Fair TradeBy Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 13, 2004 - 2:31 PM GMT
See Also: 'Fair Trade' Episode Guide
Voyager is visiting an alien space station with an uncooperative, power-hungry commander. While there, Neelix becomes concerned that the ship has reached the end of space known to him, and negotiates to obtain a map of the upcoming systems so that they won't throw him off. Unfortunately he chooses very nefarious dealers, including an old friend from Talax who threatens to reveal his secret past as a smuggler.
The dealers want some of the ship's warp plasma in exchange for the map, so Neelix is forced to work behind the backs of the crew to try to obtain some. During the course of events, an alien gets killed, Chakotay and Paris are arrested for the murder and held by the nasty leader, and Neelix must ultimately confess all...though he does manage to help the station leader track down the real swindlers in their midst, thus freeing Voyager's crewmembers and forcing him to assist them. Janeway is most displeased with Neelix and tells him he's going to have to be a VERY good boy or he won't get any presents from Santa Claus this year.
Oops, sorry about the sarcasm there. "Fair Trade" wasn't the worst Voyager episode; that honor goes to "Threshold." Nor was it as boring as "Non Sequitur." But that's the nicest thing I can say about it. The show was insipid, trite, and slow-moving. To borrow a phrase from Kate Mulgrew, it was the quintessence of mediocrity.
Ethan Phillips gave a fine performance, but I guess I've come to expect that from him. He does a terrific job with only a half-written character who would appear an annoying buffoon played by a less skilled actor. Like Jennifer Lien in "Warlord," he made hackneyed dialogue and characterization interesting. But it was hardly a surprise to learn that Neelix has been involved in illegal activities in the past, and it's about time he started worrying about what was going to happen when they got out of space he was familiar with.
Robert Duncan McNeill, too, did a credible job with incredibly bad lines. That little speech about how he shouldn't have lied to Starfleet sounded more like an After-School Special than Star Trek; even Kirk's platitudes were never such cliches. In fact, this episode points out how dependent Voyager's success is on its cast, all far more talented than the writers (even young Garrett Wang, who had the good sense to be missing from this one).
Janeway's speech at the end was absolutely dreadful. I thought the whole point of the episode was to make Neelix realize that he is an important part of a Starfleet vessel, even though he doesn't have the same training and background as the others. But instead of treating him like a Starfleet officer and disciplining him accordingly - or, better yet, putting him through some sort of training program like the crewmembers in "Learning Curve" - Janeway acts like she's his Mommy, punishing him with a lecture about family and some added chores. It's not Mulgrew's fault that the writers refuse to treat Janeway like a military captain in episodes like this one, so she has to play maternal, and then look like cold by contrast when she does act professional.
The inconsistencies are ruining this show and these characters. Somehow the current crop of writers have managed to trash everything idealistic about Roddenberry's vision while retaining the worst aspects--the one-night stands and scorn for spirituality.
Michelle Erica Green reviews 'Enterprise' episodes for the Trek Nation, for which she is also a news writer. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.