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The Trek Nation - Mortal Coil

Mortal Coil

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 13, 2004 - 3:28 PM GMT

Chakotay asks Neelix for help obtaining some protomatter - you know, that unstable stuff David Marcus put into the Genesis torpedo in The Wrath of Khan, which ultimately destroyed the planet. But Voyager's crew apparently never read about that incident, because Chakotay takes a shuttle to get the protomatter without even bringing an engineer along. But wait, he brought Tom Paris, who's even better! Tom's a super-genius and also a medic, so when the protomatter ignites and zaps Neelix, the pilot rushes over with a tricorder, and declares the Talaxian dead despite Chakotay's stream of lifesaving advice (he had a lot of experience resuscitating Janeway in "Coda," after all).

In sickbay, Janeway sniffles and declares a week of mourning, but Seven of Nine assures her that she can bring Neelix back to life with Borg nanoprobes. Despite the Doctor's fear that Neelix will wake up A Changed Man, Janeway lets Seven go ahead with the procedure. Neelix comes back to life, realizes that while he was dead he didn't enter the Great Forest of Talaxian legend where he was supposed to be reunited with his dead relatives, and has a crisis of faith. He can't even bear to tell Ensign Wildman's daughter the beautiful story of the peaceful afterlife any more.

The party for the First Night of Prixon, a Talaxian family holiday, makes Neelix feel lonely and isolated. With Chakotay's help, he goes on a vision quest, but the visions are nightmare images of the crew and his dead sister, which reflect his worst fears of the meaningless of life. He decides to commit suicide by beaming himself into the protomatter nebula where he died.

Harry spots the transporter sequence being implemented and stops the transport, while Chakotay rushes to remind Neelix of how many people on the ship value him. "We're your family now," he announces. Just then, Ensign Wildman asks Neelix's help in calming her daughter's fear of monsters. Neelix decides he really is needed, and that the meaning of life just might be in living.

Analysis:

I have two good words to say about this episode: Ethan Phillips. He should win an Emmy, because I really felt for Neelix despite the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad writing - oh, and did I mention that the script stank? Neelix is one of the most believable aliens Trek has ever had, certainly among the heavy-duty-makeup crowd of Klingons, Ferengi, and Cardassians. This is almost entirely creditable to Phillips, since the character has been wildly inconsistent; the writers can't decide whether he's comic relief or a fully realized person of deep feeling. In this episode he was the latter, and he carried it in spite of its flaws. He had lovely chemistry with both Ensign Wildman and her daughter, and his quirks were considerably more charming than Seven's know-it-all prissiness.

If Voyager's producers wanted to make a travesty of Gene Roddenberry's show and do a holiday episode, I wish they'd just gone all out and given us Christmas, with Neelix as Santa Claus and Tom and B'Elanna smooching under the mistletoe. It couldn't have been any more embarrassing than this. The only positive is that we didn't have to see last year's First Night celebration, where, as she told Neelix, the captain got a little tipsy - though Drunk Janeway would only be slightly worse than Cloying Mama Janeway. At least at a holodeck New Years' masquerade, she could have pretended to be Catherine the Great and cavorted with Chakotay. This "First Night of Prixon" came off as one more excuse for characters to babble about how the crew feels like a family - as if telling us will make us believe it even though they never show it.

There were lots of references to first season episodes in here, which should have been a good thing. Hey, Chakotay remembered that he has a medicine bundle! And Baby Wildman, who is now Greatly-Accelerated-Growth Child Wildman, got a name - Naomi. But most of the continuity devices were awful. Chakotay's speech to Neelix about dying sounded like a straight ripoff of Janeway at the end of "Emanations," telling Harry that what we don't know about death is far greater than what we do. In fact, the entire theme of this episode was a rerun of "Emanations," with a character doubting a lifetime of legends about the afterlife following his/her death and revival. "Emanations" wasn't even a good first season episode. If they wanted to do a show about death, they should have found a way to rip off TNG's "Tapestry."

Chakotay, who got decent air time if not decent character development, parroted his lines from "The Cloud" to send Neelix to the spirit world. This makes sense, since it's a ritual, but he also wore the ugly clothes from "Remember" to the First Night party. The first time we saw that gathering in "real" time was entirely too reminiscent of "Remember," and the second time, during the out-of-body-experience, had me in hysterics because the people in vision quests look and talk EXACTLY like the Prophets on Deep Space Nine! The camera work in this episode was derivative at best and silly at worst, like the shots of people pretending to have a good time at the party. I did like Janeway and Chakotay being cozy for a moment, but of course she walked off as soon as she saw her lonely protege. She's nothing if not self-sacrificing.

Alas, poor Kathryn...as in "Year of Hell," she looked less like a captain than a mama bear trying to keep her cubs safe. I'm sorry to be shallow enough to notice this, but if the camera is going to do close-ups of Seven's chest and track around her pert young behind, then the costumers should lengthen Janeway's hair and stuff her bra again. She looks years older in "Mortal Coil" than she did in similar costume in "Remember." Considering that she's acting like everyone's mother, it's quite irksome to see her matronly image reinforced by her appearance. Kate Mulgrew is a dynamic, sexy, multidimensional woman, and Kathryn Janeway used to be as well. Someone please make the producers watch "Resistance" and "Resolutions" until they recall this, please.

But who needs a captain when you've got a hot Borg babe who can bring back the dead? I'm getting tired of jokes about Seven's Borg social ineptitude, especially since they're all recycled versions of jokes about Tuvok's Vulcan social ineptitude, and I'm getting VERY VERY tired of Seven getting more air time than any other character on this series. So her pneumatics brought the ratings up: great. Now stick her in the background where she belongs. Profile shots work just as well when someone else is talking.

Neelix's crisis of faith seemed rushed, and his recovery seemed preposterous. I bet he forgets any of this ever happened, just the way he seems to have forgotten the events of "Jetrel" - his biggest character-building episode to date, in which he came to terms with his past. I wonder whether we'll ever get a reference to his body possessing Borg implants again. I never liked the Kazon, but the suggestion that they had nothing worth assimilating for the Borg is ridiculous - an obvious slap at former executive producer Michael Piller, who kept the Kazon on the series over the current executive producers' protests, as is well-documented in Starlog interviews. I miss the Kazon. They were, at least, consistently written - more so than the Borg, who would certainly have assimilated some of that strength and tenaciousness in the old days before the Great Rewriting. This series is shuffling off its mortal coil fast enough to kill the entire franchise.

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


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.