Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Jetrel"

***

Air date: 5/15/1995
Teleplay by Jack Klein & Karen Klein and Kenneth Biller
Story by James Thomton & Scott Nimerfro
Directed by Kim Friedman

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Those are consequences, Doctor Jetrel." — Neelix

Voyager begins to show evidence of promise by delivering one of its better dramas, with a parable that has writing memorable enough to make me forgive the writers for the horrendous "Cathexis," not to mention its commendable performances.

Neelix finds himself facing up to his disturbing past when a Haakonian scientist named Dr. Jetrel (James Sloyan) returns to see him. Jetrel invented the Metreon Cascade, a weapon of mass destruction that was used by Haakon on a Talaxian lunar colony when the two planets were at war 15 years ago. The Cascade resulted in over 300,000 deaths, including Neelix's entire family.

Though an all-too-obvious allegory for the U.S.'s bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, "Jetrel" looks at the man who actually developed this weapon and how he copes with the consequences of his invention. James Sloyan (who has made guest appearances on both TNG and DS9) is wonderful as Jetrel. At the same time, this episode opens the door to Neelix's backstory and supplies his character with a depth of sophistication and self-torment that I could never expect to see from his DS9 comic relief counterpart, Quark. Who would've thought Neelix was a war veteran? It's as big a show as Ethan Phillips has had to carry (the first show, actually), and he delivers a convincing on-par performance.

No doubt about it, Neelix hates Dr. Jetrel. He holds Jetrel personally responsible for the Haakonian's use of the weapon and for all the death and destruction caused by it. But Neelix is not just angry at Jetrel for inventing the Cascade. He finds himself venting other anger at Jetrel—including anger at himself he had been holding in since the war. Another example that the series does inner conflict well, this episode reveals guilt Neelix put upon himself for going AWOL from his military unit prior to the Cascade. And I can't shake the feeling that Neelix feels he should have died on the lunar colony along with his family.

Jetrel has come to see Neelix to determine whether he has a dormant metreon-induced disease caused by radiation aftereffects of the Cascade. The disease is a terminal one, but Jetrel hopes that studying many Talaxians will give him a chance to develop a cure. It's evident Jetrel feels a heavy weight for having developed a weapon that caused so many deaths, and his desire to cure Talaxians of this disease is an attempt at redemption.

Neelix finds this attempt at redemption disgusting. Watching these two characters debate the polemics of the mass-killing weapon is one of the unsettling highlights of the episode, especially the scene in sickbay where Neelix tells the story of his return to the colony to search for survivors. Here, we see Jetrel reveal his true self: His spirit died the day his weapon was unleashed, and he was unable to live with the consequences.

The fact that Jetrel himself is dying of the radiation disease makes him quite a tragic character. He knows he will die with 300,000 deaths on his conscience, and there's nothing he can do about it.

The only problem I have with this installment is its excessive ending, in which Jetrel unveils his scientific theory to bring back the victims of the Cascade. Using plenty of technobabble, he explains the true reason why he came aboard the Voyager—to reverse the vaporization process of the Cascade by using the transporter beam and some other cleverness. Though the theory ultimately fails, this idea is still quite implausible, and not really necessary. I don't think the story needed to have Jetrel attempt to undo the effects of his weapon to prove that he's not a monster. The ending somewhat diminishes the subtlety of Jetrel's character. This is unfortunate because his subtlety was one of the reasons his character worked so well.

In any case, "Jetrel" is a winner—a thoughtful parable that takes an appropriately sombering tone and has an effectively appropriate low-key score by Dennis McCarthy.

Previous episode: Faces
Next episode: Learning Curve

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15 comments on this review

Skids - Sat, Sep 13, 2008 - 9:42am (USA Central)
Sloyan is quite good here; I'm surprised he never got a series. He seems to have just guest-starred on about 1000 series but never got his own. Neelix is an incredibly annoying character.
Rob in Michigan - Sun, Sep 21, 2008 - 5:09pm (USA Central)
One of the best moments in the episode, to me, is also its quietest. When Janeway asks after Neelix's family after he explains (a bit overacted IMO) about the Cascade, and he simply shakes his head while unable to hold back his tears.

This episode really 'humanized' the character and stopped him from being a complete cartoon.
Firestone - Sat, Apr 24, 2010 - 4:55am (USA Central)
The dream sequence with a burned Kes was disturbing though. Possibly the most realistic victim portrayal ever on all the series. I can't even remember it from the first run or any reruns I've seen. Maybe the network here censored it.
Destructor - Sun, Mar 6, 2011 - 11:04pm (USA Central)
I thought the last line in the episode "I forgive you." was very powerful, as well. In a world where the tendency is to go 'dark', it's actually quite an acknowledgement that you have to forgive, to heal.
Carbetarian - Sat, Apr 9, 2011 - 3:35pm (USA Central)
This episode tried to be DS9's duet and didn't quite hit the mark. Still, this was a very good episode. I teared up several times. Three stars from me too!
Milica - Sun, Jul 22, 2012 - 6:06am (USA Central)
Neelix is so so annoying. And his relationship with Kes is gross - he seems to be her sleazy uncle. This was a very annoying and boring episode for me.
Ken - Fri, Feb 1, 2013 - 2:48am (USA Central)
This episode is just horrible. How on earth did Jammer give this 3 stars is beyond me.

First, I have no idea why Janeway is so welcoming to this doctor who designed and implemented a weapon that murdered millions. Since we've received no indication that the Talaxians are an aggressive species, we gotta assume they were the defenders and didn't instigate the war. Based on what we learn about the alien's government, they probably did. So why on earth does Janeway and the rest of the crew welcome him with open arms?

As annoying as Neelix was, his attitudes toward Jetral are entirely justified, and I cannot understand for the life of me why nobody else on the ship thinks the same thing. His judgements are entirely rational, and he's being rationally for a change.

The writers seem to want to get across this concept of neutrality, or forgiveness... but that just flies in the face of everything we know today about justice. So does Tuvok value justice when it's against a single murderer, but not someone responsibility for the deaths of millions?

Again, everyone on the ship is acting so irrational - all because the writers want to paint the picture that Starfleet officers are "above" this sort of thing or something - I really don't understand it. It's as if Starfleet can't tell or is afraid to judge right from wrong. It's okay to accept alien cultures differences, but murder is murder, and as long as you don't judge murder for what it is, you open yourself up to all sorts of problems with morality and hypocrisy.

At the end of the episode, even Kes tries to convince Neelix that he shouldn't be mad at him - and that's he's really just mad of himself. This is a total cop-out. I don't care if Neelix was or wasn't a coward during the war - his attitudes toward Jetral are entirely justified, yet Kes seems to think he shouldn't make these judgements. What is she - nuts? Does she welcome mass murderers with open arms too?

Jetral is later "redeemed" somewhat at the end of the story by attempting to fix the damage he caused. If we had known this from the start, the characters actions of accepting him would have made a little more sense - but that's the thing, none of the Voyager crew knew this to be case.

Lastly, I don't know how/why the doctor couldn't figure out that nothing was wrong with Neelix. You'd think the doctor would be interested in how Jetral's instruments function to verify his conclusions to Janeway, but none of this happened even though it *should* have happened - just for the sake of moving the story along. Just wonderful.

This episode is just bad, and it doesn't even get a single star from me. The crew is totally out of character, and they take positions that are completely contrary what they've taken on other episodes in the series. The writers were trying to tell a story about acceptance - regardless of how evil a man is - but this is the wrong message to send. It *is* okay to judge evil for what it is, and it's also ago to hold them in contempt and punish them for it too.

And people wonder why Voyager was such a bad series.
xaaos - Thu, Mar 21, 2013 - 2:53pm (USA Central)
At 16'30'' in this episode, Kes looks so damn cute, I instantly fell in love with her!
Howard - Thu, Apr 11, 2013 - 4:43am (USA Central)
This seemed a very DS9-like episode to me. Could have been something like "Duet" or many of the other episodes where individual Cardassians are confronted with their own or their government's actions during the occupation.

The screenplay or the acting weren't up to that standard, but an enjoyable episode nonetheless, I like this sort of thing. 3/4 seems about right.
T'Paul - Wed, Sep 4, 2013 - 7:39am (USA Central)
I agree with Jammer that this was very well done.

However where I don't agree with Jammer is with the ending. I think that the plan to rematerialise everybody is simply part of the guilt and torment of Jetrel, driven mad by remorse if you will, and I think it adds to the character.

What makes this ending more serious is the fact that the technique does not work at the end... if it had worked, that would have taken away depth from the character, but as it didn't, it adds to his tragic nature.
Ric - Fri, Mar 7, 2014 - 1:19am (USA Central)
Good episode, with a very refreshing take on Neelix that goes beyond the comical relief he has been so far (although the ridiculous clothes he keeps using are disturbing and keep reminding us how he is sort of the predecessor of Star Wars' Jar Jar Binks).

Anyway, the plot was quite interesting, with credible dillemas and this Eisten doctor suffering for having created the "bomb".

I agree that the captain was a bit too easy on the doctor, and everybody was too trustful. This is the sort of situation where I especially miss Picard-level of acting delivery. I mean, this is the sort of situation when Picard would have taken the same decisions, but with that face of whom is being pragmatic to save one's life, but disgusted to have to deal with the doctor.

Anyway, I digress... Overall, this season has been quite consistent in my opinion. Despite people warning me that Voyager disapoints later (this is my first watching), season 1 was a good start.
Londonboy73 - Fri, Mar 7, 2014 - 10:18am (USA Central)
Ric - I wouldn't take much notice of what people have told you about Voyager disappointments.

I have watched all the Star Trek incarnations - and Voyager is by far and away my favorite. I don't dislike any of the others I just enjoyed Voyager the most.

The main thing is you are enjoying it and as a television program after season 1 - you can't say fairer than that!
Vylora - Tue, Aug 19, 2014 - 2:23pm (USA Central)
A rather poignant and moving episode that brings up probing questions about the ill-use of scientific progress, the moral implications thereof, and its devastating consequences. Smartly written, acted, and directed. Easily one of the best of season one. The ending was a bit of a stretch, but understandable in Jetrel's need to prove himself before his death.

3.5 stars.
Peremensoe - Sat, Oct 25, 2014 - 11:51pm (USA Central)
I agree with Ken.

Neelix reacts with horror... he explains, in anguish, how Jetrel killed his family and so many thousands of other civilians... and, with no further ado, the very next scene is Janeway welcoming the man onto the ship?!
W T F

I don't think the un-vaporization scheme ever had a chance of working. Neelix's first instinct there was right: Jetrel was out of his mind.

The "redemption" ending was BS all around. The Cascade was "punishment for our hatred"? Really, all the charred children deserved it?

No, mass murder *is* monstrous. Unforgivable, irredeemable.

Like this episode. Zero stars.
Skeptical - Sun, Nov 2, 2014 - 10:19pm (USA Central)

I don't have a problem with Janeway bringing Jetrel on board. After all, he stated earlier that his reasons for doing so was concern for Neelix's health, and it makes sense that Janeway would be willing to meet with him in order to ensure a crew member's safety, even if that crew member doesn't want to go through with it. And she was reasonable unfriendly to Jetrel in their initial encounters. As for the lack of security surrounding Jetrel, well, when has Starfleet ever had good security?

As for the episode, I had a lot of trepidation coming in. I generally don't like it when Trek does issues, and especially when they start using analogies. Admittedly, TNG doing the IRA and DS9 doing the Holocaust actually worked out decently. But here? I'm not a fan. I don't think it works on four separate (but not quite equal) grounds:

1) The thinly-veiled atomic bomb analogy. I know it can be a touchy issue, but it's not a matter of what was presented. It's how it was presented. If you want to make a show that argues that Hiroshima was morally unacceptable (and clearly that's what they were going with here), then you have to stand up and say it. You have to make the arguments clearly and rationally. You can't just beat up on a straw man. Which is essentially what Jetrel was. What were his arguments in favor of the WMD? It wasn't his choice to use it. And that you can't stop the progress of science. And that they only planned to kill everyone quickly, and didn't know that it would kill people slowly too. Wow, that's real convincing.

In contrast, if these sorts of arguments were hurled at US personnel involved in Hiroshima, they would be better equipped with arguments, that the Japanese attacked first, that the atrocities in China and elsewhere justified dismantling the Japanese state, that the invasion of Japan would have had a much greater death toll, etc. etc. But Jetrel didn't offer anything of the sort. His race was just naturally assumed to be the bad guys in this fight because Neelix is a regular cast member. Sure, there were a few side comments (Neelix saying he thought this was an unjust war), but no real debate on the matter. The episode decided that Jetrel's race was monstrous for even thinking up the Cascade, end of story. And because they decided that, they went out of their way to tell us that. End of story. It's hard to cheer for polemics.

The worst part about this is that I recognized the actor who played Jetrel; he also played Jarok in TNG's Defector. There, he played an "enemy," with hidden plans, hidden motives, and oh yes, a massacre in his past. And he did it very well. This is an actor who has the chops to play a complicated moral character (and given what he had to work with in this episode, he did a darned good job). Unfortunately, the episode didn't give him a chance to shine.

Oh sure, you could say he was a complicated character because he wanted to help at the end. But no, that doesn't work. The episode strongly implies that he is really racked with guilt over the Cascade and is trying to atone for his sins. Jetrel could have been interested in saving those lives after the war regardless of how justified the Cascade was. He still could have been a complicated character. But the episode's refusal to consider the other side really hurts the show.

2) That said, Neelix's abrupt about-face on Jetrel was even worse. "I'm not really mad at you about killing my family; I'm mad at myself for being a coward." Really? See, maybe one can justify the Cascade weapon. But to Neelix, it was personal. I'm pretty sure the grief he felt for his family's death was real. And regardless of how an impartial observer might judge Jetrel, Neelix has every right to be irrational about this issue. Big, weighty issues are big and weighty precisely because they are complicated, precisely because the universe is not always nice. In the decision whether or not to drop the bomb, both decisions will have nasty consequences. Both decisions will result in people dying; it just happens to be different people. And while someone observing the dilemma from a distance (of space and/or time) might be able to judge the situation impartially, it's much harder for someone who would be marked for death by such a weighty decision.

I mean, I don't mind that there was some sort of reconciliation between Neelix and Jetrel, but the way they did it was so ham-handed that it ruined its effectiveness. Neelix had a very good reason to be upset at Jetrel, and to wash it away and say that it was due at least in part to Neelix's cowardice is just silly.

3) Jetrel having one last chance at redemption and then dying was rather cliched. And really, kind of irrelevant. Once that revelation appeared, I just started rolling my eyes. And actually, although I said all my problems with the episode were separate, there is a theme appearing. Namely, that this episode tried to cram so much angst from so many different angles. First we had the atrocity. Then we had the revelation of Neelix's cowardice. Then we had Jetrel dying. Couple that with the mystery of Jetrel's real mission and then the drama of that final mission, and, well, there wasn't enough time to focus on any one thing. Maybe that's why the Hiroshima analogy felt so one-sided. Maybe that's why Neelix's turnaround on Jetrel felt so silly. Maybe that's why Jetrel's sudden death felt tacked on and a contrived coincidence. The episode threw so much stuff at us that it never had the time to properly deal with the issues that arose.

4) And, of course, the science was ludicrous yet again... So, let me get this straight, the Cascade was a weapon that caused the atoms inside people to undergo nuclear fission? Really? Did that, um, include the hydrogen atoms? Because that would be impressive if so. But then Jetrel was going to reconstitute individual people, even though they were shredded at the subatomic level? Just how was he going to do that? By finding DNA? By reconstituting DNA? It's only the first season, and I'm already learning not to bother listening to the technobabble, as each episode gets stupider than the last. Yeah, TNG had its really bad moments, but this one ranks right up there with Rascals and Genesis.

Yes, the episode was weighty and dramatic and full of angst. But that doesn't make it good.

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