Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Phage”

“Phage”
Written by Timothy DeHaas and Skye Dent and Brannon Braga
Directed by Winrich Kolbe
Season 1, Episode 4
Production episode 105
Original air date: February 6, 1995
Stardate: 48532.4

Captain’s log. Voyager is en route to a planetoid that has readings indicating huge deposits of dilithium. They arrive, and Neelix bullies his way onto the away team, as he’s been preparing for it all week. Janeway inexplicably once again gives in to Neelix’s whims and he beams down with Chakotay and Kim.

Their exploration of the planetoid reveals lots of dilithium readings, but no actual dilithium in any of the caverns. Neelix does encounter a life form, who zaps him with a tool, after which Neelix collapses, not breathing.

Chakotay and Kim beam him directly to sickbay, where the EMH reveals that Neelix’s lungs are missing. He can keep him alive for a bit under an hour—and then he hits on the notion of giving him holographic lungs. It requires Neelix to be completely immobile, but at least it will keep him alive while they try to find a more permanent solution. Unfortunately, Talaxian lungs connect directly to the spine, a far too complex procedure to do with artificial lungs, apparently, and nobody on the ship is biologically compatible with Talaxians for a transplant.

Janeway and Tuvok beam back down with a security contingent. They find a storage room full of biological material, and also find a person, but he gets away in a ship. (Tuvok also determines that the aliens use dilithium as a power source, which explains the reading, but there’s no actual dilithium to mine.)

They beam back and give chase, eventually tracking the ship to another planetoid, this one artificially created. Voyager flies into the planetoid (in which the ship barely fits) only to find reflective surfaces and sensor interference making it impossible to find the other ship. Eventually, they hit on the idea of firing low-powered phasers—it won’t damage anything, but it’ll reflect off the false images, and be absorbed by the real alien ship.

The alien ship legs it as soon as they’re discovered, but this time Janeway tractors the ship and has its occupants beamed aboard.

Screenshot: CBS

They identify themselves as Dereth and Mortura of the Vidiian species. The Vidiians have been plagued by a disease known as the Phage for millennia. The only way they can survive is to replace diseased organs and limbs with transplants. They prefer to take from cadavers, but they’re desperate enough to sometimes harvest the living, as they did with Neelix. The Talaxian’s lungs are already in Mortura, and they can’t be removed without killing him, which Janeway won’t do, not even to save Neelix.

Because she has no authority here, and isn’t willing to carry them both in the brig for the foreseeable future, she lets them go, but makes it clear in no uncertain terms that any further attempts to harvest anyone from Voyager will be met with a most violent response.

Grateful, Dereth offers to help Neelix—Kes has already offered to donate a lung, and Dereth can make that work. After performing the transplant, Neelix and Kes both recover in sickbay.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The replicators are supposed to be down, yet the EMH asks Paris to replicate a medical tool, which he does.

The Vidiians have spectacular transplant technology, one which allows ease of cross-species transplants.

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway is very obviously frustrated by her inability to properly get justice for Neelix. However, she makes it abundantly clear that she will brook no more interference from them, a threat that the Vidiians, sadly, will not heed.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH hits on the notion of creating holographic lungs for Neelix, since the holoemitters can create solid matter. However, it only works if Neelix never moves a muscle.

He is also getting increasingly cranky over his lack of staff and his need to be on call constantly, particularly if it means constant care for Neelix (though that becomes moot when the transplant option becomes viable). Kes gives him a pep talk.

Also he demonstrates how holograms are solid by slapping Paris. Which was epic.

Half and half. Torres is designing a dilithium refining facility on the ship, using the impulse generator. Janeway is initially appalled, wondering if Torres has an instinct for solutions that violate Starfleet procedure, but Janeway approves it anyhow.

Everybody comes to Neelix’s. Neelix has taken over the captain’s private dining room and turned it into a galley (and also a fire hazard), so he can make food with the fruits and vegetables Kes has been growing in hydroponics. Janeway is dubious, and also annoyed that he did so without asking her, but after he gets his transplanted lungs, Janeway says she’s looking forward to tasting his meals.

Screenshot: CBS

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Neelix takes time out from being deathly ill to have a jealous snit about Paris being nice to Kes. This is not the last time this will happen. The snit includes a lot of mean things being said to Kes, as if it’s her fault that Paris is skeevy.

Do it.

“Strange—according to my readings, you are not here.”

“Believe me, I wish I weren’t.”

–Dereth not finding any life-sign readings from the EMH, and the EMH saying, “Bazinga!”

Welcome aboard. Cully Fredrickson and Stephen B. Rappaport play the two Vidiians. Fredrickson will appear again as the Vulcan who makes first contact with Zefram Cochrane at the end of Star Trek: First Contact. Also back is recurring regular Martha Hackett as Seska.

Trivial matters: This episode introduces the second recurring antagonist for the Voyager crew, the Vidiians, who will reappear throughout the first and second seasons, and also show up in the third and sixth. Their next appearance will be in “Faces.”

The storyline is a merging of two notions, a story pitch by Timothy DeHaas (who also wrote the story for TNG’s “Identity Crisis“) about Paris having his heart blown away and being given a holographic one, and a notion in the writers room about an alien species who harvested organs.

Seska is in a gold engineering uniform this time, instead of a blue sciences one, which she’ll maintain for her subsequent appearances as a member of the crew.

Neelix’s galley debuts in this episode. It will continue to serve as a secondary mess hall where people can eat Neelix’s culinary creations.

Set a course for home. “I don’t have the freedom to kill you to save another.” Conceptually, this episode is excellent. The Vidiians are a powerful antagonist because they come, not from malice or desire for conquest or piracy or any of the usual bad-guy motivations, but rather from desperation. They do what they do to survive, the, ah, prime directive (sorry…) of every living species. It adds a tinge of tragedy to their mendacity.

The execution falls down a bit. For starters, there isn’t enough story here for an hour, so we get a tiresome amount of time wandering through dark, rocky corridors and an even more tiresome amount of time flying Voyager very slowly through a big rock.

Screenshot: CBS

When we finally do meet the Vidiians, we’re 35 minutes into a 45-minute episode, and that ten minutes has to include revealing everything about the Vidiians, Janeway figuring out how to deal with them, and, oh yeah, curing Neelix. It’s not enough time for the revelations to be as effective as they should be.

While the Vidiians will go on to be an effective antagonist, their introduction is lackluster, because we don’t really get any sense of their desperation. We’re told it, but we’re not really shown it, and it lacks the gravitas the script wants it to have.

However, if you want gravitas, we’ve got Kate Mulgrew, who in that very same scene imbues Janeway with fury, frustration, anger, and resentment. She very much wants to punish the Vidiians, but can’t do so in good conscience, especially since she’s got no actual authority here. So she falls back on compassion, letting them go with a (very stern) warning. And, in true Star Trek fashion, compassion is rewarded: the Vidiians do fix Neelix by performing the transplant that’s beyond Federation medicine.

Which brings us nicely to the biggest problem with this episode, and the entire premise of the Vidiians, unfortunately: what about prosthetics? Why can’t they use artificial organs and limbs? Aside from one brief mention by the EMH about Neelix early in the episode, the notion of artificial replacements never really comes up. Well, except for the holographic lungs, which is actually a very clever use of the existing holotechnology. But still, the lack of prosthetics as an option for the Vidiians is a major flaw, especially when we’re talking about a species that has medical technology way in excess of what the Federation has.

Still, this is a good science fictional premise, with a very Star Trek attitude taken toward the Vidiians. Plus, the EMH slaps Paris.

Warp factor rating: 6

Keith R.A. DeCandido has written three works of Voyager fiction, most of which don’t actually take place in the Delta Quadrant: the Mirror Universe short novel The Mirror-Scaled Serpent (in Obsidian Alliances, in which Kes and Neelix go through the Caretaker’s array and wind up in the Alpha Quadrant), the novella “The Third Artifact” in The Brave and the Bold Book 2 (which tells the story of how and why Tuvok infiltrated the Maquis), and the short story “Letting Go” in the anthology Distant Shores (which focuses on the families of the crew left behind, primarily Janeway’s boyfriend Mark Johnson).

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