we die we’re gone, and I have heaps to live for. You’re going through a really rough patch, Neelix, I’m here for you if you need me.”

Instead, we get Chakotay and vision quests, and … look. Nothing good ever comes of Voyager depicting Native American spiritual practices.

And, okay. Neelix’s belief in an afterlife, and his hopes of reunion with his family, these are bound up in his long-established guilt about his refusal to fight in the war that killed them. I really appreciate this bit of continuity, and it makes a lot of sense that Neelix would struggle.

I just find the ending unbelievably trite. Neelix decides to live because a wee child loves him. Groundbreaking.

Turns out I owe Bryan Fuller an apology

Okay, so I checked Memory Alpha, and it turns out that the original version of this story was SUPER FUCKING DARK.

We were going to do this Pet Sematary episode where Ensign Wildman goes on a shuttle mission and dies, and Seven of Nine brings her back to life using Borg technology, except that now she’s ‘zombie mom.’ She’s not all there. Wildman’s more connected with death than life, and her only link to life is through her daughter. She wants to kill her daughter, though, to bring her back to ‘life’ so she can share that experience with her.

FOR SOME UNKNOWN REASON, Rick Berman and Paramount weren’t excited about a story about a young mother trying to kill her child. Cannot imagine why.

Then, as Fuller tells it, they tried to tell this story with Chakotay, basically going through the same beats as Neelix. Only, for the first time in Voyager‘s entire history, they … concluded it might be tasteless to explore Native American beliefs in this context?

I am genuinely amazed.

But Neelix though! He’s a funny dude! He’s totally harmless! No one will see this tale of lost faith and suicidal ideation coming! And he’s an alien, no one to take offense here!

Having all this context makes me a lot happier about the story. Which is not to say I suddenly enjoyed it in retrospect.2 But I have a lot more respect for what it was trying to do, and for Fuller, faced with the difficulty of trying to write a horror story in this pastel end of the franchise.3

Other observations

  • I suspect this episode hits WAY harder if you’re emotionally invested in Neelix. If that’s you, please step forward and share your feelings!
  • I did enjoy everything about Prixis, but especially Janeway confessing to getting “a little lightheaded” last year, and also Seven of Nine’s conversational skills.
  • This is our first encounter with Naomi Wildman since she was a wee babe in arms. The actress here is cute, but no Scarlett Pomers.

In conclusion

I’m no longer sure if this is a bad episode, but it’s definitely a case of too many cooks (and also Standards & Practices) spoiling the broth. Unless you’re a big Neelix fan, I’m giving it two resurrection nanoprobes out of five.

  1. That’s not a deliberate reference to  Fuller’s next script, but maybe it was my subconscious sending me a warning…
  2. There I go again…
  3. I’m still mad about Georgiou and the eating of her body, though. And also: “Retrospect”.

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