Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Jetrel”

“Jetrel”
Written by James Thornton & Scott Nimerfro and Jack Klein & Karen Klein and Kenneth Biller
Directed by Kim Friedman
Season 1, Episode 14
Production episode 115
Original air date: May 15, 1995
Stardate: 48832.1

Captain’s log. Neelix and Tuvok are playing pool against each other on Chez Sandrine holodeck program, with Paris and Gaunt Gary observing and giving playing advice, when Janeway summons Neelix to the bridge. A Haakonian is asking for Neelix by name. Neelix reveals that the Haakonians and the Talaxians were at war for a long time, and when the Haakonian reveals himself to be Dr. Ma’bor Jetrel, Neelix stomps off the bridge in disgust.

Jetrel is a mass murderer, the scientist who created the Metreon Cascade, a brutal weapon that wiped out hundreds of thousand on the Talaxian colony of Rinax, including Neelix’s entire family. Neelix himself was home on Talax at the time, though he was involved in rescue efforts.

Janeway greets Jetrel when he comes on board, saying that she will speak for Neelix, as he wants nothing to do with Jetrel, who expected that response. He’s attempting to find a cure for metremia, a fatal blood disease that many who have been exposed to the aftereffects of the cascade are suffering from. Jetrel is concerned that Neelix may have the disease, plus screening him for metremia will give him for data toward a cure.

Neelix is skeptical that the person responsible for killing so many Talaxians is suddenly interested in helping Talaxians, but after being gently bullied by both Kes and Janeway, he agrees to be examined. When he finally meets Jetrel, Neelix remains suspicious of his motives. He almost walks out on him, but is convinced to help in order to aid other Talaxians that have the disease.

Jetrel examines Neelix and declares that he does have metremia.

Neelix tries to put a bright face on it—now he doesn’t have to be concerned that he will outlive Kes, which has been a worry given Ocampans’ short lifespans—but Jetrel thinks Voyager‘s transporter technology may be the key to the cure. They can beam a piece of the cloud that is choking Rinax’s atmosphere into a containment unit. Haakonian science isn’t capable of just carving out a piece of cloud like that, but the transporter can do it easily. Despite it being very much out of their way, Janeway changes course to Rinax. Jetrel stumbles on his way out of Janeway’s ready room, but he fobs it off as the stress of dealing with Neelix.

Neelix talks further with Jetrel, describing his experiences with the horribly mutated survivors of the cascade. Jetrel admits that he hasn’t apologized because no apology could possibly be adequate for what he’s done. His own wife and children left him because they thought he was a monster, and when the cascade destroyed Rinax, he feared they may have been right. Neelix expresses his desire that Jetrel live with that guilt for a very long time, but Jetrel says he won’t get his wish: Jetrel himself is dying of metremia.

After suffering nightmares, including one where he sees Kes as a burned, mutated victim of the cascade, Neelix confesses to Kes that all his tales of derring-do as part of the Talaxian military were lies. He wasn’t on Talax when the cascade hit fighting for his people, he was on Talax hiding from conscription. He was a coward, refusing to fight, and while he hid, his family was massacred.

They arrive at Rinax, and Janeway calls Neelix to the bridge. However, he finds the memory of this place too painful, and he leaves.

Torres beams the cloud segment aboard. Jetrel brings the containment field to sickbay, and starts to work on it—after deactivating the EMH and rendering Neelix unconscious with a hypospray when he enters sickbay. Jetrel then goes to the transporter room.

Janeway, however, calls sickbay for an update, and when nobody responds, she reactivates the EMH. They track Jetrel to the transporter room and Tuvok shuts it down. Janeway and Tuvok head to the transporter room, joined by the revived Neelix.

Jetrel explains his true purpose: to isolate the individual patterns in the cloud to reintegrate the people who were disintegrated by the cascade. Haakonian scientists rejected the notion, and Janeway likewise thinks there are too many variables for it to possibly work. But both Neelix and Jetrel plead with her to let him try it. (Jetrel also reveals that Neelix is not dying of metremia, that was just a ruse.)

Reluctantly, Janeway agrees, and she and Tuvok attempt the procedure. But it’s impossible to achieve cohesion, even with the transporter’s assistance. After it fails, Jetrel collapses.

Neelix visits the dying Jetrel in sickbay and forgives him.

Screenshot: CBS

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Jetrel thinks he can use the transporter to reintegrate the people vaporized by the cascade. This strikes me as a horrible idea, especially since reconstituting their bodies doesn’t mean it’ll reconstitute their personalities—on the other hand, this is a great way to bring about a zombie apocalypse…

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway is compassionate and understanding throughout all of this, trying her best to help Jetrel find a cure, to help Neelix help his people, and to save Neelix’s life. She even attempts Jetrel’s crazy-ass notion to resurrect the dead Talaxians.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. Janeway has fulfilled her promise to give the EMH the ability to turn himself off, as he does so in this episode—and Jetrel remembers the words used in order to shut him off again.

Everyone comes to Neelix’s. We get Neelix’s full backstory in this episode, including that his entire family was wiped out by the Metreon Cascade, and also that his history with the Talaxian military is entirely made up, as he avoided conscription.

What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. We return to Sandrine’s, and learn that, since “The Cloud,” Neelix has learned how to play pool, and that Tuvok plays as well. We also see Tuvok miss a called shot rather badly.

Do it.

“I’m simply a scientist. Yes, I developed the weapon, but it was the government and the military leaders who decided to use it, not I.”

“That must be a very convenient distinction for you. Does it help you sleep at night?”

–Jetrel rationalizing and Neelix calling him on it.

Welcome aboard. James Sloyan appears in his fourth of four roles on Trek, having played Admiral Jarok in TNG‘s “The Defector,” Dr. Mora Pol in DS9’s “The Alternate” (and again later in “The Begotten“), and the adult version of Worf’s son Alexander in TNG’s “Firstborn.” Here he plays the title role of Dr. Ma’bor Jetrel.

In addition, Larry Hankin returns as Gaunt Gary, the pool hustler at Chez Sandrine last seen in “The Cloud,” and who will next appear in “Twisted.”

Trivial matters: Scripter Ken Biller did considerable research into the Hiroshima bombing in the waning days of World War II, and Jetrel was consciously patterned after J. Robert Oppenheimer, the chief scientist behind the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb. Some of Jetrel’s dialogue was inspired by things Oppenheimer said.

Voyager visits the Talaxian home system for the first time, which Chakotay describes as a significant detour. Presumably it’s proximate to where Neelix came on board with Kes, though not necessarily that close, especially if they’re close enough for Jetrel to have found Voyager.

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “There is no way I could ever apologize to you, Mr. Neelix.” Just as with Rene Auberjonois over on DS9, my first exposure to Ethan Phillips was on Benson. The Robert Guillaume-starring sitcom was one of my favorite shows as a kid, and I thought Phillips was great on it. Similarly, Phillips was superb as a Ferengi scientist in TNG’s “Ménàge à Troi” (for all that the episode was mostly awful).

So it was very disappointing to see this talented actor reduced to an exaggerated caricature, coming across most of the time like the doofy comic-relief character that a lot of 1960s and 1970s animated series shoved in to get the yuks.

Which is why I unreservedly adore this episode and think it’s one of Voyager’s best.

I said back in the rewatch of “Caretaker” that Neelix was at his most interesting when he had an edge to him, which he had during the rescue of Kes from the Kazon and its immediate aftermath, and which has been depressingly absent from the dozen or so episodes in the interim. But it’s back in full force in “Jetrel,” and it’s a joy to see. Freed from having to be the goofball, Phillips shines. The roller-coaster of emotion in his performance is superb, from his near-panic attack when Jetrel identifies himself to his frustrated disgust when Janeway and Kes try to convince him to see Jetrel to his pure contempt when he first confronts Jetrel (the line quoted in the “Do it” section above about convenient distinctions may be Phillips’s best moment in the entire seven-year history of the show) to his depressed hiding in the mess hall until Kes finds him to his passionate retellings of his experiences on Rinax to both Jetrel and the bridge crew. It’s a bravura performance, bringing depth to a character who was utterly bereft of it up until this point.

And that lack of depth is given an explanation. Neelix has lost everything, and worse, he lost everything when he himself was hiding from his duty, and the guilt is overwhelming. With that much tragedy, retreating into a ridiculous persona is a perfectly understandable bit of psychological self-trickery.

It helps that Phillips has a superlative antagonist to play off of. For the fourth time, James Sloyan creates a complex, fascinating, layered guest star in Jetrel. The character’s commitment to science is palpable—I love his line about how it’s good to know how the world works—and he doesn’t overplay his own guilt, especially since it’s superseded by his urgency, as he’s on a fatal timetable of his own. The guilt is a more subtle undercurrent to his performance, which is part of what makes it work.

This episode has been compared to DS9’s “Duet“—bottle show, two-person play in the aftermath of war, a great actor playing the guest character with a secret agenda, penultimate episode of the first season—and it’s a fair comparison, and I gotta say that the Voyager episode is as good as its counterpart, which I don’t say lightly. The Hiroshima metaphor is a bit sledgehammery, but not fatally so, and it’s an important and powerful story to be told. An excellent episode that does yeoman work in rehabilitating a heretofore irritating character.

Warp factor rating: 10

Keith R.A. DeCandido wrote a Voyager Mirror Universe novel, The Mirror-Scaled Serpent, which was published in the trade paperback Obsidian Alliances (along with novels featuring DS9 and New Frontier in the Mirror Universe). In it, Neelix and Kes wind up in the Alpha Quadrant, and there are many scenes from Neelix’s POV. This episode was the major touchstone in how to write Neelix’s thoughts.

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