In the twenty-third episode of the seventh season of Voyager, OH, NEELIX. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For talk of refugees/xenophobia.
Wow. I certainly didn’t expect this story, nor did I expect the WAVE OF FEELINGS that this gave me. At times, Neelix has been an odd character, but I was thankful that the show got him out of that weird Kes/Tom thing and instead established him as the ship’s cook, ambassador, trader… well, a lot of things. If anything, he’s filled a roll within Voyager‘s crew that kept this show feeling more realistic than not. With a limited number of people on board, it was inevitable that some of these folks would have to wear multiple hats.
And Neelix did that. My gods, did he EVER. While I imagine this next episode and the finale may address the vacancy left behind, that’s what made me cry. Neelix contributed so much, and now he’s gone. I suppose part of that is happiness, too. As convenient as it feels that Neelix found Dexa and Brax, he deserved to have some joy after giving so much to other people.
Let’s talk about that, though. “Homestead” doesn’t open with that feeling of joy. After locating a Talaxian colony hidden within an asteroid, Neelix is unsettled by the cold treatment he receives. It’s shocking, of course, because we know how very long it’s been since he last saw another Talaxian. Wouldn’t they be excited to see another of their kind? The context, however, matters so much in explaining their behavior. “Homestead” creates a very believable world in which the Talaxians are refugees. They were nearly killed off years prior, and as they spread throughout the quadrant, they’ve discovered that other civilizations and cultures have not been very welcoming or accepting. In this specific example, the unnamed species mining the asteroid field opts for capitalistic cruelty: they want to mine the asteroid that the Talaxians live on, even if that means killing them. They’ll settle for a forced displacement, of course, and no matter what the Voyager crew offers, they are unwilling to budge from their position.
This is where Neelix comes into the story in a vital way. Despite having a nice reunion with his species, he was a Voyager crew member and a necessary one at that. I had assumed that the romance they were clearly setting up between Neelix and Dexa was meant to end with Neelix leaving them behind, but perhaps appreciating the experience. Indeed, up until that fateful scene in the Mess Hall between him and Janeway, I never felt I had a reason to question the direction of this episode. That’s how I interpreted Tuvok’s scene with Neelix, too. It wasn’t a chance for his character to send him off with a respectful message; it was the means by which the writers devised to get Neelix to act as the leader for the Talaxians in order to inspire them to fight back against the miners.
Oh, how wrong I was. This episode has such a different feel in hindsight, now that I know what Janeway did for Neelix. The whole thing is such an incredible love letter to his character. (Which makes me super mad because why didn’t you do this for Kes???) Neelix’s capacity for empathy, his desire to help others, his ability to persuade others without being condescending… all of this factors into what he does for the Talaxians, and he helps them SAVE THEIR HOME. So I understood how conflicted he felt about them. He enjoyed being among his people, but he had duties aboard Voyager. What else was he supposed to do? It’s Janeway who provides a solution that allows him to remain behind while still helping Voyager and the Federation: he’s now the official ambassador to the Delta Quadrant. I can’t imagine a more fitting role, you know? And I really couldn’t ask for a better conclusion to his story after all this time.
One last thing: this episode was also a very intense reminder that my own Voyager journey is about to come to an end. HOW DARE THEY.
The video for “Homestead” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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