Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Fair Trade”

“Fair Trade”
Written by Ronald Wilkerson & Jean Louise Matthias and André Bormanis
Directed by Jesús Salvador Treviño
Season 3, Episode 13
Production episode 156
Original air date: January 8, 1997
Stardate: unknown

Captain’s log. Neelix, who apparently isn’t busy enough with being the ship’s cook and morale officer and local guide, is bugging both Tuvok and Torres about the possibility of putting in time with both security and engineering.

He’s then summoned to the bridge where Janeway shows him a massive cloud barrier, which Neelix identifies as the outer edge of the Nekrit Expanse. He doesn’t know that much about it—no one does, apparently—but he does know there’s a station on the border which would be a good place to resupply and gain intelligence. (The expanse is too big to go around, so they’re gonna have to go through…)

They head to the station, and the administrator, Bahrat, agrees to let them shop for supplies, though he insists on monitoring all their communications and also to take a 20% cut of any deal they make. Janeway reluctantly accepts.

When they arrive at the station, Chakotay and Paris check out the local shopping center—including a merchant named Sutok who offers them narcotics, which they very firmly turn down—while Janeway gives Bahrat her shopping list.

Neelix is looking for a map, unsuccessfully, as apparently nobody has mapped the Nekrit Expanse due to its extreme instability. While searching, Neelix bumps into a fellow Talaxian, Wixiban, an old friend. They go for a drink, and Neelix expresses his gratitude. The pair have a criminal past, apparently, involving a species known as the Ubeans, and Wix was caught and imprisoned for something they both did, but Neelix himself got away. Wix insists that he doesn’t hold a grudge. Neelix—after initially talking up how awesome life on Voyager is—admits that he’s worried. His greatest value to Janeway is as a local guide, but he’s never been beyond the Nekrit Expanse. He’s worried that Janeway will kick him off the ship, since they don’t really need a cook. (He doesn’t mention his role as morale officer, but frankly, that’s for the best…) Wix, meanwhile, is in much deeper straits. His ship has been impounded by Bahrat, and he’s broke.

Later, Neelix is meal-prepping in the mess hall when Chakotay brings Wix in to say hi. Turns out that Wix helped Chakotay track down some magnetic spindle bearings. Neelix is concerned that Wix did something underhanded,  but Wix assures him that it was all above-board. However, he does have a line on some pergium and a map, but he needs to borrow one of Voyager’s shuttles to make the exchange, and he also wants to keep it on the down-low, as Wix can’t afford to lose the 20% Bahrat would take from an above-board deal. This means Neelix can’t tell anyone on Voyager about the deal.

Neelix agrees, and they head off to obtain the medical supplies that they will trade for the pergium. They meet Sutok in a dark room in the underbelly of the station, and Neelix realizes that the “medical supplies” are actually the same narcotics that Chakotay and Paris were offered earlier. Sutok also tries to renege on the deal, firing a weapon at them; Wix fires back with a phaser he took from the shuttle, killing Sutok, and then they beam back. Neelix is livid, but Wix convinces him that everything will be okay and they can’t tell anyone about their role in it.

Janeway announces to the crew that there was a murder on the station, and the investigation revealed that a Federation phaser was used, which had to have come from Voyager. Tuvok investigates everyone who came to the ship from the station, which includes Wix. Tuvok asks Neelix to accompany him on Wix’s interview, and Neelix says nothing as Wix lies through his teeth.

After Tuvok is done, Neelix says he wants to have a drink with his friend. When they’re alone, Wix reveals that his client—the Kolaati—are pissed that he lost the drugs. They’re threatening to kill Wix unless he supplies them with some of Voyager’s warp plasma.

Reluctantly, Neelix agrees. He talks with Paris about the circumstances that led to his imprisonment, and Paris says that it all happened because he lied—if he’d told the truth in the first place, all would’ve been well, but he lied and covered it up, and that was why he went to New Zealand. Neelix then goes to engineering to steal the warp plasma, but finds he can’t do it.

Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

And then Bahrat arrests Chakotay and Paris because they were seen talking to Sutok. Janeway and Tuvok are livid, as this is the most circumstantial of evidence, and Janeway insists that Tuvok be present for any interrogation.

Neelix and Wix then go to Bahrat with an audacious plan: the truth. The Folaati have been operating under Bahrat’s nose for ages. They’ll give him the Folaati boss, Tosin, if they get to go free for killing Sutok, which was in self-defense. Bahrat agrees, and also provides them with warp plasma, which isn’t as pure as Voyager’s, but will do.

They meet with Tosin, who realizes instantly that the warp plasma isn’t what he asked for. But Neelix says he disengaged the safeties on the canister. If Tosin fires the weapon he’s now pointing at them, the plasma will ignite. Bahrat then arrives to arrest them, but Tosin decides to call Neelix’s bluff, and fires.

Except he wasn’t bluffing. Neelix is rendered unconscious by plasma fire, and wakes up in sickbay. There he confesses everything to Janeway, who is furious—and also stunned that Neelix would think that she’d put him off the ship just because he doesn’t know what lays ahead. She assures him that he’s part of the family and he’s not going anywhere—but he also has to be punished for his actions, and she sentences him to clean out the ship’s exhaust manifolds for two weeks.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? If you fire an energy weapon near exposed warp plasma, there’s a big-ass explosion. So don’t do that. 

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway herself takes her shopping list to Bahrat rather than trusting it to a subordinate—considering that Bahrat is taking 20%, I guess she wants to make sure she makes it clear how important it is.

She also yells at Neelix for being an idiot at the end of the episode, and the amazing part is that she hasn’t yelled at him more often for that reason.

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok is tasked with investigating where the phaser that was used came from. Interesting that there apparently isn’t an equivalent of a ballistics test that can identify a particular phaser from its sensor readings upon discharge—if there was, they’d know which phaser it was. Ah, well.

He is also mostly indifferent to Neelix’s desire to put in time with security.

Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Half and half. Torres is equally indifferent to Neelix’s desire to put in time with engineering, though she apparently is okay enough with it that Neelix is able to convince Vorik to let him crawl around a Jefferies Tube.

Everybody comes to Neelix’s. Neelix is frightened to death that he will be put off Voyager because they’re out of his experience range. As with most of Neelix’s assumptions, it’s completely wrong.

Do it.

“Actually, I’m interested in maps of the Nekrit Expanse.”

“You must be a stranger here, or you’d know there aren’t any maps of that region.”

“Surely there’s an astrometric chart or a database that would help me plot a safe course?”

“The Nekrit Expanse is too unstable to chart.”

“No matter—he never could plot a straight course anyway.”

–Neelix haggling with a merchant, and Wix showing up at the end to make fun of his old friend

Welcome aboard. Alexander Enberg debuts the recurring role of Ensign Vorik, which will continue throughout the series; he previously played a reporter in “Time’s Arrow, Part II” and the similarly named engineer Taurik in “The Lower Decks,” both on TNG.

Past Trek guests Carlos Carrasco and James Horan appear as Bahrat and Tosin, respectively. Carrasco played two different Klingons on DS9 in “The House of Quark” and “Shattered Mirror,” and will also play Krole in DS9‘s “Honor Among Thieves.” Horan played Jo’Bril in TNG’s “Suspicions” and Barnaby in TNG’s “Descent, Part II,” and will play Ikat’ika in DS9’s “In Purgatory’s Shadow” and “By Inferno’s Light” and have the recurring role of “future guy” in Enterprise’s first two seasons.

James Nardini plays Wix, Steve Kehela plays Sutok, and Eric Sharp plays the map dealer.

Trivial matters: This story was originally purchased for season one, but was postponed for production due to the staff preferring “Jetrel” as a Neelix-focused episode. Jeri Taylor thought the concept worked better in the third season, as by this time they would be reaching the edge of Neelix’s knowledge base in the Delta Quadrant.

André Bormanis was the science consultant for TNG’s seventh season and for all of DS9 and Voyager, and was a story editor on Enterprise during its first season. This is his first writing credit for Trek, though far from his last, as he’d continue to contribute both stories and teleplays for Voyager and Enterprise through to the latter’s final season.

It’s never made clear why Alexander Enberg’s character wasn’t the already-established Taurik, since there’s no discernible difference in personality or job between the two. Taylor—who is also Enberg’s mother—suggested that the pair be twins, and in fact, the tie-in fiction (which has continued to use both characters, with Taurik still serving on the Enterprise, now as deputy chief engineer under La Forge in the post-Nemesis fiction, and Vorik continuing to serve as an engineer on Voyager after she got home in “Endgame”) has gone with that notion.

Vorik was created primarily to be used in “Blood Fever,” but as with Durst in “Cathexis,” he was introduced a few episodes prior (here and in “Alter Ego,” which was actually produced prior to this one) to make him established by the time his spotlight came.

Neelix mentions to Wix that Janeway was talking about making him an ambassador, which just happened in the previous episode, “Macrocosm.”

Voyager‘s journey through the Nekrit Expanse will go through the next four episodes, through to “Unity.”

Pergium was first seen in “The Devil in the Dark” on the original series, and will be seen again in DS9’s “Prodigal Daughter.”

Janeway’s line to Neelix about how the first duty of a Starfleet officer is to the truth mirrors what Picard said to Wes Crusher in TNG’s “The First Duty.”

Neelix’s backstory with Wix is spelled out in Jeri Taylor’s novel Pathways.

Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “I don’t remember you ever being so squeamish about twisting the truth.” Episodes like this are so frustrating, because it shows that Neelix could have been a good character if they didn’t insist on making him into the class clown. On those vanishingly rare occasions when the writers take him seriously as a character, it’s so much better than when he’s a doofus. “Jetrel” is the gold standard, but even when he has a supporting role like he does in “Resistance” and “The Chute,” it’s significantly more interesting. And we get that again here, as Neelix’s journey in this episode is a very compelling one, something I haven’t been able to say since “Jetrel.”

Best of all, Ethan Phillips is more than up to the task. It would’ve been nice if the writers went with this interpretation of Neelix, as someone incredibly insecure, more often because it puts his grating personality into focus. He’s always trying too hard because, even after two-and-a-half years, he’s convinced that Janeway will toss him out an airlock the moment he’s no longer useful. It explains why he’s constantly looking for more jobs to do on the ship, when any one of them—cook, morale officer, TV talk show host, native guide, engineer, security guard—could easily take up all his time, and he wants to do all of them. This episode shows that to be driven by fear, which makes for a much more compelling character study.

And then we get a little guilt alongside it. We don’t get the specifics of what happened with Neelix, Wix, and the Ubeans, but it was enough to get Wix thrown in jail, and it’s obvious that Neelix feels pretty terrible about it. So much so that he’s willing to betray the trust of his friends.

The result is a pretty simplistic and straightforward crime story, but it works, all the way to the final scene, where Neelix looks like he’s exhaling a breath he’s been holding all episode when Janeway makes it clear she’s not kicking him off the ship.

Warp factor rating: 7

Keith R.A. DeCandido can be seen talking about his upcoming work for eSpec Books on one of the “Hot Off the Press” panels from Con-Tinual: The Con that Never Ends on Facebook, alongside Danielle Ackley-McPhail, James Chambers, Megan Mackie, and Robert E. Waters. He was also interviewed at Pensacon in February for “Got a Minute.”

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