The following is a SPOILER Review. If you have not seen the episode yet and do not want to have the plot (and everything else) given away, stop reading now. (But you probably know that by now.)
I reserve the right to be wrong, and to change my mind later. The following is my opinion at the moment I wrote it. Think of it as a tall tale told around a campfire. So snuggle close and perk them ears, 'cuz Uncle Jim's got a story for y'all.
Neelix and Tuvok work out their problems while the rest of the crew tries to outsmart asteroids.
Jump straight to the Analysis
Jump straight to the Analysis
A large chunk of rock hurtles through the darkness of space. Unlike the pretty, crystal-tossing asteroid we see at the start of the Voyager opening credits, however, this rock looks mean, and the background music seems to back this up. As the camera angle changes, we see that the big, mean, scary rock is on a collision course with a nearby planet.
On Voyager, nobody speaks. The camera takes in the whole bridge--nervous Paris trying hard not to let 'em see him sweat; cool-as-ice Tuvok staring emotionlessly; two guys we've never seen before, dressed in the gunmetal grey padded jackets like Romulans, but with facial bumps like Cardassian cousins (Missing is the forehead "spoon," but the rest of the features are remarkably similar)--one older and severe, with a white crown of receding hair, the younger with the akimbo mane and chapped lips reminiscent of a Mentat from Dune--with curious expressions; and finally a determined Janeway in the foreground as an unreadable Kim folds his arms in the background.
Appropriately, the first word spoken is Janeway's: "Fire." A precious photon torpedo (and no, I'm not keeping track of how many torpedoes--or crewmen, or shuttlecraft--they have left; I'll leave that to others) spits out from the ship and arcs toward the asteroid. It connects, and after some pyrotechnics the large and deadly rock is transformed a lot of now-harmless debris....and several smaller but still dangerously large fragments.
Tuvok announces that the planet is still in danger from the smaller fragments, and Janeway orders their destruction. Chakotay has a question: shouldn't the asteroid have been vaporized by the torpedo? Kim confirms that there shouldn't be anything larger than a single centimeter in diameter after the detonation.
The younger alien turns to the older one. "I'm afraid I was right, Ambassador," he says, his tone as emotionless as Tuvok's. He explains to Janeway that they tried to destroy two asteroids the day before, but with similar results--large fragments still struck the surface.
Tuvok announces he's destroyed most of the debris, but a couple of large fragments still got through, and they will hit the planet. Janeway says nothing, but her eyes widen, and that's never a good thing.
The asteroids collide with the ground, in an area looking a lot like the Mojave desert. If you saw NBC's Asteroid! you know you wouldn't want to be there when it happens. In a word: Boom. Barbecued iguana.
* * *
Tuvok reports that it struck the large continent, near the southern tip. The Ambassador says this was a stroke of luck; that area wasn't heavily populated, so casualties should be few. The next asteroid is scheduled to arrive in six hours, though, and its trajectory will land on the eastern coastline of the same continent--home of their largest colonies and over 5,000 people.
The younger alien thanks Janeway for Voyager's help, but suggests to her and to the Ambassador that it may be time to reconsider evacuation. Twelve more asteroids are headed for the planet in the next few days, and even the mighty Starship can't hope to eliminate them all.
A hail comes from the surface, near a heavily damaged area. They put it onscreen, and a bald and goateed alien of the same species reports that he's discovered the asteroids are not what they appear -- they consist of artificial materials. "I must meet with you immediately," he tells the Ambassador, "I think we can stop--" the transmission dissolves into a snowstorm of static, which interference prevents Kim from pinpointing the caller's location for an emergency beamup.
The Ambassador knows the man. "That was Dr. Vatm [sic], one of our best astrophysicists." He asks his still-unnamed assistant if Vatm might know something important. The assistant sounds doubtful. Janeway asks if a shuttle could make it through the debris and find Vatm, and Paris says probably, though it'll be a rough ride. The Assistant thinks it a futile gesture; he suggests yet again that they should evacuate. The Ambassador, weary of this (they've apparently had this conversation repeatedly) answers heatedly that there's no time to get them all--and that Dr. Vatm may well be their only hope.
The ambassador turns to Janeway and formally states that he needs their help, but he has no wish to endanger her crew in any way. Janeway smiles at him. "In for a penny, in for a pound," she says. He is confused by the expression. "It's a human expression," she replies, her smile broadening, thrilled despite the circumstances to demonstrate the best qualities of the Starfleet she represents, "And it means we're not leaving you now." She tells Tuvok to assemble three shuttle crews. Paris, obviously, is chosen to pilot one of them. Tuvok takes another himself. (The crew of the third, manned by nobody of importance, is left unmentioned.) Meanwhile, Chakotay calls Engineering and tells Torres to beam in a piece of that asteroid for analysis, and Janeway retires to her ready room for her own analysis of the situation. The bridge crew absorb themselves in their respective tasks, as the Ambassador and his assistant nod to each other in anxious approval.
Neelix rushes into sickbay and slaps a backpack onto a console in front of Kes and Doc, requesting analeptic compounds. Doc asks if he's ill; Neelix explains he requested permission to join the rescue mission, and Janeway had approved it. He thought having some extra medical supplies might be a good idea. Kes politely replies that she knows where they are, and goes to gather them. (For a recently-split couple, these two are remarkably civil to each other, especially considering Neelix's relentless affection and frequent jealousy while they were together. One wonders if Neelix's efforts to become more fully integrated into the crew stem from the void in his life--and schedule--left by her absence.) His mood is eager, but apprehensive, a mood we saw a lot of in "Fair Trade."
Before Kes is completely out of screen-shot, Neelix tries valiantly but futilely to put on his backpack; he resembles a dog chasing his own tail. Doc, partially successful in hiding his semi-amused annoyance, suggests a tranquilizer. Neelix swears he's fine, but admits he's a little apprehensive; he's been assigned to Tuvok's team, and he knows all too well that "no matter what I try to do I just can't seem to please him." He pounds his chest a few times toward the end of the sentence. He's more nervous than he may realize; he's speaking--muttering, really--through clenched teeth.
Doc tries to reassure him by saying that Vulcans are notoriously difficult to impress; "he seldom acknowledges my brilliance," he points out with characteristic modesty. He offers a word of advice: "try to restrain your...enthusiasm. You're there to observe and learn." Neelix mutters a "Yeah, that's good advice, thanks, Doctor" but I'd be surprised if he fully absorbed it. Though he has rarely been afraid of Tuvok in the past, his official integration into the crew likely means he's going through Tuvok's Starfleet Academy Learning Annex, and discovered the cranky 100 year-old drill instructor side of the security chief. That's enough to scare anyone.
A shuttlecraft shoots through roiling clouds as the orchestra swells. It's a bumpy ride. Tuvok pilots, announcing that they're flying in at Mach 2.1 and entering the troposphere. Neelix hangs on hard, but the Ambassador's assistant is practically warping his duranium-fortified seat with his white-knuckled grip. Neelix turns back to him to see how he's doing, and calls him by name: "How are you holding up, Mr. Sklar?" Mr. Sklar says he's an exogeologist; he prefers working on the ground.
The ground seems impatient to welcome them. The sky complies, tossing the tiny shuttle like a
tomato slice in a garden salad. Despite the heroic efforts of Tuvok and Neelix, the controls fail
to compensate for the buffeting...then conspire against them in a sizzling spark of protest.
The shuttle loses contact with Voyager. Chakotay and Kim try but fail to hail them. "Notify Paris and the others," Chakotay says, unable himself to recall the names of the crew on the third shuttle, which at this moment is probably flying into a black hole or the mouth of a gigantic space goat or something, completely unnoticed by the mothership. Torres calls to the bridge; they've beamed aboard an asteroid fragment. Chakotay says he'll be there in a Navajo Minute, and the ambassador joins him in the turbolift to Engineering.
Tuvok is roused from unconsciousness by a metallic thumping that shakes the (apparently intact) hull of the shuttle. He rises groggily, checks on the groaning Neelix and dazed Sklar, and opens the shuttle hatch. Two aliens--Vatm and a burly younger man--are waiting outside. They had heard the shuttle crash and came to investigate. The muscular younger man, whom Vatm introduces as Hanjuan, a Galacite miner from a nearby colony, fills the hatchway as he enters. When asked about other shuttles, they admit they haven't seen any others.
Sklar doesn't hesitate before asking Vatm about his findings regarding the asteroids' composition. "It's classified; I'll tell this only to the ambassador," Vatm says. Tuvok says Vatm can also share the info with him; the ambassador sent them to recuse him. "I prefer to wait," says Vatm. Sklar, who has not introduced himself, tries the guilt approach; "we almost died trying to rescue you for that information; tell us!"
"Be silent, Sklar!" Vatm spits--he apparently knows, and does not like, the pudgy exogeologist. Neelix, slipping into his role as Morale Officer, tries to calm the tensions between the two by saying their first priority is to get the shuttle off the ground. But Tuvok says that ain't gonna happen; the shuttle is toast. (Chalk up another one....) He says their best bet is to repair the comm system and contact Voyager.
"How long will that take?" Hanjuan demands to know in a voice better suited to lines like "Hulk SMASH!" (The physical resemblance is uncanny as well.) But his estimate of several hours doesn't please Sklar, wh points out that the asteroids will be raining death on them long before that. "Then we'd better get our butts in gear," Tuvok says. (Would I lie?)
Tuvok tells Neelix to jump up on the roof and look at the antenna. Neelix offers to repair it, but Tuvok says a status report is sufficient. Neelix assures him that Torres gave him a thorough education on shuttle systems--but Tuvok cuts him off. "The status report," he orders in a tone that will endure no further delay, his fingers already flying over the console. "Aye sir," Neelix sighs, retreating to the aft of the shuttle. "In the meantime," Tuvok calls over his shoulder to the rest of the groundlings, "shut up and stay out of my way with your emotional baggage and we'll all get along just fine." (I have a Vulcan-to-English colloquial expression translation unit installed, so if it seems like I'm paraphrasing....deal with it.) Neelix, yapping like an optimistic Chihuahua, tries to assure everyone that they're in the best of hands--Tuvok is intelligent, resourceful, and--
"Neelix!" "On the roof, aye, sir."
Already, Tuvok's away mission is looking a little too much like Spock's in "Galileo Seven."
The weather outside is frightful. Neelix shields his eyes and prepares to climb atop the shuttle, when he notices a structure a few kilometers away, reaching from the ground into the clouds. Whatever it is, it means something to Neelix, who abandons his orders and returns swiftly to the shuttle. He brushes past Hanjuan and Vatm, who are talking loudly at each other about "the data," and approaches Tuvok. "You can't be done already," he says with annoyance. "No sir, but--and I know I'm just here to observe and not to undermine your authority and all--but I think I know how we can get out of here."
Hanjuan grunts out, "Where?" (putting that Larry Storch School of Acting certificate to maximum use) Neelix asks if that thingie on the horizon is an orbital tether. Vatm acknowledges that it is; it's a surface-to-orbit elevator they use to move cargo to orbital supply stations. Neelix suggests they use it to reach orbit themselves. Sklar says it's over 300 km long and takes 12 hours to make it to the top. Neelix says they only need to get high enough to contact Voyager.
Tuvok is clueless on this Delta Quadrant stuff, but it really is a good idea--one Vatm had already considered. But the carriage (elevator car) was damaged by the asteroids. But Neelix, longtime scavenger and galactic handyman that he was before his stint with Voyager, figures they can strip the shuttle for parts and use those to fix the thing. He claims to have spent two years with an orbital tether, so he is confident they can do this.
Tuvok considers this, then announces that their best chance of being found by Voyager or the other shuttles is to stay where they are. But he's outvoted by the aliens, who prefer Neelix's idea. Neelix expounds on his resume--he built or repaired over a dozen tether vehicles on his home moon of Rinax, and the principles are no doubt similar (in a Trek universe, they are practically required to be). He begs for the chance to prove himself; if they can't, they can come back here and do things Tuvok's way. Tuvok finally accedes, and Neelix breathes a sigh of relief--he's just had trust put in him by someone whose approval he craves. He begins to explain their first task.
They arrive in the darkened control room of something associated with the tether, and after a few beeping keystrokes the lights come on. Neelix's first success is followed by another. "I think we can do this," he announces--then is distracted by the sight and smell of food. He moves to investigate and sees a half-empty plate of something warmed over. "Someone was here recently," he says. He begins looking into nooks and crannies.
One nook is occupied. A woman lunges at Neelix and within less than a second has an ugly looking knife to the Talaxian's throat. "Don't move or I'll kill him!" she shouts, her voice a chaotic swirl of anger and terror.
Tuvok, naturally, moves--he whips out his phaser. She doesn't kill Neelix.
Nice try, dude.
* * *
The woman tells Tuvok to drop the weapon. After some hesitation, he does so. She shouts that this is her shelter, and those are her supplies. Tuvok assures her that they don't care about her stuff. Hanjuan, his voice softer and his delivery remarkably less neanderthal than before (women, even well-armed ones, have charms to soothe the savage beast) says they're here to use the elevator, nothing more. She says it's been damaged. Neelix manages to croak out that they brought what they need to repair it. Vatm hastens to add that he knows she's suffered from the asteroid bombardment, but he begs her to believe them--their only desire is to leave the surface.
The woman, still holding the knife to Neelix's neck, says the oxygen converters were also damaged; the air supply will not be able to accommodate them all. Neelix says they can try to repair those as well. Her protests, one by one, are answered with reason, with logic, with compassion. When Neelix finally manages to persuade her that her rations are her own, that when they pierce the ionosphere their ship will retrieve them, she relents and puts away the knife.
Neelix doesn't hold a grudge. "It sounds like you know a thing or two about tethers," he says with a warm, toothy smile. She says she's a foundry worker, and doesn't know much about the tether. But Neelix says they could use her metallurgical skills, and his smile is convincing. He's managed to turn an enemy into a colleague with remarkable speed. The danger past, he begins to hyperventilate, but he still manages to gasp out an assurance to Tuvok that they'll be going up very soon now. Tuvok does not look happy; whether it's because of their dire circumstances or because the mission is now resting on Neelix's shoulders, I can't say.
As the ambassador looks on, Torres reports the makeup of the asteroid fragment. Most compounds are natural, but one--triadium--is an alloy not possible in nature. Chakotay, who has been busy cutting into the chunk of rock with a hand pick of some sort, asks Torres to help him; with a little effort, they pull the rock in two. And discover the source of the triadium--a bit of alien technology. Chakotay tells the ambassador that the trajectory of the asteroids is apparently not accidental. This means someone's been lobbing them in their direction.
Tuvok and Neelix work on the first of the repairs, and in short order their bypass of the damaged magnetic coils is complete and holding. "Congratulations, Mr. Vulcan, we've done it!" Neelix shouts, smacking a brotherly fist against Tuvok's forearm. Tuvok doesn't return the gesture. "We still have to fix the oxygen and the tether couplings," he reminds the Talaxian.
Neelix, still thrilled with their first success, takes the oxygen assignment. He asks Lillias, the woman who recently had a knife to his throat, how things are going. Not well, she says; she feels in over her head, out of her bailiwick. Neelix quickly finishes the job, and commends her for what she did accomplish under the circumstances.
He suggests they name the vehicle before they use it; it was a tradition on Rinax, he says, for luck. She has no suggestions; he picks one. Alixia. "My favorite sister," he explains, and gives a list of things she and he did together. "Whenever I think of her, I think of adventure--and this is an adventure I think she would appreciate." She asks about where his sister is now. "She was killed in a war on my homeworld; my entire family was lost."
Here we learn something significant about Neelix. "I still see each of them, every night I before I go to sleep I recall their faces, and tell them something about my day. Tonight I'll have quite a lot to tell them." He wipes his forehead with a rag, and in a surprising gesture, Lillias hands him a bottle of liquid, which he accepts gratefully.
"I have a sister too," she says. "Halla." When the asteroid bombardment began, three weeks earlier, their home was destroyed and they were separated. "I don't even know if she's still alive." Neelix says when they return to the ship he'll make sure they search for her.
Tuvok calls him downstairs. Neelix is feeling pretty good about himself...until Tuvok cuts him off at the knees for "idle conversation" that is taking his attention away from repairs. Neelix says he was trying to boost morale. Tuvok says he's not on the Holodeck or in the mess hall; they're in a life threatening situation, and his first and only duty is to get this carriage off the ground. (In a way I agree with Tuvok, but in a way I don't--they're not exactly a well-oiled Starfleet away team. The four aliens are a wildly diverse group, and they don't seem to like each other much or even necessarily agree on this course of action. Boosting morale, it seems, may be the only way to induce voluntary cooperation. But that's just me.) Neelix, learning the downside of the chain of command the hard way, accepts the reprimand and bleats out a weak "aye, sir."
Hanjuan hefts a heavy-looking piece of equipment from one side of the room to the other as Tuvok and Lillias and Sklar discuss the remaining repairs. Neelix is working the controls, but he notices them coming on at a command he didn't make. He looks toward the carriage room and sees Dr. Vatm inside it, all alone. He realizes, as soon does Lillias, that Vatm is trying to leave them behind. They try to warn him away--he hasn't done his preflight well at all, forgetting even something as obvious as opening the ceiling to let him through.
Sklar finally understands the ruckus being made by Neelix and Lillias, and rushes to the door, begging not to be left behind. Tuvok tries something a little more constructive, picks the airlock controls like a master safecracker, and administers a running Vulcan Nerve Pinch. The rest of the groundlings follow swiftly behind, and Neelix shouts over the whine of machinery that it's too late--the carrier's going to take off, ready or not. Tuvok asks if they can fly this thing; Neelix says he thinks so. Tuvok orders the doors shut, ignoring Sklar's whining about hating enclosed spaces. (What a weenie.)
The carriage leaps up the tetherpole.
* * *
As the carriage climbs, we see sparks where, presumably, sparks shouldn't be. Inside, Neelix and Tuvok work frantically to stabilize their ascent before the mag-lev (magnetic levitation?) fails completely. Tuvok must rely on Neelix's knowledge, though he does have an idea of what questions to ask. Under enormous pressure, Neelix thinks furiously for a few seconds before offering a suggested fix, and they spring into simultaneous action. The carriage increases speed, and after some tense moments the sparking stops.
They're safe...for now. But an explosion has taken out one of the oxygen converters, which will mean they'll run out of air if they don't find a workaround soon. Their early departure also meant that Neelix didn't have time to get the autopilot online, and he'll have to manually and continuously readjust the controls. Then there's the matter of atmospheric pressure, he says, and repairing some of the cracks appearing even now in the vehicle.
Tuvok asks about the containment grid...and Neelix doesn't have an answer.
There's just something about Tuvok that causes uncomfortable truth to surface, and Neelix reluctantly admits under some cross-examination that he never actually worked with an orbital tether, but rather on 1-10th-scale models. (Which, I hasten to point out, is still an impressive accomplishment.) Neelix swears the difference in scale is practically negligible, that he knows what needs to be done--just not exactly how. He was familiarizing himself with everything, and would have been ready had they left as intended. Unfortunately they didn't, so they're at a disadvantage. "But I've got everything under control," he insists with some of his characteristic enthusiasm. Tuvok isn't entirely convinced, but since they're 30km above ground, he doesn't have much choice but to let Neelix continue.
A commotion behind them ends the conversation. Lillias is dragging Dr. Vatm across the floor, ready to throw him out the hatch to certain death. Tuvok wrestles her away from the control panel before she can program the door open, and tells her to back off. "He would have let us die down there!" she protests, but Tuvok logically points out that it's no justification for murder--and that Vatm may be her people's only hope for survival. This seems to mollify her somewhat, but from what we've seen of Lillias so far, desperate action is her natural state.
Tuvok asks Vatm if he tried to leave without them because of the info about the asteroids. Vatm doesn't answer. Hanjuan, back to Hulk Smash diction, says that he'll kick the good doctor to the curb himself if he doesn't answer. Tuvok tells him to back off. Hanjuan takes a menacing step forward asking who died and made him leader of this expedition. Tuvok says that his captain and their planetary ambassador did. Hanjuan takes another step forward, into striking distance, suggesting a mutiny may be in order. Tuvok says that if Hanjuan is threatening him, he should know that Vulcans are several times stronger than--
Hanjuan throws a punch. Tuvok catches it easily and squeezes, and adds insult to injury by reducing Hanjuan to knees-bent, mute agony--while lecturing him about their priorities and asking him gently--but firmly--to cooperate. Tuvok releases his duranium grip, and Lillias realizes just how kindly Tuvok had treated her compared to how he could have. It doesn't comfort her much. This compact, soft-spoken alien is frighteningly superior--and he'll be the first to tell you so. He's the kind of person you obey only because you have to, and only as long as you absolutely must.
It's not hard to understand why Tuvok's still a Lieutenant. He doesn't have the temperament for command, though he does make an effective problem solver. And he knows how to take out the trash. Unfortunately, this mission requires more than that. They need a leader. And it would seem that the closest they've got...
Is Neelix. Who is the only one Tuvok can confide in when he whispers conspiratorially to after the struggle, "mechanical difficulties are the least of our worries." The look on Neelix's face speaks volumes. "What do you mean we, Starfleet Man?" he could have said. But for whatever reason, Neelix doesn't tussle with Tuvok. But he does look sick; for a morale officer, this is the assignment from Hell.
Paris checks in from his shuttle, and Janeway warns him of an impending storm. Then Kim reports that a huge asteroid is inbound, larger by far than any of the others, and only two hours away. This is not good news.
As the carriage continues its ascent (thankfully free of sparks now) Neelix works the controls alone, looking nauseous and weary, taking in short, staccato breaths. At first I thought he was depressed, but a few of the other passengers suggests that the air is running out--they are also laboring to breathe. All but Tuvok; Vulcans are used to thin air on their homeworld, so he's not as bothered by this atmosphere. He administers shots to everyone, to oxygenate their blood. Vatm is first, and he soon is feeling strong enough to take a drink. Sklar is next, and he heard Tuvok's comments to Vatm; he asks if it'll hurt. He hates needles. (He's a complete weenie.) Tuvok assures him it's a painless, sub-dermal transfer. He doesn't whine when the hypospray does its thing. He pants out his next question, about the oxygen converters. Tuvok says they weren't able to salvage the busted one, but Lillias is working to enhance the efficiency of the remaining one. Sklar says they're likely to suffocate; Tuvok says it's illogical to waste energy on anxiety, which is already (pardon the pun) "heightened enough."
He packs up and returns to Neelix, who asks how things are going. "They're suffering from the first stages of carbon dioxide poisoning," he says matter-of-factly. "And you?" Neelix asks. "I can breathe easily in the vacuum of space, of course; I'm Vulcan, dammit." (Man, he's getting cocky in his old age....) Neelix half-believes him; Neelix is drowning in his own sweat, yet Tuvok looks like he always does (except when Neelix is getting under his skin): imperturbable. And since it's likely Tuvok may be the only one conscious soon, Neelix tells him he'd better show the Vulcan how to pilot their carriage.
The lesson is brought to an abrupt end when Vatm moves toward the door, to the protests of the other aliens. "Now you want to go outside?" Lillias demands. Tuvok, naturally, stops him easily. Vatm begs to be allowed to exit; he needs to get something, something important. He's agitated. He manages to croak out that the thing he needs is...on the roof. Just before he dies.
You gotta hand it to the Trek writers. They managed to turn a Henny Youngman joke into a dramatic scene.
The others ask whether he died from asphyxiation; Tuvok suggests he was murdered. Everyone manages to look guilty.
* * *
Tuvok is always at his best when putting together a criminal investigation. He says Vatm's water supply was mixed with the same stuff the carriage uses for coolant, none of which is aboard or accessible. Sklar makes some wisecrack about having a choice: suffocation or poisoning. Tuvok says he'll worry about the investigation further once they're on Voyager; for now, survival is their top priority. Hanjuan is irked (testosterone poisoning seems to be his problem--don't get me wrong, I'm glad the big lug is around. This way, Tuvok is only at worst the second most annoying person around). He accuses Tuvok of murdering Vatm, for revenge. Tuvok says Vulcans aren't the vengeful type. Hanjuan drags out the same old complaint that Tuvok assumes he's the only one fit to command (though in a choice between the two of them, even I would take Tuvok).
While they argue, Neelix considers Vatm's last words. He then announces he thinks they should stop, because of Vatm's desire to reach the roof. Tuvok, as usual, isn't in a mood to listen; he says if they stop the carriage they might have more problems getting it started again, or could plunge to their deaths (a reasonable concern, granted). Neelix has a strong hunch that what Vatm was looking for, may be helpful to them--he was acting rationally, rather than in a last act of delusion. Tuvok tells him to shut up and get back to piloting. Neelix, for once, doesn't back down. "You're going to listen to me!"
To ensure that he does, Neelix brings the ship to a (thankfully, not screeching) halt. Now Tuvok has no choice but to hear him out. Or so one would think. Tuvok basically tells him to stuff his emotions where the sun don't shine and get back to following orders like the good Starfleet inferior officer he is trying so hard to be.
Neelix loses it, and finally says what I've been thinking for a while now. "I'm being emotional?! Take a good look at yourself! For three years you've treated me with nothing but contempt and I'm tired of being the target of your hostility!" Tuvok, naturally, tells Neelix he's mistaken. "No he's not," Lillias interrupts. "The whole time I've known you two, you've been nothing but condescending and dismissive to him." Tuvok says she's projecting her own "emotional bias" on him; "I have no feelings toward Mr. Neelix."
Neelix jumps in. "That's exactly right! You have no feelings for me, but you've got a whole lot of feelings against me! You haven't made any secret of your contempt or lack of respect for me from the moment we met, and you make sure everyone knows that. And you know what? You are smarter, and more logical and stronger than me and superior in almost every way! And I admire you! But you don't have any instincts, no gut feelings. And you really don't understand people. But non-Vulcans have to trust their instincts, and mine tell me we really need to get up on that roof."
Tuvok's words are ice. "I disagree."
"Fine!" Neelix explodes, then lands heavily in the pilot's chair. He pats the console. "But I'm the only one who knows how to run this thing, and we're not going anywhere until someone goes up there."
Mutiny complete. Tuvok pulls a couple of large metal balls from his pocket and starts distractedly rolling them around in the palm of his hand, and asks for some strawberries. I'm not sure why. "You leave me little choice," says Tuvok.
Neelix seems surprised by his triumph. "Okay, someone's gotta go up there," he says, perhaps not yet realizing that--for the moment--he's in complete command. Hanjuan says he doesn't want to do it. Sklar says, "don't even think about me." ("No more calls, folks; we have a wiener!")
Neelix sees that it's up to him, and says he'll go. But Tuvok says he'll do it; he's the logical choice. He can breathe the rarified air; he can withstand the ultra-cold temperatures. Neelix is surprised by Tuvok's turnaround, but it does make a certain amount of sense--whatever it takes to get Neelix to start them moving again is good, and Tuvok can do it faster than any of them. As he reaches the door, Sklar scoffs. "You don't even know what you're looking for!"
Tuvok's eyebrows dance. "I'm looking for Mr. Neelix's instinct," he says, almost smirking. "Perhaps it will be marked." He ascends the stairs. Neelix and Lillias watch him leave. "It's strange," says Neelix, "But I really like him. I just wish the feeling were mutual."
Tuvok takes a walk in the clouds. The wind's blowing, and icicles form immediately on his pointed ears, but he's a Vulcan; it's invigorating in a logical sort of way. He takes a quick look around the roof...and sees one access panel fairly crying out to be looked behind. He goes to it, and sees a hand-held device with a keypad, looking decidedly out of place. A quick scan with the tricorder, a few strokes on the keypad, and the tiny screen displays a schematic that is at once alien and utterly familiar. He hails Neelix with the news. "Um...you were right, dude," he ought to say, but instead he sticks with the basic pertinent information about his discovery: a datapad with a whole lot of information about an alien Starship. He says he'll be right down with it. Neelix says to be careful, and to leave it there if he has to (they can beam it away once they're on Voyager, I suppose.)
Once again, those pesky, attitudinal aliens start making noise off screen. Neelix asks Sklar what he's doing at the access hatch. Sklar says nothing, but he does rush to meet Neelix at the top of the ladder, and kicks him off; Neelix lands on his head and is instantly out cold. Sklar exits the airlock and onto the roof.
Tuvok, too engulfed in the tricky problem of extricating a pocket calculator from between two twist handles, doesn't notice Sklar until it's too late. The big weenie somehow manages to throw Tuvok off balance, smack him on the back, and roll him over the edge of the carriage. He picks up the phaser Tuvok left behind, quickly retrieves the datapad, and heads for the door.
Meanwhile, Tuvok hangs on for dear life, embarrassed to have been bested so easily by the little weenie.
* * *
Sklar reappears inside, phaser in hand, waving it at the now all-alien conscious contingent. Hanjuan asks about Tuvok; "he...returned to the surface," Sklar says, breaking the first rule of action movies: only the good guys get to say something morbidly amusing after killing someone. For that, he must pay.
Sklar orders Neelix up and back to the pilot's seat, but he should have thought about that before kicking him into a coma. He kicks Neelix while he's down, demanding that he follow orders, but once again a would-be leader learns that one can only expect the impossible of those willing to do the impossible for you. Kirk had earned that devotion of his crew. Likewise Picard and Sisko. Janeway's crew would now follow her into the jaws of hell. But Sklar, even with weapon in hand, can't order the unconscious or the untrained to do his bidding. They have no motive to.
Neelix bleeds and groans, and Lillias and Hanjuan look at each other, shrugging. Sklar may be a weenie, but he's a weenie with a weapon, and they can at least humor him for a while.
* * *
Kim announces the big asteroid is in visual range. Kim puts it on screen. Janeway questions whether this is the asteroid. It look more like an alien vessel. It's manned like a vessel; 2000 people aboard. And it's got a vessel's weapons--and communication gear; they're being hailed. Apparently they were able to disguise their sensor readings.
Janeway orders the link put on screen. A severe looking alien, not unlike the Tak Tak but with enough differences to count, says regally, "The Etanian order claims this territory. You will withdraw."
Janeway responds, hands on hips (an insult to the Tak Tak, just in case) "The Nezu were here first. They have five colonies here."
"You are not Nezu," the Etanian points out. "We're friends of theirs," says Janeway. "I'm Katherine Janeway, and I'm not going anywhere until you lower your weapons."
"You're willing to die for them? A loyal friend...and a foolish one." He cuts the channel, leaving the imposing sight of the alien Starship onscreen.
"They'll be here in less than ten minutes, Captain," Chakotay reports.
Janeway, casually as you could please, strolls over to her captain's chair, pivots gracefully, and slides easily into place, crossing her legs regally. (Call me Adverb Man!) She even has a touch of a smile, the feral grin of a carnivorous, redheaded lioness about to feast on zebra carcass.
"Battlestations," she purrs.
* * *
Neelix is still on the floor, gasping for air, only partially conscious. He can hear the distant voices of Sklar and the others; Sklar threatening with his limp excuse for a phaser hand, impotently trying to enforce his will on Lillias and Hanjuan--"drive this thing!" he demands. "I don't know how!" Lillias says, though she knows enough to tell him that he knows even less than they do, and will get them all killed if they do things his way.
Neelix seems to be unable to do much about that, and a little happy to be free from Sklar's attention.
He looks toward the door (not to the roof) and sees some familiar hands on the windowpane. He then notes the cold and exhausted face of Tuvok. Taking care to not draw attention to himself, Neelix slowly gets to his feet and heads for the door controls while Sklar rages. If the darn door controls didn't beep every time you touched a key, he might have gotten away with it, but Sklar notices him just before he punches in the last button. Fortunately, Sklar isn't fast enough to get off a shot; he raises his phaser as the door opens, and the whoosh of air knocks him off balance.
Tuvok, despite his boasts to Hanjuan about being many times stronger than the average Nezu (it only took 40 minutes to give us their species' name), has already been bested once by Sklar (in a battle, it's always best to be underestimated). But even if he is naturally stronger, he's weakened by his recent bout of cold and pain and lack of air, whether or not he'd admit it.
But there's no time to talk now; there's butt to kick.
Tuvok and Sklar square off. I noticed that Lillias and Hanjuan didn't do anything to help or hinder either one; Neelix has an excuse; he's hanging on for dear life just inside the doorway. Tuvok and Sklar duke it out--Sklar not fighting fair, Tuvok managing to hold his own despite his weakened state. All in all, I'd say Tuvok caught a case of Vorek in this case, though; he already showed he could crush the hand of a he-man like Hanjuan, yet the clearly wimpy Sklar comes darn close to beating him. (Perhaps I underestimated him; he is a stone-cold killer, and it would seem he's been in collusion with the Etanian Order--he's willing to exterminate his own people for whatever reason. That kind of drive to achieve his ends would give him an adrenaline (or the Nezu equivalent) rush sufficient to make him a match for the mighty Vulcan.
Tuvok, with his 80+ years of martial arts training, security training, etc., finally takes the upper hand. When Sklar comes after him with a lead pipe, Tuvok gives him a kick to the gut. Sklar reels backwards. Towards the open door, with nothing between him and there but open air.
Exit...stage down. (In a perfect episode, he'd have been holding the phaser on overload and had a loose cable wrapped around his neck with a Mugatu clamped by the teeth to his inner thigh, with maybe a billion or so paper cuts with lemon juice poured into them for good measure. But he's a weenie, and he dies a weenie's death--screaming his fool head off, getting the vast open spaces and ground he was talking so much about preferring.)
Tuvok lurches toward the door and punches the Close commands. Apparently, the fresh air did them all some good--nobody's breathing heavy now except Tuvok (for obvious reasons) and Neelix. Tuvok sees to Neelix's wounds, and softly thanks him for opening the door. "De nada," says Neelix. Tuvok tells all the survivors that Sklar killed Vatm. "How come?" asks Hanjuan. Tuvok says that the thing he found on the roof is detailed info on an alien Starship--detailed enough to defeat it if need be. "Sklar was willing to kill to keep us from finding it."
Tuvok does what he can with the limited medical supplies and knowledge of Talaxian physiology. "You've got a concussion," he says. "I don't know how to treat it."
Lillias reports that they're about to lose cohesion and go into free fall any minute now. Tuvok tells Neelix he's got to get them moving again. Neelix tries to get up, but gets only a few inches before slumping back down. "I can't," he says. "You must," Tuvok says earnestly. "I can barely keep my eyes open," Neelix confesses.
Tuvok sits down beside Neelix and stares intently at him. "Do it...for Alixia. She would be proud of you," he says in all sincerity. Neelix gives him a long look. "I'm glad to see your interpersonal skills are improving," he says. Tuvok accepts the compliment with a nod, and Neelix returns it. Slowly, Neelix gets to his feet helped by Tuvok. "You're learning how to motivate people," Neelix adds. He lurches toward the control, and practically collapses on the right controls. Less than a second later, they're moving again.
On Voyager, the battle is joined when the alien vessel closes to weapons range. The Etanian Order appears to have the upper hand; their weapons slam into the smaller ship, but Voyager's weapons have little effect.
Neelix's hands run over the controls as he tells everyone to hang on--they're breaking through the ionosphere. The carriage climbs ever higher, and at some point, the ride gets a bit smoother. Finally, Neelix announces that they made it. He and Lillias share a delighted, relieved smile, and Lillias jumps into his arms in a tight embrace. Hanjuan, equally relieved, crushes Tuvok in a manly hug. Tuvok accepts it with silent annoyance, and hails Voyager as soon as he can reach his combadge. Janeway asks if he's all right, and he says yes. Janeway says they're a little busy right now, but prepare to be beamed aboard.
The Etanian Order is pounding Voyager something fierce. Tuvok, now at tactical, reports that Dr. Vatm's database has information about the vessel's shield modulation. Janeway tells him to remodulate their weapons to compensate. He does, and their Phasers slice into the enemy ship. The Etanians try to remodulate their shields, and Janeway says to aim for their weapons array. "Fire at will, she says." Tuvok quickly inputs the data, and a phaser beam lashes out in a new direction.
Commander Riker is sharing a glass of Saurian brandy on a Risan beach with an impossibly beautiful Orion woman, her green skin and gold lamé bikini still glistening with the ocean's scintillating moisture. Two elaborately-carved Hor'gons rest on the blanket beside them, speaking volumes of their intentions toward each other. Riker licks his lips and leans in for another kiss. Just as their lips part, a sudden burst of phaser fire streaks in from the sky--and in an instant, William T. Riker is nothing but an expanding cloud of plasma. The Orion woman, her eyes closed throughout the smooch, is knocked backward by the force of the blast. She awakens a few moments later, notices the charred blankets where Riker had been, and sighs. This is the third date in the past year who's spontaneously combusted. Sure, it's flattering, but their timing is always so inconvenient....
"I said will with a lowercase 'w'," Janeway snaps. Tuvok apologizes profusely and retargets the Etanian ship. Phasers lance out, and cause the underside of the alien vessel to expand in a ball of gaseous death.
"That's more like it," Janeway says as the Etanian vessel warps away with its tail between its charred legs.
The Ambassador turns to Neelix. "What happened to you down there? Where's Sklar?" he demands. "Mr. Sklar--" Neelix begins loudly, then looks at Tuvok, who casts him a warning look. "...Returned to the surface." (And justice is served, and all's right with the world.)
Neelix enters the mess hall, where Lillias is trying to enjoy her first cup of Earthling coffee. He tells her he's just come from the staff briefing. He tells her of the Etanian Order, and of their method for acquiring worlds. They disguise their attacks as natural disasters--such as an asteroid bombardment--and when the existing settlers leave (or die) they move in and stake their claim.
"They weren't counting on Voyager," Lillias notes. "What about Dr. Vatm?" Neelix explains that he found out about the Etanians and began secretly compiling data about their ship. He also learned that there was a Nezu traitor among the colonists, collaborating with the Etanians and feeding the government false information about the asteroids. "But he didn't know who it was, which is why he didn't trust anyone." Lillias concludes that things could have been a lot worse. She thanks Neelix. Then she places her hand over his. Neelix notes her change of outfit from the rough-hewn survival attire to a pretty pink silky thing, and it dawns on him that she's really quite attractive. They share a warm smile.
Tuvok enters, and gets right to the point. "The ambassador said your sister Halla has been found." For the first time, Lillias' eyes light up; she smiles broadly at Tuvok, rises from her chair, and kisses Neelix on the cheek before rushing toward the door. This leaves Neelix and Tuvok alone.
"I have turned in my mission report to the Captain, and thought you should know that I entered a special commendation for your bravery and endurance." Neelix rocks back on his heels. "I'm honored," he says, not believing his ears.
"Your instincts were correct," Tuvok admits...though he concludes by saying it will one day fail and he will be forced to acknowledge the superiority of logic (tell that one to Captain Kirk, eyebrow boy). "Instinct is simply another term for 'serendipity.'" he pontificates.
And one day, Neelix says, "I'll get you to trust your gut." He pokes Tuvok in the tummy, some of his old humor finally returning.
"That is doubtful."
"We'll see." He's smiling widely now as he heads for the kitchen.
"Your attempts have yet to succeed," Tuvok points out, not realizing that Neelix could easily turn around and tell Tuvok that "one day your logic will fail and you will be forced to acknowledge the superiority of instinct," but the Talaxian resists. He seems happy enough to poke fun at the Vulcan now that the danger is past.
"You always have to get in that last word, don't you?" Neelix does say, playfully.
"I'm simply responding to your erroneous statement," Tuvok says with typical logic.
"Something tells me you just hate to lose an argument," Neelix says as he disappears into the kitchen's alcove.
"Losing is irrelevant."
Neelix peeks his head out. "See what I mean?" He vanishes back behind the wall.
Tuvok is left to an empty room, but instinct compels him to reply. "No. I do not."
Voyager continues its flight toward home.
Believe it or not, I kinda liked this one.
It was pretty standard in a lot of ways, and the Nezu characters all seemed cliched, but in the context of the relationship between Tuvok and Neelix, this one had some real meat.
Since the second half of "Caretaker," when these two first meet, they have not gotten along. They're oil and water, and though Neelix seemed to hold some affection for the Vulcan, it was clearly not reciprocated. Even a couple weeks nestled in each other's DNA didn't do much to change Tuvok's mind. This has been a tough season for Neelix; he and Kes broke up, they finally moved past territory he's familiar with, and he's anxiously trying to make himself indispensable, and learning that enthusiasm alone isn't enough--especially when one looks to a Vulcan for approval. One might as well look to a Pakled for calculus tutoring.
This is the classic Strange Bedfellows story, melded with the classic Traitor Among Us story, coupled with the classic Natural Disaster/Alien Invasion story, grafted onto the classic Who The Hell Put You In Charge? story. It does get a bit overwhelming at times.
The ancillary characters--the mum Patriot, the angry/hurt Love Interest, the deceptively wimpy Traitor, the doltish musclebound hothead--are all here. Unfortunately, for the most part they're little more than noise, except for the climactic scene when Neelix stares down Tuvok, and Lillias provides the necessary Impartial Third Party observation that Neelix is dead-on in his complaints about Tuvok's treatment of him. Of all the characters, Lillias is the least objectionable, because her background is the most fully explored. Of Hanjuan we know next to nothing, and his character suffers as a result. I pity the actor who had to play him--"just drag your knuckles a little more." The traitor was obvious to me from the beginning; the only surprise was that he was able to surprise and overwhelm Tuvok so easily. Tuvok is far too paranoid to get suckered like that.
The battle of wills between Neelix and Tuvok is pretty one-sided, given Neelix's embattled self-esteem and Tuvok's unshakeable conviction that he's too hip for the room. Neelix knows Tuvok is better than him; he just wishes that Tuvok would find something good to say about him. It matters little that Tuvok treats everyone that way, including the super-ego that is Holodoc. It doesn't matter to him, because he takes Tuvok's condescension personally. He asks himself whether the criticism is merited--and frequently acknowledges that it is.
Neelix used to not care, back when he had a support mechanism (Kes) and several important jobs onboard. But now he has neither--though he still has the old jobs and is learning his way around Janeway's Starfleet, he doesn't have the confidence he used to. He's on unfamiliar ground, and he picked a hard-to-please person as his measuring stick.
Eventually, even someone like Neelix will have to stand his ground and say, "hey, I'm not as incompetent as you seem to think." That time is now. I think Janeway picked a bad mission to pair Neelix and Tuvok (he and Paris get along much better, and teamwork is vital on missions like this) but I guess it worked out for the best. It turned into a situation where Tuvok was at an extreme talent disadvantage, and Neelix at an extreme advantage, so the confrontation was inevitable.
The confrontation was a long time coming. I guess even a cliche can come in handy; claustrophobia, natural antagonism, the threat of imminent death from several sources--all have a way of bringing true feelings to the surface, even in a Vulcan. Sometimes even flat-out denial isn't enough. In earlier confrontations between Tuvok and Hanjuan, Tuvok won--not because of logic, but because he could kick Hanjuan's butt. When Tuvok and Neelix fought, it was like David and Goliath--and Neelix won because he had the moral high ground and exercised passive resistence and iron resolve. Tuvok lost because he was wrong, and everyone (except maybe Tuvok) knew it. And through it all, Neelix's demand was reasonable: he asked only for a little respect and trust, something he gave Tuvok naturally. It's a lesson Spock learned the hard way more than once--Kirk's instincts time and time again proved to be right. Neelix doesn't have that track record, but it's good that he stood his ground, and picked his battle wisely.
Neelix also showed some nice leadership skills. I guess a Morale Officer would have a natural talent for this, but he showed how keeping spirits up could also improve productivity, foster loyalty, and accomplish the impossible (or at least the very improbable). And it should be noted that Neelix is at his most endearing when he's not trying to be.
The aliens with the asteroids and the traitors and the like--pretty dull. We knew they'd lose in the end, and all we learned about them was that they deserved to get their butts kicked.
As I said, I liked this one, despite the problems. The good guys win, the bad guys die, and the angry and frightened woman is redeemed.
As for Hanjuan, he's probably posing in a mirror somewhere, or chatting amiably at his own level with a Holodeck Pakled.
On a 0-10 scale, I'd give this a 7.00, or (* * *). I'm being a bit generous here, but the scenes where Tuvok and Neelix confront each other and come to a sort of understanding pushed it over the top for me.
Next Week: Harry Kim is from Mars. His first three wives are from Venus. Any questions?