When aliens on a meteor-besieged world ask for help from Voyager, Tuvok and Neelix must escape the surface via an orbital tether.
Plot Summary: Voyager’s crew tries to help a Nezu colony under bombardment from unusual asteroids, which fragment instead of vaporize when struck by weapons. After Vatm, a Nezu scientist, sends a garbled warning that the asteroids may contain synthetic material, Janeway decides to send crewmembers to investigate. A shuttle carrying Tuvok, Neelix, and Nezu official Sklar crashes on the planet. Neelix suggests using a nearby orbital tether to rise above the ionosphere so they can contact Voyager, claiming he has experience using such tethers. Tuvok reluctantly agrees, so the three join the troubled Vatm, a local miner, and a woman named Lillias who has been hiding in the tether’s broken carriage. The paranoid Vatm launches the carriage prematurely, which puts it at risk of losing its magnetic cohesion. While Neelix calls on his exaggerated skills to repair the carriage, Vatm tries to exit onto the roof, then collapses and dies from what Tuvok identifies as poison. Neelix believes they should attempt to discover why Vatm tried to get to the roof, but Tuvok objects so forcefully that both Neelix and Lillias protest the Vulcan’s contemptuous treatment of the Talaxian. Because Neelix refuses to pilot the carriage until someone has searched the roof, Tuvok agrees to investigate, only to be attacked by Sklar just as he finds an alien data device. Sklar then assaults Neelix, who is able to rescue Tuvok while the three Nezu argue about how to pilot the carriage. The ensuing struggle results in Sklar’s ejection and death, though Neelix is injured and needs Tuvok’s encouragement to return to the controls. Meanwhile, Voyager discovers that the “asteroids” are really projectiles fired by the Etanian Order, who want to take over the planet. Just after rescuing the survivors from the tether, the crew fights off an Etanian ship with the help of the data collected by Vatm, who had identified the synthetic alloy in the asteroids but had not known that Sklar was the traitor trying to block Voyager’s assistance. Lillias is reunited with her family and Tuvok thanks Neelix for saving his life.
Analysis: “Rise” isn’t a great episode – it’s too far removed from series continuity and its aliens are entirely forgettable – but I enjoyed it the first time it aired, after the abuse and manipulation of “Blood Fever,” “Unity,” and “Darkling,” and I appreciate it even more now. It’s frustrating to imagine how good it could have been if the writers had done their homework on their own previous character development. The orbital tether has been a scientific notion since the 1800s and has appeared in dozens of science fiction stories, most notably by Arthur C. Clarke, so it’s a fine notion to have Voyager encounter an advanced species that uses the technology, and how wonderful to get some substantive backstory for Neelix instead of seeing him used as comic relief. It’s perfectly in character for him to claim that he worked in tether maintenance on Rinax, only to confess later that he actually built models. For a change, the bragging isn’t used to make him look ridiculous; it’s the sort of thing Kirk or Riker would do, to presume that a little bit of knowledge can go a long way while the more logical Spock or Data pointed out the flaws in this belief. Tuvok’s insistence that they should wait in the shuttle to be rescued may make sense to a Vulcan, since of course Janeway will look for them, but he’s surrounded by people with a sense of urgency, who’d rather risk further danger than sit around hoping for the best. Starfleet officers are notoriously bad at keeping calm and carrying on when they can see a chance to improve a situation, which is precisely why Janeway is risking her crew and expending resources trying to help a species that as far as we know has nothing to offer besides friendship. Nobody from Starfleet will likely ever encounter the Nezu again. It’s reasonable to be annoyed when Voyager diverts yet again from its priority of finding a way home, and the ship loses another of its astonishing supply of shuttlecraft, but it’s not like those problems are unique to this episode.
We’ve seen iterations of Neelix and Tuvok’s conflict played out on this series and the other Star Trek shows – it has roots in another shuttle disaster story, “The Galileo Seven,” in which McCoy and Spock spar over their extremely different approaches to coping with a crisis, and it bears similarities not only to Quark and Odo’s dispute in “The Ascent” but to Neelix’s struggles with Paris in “Parturition.” Tossing two characters who already have issues into a tense situation where they have to work through some of those issues is itself a television cliche (see Fire-Forged Friends and Relationship-Salvaging Disaster in the TV Tropes wiki), but it happens so often because it frequently generates an opportunity for good dialogue and character development. I just don’t understand why there isn’t one iota of continuity from earlier episodes where Neelix and Tuvok have come into conflict, or more importantly from the episode where they shared one mind. It’s never been clear how much either Neelix or Tuvok remembers being Tuvix, but the mere fact of finding out that it happened and that their single merged personality did not want to be split again ought to have had some lasting consequences for their relationship, even if it was to drive them apart as they struggled to reestablish their previous boundaries. The Vulcan-Talaxian spat isn’t particularly enlightening about either one’s culture or personality, but the actors make it work. Tuvok seems finally to be behaving like a Vulcan – quite often, particularly with Janeway and Torres, he’s seemed as half-human as Spock – while Neelix is relatable and interesting, sharing anecdotes about his sister and appreciating that the best way to get Lillias and the others to help him is not to be the smartest guy but the biggest team player in the room.
I give most of the credit for our investment in Neelix and Tuvok’s bitter quarrel to Tim Russ and Ethan Phillips, who by their gestures and expressions seem more aware of their characters’ backstories and shared history than do the writers. It’s nearly as annoying as the lack of any meaningful contact between Neelix and Kes when he sees her in Sickbay; they may no longer be romantic partners, but are they not friends? Still, it’s nice to see Lillias developing warm feelings for Neelix without Kes’s early sense of dependency upon someone who positions himself as older, wiser, and condescendingly protective. Neelix does help save Lillias’s life, but she fights for his dignity and they seem very much equals – scavengers who want to make something more of themselves. It’s even nicer to watch a group of people solve a crisis together, especially when it’s not the Starfleet officers doing all of the work. Janeway may be off track for getting the crew home, but she seems to be enjoying herself working out what’s going on with the mysterious asteroids and helping this spacefaring race defend itself. The asteroids look pretty cheesy but that becomes forgivable once we see that they were designed to contain targeting equipment, and the space battle may be completely by-the-numbers but at least it doesn’t get a lot of screen time that’s put to better use letting the characters try to work through the situation. I’m sorry that we never get any indication of why Sklar has turned on his own people, nor how the ambassador for whom he works has managed not to notice his underling’s hidden agenda, but since we’re clearly intended to forget all about this species and its problems at the conclusion of “Rise,” I guess those things aren’t supposed to matter. I’ve always remembered it as a groundbreaking Neelix story that turned him from buffoon to valuable member of the crew, and as such, it holds up.