Star Trek: Voyager
Air date: 1/8/1997
Teleplay by Andre Bormanis
Story by Ronald Wilkerson & Jean Louise Matthias
Directed by Jesus Salvador Trevino
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"You've been on this ship for two years. I think by now you'd have learned that the first duty of any Starfleet officer is the truth. You violated that duty, Neelix—and there will be consequences." — Janeway
Nutshell: Stop the presses. An enlightening show about ... Neelix.
Well, it's about time.
At long last the Voyager creative team has supplied Neelix with a relevant and entertaining episode, and has given me a reason to grant Neelix some respect—respect which, quite frankly, for the past year and a half or so, he hasn't really deserved—at least not as a television character.
The reason I don't like Neelix is the same reason I sometimes don't like Quark on DS9: he's too rigidly transparent. His dialog is uninteresting, annoying, and unfunny. And worst of all, he's a personality that never grows or develops, but simply does the same thing day in and day out.
I don't know about most people, but I've had enough of "Morale Officer Neelix" and "Ship's Cook Neelix" and "Talk Show Host Neelix" and "'My Darling, Kes' Neelix" and "Holodeck Companion Neelix" and "'Mr. Vulcan' Neelix" and, yes, even "Delta Quadrant Guide Neelix." Each one of these facets of Neelix is really just the same facet: a lovable, goofy, quirky guy who consistently offers little-to-no compelling interest into any plot.
That's why I'm very pleased about what "Fair Trade" has to say about Neelix. This episode shows a (gasp!) different part of Neelix—a Neelix who is losing his element in the vastness of the Delta Quadrant and beginning to feel the signs of uselessness to his fellow shipmates. A Neelix of desperation, anxiety, and worry for the future. A Neelix who, for the first time I can remember, has actions that cannot so easily be predicted.
In one way, this implicitly voices a fairly dramatic statement about the series. After two years, the producers have finally shown that they realize the Delta Quadrant is a big place. If Neelix doesn't know what's out there, then maybe Voyager is really going into truly unknown space, and maybe Voyager will finally encounter something truly new and exciting. Maybe not, but I'm going to try to keep my optimism.
The new region of space Voyager is passing into is a vast area called the Nechrid Expanse, and Neelix avoids revealing his unfamiliarity at all costs. There's a space station near the border of this area—a galactic trading location. There might be some useful resources here that the Voyager crew can bargain for, Neelix suggests, but what Neelix really hopes to quietly seek out here is a map of this unknown space.
This station is a rough place. The traders are not the friendly sort; the station has a ring of narcotic dealers, and murder is not all that uncommon an occurrence. While searching for his map, Neelix encounters an old Talaxian acquaintance from his past—a somewhat mischievous character named Wixiban (James Nardini). Wixiban is trapped on this station because his ship has been impounded by Bahrat, the local lawman (Carlos Carrasco, in a less than stellar performance). He doesn't have the money to pay off his debts and leave, so he lives a lonely life of under-the-table dealings and schemes—the type of life, we learn, that Neelix might very well be leading if he weren't a crew member on the prestigious Voyager.
Wixiban is the type of person you just know can't be trusted, because trouble always has a way of following him. But in order to obtain the needed map and pay off an old debt to his friend, Neelix agrees to use one of Voyager's shuttles to help Wixiban with a trade—a type of trade of which Wixiban fails to reveal certain specifics. (One being the trade is taking place in a darkened alley; another being the drug products with which he's bartering will not likely be used for medicinal purposes.)
The trade turns sour; Wixiban is forced to shoot and kill the buyer in self-defense when the buyer pulls a phaser on him, and suddenly Neelix finds himself in a very bad situation. A man has been killed in an ugly situation and now Neelix doesn't know what to do. Wixiban talks him into doing nothing—to hide it from Janeway and the crew.
One very effective aspect about "Fair Trade" is the way things get progressively worse for Neelix one step at a time, yet these steps seem so small and unexpected. Neelix means well, but it doesn't matter—he's trapped in a difficult, claustrophobic position. His only options are to tell the truth and betray an indebted friend, or to cover up the truth and thus toss away his First Duty to his fellow Starfleet crew members.
I always enjoy watching characters wriggle with their consciences in these types of difficult situations. It makes for good drama and engrossing inner-conflict. And this is new and interesting stuff for Neelix, which is good almost no matter what, given the static, non-developing alternative. Watching Neelix get deeper and deeper into these troubles is compelling, and it gives Ethan Phillips a priceless opportunity to utilize more of his acting range. There are subtle foreshadowings to the inevitable, accentuated by Neelix's trustingly naive remarks to Wixiban: "What do we need weapons for?" and "I don't like negotiating in dark alleys." Anyone would see something bad coming in a setting like this—probably even Neelix—but he trusts his friend and needs his map.
The plot ups the ante when Bahrat informs Janeway that the "murderer" used an unknown weapon—a Federation weapon. And as if lying to Tuvok during the subsequent investigation isn't stressful enough for Neelix, Wixiban has even more news: The botched transaction was not simply a trade—it was a courier run for some really mean drug traffickers who will break legs for their product—unless Neelix sets them up with some warp plasma straight from the Voyager.
What happens from here isn't what I would call ground-breaking as these tough situation stories go, but it's sensibly handled by the script for the most part. There are a few plot anomalies that didn't quite hold together, like how Neelix got a hold of the Voyager shuttle in the first place. I doubt he could or would steal it, so did Janeway lend it to him? If so, how could Tuvok be so unsuspecting of Neelix's whereabouts during the killing? Also, where was Kes during all this? How could Neelix go all this time without confiding in her about the incident? (This brings up even more questions about their supposed "breakup" in "Warlord"—an event so murkily handled by that episode that I'm still not certain where it stands, which makes it appear to be an oversight here.) The flaws are not all that detracting, because it's the emotional core that matters, and that works pretty well.
The Truth always makes for interesting Star Trek material. "Fair Trade" reminds me of one classic TNG episode, "The First Duty." While "Fair Trade" isn't as compelling as that tour de force was (or even as powerful as Voyager's "Prime Factors" from first season), there's something to be said about an episode that holds honor and duty so dear. A discussion between Paris and Neelix about Paris' tarnished past is a highlight—it's sensible and on-target, and although Neelix doesn't reveal his problem to Paris, it's interesting to note how obvious Neelix's guilt appears to us, and how obvious it must also appear to Paris. This, for a change, makes genuinely good use of Neelix's transparency. (It's also an interesting irony that Robert Duncan McNeill played the pivoting role in "The First Duty," yet, as a different character on Voyager, he still has basically the same history.)
Speaking of reappearing actors playing different roles, Alexander Enberg, who plays Ensign Vorik in this episode, also played a Vulcan—the same person for all practical purposes if you ask me—in TNG's "Lower Decks." (In that episode he had a different name.) It seems to me that we may very well see him again. I'm undecided about this guy; he wasn't extremely important here, and I'm debating whether his line delivery is particularly "Vulcan-like." It doesn't strike me as so, but, then again, no one said all Vulcans are alike.
But I digress. Neelix's solution involves going to Bahrat with a plan that entails capturing the drug dealers in exchange for dropping all charges against Paris and Chakotay (who are charged with the killings in an earlier scene that strains plot plausibility for the sake of forcing a conflict between Janeway and Bahrat). I thought Neelix's plan was fairly clever, and the execution was decent too. While the drug dealers are about as cardboard as villains get, Neelix does put a card up his sleeve by supplying them with some warp plasma, but only after filling up the room with plasma gas that will explode if anyone fires a phaser. More surprising is Neelix's rather genuine-sounding "Go ahead and shoot. I have nothing to lose!" I knew things were bad for Neelix, but I didn't think he saw them as that bad—so bad that his life was no longer worth living.
The arrest ends in an explosion that knocks everyone to the floor and incinerates one bad guy. Neelix later wakes up in sickbay where it's time to face the music. (One particularly enjoyable notion is the fact that Wixiban is long gone by the time Neelix comes to. He doesn't hang around to see if Neelix is okay; he leaves without a second's delay, which strikes me as perfectly in tune with his personality.)
The final scene is killer—though, admittedly, if it hadn't been there, the entire episode would've been pointless. Like in "Prime Factors" Mulgrew delivers a terrific performance as Janeway comes down hard and stern for a classic Starfleet dressing-down. Neelix is prepared to be "put off the ship," but Janeway informs him that things aren't that "easy"—he's part of a family now and has responsibilities to his shipmates. This final scene is quite enjoyable, having a sense that Neelix owes a great deal of restitution for his actions, but that his fellow crew will and do forgive him—because that's what Starfleet does. Kudos go to both Mulgrew and Phillips.
And Kudos to the writers. They have renewed my spirits for accepting Neelix—at least for now—because this is easily the best use Neelix has been put to since "Jetrel" of first season. I guess the lesson is that different uses of Neelix is good, and retreads of the typical Neelix is bad.
I say "for now" because this show can be a turning point for Neelix. Whether it is or not remains to be seen. Now that the writers have taken the first step, other steps must follow. Neelix can't be a guide, so he must do other useful things instead. The writers must give him a purpose so he can be a useful member of the crew.
And by crew, I mean the Starship Voyager and the series Star Trek: Voyager alike.
Previous episode: Macrocosm
Next episode: Alter Ego
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49 comments on this post
Mon, May 4, 2009, 1:07pm (UTC -5)
Neelix being ST's version of Jar Jar is a comparison I've read and heard often and totally agree with. I never watched VOY when it was originally on television. I started buying the DVD sets a couple of years ago. I began with S5 only because VOY sets were hard to find.
What I saw of Neelix in S5 wasn't good. Trying to be funny and not succeeding each and every time. I had no idea what his purpose was either on the ship or on the series. Just what was it Neelix was supposed to be contributing to the series? Even after watching all of VOY I can't really answer that. "Caretaker" was a pretty good intro for him. I loved his line in "The Cloud" saying the Starfleet crew was a bunch of idiots for exploring dangerous nebulae just for the sake of doing so.
But then they made him perpetually happy and goofy and annoying. The whole "Mr. Tuvok" thing made me wish just once Tuvok would see the logic in putting the smackdown on Neelix to finally get Neelix to stop calling him that.
And then there's this episode. Neelix realizes he'll serve no purpose on Voyager and quick. He can't guide them anymore. He meets up with Wix and begins a dramatic descent rare for this character and this series.
One of my favorite non sci-fi shows is NYPD BLUE, a show that loves to put the characters through difficult situations and watch them work their way out of them. "Fair Trade" reminds me of BLUE in that sense. Here's Neelix hoping to find a map, meeting Wix, agreeing to a deal and then helping to coverup drug trafficking and murder to initially staying silent when Paris and Chakotay take the blame.
And Neelix's line about "Shoot me, I don't care" does indeed come as a surprise like Jammer mentioned.
For the only real time in the series Neelix mattered to me. How he was going to get out of this ('cause you know he would) wasn't such an easy thing to spot.
Surely, this story needed and deserved some followup. We should have seen the crew being a bit more wary with Neelix. Or see Paris identify with Neelix about having a checkered past and overcoming it.
Playing Neelix couldn't not have been easy for Phillips. Not in the sense that the character itself was all that challenging but that it can't be easy playing a character week to week on a series and knowing that most viewers wish you weren't there.
For this episode at least Neelix had purpose and Phillips delivered a great performance.
Mon, Aug 24, 2009, 9:46am (UTC -5)
Fri, Sep 18, 2009, 12:32pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Mar 3, 2010, 2:08pm (UTC -5)
I think Neelix would have really worked as a cynical, rueful character who would have been aghast at the usual idealistic, "lets-see-what's-behind-THAT-star" status quo. There were hints of this there in the first season, and we rarely see those kinds of pragmatic characters in Star Trek. It's even rarer when they're one of the good guys. Going down this rarely-trodden path would have given Neelix a lot of definition and difference as a character, provided a lot of potential character conflict and growth, and not to mention highlighted how alien the Delta Quadrant really was.
But, of course, that would have required the writers to actually make the DQ different in any meaningful way, and not make the crew One Big Happy Family. ("They're not Klingons, they're Kazon. Totally different spelling!")
Man, it's such a shame that they ran as fast as they could away from their unique premise. It's not every day that Trek gets the chance to do something really different.
Fri, Sep 10, 2010, 1:19pm (UTC -5)
Apprently, the script for this episode included a scene where Neelix and Kes' breakup is more "official", but it was cut for time. It's too bad because it would have been relevant to the episode (maybe earning it an extra half-star?) and the series.
Mon, Mar 14, 2011, 1:48am (UTC -5)
I am quite sick of hearing people complain about Voyager for being Star Trek rather than being un-Star Trek like apparently everyone hoped it would be.
In terms of continuity and the whole Kes thing, etc. Most of those questions are answered little by little in later episodes, it isn't a linear progression like (gasp) real life isn't. The hanging threads in "Resolutions" for example aren't tied up until season 7's "Fractured." Tuvok mentions Kes' and Neelix' breakup in a later episode and there's a quiet little resolution in "The Gift." Even "Fury" gives them a little scene together in which 2 sentences of dialogue speak volumes about what still is and still isn't between them. I really don't know what you people want.
Sun, Apr 17, 2011, 10:38pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Feb 25, 2012, 3:47pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Mar 15, 2012, 5:27am (UTC -5)
I think that while being in the shuttle with his Talaxian friend, Neelix mentioned that he had informed Chakotay and I guess he got the permission to take a shuttle.
The last scene was well acted, and I have to say that sometimes I LOVE Janeway, she reminds me of my mother. :)
Wed, Mar 28, 2012, 10:58pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Sep 29, 2012, 3:44am (UTC -5)
Fri, Nov 23, 2012, 6:15pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Dec 26, 2012, 8:21am (UTC -5)
Thu, Dec 27, 2012, 8:03pm (UTC -5)
So the problem is that the producers viewed Neelix as the type of character played by an actor like Ethan Phillips. As I see it, the character should've been conceived as the a role for an actor like Robert Beltran, with his quiet authority. Yeah! Beltran as Neelix, Phillips as the Doctor, and Picardo as the space pirate who becomes first officer.
Space pirates! Scourge of the universe! Vicious! Merciless! They crush all that defy them!
Sun, Jun 16, 2013, 11:12pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Sep 10, 2013, 8:39am (UTC -5)
Tue, Mar 25, 2014, 8:21am (UTC -5)
Mon, Aug 25, 2014, 9:15am (UTC -5)
The premise isn't unique but the way everything plays out certainly feels fresh and relevant. Being treated to a wonderfully realized and subtle build up in the plotting warrants kudos on its own. You don't fully grasp how deep Neelix is until he's already buried.
The guest performances are hit or miss with two exceptions. The station overseer was a bit stiff at times, but I rather liked how the writers portrayed him as reasonable enough in spite of his job and circumstances. It can't be easy and I certainly don't envy him his position. Neelix's old friend, Wixiban, was very solid throughout and helped highlight that these two truly had a past. Again the writers decide not to opt for the single-minded boneheaded-ness here with the clichéd "turning against an old friend because I'm a guest star so it's okay" scenario.
Janeway's speech at the end was absolutely spot-on script and performance-wise as was Neelix's reaction. There's very little for me to find at fault here and I think I enjoyed this quite a bit more than Jammer did.
Really good stuff and definitely one of the better (and most consistent) showings of the season.
Thu, Aug 13, 2015, 8:30am (UTC -5)
They gave Ethan some meat here and he chewed it the best he could dressed up like a cat clown and all.
I really felt that Neelix was worried that he wouldn't be useful to Janeway anymore once they reached the Nekrit Expanse, and therefore left behind. Good acting here. Remember, he'd just lost Kes too.
I'm glad with got the "truth" speech from Janeway at the end. I'm glad she had Neelix do some "extra military instruction" too.
I think a highlight in this episode was Janeway's expression after Neelix accepts his punishment and leaves the room.
I'll go 3 stars here.
Sat, Sep 19, 2015, 4:01pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Nov 19, 2015, 4:09am (UTC -5)
Wait a minute. These aliens have transporter technology? When Neelix first came on board Voyager, he was so shocked and mesmerized by the transporters, claiming he had never heard of such technology before. And yet, these drug dealers seem fairly known, Neelix's friend knows them very well, and it is just accepted that they have transporter tech. So, why was Neelix so shocked by Voyager's transporters if he and his friend knew about them all along?
Sat, Dec 26, 2015, 5:56am (UTC -5)
Thu, Jan 28, 2016, 7:44am (UTC -5)
However, the plot is so by the numbers and takes so long to come together (and even includes yet another crew arrest by mistake) it never rises above tedium. The Sesame Street conclusion - always tell the truth - is hardly a surprise, but it doesn't really matter because look, the Captain wants Neelix around for himself and not for his knowledge of the sector. 2 stars.
Mon, Aug 22, 2016, 3:43pm (UTC -5)
It also annoyed me that a small crew that's growing smaller the longer the voyage goes on wouldn't recognize someone who was studious and industrious trying to make himself useful. You'd think they all could use an extra hand.
Tue, Aug 23, 2016, 4:52am (UTC -5)
Sat, May 27, 2017, 12:30am (UTC -5)
Ensign Vorik. Right off the bat, I knew I recognized him but could not remember exactly from where. Ah, the Enterprise, yes, that was it. Thanks Jammer. And, since he was playing a Vulcan the exact same way here, with the same rank, I'd say it's the same character as well. And I kind of like him. *I just did some minor searching and it has been suggested Taurik and Vorik were twins. But, they didn't put that in the show, so your mileage may vary.*
But... as I've slowly moved along during my re-watch, I don't recall seeing any Vulcans apart from Tuvok. There might have been some, somewhere, but I don't recall them. It seems to me if there was more than one Vulcan on board, they would hang out together sometimes, just as the Earthlings do. Like in the mess hall, sipping Vulcan tea and quietly reading at the same table, or playing Vulcan brain games together. Perhaps when Tuvok was losing his marbles after melding with the serial killer, Ensign Vorik could have helped him with his mental discipline (seems logical to me).
We've seen the engine room plenty of times, but this is the first time we see him? We give a pass to new Earthers we see, because many in the background are faceless uniforms, and if they bring one of them to the fore, well, we just didn't really notice them before. But with a specific race where there are only a few on board, it seems we'd remember them and they would interact. But maybe Ensign Vorik wasn't ever seen because he was on the Lower Decks. :D
I don't know, if they were home, I'd figure he was just a new crew member. But he's been on the ship at least two years, and probably longer, and they give him lines to speak that could have been given to anyone. He doesn't do anything particularly Vulcan-ish, he just seems to suddenly appear. That... seemed off to me...
Enjoy the Day Everyone... RT
Thu, Aug 3, 2017, 1:29pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Aug 19, 2017, 12:15am (UTC -5)
Vorik could have been used for continuity purposes too as Jammer pointed out that Vulcan character from an earlier show that was played by the same actor.
The final verbal beat-down by Janeway was terrific as others have pointed out. Good episode overall, and another good review by Jammer.
Sat, Aug 19, 2017, 1:06am (UTC -5)
I had read somewhere that one explanation was that they did not want to pay royalties to the writer of "The First Duty" for the episodes of Voyager. There are couple of other vague explanations too. But I never found a definitive answer (as in directly from producers) anywhere about why Paris is not Locarno's continuation..
Sat, Aug 19, 2017, 1:32am (UTC -5)
You are right that no Vulcan has made an appearance before this episode. But in a previous episode, B'Elanna or someone else did say something about "asking the other Vulcans" on the ship. I can't remember who and which episode though. So we knew there were some but Vorik is the first one we see (and no I don't believe any appeared on the background either before this episode).
Sat, Sep 30, 2017, 1:00pm (UTC -5)
I'm a bit unconvinced by Neelix's solution on plot terms -- would the station owner really let Neelix and Wixiban deploy a plasma leak in his cargo bay? If it was a secret part of their plan, how could they be sure that they won't get thrown into cryogenic suspension for endangering the station? But I like the general idea of Neelix deploying his wiliness to solve a problem that he fell into due to Wix's deceptions. As for Neelix's "Shoot -- you'll be doing me a favour!" moment, I read it as Neelix not actually trying to die, which would have been very out of character since that would lead to Wixiban's death too, even if Neelix is that desperate, but of him using his (real) desperation to prove to the bad guys more effectively that he's telling the truth and not bluffing -- to show that he is willing to die, and using his sadness to do it. The last scene between Neelix and Janeway is great, and I appreciate that she could see from his willingness to leave the ship without a fuss (and his risky, self-sacrificial behaviour in trying to get Paris and Chakotay released) that he was fully sincere about not making the same mistakes again. I love her little smile at the end.
So I like it a lot. Is it 3.5 stars? I'm going to say no. I think that the episode is a little thin, with too many variations on the same Neelix/Wixiban scene of Wixiban telling Neelix he's in too deep now. It's not quite gripping enough for the subject matter. But it is very good. And as I said I'm a bit taken unsure about the plotting at the end. A high 3 stars.
Wed, Nov 1, 2017, 2:55pm (UTC -5)
The whole 'just tell the truth' bit was pretty hokey.
I don't see Bahrat forgiving Neelix and Wix for dealing drugs and commiting murder, just for catching a couple drug dealers, especially after they told him what the drug dealers were doing and how they were doing it. He seems like the type to have just arrested them all. He didn't need much evidence to arrest people considering what happened to Chakotay and Tuvok. Maybe let Neelix and Wix take a plea bargain of sorts, like serving only 10 years in cryostasis instead of 50 or some such thing. After all murder is more serious than drug dealing I would think. And the talaxians basically committed manslaughter (alienslaughter?) again at the end by releasing warp plasma that blew up everything and killed that alien dude.
Also cryostasis doesn't seem like that big of a punishment. Go into stasis and wake up 50 years in the future! Heck I'd practically do that now voluntarily. :D For criminals that sounds like a pretty good deal. Hey! You murdered that guy. You get to travel to the future! Gee thanks! I hate this place now anyway.
2 1/2 stars.
Sat, Nov 11, 2017, 12:29pm (UTC -5)
Anyway, I really enjoyed this episode. I completely agree w/William B's analysis of Neelix. I understood why he was desperate to maintain his "usefulness" to the crew, and even though he had been on the ship for two years, I can see why he didn't feel a part of the actual crew. Neelix was probably shocked that Janeway felt he was part of the family.
Wed, Apr 18, 2018, 6:27pm (UTC -5)
But it comes down to Philips doing a convincing job of being in a moral quandary -- trying to help Wix and thinking he can bend the rules/his principles a bit. The scene with Paris setting him straight about the truth -- it was as if Paris knew exactly what Neelix was up to (even though he couldn't have) and said the right thing i.e. come clean. An understated but powerful scene.
We know Neelix to be a very compassionate/caring type and he tries to do anything to help Wix, who, of course, takes advantage. Perhaps a lesson in there somewhere...
Some gripes with the episode are the cliche cardboard villains, the dealing in dark areas on the station, and the station commander. I also have to shake a fist at the ease with which all these alien species communicate and read English! VOY/Trek tends to gloss over these details...
But there were way more ups than downs in this episode. The standoff scene with Neelix saying shoot me was actually poignant for me -- it was well established that Neelix had lost his sense of purpose and was he was quite willing to die ("Mortal Coil" foreshadowing). Clever plan and plot writing.
Janeway, as the captain (and motherly figure), reinforces the nature of the mission -- the whole "part of a family", "you have obligations" thing which are key to VOY. It was a violation of trust and Neelix did throw away his principles and it's good that the writers made Janeway take Neelix to the woodshed for that. It reinforces how tight the Voyager crew have to be -- more so than any other Trek series.
3 stars for "Fair Trade" -- started out somewhat goofy with it being an obvious Neelix episode but it really picked up and used the character in a way that is challenging and compelling. I think the Neelix character would have won back some Trek fans given the additional depth it showed. A good episode for VOY.
Tue, Apr 24, 2018, 8:24am (UTC -5)
Although Neelix isn't a Starfleet officer and Janeway herself has said that she can't expect Starfleet behavior from people who never went to the academy. ("Learning Curve")
Tue, Apr 24, 2018, 4:59pm (UTC -5)
On the other hand, an episode in which the only question is "Will Voyager survive?" or "Will Janeway die?" are of limited value if that is the only thing going on. We know that Voyager will not be destroyed and we know that Janeway will not die, so don't waste our time. If that is all you have to say, don't waste our time.
Fast Forward Rating: Let it play and be ready to rewind the closing the scene between Janeway and Neelix.
Mon, Apr 30, 2018, 10:57am (UTC -5)
Wed, Sep 5, 2018, 11:05pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Apr 13, 2019, 10:02am (UTC -5)
if I were stranded in the Delta Quadrant, surrounded by dangerous things, I would love someone like him araound: dependable, in the kitchen, even if the food is not good, but always there, chattering every day banalities...he would give me a sense of security, I have often thought.
Sat, Apr 13, 2019, 10:03am (UTC -5)
Sat, Apr 13, 2019, 10:06am (UTC -5)
Tue, Jan 14, 2020, 5:51pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Apr 16, 2020, 10:34am (UTC -5)
The frustrating thing about the character of Neelix up to the point as been his lack of independence. He (like many of the other characters) is a strong group-think character whose role is nothing more than to make the Captain look wonderful. Neelix constantly tells the crew and the Captain how wonder they are and how he wants to make them happy. This makes him one-dimensional, boring and annoying. This is why the Ferengi work and the Telaxions typically don't.
In this episode we finally start to see Neelix express some independence and put his own interests above the crew which was refreshing. The downside was the ending...so JANEWAY lectures Neelix on ethics? She's arrogant, egotistical, hypothetical and makes bad ethical decisions all the time.
What Neelix did wasn't so bad... Had Janeway herself gotten into the same situation are we saying she wouldn't have made similar choices? Map for medical supplies? Being shocked that the medical supplies were drugged? Defending herself when the deal went bad? Evading the authorities when their rules and punishments were excessive and cruel?
Thu, Apr 30, 2020, 9:29pm (UTC -5)
I also like that it gave us a little bit better idea of the Delta Quadrant with the Nekrit Expanse and how it separated the outer areas from the rest of the DQ
Fri, Aug 28, 2020, 12:59pm (UTC -5)
Neelix is playing an old tape with Tuvok, insisting he's ready to be a full-fledged security officer and complaining that he wasn't invited (again) to a training session.
TUVOK: If you recall, Mister Neelix, I did not guarantee you a position.
NEELIX: I've been working hard at this. I really do feel I have a great deal to contribute to the Voyager beyond my current role.
It is very difficult to make a character with Neelix' role work on Star Trek. Guinan was typically great, but she was a secondary character, not a main cast member; they brought her in when they needed her. Quark has the advantage here because his job connects him to various facets of the DS9 universe; he has history with the Bajorans and the Cardassians, he has an ongoing subplot related to his own people, he has under-the-table dealings with various space mafiosi, AND he's the bar tender for DS9's Starfleet personnel. He can put on various hats as the story demands, and he can even be the hero of the small Ferengi stories like “Looking for Parmach...” without watering down the main thrust of the series. Ever since his introduction in “Caretaker,” Voyager has been casting about for ways to make Neelix seem useful, from “Parturition” and “Investigations” to “Warlord” and “Macrocosm.” But in pretty much every instance, this effort only serves to highlight how useless he is. The smartest thing about the set up in this episode is that Neelix seems to be conscious of this dynamic. A lot of the time, you really want to strangle Neelix (hi Tuvok) and tell him to shut up and be grateful that he gets to take a daily bath. But we know from “Jetrel” especially that Neelix has a massive inferiority complex. That's a very real facet of human nature to explore, but it isn't heroic. Voyager finally seems to be accepting this fact and looking for ways to continue his arc without pissing off the audience.
I also want to briefly mention the complaints about the Kes breakup here. If the breakup happened in “Warlord” (and it did), then we barely saw either him or Kes in “The Q and the Grey” (just that paycheque-collecting scene in the beginning), and then we saw a bit of Neelix in “Macrocosm.” Given what happened in “Warlord,” there is absolutely no chance that a Neelix still in a relationship with Kes would have arrived at a ship with a missing crew and not gone on and on about needing to rescue his “sweetie.” There would have been an exchange where Janeway reassures him, yadda yadda. We know this. On the contrary, his new ambassadorial role and pestering of Tuvok all suggest that he's looking for ways to fill the void left by the breakup. Do we really need to have a scene where he gives a personal log explicitly stating that he's feeling lonely now, or can we read some context clues?
Anyway, Tuvok isn't the only victim of Neelix' ennui, as his next stop is to pester Torres over a similar gambit to become a grease monkey. As we might recall from “Threshold,” this is probably a bad idea. The scene also introduces us to Ensign Vorik who decided to change his name after “Lower Decks” so they wouldn't blow the budget paying Rene Echevarria every time he shows up. With Hogan and Jonas dead, and Joe Carey trapped in a pocket dimension or whatever, Torres needs a new number 2. I do like the idea of having more than one Vulcan around. It can feel a little pat sometimes when Spock, Worf, Data, Troi, Guinan, Odo and Dax are the only members of their kind to interact with.
Janeway calls Neelix to the bridge before Torres sends him to the sickbay with a bloody nose. The Voyager has encountered some lightning-filled purple dust in space which Neelix identifies as the Naked Expanse or something. Sounds fun.
Act 1 : ***, 17%
JANEWAY: Looks like we'll be counting on your knowledge of the Delta quadrant even more than usual, Neelix.
Just a little twist of the knife. Neelix does know of a small trading depot on the outskirts of the expanse, but its exact coordinates elude him. The first time I travelled to Europe, it was alone and to countries where I barely spoke the language, and it was in the days before smart phones. I spent hours memorising maps and street names so that I would be able to get around and avoid getting conscripted into a sexually confusing music video or whatever else happens to lost teens in Berlin. Now, I don't think I could find my way to the nearest hardware store without google maps. The actual point of the exchange is that Chakotay finds the station with sensors and everyone is happy to proceed, but Neelix feels like a bit of a failure.
The Voyager makes contact with Baccarat or whatever, the station administrator, and make plans to board and trade for provisions. Paris does his job of post-conversation one-liner and then is assigned to the away team with Janeway, Chakotay, and of course Neelix. Janeway herself meets Baccarat in his office, which is essentially the nightmare scenario you imagine when you're in a public bathroom. He has cameras fixed on seemingly every corner of the station and sentinels the activities of every visitor and inhabitant all by himself. If not for the fact that this eats up so much of his time and attention that he can barely make eye contact with Janeway, you'd be forgiven for assuming this to be his masturbatorium.
While she puts up her spatterguard, Chakotay and Paris apparently look like they're in the market for some space LSD. They reject the dealer's offer in a way that would make Tasha Yar very proud and Tom makes yet *another* post-conversation quip.
Neelix meanwhile is scouring the station for a map of the Naked Expanse but also receives something he didn't bargain for, an old friend called Wix. I think about this episode every time I have to update my website. Too bad Echevarria didn't think to copyright that name instead of Taurik. The two Talaxians get caught up over space beers and Wix finds himself impressed with Neelix' lot on the Voyager. Impressed and a little jealous. See, Wix hasn't had an easy time of it, coincidentally, ever since he and Neelix last saw each other.
NEELIX: I don't think I ever told you how much I valued what you did.
WIXIBAN: You'd have done the same for me.
NEELIX: Yes, I would have. But you were the one who got caught. I owe you a great deal. If there's anything I can do to help...
Like I said, this is a brave thing to do. The implication here is that Neelix most definitely would not have “done the same” for his friend. Our introduction to Neelix in “Caretaker” saw him lying to the Voyager crew to save his girlfriend and showing little remorse for it. And he admitted to hiding from the draft on Talax not for the sake of pacifist convictions, but simple cowardice. That doesn't mean he lacks convictions but he isn't heroic. This is substantially different from the “grey” characters over on DS9 who may choose to do awful things for potentially good reasons. No one accuses Sisko, Garak, Eddington or Sloan of being cowards (well, except for me). Depending on what side of the ethical/moral debates you land on, all of them are aspirational in some way. It is remarkable that the writers chose to make a non-aspirational character like Neelix a protagonist in the show. For the most part it backfired, but I think what makes Neelix appealing in a limited way is the fact that he represents the selves we are ashamed to admit to.
After putting his good fortune to words, Neelix' shame surfaces as he tells Wix he suspects his time on the Voyager is about to end. Remember what Q said in “The Q and the Grey”:
Q: I understand that you acquire things for [Janeway], create little interesting diversions, prepare little tasty treats. After all, why else would she be so fond of your fur-lined face?
Neelix rebuffed him, but, yeah, I think this struck very close to home, which is why he tells Wix:
NEELIX: The main reason Captain Janeway needed me was as a guide, to give her information about this quadrant. But I've never been beyond the Nekrit Expanse. I can't tell her anything about what's ahead...They don't really need a cook, and I don't think our Captain really requires an Ambassador. I've tried to find some other area where I might be useful, but, the truth is, I'm not needed.
Act 2 : ***, 17%
While Vorik makes some repairs to Neelix' replicator in the Mess Hall (I'm guessing the All Leola Root Buffet wasn't popular), Chakotay shows up with Wix in tow. Neelix' old friend managed to find the actual gadgets Paris and Chakotay were looking for when they were offered drugs AND he takes the time to talk up Neelix' “varied” talents. Philips makes the most of the uncomfortable set-up here managing to induce genuine feelings of anxiety while still being funny.
He dismisses Vorik and confronts Wix over what he assumes was stolen goods acquired for his ship.
WIXIBAN: Of course not. I wouldn't do that to you. Neelix, I need the work. I don't live on a comfortable starship. No one looks out for me except me. Maybe you've forgotten what that feels like...I've been stuck on that trash heap of a space station for three years. My ship's been impounded. I can't afford to give Bahrat what he wants to get it back. Do you begrudge me an opportunity to make a *fair trade?*
Ooo ooo he said it, he said the name of the thing! Wix is actually bursting with good news, having located some perineum or whatever it was Janeway was looking for and even a map for Neelix. Getting the map will require Neelix to help his old friend with another trade. He's going to help some dying orphans with a lung disease by trading in medical supplies. Aww. And as luck would have it, this beneficent trade will make Wix juuuust enough money to get his ship back from Baccarat. Gee willickers. Neelix is so myopic about his own needs (as he is wont to be) that he misses the obvious truth-massaging going on here. Wix needs Neelix to help him procure a shuttle to acquire the “medicine” AND he needs Neelix not to tell anybody what's actually happening here...er, because Baccarat will keep 20% of the profit, darn him! Neelix clearly knows that he's being lied to, but feigning ignorance is the only way he's going to get his hands on the map. And at this point, while he wouldn't *want* to screw Baccarat out of his commission necessarily, he owes Wix a big favour and this is about as severe a crime as fudging write-offs on your tax return. Again, Neelix isn't aspirational, but he's relatable.
Next thing we see, Neelix and Wix have already picked up their goods and are shuttling back to the station. Neelix is irritable. At first it seems like this is because Janeway's supply of perineum is less than half what he promised, but...
NEELIX: I don't like keeping the whole truth from Commander Chakotay. It's not honest.
WIXIBAN: I don't remember you ever being so squeamish about twisting the truth.
NEELIX: Wix, I'm not what I used to be.
WIXIBAN: Neither am I. We've both tried to change our lives. You've done it. Now I have the same chance.
I really like this juxtaposition. Neelix has “made” a better life for himself in that his material conditions are better than they were. But his methods aren't really any different from Wix'; he's lied, padded his own experience and abilities (remember his alleged survivor skills from “Basics”?), and manipulated Captain Janeway into keeping him around, just like Q said. I'm reminded of Sisko's line from “The Maquis”: “It's easy to be a saint in paradise.” The solution, then, is to make more paradise. More paradise, more saints. Neelix didn't actually earn his place on the Voyager, and that doesn't matter. He's become a better person by proximity. But old habits die hard, and at this point, Neelix' reform only manifests as guilt, not action.
Wix grabs a phaser before the pair beam to the station (“just a precaution,” don't you know?). The cargo bay they find themselves in is lit in Nouveau Ominous Noir, but Neelix' consternation over this obviously bad idea is interrupted by the arrival of the contact, who just so happens to be LSD man. Well it turns out Wix may be slimier than Neelix, but hardly any brighter as LSD man shoots at the pair instead of paying them. In the end, the phaser fire sets off an alarm, LSD man is shot by Wix, the drugs they were smuggling are stolen, and the Talaxian pair are forced to beam away empty-handed.
Act 3 : ***, 17%
Neelix is angry (with himself) and insists they come clean to Janeway immediately.
WIXIBAN: Do you really want to do that? How is it going to look to your shipmates when they find out you were once a contraband smuggler, and that you were involved in this ugly business tonight? You think your position on the Voyager is precarious now? Wait till they discover the whole truth about you.
Twist the knife.
WIXIBAN: So you'd let Bahrat put me in cryostatic suspension? I guess you would. You did let me spend a year in that Ubean prison...I never told you what it was like in there, did I? About eating worms to stay alive. Sleeping in a cell where the vermin chew on you all night. Being punished in ways you couldn't imagine.
Twist again. Neelix agrees to keep the incident a secret but considers his debt paid and their relationship at an end.
Oh did I say twist? Well when Neelix returns to the Voyager, Baccarat is there along with a livid Janeway informing the senior staff that LSD man was actually murdered. They don't know by whom, but they've identified the energy signature of Wix' phaser. Whoopsie.
Tuvok is assigned to investigate and the next thing we see, Neelix is entering his office for an interview. He's obviously extremely nervous, but Tuvok is only suspicious of Wix. He wants Neelix' help questioning his friend, er, “acquaintance.” And so, we see the trio aboard the station. Tuvok is his usually inscrutable self, Neelix is dripping with guilt and fear, and Wix seems to be a skilled liar.
TUVOK: Where were you at the time of the shooting?
WIXIBAN: In bed, asleep.
TUVOK: Can anyone corroborate that?
WIXIBAN: Alas, Mister Tuvok, I sleep alone.
Alas, Wix' quarters don't seem to interest Baccarat and his creepy voyeurism. Anyway, Tuvok leaves for now and Wix has even worse news to share; the people supplying the drugs (“mean as fire snakes!”) aren't happy and are demanding something in payment, a sample of the Voyager's warp plasma. Wix has promised them that Neelix can acquire it. Despite their conflicts, Wix is so confident that Neelix will look out for Number One in the end, that he doesn't even wait for him to answer. He just tells him when and where to meet him for the trade.
Act 4 : ***, 17%
Paris is looking for a containment unit for bio-memedic gels they're going to collect tomorrow. File that one away. Of course, the specific unit can't be replicated and is instead somewhere in this disorganised room full of empty containers because...Anyway, Neelix arrives to give him a hand and provide a little character follow-up to “Investigations.” He asks Tom what it was that landed him in prison.
PARIS: I've thought a lot about that, and it comes down to one simple fact. I didn't tell the truth. I made a mistake, which happens to people, but if I'd admitted that mistake it would have been a lot better. But I lied about it, and it nearly ruined my life.
I like the sentiment here, but this is contrived as hell. I think a scene with Harry, Torres, Tom and Neelix in the Mess Hall or at the resort would have worked much better.
-Torres makes a biting but still flirtatious remark about Tom's time in prison.
-Neelix over-politely asks Tom if he wouldn't mind explaining just what got him there, pulled out of the reverie of his own predicament.
-Tom tells a somewhat smoothed-over version of events.
-Harry shakes his head and bluntly reminds his friend that it wouldn't have been so bad if he hadn't lied about it.
-Paris admits that this is true.
-Torres, Kim and Tom take a drink in quiet unison.
-The camera lingers on Neelix, who's left his cup untouched.
There was an opportunity here for a more fleshed out scene that felt natural and conveyed the message without feeling like an after-school special.
Under the pretence of logging some time near the engine, Neelix gets Vorik to grant him access to the warp core. We see him crawl his way to a port and prepare to steal three grams of plasma. The camera lingers on Neelix' face, a look of pained resignation washes over him and he slumps, defeated.
Then we see Neelix meet Wixiban on the station. He tells his friend that he couldn't go through with it. One touch I like is how Philips is playing this with something like joy. He's in big trouble, but Neelix is happy that his ethics have outgrown his self-interest. And that is how you take an unlikeable protagonist with non-aspirational characteristics and make him an effective hero in a Star Trek story. Well done.
Ah, but we have one more knife-twist before the final act. Baccarat and his guards arrive and order “you two” to be still and prepare for arrest. But the “two” in question aren't the Talaxians, it's actually Tom and Chakotay who are hauled off. Baccarat presents his circumstantial evidence to Janeway, footage of her men having that anti-drug PSA in Act 1. One interesting touch here is Baccarat's admission that he has to charge *somebody* with a crime or risk anarchy on the station. This reminds me a bit of “Tribunal,” where the carceral system was shown to be more about servicing political ends than actually delivering justice, which, you know, it is. Defund the damned police.
Act 5 : ***.5, 17%
Given the increased stakes, Neelix and Wix confess their crime to Baccarat, but Neelix proposes a Fair Trade for letting them off the hook for it. The pair convince the administrator that his threats of imprisonment and mass surveillance masturbatorium aren't particularly effective in deterring crime. It's far more likely that minor offenders like Wix end up paying for the unpunished crimes of the big players like LSD man and his ilk. Boy this sounds familiar...Anyway, if Neelix and Wix can turn the king pin over to Baccarat by pretending to deliver the warp plasma, the charges against them will be dropped. Baccarat will also provide a sample of plasma to use instead of the Voyager's. The details of Neelix' plan are left intentionally vague. Once again, it's self interest (Wix' only option other than death and imprisonment is to go along with this, and the likely outcome is that the pair will die and Baccart won't have to deal with them anymore) facilitate this slight of hand.
So, the Talaxian duo find themselves in a dark alley once again while Baccarat observes his cameras being tampered with and prepares to move in and make the arrest. When the drug kings arrive, Neelix presses a button on the plasma storage unit. The dealers immediately discover that the sample isn't pure, but Neelix informs them they're under arrest...oh and that he opened up the unit to leak plasma into the air, meaning any weapons discharge or transporter beam would kill them all.
TOSIN: Then you will die with me, little man.
NEELIX: No problem at all, if it means getting rid of an Orillian lung maggot like you. Go ahead. You'd be doing me a favour. I have nothing to lose. Fire away!
NEELIX: Shoot. What are you waiting for? Fire!
Between the cinematography, the music, and Philips' chilling nihilistic performance, this is a substantially dark turn for this episode. While the leap to suicide is more abrupt than in “Hard Time,” I do think the story manages to earn this moment; Neelix isn't being motivated solely by his guilt and his fear like O'Brien was, but there is a degree of positive emotion in the mix. He found that his conscience was stronger than his ego and if Neelix were to die right now, he could actually live with himself. Additionally, there's the looming prospect that even if his plan works perfectly and he and Wix aren't killed, Neelix will be left behind as Janeway not only will have no more use for him, but she'll be motivated to put someone who lied and nearly stole from her off her ship. Well, Baccarat shows up, someone panics and there's a great big explosion that vaporises at least one person while the Talaxians duck for cover. (Yes it's that same big dumb green explosion from “Macrocosm”)
Jump cut and Neelix is awakening in the sick bay. The EMH and Kes get a couple of cameo lines and Tuvok informs him that all the loose ends have been tied up; Chakotay and Tom are free, the drug dealers are in custody, and Wix has departed. We are left to wonder what kind of choices he might make now that he's had a brush with paradise.
Janeway arrives, seething in that oh-so-JaneWay of hers and the rest of the cast disperse. She demands an explanation.
NEELIX: I just took one step. A step that seemed perfectly reasonable. And that step lead to another and another, and before I knew what I was involved in something I didn't know how to handle.
JANEWAY: What was it? What was so important that you were willing to throw away your principles?
File that one away, too. Anyway, Neelix explains about his inadequacy and his fears of being put off the ship. Janeway quotes “The First Duty,” which is amusing on several levels given the re-named Taurik and Paris play peripheral roles in this story. It's also a way to acknowledge Neelix' efforts to find a job with Tuvok or Torres—if Neelix is going to take on Starfleet duties at some point, he's got to get the basics first.
NEELIX: But, I can't guide you. I can't advise you. I don't know what's coming.
JANEWAY: Well, that's not the point, is it? None of us knows what's coming. That's what Starfleet is all about. We are all in this together, Neelix, and we have to be able to count on each other no matter how hard it gets.
A little schmaltzy and on the nose? Yeah. But Neelix' effervescent gratitude at being assigned the “Learning Curve” toothbrush-scrubbing of shame punishment made me crack a smile.
Episode as Functionary : ***, 10%
I don't have too much to say here. I think the writers had a specific task of rescuing the Neelix character from the lows of Season 2 and setting him back on the path we saw in “Jetrel.” They pulled it off without ignoring what transpired in between, showing us the way his relationships with Tom, Tuvok, Janeway and Kes have changed. Wixiban made a good foil, the plot was sensible, the production was smart, and Philips delivered the goods. The Naked Expanse begins the Voyager tradition of temporarily introducing unique areas of space for the ship to pass through and communicate progress on its journey back to the Alpha Quadrant to the audience. For the first two seasons, it felt like the Voyager was spinning its wheels in space given how they kept running into Caligula and Seska. There were a couple of things that could have been better here; the conversation with Paris was way on the nose, and there's maybe one too many clichéd elements, but I'd say the writers succeeded in their task and created an enjoyable episode in the process.
Final Score : ***
Tue, Mar 2, 2021, 11:50am (UTC -5)
Dog the Bounty Hunter's hair
The fashion sense of a local children's party clown
And to make matters worse, his character was completely pointless. A bad cook on a ship with replicators. A morale officer who annoyed every one he came into contact with. A guide with knowledge of only a small section of the journey. A love interest for a two year old. Do you really want a character with all of these traits to act as the ship's ambassador?
About 95 percent of the character's screen time it to provide comic relief, but he just isn't funny. So those scenes are just pointless filler where the other characters silently stifle their frustration as he blathers on. "Mr Vulcan! Mr Vulcan!"
Even on the rare occasions when he is supposed to be taken seriously, his makeup (mangy humanoid nutria) combined with his 3 piece clown suit attire make it almost impossible to do so.
HAVING SAID ALL OF THAT...this is actually an episode that I liked quite a bit. I'm a fan of "quicksand" like stories where small missteps by characters slowly bring the protagonist down. Ethan Phillips is a talented actor and he does very good work here.
Two final thoughts:
1) I think this would have been the perfect time to remove Neelix from the show. Let the character go out on a high note.
2) The makeup effects were uniformly excellent in this episode. All of the aliens looked fantastic.
Sat, Mar 19, 2022, 6:43am (UTC -5)
I'm sure the punishment was unpleasant, but given that it ended Neelix's fear of something worse, I have to wonder if it was really punishment at all.
Thu, Mar 24, 2022, 10:19pm (UTC -5)
I must need to watch this one again because I did not enjoy this episode like everyone else seemed to.
Thu, Sep 22, 2022, 8:54pm (UTC -5)
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