In the fifteenth and penultimate episode of the first season of Voyager, Neelix gets a visitor: one of the men responsible for the genocide of his people. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of genocide.
Let’s talk about false equivalencies.
For the most part, I think Star Trek‘s various writers have tried to be insightful when it comes to genocide and warfare, but trying and doing are two different things. I think these shows got better at it – and for the most part, Deep Space 9 has been killing it – but sometimes, this fictional universe can miss the mark spectacularly.
I don’t think this episode qualifies for such a distinction, at least not until the end. Until we get to the odd ending, I thought that “Jetrel” respected Neelix’s intense trauma. The very idea that Jetrel was still alive and well caused Neelix to have a visceral reaction. It pained him. Nauseated him. Inspired violence in him. The writers create a reference to scientists like Oppenheimer in Dr. Jetrel, but even then, the bulk of this story feels like a chance for Heelix to open up to Kes about his experience during this war. (Actually, I also want to note that he initially speaks to Janeway about what happened to his people, not Kes, though Kes’s role is still important. I honestly feel like Janeway has proven in just 15 episodes to be the most empathetic captain of a starship, and I really look forward to scenes where we see her kindness and understanding on display.) It’s not about Dr. Jetrel.
Until it is. Which is weird.
The problem I see is that I’ve given very little to understand this conflict in any other way. Dr. Jetrel knew the technology he was working on was a weapon. Even if he wanted to claim that it was up to the government and the military to use it or not, it’s a shaky moral stance to take. As far as I could tell, the weapon also existed for one sole reason: to effectively kill people on Rinax. It had no other purpose, and Dr. Jetrel even admits that he expected the initial blast to kill everyone. It’s also undeniably an act of genocide, too. 300,000 Talaxians were murdered that day, and how many more died because of that weapon?
I just felt strange when the story focused on how much of Dr. Jetrel’s life was miserable in the wake of the attack. I’m sure it was, and what I learned about it seemed pretty terrible. But once the script revealed this and Neelix’s true history during the war, I felt like “Jetrel” creeped a little too close to a flase equivalency. What Neelix did is something he’s allowed to feel ashamed about. I understand why he does, too! What I found uncomfortable was this weird thing that this episode does where it casually suggests some sort of complicity on both sides, as if what both these men are struggling with is the same. It’s not the same. I don’t think “Jetrel” ever blames Neelix for what happened.
UNTIL IT TOTALLY DOES! There’s that infuriating line towards the end where the writers have Neelix wonder aloud if the Rinax attack was a way to punish them both. UM, OKAY, DEALING WITH COWARDICE IS NOT AS BAD AS COMMITTING GENOCIDE. THEY ARE ABSOLUTELY TWO DIFFERENT THINGS THAT CANNOT BE COMPARED AT AT ALL. And look, I suspect that because Neelix says that this might have been due to their “hatred and brutality,” the writers were trying to show us that this was a mutually destructive relationship between these two species. But the text itself never supports this. Instead, all we know is that the Haakonians decimated the Talaxians. There’s a power imbalance in that act, and thus, the imbalance needs to be represented within the metaphor itself.
Prior to this twist at the end, though, I thought this was a fantastically disturbing episode. What would a survivor of a genocide say to someone who was responsible for it? And it’s not that I feel like someone in this position can’t forgive someone for what they’ve done. Indeed, we do get evidence that shows us that Dr. Jetrel was trying to undo the damage he’d wrought! Perhaps Neelix admired that. Or perhaps he just wanted to give Dr. Jetrel a moment of peace before he died. My issue is that there’s a false equivalency in the script once the show tries to draw a parallel between these two characters. Without it, I think that this would be damn near perfect.
“The video for “Jetrel” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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