Star Trek: Voyager

"Mortal Coil"

3 stars

Air date: 12/17/1997
Written by Bryan Fuller
Directed by Allan Kroeker

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Death is still one of the greatest mysteries there is."
"I was there. I experienced it. There was nothing."

— Chakotay and Neelix

Nutshell: Relevant, probing, and well performed. The best Neelix show to date.

Once upon a third season there was an episode called "Sacred Ground" which tried to tackle a troubling situation of faith. That episode, alas, was not successful because it was all too convoluted and ponderous, and collapsed under the weight of its excessive dramatic devices and meretricious script manipulations. In "Mortal Coil" (a.k.a. this week's title's Hamlet reference), Neelix is zapped and killed during a shuttle mission, but is revived after 18 hours by a special Borg medical procedure that Seven of Nine enacts. Neelix effectively comes back from the dead, though his troubles are far from over.

Neelix is convinced he should have experienced the Talaxian afterlife during this temporary death. To the very best of his knowledge, however, he experienced "absolutely nothing," which leads him to seriously question a faith that he has held his entire life—a faith he says had "kept him going" through his difficult years during the Talaxian war when he lost his friends and family.

"Mortal Coil" proves a little obvious at times (Neelix stories are rarely subtle, and in addition this episode is, without a doubt, partly a meditation on people who have had near-death experiences), but I think its simple, in-your-face nature may be a big part of why the episode works so well. It builds its story around the actual crisis of one character, rather than trying to ask and answer so much in irresolute symbolic terms—the approach that was ultimately "Sacred Ground's" undoing. Instead of so hopelessly and unclearly trying to draw lines between "absolute reality" and "spiritual perception" in story terms (as "Sacred Ground" did), "Mortal Coil's" agenda is much more plausible from all sides of the table: It doesn't turn a religious situation into something that requires evidence to suggest a faith as necessarily "true" or "untrue"; it examines the far more practical approach of what happens when a person experiences doubt in his faith, looking at the specific difficulties experienced by a character faced with such a dilemma. In a sense, by being more simple, this episode succeeds at being deeper, finding its complexity under the surface.

In the broadest of terms, then, "Mortal Coil" is a tightly woven character piece about Neelix, using his faith crisis to offer insight to a part of him we rarely see. Faithful readers will know that I have never been a big fan of Neelix. Second season reduced his character to that of an utter annoyance with painfully shallow shows like "Parturition" and "Investigations." Third season had the effective "Fair Trade," but subsequently offered none of the necessary follow-up. "Rise," on the other hand, was horrendous. And ever since, Neelix has faded into the background as a nondescript supporting personality with very little worthy of mention for good or ill.

That's why I was glad to see "Mortal Coil" supply this guy a meaty story (far meatier than even "Fair Trade"). Neelix is by nature a pretty transparent guy, and when used effectively that transparency can be the basis for good character drama. He's the guy who tends to wear his emotions on his sleeve, as they say. These emotions are almost always of cheer and optimism, but when the troubled side of Neelix emerges—as in this episode—the results can be quite engaging.

This isn't a story of audacious sci-fi twists or original plots; the real strength of "Mortal Coil" is its even-handed reasonableness, and the sensible sentiments it conveys. The problem grows out of a relevant, real-life issue and allows Neelix to react as a person rather than simply a plot device.

Specifically, there are two things that make "Mortal Coil" stand out: the writing and the acting. I know, that's a pretty general statement, because those two qualities can probably be attributed for the success of all drama. But Bryan Fuller's script is simply a solid piece of work—a tight, focused, confident story that puts Neelix through an understandable wringer while supplying the supporting characters with some reasonable reactions. Meanwhile, Ethan Phillip's performance is stellar work, and the supporting actors also turn in good performances, which could easily go overlooked.

One interesting facet of Neelix's dilemma is the way his conclusions concerning death are based on the worldly perceptions of the living. After being revived he expects to "remember" something he would've experienced in death. The fact that he doesn't is the source of all his distress. Does that mean there's no afterlife? Not necessarily. To expand upon something Chakotay tells Neelix, perhaps it's simply not something that the living can understand. From the agnostic's point of view, the afterlife represents the total unknown and, ultimately, the unknowable. Maybe Neelix is incapable of comprehending death in a living state. Does that mean his worries are unfounded? Absolutely not. A crisis of faith under a situation as unique and frightening as Neelix's strikes me as very realistic. And with interesting dialog (including responses like Chakotay's "Death is still one of the greatest mysteries there is") this episode did a great job of prompting me to think deeply about the issue at hand, which is an admirable feat.

Subsequently, Neelix's distress was very well conceived. Understandably, Neelix initially tries to forget his experience ever happened. He tries to go on about Business as Usual, but it doesn't work. Denial turns into introspection and introspection into despair. He tries to pretend he hasn't been affected, but he obviously has been; Neelix is not himself, and it's here where his transparency proves interesting. Chakotay offers to help him through his difficulties, which is a prudent move that rings true; the episode makes good use of the commander's spiritual side (something we haven't seen in quite a while), and Beltran's performance is carefully measured, appropriately understated and reserved.

Another performance that made me take note was Jeri Ryan's; the actress continues to impress me with her subtle style. Seven's role in bringing Neelix back from the dead harbors more human compassion than what one would've expected out of her immediately following, say, "The Gift." Here Ryan accomplishes this with a single line or a glance—I particularly liked her line to Neelix about reviving him: She says it was a Borg technique that she simply modified ... "But you are welcome," she adds with a hint of genuine cordiality. This is noteworthy character growth done subtly and plausibly. The use of Seven for comic relief during the Prixin celebration scene also worked pretty well. She may be growing, but conversation is still definitely not one of Seven's strengths.

The celebration scene also did a reasonable job of showing Neelix hopelessly trying to ignore his problem and push on as if nothing happened; his preoccupied speechlessness made sense. Allan Kroeker's use of slow motion and other imagery also worked without going overboard; there were times that it felt as if Michael Vejar were directing. And Neelix's inability to bear his problem builds slowly and interestingly. Some of the details—like his certain but uneasy observation that "all of us" are going to vanish into nothing as did his own holographic rendition during a holodeck simulation—make all the difference. And when Neelix's repressed rage eventually comes to the surface, it explodes onto Seven in a fiery scene that made me wince. Although Neelix doesn't say it in so many words, what he believes he is missing because of Seven's intervention is his very soul.

Finally comes the time when Neelix accepts Chakotay's help in seeking subconscious images to help him understand his problem—something that the commander warns Neelix is not a "quick fix." In a surprisingly and compellingly dark turn of events, what Neelix finds when he looks inward is hardly comforting; everybody tells him that he has been lied to about his faith, and they ominously say, "You know what you have to do." Neelix concludes that life is meaningless, not worth living. He decides to commit suicide.

His suicide attempt (by way of transporter) is a genuinely tense moment that Chakotay tries to talk him out of. The performances here shouldn't go overlooked. Beltran conveys a sense of cautious urgency, trying to tell the Talaxian why he should go on living while not pushing the sentiments over the edge. Phillips, meanwhile, paints his character as confused concerning his intended course of action, as if to convey that Neelix killing himself would be the easy way out of a problem that requires time to be solved. Obviously, Neelix doesn't kill himself, but I did very much like the way his planned suicide was signaled in previous scenes. His "final" discussion with Seven followed by his "last" shutdown and lights-out of his kitchen were striking, foreboding moments.

A key part of Neelix coming to realize that he still has something to live for revolves around his importance to Ensign Wildman's young daughter Naomi. It's nice to see the writers acknowledge that Wildman and her kid still exist ("Deadlock" was the last use of them), and here they appear for the sake of benefiting the story rather than for the sake of making an appearance. Little kids fearing "monsters in the replicator" strikes me as a problem very much in need of a Neelix solution.

The episode's final shots of Neelix and Naomi are hopeful—perhaps even too hopeful, because they seem to bring about Neelix's self-reconciliation faster than what may prove ideal. I'd like to see the events of this episode play a role in the way Neelix's character is painted in future episodes, but this ending makes me fear that such follow-ups will not happen. At the same time, however, we probably can't end the episode on a note of desperation. The ending works, though I also hope that these problems are not so quick and easy for Neelix to sort out. As Chakotay said, they need to take time. I just hope I don't get burned with nonexistent follow-ups the way I did with the aforementioned "Fair Trade" and with Doc's "family" in "Real Life."

But regardless, "Mortal Coil" is a winner that relies on complex writing undertones and thoughtful acting rather than gimmicks or standard premises—very nice work. I have a new respect for the writers' portrayal of Neelix.

Next week: "Nemesis" airs again. Then, in a few weeks, Voyager phones home. Hopefully they'll dial 10-321 for an extra-low rate.

Previous episode: Concerning Flight
Next episode: Waking Moments

◄ Season Index

58 comments on this review

mlk
Fri, Jan 4, 2008, 10:01pm (UTC -6)
Awesome to see Neelix die, a shame they brought him back though.
Scrumdiddly
Mon, Mar 17, 2008, 4:30pm (UTC -6)
Yes kids, this is exactly how it works! He attempts suicide, only to have Chakotay talk him down, and by talk him down I mean he changes his mind for no apparent reason, and then everything's fine! Roll the next episode! It's just offensive...
Scrumdiddly
Mon, Mar 17, 2008, 4:32pm (UTC -6)
Yes kids, this is exactly how it works! He attempts suicide, only for Chakotay to talk him down, and by talk him down I mean he changes his mind for no apparent reason. Then everything is fine! Roll the next episode! It's just offensive...
Jhoh
Sat, Apr 26, 2008, 12:00am (UTC -6)
"Then, in a few weeks, Voyager phones home. Hopefully they'll dial 10-321 for an extra-low rate."

I had to laugh at this reference. God we used to see those commercials every single commercial break, this or 1-800-COLLECT. I don't think they even exist anymore.
grumpy_otter
Sat, Jul 26, 2008, 7:00am (UTC -6)
What's really sad about this episode is that it proves Ethan Phillips is capable of providing a subtle, thought-provoking, and nuanced performance as Neelix. So the nightmare that has been Neelix is not his fault.

Every once in a while, we see the potential Voyager could have explored. And then they get back to the usual business. Sigh.
John Pate
Wed, Jan 27, 2010, 4:57am (UTC -6)
I would never have imagined a Neelix-focused episode would be tolerable but this episode was great.

Seems to me that the on-going plot issue is that every time someone "dies" it would be, "Can Seven / the Doctor use the Borg nanoprobes to fix them?" It also raises the question given the Doctor et al were already thoroughly familiar with nanotech (Wesley was playing around with it in TNG) as to why the Federation wasn't doing this stuff already.

Then again, that's always been a Trek problem. Magical tech that should make things utterly different mysteriously leaves the players still philosophically and emotionally stuck in the late 20th Century in all the important ways.

(IMHO, Voyager gets too much flack for ignoring Trek Tech implications and concentrating on story on character. It's my favourite Trek precisely because they tried to play to the characters and it often worked very well.)
enniofan
Mon, Apr 4, 2011, 9:53am (UTC -6)
little Talaxian girl in his vision was super creepy looking.


Nic
Fri, May 6, 2011, 8:04am (UTC -6)
I can see why this is Phillips' favorite episode... it's definitely one of his best performances. I was surprised to learn that this episode went through so many rewrites - first as a Samantha Wildman show, then as a Chakotay show, and then finally focusing on Neelix. My only real criticism would be that the importance of Neelix's faith doesn't quite ring true because it's never been mentioned before, and as far as I can remember, was never mentioned again.
Destructor
Sun, Jul 24, 2011, 10:09pm (UTC -6)
This episode is amazing. I liked it well enough the first time I saw it, but I totally bawled my eyes out rewatching it for the first time yesterday. Make no mistake: for an American television show this episode is *stunningly* bleak, even by today's standards. I don't think Neelix is 'fixed' by the end, I think he's barely hanging on, for Naomi's sake, and that's the whole point- that's all we have to hang on for. That's damned bleak, especially for Trek- this may be the darkest episode Voyager ever does, philosophically speaking.

I guess the reason Neelix's faith was never mentioned again was because he lost his faith in this episode.

As for the 'nanoprobe death cure', can we point to a subsequent death where this treatment would have been applicable?
Nathan
Fri, Nov 4, 2011, 10:50pm (UTC -6)
I don't know. If I were Neelix I'd probably realize that the afterlife may exist, just that if it does any memories are wiped before returning to the real world.
Justin
Mon, Apr 16, 2012, 9:37am (UTC -6)
You know, you really shouldn't patronize a child living on Voyager when she asks you to check for monsters. Between the Kazon, the Kradin, spatial anomolies, not to mention the Borg...there might just be one.
Jo Jo Meastro
Sun, Apr 7, 2013, 2:23pm (UTC -6)
This was a great episode, I loved it and the dark personal avenues it explores. I loved the vision quest which was surreal, creepy, metaphorical and radiating with a strange dreamy aura. I'm a fan of David Lynch, so I enjoy this sort of bizzare thoughtful imagery. I liked that they skimmed over the technical aspects of the story (his death and revival) and knew not to try to convince us Neelix was actually dead for good.

It was an emotional and heartfelt humanistic episode, so it worked very well for me. I'd be tempted to go for 3.5/4 because it does a really good job in what it sets out to be.

I must add I think season 4 is coming along very smoothly with only 1 real miss so far in my opinion. Its certianly the most consistent season so far. Looking at the star ratings for the remainder of season 4, I'm not too concerned if this consistency is going to taper off or not. So long as there's a low number of mind-numblingly dull episodes I'll probably be satisfied (after all I'm the guy who took some enjoyment from Threshold even when it was pretty misguided!). So yeah, I think this could be the season which Voyager has turned a corner for me!
Lt. Yarko
Sat, Jun 29, 2013, 7:34pm (UTC -6)
Good episode. My favorite lines involved Seven:

"Children assimilated by the Borg are placed in maturation chambers for 17 cycles."

"You will be assimilated." "No time for that now. Maybe later."
navamske
Thu, Jul 4, 2013, 7:37pm (UTC -6)
One nit: Seven doesn't know what Prixin is. But a few episodes earlier, she told Neelix that the Borg had assimilated thirty or forty Talaxians. Shouldn't the Collective -- and, by implication, Seven -- have thereby gained all their knowledge?
Niall
Fri, Aug 9, 2013, 2:46pm (UTC -6)
This is a quiet episode, and as a kid (the last time I saw it) I didn't realise how good it is, but it's stellar. Can only echo the comments above, especially Destructor's which I completely agree with. Neelix's faith is gone and he is only hanging on at the end for the sake of others. The crisis is not resolved; he's essentially forced out of his plan because he doesn't want Lt Wildman to see him like that, because he wouldn't kill himself in front of her. Ethan Phillips excellent, Jeri Ryan too (as usual) and Robert Beltran. (What a raw deal two out of the three of those actors got out of the series.) The episode's quietness and introspection are its strength and the script is simply superb, all the more so for not truly resolving Neelix's crisis by the end.

Is this the only episode in the franchise in which a member of the main cast realises life is meaningless and attempts suicide? I think it is.
Jons
Mon, Dec 2, 2013, 3:29am (UTC -6)
I'm really enjoying Seven and her deadpan delivery, providing me with the comic relief I need. She and the doctor are the reliable fun characters of the series, and I've surprised myself laughing out loud many times. This episode's attempt to join conversation were appropriately hilarious: funny but realistic and not trying too hard to turn it into a joke.

I enjoyed the Neelix story, although I'm pissed that once again a non human species resembles human Americans so closely: Not only do they believe in the after life but they ALSO believe in heaven exactly the way Christians do! The only difference is that it's a forest! What a crazy coincidence, coming from species half a galaxy apart from each other...
Nissa
Tue, Jan 14, 2014, 3:37pm (UTC -6)
@Jons Is it really so surprising? After all, an afterlife with a monotheistic god isn't so hard a conclusion to necessarily come to. Sure, not all that likely, but not all that unlikely either. Or maybe there's Christians on the ship Neelix knows. I dunno.

In any case, the book Life After Life by Dr. Ray Moody was written on this topic. He interviewed several people who had died but were later rescussitated, and their visions after death were strikingly similar. Very fascinating stuff.
DLPB
Wed, Mar 5, 2014, 7:16pm (UTC -6)
Nanomachines would not be able to revive someone after that length of time. Not even theory allows for it, unless the nanomachines knew how the neurones were connected before damage, which is impossible.

They are used here as a lazy deus ex machina, and they introduce a major issue... from now on, whenever the crew are in peril, we can just go "It's okay, nanomachines can sort it".
DLPB
Wed, Mar 5, 2014, 7:31pm (UTC -6)
Other than that, it's a pretty good episode. But Trek really doesn't know how to stay consistent or believable. It pushes the boat out and goes lazy.
Ric
Tue, Apr 15, 2014, 2:12pm (UTC -6)
Such a touching episode, very good. Amazing plot, deep debate behind the story. Loved it.

Even more because FINALLY someone was not able to beam without authorization, or to steal a shuttkecraft and etc. Hope it happens again other times when it is not Neelix the one trying.

However, I also thought that the nano-tehnobabble was littel credible and I totally agree with DLPB's comment above, about the ex machina and the issue it introduces. What saves us from any fear is to know that in Voyager it will not have consequences later anyway...
K'Elvis
Tue, Apr 15, 2014, 5:15pm (UTC -6)
A good episode. It challenges Neelix's belief in the afterlife, but doesn't come to a clean resolution. There's any way of re-interpreting the afterlife to be compatible with his lack of experience. But even if there is no afterlife and this is all there is, is it truly of no value? While Neelix doesn't resolve his question of whether or not there is life after death, he does appear to accept that even if there is no afterlife, this life is still of value.

If this life is all we have, it is precious. Imagine you had the last bottle of wine on Earth. Is it valueless, just because it won't last? Or is it something of great value to be saved for a special occasion, and shared with friends?

It's quite realistic that Chakotay was able to talk him down from the ledge, so to speak. It's a common enough phenomenon in real life, after all. It doesn't mean that everything is going to be perfect afterwards. I would have liked the closing scene to be Chakotay and Neelix doing the ritual again.
Corey
Tue, Apr 29, 2014, 5:54pm (UTC -6)
Elliot, where are you? Elliot has single handledly convinced many to watch Voyager and fall in love with it.

Anyway, onto "Mortal Coil". I found this to be a touching episode, and a strong four stars. It is also one of the most atheistic episodes, and radically political. "Duty calls," Neelix says, duty to one's fellowman revealed to be the highest spiritual ideal in the absence of God.
Elliott
Thu, May 8, 2014, 5:09pm (UTC -6)
Hi Corey,

I'm glad you enjoy my posts.

I've heard the criticism lodged at Voyager that in blindly following the ideals of early TNG, it lacked an ability to be critical and thus truly creative in its artistic efforts ("derivative" is a favourite term).

I would remind these critics that religious art is as "derivative" in this sense as Voyager is--unquestioning in its approval and dissemination of a point of view on how and why the Universe works and how it SHOULD be. Yet, we don't accuse Veronese or Bach of being derivative artists for their loyalty to a vision.

Also, those artists worthy of respect who criticise the religious mandate within their work, like Michelangelo or Wagner or Mann, did so from a deep and committed understanding of the subject they criticised, not by simply objecting to or circumnavigating the belief (I'm looking at you Ira Stephen Behr).
Dusty
Sat, Aug 9, 2014, 5:29am (UTC -6)
Deep, thoughtful, and about as dark an episode of Star Trek as I've seen, 'Mortal Coil' is more than the 45 minutes of middling entertainment most Voyager outings were. It is an achievement, both in writing and in execution. I loved it. With the majority of American viewers still identifying as Christians, many shows would shy away from a premise of someone dying and seeing no vision of an afterlife at all, dealing with a crisis of faith that is virtually inescapable.

The fact that it concerns Neelix, the last character you would expect in such a serious plot, is another bonus. One of my favorite Trek episodes yet. And the best thing about it is that it has no rosy ending. Neelix doesn't simply shrug off the incident because his 45 minutes are up. His Talaxian afterlife is a shattered dream. When he repeated the story of the Tree to Naomi, his feelings of doubt--even hypocrisy--were tangible. He ultimately hangs on for the sake of Naomi and his crew, but it's clear that Neelix has changed. Even if it was never addressed again on Voyager, at least it was conceded here.
Dave in NC
Wed, Aug 27, 2014, 1:01am (UTC -6)
Wow, I just watched this and it is a really good episode! In many ways, perhaps the bravest story I've seen Trek do. I could go into philosophical specifics, but sufficed to say, I think what is portrayed here may very likely be the truth. If only more people realized that, there would be a lot of re-prioritizing going on in our lives.

I can't believe I'm about to type this, but Neelix was actually compelling in this episode! Add to that some wonderful direction, innovative cinematography (for Trek) and a haunting orchestral underscore and you've got a winner here.

A **** installment for any free-thinking sci-fi fan.


Side note: by the way it was written, it was implied that Neelix's vision was a result of his subconscious trying to say what he was repressing. It would have been interesting if they'd used the same psychological microscope when it came to scripting Chakotay's spirit quests (or the one Janeway took with George Costanza's mom).
Vylora
Thu, Aug 28, 2014, 2:58pm (UTC -6)
Deep, probing, prescient, relevant, heartbreaking. Outstanding episode on every level highlighted even further because of Ethan Phillips. Highly recommended.

4 stars.
navamske
Tue, Nov 18, 2014, 10:34pm (UTC -6)
This episode could have had the shortest synopsis ever in TV Guide: "Neelix dies." A guaranteed ratings success!
Jeff
Thu, Dec 4, 2014, 8:22am (UTC -6)
I also thought this a great episode. Usually I feel annoyed by Neelix, but accept him as part of life on this ship, but here he actually becomes a worthwhile character. A lot of comments above say that Neelix lost his faith in the afterlife so it was somehow contrived that he could go on living -- but as I see it, he realized that he could go on living for his god-daughter Naomi. Living for the sake of an afterlife is a Christian teaching, however living for the sake of children and the future is a far more powerful agenda. Chakotay's dream quest led Neelix toward death, but then Naomi's dream quest brought him to life. I think we can all learn from the words of the Japanese poet Basho, "Apply your heart to what children do."
jk
Sun, Feb 8, 2015, 3:02pm (UTC -6)
I do fully agree that this is a great episode that goes deeper than most. But I was really let down by the resolution. Neelix is so distressed, has come to the conclusion that his life is meaningless, and has made all the preparations to end it. I found it hard to believw that a simple talk with Chakotay could have made him change his mind, and the argument of the child and the monsters didn't really make his life sound so important. Not to mention, had Neelix talked to Chakotay about his vision, which would have made sense, we wouldn't have come to the dramatic confrontation at the end.

It was still a story pregnant with meaning, and I thought that the monster was an analogy with depression, especially at the end where the child asks Neelix wether he had been taken by a monster. Except that "come on, don't you see how important you are?" is definitely NOT something you should say to someone who is about to commit suicide.
DVMX
Wed, Mar 18, 2015, 12:44pm (UTC -6)
I couldn't stand Neelix but I have to admit this was a good ep.
Xylar
Tue, Apr 7, 2015, 8:07pm (UTC -6)
It is a great episode. My only complaint is that in the end, when Chakotay tries to talk Neelix out of his suicide attempt, nothing he says convinces Neelix. It's not enough, Neelix says.
But then ensign Wildman walks in, looking for Neelix to help her with her daughter, without knowing what's going on and that's what convinces Neelix to stay.
Basically, I'm unsatisfied with this. Neelix questions the meaning of life and whether or not his faith is worth believing in and comes to the conclusion that life is, in fact, not worth living because as he understands it, everyone will just fade away into nothingness.
Why does Naomi change that for him? Neelix seems convinced that all life is meaningless and that his faith is a farce. He loses the will to live but then he continues living anyway, because Naomi needs someone to 'help chase away the monsters'? I'm just not buying it. It's too simplistic. Neelix was facing a very complex, serious crisis of faith. He shouldn't be able to get over that for a significant amount of time. But I suppose if they made him brood and be introvert all through the season, he wouldn't be Neelix anymore.
Leif
Sun, Aug 16, 2015, 4:25am (UTC -6)
Thank you for your review Jammer as always. I'd like to ask why you thought the plot of this episode was unoriginal though..I don't remember any other episode of Trek dealing with someoe being brought back to life after being confirmed dead for a while..or any other sci-fi show..Does anyone know if this plot is really derivative? Yes resurrecting people is obviously a common sci-fi trope going back to who knows when..but I can't remember any specific storyline this steals from or resembles that much..Is it derivative of Hamlet? I'll confess I've never read it..
Eddington
Wed, Oct 14, 2015, 4:05pm (UTC -6)
I'm sure Neelix had lost his faith by the end of the episode. It's not surprising that the writers would have someone lose or gain belief in an afterlife based upon memories near/at death or the lack of memories. It happens all the time to ordinary people. A commenter mentioned a book of interviews of people reporting such memories, a book with a dedicated fan base I'm sure. Yet another commenter saw a similarity between the Neelix's concept of an afterlife and that of mainstream American protestant Christians.

What I never understood was why it should make any sense at all that, stipulating this dimensional, physical concept of afterlife is true, your mind and/or body should have any evidence (physical or memories) of being there? I don't say this to people because it upsets them, but that's what I think.

Again I have to say that, as with so many other episodes of Star Trek where religionists are portrayed as superstitious ignoramouses, this episode portrays an infantile and illogical manifestation of a character "of faith". I doubt Neelix's faith was very strong to begin with, or else common (albeit painful and disturbing) events in the living world would not so easily shake it.

The afterlife is ostensibly *after* life, and we know for certain that, in death, the body remains and the mind is inactive. Everyone knows or has seen this happen. By what stretch of the imagination would someone be recussitated and actually have a memory of somewhere they never were and their eyes and mind have not seen? But we coddle this notion so as to placate people who are sad or scared.

Robert
Wed, Oct 14, 2015, 5:30pm (UTC -6)
I kind of agree with you. If there is an afterlife I don't think it's something that our minds would be able to comprehend upon "resurrection". I liked this episode and thought it was a good showing for Neelix but I might have gone darker. His faith in the afterlife is so strong that he's certain it exists and is depressed because he thinks his soul is there already because of how long he was dead and that now he's just an empty shell.
Yanks
Mon, Oct 26, 2015, 12:26pm (UTC -6)
Boy, the first time we EVER hear of religion WRT Neelix and BOOM... he's a hard core believer. This just reinforces trek's "religion is bad" theme. ... I.E. the person that is religious does something stupid (commit suicide), or IS stupid, blah, blah. In this case, Neelix so blindly believes he's actually going to SEE his family again when he dies that he's willing to commit suicide after it's been proven false? ... Really? This is the only reason he wants to live? ... serving the crew of Voyager and Janeway don't really mean that much then? So Neelix's actions in the last "Neelix episode [Fair Trade] was just crap?

COME ON!!

I'm not sure I can rate this as high as (it seems) everyone else here.

Didn't we have basically the same thing before? ... where Harry got caught up in that transporter thingy? [Emanations] Someone not ending up where they are supposed to be after they die? Did we get ANY reaction from Neelix then?

"Great Forest" ... what/why? ,,, because the Talaxian's look like rodents? Guiding Tree? ... preamble to Avatar here?

Neelix had all but talked himself out of this belief and Chakotay just couldn't leave well enough alone...

Rock.. spirit guide... burp... enter Indian stereotype crap... whatever.

I thought Neelix' reaction as well as Ethan's acting was over the top here.

Neelix is the most unselfish guy on Voyager, are we really supposed to believe that he would commit the most selfish act of all? ... suicide?

I would have had more respect for this one had Neelix not been "fixed" by just Naomi needing him (although getting him "down" using her was fine). For all the effort Neelix has put forth for this crew, you'd think a large number of them would have lined up to help him. Neelix' recovery here should have taken some serious time (if you believe he actually WAS going to commit suicide) as it was, I believe the ending killed this one.

Who the hell came up with "sweeting"? (God I hate that...)

1 star.
Wilt
Sat, Nov 28, 2015, 12:44pm (UTC -6)
Nic, I know your post is 4 years old but that has been an argument for me as well. A concept pops up suddenly to help the storyline limp along only for it to disappear without a trace and never mentioned again. Where to begin? Let's see...

S2's Alliances where that race the Trabe had been the ones to scatter the Ka-zon into the nomads they are and never once shown again. After Basics neither were the Ka-zon for that matter. I suppose they could say they were leaving their region of space and it was played off as such. Fair enough.

But what about those tricobalt missles they used in the pilot to destroy the caretaker array that we never heard from again except in S6's Voyager Conspiracy ep...

Or the Malons that were so fond of their toxic waste dump sites in S5...

Or the Vaadwaur that were hyped to have been a new threat to the quadrant in S6's Dragon's Teeth that Seven awakened yet somehow we never heard from them again either...

We never learned what happened to the remainder of the Equinox crew that survived and were subsequently demoted. Not to mention it would have been nice to see Lessing's reaction to serving under a captain that was very willing to feed a Starfleet officer to the wolves...

Come to think of it we never even learned the fate of Ocampa either after the Caretaker's passing. Keep in mind they were the reason Janeway destroyed the array which stranded the crew in the Delta Quadrant in the first place. All to help a race with an 8 year life span.

I'm sure there are others I missed that you or other fellow trekkies could think of. These were just off-the-cuff ones I remembered.

Truthfully I'm surprised some of the Starfleet crew didn't mutiny before (or after) that fateful decision. The Maquis it should have been without saying. It certainly would have made for a more interesting journey home to see this.

Was it against Starfleet ideals? Of course. But the Maquis had little use for those ideals to begin with. That's partly the reason they formed. And with the decision the Captain made to strand them there it sure gave their cause a bit more credibility.

But I digress. Between this one and Jetrel it's nice to see Neelix was not just an annoyance at the worst of times. He can be deadly earnest when he wants to be but that would be quite a downer to see that all the time. And I know Ethan Phillips wasn't looking to be Clint Eastwood. I remembered him as a kid in the sitcom Benson and surprisingly in the movie Lean On Me. Comic relief even in that.

But did anyone really believe for one minute he was going to succeed in beaming out to space? There can only be suspense when you don't know the outcome, at least for me. The best we could hope for is the reason why he decides not to beam out into space is good enough to raise it from standard fare.

Now for a good twist as he was beaming out our trusty can't-get-a-lock kim would live up to his namesake and cause the tricorder scattering field to displace itself, thereby saving Neelix but instead it's shifted itself around chuckles beaming HIM out into space with no chance of retrieval. Now that would have been must-see TV!

As it is 1.5 stars is all I can give this, despite this yahoo serious side of Neelix we only got from time to time.
John
Sun, Dec 6, 2015, 3:11am (UTC -6)
"Proto-matter - a highly unstable substance which every ethical scientist in the galaxy refuses to work with," according to Saavik from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. But here, proto-matter is considered a very popular resource for all species.

Oh well, I guess history has been changed again. The Krenim did it.

Oh yeah, so Neelix is supposed to be getting regular injections of nano-probes for the rest of his life or he will die again? And yet we never reference this fact again. Oh well. The Krenim did it.
Shannon
Thu, Dec 17, 2015, 11:10pm (UTC -6)
Totally agree with your review Jammer, spot on! This was a great character episode for Neelix, and Ethan Phillips was definitely up to the task. I am a little puzzled by your only giving it 3 stars. From what I can tell, you really liked this episode and had very few negatives to point out. I would have given it 3.5 stars, perhaps even 4. Thought-provoking stories that are brilliantly written and acted are what Star Trek is all about, and this one ranks right up there with the best of Trek.
Diamond Dave
Sat, Feb 13, 2016, 7:49am (UTC -6)
You can't help but think the writers were tipping a wink to the audience in killing off Neelix, and then giving them the finger by resurrecting him. But what they did do was come up with a genuinely excellent episode.

Here we have indeed something which is deep, reflective, extremely well acted, and nuanced. That it's the normally ebullient Neelix that suffers this crisis is doubly interesting. And, as others have noted, this is about as dark as it gets - we'll see whether Neelix is back to normal next episode, but here, at least, I have sympathy with those who think he is barely hanging on by the end. Strong stuff, and means I can't even use the "Having fun? No" line. 3.5 stars.
mephyve
Sat, Aug 27, 2016, 5:58pm (UTC -6)
How's Neelix. He's dead . Yeah right
Shields are down so why show shields working as they are getting away from the proto matter?
Oh great. Another what's supposed to happen after death episode. Been done to death.
Mercifully fell asleep during Neelix 'attempted suicide
George Monet
Fri, Sep 9, 2016, 12:49am (UTC -6)
While this was an excellent episode, it wasn't without its flaws. Chiefly in that the Doctor once again decided to resurrect the dead, resulting in the newly risen having a crisis of faith that led to them trying to commit suicide via teleporter. Remember how well that worked out in Emanations? You'd think that the Prime Directive would have something to say about bringing back people from the dead. That at least would explain why people are left for dead after only receiving a superficial wind. A wind that they wouldn't have received if they were wearing some type of personal force field. Or armor, or anything.
Mikey
Sun, Nov 6, 2016, 6:18am (UTC -6)
"Turns out your friend here is only MOSTLY dead." (guess the reference).

Chakotay sits down and... Cue panpipes. Hate those funking things.

But a good episode nonetheless. I'm with Jammer: 3 stars.
Dave
Tue, Jan 10, 2017, 2:40pm (UTC -6)
If Neelix would have stayed in his seat, the energy blast would have just passed in front of him. And there was zilch reason for Neelix to have bolted out of his seat.
Del_Duio
Mon, Feb 6, 2017, 7:46am (UTC -6)
A great episode that can make both Chakotay's vision quests and Neelix work.
I really like when Trek explores different things like the Great Forest / Barge of the Dead / Stovol 'Kor / and yeah even the Divine Treasury.

And it goes to show that Ethan Phillips is actually a pretty good actor too!
Trek fan
Thu, Feb 9, 2017, 10:32pm (UTC -6)
Just to pose a dissenting opinion here, I really found this episode mediocre at best. Voyager seems obsessed with doing stories on the afterlife and dream realms -- and this one isn't the worst, but isn't hardly among the best either. Ditto for Neelix episodes; I thought his role in "Phage" and the show where he turns unscrupulous to get a space map were both stronger than this episode. Two stars from me for "Mortal Coil," at most, and 1 1/2 stars may be more just.

Unlike the character-driven approach of TOS and DS9, Voyager puts concepts above people, and there's often a cold and clinical feeling to its exploration of themes that borders on cynical. It's like they come up with an idea-driven story -- "near-death experience causes crisis of faith" -- and throw it at a random cast member more or less out of fancy. This week, Neelix unveils a previously unheard-of and likely never-to-be-mentioned again Talaxian belief in the afterlife, a fact that doesn't track with anything we know of his character from the past. Unlike Kira on DS9, whose religious convictions are part of her character, Neelix has never displayed any king of spiritual belief. Of course, Klingons believe in the afterlife and there's an established lore there, but I suppose centering this episode on Torres would have made too much sense for Voyager.

For me, "Mortal Coil" feels contrived and unconvincing, making Neelix more of a cipher who represents abstract ideals than a fully fleshed out character. Phillips puts in a game performance, but the suicide attempt comes out of left field, like most of the story. And the subtext about people of religious faith, as compared to the rich Bajoran mythology of DS9, feels shallow and insulting.
Caedus
Mon, Mar 20, 2017, 1:42am (UTC -6)
I've never seen a Trek ep with such certain anti-religiousity.

Given the demographics of the US and large parts of the world this was certain bold. Not that I agree but it takes confidence anyway.
Robert
Mon, Mar 20, 2017, 9:01am (UTC -6)
@Caedus - It's interesting you saw it that way. I'd personally assume that any God powerful enough to run an afterlife would be able to tell if you were about to be brought back by Borg nanoprobes or not. And if you were, do you need to go the afterlife yet?

I personally never felt it weighed in on religion either way, but only what might happen to a person for whom religion is a primary source of comfort and what happens if that person loses their faith.

In that way it's actually a positive message for religion in some ways. For all the bad religion does (and I don't want to get into a political discussion at the moment, but there are plenty of sins that can be attributed to organized religion) it's a pretty powerful message that a man can watch his entire family be murdered and find the strength to go on purely on the faith that they'll be together in the afterlife. Religion does bring people that level of strength and peace.
Strejda
Sat, Jun 3, 2017, 2:01am (UTC -6)
So, uhm... This was good. Like, really good. While watching, I was constantly expecting it to fall on its ass and no. This is genuinely touching character piece and for a character towards I, like most people, feel apathy to outright disdain most of the time. I got fucking teary eyed at the end. That's INSANE, especially for me.

Okay, one complaint I have is that Neelix's religion has never been mentioned before buuut, I give it pass since they did connect it to his backstory from Jetrel. And Seven's necromancy probes is one of those things that are so gonna be forgotten later, but that isn't this episode's fault anyway. Yeah, really like this one.
Rahul
Wed, Jul 19, 2017, 5:35pm (UTC -6)
A powerful, poignant ending made this episode for me. Prior to that, I felt it wasn't anything particularly noteworthy (similar to "Sacred Ground") with Neelix examining his faith etc. Wasn't sure where it was going...

Good acting all around especially from Phillips and Beltran (Neelix and Chakotay) - they had some solid lines. But especially Phillips who showed how his lack of belief in faith was subtly changing him -- he blows up at 7 of 9, is very circumspect at the party when being honored -- and then ultimately tries to commit suicide (with some ominous foreshadowing).

The fact that Neelix is a godfather wound up playing a critical role -- the whole point of the little girl was building up to show Neelix does not have to commit suicide.

I've never had a serious issue with Neelix's character -- maybe he was a bit obsessive about Kes -- but clearly Phillips is a very capable actor and more should be done with Phillips/Neelix. Starting to like 7 of 9 as a character as well -- much better than Kes.

"Mortal Coil" would have gotten 2 stars but for the ending with Chakotay preventing Neelix's suicide and how it tied up what looked like loose ends, I think this episode is worth 3 stars. Really strong ending and good character episode for the Voyager crew, bringing them closer together around Neelix.
Prince of Space
Thu, Aug 17, 2017, 2:33am (UTC -6)
Ok, hang on... I'm still digesting all the super-serious (supercilious? haha) reviews of this episode.

So many "I can only give it X stars" and "I must disagree in a somber tone, here's why..." comments.

Alright, enough buffoonery, perhaps I should reveal MY thoughts on the episode. To begin, I found Neelix's crisis of faith to be indicative of the inner struggle all sentient beings must have when objectively considering their existence. Much like when I look at so-called fine art in a museum, this episode made me cross my arms and rub my chin while having a deep thoughtful look upon my face.

In other words, it spoke to me. It conjured up my inner child while also liberating my inner geriatric. Like a mobility scooter with dangly colored tassles on the ends of the handlebars.

I laughed, yet cried at my own shallowness for having done so. I found the plot both specious and special, sometimes simultaneously.

But, I digress. I cannot in good conscience rate this episode any higher than 2.5 stars. NAY, try not to change my valued opinion... you must learn to accept my final judgement. I suppose given the right flight of fancy on a pristine Autumn afternoon, I could whimsically decide to raise my score to 3 stars but until such day, my verdict stands! IT STANDS, KNAVES!!

Now go... our time together must necessarily be concluded, for I must regenerate my immense mental faculties. GO! ... there are other episodes than this...
Eli
Mon, Sep 4, 2017, 4:37pm (UTC -6)
I thought the episode had potential, but it took too long with narrative exposition that establishes the conflict. By the time the conflict at the center of the episode is truly visible, the end is near and shortly thereafter the episode ends. I would have liked to see Neelix chew over the different ramifications up his near death experience and vision, perhaps adding a second vision, and then come to some sort of peace with an amended believe system. Overall there is good material here, but I feel like a full conversation never took place.
Eli
Mon, Sep 4, 2017, 4:39pm (UTC -6)
I should correct my first sentence to read: "I thought the episode had potential, but the writers took too long with narrative exposition that establishes the conflict."

Still the writers were on the right track.
silly
Fri, Sep 8, 2017, 12:19am (UTC -6)
Agreed, the episode was sluggish until the last act which is some of the finest acting and writing of Voyager. They really knocked it out of the park wrt any Trek.
Silly
Fri, Sep 8, 2017, 7:23am (UTC -6)
Yanks: '"Great Forest" [...] Guiding Tree? ... preamble to Avatar here?'

Whoah... Avatar crossed my mind as well, but not from the tree stuff... During the vision quest, when Neelix's sister "dies", the forest changes from day to night and the way everything was glowing along with the animals sounds strongly reminded need of Avatar when Neytiri drenched Jake's torch and it got dark then Jake started seeing everything differently.

---


One thing the episode veered close to doing but mostly avoided was making Neelix's quest "comical" in the way Trek typically handles Ferengi. I credit Ethan Phillips' stellar acting with keeping this all "real", so to speak.
Leif
Sun, Sep 10, 2017, 10:40pm (UTC -6)
jammer why do you think the plot of this episode is not original? i don't remeber another trek episode about a character being dead for so long and not experiencing an afterlife and then coming back??
Peter Swinkels
Wed, Sep 13, 2017, 2:10pm (UTC -6)
While this is a very nice episode, seeing yet another incident where a shuttle is easily damaged makes a wonder how the crew still even dares to take on of those things outside. Yes, I know, a necessary minor contrivance for the story to get going. But still... Sigh.
Mertov
Sun, Sep 17, 2017, 9:00pm (UTC -6)
The quote: "In these maturation chambers, the development of conversational skills is, I suppose, a low priority?"

... and the Doctor's delivery of it !!!

I laughed loud at least 10 straight seconds. :))))))

I am not as high on this episode as Jammer. Nor on Beltran. His reaction (or non-reaction) to Paris's "Nelix is dead" news in the shuttle was as dull as acting gets. And the last scene where Beltran talks Neelix out of suicide, did nothing for me.

Neelix had good moments for character development but that's it. I would certainly put "Fair Trade" above this one.
William B
Thu, Oct 19, 2017, 9:42am (UTC -6)
I've fallen pretty far behind, but I wanted to talk about this episode. So, in the comments a few people have pointed out that we hadn't heard about Neelix's belief in the Great Forest before, or even that he has (religious) beliefs. It's also been suggested that Neelix's crisis of faith is not all that plausible a "crisis of faith," because most people of religious faith would not let their faith be shaken so easily. I can see both points, I can, and I'm willing to grant the possibility that this episode doesn't work as a meditation on religion per se. However, to me, the central element of what goes on with Neelix isn't the loss of faith in God or Gods, but is very *very* specifically focused on the loss of his family. That is something we've known about Neelix since Jetrel, and it's made clear in Jetrel and Rise (e.g.) that this is a core aspect of his character and one of the central reasons he does what he has. So rather than looking at religious belief as a whole, it's focused on the specific role that belief in heaven (or equivalent) plays in helping people cope with tremendous loss, particularly in the absence of enough in this world to help them come to terms with it. The tragedy of what Neelix experienced when he was younger combined with his relative isolation among the crew -- no one else can understand what he's gone through, and he's the only Delta Quadrant native on the ship (besides, notably, Naomi) -- mean that this story makes perfect sense as a Neelix one, to me, not because of the religion but because of the under-processed loss he's experienced.

Neelix's behaviour here seemed so consistent with what I knew about him, to me, that I had to go back and check the Rise transcript to confirm that he didn't specifically mention anything religious/spiritual when describing his sister Alixia. What he actually says is that he talks with her (and the rest of his family) every night, and I think I had mentally added that he does so in a kind of prayer in ways consistent with his beliefs, though checking it Rise doesn't make this idea explicit and so it is a bit of a retrospective element of this episode. And so, okay, yes, the episode certainly goes out of its way to sell Neelix's connection with Talaxian customs (through the festival week material and his statement about the Great Forest to Naomi), in ways that previous episodes didn't, which smacks of contrivance. And yet -- we know that Neelix has mixed feelings about his homeworld from his own unresolved feelings about the war; we know that he loves Talaxian spices and that suggests some desire to continue to link to his cultural heritage; in Day of Honor, he told B'Elanna he's generally a fan of traditions. And in the scene with Naomi, I can understand why he'd open up to a child about his beliefs in a way that he wouldn't to a crew largely composed of adult largely secular scientists. Even there, though, the specifics of his belief don't seem that important to me for the story: what's important is the idea that Neelix had found a belief system which gave him hope that he would see his family again, and that the pain of losing the notion of ever seeing them again would send him into a huge crisis, and make him not want to continue living. It just makes so much sense to me that Neelix would have patched himself together, imperfectly, to deal with his huge war-trauma of the loss of his entire family, and his eventual separation from everyone of his own kind; with Kes' breakup and her leaving entirely, he loses his last connection even to anything near what he considered home, as well as the possibility of romantic love and maybe even a family (which he did consider forming with Kes back in, ack, Elogium). Things just keep being taken away from Neelix, and several episodes (Jetrel, Fair Trade, Rise) make clear that his cheery exterior cannot really hold indefinitely, and that there is an abyss of sadness inside. I'll add that the nanoprobes element, and the total unfamiliarity of Seven of Nine and Borg technology, further cause alienation of him from his own body, which remains the last element of him which remains of Talax/Rinax (and of his family), so that in bringing him back Neelix feels that even his own body has betrayed him.

I don't think of Neelix's suicide attempt as being contradictory to his wanting to be a part of the Voyager family, or of his panicky actions in Fair Trade to maintain his place there, either. Neelix *does* eventually listen to duty (to Naomi) as a reason to stay in this world, after all. But he also indicates part of the problem when he says that that Neelix has already died. Neelix's varied roles for the crew depend on him keeping the faith, keeping a cheery exterior, and if he can't do that, what use is he to them? This is a self-centred perspective, because of course people don't *only* value Neelix because of his upbeatness (and in some senses would value him more if he were a little less obnoxiously upbeat), but with his family being taken from him *again* and the reality of his loss (and loneliness) hitting him, I think he really can't imagine having to live the life in the identity that he's formed for himself on Voyager. To give an example, if Neelix really could not shake his despair, what use would he be as a babysitter to Naomi, who would surely sense the sadness under his exterior and learn that the universe is a horrible place, and not one that it's worth fighting to stay in? Even after Fair Trade, Neelix still doubted his usefulness constantly, just in a different key, and I think in his grateful suicide note we get the sense that he values what the crew have done for him, but does not *really* believe that he's going to be missed all that much, and just hopes that maybe they'll have fond memories of him. Even Janeway's telling him "you won't get off that easy" and keeping him on the ship in Fair Trade could be seen in retrospect as an act of pity. Neelix knows that they mostly don't take him seriously, and there are all kinds of signals throughout the episode that despite his hard work, most of the crew does take him for granted. More to the point, I think Neelix understandably thinks that they don't really understand him, and can't really understand or support him in his recognition of what his family's death -- and of his newfound realization that maybe he won't ever see them again, in any form -- and why he so readily jumps to turning inside himself, lying to others, and eventually breaking down and lashing out. There's a parallel to O'Brien in Hard Time lashing out at Molly, but here Neelix lashes out far less -- in his yelling at Seven -- but I think that Neelix feels a similar brokenness in himself after that point, and no longer believes himself to be the person the ship needs, and so feels he has nothing to live for.

Chakotay's reaching him at the end is contingent on someone showing real need for him, but even that need is selfish, and there's a sadness to Neelix having to put aside his own despair purely because he's needed by others, and not because he wants to continue; but the ending, in which Neelix tells Naomi the story again, manages to recast the (apparently literal) belief that he will see his family again into a myth which he passes down to comfort a child who is scared of the dark -- a metaphor, of course, for us being afraid of what it is that lies for us in the unknown. Naomi invents monsters so that Neelix will come to save her from the dark (the void; nothing; death) and give her comfort by telling her stories; what adults have to do is to learn to tell themselves the stories, and to maybe half-believe/half-not-believe them.

I guess I will say that making Neelix's role as godparent to Naomi central to the episode maybe is a bit of a cheat since *that* hadn't been established in previous episodes (or even Naomi's name), but to the show's credit, Voyager *does not* drop this element of Neelix's character. I also think that it does seem plausible to me that it could work its way into one of Neelix's amorphous "duties," and also that since we see Neelix with less frequency than we see the other main characters, that we might not have known about it before now. As far as the content of Neelix's crisis of faith being largely ignored in upcoming episodes: well, I'll wait and see. (SPOILERS: I think Homestead maybe pays some of this off by showing Neelix finding other Talaxians who have suffered similar losses? But then again, maybe not. I forget.) Other aspects of the show are sometimes obvious -- I found Neelix's vision quest to be a little too rote, for instance, and I find Samantha Wildman's showing up in the transporter room after Neelix doesn't answer his commbadge for a minute to be very obnoxious -- and so I don't think this is a full classic. But I think it's a really moving character tale about a maligned and often mis-handled character. 3.5 stars.

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