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Star Trek Voyager: Jetrel

‘Something so enormous as science will not stop for something as small as man, Mr Neelix.’

Neelix is forced to confront the scientist whose weapon destroyed his homeworld when it’s revealed he may be dying from radiation sickness.

TV Tropes used to have a listing for what they called a Good Troi Episode; an episode focusing on a character whose featured episodes are usually terrible attempts at comedy, but who, every now and again, would be given a serious, dramatic episode that turned out to be surprisingly good. I think the example given was The Next Generation’s ‘Face of the Enemy’ (the page has since been withdrawn and now redirects to A Day in the Limelight, which isn’t the same thing at all). Neelix is the Troi of Voyager, and ‘Jetrel’ is the example par excellence of a Good Neelix Episode. Enjoy it – they’ll be few and far between over the next seven seasons.

The trouble with Star Trek’s attempts to tackle Big Historical Issues through thinly veiled metaphor is that they have a tendency to do so with all the subtlety of a Klingon mating ritual. Just as Deep Space Nine’s ‘Duet,’ though much beloved by fans, might as well have plastered ‘Concentration Camp Liberator’ and ‘Space Nazi’ across the foreheads of its principal characters, Jetrel might as well have introduced himself as Oppenheimer and had done with it. The problem is, when characters are forced into such firmly pre-determined roles, there is a danger that they become ciphers rather than fully three-dimensional people, forced into a metaphor rather than developing naturally.

Having said that, Neelix’s backstory as outlined here is quite plausible for his character and it’s early enough in the show that it doesn’t feel too forced. His confession to Kes that he didn’t fight in the war at all is also nicely done and adds to his character. The audience is left uncertain whether he was a conscientious objector, as Kes clearly believes, or a deserter, as he seems to view himself, and that fits rather nicely with his slightly mysterious character. Neelix is so often played for comic relief that the harder edge to the character – first seen scavenging and tricking the crew into helping him to rescue his girlfriend – tends to get forgotten about unless the plot requires it, but it’s always nice to see it resurface.

Star Trek characters don’t generally have any trouble talking about their feelings (which I suppose is to be expected considering they put a counsellor on the bridge of their flagship) which sometimes drains these Very Special Episodes of some of the tension they might otherwise have had as we’re not left to draw out and consider these people’s emotions and experiences, but simply told exactly what they’re thinking and feeling. It’s good to see characters have emotional breakthroughs and talk about their problems, but perhaps showing a little more and telling a little less might make these episodes feel a little less preachy. On the other hand, Star Trek can’t show mangled bodies or the effects of severe radiation poisoning, so talking about it is really all they have.

The episode takes off in another direction when Jetrel’s ultimate plan is unveiled – he’s trying to bring thousands of people back from the dead. He’s on the verge of creating his own personal zombie army! It’s an idea so simultaneously understandable – what if you could undo the worst thing you ever did? – and yet so spectacularly creepy (especially when you think about what the pulsating thing he creates in sickbay actually is) that it briefly takes the episode off in a whole different direction. It’s probably a good thing all round that his idea doesn’t work, as the philosophical, spiritual and even practical implications (thousands of death certificates to retract) would be astronomical.

Bits and pieces:

 - The pool table at Sandrine’s is tilted, much to Tuvok’s irritation.

 - Neelix didn’t realise how short-lived Kes’s species were when they met. This is not only rather sad, but also makes him somewhat less weird for falling for a one-year-old.


Tuvok (after missing at pool): Perhaps the ship's stabilizers are not operating at peak efficiency.

Neelix: Peace of mind is a relative thing, Captain.

Neelix: Is there anything besides science that makes your heart beat faster, Dr Jetrel?
Jetrel: Not any more.

Jetrel: There is no way I can ever apologize to you, Mr. Neelix. That's why I have not tried.

Heartfelt and well performed, but just a bit too earnest. Three and a half unsubtle metaphors out of four.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.


  1. Definitely an excellent Neelix episode!

    I think the show's creators really screwed up with Neelix. He could have been a very interesting character, so different from the usual Federation-types (as seen in the pilot), but then they white-washed him and made him bland and not-so-comic relief. Pity!

  2. I'm torn on Neelix. I don't hate him as much as many do, but don't find him that interesting either. Mostly I just put up with him!


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