The following is a SPOILER Review for "Jetrel." If you have not seen the episode yet and do not want to have the plot given away, stop reading now.
The SASR [Short Attention Span Review] is the creation of Jim Wright, who watches the episode no more than twice before preparing the review. This gives me the opportunity to review and recap with a combination of memory and creativity (when memory fails). The result is an experience that is similar to, but not exactly the same as, the actual episode. Consider it a revival of the ancient oral traditions passed on through the generations. I make no claims as to accuracy, but I hope I got enough of it right to keep your attention.
Jump straight to the Analysis
We begin in the holodeck, revisiting Tom Paris' favorite Marseilles pool hall. Paris, Neelix, and Tuvok are there, as is the "pig" pool shark we first met in "The Cloud." Neelix has made a shot that puts Tuvok in a tight spot, and Neelix suggests calling a "safety," which would seem to be Neelix's middle name. Tuvok calmly and logically points out the physics required to make the necessary shot...and promptly scratches the white ball in the corner pocket without hitting anything he meant to. (Vulcans don't get no respect in the Delta Quadrant.)
Neelix is called to the bridge by Captain Janeway, who tells him that someone is trying to contact him. The someone is a Doctor Jetrel, a scientist for the Hakonian Order (I'd say Harkonen, but Frank Herbert got there first) who developed something called the Metreon Cascade when his people were at war with Neelix's people, the Talaxians. It was deployed against the moon of Talax, called Rynax. Neelix called it home, once. But over 300,000 people were killed by the Cascade, and fifteen years later their bodies floated in a cloud around the moon, fissioned at the molecular level, misty strands of formerly organized DNA.
Neelix is not happy to see Jetrel. Or to hear that name again. He refuses to have anything to do with the man, and authorizes Janeway to be his spokesperson. Jetrel is beamed to Voyager, and Jetrel expresses his awe at the transporter technology. Jetrel comes bearing bad news; it seems that Neelix was possibly exposed to Metreon isotopes, and could be suffering from Metremia, a fatal blood disorder that will do the same thing to the victims that the initial Cascade did--break down the cells at the molecular level, and kill whoever had it eventually.
A concerned Kes finds Neelix in the kitchen, mashing potatoes. She asks him why he never mentioned this before. Neelix, obviously troubled, doesn't seem to be in a mood to talk. Janeway enters and tells him the bad news about his possible affliction. Neelix isn't interested in being examined by the doctor; he says "I'd rather be immersed in a vat of eels than let him examine me." (I watched this taped episode immediately after watching Frasier last night, which featured a vat of eels. I probably wasn't supposed to laugh as hard as I did at this statement.) Kes and Janeway both flank Neelix, looking on with concern and affection written like graffiti on their faces. Neelix concedes defeat and agrees to be examined. (Side note: I've never wanted to be Neelix so much in my life.)
In Sickbay, Jetrel is running scanners over Neelix, who tells Kes a story of his childhood on Rynax. It seems there was a slavering, vicious beast called a Talchok that terrorized his family abode, and Neelix devoted his energies to trapping one. He finally catches one in his trap, which doesn't kill it, just trapped it--and he saw that it wasn't so terrifying after all. Kes says, "that's a terrible story." (Mental note: never tell Kes about my childhood California Cockroach experiments to impress her. It won't work.) Jetrel doesn't bother rising to the bait of Neelix's story, which was transparently pointed at him; he tells Neelix the news is bad--he has Metremia.
Later that night, a (fitfully) sleeping Neelix is awakened when Kes knocks, wanting to talk. Neelix tells her of his days in the Talaxian defense forces. He mentions their age differences, and expresses some pleasant surprise that he may actually die first after expecting to have her in his life for only a short time, considering her peoples' 10 year life span.. Kes says, "before I met you, eight years seemed an eternity." She says that now, whatever time they have will not seem long enough. They embrace.
Personal note: They make an interesting, but not altogether convincing, couple. There is little "magic" between them. You could chalk this up to their relationship--after all, even though they're a couple, they have separate quarters--but I have niggling doubts about these two. Kes is compassion personified, but that's all I get from her. Her scenes with Neelix are about as passionate as a family reunion; they care about each other, but no sparks fly. Contrast this with her scenes with Holodoc, where the air fairly crackles with sexual tension. She gives her whole attention to him, from the husky, musky voice to the Trans-Lux eyes that Speed Racer's sister would envy. And the normally brusque Holodoc nearly melts when she sets her gaze on full. With Neelix, they obviously get along, but I don't sense any of that chemistry. If they didn't make a point of telling us that these two are together, I would never guess that they're a couple.
But then again...she's a babe. He's a warthog. Do the math.
Sorry. Back to the plot.
Janeway is in her ready room staring out into space, thinking of who knows what but providing an impressive profile of command and its burdens, when Jetrel rings. He tells her he's been studying their transporter technology and finds it fascinating. This bothers Janeway, who says he should be helping Neelix; he explains that the two are connected, and mollifies her concerns. He tells her that he has a theory that the Metreon cloud, which is still floating between Talax and Rynax, may hold the answer--if he can isolate the isotope, he can figure out how to root it out of whoever's got the disease. Janeway has Chakotay detour to the Talaxian home world, though he points out that it is a significant detour from their road home (it's good that they mention every now and then that getting home is still their goal). As Jetrel turns to leave the ready room, he stumbles and looks unwell, but he shrugs it off as stress.
Back in Sickbay, Neelix and Jetrel are running more tests. Holodoc asks if there is anything further needed of him, and when the answer is no he overrides his program and self-deactivates. (This was mentioned in a prior episode; Holodoc was sick of being treated with utter disregard, and asked for some way to avoid being turned off, or to turn himself off. This was apparently accomplished, and this is the first time we've seen it used.) Sorry, Trek hard cores, but I didn't write down the override code. But Jetrel did.
Neelix is still not cutting Jetrel any slack. "If I were a scientist and developed a weapon of mass destruction, I'd have..oh, I dunno...picked a military target or something." Jetrel argues that as a pure scientist, he seeks out knowledge and discovery in all its forms, and he believes that no discovery cannot ultimately be used for good. Neelix calls Jetrel a monster, describing the loss of his family. Jetrel mentions the loss of his family; they looked on him as a monster just as Neelix did now, and she and his three children left him with his conscience. Neelix describes returning to Rynax after the Cascade was unleashed, and finding death and decay everywhere, walking dead monsters walking around with charred flesh--one of whom was a little girl named Palaxis. Jetrel says, "there is no way I can ever apologize to you, which is why I haven't tried." Neelix asks Jetrel if maybe he thinks of himself as a monster, and he admits that he's considered that question for the last fifteen years.
Neelix says, "I hope you live a long time with that." Jetrel responds, "I hope not. I've got advanced Metremia and will likely die within a few days."
Later that night, Neelix dreams. He's back at Paris' pool hall, hearing the words echoed which he spoke to Tuvok: "Call a safety; that's what you usually do, isn't it?" Janeway is there, as is Paris, and a char-broiled Kes as Palaxis; all accuse him of abandoning them. Not a pleasant dream by any judgment.
He is awakened by Janeway, calling him to the bridge. They are approaching his home world. He arrives on the bridge, looks at the beclouded view, and describes the day the Cascade was unleashed. He is clearly and understandably upset, and nobody argues when he leaves the bridge, and Janeway looks stunned. The sight is unnerving, especially compared to the beauty Neelix attributed to the planet and its moon before the Cascade.
In Engineering, Torres is preparing to beam aboard a sample from the cloud. Jetrel had hoped for a larger container, and Torres--looking, if I remember right, as Klingon as ever after her ordeal in "Faces"--explains calmly that "we do this all the time." The beam-in is complete, and she wishes Jetrel luck.
In the kitchen, Kes finds Neelix cowering behind the counter; he has ditched his comm badge in an attempt to be left alone. Kes is persistent, though, and Neelix finally cracks. He confesses that he has been lying all along; he was never in the Talaxian Defense Force. He was a conscientious objector, and was on Talax in an attempt to keep from reporting for duty when the Cascade hit. He felt that Talax was fighting an unjust war...but mainly, he felt himself a coward. Kes draws out of him that the penalty for avoiding military service was death, and she points out that his refusal to serve was a courageous act in itself--he was risking his life for what he believed in. Kes asks, "is it really Jetrel you're angry with? Or is he just a convenient target so you don't have to blame yourself?" Neelix says he really does hate Jetrel, but Kes says "before you can forgive him, you have to stop beating yourself up."
Kes, the Deanna Troi of the Delta Quadrant (and then some), apparently made a telling point. Neelix seems to make a decision.
Next scene: Sickbay. Holodoc is helping Jetrel prepare the sample for the experiment. When he starts doing something Holodoc finds suspicious, Jetrel shouts out the Deactivate Doctor code, and Holodoc dissolves in a cloud of protest. Neelix soon arrives, wanting to tell Jetrel something important, but sees a throbbing, pulsing mass of something in the sample case. Before he can tell the captain, Jetrel sedates him.
From the bridge, Janeway wants to check on the progress of the experiment, but Holodoc is deactivating, Neelix isn't responding, and Jetrel is in Transporter Room 1. They reactivate the doctor, who revives Neelix. They all head to Transporter Room One, with Tuvok in tow, less willing to believe the Hakonian than they had been to this point.
They find Jetrel doing something to the transporter controls; they dissuade him with the help of a phasor-wielding Vulcan. They demand to know what he was doing, and he said, "I'm trying to rescue the victims of Rynax." He feels he can pull the unorganized matter that was once Talaxian citizens and--using the transporter--recover them whole. Though Janeway and Tuvok argue that this is not likely to be possible, Jetrel asks for the chance to try, and Neelix joins in the request.
Janeway ventures a guess. "Does Neelix actually have Metremia? Or was that just a ploy to get us to help you?" Jetrel admits that Neelix doesn't have the disease, though he himself indeed does. He came back to try to use the same science that created the cascade to undo its effects. For his efforts, the Hakonians expelled him, so he was a man without a people. A monster in Talaxian eyes, a traitor in Hakonian opinion, all that remains to Jetrel is science, and the stubborn belief that science is ultimately good, no matter what damage has been done through science.
Jetrel has a test case, he says, the DNA signature of one of the victims. Janeway finally agrees, and they try...come awfully close to succeeding...but fail. (If this was the Enterprise, you know it woulda worked.)
In Sickbay, Jetrel is dying. Neelix visits him, and tells him what he intended to tell him earlier: I
forgive you. Jetrel dies with a semblance of a smile on his face, and Neelix--perhaps wanting to
say more--exits, looking like he's dumped a huge burden from his own shoulders as well.
At last, an episode that really takes a good hard look at Warthog Boy. With the exception of "Phage," Neelix has been ill-used throughout Voyager. He's not the funniest character on board, so he tends to fall flat as comic relief. He seems to be less interesting to his own girlfriend than a crotchety hologram. As a cook, he's a great storyteller. As a Delta Quadrant guide, he's a great cook. In short, for the most part, Neelix has not been much of a contributing factor to the series, and that's a shame. He's needed depth, and we finally see some here.
This episode is a heavy-handed homage to two great American wars, WWII and Vietnam. The Vietnam part comes through in Neelix's conscientious objection to the war his people was fighting, as well as the mention of the girl Palaxis, horribly burned and running toward him, reminiscent of the Pulitzer-winning photograph of burned children running down a Vietnamese road, an image that has haunted me since I first saw it. The WWII part comes from the doomsday weapon and its long-term effects on the cities and peoples of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It also reminded me of the film Real Genius, where smart kids at a CalTech-like college discover that their senior project was more or less tailor-made for killing people, an uncomfortable truth told to them by a guy whose quest for scientific truth and problem solving was also used for killing people in war.
It was an interesting episode for poor Neelix. He had to face his past, and confront his embellished accounts of it when the truth stares him in the face like a loaded shotgun. His tales of exploits and heroism are a sham, and he is instead nothing more than a coward. But even that is not the whole truth; he had the courage of his convictions, which probably saved his life, but which left him deadened by his shame. This is heavy stuff for a TV show.
Jetrel is an interesting character. How does one live with the knowledge that hundreds of thousands of lives were taken by something one built out of the love of science? Of the people who worked on the US atomic bomb research, most were subsequently pacifists who urged that the weapon not be deployed. The inventor of TNT later created the Nobel peace prize to try to undo some of the damage he felt he inflicted on the unsuspecting world. Jetrel's world view was shattered by the realization that genuine harm had been done because of his research, and he spent its remainder trying to undo that damage. He was damned if he did, and damned if he didn't; in the end, everyone deserted him, and it took strangers to understand his anguish. He failed to undo his crimes through science, but he did finally win forgiveness from a very unlikely source.
Janeway had some very good moments. Tuvok had yet another Vulcan-bashing moment at the beginning, but was otherwise not extensively used. Torres had a minimal part, but she handled it well. Paris and Chakotay we got to see and hear from, but were mere decoration. Harry Kim we got to see from a distance; Oprah could have played his part and nobody woulda known. Kes got some very good moments in, though I wish she would use her formidable talents to express something akin to passion with Neelix, or dump his sorry butt and start dating Holodoc officially.
Three hundred thousand dead bodies, plus one (Jetrel). Gratuitous dream-sequence, including charred Kes. Vulcan-bashing. Three good Janeway profiles. Janeway near-tears during heart wrenching Neelix story. Gratuitous throbbing bits of random matter. Neelix sandwiched between Kes and Captain. Unsubtle Vietnam and Hiroshima references.
On a 0-10 scale, I'd give this a 6.75. Not great, but some powerful moments and decent special effects, and Neelix got to be truly serious and passionate and complex for once, even more so than in "Phage."
Next week: Tuvok's Maquis Boot Camp.
(Think I'm out of my ever-lovin' mind with this review? Sometimes you need a second opinion...and Julia's got one.)