Star Trek: Voyager: Fair Trade   Rewatch 
July 10, 2017 7:19 AM - Season 3, Episode 13 - Subscribe

When an alien whose primary role on the ship was to be their local guide is on the verge of boldly going where this particular Talaxian hasn't gone before, what's he to do? Suggestion: this would not be a good time to break bad.

Time for Memory Alpha to update its resume:

- The story for this episode, conceived by freelance writing partners Ron Wilkerson and Jean Louise Matthias, began development in Star Trek: Voyager's first season and was originally intended to be included in that season but was kept back so that the episode "Jetrel" could be produced instead. Commenting on the idea at a point prior to its development into this episode, Ron Wilkerson said, "[It] would have established Neelix as a much more substantial character. The story was essentially like Carlito's Way in the sense that this guy comes on the ship and Neelix pretends he doesn't know him, but in fact they were in jail together and he helped Neelix escape and they split up afterward, and now he's looking to get Neelix to do something for him or he'll reveal his past to everyone." Wilkerson was particularly fond of the concept, describing it as "a nice episode" and expressing much disappointment that it had not been made. Executive producer Jeri Taylor later said of this episode, "It's actually a story that we had lying around since the very first season. We thought that it had a kernel of something in it for Neelix, but we had never been able to develop it to our satisfaction."

- The key, according to Jeri Taylor, was the concept of Neelix becoming less familiar with the space surrounding the starship Voyager. Speaking at the end of the series' third season, Taylor explained, "This last season, I started thinking that if we are going at high warp speed toward home, we would be covering a great deal of distance. That would mean that at some point we would probably run out of the space that Neelix understands. I thought, here is exactly the take for that story we've been trying to do." Indeed, Jeri Taylor was highly pleased that the plot concept from the first season could be revived, as the writing staff of Star Trek: Voyager had unsuccessfully tried to come up with a workable Neelix story for the third season of the series. "We hadn't found a good story for Neelix yet this season," Taylor said at the time, "so I was really delighted to do this one."

- The writer of the episode's teleplay was long-time Star Trek science consultant André Bormanis; this installment was his first writing contribution to the series. He had previously pitched some Star Trek story ideas that had not been entirely successful. "I sold two to ST:VOY last year, and we didn't go to teleplay on either of those," he revealed, during Voyager's third season.

- In airing order, this episode marks the debut of the recurring character of Ensign Vorik (although he also appears in "Alter Ego", which was produced first). This male Vulcan character was introduced prior to his central role in "Blood Fever" so that audiences would be familiar with him by then. Vorik subsequently reappears at least once a season, right up until the end of the series run. The character was played by Alexander Enberg, the son of Jeri Taylor. On Star Trek: The Next Generation, Enberg once played a character similar to Vorik, appearing as a Vulcan engineer named Taurik in the episode "Lower Decks". Jeri Taylor once suggested that Taurik and Vorik were twin brothers.

- This episode won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Hairstyling for a Series. It beat out DS9: "Trials and Tribble-ations", which was nominated in the same category.

- At the end of this episode, Janeway tells Neelix, "The first duty of every Starfleet officer is the truth." This is what Captain Picard tells Wesley Crusher in TNG: "The First Duty".

"To tell you the truth, things haven't gone quite so well for me."
"I'm sorry."
"Ever since that nasty business with the Ubeans, things have been difficult. But, you know me. Can't keep Wix down long. I'm working on a trade deal now that should put me right back in the thick of things again."

-- Wix and Neelix

"Those aren't ordinary medical supplies. You failed to mention that."
"They do have a medicinal application, but no one would pay what I was supposed to get if they were just simple medications."
"They're narcotics, aren't they? Oh, you're up to your same old tricks. We have to talk to Captain Janeway as soon as we get back."
"Do you really want to do that? How is it going to look to your shipmates when they find out you were once a contraband smuggler and that you were involved in this ugly business tonight? You think your position on Voyager is precarious now? Wait till they discover the whole truth about you."
"I can't just forget about this."
"So you'd let Bahrat put me in cryostatic suspension? I guess you would. You did let me spend a year in that Ubean prison."
"Wix..."
"I never told you what it was like in there, did I? About eating worms to stay alive... sleeping in a cell where the vermin chew on you all night... being punished in ways you couldn't imagine!"
"All right! I won't say anything. But I don't want to have anything more to do with you. The debt is paid."

--Neelix and Wix

Poster's Log:

This may be the best Neelix episode yet, although the competition isn't very stiff so far. "Jetrel" tried to give him some gravitas by having him be a survivor of Space Hiroshima, and fell kind of flat; this has a much more plausible angle, as he meets up with his ex-partner who took the fall for both of them, and quickly gets roped into something that starts out seeming like one of Ensign Nog's complicated trading chains, but turns out to be something quite a bit darker. The fear of becoming deadwood on the job is eminently relateable, especially as one gets older (ahem), and Ethan Phillips sells Neelix's feeling trapped between not wanting to go to "cryostatic" jail on the one hand, not to mention his guilt at letting Wix go to jail, and on the other feeling remorse for lying and/or not speaking up even before Chakotay and Paris get pinched. Phillips is helped by James Nardini's performance as Wix, which balances Neelix's general agreeability with a certain ruthlessness in pressuring his old buddy to go along with his scheme. I also liked the bit at the end with Janeway affirming Neelix's place in the crew in the course of chewing him out, and Paris' conversation with him in which he admits that it wasn't the crime that ruined him so much as the cover-up.

Also, I thought that the space station (which I mentally nicknamed "Deep Space Nope") was well done, coming off as pretty cramped and in general a hive of scum and villainy. I could just imagine Odo rolling his eyes at the general incompetence of the station manager/security/magistrate.

Poster's Log, supplemental: Speaking of Chakotay and Paris getting pinched, when is Janeway going to start requiring crew on shore leave/away missions to settled planets to start carrying bail money? This is kind of a recurring thing.
posted by Halloween Jack (11 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Particle of the Week: Pergium, a 'rare and valuable commodity.'
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: Talaxians are Flanderized into an entire race of dizzy comedy sidekicks in Star Trek Online - the mission Reunion has them unable to coordinate work shifts. I like their depiction here a whole lot better.

Ongoing Counts: Rolled forward again.
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: 23.
* Shuttles: Down 3.
* Crew: 143.
* Other: 46 bio-neural gelpacks remaining, maybe 25-50% of the escape pods should be gone at this point.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 8.
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful.

Notes:
* More than one familiar face here.

Bahrat, the station head, also played a number of roles in Star Trek. I recognized his voice, helped by the fact that he talks in a very Klingon manner here.

Didn't realize Enberg was family with Jeri Taylor. That worked out - he can handle Vulcan mannerisms pretty well. (I liked Vorik's take on Voyager's predicament, for that matter.)

I also thought the drug dealer was a familiar voice, but couldn't place him. He just really came across as maybe a one-off bad guy on Angel or something, but nope.

* You can tell we're officially well past the Murderhobo Zone.

The dead giveaway? Even the bad guys have transporters in Fair Trade, marking our passage into 'civilized' space IMO, Nekrit Expanse or no.

* This is my favorite Neelix story to date.

This may be the best Neelix episode yet, although the competition isn't very stiff so far.

Agreed. Trying to give Neelix a dark past in Jetrel didn't work at all - too out of left field, too over the top. This stuff, where Neelix used to be a petty criminal and is terrified of losing his usefulness? All completely believable. He's operated at the fringes of society for a long time, and the worldview on display here checks with a marginalized life like that. Even being on Voyager for several years wouldn't necessarily break him of it, (after all, there's no counselor on Voyager). Plus, as was alluded to last time, this episode explains a lot of his prior behavior in a way that is consistent with all prior episodes, (and even consistent with his poor behavior toward Kes).

Wixiban is also a perfectly believable criminal figure - manipulative, desperate, causing trouble without really meaning to.

I still have a lot of problems with Neelix being such a focus on the show, (I still think of Neelix as basically a Space George Costanza or Jacob Kornbluth figure), but this is good writing right here, and credit where it's due.

As sometimes happens, I honestly don't have a ton more observations leaping out because I actually liked this episode pretty well. Oh: I do like the whole 'Deep Space Nope' thing. Totally keeping that, haha.
posted by mordax at 10:49 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]


Didn't realize Enberg was family with Jeri Taylor. That worked out - he can handle Vulcan mannerisms pretty well. (I liked Vorik's take on Voyager's predicament, for that matter.)

I remember an online reviewer when Voyager was new that absolutely hated the alleged nepotism on display here and in every episode where Vorik appeared, this guy would rant and rail about it. What an ax to grind.
posted by Servo5678 at 11:09 AM on July 10 [3 favorites]


Janeway: "Well, do you have anything to say for yourself?"
Neelix: "Only that I'm terribly sorry."
Janeway: "Oh. You're sorry. Is that supposed to make everything better? I don't really care whether you're sorry or not, Neelix. At this point it doesn't matter. I can't imagine what made you behave the way you did, lying to us, sneaking around behind our backs, covering up criminal activity. Did you have some misguided reason to think this was acceptable behavior?"
Neelix: "No, ma'am."
Janeway: "You've been one of my most trusted advisors since we began this journey. How can I ever trust you again? How can I ever listen to you without wondering whether you're telling the truth or not?"
Neelix: "I've never been dishonest to you before, I swear, Captain. I just took one step. A step that seemed perfectly reasonable. And that step lead to another and another, and before I knew what I was involved in something I didn't know how to handle."
Janeway: "What was it? What was so important that you were willing to throw away your principles?"
Neelix "I needed a map."
Janeway: "A map?!"

Good lord, it's about time. The writers never really knew what to do with Neelix. We've known from early on that he's had a checkered past. We've known he was a scavenger and smuggler. And for three seasons, the show has constantly thrown him at us in multiple roles. Kes' boyfriend, Delta Quadrant guide, ship's cook, talk show host, the morale officer, Ambassador Neelix, etc.

This episode took one of the major things I've deeply disliked about the character and effectively explained his arc (such as it is) in a way that was reasonable and believable. For two and a half seasons, he's tried desperately to prove himself useful. He's insecure about his place and role on the ship. So we've seen him try to fill different roles to be of use. And now that he's reaching the limit of his knowledge, what use will Voyager have for him? That insecurity also fits what we know about his personality, through his relationship with Kes. And his over-the-top bluster, which is as much of a mask as anything else. So he's desperate. He's worried and anxious. He's depressed. Janeway praised him just last episode and called him Ambassador. But it's clear he didn't take it to heart. He can't see beyond his own shortcomings. We can all probably relate to feeling insecure or having low self-esteem.

The fact that the writers chose to explain that through one of the oldest and tiredest television cliches in existence didn't even bother me. (Old buddy returns to visit cast member. Buddy once saved cast member's life. Buddy now asks for a favor that will violate cast member's principles (and usually features them betraying other cast members.) Plot ensues.

There's tremendous continuity here. When we first met Neelix, he offered to be the crew's guide through his corner of the Delta quadrant. We can see his arc more clearly and from a different perspective now. He's been trying to prove his worth.

But more than that, he wants to help the crew. It's not simply enough that he offer them assistance. He wants to help them get home.

"I needed a map."

Just... damn. You can see the line hit Janeway hard.

Neelix: "Captain, my usefulness to you was at an end. I don't know anything about space beyond this point. I couldn't let you go into the Nekrit Expanse without knowing what you faced."

He did all the wrong things for the right reason.

Neelix: "But, I can't guide you. I can't advise you. I don't know what's coming."

And there it is. All of his anxiety in a nutshell. There's a really lovely gentleness in the way the scene in Janeway's office was handled. She knows he screwed up. He knows he screwed up. He's prepared to accept responsibility for betraying her and the crew and leave.

It's easy to forget sometimes when watching Voyager that Ethan Phillips is a really good actor. Neelix wasn't usually given meaty roles. There was a lot of bluster to him and he was often relegated to comic relief or offering the Outsider's Perspective of Human Crew™ . His character development was at times inconsistent. His depth was often only revealed in Very Special Episodes like this one. It was nice watching him reveal new, darker aspects of Neelix to us, by building on the existing character. Some of it we'd only seen briefly in episodes like Jetrel. Others: naively asking why he and Wix needed weapons.... Neelix suddenly finding his confidence when he stared down the smugglers. He knew he was doing the right thing and was now on surer ground.

And yet, the line: "Go ahead. You'd be doing me a favor. I have nothing to lose. Fire away!" He's more resigned to and accepting of what's happened to him here. Depressed, yet defiant.

Phillips' performance is much more layered than I realized the first time I watched the episode, when it originally aired. Was pleased to see that this time around.

--

- At the end of this episode, Janeway tells Neelix, "The first duty of every Starfleet officer is the truth." This is what Captain Picard tells Wesley Crusher in TNG: "The First Duty".

Yes, and note the continuity here, as well. Robert Duncan MacNeill's character of Nick Locarno in "The First Duty" was the template for Tom Paris. The writers acknowledged that they based Paris' story on Locarno's. Janeway's comment to Neelix, and Paris' conversation with him about honesty and not lying/covering up the truth is a direct call back to those events.
posted by zarq at 11:48 AM on July 10 [4 favorites]


an online reviewer when Voyager was new that absolutely hated the alleged nepotism on display

Wonder if he knew about Majel Barrett. (Nothing against her, of course; she was fantastic.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:49 AM on July 10 [3 favorites]


Talaxians are Flanderized into an entire race of dizzy comedy sidekicks in Star Trek Online - the mission Reunion has them unable to coordinate work shifts.

Hahahahahaha I remember that one. I also remember that I was forced to play it twice in rapid succession with the same character because of some kind of server issue hahaha…ha…heh.

"Go ahead. You'd be doing me a favor. I have nothing to lose. Fire away!" He's more resigned to and accepting of what's happened to him here. Depressed, yet defiant.

Phillips' performance is much more layered than I realized the first time I watched the episode, when it originally aired. Was pleased to see that this time around.


Overall, I agree, but the line you quoted—I dunno, his read didn't fully sell me on it. And not just because the line itself is, like, the tired-cliche zenith of this tired-cliche story. I know Phillips could have sold that line. (Maybe also it would have been more believable if, oh, I dunno, we knew his girlfriend had recently completely dumped him…) But that's a minor quibble.

I think to me the thing that clinches it here is the guest actors. We already know how reliable our main cast is. But this cliche story could have been beyond even their ability to elevate it. Wix and Bahrat are both interesting and compelling despite their limited screen time. That's due in part to the writers, of course; the story here has a good number of twists and turns, making for a busy hour. But I feel like lesser guest actors would've made the formulaic quality a lot harder to ignore.

And as been-there-done-that as the hook is, it suits Neelix quite well. Whatever one's feelings on the character, it's engaging to see exactly how badly he's going to screw up the situation.

Vorik's fun, and the actor is among the better non-lead Vulcans for sure, but every time we see him, his eyebrows look drastically different. Fascinating.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 2:36 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


Before getting into the story, I gotta say this was one of the better directed episodes recently. I don't know if it's just due to it being Treviño's first with Voyager, and thus being more of an attempt to make a strong initial impression, or if he'll continue to be a little more invested in creating atmosphere than some of the other directors were, but whatever the case, it worked well this time. Deep Space Nope actually had some sense of place to it, in part due to better use of extras, some different lighting choices, and in Treviño making more interesting use of the frame limiting what we see of the usual franchise world building apparatus and keeping a better focus on the characters. It seems Treviño also worked on Babylon 5 before this, which might give some indication of where he got his technique since this story was a bit 5-y in its setting.

I'm glad the writers finally took the time to try and make some sense of Neelix, and while they didn't really fix or address all his inconsistencies, which wouldn't have been easy admittedly, they did a fine job of giving some better delineation of his main characteristics and, at least in intent, given him a much better path to continue on with from this point. From memory, I think this actually does work to some extent, with Neelix becoming a much better character as the show progresses, in large part by simply eliminating some of his worst attributes, and this may be the episode which starts that process, but I can't say for sure that's the case since I didn't note an exact time frame for his improvement the first go-around.

Bormanis does a fine job in providing something of a summary of Neelix's different quirks through a pared down version of his history, both on Voyager and before. It ignores the Kes aspects of course, which is a bit too bad since that does seem to need some sort of further explanation in terms of what it means for each character going forward and as to why they each want to remain on Voyager or joined the crew in the first place. That element has always been a little vague other than suggestions of "family", which in Neelix's case, given the loss of of those close to him, makes some sense, but why he would think Voyager would be a good replacement is the trickier part.

Along with that area of some vagueness, there is also the way Neelix's history/personality is a bit hard to parse given he's both shown as deeply insecure and yet something of a "streetwise" clever dealer. Those attributes aren't necessarily opposed, but they're somewhat difficult to align in a clear manner. This episode does the best it can with that, suggesting Neelix is "changed", but it's difficult to see the alleged former smuggler Neelix in the new excessively sincere character he's been for most of the show's running, other than when they need the former for some storyline.

The constantly attention needing and over-genial aspect of his personality is also a bit at odds with what they claim for him, being so entirely transparent in his actions and so overbearing in his attempts at ingratiation makes him seem more a really bad salesman than a smuggler of contraband, the Willy "Bar Rodent" Loman of Voyager perhaps. Nonetheless, this episode does at least point to a way to rounding those attributes into smoother whole, and having him separated from Kes will also help the character in this as well, though do nothing much for Kes unfortunately.

One other big help this time was in all the other characters providing solid balance to the story both in how they respond to Neelix, Janeway in the end scene is particularly good, and in how solid they are in their own personalities, with Wix and Bahrat being better than usual subsidiary characters for the show.

Overall, it's a fine first step at rethinking Neelix as a character and was a moderately enjoyable episode in its own right, borrowing from some old movie tropes to add a layer of depth to the proceedings. I'll be interested in keeping further track of Neelix from here to see how they work with these ideas in future episodes, whether there is a concerted effort to refine him or if the changes are something more piecemeal.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:51 AM on July 12 [3 favorites]


That element has always been a little vague other than suggestions of "family", which in Neelix's case, given the loss of of those close to him, makes some sense, but why he would think Voyager would be a good replacement is the trickier part.

I've always inferred (of course, given more consistent writing I wouldn't have to infer, but anyway) that the reasoning for staying on Voyager was largely opportunism. Remember one of the first things he said to Janeway: do they have [hesitant pause] water?

To infer further, Neelix strikes me as juuust introspective enough to develop an internal conflict in the sense that he's there for safety/survival first, higher ideals second, and given the crew's adamant Starfleetiness w/r/t values (especially Janeway's), he might sometimes feel like a bit of a poser and/or remora.

the Willy "Bar Rodent" Loman of Voyager perhaps

Wow. Yeah! Definitely a rodent…remora…genetic hybrid of some sort. (eew)

I'll be interested in keeping further track of Neelix from here to see how they work with these ideas in future episodes, whether there is a concerted effort to refine him or if the changes are something more piecemeal.

I felt I did notice a shift, at least in terms of being less annoying, in an early season 4 episode where he puts on his El-Aurian hat to counsel B'Elanna. Whether that was due to writing, acting, or directing, couldn't say; it was a minor moment.

My own vague memory from my last rewatch is that the character loses focus—starting right around now, actually—and has maybe one or two meaty Neelix-as-Neelix episodes left for the whole series. I could be off in that estimate.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 6:13 AM on July 12 [2 favorites]


Opportunism, or simply ease and survival does make some sense given what we hear from Wix and some other corroborating details, though at the same time it doesn't quite seem to fit the Mr. Super-Earnest attitude they've often given Neelix in some regards. But if I were to just try and find the most plausible throughline for the character that would be a good starting point from which all the later elements might develop, once one accepts how variable many of the characters can be. Janeway, for instance, isn't exactly a paragon of stable motivation and attitude either.

And, just to make clear to our lurking friends who might like a kinder tone taken towards Neelix, I do think he develops into a much better character in the following seasons as they minimize some of his more irksome traits and integrate him into the crew a bit better. The Tuvok/Neelix thing, while still occasionally excessive, even starts to work better, so, if memory serves, there's some end in sight for the worst of the Neelix bashing.

The idea that they lose some focus on Neelix as we've come to know him thus far is interesting too, as I seem to remember he does start to become more Guinan-y in some ways rather than following a clearer arc from the early seasons to the end. I suspect there's a bit of both involved, keeping a few key elements and allowing the rest to become hazier, but we'll see how it goes.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:10 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


I'll be interested in keeping further track of Neelix from here to see how they work with these ideas in future episodes, whether there is a concerted effort to refine him or if the changes are something more piecemeal.

Suggest you begin looking much later in this season or in season 4. His next appearance is in "Coda, and it's more of the same old fare.

The idea that they lose some focus on Neelix as we've come to know him thus far is interesting too, as I seem to remember he does start to become more Guinan-y in some ways rather than following a clearer arc from the early seasons to the end. I suspect there's a bit of both involved, keeping a few key elements and allowing the rest to become hazier, but we'll see how it goes.

His characterization does become a bit more mature and consistent, but starting in Season 4 he begins to get less screen time. Standout episodes include "Mortal Coil" and "Once Upon a Time". He also plays a fun role in the B story of "Someone to Watch Over Me" and tells ghost stories in "The Haunting of Deck Twelve," which was not one of the show's better outings, imo. (That last episode included a shot of the flames on his stove burning while the environmental controls were offline, something that annoyed me no end at the time. The ship has is under a limited oxygen condition. Why not leave open flames burning for ambiance so they can suck up more O2?)
posted by zarq at 9:11 AM on July 12 [2 favorites]


I don't remember Neelix's role in Coda, but I do know my feelings about that episode had little to do with him overall with other things being so much more pressing. I'm interested in rewatching Rise and Riddle, with the Tuvok/Neelix pairings, since I marked both of those as decent on first watch, which bodes well. Oh, and I actually liked Haunting of Deck Twelve, though your flame comment is hard to argue against, unless it was the 24th century version of those TV yule logs, a portable holo-campfire? (Even I'm not buying that.)
posted by gusottertrout at 10:40 AM on July 12


Actually, I'm wrong. He barely appears in Coda beyond the beginning of the episode.

I must have been thinking of "Rise," which is a couple of episodes after that. Not my favorite episode.
posted by zarq at 11:56 AM on July 12


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