Thursday, June 9, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Phage"

If there is going to be a homage to a TOS episode, Spock’s Brain” is not the wisest choice, but VOY is not famous for its wisdom. Nevertheless, ’Phage’ largely overcomes it similarities to one of the worst TOS episodes, not to mention its focus on Neelix, with decent results. If nothing else, I have to give the powers that be props for inventing an aggressive leper colony as villains. That is inspired.

The ship is in desperate need of dilithium. Neelix, the cultural expert who is not, recommends a planet known to have large deposits in caves. He cajoles Chakotay into reluctantly taking him down on the away team. Unfortunately, there is no dilithium. Only two aliens known as Vidiians who steal Neelix’s lungs with a handheld medical device and take off with them.

Say what you will about Neelix as an annoying character, Ethan Phillips does a fantastic job considering both the emotional stress Neelix is under and the fact he is in an iron lung, so he has to play it as little more than a head poking out a medical device. His irritating optimism quickly gives way to despair as Neelix realizes he is trapped for the rest of his life. I almost feel sorry for him until he reminds me of what a jerk he is. When Tom offers Kes sympathies because she is upset over Neelix, he thinks Tom is making moes and demands the plug be pulled so the two can let their “romance” blossom out in the open. Neelix’s paranoia about Tom and Kes will flare up in the future, so it is not simply a momentary reaction to his emotional stress, but a deliberate running story element. Heaven only knows why. It never shined a positive light on any character, save for making you wonder why Kes might like either one of them.

Voyager pursues the aliens into a booby trapped asteroid which resembles a hall of mirrors in a fun house in order to disguise which ship is which. The crew eventually discovers the aliens and beams them aboard. Under questioning, they reveal they are Vidiians. Their planet is suffering from a disease called the phage which ravages their internal organs. They must dedicate themselves to harvesting organs rom others in order to survive. While they try to take only from cadavers, sometimes they have to take from the living. Neelix’s lungs cannot be returned to him because they are already in a Vidiian recipient.

The situation presents Janeway with a dilemma. While the Vidiian is willing to give up the lungs as both penance for his actions and to put himself out of his misery, Janeway refuses on moral grounds. She cannot kill him in order for Neelix to escape an iron lung. But she sees no way of punishing him for his crime, either. She cannot hand him over to to federation authorities, nor does she want to haul him around in the brig for 75 years. So she lets them go with impunity. Odd, because she knows full well they are going to continue stealing organs from others the minute she is out of sight. The moral question is quickly glossed as the Vidiians use their advanced technology to transplant one of kes’ lungs into Neelix in order to free him from the iron lung.

The Vidiians are going to make subsequent appearances. Each time they do, we will learn more about their technology and the situation with the Phage. The result is the more we learn in each subsequent appearance, the less logical their actions in previous appearances becomes. The less you know, the more interesting the Vidiians are in terms of their moral justifications and how they reached this point with the Phage. I will be able to explain more in a week or so.

Right now, taking “Phage” s a standalone episode, is highly creative. Given that janeway was perfectly willing to allow an entire civilization to die yesterday, it seems odd she not willing to prevent the two vidiians from continuing to harvest organs from other innocent people, particularly when she would most certainly use deadly force to prevent them from removing organs from any more of her crew. I am going to let the question slide, however. I am going to pick on janeway and the Vidiians a lot in the future. There is no sense in piling on right now.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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