Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Mortal Coil”

“Mortal Coil”
Written by Bryan Fuller
Directed by Allan Kroeker
Season 4, Episode 12
Production episode 180
Original air date: December 17, 1997
Stardate: 51449.2

Captain’s log. We get to see Neelix in multiple modes: running the mess hall, providing Kim with a stimulating beverage and Seven with food that she finds pungent, but which he insists now has taste to it; as an apparent expert in protomatter, being asked to accompany Chakotay on a mission to obtain some from a nebula; as ship’s morale officer, getting ready for the annual celebration of the Talaxian family festival of Prixin; and as Naomi Wildman’s godfather, checking the Wildman cabin for monsters before the little girl goes to bed.

While tucking Naomi in, Neelix tells her about the great forest, which is the Talaxian afterlife where all your friends and family are waiting to greet you. This will probably be important later. (Neelix very cleverly avoids any mention of death when describing it to a one-year-old.)

Chakotay, Paris, and Neelix board a shuttle, where Paris whines about Neelix not making pizza for him. When they beam aboard the protomatter, something goes wrong, and Neelix is struck by an energy discharge, killing him instantly.

By the time they make it back to Voyager, it’s eighteen hours later, and the EMH assures Paris that there was nothing he could have done. Seven comes to sickbay and announces that she can use Borg nanoprobes to revive Neelix. Janeway does not grab Seven by the shoulders and ask why she didn’t mention this when Ensign Luke died in “Scientific Method,” but instead orders her to go ahead and revive Neelix.

The voodoo ritual Borg process is a success, and Neelix is now a zombie revived. Neelix himself is rather taken aback.

Chakotay is going to re-create the accident on the holodeck to try to see what happened, especially since the protomatter destabilized when Neelix was killed. Neelix asks to join him, and while they’re watching the simulation, Neelix admits to being rather devastated. There was no great forest. One of the comforts of his life has been the knowledge that his sister, his family that were killed by the Metreon Cascade, his friends would all be waiting for him when he died. But there was nothing. He was just dead and then he wasn’t.

Star Trek: Voyager "Mortal Coil"

Screenshot: CBS

It’s time for Prixin, a Talaxian celebration of family. Neelix has asked Tuvok to provide the ritual salutation. Seven tries and fails to make small talk, and Neelix buggers off early to tuck Naomi in. However, Naomi asks again about the great forest, and Neelix has a much harder time talking about it.

Later, Seven checks up on the nanoprobes she injected into Neelix, and he explodes at her, bitter at his resurrection. Then he collapses. She brings him to sickbay where it seems his body is rejecting the nanoprobes. More extensive treatment will be required to keep him alive.

Neelix goes to Chakotay and asks if he can go on a vision quest. Chakotay agrees, but only if Neelix will discuss it with Chakotay afterward to work to interpret it. Neelix uses his artificial hallucinogen, and sees his sister in the Prixin celebration, and then in the great forest, where she tells him that life is meaningless and it all sucks and he should just kill himself.

Neelix says goodbyes to various crewmembers, and then tries to beam himself into the nebula. (Yes, they’re still hanging around the nebula for some reason.) Kim cuts him off long enough for Chakotay to go to the transporter room and talk him off the ledge—with the help of Wildman, who is looking for him to tuck Naomi in.

Star Trek: Voyager "Mortal Coil"

Screenshot: CBS

After tucking Naomi in, Neelix decides to continue living, while Naomi dreams of the great forest.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Apparently Borg nanoprobes can resurrect the dead, an ability they have never had before, and never will be shown to have again.

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway asks Neelix not to ferment the beverages for the first night of Prixin, as last year she got a little light-headed. She also instructs Seven on how to mingle at a party, which goes horribly horribly wrong.

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok gives the salutation that kicks off Prixin. He is unable to get the crowd’s attention until Paris clinks a glass with a spoon. Given that Tuvok is an experienced teacher, and a security chief, I find it impossible to credit that he can’t quiet a room, but whatever. He also cuts short the rather lengthy list of family members who might be present at a typical Prixin, for which the crowd is grateful.

Everybody comes to Neelix’s. We learn all about the Talaxian afterlife, with Neelix also finding out that it’s bullshit. Neelix apparently also worked with protomatter when he was a space junkyard salvager.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH is rather taken aback at Seven’s ability to create a Neelix zombie raise the dead. He also notes that Seven’s bedside manner is even worse than his.

Star Trek: Voyager "Mortal Coil"

Screenshot: CBS

Resistance is futile. Seven confides in Tuvok that she doesn’t understand the obsession non-Borg have with death. In the Collective, you live on even after your body ceases, because everyone’s memories are stored in the Collective. Even now, separated from it as she is, her memories will still live on with the Borg. She finds that comforting.

Do it.

“I didn’t ask to be brought back!”

“You were dead at the time.”

–Neelix complaining about being made into a zombie brought back from the dead, and Seven pointing out the logical flaw in his statement

Welcome aboard. Nancy Hower is back for her sole fourth-season appearance as Wildman, with Brooke Stephens playing Naomi, in her only appearance in the role. Both Wildmans will next appear in the fifth season’s “Once Upon a Time,” with Scarlett Pomers taking over the role of Naomi. Robin Stapler plays the image of Alixia.

Star Trek: Voyager "Mortal Coil"

Screenshot: CBS

Trivial matters: Protomatter was first established in The Search for Spock as a very dangerous substance, the use of which in Project: Genesis was cause for pearl-clutching.

Chakotay’s technological vision quests were first seen in “The Cloud.”

Seven mentions the alveoli in Neelix’s lung, singular, as Neelix just has the one after the events of “Phage” (and that one’s a transplant from Kes).

Neelix mentions the death of his family in a war, referring to the Haakonian-Talaxian war that Neelix himself avoided fighting in. This background, including that the Metreon Cascade wiped his family out, was established in “Jetrel.” His sister Alixia was first mentioned by name in “Rise.”

We finally find out the name of Wildman’s daughter, born way back in “Deadlock,” in this episode. It’s also established that Ktarian children age very quickly, with Wildman commenting on how fast she’s growing, and also enabling a one-year-old to be played by a five-year-old.

The original plan was to have this focus on Wildman dying and being revived, but coming back “off,” and trying to kill Naomi so she can experience what she experienced. UPN and Rick Berman rejected the notion of a mother trying to kill her child, so they switched it to Chakotay, then to Neelix when they realized that they would be dealing with real religious beliefs and they didn’t want to mess with that.

Seven at one point tells Neelix that the Borg didn’t bother to assimilate the Kazon because they would have “detracted from perfection,” which was probably the writing staff admitting that the Kazon were stupid. (Even the Borg don’t want them!)

Set a course for home. “Duty calls!” Okay, before we talk about anything else, I’ve gotta deal with the 800-pound Borg gorilla in the room:


This should be revolutionary! This should change everything! Nobody on Voyager should ever die again!

Except, of course, this magical ability to resurrect the dead will never ever be referenced ever again.

It’s bad enough that Seven didn’t mention this magical ability back when a bridge officer died in “Scientific Method,” but waited until Neelix was the corpse, but no other crewmember gets the same consideration? There are going to be plenty more deaths on the ship, all the way to the final season, and the fact that none of them got the magical mystery nanoprobe cure is despicable. I’ve hammered on this point before, and I will go to my own grave continuing to hammer on it, but just because the people in the opening credits are the ones the viewers care about most doesn’t mean they’re the only ones the characters should care about. From Seven’s point of view, Ensign Luke is just as important as Neelix, if not more so because she’s a bridge officer instead of someone trying to feed her bad food. So the fact that she doesn’t offer this zombification death cure until now makes absolutely no sense.

Which is frustrating as hell to me, because I’d really much rather be talking about how effective this episode is as a meditation on the things sentient beings do to avoid the crushing fear of death: we create an afterlife. So many spiritualities include as part of them what happens to you after we die. And so it’s very jarring for Neelix to come back from the dead to find out that there was nothing there.

What I particularly like is that this resonates with what we know about Neelix. He’s a friendly, affable person who hates being alone, and yet when we met him he was a lone salvager. He lost his family in a horrible war, and his fear of death is ameliorated by the knowledge that he’ll be reunited with the people he’s lost in the great forest.

Except now he knows that it’s not so, and it frightens him to his very core.

Ethan Phillips knocks it out of the park here, and makes it all the more frustrating that the writers kept defaulting to “doofy comic relief” when writing him. There’s meat on those bones, if they chose to actually make use of it, and Phillips has always been up to the task when they’ve let him be an interesting character instead of an idiotic caricature (notably in “Jetrel” and “Fair Trade“).

There are other problematic details in the episode, too. I find it impossible to credit that on a ship full of Starfleet personnel, including a whole friggin team of engineers, not to mention an ex-Borg, that Neelix of all people is the expert on protomatter. I find it equally impossible to credit that a guy whose previous shipboard experience was on a clapped-out old cargo vessel and scale models of space elevators has the knowhow to manipulate a transporter that Starfleet engineers can’t work around.

This should’ve been a great episode, and in many ways it is—but I just can’t get past how the episode came about.

Warp factor rating: 5

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be doing a Q&A on superhero movies as one of the Dragon Con American Sci-Fi Classics “quarantine panels” Wednesday night at 9pm Eastern. Come ask him all about the thing he wrote about for this site for two-and-a-half years!


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