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.