Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Review: Voyager 3.13: Fair Trade

Aaand roll credits.
Star Trek Voyager - Season Three, Episode Thirteen - Fair Trade
Written 12/09/15

It's that time again folks, the holiday bigger than Easter, Christmas or Thanksgiving, it's the Neelix episode, the time when the writers of Voyager decide to focus an entire forty-five minutes of your life around the show's most hated character, usually managing in their concentrated efforts to actually portray him as a character worth giving a shit about. While at times this episode felt like a cheaper version of a Season One DS9 episode, Neelix was given a coherent enough arc to make it entertaining, even if he does still have a few ridiculous lines. In context, this episode is far more important for the changes it makes to the plot - introducing the minor character of Vorik and plunging Voyager into the Nekrit Expanse, a region of space which Voyager travels through in one of Season Three's many "mini-arcs".
     The main thrust of the story followed Neelix's desire to be important on the ship. Despite having forced himself onto the ship under false pretences and taken executive control of a kitchen that shouldn't have been his to command, he suddenly starts to feel unwelcome, and upon reaching the Expanse he is terrified that he will get kicked off the ship, his usefulness as a guide ending here. They board a trading station and Neelix attempts to barter for a map, eventually running into old friend Wixiban, who tricks him into dealing narcotics. After consulting Paris about his crime (thanks for rubbing that in, Neelix, I'm sure he needed that), he decides to tell the truth, and he manages to coordinate with the station's commanders to save both he and Wixiban from imprisonment by arresting the narcotics dealers.
     One of the problems that Neelix has, amongst many, is that the writers never really decided on a limit to his abilities. Much like Tom Paris, the ace-pilot-biochemist-historian-doctor-engineer, the writers kept giving Neelix collections of new roles on the ship depending on the writer - except that with Neelix, they kept bringing it up. Neelix is the chef, he's the "Ambassador", he's a guide, he's the stupid made-up title of "Morale Officer". Cynical me found this episode's attempt to make Neelix feel worthless about himself a little hard to believe, seeing as he so readily intrudes outside his area of expertise, but I can also see this as an attempt by the writers to provide something which Neelix has been lacking - flaws which he identifies and works to change. This was attempted by his jealousy arc back in the first production season, but that was resolved almost by accident, and I think that's why this actually works - Neelix thinks about the issue, and decides that honesty and truth are the best way to go about things. He chooses the right thing over what's easy for him. And that's a quality that genuinely stays, which is why I think this episode does actually work. Not to mention Neelix's surprisingly badass turn near the end of the episode - that came out of left field and delighted me immensely. Well. Delight and confusion.
You literally deceived Voyager and led them
into a dangerous situation in the first episode.
     I often wish that Neelix was written this way all the time. Episodes like these make a lot of the same Voyager excuses when it comes to plot silliness, but when the character development is as focused as this, it doesn't really matter. Jetrel and Tuvix, the two previous Neelix episodes, are absolutely brilliant episodes of Voyager and this one joins its ranks at least in spirit. The pacing is great, no part of the script is wasted, everything goes towards developing this deranged hedgehog of a man into a believable and sympathetic character. And then next week he'll go back to being his old annoying self again. Would it kill you to have a little consistency, Voyager?
    And why the hell did you put a Kim episode next week?


NEXT WEEK: Kim adds to his harem of unrequited lovers when he falls in love with a hologram. It's Alter Ego.

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