Thursday, August 25, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Mortal Coil"

I have to give credit where credit is due. Voyager is not famous for its thought provoking episodes. Nor is it well known for making good use of Neelix Making him into a likable character, at least. “Mortal coil” manages to do both in a subtle, but highly entertaining way. It is no surprise the episode was written by Pushing Daisies creator Bryan Fuller.

“Mortal Coil” features Neelix’s internal struggle after he is brought back to life by Seven’s Borg implants eighteen hours after an accident kills him. He has a crisis upon the realization his religious beliefs about the afterlife are invalid. He expected to meet family and friends who have passed on in paradise, but there was nothing. The thought of a happy afterlife had been a great comfort to him, but now he is forced to wonder the point of his existence.

It is not often Neelix is presented as a subtle, reflective character. He is usually the guy full of absurdly powerful, often inappropriate emotion and dumb ideas. Mostly the latter, but do not discount the annoyances of the former. It is a good change of pace to see him genuinely explore a serious subject in a serious manner. I cannot discount how much more complex and well written other characters who are pivotal in Neelix’s soul searching are written. Chakotay, whom I have heavily criticized in recent days, is a prime example. For once, he utilizes native American spirituality as a plausible aid rather than some politically correct multicultural experiment when he counsels Neelix during a vision quest and, eventually, is the one to bring him off the literal ledge. Seven, too, shows more concern than normal. She is a very limited character, particularly in her early episodes, but a skilled writer can help the audience look passed the tight catsuit and see a real person. No small feat, that.

Neelix’s despair leads him to eventually decide suicide is the option. He plans to beam himself off the ship into space. He is talked down by Chakotay, of all people. But it ultimately convinced to resume his life by his goddaughter, Naomi. The conclusion we are to draw is that Neelix has a family in his life of which he is a vital part, so there is little need to worry about his other family in the afterlife. The story leaves it open ended as to whether Neelix’s belief about the afterlife is correct or not, but I have a hunch Fuller’s script leans towards the atheist view.

No matter. ’Mortal Coil” is the best neelix-centric episode yet. If memory serves, it is the best we will ever get, but I am prepared for the unlikely feast of crow should the next three months--gasp--bring a surprise. ’Mortal Coil” is full of surprises. It turns the annoying Neelix sympathetic. It makes Seven more than boobs and sharp, curt dialogue. It allows Chakotay to be more than a bad stereotype. A near death experience is presented as much more than a journey down a dark tunnel towards the light. Spirituality is not presented as something the enlightened Starfleet crew consider cute in lesser species at best and flat out evil at worst. “Mortal Coil” stands out above a large number of VOY episodes. It is a definite must see, if for no other reason than to demonstrate what the show could have been with a competent writing staff.

Rating; **** (out of 5)

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