Nutshell: The performances are good, but is this an episode of Trek or an after-school special?
"Parturition" is one of those character pieces that relies on very little storyline. Unfortunately, it's one of the more mundane character pieces in a long time, and the little bit of existing plot has no real focus or meaning. Voyager is beginning to worry me now—this is the fourth loser in a row.
Captain Janeway sends Paris and Neelix on a shuttlecraft mission to scout a violent M-class planet (nicknamed "Planet Hell") with interference preventing the use of the transporters. (What good are transporters anyway? Half the planets encountered by the Voyager have "interference" so severe as to render the transporters useless.)
Neither wants to go on this mission. Neelix and Paris are not on good terms with one another (they had just gotten into a physical fight in the mess hall moments before the captain sent for them). Neelix is angry, jealous, and paranoid. He's afraid Paris wants to steal Kes away from him. He's convinced that every time he turns his back, Kes and Paris are conspiring to run away together and leave him alone and destroyed. Well, maybe that's exaggerating Neelix's thoughts a bit, but he is one excessively jealous guy.
Surprisingly, the opening two acts of this story are the best. It centers around the fury Neelix allows to build inside him because of his jealousy. While an entire A-story centering around Neelix's disapproval of Paris' attraction to Kes seems to me as one of the dumbest ideas for a science fiction show, some miracle of execution (an admirable direction by Jonathan Frakes) allows this to remain not only tolerable, but somewhat amusing. It's not every day you see a fight between two people on a Federation starship that results in both being covered in pasta sauce.
It's as the episode gets into its latter acts, however, when the story begins turning extremely trite. Paris and Neelix go down on the shuttle together. (Fine.) They sit in silence for most of the trip. (Okay.) There's an emergency, and the shuttle hurtles out of control and crashes. (Sort of okay.) Now the two have to force themselves to put their differences aside and work together to survive. (Predictable.) They walk into a cave and find a nest of eggs, from one of which a reptilian creature hatches. Aw, it's sick. (Trite.) Paris wants to leave it alone. Neelix wants to nurse it back to health. The two finally agree and all but shake hands. (Very trite.)
The moral of the story? Even if you get into a fight with somebody, you can still make up and be their friend and work together to help others and...oh, never mind. The lessons here are on the level of an ABC after school special. Watching these two come to terms with each other is not completely unpalatable, but definitely not interesting either.
Back in orbit, an alien vessel attacks the Voyager. The aliens seem to have an interest in the planet. They land their ship near Paris' and Neelix's location. It turns out that the newborn reptile is of an advanced, sentient race, and the ship that attacked the Voyager are just the parents checking on their nest. Give me a break. The fact that creatures capable of cruising the galaxy would need to hatch their eggs in some cave on Planet Hell really strains credulity. More frustrating is how we never get to understand who these aliens are or what they want—their role in the episode is just so unimpressive and poorly conceived. They cruise in, fire their phasers a few times, check their nest, and leave. Thanks, but no thanks. I thought this was the Delta Quadrant, where aliens are new and interesting.
Even with this drearily uninteresting premise, Frakes manages to keep things watchable. The Paris/Neelix scenes transcend the writing since both actors seem to be sincerely into their roles. Virtually saving the episode is Kate Mulgrew, who turns in a wonderful performance as Janeway. The Captain comes across very nicely in this episode—Mulgrew is engaging in the lighter moments; commanding yet likable when the ship is in danger. (Her line in regards to Paris' and Neelix's personal problem—"Solve it."—is a particular delight.) But can't we get a story worthy of these performances?