Sunday, June 19, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Jetrel"

“Jetrel’ is VOY’s attempt to have its own version of DS9’s ”Duet.” In that episode, a low level Cardassian soldier once assigned to a forced labor camp poses as a war criminal in order to be punished for atrocities committed there even though he had no control over them. But he need the guilt over his helplessness in the face of those war crimes alleviated. It is one of my favorite DS9 episodes. ’Jetrel” is a noble effort, but makes two major missteps which keep it from being little more than a decent episode of the series.

Voyager is contacted by the Haakonians, a race that was at war with the Talaxians fifteen years ago. A scientist, Jetrel, wishes to see Neelix immediately. Neelix refuses. Jetrel is the inventor of a weapon of mass destruction called the Metreon Cascade. The Metreon Cascade was used on the moon orbiting talaxia. It killed 300,000 people, including all of Neelix’s family. Jetrel insists Neelix may be infected by Metreon radiation sickness. If so, he will die without Jetrel’s help.

Emotions run high as Jetrel and Neelix confront the consequences of their respective roles in the war. Jetrel is blustery at first, maintaining that use of the Cascade was a military decision, not his. All he did was make the discovery of how to use metroen. It was inevitable someone would have done so if not him. His changes his tune quickly, however, when confronted with the loss of Neelix’s family. A part of Jtrel died the day the Cascade was used. His own wife thought he was a monster. Jtrel has the deaths of 300,000 people on his conscience with no way to salve his guilt.

Neelix has his own truth he is hiding. He is not only angry over his family’s deaths, but at himself. He is a draft dodger. When he was called to military service, he ran off because he thought the war was unjust, but he was terribly afraid of dying. Had he reported for duty, he would have been on the moon and died with his family. So he faces anger over his cowardice and survivor’s guilt.

If the episode had stuck with these two themes and allowed the two characters to come to terms with their pain, “Jetrel” might have been a classic. But for whatever reason, that just would not have been enough for the powers that be. They blew the resolution of both characters’ stories.

Jetrel lied about Neelix being sick. He only wanted to travel back to the moon in order to attempt to clean up the after effects of the Cascade. His attempt fails. The disappointment of his failure exasperates his own radiation poisoning. He only has a short time left to live himself. Neelix opts to forgive him, for whatever that is worth, because he made a noble effort to clean up his mess. That is completely unnecessary from a dramatic standpoint. The writers took what had been a compelling emotional conflict and resolved it with a techno babble solution that is enough to convince all parties to smooth things over even though it failed. Every bit of what makes the episode good is deflated in the final five minutes.

But that is not the worse bit. That distinction belongs to Kes and Neelix’s discussion when he reveals to her he dodged the draft and, had he not, he would have died with his family. Neelix freely admits he did not support the war because he did not think it was right, but also confesses his cowardice. Kes, whom I will give credit for attempting to be comforting, ignores his admission of cowardice and instead says he did the right thing for standing up for his beliefs. Well, no, he did not. He just admitted he was really just too scared to go to war. He wound up getting his wish by surviving, but at the cost of his family.

The problem is the episode judges Jetrel for his work on creating the cascade, but does not judge Neelix for shirking his military duties. The idea Neelix is beating himself up over survivor’s guilt is presented as a bad thing. He is the victim here of an unjust war war and a scientist who created the weapon that ended it. Neelix gets to be the big man in the end by forgiving Jetrel, and there is not any sense he does any thing but accept kes’ insistence he has had the moral high ground ever since he avoided the war in the first place. Never mind that he had previously told kes and the Voyager crew he was a war veteran.

“Jetrel” introduces a problem that is going to plague VOY often in it moral dilemma episodes--there is only one right answer to the dilemma. In “Jetrel,” we learn war is bad, and anyone associated with fighting one is also bad. We are not left with any details of the war in question. We only know that Tallax surrendered after the Cascade was used and is now under the control of the Haakonians. We are not given any details about who was the aggressor, if anyone, or what the war was even about. Only that Neelix thought it was unjust. All we have to go by is the word of a self-professed draft dodger who was too scared to fight in it. However, since no one previously judged him for the claim he was a veteran, how wrong could Tallax have been for fighting it?

The resolution diminishes the story as a whole, but the emotional conflict between Neelix and Jetrel is wonderful while it lasts. Neelix is not often presented as more than comic relief, and annoying comic relief at that, but there is much potential evident in him here. Why his emotional pain had to be lifted immediately off him is beyong me. A lost opportunity, that.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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