Thursday, 5 December 2013

Review: Voyager 1.15: Jetrel
Jetrel and Neelix have impassioned debate about the events
of the Haakonian/Talaxian war.
Star Trek Voyager - Season One, Episode Fifteen - Jetrel
Written 16/6/13

It's episodes like these that made me love Star Trek, and that made me consider reviewing Star Trek on this blog at all. I knew that reviewing episodes like these would present a challenge - not because of difficult subject matter, but in justifying just how detailed and human and brilliant Star Trek can really be when it writes a decent, two-sided dilemma. Episodes that make you think - they're the best ones. That's true not just because of this episode's in-universe allegories, but also in the unusual source it takes its real-world comparison from.
     Voyager is met by Dr. Jetrel, a Haakonian scientist known by Neelix's people, the Talaxians, as the development of a superweapon which atomised the populated moon of Rinax during a war. Neelix is angry and initially refuses to see him, but Jetrel claims that Neelix, like himself, has contracted a form of long-term radiation sickness due to having returned to the moon to look for survivors. The two spend a great deal of time discussing the politics surrounding the event, with Jetrel remorseful and defensive of his core scientific philosophies, while Neelix talks of memories of charred survivors and grapples with his own sense of guilt about being a conscientious objector. Eventually, it is revealed that Jetrel's remaining life's work has been to attempt to use transporter technology to reconstitute the dead Talaxians in the moon's atmosphere. It fails, but for his efforts Neelix forgives Jetrel on his deathbed.
     Star Trek has used World War II allegories before, especially in DS9 where the Cardassian Occupation reflects the German occupation of Poland, death camps and all. Jetrel is clearly channelling criticism of the Atom Bombs, although this time with our "protagonist" side being Japan and the episode's "villain" being the side representing the US. It's very refreshing to see something like that, and the episode's anti-war attitudes are only helped by the outstanding performances from Neelix's Ethan Phillips and Jetrel's James Stoyan. Despite being a character I usually find irritating, it's episodes like this once in a blue moon where Ethan Phillips really goes for it and despite his attitudes here and elsewhere I can really feel for him from one of his monologues. Similarly, Jetrel is one of the best-characterised guest stars in the first season, and I adore his character and the way it's executed.
Neelix's experiences and his own guilt cause him
some realistic conflict for a change.
     My only objection to the episode is the penultimate act, which I find somewhat oddly placed and somewhat insulting to the episode's themes. The science of the episode I can excuse - the technobabble used in the bomb apparently turns people's cells into little fission reactors, blowing them up, but a regular bomb will have the same end result without all the crazy. Jetrel's plan to reconstitute people from atomic remains is... baffling, both in and out of universe.
    In-universe, it raises a billion ethical questions - if this is possible, then why not bring anyone back from the dead? Why not use replicators to make new people? And, fundamentally, how would bringing billions of people back to life (onto a planet that's probably already overpopulated) make up for the total destruction of a planet's surface, the mental and physical scars on all the veterans and upon the culture of the Talaxians? Out of Universe, it would have had a great deal more dramatic potentcy if the surprise at the end was that he was going to die, and it was left up to the audience to decide whether Neelix (and they) forgave him or not. Instead, we're given a standardly Voyager "give 'em hope then dash 'em down" ending.
     I really do love Jetrel and I think it is the best episode of Season One, hands down. Voyager so rarely gets episodes like these in the early stages, it's wonderful when they do come along. And I know I sat that a lot, because if I remember I probably said that in Cathexis too. And in Faces. It's been a long day. Jetrel is a perfect use for Neelix and an almost perfect examination of allegories surrounding Hiroshima and Nagasaki, portrayed with competant double-sided arguments and impassioned characterisations that mostly leave it open-ended enough for us to think about the issues at hand for ourselves. And that, quite frankly, is my definition of brilliant science fiction.


NEXT WEEK: Season One comes to an unexpected end as some minor characters we'll never see again undergo a Learning Curve.

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