While poking around looking for Space Fuel (specifically dilithium), Neelix’s lungs are beamed out of his body by alien organ harvesters suffering from a Peculiar Space Disease called the Phage. The Doctor is able to give him some holographic replacements, but this leaves Neelix facing an unpleasant future staring at the sickbay ceiling.
Like ‘Parallax’, this episode is largely about setting up how things are going to work throughout the series, from the minor (the Doctor and other holograms can be ‘solid’ or not, depending on what buttons you press) to the major (Kes will be Voyager’s nurse, since, as the Doctor is well aware, having Paris do that job is bonkers). However, ‘Phage’ does a much better job of this than ‘Parallax’. In place of technobabble and manufactured conflict, we have a classic science-fiction version of a real-life problem, as Neelix faces a life of complete paralysis, due to technology that can keep him alive but cannot give him any movement.
This is the first Neelix episode, which may be off-putting to those familiar with his reputation but not with the series. On the down side, he turns Janeway’s private dining room into a galley and makes himself chef, then wanders off against Chakotay’s express orders and gets himself seriously hurt. On the other hand, while he might annoy the Doctor (everyone annoys the Doctor, except Kes), considering he’s facing the rest of life unable to move, he holds out pretty well, mentally, taking a good few hours to start to crack up. I doubt I’d be as calm in that situation. But then there’s the beginning of Neelix and Paris’s rivalry over Kes and Neelix’s endless jealousy, so we’re back to negatives again.
This is also the first appearance of the Vidiians, who I’ve always rather liked as villains. They’re certainly much more interesting than the Kazon. The idea of alien organ harvesters who will not only steal your organs, they’ll steal them directly out of your body while you’re still using them, is delightfully creepy. Their motivation is sound, since desperate measures in the face of medical catastrophe are surely something we can all sympathise with. The make-up and costume people perhaps went overboard on their look, but they are suffering from some horrible alien plague, after all. They’re tragic villains, with plenty of potential for thought-provoking stories in the best science-fiction traditions.
This was the first episode of Voyager I ever saw, so I have a great fondness for it and perhaps I’m a little bit biased. This was the episode that showed me this series could be funny, touching and thought-provoking, even if it did have Neelix in it. The story logic works, the villains are intriguing and the character work is lovely, furthering the relationship between Kes and the Doctor. These two supposedly extremely young characters (Kes is coming up on two years old and the Doctor is technically somewhere around four weeks) have a wonderful chemistry between them that swings between father/daughter, mother/son and friends depending on the circumstances. The episode overall, like many of the best Star Treks, is simple and sweet.
Bits n pieces
- Janeway flirting watch: she flirts shamelessly with Chakotay, talking at length about strawberries and cream.
- What on earth is the bubbly thing in sickbay? I’m pretty sure we never see that again.
- This is the first of many episodes kicked off by Voyager’s eternal search for dilithium, their main power source.
- The Doctor is frustrated that there’s no counsellor on board, since Neelix will clearly need long-term emotional support if he has to stay immobile. Finally, an actual job for Deanna Troi to do, and she’s on the other side of the galaxy!
Janeway: “Sometimes I think B’Elanna goes out of her way to find solutions that ignore Starfleet procedures.”
Neelix: “Well, if I’m gonna be in here a while, now’s as good a time as any to tell you – your ceiling is hideous.”
Doctor: “Don’t worry, I’m not going to kiss you.”
Neelix: “I’ll try to contain my disappointment.”
Janeway: “How do you know what I’m about to do?”
Tuvok: “I could describe to you in detail the psychological observations I’ve made about you over the past 4 years… but suffice it to say, I know you quite well.”
Simple but effective. Four out of four holographic lungs.
Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.
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