Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Phage"

***

Air date: 2/6/1995
Teleplay by Skye Dent and Brannon Braga
Story by Timothy DeHaas
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Don't worry. I'm not going to kiss you. I'm only adjusting the restraint."
"I'll try to contain my disappointment."

— Doctor and Neelix

While searching for dilithium on a planet surface, an alien attacks Neelix and electronically removes his lungs. After the Doctor manages to stabilize him, the Voyager chases the aliens through several star systems in hopes of retrieving the stolen organs needed to save Neelix's life.

Neelix will die within an hour if the Doctor doesn't get the lungs back. Unfortunately, the crew will not likely catch the aliens by then, who have a head start and a ship just as fast as Voyager. This leads the Doctor to execute an "unprecedented medical procedure" by creating holographic lungs for Neelix to use. The drawback is that Neelix must remain in a restraining field because the computer cannot compensate for movement.

This is a much more promising Voyager outing, with some good character moments and a plot less dependent on technobabble and Trek cliches. Finally we gets some healthy characterization, as well as a plot that offers a threat without excessive jeopardy. It's nothing brand new (which the series has the potential for), but it does work.

Placing Neelix in the restraint leads to a number of humorous yet understandable moments. He feels paranoid and alone, believing that his paralysis gives Paris the chance to go after Kes. Unexpectedly funny dialog includes Neelix labeling Paris a vulture who is merely "one big hormone walking around the ship."

The banter between Neelix and the Doctor is adeptly conceived and performed. Picardo once again successfully pulls off the character of the disgruntled doctor, with his annoyed personality remaining simultaneously within the boundaries of mild comedy and plausibility. Picardo's line, "I'm a doctor, not an interior decorator," is a scream.

The scenes with Kes also work well. Kes comes across much better here than in "Time and Again," in which she came across as, frankly, annoying. Here she is supportive of Neelix and her optimism proves helpful. Scenes between Kes and the Doctor are engaging and likable.

Meanwhile, Janeway chases the alien organ thieves into an artificial asteroid that reflects sensor information. This causes a "hall of mirrors" effect that hides the alien ship while creating a million false images of the Voyager. Tuvok's idea to bounce the ship's phasers off the walls like a searchlight is strangely amusing.

Capturing the aliens leads the crew to discover why the aliens stole the organs. They are a race of beings whose existence consists solely of fighting the "phage"—a disease that destroys their bodies and breaks down their organs. The race's advances in medical technology are the only thing keeping them from extinction. They harvest organs to save their own lives.

The two aliens reveal that Neelix's stolen lungs have already been transplanted into one of them. Returning Neelix's lungs would mean the alien's death. This gives Janeway a judgment call which is handled with a reasonable amount of dramatic power (though Janeway nearly getting misty-eyed was pushing it). She cannot justify killing the alien to retrieve Neelix's lungs, but gives them a forceful warning that any violent intentions in the future would be met with "the deadliest force."

In exchange for saving his life, one of the aliens agrees to use their superior medical technology to perform a tricky lung transplant in which Kes donates one of her lungs to Neelix.

In addition to introducing a new alien race, another thing "Phage" does is give Kes a job on the ship. Though it seemed like Kes was headed toward possibly being a character with no purpose, the episode remedies this situation when the Doctor recruits her as his assistant. (This should come as a relief to "temporary field doctor" Paris.)

Perhaps it doesn't have audacious plotting, but "Phage" is a good, solid episode of science fiction that continues to flesh out the characters.

Previous episode: Time and Again
Next episode: The Cloud

Season Index

33 comments on this review

mlk - Sun, Dec 2, 2007 - 4:08pm (USA Central)
Very bad episode, I sat and wished Neelix would just die thrughout it all
Mike - Mon, Sep 8, 2008 - 10:25am (USA Central)
Agree with above poster about Neelix. It's interesting to watch Kes this season. She was incredibly green as an actress, but revealed enormous potential (along with serious missteps as in 'Time and Again').
Jay - Mon, Aug 3, 2009 - 5:30pm (USA Central)
Considering the restorations the Doctor was able to do in other shows (Threshhold comes to mind immediately), it's hard to believe that making Kes's lung workable for Neelix was beyond his abilities.
Banjo - Sat, Aug 8, 2009 - 7:26am (USA Central)
I'm watching Voyager through for the first time and (aside from laughing out loud when Nelix's LUNGS - of all things - were stolen) I found it utterly stupid that Janeway just "scolded" the Vidians here... these were organ-harvesting thieves who openly attacked her crew, yet her idea of a suitable reaction is to warn them "never do it again"!? This isn't the warm and fuzzy Alpha Quadrant... she should have taken back Nelix's lungs (regardless of who was now using them) and THEN sent the other Vidian off with her warning of zero tolerance... or else just spaced them both. I wonder if Lt. Durst might agree with me?
Nic - Tue, Oct 27, 2009 - 11:48am (USA Central)
I disagree with you Banjo. I think Janeway made the most moral decision, and it was nice to see the "villains" show compassion for once, it makes them a much more interesting species than just another Hard-headed alien of the week.
Charlie - Sat, Feb 13, 2010 - 6:45pm (USA Central)
Since a person only needs 1 lung to survive, I'm surprised the Viddians (sp?) didn't simply give Neelix one of his own lungs back.
Jeff - Wed, Sep 8, 2010 - 4:26pm (USA Central)
Not a bad episode. I did like how the writers, through the EMH, showed how ridiculous it was to have Paris acting as helmsman and medic (pick a department!). It did open up a great opportunity for Kes and showed the start of her very supportive relationship with the EMH. Had Kes stayed on, I would've bet Kes would date the Doctor after she broke up with Neelix. She really took to him faster than anyone else in the crew.

I did think it a bit silly that Neelix would be thinking Tom would take this opportunity to try to steal Kes from him. Kes put up with Neelix's jealousy better than most women I know would have in a similar situation. However, Neelix's fear about being alone in sickbay and not being able to see the Doctor was well played and very reasonable for the circumstances.

I agree with you about Janeway's "misty eyed" thing. I think Mulgrew could have easily shown her torn emotions without reducing to tears (so to speak). I wonder whose idea that was or if it was in the script from the beginning.

Overall, not bad and it does make the Vidiians seem more of a threat than the Kazon.
navamske - Sat, Sep 25, 2010 - 8:25am (USA Central)
@Charlie

"Since a person only needs 1 lung to survive, I'm surprised the Viddians (sp?) didn't simply give Neelix one of his own lungs back."

Humans need only one lung to survive. And apparently Talaxians and Ocampans need only one lung to survive. Maybe Vidiians need two.
navamske - Thu, Nov 4, 2010 - 7:51pm (USA Central)
This was kind of an OK episode -- new aliens we hadn't seen before, with interesting technology we hadn't seen before, with interesting motives. And a cast member in a unique kind of peril. And just when you think the aliens are pure evil as well as majorly fugly, they turn out to be cultured, erudite, sorta-compassionate people who, amazingly, have British accents. There's one big problem, though: The crew member who was in peril should have someone we cared about.

It seemed foolish of Janeway to take an away team back to the moon and risk having stuff beamed out of them. They should have come up with one of those handy-dandy "Protects You from Alien or Spatial-Anomaly Mojo" armbands.

Also, that asteroid sure looked a lot like the one in TNG "The Pegasus."
Carbetarian - Wed, Apr 6, 2011 - 3:16pm (USA Central)
I liked this one. The aliens were creepy and slightly sympathetic. My only real complaints about this episode are this:

1) was anyone else slightly reminded of the TOS episode Spock's Brain? I kept waiting for someone to say "lungs and lungs, WHAT ARE LUNGS?!?"

2) Neelix lived. To be fair, I find Neelix slightly less annoying than 1st season TNG Wesley Crusher. But, since 1st season Wesley Crusher basically makes me want to put my fist through my laptop, that's not saying much.
Mac - Wed, Jul 6, 2011 - 12:32pm (USA Central)
Now I may have missed them talking about it, but since Kes only lives like 9 years, didn't they just prolong his death?

What I mean is that it seems the lung would die in a short amount of time, I'm not sure how old Kes is at this point, but im going to say 3, so that will only give Neelix around 6 years of use with that lung.

And why the hate I love Neelix! He always says the right thing to get a laugh!
Chris - Thu, Oct 27, 2011 - 11:05am (USA Central)
@Mac I don't understand why you think the lung would only 'live' 9 years, just because it came from a species whose average lifespan was 9 years.
Graham - Wed, Jul 4, 2012 - 12:50pm (USA Central)
@Chris - We only live as long as our bodies do, its not our brain that dies first it's our organs that fail. So yes, her lungs would only have a lifespan similar to that of her species as a whole.
linguist - Thu, Aug 16, 2012 - 4:35am (USA Central)
@Graham - you cannot presume consistent failure rates across all organs of an alien system. some other vital organ may have a 9 years before wearing out while the lungs have potential to last longer.
Jay - Sat, Oct 6, 2012 - 1:06pm (USA Central)
Every time someone uses the transporter they are deconstructed and then reassembled. Why couldn't they just transport him using his transporter pattern from before he got delunged?
Michael - Fri, Nov 9, 2012 - 11:34pm (USA Central)
Jay, the "logic" of the transporter creates real problems for storytelling. It certainly makes sense that you could just use the transporter to create new lungs, even an entirely new replacement body. Sick bay should really just have been a specialized transporter room.

Like Banjo, I also hated that VOY didn't have the guts to take the lungs back and let the Vidian die. The Vidians' actions take them beyond sympathetic. They would inevitably have to murder somebody else once those lungs were used up anyways! How many people would the average Vidian have to kill to maintain a normal lifespan? Why are their lives worth more than others? The safe, made for TV resolution is a mockery of morality. Even if they couldn't have gotten the lungs back, they should really have killed both of them, just to protect their future victims.
Clark - Mon, Feb 11, 2013 - 2:04pm (USA Central)
I have to say, I agree with Banjo and Michael. While I can see where Janeway was coming from, I had no sympathy for the aliens. Yes, it was sad that they were dying of a disease. But I lost sympathy the minute I learned that they were killing others to preserve themselves. I'm sorry, but murder is murder. They're no more special than anyone else, so why is it they feel justified in killing someone else for their own selfish desire to keep living.

Even though everything worked out in the end, I wouldn't have allowed the situation to get as far as Janeway allowed it to.

And to echo someone else's post, if you only needed one lung to survive, why didn't they just take one?

Now, we've got this dying species that's most likely going to continue killing other people in order to stay alive.
Jay - Sat, Mar 9, 2013 - 7:31am (USA Central)
@ Michael...yes, it the transporter does cause storytelling probelms, and I try to dismiss it, but sometimes I can't. Most notably, back in TNG's "Ethics", when there was this big to-do about how revolutionary replicating a new spinal cord for Worf was, but all I could think was...the transporter does this every time it's used!
eddie - Tue, May 7, 2013 - 5:15pm (USA Central)
Nice reviews on this site. I had seen some of the DS9 ones while watching the series on netflix. Decided to do a rewatch of voyager while i read along for fun.

As some said... i liked the vidiians because they had a more complex motivation than evil. i think i would have rather seen more of these guys when the show was on than the Kazon.

The one thing I didn't understand was how the dilithium trap worked. If they faked the presence of the crystals, then why would anyone tell others to come to the asteroid?(unless they have found someone to spread the rumor). Ideally, there would be real dilithium and the vidiians use their secret hideout in the asteriod to abduct the occasional miner. they'd be puzzled by the abductions, but people would still come back as long as they need dilithium.
Sintek - Sun, May 19, 2013 - 6:12pm (USA Central)
Ugh, the "relationship" between Kes and Neelix in these early episodes is creepy as all hell. Only abusive men are as jealous and posessive as Neelix is, and like him, they don't let the woman have male friends.
Shane - Thu, Jul 4, 2013 - 2:34am (USA Central)
To store the transporter pattern of a person takes an enormous amount of computer memory. DS9 had an episode called "Our Man Bashir" where Security Officer Michael Eddington had to dump virtually all the computer memory on Deep Space Nine to store the patterns for 5 people. Given that fact, I'd say that a transporter system cannot store all the information for the entire crew. That's why the transporter isn't frequently used to heal crew members or bring people back from the dead.

On the other hand, TNG and the other series used the transporter plenty of times to restore people from various condition, like Doctor Pulaski in "Unnatural Selection" (albeit with the help of a hair follicle).
inline79 - Mon, Jul 22, 2013 - 2:47pm (USA Central)
I feel so late to this party...

Ignoring the technical possibilities above, I agree with some others that our Bad Captain made another Bad Captain decision. She condemns her own crewmember to death and lets the murderers go. What "Alpha Quadrant morals" is that? And who'd want to follow a Captain that would let you die and let your killer go?

(Un)fortunately, the writers saved Janeway's butt in the end. But the correct decision should have been for Janeway to enslave them until they could "harvest" new lungs for Neelix without murdering anyone else. Personally, I would also have taken the opportunity to rob them of their dilithium too.

For that, I think it deserves half a star less, though I did enjoy the crew interactions, as annoying as Neelix can be, as well as the new, very unique, aliens. I hope we see them again and some of Janeway's "deadliest force" is used.
Jack - Sun, Sep 15, 2013 - 11:27pm (USA Central)
@ Shane

Perhaps, but it was stated way back in TNG's S2 "Unnatural Selection" that traces can be "stored", because if Pulaski had used the transporter, they implied that they could have restored her from that.
Caine - Wed, Oct 9, 2013 - 3:44pm (USA Central)
Finally - an episode of Voyager that I could enjoy!

I was really into the Vidiians. "Organ Snatchers from outer space", patched together by scraps of what they can snatch here and there. Creepy looking and with a REALLY creepy way of life - but not really proud of their way of living. They do what they must do to survive, some of them apparantly downright ashamed of it. This instantly became one of my favorite species in all of Trek!

I really like Neelix - think he's hillarious and endearing. His lines are often very funny and the actor has a great timing, both in comedic and dramatic scenes. My only problem with Neelix is that his vast knowledge of the systems, planets and cultures our heroes run into kind of spoils the whole "we're in completely uncharted territory" part of the show, which could have been quite exciting had it not been for this character.

I applaud Jayneway for making the decision to NOT kill the captured Vidiians. Though it quite clearly pains her, she decides to do what is morally right (i.e. not becoming a murderer, just like them, out iof "necessity" herself). Stranded such a long way from home, she clings desperately to "the right thing to do", because that is what keeps her sane and keeps her going - the notion that she's STILL a starfleet captain, even out here, where (let's face it) the chances of ever getting home are slim to none. Her extreme "taking the high road", even when it seems ludicrous, is her way of surviving. It's not a question of whether or not it's appropriate in the situation, it's about what she NEEDS to do, for the sake of her own, personal sanity. That's how I perceive her so far, anyway - I just wish the writers would show us her crew reacting more to her (seemingly) non-self-serving decissions - acting surprised, outraged, in favor of ... that would be the basis of some great conflicts among the crew, adding fuel to the "Maqui vs. Starfleet" fire ... oh, wait, that fire was never started ... nevermind ....

K'Elvis - Mon, Jan 6, 2014 - 4:25pm (USA Central)
I don't agree that not taking the lungs back was the right thing to do. Why should Neelix die just because someone stole his lungs? Mere possession doesn't override all other concerns. Stealing Neelix's lungs is murder, taking them back is not.

I liked having members of the crew cross-train in other tasks. It's perfectly reasonable that without being able to get replacement crew, people are going to have to learn to do more than one thing.
Trent - Sun, Jan 12, 2014 - 4:46pm (USA Central)
I'm surprised Trek fans are confused about Janeway's decision.

In philosophy, it's called the Trolley Problem, a famous ethical dilemma. She did the ethical thing. Good sequence.
DLPB - Thu, Mar 13, 2014 - 9:11pm (USA Central)
Liberal la-la land again. When a species has near murdered of your own crew man and stolen his lungs (lol), your captain would not be moralizing. In fact, it would be morally correct to retake those lungs.

But, of course, in liberal la-la land... Janeway simply says they can leave.
Andrew - Fri, Jul 11, 2014 - 1:15am (USA Central)
She should have taken the lungs. Who would want to serve under a captain that won't even get your lungs back for you? Ethical or not, it was ridiculous. Not even Picard would have allowed it. Janeway's warning at the end was meaningless.

Another problem I have is that we barely know neelix at this point and we're already having organs stolen. Kind of a far limb to go out on for an episode plot.
Robert - Fri, Jul 11, 2014 - 1:42pm (USA Central)
Aren't there some difficulties in just assuming Janeway can take the lungs back?

#1 - Will Neelix's lungs now have the Phage?
#2 - Can the Doctor use Vidiian's tech to put the lungs back in Neelix, or do the thieves have to cooperate?
#3 - If #2 is true it might have been interesting if Janeway put a phaser to his head and ordered him to return 1 lung (assuming they too can live with one), thereby giving him great reason to do so.

I would have liked a tougher resolution. The resolution, as we got it was good for the Vidiian characterization but less good for Janeway.
Vylora - Mon, Aug 18, 2014 - 1:23pm (USA Central)
The first truly good episode of Voyager. Makes me wonder why they couldn't have this kind of quality writing from the start. Great characterization, plotting, and moral grey areas are the standouts. Adding in the rather neat cat and mouse element inside the asteroid was inspired. Also, the new potential villains are ripe with great storytelling opportunities. In this one episode they seem to have more logical motive for the what and the why and are more multi-faceted than, unfortunately, the will-become-the-norm, cut-n-paste alien of the week.

If there's anything to fault in the episode is its portrayal of the Vidiians by the actors. Not the best performances I've seen, but not horrible.

Not a classic episode but a great showing of what Voyager can do when it's running on all cylinders.

3.5 stars.
Peremensoe - Tue, Aug 26, 2014 - 12:00pm (USA Central)
Trent, if it is the Trolley Problem, it would have to be the "Fat Villain" variant, in which the choice is between innocent victims versus those responsible for (and here profiting from) endangering them.


DLPB, I don't see what "liberal" has to do with it. Liberalism typically advocates for the victimized, which isn't what Janeway or this episode do.
dlpb - Wed, Oct 1, 2014 - 7:46pm (USA Central)
You know precisely what I mean by liberal.
Skeptical - Sun, Oct 19, 2014 - 1:14pm (USA Central)
I wanted to like this episode more than I actually did. On the positive side, we finally got to see another civilization in the Delta Quadrant, and it was a really interesting one. We haven't seen anyone like the Vidiians before, and they provide a wealth of possibilities (and I'm glad we'll see them again). They're a desperate race driven to desperate measures, but are their measures going too far? (Answer: yes) We can have sympathy for them but also fear them and, more importantly, defy them.

So the concept of the Vidiians was a good one. But it didn't work out. Like most others, I agree that Janeway's decision was wrong. But part of that is because, frankly, I don't trust the Vidiian story. Once they beam aboard, their story is nothing but being the nicest little folks around who was forced to do this brutish thing but would never ever do it again. Yet we know their organs will continue to degenerate. So there is a very real chance that these people will kill again. Janeway said that she didn't want to keep them in the Brig forever, and she has a point that that would be too difficult to do. But the problem is that part of the reason for incarceration is punishment but the biggest part is protecting society. By letting them go, Janeway is clearly making this area of space more dangerous. Sure, it may not usually be her responsibility, but it is now.

So Janeway claims she can't kill someone else to save her crewman, even if it is justified to some extent. But by letting them go, she is essentially dooming more people to die as well. Oh, but they seem nice... They only go graverobbing, right?

If that's the case... why do they have a giant trap?!?

That's what the dilithium asteroid was: a trap to bait random explorers to come in and so that they can steal their organs. There can be no other explanation for it. They bait the asteroid, hide in their holographic extraction rooms, and wait until stupid folks like Neelix wander away from everyone else. That elaborate bait defies their innocent expressions: they know what they are doing. To the Vidiians, the rest of the universe is just an organ factory for them, and they will kill anyone in order to get what they want.

And because of that, it's hard to justify not getting the lungs back. This was premeditated murder, and most people understand that deadly force is necessary for self defense. Admittedly, another option was provided, which eliminated self defense. But Janeway didn't know that when she decided to let them go.

Speaking of "other options", why did they desperately need Neelix's lungs back? Did no one consider heading for Talaxian space and looking for a donor there? Maybe that wasn't possible, but it would have been nice to have a reason for it.

Meanwhile, the Magic Mirror Asteroid was also pretty silly. Why did it exist? Was it just to confuse anyone trying to follow the Vidiian ship? Was it another trap? If so, how does it work? Unfortunately, I think the reason for the Magic Mirror asteroid was that someone thought it was cool, so why not? I'm wondering if that's really the trend: just throwing out cool ideas without a very tight plot.

So there were serious problems with the plotting, even if the first part was very good. There was also more evidence that Kes and Neelix aren't the loving couple that they try to convey. As soon as he's incapacitated, Neelix starts imagining Paris trying to angle in on Kes. Possessive and jealous. Again, it seems like Neelix has a rather creepy relationship with Kes, and Kes is just too naïve to realize it.

But Kes is at least turning out to be an interesting character. Yes, the wide eyed innocent who dispenses true wisdom is a bit silly, but her natural rapport with the Doctor was good to see.

So it was probably the best episode to date, but I don't think it's quite complete. At the very least, though, it was the first evidence that the Delta Quadrant was going to be different.

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