Star Trek Voyager: Fair Trade

"You're part of a family now."

Neelix reaches a personal milestone, as Voyager prepares to journey beyond the areas of space he knows and into the truly unknown.

One of the perennial complaints from its detractors about Voyager was that some felt the show didn't take advantage of its premise enough. When it comes to the divisions between Maquis and Starfleet crew-members, that may be true, but there were a fair few episodes relating to the ship's ongoing journey and this is one of them. Neelix originally joined the crew, way back in the pilot, because he offered to act as a guide to the Delta Quadrant for them – but inevitably, they can't possibly stay in areas he's familiar with forever, as they've been flying at top speeds for two and a half years now. And so they reach the end of the areas he knows, and he worries that he's no longer useful.

Another thing about Voyager fandom I've never really understood is the intense dislike for Neelix as a character that so many people feel. It's clear to see why characters within the show find him irritating, as his chirpiness could be grating, and the relationship between him and Tuvok is a constant source of amusement as it's so clear why Tuvok finds him so difficult. Quite why audiences found him so annoying, I never really understood – but then, I liked Wesley Crusher too. Neelix is a tragic and fragile character, hiding deep insecurities underneath chattiness and apparent confidence, just like many people in the real world. This episode really highlights the dark side and the tragedy of Neelix's character.

Neelix is convinced that, because he is no longer of use to the crew, he will be kicked off the ship and abandoned in the Delta Quadrant. Before he joined the crew of Voyager, Neelix lived as a scavenger, largely alone and without help – it's no surprise that some of his actions were less than legal. Following his rather bizarrely-handled break-up with Kes, he now feels alone once again, and thinks he has to provide some kind of useful service to keep his place on the ship.

It's true that Voyager isn't a passenger ship, but if he thinks Janeway or anyone else would simply kick him out on some random space station just because he could no longer guide them, he really doesn't know them very well. It's a really sad reflection of how little love the character has experienced. Neelix is the embodiment of the sad clown, really – his sometimes irritating chirpiness is the direct result of his desperate need for love and security. And we see that come to a head here – when Neelix practically begs the alien drug lord to shoot him, he's clearly suicidal.

I'm not gonna lie, Neelix is never gonna be my favourite character and this episode is fine but not troubling any top ten lists. Still, I think Neelix's terrible reputation is rather undeserved and I enjoy exploring his backstory and his unique position on Voyager in stories like this every now and again. And it's good to be reminded of their ongoing journey into new regions of space as well.

Bits and pieces

 - This is at least the third time since joining Voyager that Paris has been arrested for murder (following Ex Post Facto and The Chute). Somewhere there's a parallel universe where he's a serial killer.

 - Neelix should know he really is needed as an ambassador after the hands-on-hips incident from the previous episode!

 - A scene addressing Neelix and Kes's break-up was deleted for time from this episode, which is a real shame, as the show's bizarre handling of that break-up is just another one of Star Trek's weird romantic relationship writing fumbles.

 - We meet the Vulcan Ensign Vorik in this episode. When my friends and I used to watch Voyager together during school lunch times, we used to call him Ensign Vomit. He doesn't do much particularly noteworthy in this episode – we'll see more of him later.

 - Meeting random new crew-members we've never heard of before got increasingly odd as the years of Voyager's journey went by, since it should be the same crew throughout the show. However, Voyager's crew includes over 100 members and we only tend to follow the same half dozen or so, so they just about get away with it. And the semi-regular deaths must lead to the occasional crew reshuffle or field promotion.

 - Neelix's joy at seeing an old friend so far from home is genuinely lovely.

 - Apropos of nothing much except I watched it this week and this is a Neelix episode – Ethan Phillips is now a regular on sci-fi comedy Avenue 5, playing a sleazy retired astronaut (kind of like if Howard from The Big Bang Theory never married Bernadette). The show is really funny and well worth a watch.

Quotes

Tuvok: Where were you at the time of the shooting?
Wix: In bed, asleep.
Tuvok: Can anyone corroborate that?
Wix: Alas, Mr Tuvok, I sleep alone. The delivery is great – this is almost raunchy for Star Trek!

Wix: Your plan is crazy. It's worse than prison – it's a death sentence!
Neelix: That would be better than living a lie.

Neelix: I have nothing to lose.

Janeway: The first duty of any Starfleet Officer is the truth. Neelix actually asks Paris how he got in trouble and Paris talks about not telling the truth here – just to remind us all that Paris is really Nick Locarno in disguise...

A nice opportunity to explore Neelix's character and backstory a bit more. Three out of four alien drug smuggling operations.

Juliette Harrisson is a storyteller, freelance writer, Classicist and Trekkie. She runs the podcast Creepy Classics, re-telling and discussing ancient, medieval and early modern ghost stories. She tweets @ClassicalJG

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