The following is a SPOILER Review. I tell you pretty much everything that happened in the episode, so if you want to be surprised when you finally see it, leave now. Otherwise, welcome aboard, pull up some shuttle debris and enjoy the ride.
I rate each episode based on how much I enjoyed it. I don't claim to be accurate or objective. But with luck, you'll enjoy yourself along the way.
So kick back and roast up a s'more. You may want to hit the bathroom first, because this is a long one. Fatherly Uncle Jim's got a story for ya, which may or may not resemble the episode that actually aired.
Neelix dies. But he's feeling much better now.
Jump straight to the Analysis
Jump straight to the Analysis
Neelix is busy serving the crew in the mess hall, and he couldn't look happier. Harry loves Neelix's new, potent fire-nut blend coffee while he works on his montly Ops report. Chakotay asks for Neelix's help later that night to gather some proto-matter from a nearby nebula; Neelix has dealt with the stuff before as a trader, he says. "It's the best energy source in the quadrant." (It's also what made the Genesis device work--unpredictably--in Star Trek II, and it's not easy stuff to handle safely).
Only Seven threatens to darken Neelix's mood when she complains about the "pungent" taste of her food, but Neelix convinces her it's intentional--he seeks to broaden her culinary horizons. Food isn't just nutritional sustenance, it should also be pleasurable, he says. He invites her to Thursday's annual "Prixin" celebration, the Talaxian family holiday filled with food, folks and fun. Seven seems interested, and asks what she should do to prepare. Neelix laughs; "just show up! It's not a mission, it's a party!"
Then Ensign Wildman hails Neelix, asking him to help Naomi get to sleep. Neelix explains to a confused Seven that Naomi is Wildman's young daughter, the first child born on Voyager, and he is her godfather. "And right now she needs me; duty calls!"
Duty Calls: remember that phrase.
In the Wildman quarters, Neelix busily hunts through the living room while Naomi (who looks closer to six years old than her actual age of eighteen months or so) points at new places for him to check. Smiling mom Ensign Wildman patiently suggests that they check out the bedroom so Neelix can go back to work, and Naomi obliges, finding a slew of new places for Neelix to examine.
What is Neelix searching for? Monsters.
Fortunately, the Wildman quarters are monster-free tonight. But she won't let her godfather go without a story. So Neelix tells her about the Great Forest, the Talaxian afterlife--where it's always sunny, the trees offer just the right amount of shade, and everyone you ever cared about is there to watch over you while you sleep. (It would appear that Talaxians evolved from furry woodland creatures. Neelix does look a little like a hyperevolved mix of Timon and Poomba.) It's a cute story, and Naomi latches onto it. "Are they watching over me too?" she asks. You bet, he says, and his goddaughter, satisfied, drifts off to sleep. Ensign Wildman gives him a grateful smile.
Neelix is having what experts call a Pretty Darn Good Day.
Neelix enters cargo bay two, whistling for a cylinder like he's playing hide and seek. Seven of Nine happens to live here, and she's home to witness this odd spectacle. She surprises him by appearing; he surprises her by talking to his "little cylinder." When he realizes he has an audience, he laughs self-consciously and says it's his way of remembering things.
"You are a peculiar creature," she notes with trademark candor. "Thanks...I think," he says.
He finds his sneaky cylinder and shows it to her, explaining it's great for containing proto-matter. "Last time I used it I nearly lost it to the Kazon," he explains.
"The Kazon--Species 329," Seven says. At Neelix's query she explains the Borg encountered them in the Gan sector, but "they were unworthy of assimilation."
Heh; I suspected as much. "Resistance is irrelevant; you will be snubbed."
Neelix smirks; he shares the Borg's opinion of the Kazon. "I had no idea the Borg were so discriminating!"
"Why assimilate a species that would detract from perfection?" Seven asks rhetorically.
Neelix no doubt remembers that Talaxians were deemed worthy of assimilation; while Seven may consider it a compliment, it's nevertheless not a comfort. Gotta go, he says; I've got a date with a shuttlecraft. "Pleasant...uh, regenerating."
I love the smell of proto-matter in the evening. It smells like...a plot complication.
In the aforementioned nebula, a lone shuttle searches for two scoops of energy. Inside, Chakotay and Neelix are joined by Paris, who is making a strong case for adding pizza to the menu. "How hard could it be?" Paris asks. "Bread, tomatoes, cheese--"
"The cheese alone would take days," Neelix retorts, pointing out the time-consuming nature of separating the curds and whey from synthesized milk...and not mentioning the danger of cheese to the lactose-intolerant gelpacks. "So replicate the cheese!" an exasperated Paris begs, as Chakotay does his best to stay out of the conversation. Neelix finally relents, "since it means so much to you."
Today, Neelix feels needed, appreciated, and valued for his expertise in a variety of ways: chef, godfather, morale officer, monster hunter, resident proto-matter expert. A guy could die happy on a day like this.
Chakotay announces that the large column of roiling energy in front of them has a nice dense source of proto-matter, and asks Neelix what's next. Neelix gives instructions, and prepares the containment cylinder. They scan, they lock, they beam.
The column spits lightning at them. The shuttle rocks.
Paris says the energy is traveling along the transporter beam; shields are weakening. Neelix runs up to the shuttle's fore and says he's got a nice stable sample, though, so they can leave at any time--the sooner the better.
A bolt of lightning passes through the shields, through the hull, and through Neelix's chest. He is thrust backward, but holds onto the containment cylinder, cradled like a football in his left hand. Paris reacts like a medic (good for him!), rushing to Neelix's side. Chakotay--the second best pilot on Voyager--takes the helm, getting them away from immediate danger.
"How is he?" Chakotay asks over his shoulder. Paris takes his readings. Then he swallows, throat dry. "He's dead," Paris says.
Far too many people in the television audience applaud wildy. A few chant, "na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye."
You know who you are. Shame on you.
* * *
Chakotay offers a bunch of backseat medical advice, but Paris shoots them all down; the proto-matter did a thorough job of scrambling Neelix's noggin beyond salvage. Nothing left to do but let him simmer in his own juices. As the shuttle nears more spitting proto-matter and starts rocking hard, Chakotay tells Paris he needs him back in the pilot's seat. Paris gives Neelix a last sad look, then returns to the front of the shuttle and grimly takes the controls.
Captain's log, Stardate 51449.2. After receiving a distress call from Commander Chakotay, we've sent a beacon into the nebula and we're in the process of tracking down the away team.
Harry tracks down the shuttle, which is banged up but salvageable. Tuvok reports that there are only two life signs on board. Janeway orders them beamed directly to sickbay and the shuttle towed back home, and she hands the bridge to Tuvok as she races to the turbolift.
Doc says there was nothing Paris could have done to save Neelix. His medical excuse for beating up on himself taken away, Paris then blames his piloting skills, but Chakotay tells him not to blame himself for that either--there was no way for them to have anticipated what happened.
Doc asks the captain how they should proceed. "The Talaxians mourn their dead for a full week, in a specific burial ceremony," Janeway says. "And that's just what we're going to do." Chakotay says he'll inform the crew; the captain says she'll check Neelix's logs for further details on the ceremony. Janeway places a comforting hand on the backs of Paris and Chakotay before heading for the exit.
She is intercepted by Seven of Nine, who marches into Sickbay and asks how long Neelix has been dead--18 hours, she is told. She asks if his neural pathways are intact, and is told that they are. "Then it is not too late to reactivate him," she says. Neelix is only mostly dead, not all dead.
Doc disagrees; he's already going through the Talaxian's pocket looking for loose change. But Janeway wants to hear more. Seven reveals some previously-unmentioned information, though "Unity" provided some hints: the Borg have assimilated some far superior medical knowledge over the years, and among the Borg death is irrelevant. Up to 73 hours of deadness can be successfully reversed, she states.
Doc, feeling himself losing control of the situation, insists there's no brain functions left. "By your narrow definition, perhaps," Seven says, "but not by mine." She briefly explains the process, which involves modified nanoprobes, duct tape, and NyQuil.
Sounds good to me, says Paris. But Janeway points out that only she gets to decide who lives and who dies. She asks what the chances are of Neelix coming back from eighteen hours of deadness unaffected, a concern Doc echoes. Seven says the nanoprobes will compensate nicely. But she does stress that a decision needs to be made soon. Janeway, hearing raves from Kim about the new coffee blend, sets her formidable jaw. "Do it." Doc protests, but Janeway's mind is set, and all he can do is acquiesce miserably as Seven throws her shoulders back in satisfaction.
Doc finds himself in the unusual and unpleasant position of having someone in Sickbay who can speak over his head. He is the amalgem of all Federation medical knowledge, and Seven is making him feel like a freshman biology student. While he's blustering and insisting on doing things his way, Seven makes the necessary preparations to make Neelix undead. She's so efficient it's scary. By the time she's ready to reanimate the cadaver, Doc's only recourse is humor.
"And they say I have a lousy bedside manner," Doc huffs, his second-best line of the hour.
Long, babble-rich story short: Seven injects Neelix with nanoprobes and flicks a switch; a Borg-green glow briefly envelops the clearly decomposing Neelix; and in less than a minute he's regenerating, breathing, spitting out the fare for Charon's boat ride, sitting upright, and asking in a very confused voice why he's here.
He looks like death warmed over...which isn't far from the truth.
Seven is satisfied by the results, but Doc is shocked speechless.
* * *
"Dead?" Neelix, now sitting upright and talking to the captain, asks.
"For 18 hours, 49 minutes, 13 seconds," Doc says, pleased now, recovered from his initial amazement. "Congratulations! You've just set a new world record." (Ummm...which world?)
Neelix says surely he was merely unconscious. "You were dead," says Seven, eliminating all doubt. Not what he wanted to hear, but he is gracious enough to thank Doc; Janeway, holding his hand affectionately, says the thanks really should go to Seven and her nanoprobe-fortified bloodstream. Seven passes the buck, saying the Borg picked up the technique when they assimilated Species 149. "But...you are welcome."
Apparently the life-salvaging technique is not a panacea, though. They'll still need to monitor him closely and give him booster shots of modified nanoprobes until his body no longer needs them, and his tissues stop "necrotizing" (essentially, he's on life support, though the nanoprobes make the process completely internal). Neelix tries to joke it off: "As long as I don't start assimilating the crew or sprouting implants, I guess I'll be okay." Doc releases him to his quarters.
Janeway walks Neelix home, her touchy nurturing instincts on overdrive. It's tradition on this ship for the captain to give crewmen a post-death pep talk (which I think she's had with everyone in the cast so far), and by golly, traditions are important. Neelix comforts himself by saying at least they got the proto-matter...but Janeway admits that the sample destabilized, and they may not go back for a second run unless she is convinced they can do so safely. Neelix wants to get back to work immediately, but Janeway orders him to rest: "You've just returned from the dead; go easy on yourself."
Neelix begs her to at least let him continue his Prixin preparations. Janeway finally relents, but asks him to not ferment the compotes so long this time; "last year I got a little... lightheaded," she confesses in sotto voice. Neelix smirks and assures her he'll make the necessary adjustments. It's a cute, flirtatious moment. Janeway drops Neelix off at his quarters, and urges him to take advantage of the proffered time off, and for goodness sake, rest in peace.
Whoops. Bad choice of words.
Neelix enters his darkened quarters. The brave smile he had for the captain flees as soon as the door closes. He moves to a sculpture on a tabletop--an odd looking bronze thing that could be a cross between a tree and mutant mushrooms, dark shoots atop brown roots. He kneels in front of it.
"Alixia...why weren't you there?"
Uh oh. Sounds like the Afterlife didn't meet his expectations.
Seven of Nine and Tuvok stroll the corridors, discussing death. "Human attitudes toward death are perplexing," Seven says. "Too much importance is placed on it. There seem to be countless rituals and cultural beliefs designed to alleviate their fear of a simple biological truth: all organisms eventually perish."
"I take it the Borg have no fear of that biological truth," Tuvok says, not asking why she singled out humans when it was a Talaxian who croaked. Nor does he bother to keep the skepticism out of his voice at the words, "biological truth." Vulcans have their own afterlife; the katra remains after the body dies if the proper rituals are performed. And even in the humanistic 24th century, we've encountered many cultures for whom the death of the body is not the end of existence. But I digress.
Seven says the Borg use a drone until there's nothing left to salvage, then discard the remains. The memories of the drone, however, the essence, continues long after the flesh has disintegrated--it's a sort of immortality. Tuvok points out that she's no longer part of the Collective, and asks if that disturbs her. Her words suggest not--even though she's been severed from the Collective, everything she had been up to the point of disconnect is still with the Borg, so she'll continue regardless of what happens to the body.
"That must be a great comfort," Tuvok says. "It is," she replies.
But her face suggests something else. Everything she's been since her recovery from the Collective is "mortal" and will be lost when her own body perishes.
Pleasant dreams, drone girl.
Paris and Chakotay walk to engineering, discussing the early analysis of their proto-matter mission. They approach Torres, who adds some analysis of her own (the early conclusion: they think they can make another attempt with some modifications to the process), and Chakotay heads for Holodeck two, where he's programmed a re-enactment of their last mission. Paris and Torres get a nice moment together, standing close and looking after the Commander as he leaves.
Neelix catches up with Chakotay in the corridor and asks if he can assist with the investigation. Chakotay agrees. Cut to a beautiful exterior shot of Voyager near the nebula (there are many of those--kudos to the effects teams for another brilliant week's work), then back to the inside of a holographic shuttle where Chakotay tells Neelix to keep an eye on himself while the commander monitors the data from the nebula. Neelix watches his holographic self with fascination. When the bolt of energy blows the holo-Neelix backwards (this time with the cylinder clutched in the right arm--whoops), Neelix freezes the program. He hovers over his charred carcass, and Chakotay realizes too late that this may have been a mistake to allow Neelix to view his own demise.
Or not. It might be therapeutic.
"Nothing," Neelix mutters, as Chakotay joins him in kneeling over the holo-corpse. Chakotay is a little slow on the uptake, but Neelix fills him in. He experienced nothing at all during his 18 hours of death. Specifically: no Great Forest, no Afterlife, no great reunion with his sister Alixia or his parents or his cousins by the Guiding Tree. That story he told Naomi was more than just a bedtime tale--it was something he had truly believed in, taken comfort in over the years after the war which left his entire family and most of his species dead.
He'd been dead, long enough to expect to have made it to the Great Forest...and he saw nothing. "It's just a story, a myth..."
If anyone else had been with Neelix, he might not have found much resistence to this line of thinking. Fortunately (or not) for Neelix, Chakotay is one of the few outspoken defenders of faith on board.
"Don't throw away a lifetime of faith because of one anomalous incident," Chakotay urges. "Death is still the greatest mystery there is." Been there, done that, bought the BLANK T-shirt, Neelix mutters, his mood sinking fast.
Chakotay deletes the holo-characters. "That's gonna be us," says the Morale Officer. "When we go--zzzt, that's it." Chakotay frowns with concern at his inconsolable comrade.
In his current state of mind, Neelix could make a bundle writing song lyrics for Seattle garage bands.
* * *
Ah, Prixin. Every year in late December, the crew gathers in off-duty attire round the Guiding Tree, decorated with Hallmark ornaments of famous Talaxian spaceships, and sing public domain Prixin carols like "I saw Mommy kissing Boba Fett" and "Grandma got run over by a Kazon." Replicated eggs are merged with homegrown nogs; fruitcakes threaten the structural integrity of the dining tables; Jell-O shot compotes are tossed back like beer nuts; and Chakotay regales the crew with traditional Talaxian holiday tales and the year's best status report bloopers.
It is good to see the crew celebrating holidays. I always figured they'd do so--which ones they didn't bring with them, they'd concoct along the way. There's a basic need to commemorate important or meaningful events, and Prixin is as good a reason to gather and make merry as any. It's good for morale.
A hundred conversations take place simultaneously in the crowded, festive mess hall, as an unusually somber Neelix keeps the snacks coming and Seven of Nine stands back, reflectively observing the spectacle.
Tuvok tries to attract the room's attention, but his "party voice" is not sufficient to stop the cacophony of conversation. Paris teaches him the glass-and-spoon method of grabbing the room's attention, striking the two together repeatedly until all eyes are riveted on the percussionist. Tuvok nods his thanks and begins speaking formally. "Welcome to the first night of Prixin, the Talaxian observance of familial allegiance. This year, Mr. Neelix has requested that I commence the celebration with a traditional salutation."
"'We do not stand alone,'" he reads. "'We are in the arms of family. Father, mother. Sister, brother. Father's father, father's mother. Father's brother, mother's brother.'"
The crew, though listening politely, is beginning to shuffle its feet. Paris makes a face behind Tuvok's back.
"'Fath' --suffice to say, the list is extensive," says Tuvok, skipping ahead to the relief of all. "'We gather on this day to extol the warmth and joy of those unshakeable bonds. Without them, we could not call ourselves complete. On this day, we are thankful to be together. We do not stand alone.'"
"Indeed we do not," echoes Janeway earnestly, and the crew erupts in hearty applause.
Neelix looks ashen, but says nothing.
Paris speaks up through the noise to say that they almost lost a member of their family recently. "I don't know about how the rest of you feel, but it scared the hell out of me." He raises his glass toward Neelix. "You still don't know how to make a pizza," Paris says as the crew bursts into laughter, "But I'm glad you're here." Janeway loudly agrees, and the crew concurs; they give Neelix a standing ovation.
It's beginning to look a lot like Prixin.
Neelix endures the attention stoically, but we the crew from his slow-motion DepressionCam, which makes it kind of spooky. They demand a speech, and he reluctantly provides one. "Thank you, everyone...well...Enjoy! Computer, music!" The room fills with strains of the old Talaxian favorite, "I'll be home for Prixin." The formalities dispensed with, people return to mingling.
While Neelix puts out a plate of snacks, Chakotay asks how he's doing. Fine, Neelix insists, and apologizes for his outburst on the Holodeck. Chakotay says he's always available if Neelix needs to talk. Neelix smiles politely but says nothing, and scurries away at the earliest opportunity. Chakotay looks after him, frowning sympathetically.
Janeway, glass in hand, approaches the silent, solitary Seven and asks if she's having fun.
Janeway smirks, and begins her next lesson in Seven's re-adaptation into humanity--Mingling 101. "Go over to where people are talking, listen for a while, then when you have something to contribute, chime in." Seven is unfamiliar with the term. "Say something relevant."
Seven steels herself, exhales sharply, accepts her mission, and marches over to where Doc and Ensign Wildman are discussing the incredibly speedy growth rate of Ktarian children. Seven listens, analyzes, determines a relevant contribution to the discussion, and speaks.
"Children assimilated by the Borg are placed in maturation chambers for 17 cycles," she announces festively.
Doc and Wildman stare at her.
Wildman, voice shaking, politely excuses herself to talk to Neelix, and flees.
Wow. And you thought Vulcans sucked at small talk.
Doc picks up Seven's thought, smiling with keen interest. "In these maturation chambers--the development of conversational skills is, I suppose, a low priority?" he asks with lethal good cheer. (Best dang line of the season, I think; I laughed myself to tears.)
Meanwhile, a panicked Wildman calls out to a jittery Neelix, who drops the tray he's holding. She helps him pick up the cucumber slices and candied Leola roots and tells him that Naomi misses him, as does she -- the girl hasn't slept well in days. "Only Neelix can tuck me in, I want Neelix," she says, indulging his godfatherly ego.
Neelix apologizes--he has been a bit preoccupied, what with being mostly dead and all. Wildman says he's welcome to come over anytime; Neelix jumps at the opportunity to leave now. "Prixin's your favorite holiday," she notes, saying he doesn't have to leave his own party so soon. But Neelix is in no mood to celebrate the gathering of family when his own deceased relatives didn't bother to show up for him.
"Duty calls," he says, and off they go.
The great monster hunt resumes. Neelix reaches the bedroom, as Naomi points to the (lumpy) bed and Mom looks on smiling. Neelix checks the bed and finds...a monster.
Oh sure, as monsters go it's both benign and adorable, sort of a Tickle-Me Sasquatch. But Neelix recoils dramatically, his voice rises several octaves, and he squeals, "it's a monster!" as Naomi giggles. "Scared you!" she taunts playfully.
"You certainly did," Neelix agrees, voice filled with adoration as he sweeps her up into a hug and deposits her under the covers. It's the first sign of joy we've seen in him since his return to the living. He tucks her in, calls her Sweeting, and wishes her champagne wishes and caviar dreams. (Whoops, forgot--she's underage. Make that Yoo Hoo wishes and Crunchberry dreams.)
But this is a kid we're talking about. Never satisfied, she demands a bedtime story. The Great Forest.
Neelix, heart sinking, asks if she really wants to hear about the Great Forest; "it's just a silly old story," he says, and the heart breaks to hear him. But Naomi insists. She coaxes him along, as he recounts the splendors of the Great Forest--lots of sunlight, and everyone who ever loved you is there, watching over you while you sleep. Naomi says she dreamed about the Great Forest, in fact--Neelix was there, and Ensign Wildman, and lots of animals, and they were all happy. "It was beautiful," she says with the conviction of a child who knows what she likes. Neelix says it sounds like a nice dream--and he wishes fervently that he could still share it.
Later that night, they've turned out the lights--the party's over. Neelix, alone, cleans up in the darkened mess hall.
Seven enters, doing the doctor's bidding--running a scan of him in preparation for the next nanoprobe injection. Neelix throws up his hands in surrender as she scans.
Seven saved his life. He resents it, and he's angry enough to say so. He complains of having Borg stuff swimming around inside him. Seven says he needs them to live. "You call this living?" Neelix demands. "A part of me is missing; I don't feel like Neelix anymore. Maybe that part died, and I'm all that's left." As he talks, he runs around the mess hall, avoiding her scans in the pretext of cleaning up. Seven brusquely tells him to stand still.
"I didn't ask to be bought back!" Neelix finally shouts at her in frustration.
"You were dead at the time," Seven observes reasonably.
I imagine those Do Not Resuscitate forms are beginning to pile up on Doc's desk.
"You Borg think you can fix anything--well you didn't fix me!" he rages. He orders her out. She said she'd be negligent in her duties if she did. He slaps away her tricorder and says he doesn't give a tinker's damn about her duties, he doesn't care, he doesn't care, he doesn't--
What is your major malfunction, Neelix?
Apparently, the nanoprobes.
Neelix begins gasping. His face starts melting. "What's happening to me?" he begs.
Seven scans him. "Your cells are returning to a necrotic state."
In news from Spain, General Alissimo Francisco Franco is still valiantly holding on in his fight to remain dead. Apparently, so is Neelix. Relapsing into death, Neelix is helped by Seven to sickbay.
* * *
Doc and Seven brief Janeway and Chakotay. Apparently Neelix's body rejected the nanoprobes and death reasserted its relevance. They've managed to rewire the nanoprobes and stabilize him, though. Janeway asks how they know this won't happen again; Doc admits they don't--Neelix may be nanoprobe-dependent for the rest of his Frankensteinian life.
But hey, he's still breathing through that one lung of his--another Prixin miracle. (Everytime a combadge chirps, an angel gets his wings....attaboy, Clarence!)
Doc tells Chakotay that Neelix would like to speak with him. Neelix, who's resting fitfully on the diagnostic bed, whispers a request: he wants to borrow a bit of Chakotay's spiritual background, and his people's technology--the Vision-Quest 2000 Peyote PADD. Chakotay nods--the akoonah is still around. Neelix says he desperately needs to look inside of himself, to find answers to the questions burning within him. "Will you help me?"
Chakotay agrees. "But I want you to understand, the vision quest is not a quick fix. It'll take time to interpret the images, and there's no guarantee you'll find what you're looking for."
"I understand. What should I do to prepare?"
"You'll need a medicine bundle--items that define you. Things that will ground you, allow you to take the journey into yourself." Neelix agrees.
Some time later, Chakotay unwraps the familiar medicine bundle as Neelix, sitting cross-legged across from him, displays his defining objects. A necklace from Alixia, made "during her expedition to the dunes of Talmouth. A flower from Kes' garden. And last but not least, the Guiding Tree. It stands at the center of Talaxian afterlife, deep inside the Great Forest. It's there to help us find our way when we first arrive--at least, that's what I used to believe."
The items are placed on the replicated animal skin. Neelix mutters apologetically. "Not a very impressive medicine bundle, is it?" Chakotay assures him it'll be fine. He places the akoonah before Neelix and has him rest his hand on the peyote button. Clear your mind, he says; focus on the objects in the medicine bundle. Nothing else exists.
Neelix closes his eyes. Chakotay grasps the sacred stone in his hands and begins the ritual words. "Ah-koo-chee-moya. We are far from the sacred places of our grandfathers; we are far from the bones of our people. We come here seeking guidance."
Chakotay tells Neelix to focus, to leave the ship and seek out the place "where you're the most peaceful and content you've ever been."
He drifts, he soars...
And he finds himself in the Mess Hall. The Prixin party is in full swing. All his friends are there--Doc, Janeway, Paris, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Obi Wan, Yoda--and everyone is greeting him with all the warmth and love the Prixin season can offer.
It's a wonderful afterlife.
Neelix even sees Janeway chatting amiably with a Talaxian woman in the prime of her youthful life. Neelix recognizes her immediately--"Alixia!" He rushes to her, face suffused with joy.
But parties being what they are, Neelix finds his path slowed by a gauntlet of well-wishing revelers. By the time he reaches Janeway, Alixia is gone. He asks if she's seen where Alixia went.
"Ah, yes, the dead girl--very charming. I can see the family resemblance," Janeway says with a smile--an odd turn of phrase, that.
Neelix sees Alixia heading out the door of the mess hall, and rushes after her.
Seven halts his progress. "You will be assimilated," she says coldly. "No time for that now; maybe later," Neelix says, and moves past her.
"Potent stuff!" Harry Kim says, swigging a mug of fire-nut coffee, as Neelix makes a deft spin move past him.
He exits the mess hall and into the empty, eerily-lit corridor, and sees Alixia walking away. He follows.
And in a brilliant burst of light, finds himself in a forest. It's beautiful, he says, voice filled with wonder. Alixia is there. "It's just like you always imagined it would be," she says. "The trees, the sunlight, and everyone who ever loved you."
Of course, she's the only one here with him.
Neelix points out that she wasn't here when he died, and he asks why.
"Because it's all a lie," Alixia says coldly.
Now, maybe it's the fuzzy, oddly-lit VisionQuestCam, but Alixia looks a bit more--how shall I say it?--demonic than Neelix has previously described her.
Neelix, a little slow on the uptake, asks what she means.
"You've spent your whole life believing lies. 'The Great Forest'? 'The afterlife'? It's all created out of your fear of death. None of it's real." You go, girl; spread that Prixin cheer.
"If that's true, what's the point of living?"
"There isn't any. That's what you're finally starting to realize."
You know, I just don't see a market for Prixin cards with that festive little message on them.
Alixia, really starting to freak Neelix--and me--out, starts speaking in the voice of Naomi. "I'm afraid to go to sleep; tell me about the great forest, Neelix; tell me about the trees, and the grass, and all the people who loved you!" Dang; he really shouldn't have served that brown acid at the party. This is one bad trip.
Why are you saying these things? Neelix begs to know. Alixia advances on him, her pretty face evil incarnate, and in Naomi's childlike voice taunts, "Scared you!" This time, he doesn't have to pretend to be scared.
Alixia's final outrage is to decompose and crumble to dust as he watches in paralyzing horror. The Ghost of Prixin Past cedes the floor to the next act.
The lights go out. The noises of the forest turn sinister. Neelix walks among the trees, and stumbles across a bed. He checks for monsters--and finds himself. The dead self with the proto-matter burns scarring his decomposing face.
"They never should have brought you back," Neelix tells himself. "It was a mistake. Accept it. You know what you have to do."
Everyone Neelix knows and loves--everyone with their names in the credits, stars and guest stars and Also Stars, everyone but Kes (who is nowhere to be seen--too bad; a nice spine-shattering Ocampa scream would have fit perfectly into this hellish scene)--lines up to tell Neelix that his continued metabolic activity is an affront to living people everywhere.
"It's all a lie. They lied to you," says Paris, hovering over the recently deceased body of Neelix in the shuttlecraft.
"You know what you have to do," says Naomi, tucked safely into her bed.
"We gather on this day to tell Neelix what he must do," says Tuvok, as Neelix finds himself back at the party with the mood a good deal less festive. It's one seriously morbid Intervention, time for the ghosts of Prixin present and future to point Neelix on the proper course.
"You stand alone," says Janeway.
"Life is irrelevant," says Seven.
"Let go," says Torres.
"It's pointless," says Kim.
"It's a lie," says Chakotay.
"You know what you have to do," says Doc.
May death bless us everyone, squeaks Tiny Tim.
[Gratuitous Kenny reference garbled in transmission]
Neelix's afterlife sucks. We're talking akoonah mutata, folks. If watching Neelix suffer is your idea of fun, then Merry freakin' Prixin.
Neelix has but one response to this avalanche of ill will: Nnnnnnnnnnnoooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!
Neelix returns from his vision quest with a start. Chakotay stares placidly at him, not interrupting the moment. Neelix raises his hand to his mouth, but says nothing.
* * *
Neelix enters the Astrometrics lab. Seven is there. He's come to apologize for his outburst the other day. "I wasn't myself; but I feel much better now," he says. Chakotay has helped him to put things in perspective. He talks while she works. He says he doesn't blame her for bringing him back to life; "it was very thoughtful," he assures her. "I'd have done the same for any member of this crew," Seven says blandly. Of course, says Neelix, running out of things to say.
Seven continues working. Is that all, she asks. Yes, he says, and turns to go. Then stops. No, he admits, he has something more. He tells her that she picked a good group to get kidnaped, forcibly disconnected from the Collective, de-Borged and forced to adapt by. (Well, not in those words.) He rambles a bit until she tersely but not unkindly encourages him to get to the point.
"You're surrounded by people who care about you," he says, "and whether you know it or not Voyager is going to be a very good home to you. It certainly was to me."
"'Was'?" Seven asks. "Do you intend to leave?"
"No, I'll be around," he says distractedly. "Well, goodbye."
"Goodbye," she says to his back as he exits, and the door achieves closure.
Neelix cleans the mess hall so thoroughly it shines. The feng shui is aligned to mathematical perfection. As he puts the finishing touches on his chores, Chakotay enters and asks what happened to him this morning.
"I'm sorry I had to cancel our little chat, but I was needed in the mess hall...what with the hubbub of the last few days I've let things slip around here."
Chakotay chides him for not holding up his end of the agreement. "The vision quest is an ongoing process; we're supposed to be discussing your progress."
What's there to discuss? Neelix says with patently false cheer. I saw the Great Forest, I saw Alixia, I feel a sense of peace unlike any I've ever felt. It worked, he insists.
Chakotay isn't convinced. "You've only lived with the images for a couple of days. That's not enough time to draw any conclusions. You've got to reflect on the images; examine them, allow them to stay alive in your mind. A vision quest isn't just a dream you can dismiss after your first cup of coffee."
Neelix says he understands. Good, says Chakotay; meet me in my quarters after work so we can discuss the vision. "That's an order."
"Yes sir," Neelix says dutifully, and Chakotay exits.
Neelix finishes his cleaning to his satisfaction, and turns off the lights with a tone of finality.
Chakotay's shift ends at 1400 hours...that gives him plenty of time.
He knows what he has to do.
"And finally, Mr. Tuvok...I'm grateful for the opportunity I had to win your respect. Your strength and your wisdom were an inspiration to me, and I can only hope that your memory of me will serve to inspire you in some way."
"It was an honor to spend my last years on Voyager, with this crew. I want to thank all of you for your kindness, and your companionship. Goodbye."
Neelix ends his personal message, and instructs the computer to deliver it to Janeway in one hour.
It is an empty transporter room that Neelix enters (on the Enterprise, you usually had to subdue an ever-present transporter operator to do anything unauthorized, but here it's empty.) Tricorder in hand, he begins his preparations to leave.
Ensign Kim reports the beginnings of an unauthorized transport, and adds that Neelix is the one doing it. Where would he beam to? Janeway asks, and Harry reports after a brief query, "into the nebula."
That would be all-dead fatal. No amount of Borg nanoprobes could repair that kind of damage.
Janeway says Stop Him--Kim tries to block the beam-out, Chakotay makes a rapid exit for the transporter room, and Janeway hails Neelix with stern orders to stop what he's doing.
Naturally, Neelix manages to override the abort sequence (in the object-oriented 24th-century, I imagine there's a big "do it anyway" button that can countermand any efforts to stop you from doing what you really want), and the transport commences. Janeway tells Kim in no uncertain terms to yank Neelix back from the void, or join him. Harry hasn't died in a while, and folks are getting impatient.
We see Neelix fade out.
Then we see him come back.
He's not at all happy about it. He begins punching the controls of his tricorder for Plan B.
Chakotay arrives, shocked at the difference in Neelix's demeanor. He may have suspected things weren't going well for Neelix, but he had no idea they were this bad.
"You can slow me down, but you can't stop me!" Neelix barks.
"What are you trying to do?" Chakotay asks. "Go back where I belong," says Neelix.
"You belong here," Chakotay says. "Not anymore! I died in that nebula! You should have left me!" He threatens to activate a one-way site-to-site transport to oblivion that nobody can undo.
"You told me you were at peace..." Chakotay says. "I will be as soon as I tap this control," Neelix says.
"What really happened in your vision quest? What did you see?"
"My sister, the crew, myself. They all told me the same thing--there's no point in living. And I agree with them."
"I'm sure those were powerful images," Chakotay says, "but there are many ways to interpret them! You may be coming face to face with your own fear of death. Or the manifestation of your emotional crisis. Your deepest beliefs have been thrown into doubt; it's only natural the vision quest would reflect that."
"Eleven years ago," Neelix says, every word an effort, "I saw my world in ruins. My family murdered. All that's kept me going is knowing that one day we'd be together again--that I'd see them again! But it's not true. And I can't live without that hope."
"I understand that this can change how you look at things, but it can also lead to an even stronger faith. You don't know--you're not there yet!"
Neelix is not convinced.
Ensign Wildman hails Naomi's godfather. "Answer her!" Chakotay orders forcefully. Wildman repeats the hail. Neelix wavers, but reaches for the button that will kill him for good.
Chakotay stops him with the urgency of his tone. "You're being called back to your life again, Neelix--don't turn your back on it! We're your family now."
Neelix wavers. "It's not enough." Though he seems to wish it could be.
"It is for us! 'His function on the crew is diverse.' That's what Seven of Nine said about you. Even our Borg understands how important you are on this ship. It's not just the duties you perform; it's the way you make people feel when you're around."
"That Neelix is gone," says Neelix, voice empty. "I don't think he is," says Chakotay earnestly.
Ensign Wildman enters the transporter room, looking like a frazzled mom but otherwise oblivious to the situation. She says with a smile she needs his help with Naomi again--the girl saw a monster in the replicator, and you know how she gets when monsters get in the replicator.
She finally notices that she's walked into something...tense. (Gratuitous Blonde joke omitted in the spirit of Prixin.) "What's going on?" she asks.
"I'm trying to ... decide some things," Neelix says, embarrassed, not elaborating.
Chakotay bores in. "That little girl needs you, Neelix. Monsters in the replicator? Who else on this ship can handle that?" His smile is a ray of hope penetrating the bleakness of Neelix's undead soul.
Neelix wavers...then, hands shaking, gives the tricorder to Chakotay. I imagine they'll have many long talks in the days ahead.
He gives a brave smile to Ensign Wildman; "Duty calls," he says bravely, and exits.
Ensign Wildman gives Chakotay a questioning look. He only shrugs. It's Neelix's story to tell, in his own time.
I wonder if he'll remember to cancel that email to Janeway before it arrives.
Neelix tucks in Naomi. She asks if he's okay; Mommy said he was sick. I was, he says, but I'm better now. He seems to mean it this time.
"Did a monster get you?" she asks. Neelix thinks about it. "I guess so--but I chased him away," he assures her. (Can't let her vision of him as the ship's best monster chaser falter, now, can we? As he talks to his goddaughter, the strength returns to his voice, a bit at a time, but it's encouraging.) He kisses her goodnight, and she drifts off to sleep, Chewbacca action puppet in hand.
In her dreams, Naomi sits under the shade of the Guiding Tree, playing with her pet monster, on another beautiful day in paradise.
My first impression of this episode? Unprintable. It gave me nightmares that night, and soured my mood the next day. I threatened to let Tito write this week's review, I was so angry.
It's a Wonderful Life, it ain't. It's closer to a cross between Flatliners and Spinal Tap's "Christmas in Hell."
However...if you like your Christmas specials Very Special, if you like your message episodes murky, if you like watching and re-watching and rewinding and pondering and second-guessing and generally Zapruderizing every frame of an episode, this one has plenty to chew on.
Whether you like the taste is entirely up to you.
Neelix is not a complicated character. He's the sad clown of Voyager, a generally good guy who means well, who prefers to look for the silver linings, who tries to lighten other people's burdens. If he's a lightweight character, it's because he prefers that. He's a natural born sidekick.
Some have suggested that weighty episodes featuring Neelix are a waste of time, because he's unworthy of the attention. "Jetrel," "Fair Trade"--they add depth to a character who's best left superficial. I disagree. I didn't like Neelix much until they started showing that there was more to him than stupid jokes, bad cooking, dubious advice and green-eyed jealousy. As the (now) lone Delta Quadrant native on board, Neelix is our allegorical mainstay, the only one we can consistently count on to comment on the human condition without explicitly mentioning humanity. In most TOS and TNG episodes we had a parade of new aliens to fill that role, but we also had Spock and Data to comment on the human condition. On Voyager, we do have Doc and Seven, but they're still mostly outsiders. Neelix may look different, but his way of looking at things is very human.
In the first overt effort at a Christmas episode in Trek, we get a Talaxian analogue: Prixin. The symbols and customs aren't dissimilar; even the name has a familiar ring. A tree, representing the afterlife--the welcome mat to Eden, a symbol many human religions recognize. The link between those now living and those who have gone before--my beliefs are certainly comfortable with that concept.
Those beliefs, which have kept Neelix going in the years since the war that devastated his world and stole his family--they get thrown into question by a near-death experience. He comes back with no recollection of the things he fully expected death to bring. And it shatters him.
As Christmas messages go, this one's pretty bleak: "Everything you've believed your whole life is a lie." The hellish dream sequence felt more like a Halloween episode than something fit for the season of peace on earth, goodwill toward men.
On the other hand...
When Seven suggests reviving Neelix, and Doc says there's nothing to revive, she responds with, "by your narrow definition, yes. Not by mine." The expanded medical knowledge assimilated by the Borg puts the period between temporary death and permanent death at 73 hours.
So what happens in that 73 hours? A holding pattern? A coda? A bright light and a long tunnel? A THX-enhanced edition of This Was Your Life? And in a uniquely science fiction complication--does distance from one's home soil matter? He's a long way from home, thousands of light years from Talax; maybe he was in transit. And is the ritual of death itself hint at the interval between death and the final journey? Many cultures take time, sometimes weeks, to prepare a body for its ultimate disposition. For Talaxians, does the week of specific rituals prepare the deceased for his journey to the Great Forest? As Janeway mentions in "Sacred Ground," many religious rituals have their basis in scientific reality; perhaps the week of mourning serves a functional necessity. (The medicine wheel Chakotay's people use, shown in Cathexis, was used to guide the spiritual traveler to the appropriate destination. For Vulcans, the katra is deposited in the library of souls in a specific and logical ritual.) We won't know; Neelix was salvaged before the ceremony had a chance to begin.
Perhaps, as Neelix said, a part of him made the trip to the Great Forest. Seven, in her current incarnation, has left part of herself behind with the Collective--who she is and what she does from now on is not subject to that Collective immortality she mentioned to Tuvok. She's an individual now, cast out of Eden, subject to some of the same fears (though she would deny it) that her life is now fleeting, and will be shuffled off to oblivion when she shuffles off her mortal coil. But the Borg idea of immortality isn't that far removed from the secular human and other alien attitudes toward the same--immortality is what is left behind, the mark you make on those who knew you. Museums and history books are filled with those who have not been forgotten, whose names are had for good or ill based on the lives they led, give or take some room for historical interpretation and propaganda from friends and enemies alike.
What is it that finally plants Neelix's heart back in the realm of the living? A reason to live. A child who needs him. "Duty calls" was Neelix's catch-phrase for the hour, and each time he said it, it meant something different. It was a joyful duty before his accident. It was an excuse to flee unpleasant thoughts at the Prixin party. And it was the single thread of hope he clung to when he was millimeters away from fiery oblivion. Some have suggested that it's pretty pathetic that Neelix's only reason for living is "monsters in the replicator," and that Chakotay was a dolt for even suggesting it. But they went to great lengths to show how much Naomi meant to her godfather, and I can think of less noble reasons to cling to hope than the needs of a loving child.
In other words, though there are shouts here about the Big Lie of an afterlife, there are also quiet whispers throughout suggesting that a rush to judgment is not wise--that Neelix's conclusions could be premature, that as Chakotay suggests there is still room for faith.
It is significant that Neelix is shown throughout the episode to be a firmly entrenched member of the crew and extended family of Voyager. In a sense this bookends Fair Trade, where Neelix--recently separated from Kes, at the limits of his knowledge of the territory--goes to desperate lengths, gets in over his head, and incurs the captain's wrath...all for want of a map. He was convinced that unless he has something to fall back on, some reason for being alloed to stay, Janeway will boot him off the ship as soon as his usefulness as a native guide ends. he was miserable and desperate. To an unhealthy degree, Neelix defines himself in terms of his utility. A year or so later, Neelix is even more firmly entrenched, knowing his place is secure, and he's happy. Until things get shaken up. In Fair Trade, Neelix believes he has outlived his usefulness, and will be booted off the ship like so much deadwood. Here, his dreams tell him pretty much the same thing, even though the actual crew is saying the exact opposite. And yet, at the beginning of his vision quest, the place where his psychic Guiding Tree leads him is to the mess hall, surrounded by his fellow crew who are happy to have him back. It wasn't until he turned his back on them and ran after his sister that his dreams took a horrific turn. If there's life after death for him, it could be argued, that he's already there. He died, and he woke up on Voyager, surrounded by people who care for him, people who populate the happiest memories he has.
The tricky part for Neelix is waking up to that before it's too late.
This is a challenging episode. One that, as I said, I hated the first time through, and still don't like all that much. It's well written and for the most part skillfully executed, with many questions and more food for thought than answers--in that sense, vintage Trek. But it is provocative, and at times disturbing.
One very disturbing thought is this: they can bring back just about anyone with this new technology. So if a crewman is going to die, they'll have to die seriously. If there are any pieces left, Borg technology can put them back together. This makes for a potentially disturbing image of the crew pulling into port 60 or so years from now, a bunch of semi-assimilated zombies, keeping their necrotized tissues at bay by hooking themselves intravenously to a now-immobile Seven of Nine, who has no mouth and must scream. Brrrr.
I guess when you play with proto-matter, you're playing with fire. It cost Kirk his ship, his son, his rank, and for a time his first officer. It's potent stuff. But as with the Talaxian spices added to Seven's food to broaden her palate, this episode seems to be an attempt to add meat and spice to our diet of mind candy that passes for much of what passes for entertainment on television these days. If it's not to everyone's taste, it may be to some. It is a bold effort, in any case.
Good lines abound. Doc had my favorite, about Borg conversation skills. Seven is coming along, but slowly enough to continue her struggle to fit in. Even so, some of her comments are surprisingly insightful and even at times compassionate. Some nice character interactions, good use of Paris and Chakotay, and the overdue but welcome return of Ensign Wildman and the rapidly-growing Naomi, whom we haven't seen or heard from since "Basics Part II." Making Neelix the godfather was a nice and not unsurprising touch. Alixia, Neelix's sister, gave a terrible first impression, but nightmare sequences are generally not the best place for first impressions. It would have been nice to see a less tainted memory of her beforehand. But ah well.
Emotionally, this puppy packed a wallop. It drew me in, it made me care. I freely admit, I like Neelix these days; I care what happens to him. As he suffered, so did I. I could practically hear the Neelix haters chanting "push him out, beam him out, waaay out!" in the transporter room scene, but no go--Neelix is likely to be around for a while. Though now that all that stands between him and permanent death is a few billion nanoprobes, I guess you can never tell. They already yanked out one of his lungs. If they keep this up they could replace Neelix with the Lloyd Bridges character from Hot Shots.
I really don't want to give a score; I'm still not sure what I think of it. I laughed, I cried, I ranted and raved, I pondered, I rambled, and I am still stymied about the score. If you can't get through the day without one, for now you can take a subliminal, but unofficial, (* * * *). Or a (*). I could go either way.
Tito gives it 666 stars on a 0-1000 scale, but he's in a foul mood about the hideous holiday specials this year. (When the Andy Williams Christmas Special airs on The Daily Show on Comedy Central, you have to admit he has a point.) He's survived the season by listening to Mormon Tabernacle Choir albums and wearing out Patrick Stewart's one-man production of A Christmas Carol on audiocassette. Well, that's 1997, folks, and I am outta here.
Next week: Rerun of "Nemesis."
If you want a second opinion, check out Julia's, or head on over to the lounge where Kris and some of her pals offers their musings from the Rec Room O' Reviews.