Star Trek: Voyager: Mortal Coil   Rewatch 
October 4, 2017 3:09 PM - Season 4, Episode 12 - Subscribe

Or: "The One Where You Suddenly Feel Kind of Bad About All Those 'Killing Off Neelix' Jokes"

For who would bear the whips and scorns of Memory Alpha?:

- This episode underwent numerous rewrites. Although the episode does not credit her for her work, freelance writer Kathy Hankinson pitched the premise that would eventually develop into this installment. Her original idea involved a death fetishist with an immortal, regenerating body who, merely for fun, repeatedly fooled The Doctor into killing him. The members of Star Trek: Voyager's writing staff immediately found this plot concept appealing, thinking it was "interesting" and "weird." They subsequently began to contemplate its primary theme of death, wondering both how they could do an unusual spin on a near-death experience and exactly how the revived person would be brought back to life.

- Staff writer Bryan Fuller remembered, "We were going to do this Pet Sematary episode where Ensign Wildman goes on a shuttle mission and dies, and Seven of Nine brings her back to life using Borg technology, except that now she's 'zombie mom.' She's not all there. Wildman's more connected with death than life, and her only link to life is through her daughter. She wants to kill her daughter, though, to bring her back to 'life' so she can share that experience with her. Really a creepy, morbid story! I thought, 'This is going to be so much fun to write. There has been nothing on Star Trek remotely like that, ever.' So we broke the story, and everybody was pretty happy about it."

- This early version of the story was ultimately deemed to be too extreme, however. While Bryan Fuller was working on the script over a weekend and was about halfway through the scripting process, he received a call from Brannon Braga, who told Fuller to stop working on the script and relayed news to him that executive producer Rick Berman as well as Paramount Pictures studio executives didn't like the story; they had objected because they didn't want to see a young mother die and try to kill her own daughter. "I can understand why," Bryan Fuller remarked, "but now we have to re-examine how to tell the story. I was already halfway through it, and time was short."

- The writing staff subsequently re-broke the story, at which time it was decided that Chakotay would be the person who was revived from death, influencing him to subsequently question his Native American beliefs. Bryan Fuller thereafter started to write this revised version of the story. After he spent four days of working on the rewrite, he again received a call to stop working on the script. He explained, "They decided to stay away from Native American spirituality. Plus, afterlife beliefs tend to be very paganistic and materialistic, and many Native American cultures frown on it. They think it's tasteless, because it becomes very prideful and egocentric." As a result of the producers' objections, the story's main character finally changed to being Neelix.

- Bryan Fuller believed that, while this episode's thematic exploration remained grim, its impact was lessened via the use of Neelix as the protagonist. "Because it's this little hedgehog guy from outer space doing it, then it's much more palpable," Fuller opined. "You can get in through the back door."

- This installment was Bryan Fuller's favorite from the episodes that he wrote during Voyager's fourth season. Fuller stated, "It had these spiritual elements that were so much a part of growing up Catholic, and there was a great deal of me in that." He also believed that Neelix's predicament here could be universally related to and appreciated. "What would be worse," Fuller rhetorically asked, "than having your own dead grandmother come back and say, 'You know, there is no God. This is all a figment of your imagination, you're going to die, and there's nothing after. You disappear, and that's that. See ya!' So that one, I think, really speaks to many fears. And in a way that's what Star Trek does best. It turns a secular element that runs through everyone's lives on its ear and tells it in a different way that you can appreciate, and you won't be offended by it."

- Brannon Braga was also pleased with how this installment turned out, calling it "a lovely show." Additionally, he commented, "I was very happy with 'Mortal Coil' [....] That was an episode that I felt very close to. It dealt with religion, and loss of faith. I very much liked the fact that in the end, Neelix does not actually regain his faith, and yet he has passed on something to the little girl. The ability to imagine the world that he has lost is going to help this girl sleep at night. I don't know exactly what it means, but it felt real somehow."

- At one point during this episode's production stage, Joe Menosky was amazed by a certain performance that Neelix actor Ethan Phillips delivered. Menosky recollected, "I went down to the set when they were shooting that 'man on a ledge scene' when Neelix was in the transporter room, and I thought Ethan Phillips was awesome. Everybody had tears in their eyes on the set when he was playing that."

- Ethan Phillips himself was particularly pleased with this episode generally: "This was probably his greatest episode [....] It was an important episode, and I'm glad Neelix was at the center of it." Shortly after the completion of the fourth season, Ethan Phillips hoped for more episodes like this one. "Boy, if I can get one show like that every year, I will be a happy man!" he announced.

- Neelix's experiences in this episode are somewhat followed up on in the fifth season episode "Night", in which he is diagnosed with "nihiliphobia: the fear of nothingness" as Voyager travels through a starless black sector dubbed "the Void".

- During the resurrection process, Seven of Nine mentions that the "alveoli in his (Neelix's) lung are regenerating." This correctly corresponds with events that take place in the first season episode "Phage"; specifically, that Neelix's original lungs are stolen by Vidiians and that, afterward, Kes donates a single lung to him so he can continue to survive.


"How's Neelix?"
"He's dead."

- Chakotay and Tom Paris


"Their biological and technological distinctiveness was unremarkable. They were unworthy of assimilation."

- Seven of Nine, on the Kazon


"Having fun?"
"No."

- Janeway and Seven of Nine, on socializing


"You will be assimilated."
"No time for that now, maybe later."

- Seven of Nine and Neelix in a vision


"Children assimilated by the Borg are placed in maturation chambers for seventeen cycles."
(awkward pause)
"Interesting... well, if you'll excuse me, I need to go talk to Neelix."
"In these... maturation chambers, the development of conversational skills is, I suppose, a low priority?"

- Seven of Nine, Ensign Wildman and The Doctor, when Seven attempts small talk at the Captain's request


"You are a peculiar creature, Neelix."
"Thanks."

- Seven and Neelix


Poster's Log:
Posting this one a little early since I have a hunch I won't have time tomorrow.

While there aren't any big surprises in the plot, it's perhaps surprising how effective this episode is considering its premise is "Neelix's existential crisis, and subsequent suicide attempt." I might even go so far as to say that this is a watershed in terms of Phillips demonstrating that he really groks the Neelix character at this point; you see elements of his goofiness, his selfishness, and his trauma, all of which have been highlighted in preceding episodes. And while I feel like there's something facile about the use of the Naomi character as the key to preventing Neelix from offing himself, it's not as though it's an unrealistic handling of the issue of suicide.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
"I have a question, sir."
"Yes Data, what is it?"
"What is death?"
"Oh, is that all? Oh, Data, you're asking probably the most difficult of all questions. Some see it as a changing into an indestructible form, forever unchanging; they believe that the purpose of the entire universe is to maintain that form in an earth-like garden which will give delight and pleasure through all eternity. On the other hand, there are those who hold to the idea of our blinking into nothingness. That all of our experiences and hopes and dreams, merely a delusion."
"Which do you believe, sir?"
"Considering the marvelous complexity of the universe, its clockwork perfection, its balances of this against that, matter, energy, gravitation, time, dimension, I believe that our existence must be more than either of these philosophies. That what we are goes beyond Euclidean or other 'practical' measuring systems, and that our existence is part of a reality beyond what we understand now as reality."

- Nagilum as Data and the real Picard, TNG: "Where Silence Has Lease"; Patrick Stewart quoted part of this speech during Gene Roddenberry's memorial service
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (13 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Particle of the Week: Borg nanoprobes, which will soon overtake thorons if they haven't already.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: Protomatter is a pretty big deal in the current story: it's being used for both Trek-scale WMDs and similarly impressive healing tech. Canisters like the one Neelix had are literally the elite currency in the Lukari reputation.

Ongoing Counts: Rolled forward, since both the shuttle and Neelix were 'salvaged.'
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: 17.
* Shuttles: Down 8.
* Crew: 141.
* Other: 46 bio-neural gelpacks remaining, maybe 25-50% of the escape pods should be gone at this point.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 9.
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful, 1 game of chicken, 1 ramming speed.

Notes:
* The background information is even more illuminating than usual.

My takeaway from this is that killing Ensign Wildman would be too cold, killing Chakotay would too racist, but killing the 'little hedgehog guy from outer space' was just right, and I laughed out loud.

But seriously, it's good they went with Neelix. The thing with Wildman would've messed up her arc something fierce - she would've been the ship's next Sudor, and it would've colored Naomi for the rest of her time on Voyager.

Using Chakotay not only would've been tone deaf and horrible, but it would've denied them the use of Chakotay as the closest thing the ship has to a counselor for this particular issue. I was even willing to give them a pass on the fake Native American stuff because Chakotay's spot-on the whole time: Neelix doesn't know what happened. This doesn't prove anything. Neelix is leaping to conclusions after one session with a problem that takes months to years to really even begin to grapple with.

Killing Neelix was absolutely the right call out of the options discussed, even leaving aside the 'ha-ha, they killed Neelix' talk, (which, you know, I'm totally on board with too).

I am fascinated that they kept wanting to go darker with Voyager though, because the initial pitches - both from Hankinson and Fuller - sound a lot like the backstage stuff going on with Darkling, which was also supposed to be super hardcore in the initial draft. I would pay good money to read a bunch of Voyager's first gen, super horrifying scripts.

* Philips is pretty good here.

I might even go so far as to say that this is a watershed in terms of Phillips demonstrating that he really groks the Neelix character at this point

Yeah.

It's easy to forget that Ethan Phillips is a skilled actor because Neelix is so annoying and uneven a lot of the time, but this really is an impressive performance. He's right to be proud. I feel like both he and the writers did especially good work over his attempted suicide - his behavior before the act was all so textbook, right down to the really nice talk with Seven, the letters he forwarded to Janeway and so on. Kudos to Voyager for tackling a difficult subject in a way that rang pretty true to me. (It reminded me of something similar that happened on BSG later.)

Both Fuller and Philips have cause to be proud of the way Neelix is written here.

* I adore Seven here.

Previously, in these reviews, I complained about how dull it was to watch Harry and Seven together, and how I wanted her talking to the average Voyager crew member. Lo and behold: they delivered this week. Better still, it's what I wanted. Indeed, I would totally watch the Seven of Nine Fails To Socialize Hour. The way she talked about 'salvaging' Neelix, casually dismissed all contrary notions (except from Janeway - progress about chain of command), and her talk at the feast? Genius. This is a take on the character I enjoy: oblivious and superior, but trying to integrate and clearly concerned. She cares about these people, but she's still a fish out of water. (I noticed her using 'we' when she talked Borg stuff - a nice touch.)

* I liked the continuity with Tuvok.

Neelix tapping Tuvok for the speaker at the party, and offering a particularly heartfelt letter to him, felt like decent payback for how irritating he's been with Tuvok in earlier seasons. I liked that it matured into mutual respect eventually. Tuvok's participation here didn't feel forced.

* The message leaves me cold, personally.

I come from religious people - my early childhood, (past what I remember) was Muslim. I was raised Catholic after things went sideways there, and not in a small way: I attended a Jesuit-run Catholic middle school and served altar that entire time.

On one level, I get everything that's going on here: Neelix's existential crisis, why Fuller enjoys this story so much and so on. It makes sense. I have also talked about how I think most Starfleet personnel wouldn't be religious, but I imagine a lot of future-civilians would be. (This came up in DS9 threads, IIRC.)

So... I don't want to cry foul on them tackling this issue. It's okay for them to pick at it, and I think they did a decent job with the material.

At the same time, I still have a couple of problems with the whole thing.

1) I feel like there'd be a manual for this sort of thing. People come back from 'mostly dead' all the time in the Trek-verse. It's a cliche. People are rescued by temporal wedgies, nanites, risky experimental surgery, transporter shenanigans... resurrection - or at least what we would consider resurrection - isn't unusual in the field in their future. I feel like people would be able to talk about it better. Chakotay scratches the surface of that, but I feel like it's something that the culture itself should've absorbed, 100 years after the TOS guys were cheating death all the time.

So I guess this parses accurately from a modern view, but not how I'd picture future Starfleet people thinking about it, if that makes sense. The take is more what I'd want out of The Outer Limits, versus something that's supposed to be centuries from now. At the same time, I'm not sure that it's fair to tell them they're doing it wrong in this particular case because they did take the time to get a lot of the details right.

2) On a personal level, I was raised by religious people - my mother and sister still believe in stuff - but I ended up a hard agnostic myself. (Not 'I dunno *shrug*' more 'we cannot know and shouldn't pretend we do.') So it sorta... doesn't do anything for me. That's okay, and I don't want to ding the show for it, just... the notion mostly gets a shrug from me myself.

So. Hm. Mixed feelings about it, but I'm willing to concede that they thought about this and put forth good effort, and I'm not going to be super critical of them when they're trying.
posted by mordax at 7:33 PM on October 4 [1 favorite]


I'm putting this one (my choice for alternative title would be "Losing My Religion") in the "improves on rewatch" category, and think that it compares well with a number of other episodes in the franchise. The first point of comparison would be "Jetrel", and as I said in the comments on that one, Phillips works a lot better in this episode. He may have a better grasp on his character, or it may be that this situation simply works better for Neelix; what does the morale officer do when he's the one who needs cheering up in the face of an existential crisis? It's like the old joke about Pagliacci. [Spoilers for Watchmen, but if you haven't read it by now...] It also compares well to DS9's "Hard Time"--not necessarily exceeding it, but at least in the same league--and that isn't a comparison that I'd make lightly. (There's also a sixth-season episode, "Ashes to Ashes", which deals with some of the same themes.)

In retrospect, this is probably the sort of thing that Trek could have done sooner rather than later, although they would have had to come up with another form of Applied Phlebotinum to achieve a resurrection that far out without at least whipping up a stasis field or pulling out an emergency cryo capsule or something. (Spock came back through some peculiar circumstances, including a device that used protomatter; between that and the presence of a nebula, it would have been interesting if they'd established that Neelix's resurrection had been the result of an accidental Genesis Effect.) It did make sense that nanoprobes could do the trick; "Unity" had already established that reactivating the tech in a Borg drone corpse could bring it back to some extent. And it helped tie in the Seven B-story--and we are still in the mode where her ongoing adaptation is the default B-story, just as the developing Tom/B'Elanna romance has been and still occasionally will be--with the contrasts between her attempts at socializing with Samantha Wildman and Neelix's being called upon by Samantha to help Naomi get to sleep (some irony there, given that Naomi and Seven eventually become friends), and Neelix later thanking Seven, with Seven noting that he's speaking in the past tense.

As far as the spiritual aspects of it... I never thought I'd say this, but in this context, I thought that the old a-koo-chee-moya actually worked, not in the sense that it seems more authentic--it doesn't--but that it helps get to the root of Neelix's crisis, and Chakotay stresses that it's not a quick fix, which is a major criticism of the watered-down version of Native American spirituality that's been co-opted by new agers of varying levels of good intentions. Having probably found out the truth about Jamake Highwater by this point, the showrunners seemed to ditch Chakotay's spiritual side altogether, at least up to this episode, and while I can't say much good about the previous demonstrations (e.g. "Tattoo"), there's something to be said about establishing your own spiritual path, culturally authentic or not, as long as it works. That's one of the things that I've learned in AA that's helped me immensely: that the only thing that I need to be certain about WRT my Higher Power is that I'm not it. (Some AA clubs are more obviously oriented toward Brand X, but I kept looking until I found one that wasn't.) Neelix seems to be coming to a sort of realization at the end of the episode that maybe it's not about what happens afterward, at the Tree of the Big Family Reunion and Picnic, but the meaning that he pulls out of what he's doing while he's still above the dirt, and that works for a lot of other people, too.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:07 PM on October 4 [2 favorites]


As far as the spiritual aspects of it... I never thought I'd say this, but in this context, I thought that the old a-koo-chee-moya actually worked

Right? I had the hardest time conceding that, but this is the first time Chakotay talked spirituality, and I thought they made it work. Good point about Highwater being outed by this point in the show's run, hadn't been thinking about that too much.

Further thought:

My mom, (a fellow Mefite, hi mom!), raised us without frivolous beliefs - we got religion because she genuinely believes it, but we didn't get Santa or the Tooth Fairy or anything like that. Her take on it when I was growing up was, 'if you lie to children, you're just breeding cynicism and mistrust.'

Like... a kid finding out Santa's fake isn't cute or a rite of passage, it's just a way of teaching them not to trust you as an authority figure. So we didn't grow up with a whole lot of sugar coating, and I'm grateful. (We were also very much raised on the 'I sent you a boat' model of prayer.) I think it did help me to handle a host of stressful situations better because I'm used to going, 'well, we're probably fucked, what do we do about it?' instead of 'everything will be fine beneath the Great Tree' kinds of talk.

I think that's part of why I don't really like the message here, past a general sort of reflexive personal antipathy for theism: Neelix is about to go lay the groundwork for his crisis of faith in the next generation. He's going to lie to Naomi, and it's a bandaid - when she gets blasted by protomatter/thorons/that one TNG lightning effect, she could end up where he is now, and I think that's sad rather than upbeat.

But again, I don't feel like dinging them for this because it's very personal, rather than something I'd expect a TV show to cater to me with.
posted by mordax at 8:42 PM on October 4 [1 favorite]


I feel like there'd be a manual for this sort of thing. People come back from 'mostly dead' all the time in the Trek-verse. It's a cliche. People are rescued by temporal wedgies, nanites, risky experimental surgery, transporter shenanigans... resurrection - or at least what we would consider resurrection - isn't unusual in the field in their future. I feel like people would be able to talk about it better. Chakotay scratches the surface of that, but I feel like it's something that the culture itself should've absorbed, 100 years after the TOS guys were cheating death all the time.

Well, let's not forget that we viewers of the franchise have a skewed perspective, in that we don't see the Adventures of the Much-More-Common Perfectly-Average Starship Crews. But you're right insofar as, say, the basis of IDIC—which connects with how there are, in-universe, "more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy"—would seem to necessitate a manual. Maybe the Vulcans have one. They're the ones with katras, after all.

On a personal level, I was raised by religious people - my mother and sister still believe in stuff - but I ended up a hard agnostic myself. (Not 'I dunno *shrug*' more 'we cannot know and shouldn't pretend we do.') So it sorta... doesn't do anything for me. That's okay, and I don't want to ding the show for it, just... the notion mostly gets a shrug from me myself. [...] I think that's part of why I don't really like the message here, past a general sort of reflexive personal antipathy for theism

It's funny, I think I reacted better to this episode, and I'm as non-theist as the next person (not gonna say "atheist" because, to put it succinctly, I have had an actual religious/spiritual experience—a perspective-changing moment of what some call kenshō). Perhaps we are just interpreting its "message" differently. I feel like I'd sum up the reason why he doesn't commit suicide as "he realized there's a future to live for, regardless of the existence or nonexistence of an afterlife."

Neelix is about to go lay the groundwork for his crisis of faith in the next generation. He's going to lie to Naomi, and it's a bandaid - when she gets blasted by protomatter/thorons/that one TNG lightning effect yt , she could end up where he is now, and I think that's sad rather than upbeat.

I see why you say that, but since she's so young, I'm inclined to handwave it; the show never suggests (IIRC) that Neelix actually becomes her Magical Talaxian spiritual advisor. (Though the similarity between her dream and "Flotter and Trevis" is…interesting.) I feel like the closing shot suggests that the message they were going for, as far as Naomi is concerned, could be something like "comforting illusions are OK under certain circumstances." I don't think I can fully gainsay that (though if I were a parent, I'd be inclined to do as mordax's mother did w/r/t Santa et al.).
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 10:23 AM on October 5 [2 favorites]


Those Fuller quotes provide a little bit of an example of why I don't entirely trust him as a writer in some of the areas where sensitivity is needed. (And through that why I'm still not fully trusting Discovery will take the best path.)

Fuller seems to often show the drama first character second attitude that can be really problematic, and the quotes about production have suggested as much for his first two attempts at writing for the show. That Braga would find some interest in Fuller's work isn't entirely surprising since Braga loves big ideas, but even he isn't so radical about character shifts as Fuller.

The drama first attitude often relies on throwing over established character traits for shock value since the change won't be expected, without concern over whether that expectation was a needed one or the more "true" to the story. Someone suggested they'd like to see Tilly on Discovery would turn out to be a lackey for Total War Starfleet ideals, which is the sort of twist Fuller might indeed like to use, but one which should be established in character in some way first otherwise its placing the thwarting of convention ahead of sense. Fuller may have grown and/or his influence on Discovery may not be defining, but that is an issue that still worries a bit.

For Voyager, that is something that seems to be a part of his initial MO for the show, twists first, the bigger the more gruesome the better. That offers the brief excitement of shock and perhaps praise for avoiding convention but at the cost of character development and, eventually, it just becomes another convention itself, as one might see in Game of Thrones where speculation on which main character would be killed off next showed how quickly people adapt to "twists". if it isn't properly grounded, its just empty thrills.

This episode thankfully suffered helpful interference from the producers, so it avoided the worse options presented and came away looking pretty good. It is one of the better Neelix episodes and, for me, also improves on rewatch. The hint of connection between the Great Tree, Neelix's bedtime stories to Naomi, and the later Flotter episodes being especially appreciated as it does suggest some deeper connection between the characters. As an aside, I really liked the Naomi Wildman character's continued presence on the show during my first viewing of the series, which was unexpected given having children on Trek usually is a bad sign for me. Losing her mom for most of those episodes though was a bit off.

In addition to the Naomi Neelix bond, establishing an understanding of sorts with Seven was also a good touch, even more so since Seven is the other character Naomi interacts with, which provides opportunity for seeing Neelix and Seven as counterpoints in a way. It's a nice touch since seeing them as, essentially, parents to Naomi, but not necessarily showing tension in their direct interactions, as they did with Tuvok and Neelix, is a more mature way to show contrast and likeness in needs.

Chakotay was used well here. Beltran is so good at even the faux native stuff it manages to avoid feeling disrespectful by offering a heartfelt general impression of possible belief rather than a specific set of values. That's something not uncommon for Trek and which makes some sense given more specifics could lose some force in translation to the characters' needs. It would be foolish, in a less racially charged example, to make an episode about specifically Catholic beliefs and apply them for some point on Christianity since it would too readily lead to specific criticisms and diminished perspective. With Indigenous Peoples beliefs they are of course dealing in a more sensitive area of values, something we've been noting when it comes up, so the parallels can't be exact, but there is some value in generalizing if it can be done without seeming to trivialize, which I think Beltran managed to do here. It's really good fortune they chose Beltran for the part since he's often been the only thing that keeps the character from sliding fully into a more offensive stereotype.

I mentioned Seven a little, but want to add she is also really well used here, avoiding the more jarring perspective differences of the last episode for a smoother look at the same sorts of issues surrounding her integration into the crew here. She had some particularly nice moments of dialogue too. One being her attempts to converse with the doctor and Samantha, where the line about assimilating children is funny, but also gives an indication of what her life was like, or how "small talk" from someone with that life would contrast against "normal conversation". It's a subtle way to look at how our histories inform our actions and ideas in that sense. The other nice bit was her conversation with Tuvok over borg "immortality". That was something that we discussed earlier that I found to be a fascinating possible side effect to the Borg assimilation lifestyle. I didn't remember this episode when I brought up the idea previously, but it seemed that the "stored memory" is immortality would be an important component to the Borg. The Borg then being, in essence, a cloud storage device each Borg drone can access to complete their tasks. Seven or any Borg then could perhaps be seen more life thumb drives which retain any memories they've accessed, covering their own existences as those memories are a part of them, while still sharing all their information with a cloud that doesn't differentiate the information it uploads from Borg.

Tuvok didn't get a lot to do, but he was used well as were Paris and Janeway to lesser degrees. B'Elanna making a dream appearance was a bit shocking since she didn't really figure at all in the episode aside from that. I also liked Neelix adding a Kes flower to his bundle since, while that should have been an obvious character he'd think of, it's often the case departed characters get forgotten right away when they've gone. That would have been a failing here, but they avoided it.

The religious and emotional issues surrounding Neelix's death and reflection on his fate also seemed suitable for the character and perhaps I'll add something more on that later if I get the time, but as I don't have that now, this will have to do.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:28 AM on October 7 [3 favorites]


Perhaps we are just interpreting its "message" differently. I feel like I'd sum up the reason why he doesn't commit suicide as "he realized there's a future to live for, regardless of the existence or nonexistence of an afterlife."

Agreed, give or take. I think we're just focusing on different parts of the same narrative, yes. I don't disagree that the message you and Jack found is there - it is - it's more a question of where my gaze goes in a story like this.

Those Fuller quotes provide a little bit of an example of why I don't entirely trust him as a writer in some of the areas where sensitivity is needed.

Hrm. Interesting point. I'll have to think about that.

The religious and emotional issues surrounding Neelix's death and reflection on his fate also seemed suitable for the character and perhaps I'll add something more on that later if I get the time, but as I don't have that now, this will have to do.

If you have time, I'm curious. :)

Unrelatedly:

It occurred to me how similar the basic premise here was to DS9's Battle Lines, which I went ahead and reviewed tonight because I'm up too late anyway. This creates a tiny plot hole: it means Voyager's database should have a record of a similar incident, and I'd expect the Doctor to be familiar since he's an AI.

What really strikes me about the two stories though, is that Kai Opaka is a person of great faith and so the experience doesn't shake her at all. She's still a rock, just interested in continuing her work. There's no question about where she went, or if anything's true even though she specifically describes the experience of being dead as 'there was nothing.'

Neelix is definitely a layman: he grew up around a certain set of beliefs, but he never really examined or tested or explored them, and so when he's confronted with this, he flips his shit.

The two different characters reacting the way they did rang pretty true to me. I liked that, and liked the contrast between them.
posted by mordax at 1:58 AM on October 7 [2 favorites]


I was falling asleep as I typed last night, which is why I had to skip the more religion-connected aspect of the episode. I'm surprised I even got as far as I did in hindsight.

Anyway, for me, the key aspect of Neelix's crisis is in the sense of loss he carries before dying. The "medicine bundle" he puts together includes object related to his dead sister and Kes as well as the great tree where he expects to find people he cares about and, more importantly, who need him in the afterlife. (Heh, I accidentally typed afterlie there before correcting it.)

His trauma isn't just about his own death, but in realizing the irrevocable losses he's already suffered. Voyager may be family to him now, but he doesn't have that same sense of being needed as he did with his sister and Kes it seems, and is fairly well dramatized and even noted by viewers. No one really needs Neelix on Voyager, they may like him, or not so much, but need him? One of the odd little quirks of religion is in how people who lose it often seem to despair over loss of meaning for or in their lives, which, when you think about it, is odd as no continued meaning should make existence all the more precious, not less, but yet that often seems not to be the case.

The reason I suspect, can sometimes be tied to how one withstands the suffering of life. People, or characters, who give of themselves to others to make them feel more secure in their lives don't always have the same support for themselves as others may not share whatever the motivating force is that allows them to seem to bear suffering more readily. Neelix had a vision of an afterlife, (a fine one by the way, not too abstract or defined as to obscure the idea or become too singular to relate to), which provided him a underlying strength to his character in dealing with adversity. When that was removed, he was overwhelmed by all the emotions he held back previously in some general faith things would someday be "fixed".

Naomi Wildman needing Neelix specifically and his connection of her to his sister in the vision and, from what we've seen before in his dreams, his connection of his sister to Kes and through that, in hopefully a non-creepy way, to Naomi, he is able to regain some feeling of continuance, even in the face of the losses he's already had. The belief he transmits to Naomi isn't so much the same as his previous sense of its importance, calling the Great Tree, "only a story" at the end of the episode, but nonetheless a recognition of the importance of that kind of story in helping structure a sense of continuance as a buffer against fear and doubt. Whether that is "good" or the best way to deal is hard to answer, but like Neelix searching Naomi's room for monsters before she can sleep, sometimes the need for others manifests itself as fear of being alone or at risk as a type of proof there will be someone to look under the covers before we drift off alone into slumber. The hunt for monsters and the Great Tree is a promise of care that allows them to go on. Without that, the sense of being alone may be too great giving way to despair in their darkest hours.

I say that as a hard agnostic myself, finding the questions of religion ones that simply cannot be answered and therefore need not be asked since any response one receives will be untrue since it comes from someone also in the dark. The abundance of different, equally felt, belief systems and the ties of religion to both some of the most horrific and most uplifting actions of humankind leave me personally secure in avoiding any given faith, but not ignoring the importance of all those faiths to the people who hold them, including atheism and agnosticism and whatever other attempts to address the unknowable as roughly equivalent "answers" one carries to explain or rationalize our brief time in the world and the actions we cannot come to grips with otherwise.

All that said; What the Hell Chakotay !?! Why would you think taking Neelix to watch a holographic replay of his death would be a good idea? I mean, you did good work later, but, man, that was a really bad idea.

The debate over whether to bring Neelix back after 18 hours dead was also interesting. That Seven suggested it with a sense of urgency gives some indication of her growing attachment to the crew, even as the Borg speak about it was pretty hilarious. The doctor's hesitation and concerns were also well considered, so Janeway's decision comes down to something of the same issue over loss as Neelix feels for himself. Death being harder on those who survive than on the dead, so the decisions made are often aligned with "our" living needs. This can be in the form of medical aid or in the form of stories we tell to comfort ourselves or both, in a sense, which is what Janeway acts on. Better to try no matter the consequences than suffer loss that is irrevocable.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:42 PM on October 7 [2 favorites]


Neelix had a vision of an afterlife, (a fine one by the way, not too abstract or defined as to obscure the idea or become too singular to relate to), which provided him a underlying strength to his character in dealing with adversity. When that was removed, he was overwhelmed by all the emotions he held back previously in some general faith things would someday be "fixed".

Yes; we have to keep in mind that, leaving aside all the character's annoyances, Neelix is in a sense a holocaust survivor. I think Viktor Frankl would've approved of his character arc from "Jetrel" to here.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 4:26 AM on October 8 [1 favorite]


Wanted to thank you for popping back and elaborating, gus. :)
posted by mordax at 3:08 PM on October 8


Wait a second, y'all; we've got
- the Great Forest
- Flotter and Trevis
- AND her last name is literally "Wild Man"?

Clearly Naomi grows up to be a druid.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 2:43 AM on October 9 [1 favorite]


Well, mordax, you know that normally I'm pretty tight lipped, so it took a lot of convincing for me to add another half dozen paragraphs, or not, only too happy to get a chance to finish my thoughts. I'm thankful for your interest.

The amount everyone is willing to dig into a show that was noted for being not so successful is one of the things that's making this rewatch so enjoyable.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:48 AM on October 9 [1 favorite]


Clearly Naomi grows up to be a druid.

Hahaha. I mostly remember her for giving me PvP tutorial missions. Oh, and for being, like, the one person Harry Kim outranks in STO's timeline. (I'm not worried though - I assume she'll be promoted over him if she ever gets a Featured Episode.)

It would amuse me greatly if she were also a druid.

Well, mordax, you know that normally I'm pretty tight lipped, so it took a lot of convincing for me to add another half dozen paragraphs, or not, only too happy to get a chance to finish my thoughts. I'm thankful for your interest.

Haha, true.

Also: it's interesting to me how many of us are agnostics of various sorts, and why.

The amount everyone is willing to dig into a show that was noted for being not so successful is one of the things that's making this rewatch so enjoyable.

Yeah, this is why I never miss one - I really look forward to these discussions.
posted by mordax at 1:00 PM on October 9


I appear to be in danger of lapping you folk.

I appreciated this primarily due to Philips' performance and due to what appears to have been some writers' due diligence with regard to Neelix's suicide preparations. I cannot say I have ever really experienced, or can even actually visualize, the sense of abandonment and betrayal Neelix is depicted as undergoing. That might be reflective of a couple, probably related things: one, I am adopted, and was relinquished at birth, and I presume my infant self did experience the most profound abandonment and sense of betrayal possible as an element of that experience, and two, I have never experienced any sort of sense of affiliation or interest in religion or religious experience except insofar as a child I did exhibit adaptive participation with my (adoptive) parents' faith and faith practices. But even then I understood the behaviors to be adaptive camouflage.

So, insofar as Neelix experiences a crisis of faith, I lack identification and indeed interest in his psychology. Insofar as Neelix experiences a crisis of suicidal ideation, I found it, Philips' depiction, and the writers' expression of it, compelling and of interest.

A mixed episode, which exceeds itself, despite itself, and which is weighed down by religious nonsense. The careful and persistent reader will recall that I have no time for religion in Trek, for many reasons.
posted by mwhybark at 12:19 AM on November 8 [1 favorite]


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