WARNING: This article contains spoiler information for VOY's "Jetrel". Unless you wish to be wracked with guilt for the rest of your life for exposing yourself to spoilers, steer clear.
In brief: I hear the thud-thud-thud of a parable ... but at least the last ten minutes or so gave it something of a twist.
Brief summary: When the scientist responsible for a weapon that killed Neelix's family comes on board Voyager looking for him, Neelix must face up to his own past and his own hatreds.
It's interesting to look at "Jetrel" in comparison with "Faces". Both have fairly silly plots trying to do some character development. I think "Jetrel" was, on the whole, a little less than or about as successful in character terms as "Faces" was (helped immeasurably by James Sloyan's guest role), but the plot points were even sillier than before, making the whole episode end up in about the same "neutral" bin in terms of quality.
My first thought, once the episode's main conflict over Jetrel was established, was that we were getting an atomic-bomb/Hiroshima tale, with Jetrel bearing similarities to a *lot* of scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, particularly Robert Oppenheimer. The first three quarters of the show certainly did nothing to change that opinion -- in fact, all it did was create the corollary "good heavens, even Roddenberry would've been subtler than this about it." Neelix's description of the attack, Jetrel's defense that "no one believed there would be any radiation poisoning", the question of why a military target wasn't chosen, Jetrel's realization of "exactly what [he] had become" after seeing the first tests ... the only image needed to make the parallels 100% complete would have been some sort of reference to silhouettes being burned onto buildings. (Well, I suppose Jetrel actually making the quote, "I am become Shiva, destroyer of worlds" would have been a little more blunt, too...)
Unfortunately, I don't think the episode was well served by being that overblown about it. The real "question" being asked here, I think, was whether a scientist is morally responsible for the use to which his/her work is put -- and that is both a very valid question and an interesting one to examine. But we didn't need to have everything done so bluntly -- there was no *reason* to make the situation so amazingly close to Hiroshima to ask that question. It ended up serving as a distraction instead of as a backdrop -- and that's simply not a good idea.
[In fact, I have a very sick feeling about one aspect of this. Given the way rerun schedules usually work for Trek, I wouldn't be surprised to see "Jetrel" slated to rerun right around the week of August 6 -- in other words, just as we observe the 50th anniversary of Hiroshima's destruction. Somehow, the word "tacky" just doesn't quite begin to describe that move -- here's hoping I'm wrong.]
For now, though, let me move away from the subtle-as-a- sledgehammer morality play aspect of "Jetrel", and talk about Neelix's role in it. Much of the outlining of Neelix's character that we saw here made a reasonable amount of sense, actually; we've seen signs of both hidden bravery and stubbornness in the past, and having him feel guilty over his actions during the Talax/Haakon war is a fairly good way to bring that out.
However, things were cleared up much, much too easily for my tastes, and done in such a way that we may never hear about this aspect of Neelix's past again. Neelix's discussions with Kes were apparently part of the Miracle Ten-Minute Therapy course -- for by the end of it, he felt better about himself, was taking Jetrel's side, and totally forgave Jetrel for what he did. That strikes me as just a wee bit unrealistic -- I don't care how charitable it makes Neelix, for it deadens any sense of sacrifice. Similarly, having Neelix give in to Janeway's and Kes's pleas to be examined was a little mixed -- while it was necessary to continue the story, it would have been a much stronger scene for Neelix had he _still_ refused to cooperate. (Had he given in to Janeway alone, it'd have been inexplicable; Kes, at least, was a good choice.)
The more interesting character was Jetrel, despite being cast so strongly in the Oppenheimer role that he even refers to his home planet as his "country" once. This is almost entirely due to the fact that James Sloyan is extremely good at such roles; from Admiral Jarok on TNG's "The Defector" to Odo's mentor in DS9's "The Alternate", we've seen Sloyan do a questionable-yet-noble turn before, and it's worked then as well. As a result, the show did turn out somewhat evenhanded, and that's something of a relief.
[As a side issue, Sloyan has now played members of four different species on Trek (the other one being a Klingon on TNG's "Firstborn"), and worked on three different series. I think the former is a record, and the latter is probably a record for anyone not married to a producer. ;-) ]
However, we then come back to the plot, specifically its plausibility. Alas, we're yet again facing a mountain of Impossible Things to Believe Before Breakfast -- some ludicrous to anyone understanding the technobabble, and others just ludicrous to anyone trying to follow the plot. General ones first:
-- Neelix was effectively a draft resister on Talax. All well and good. However, given the severity of that crime (or so we're led to believe), how is it that he ended up on a team going back to Rinax so soon after the attack? Something's not adding up here, and I don't think it's meant to lead to suspicion about Neelix's story.
-- The doctor now has control over turning himself off, as promised. Fine -- except that the other half of that bargain was that he could *stop* others from doing the same. Apparently he can't reactivate himself -- and apparently, total strangers with no security clearances can also deactivate him with ease. Pardon?
-- Jetrel also has transporter access, even after suspicion has fallen on him. Tuvok should know better; in fact, he _did_ know better as recently as "Prime Factors".
-- B'Elanna's reassurance that they beam aboard alien samples all the time is a bit hard to swallow, given that the *last* time we saw it happen, the sample leaked out and became "Grendel" on "Heroes and Demons". (Similarly, there's no sign of any containment field around the thing, which given its hazardous nature would be a prudent move.)
-- Chakotay tells Janeway that heading for Rinax would "be a significant detour". From *where*? They aren't on any defined mission; there's no place they *must* be at a given moment. This line sounds like it was written with little understanding of exactly what Voyager's situation actually _is_.
And now, the science angles. Some of this seems more of a character issue, but it's a question of depicting a realistic character who happens to be a scientist.
-- Jetrel says, flat-out, that a scientist *must* believe the knowledge he/she finds and the ensuing "power" it brings to be of intrinsic value to the world as a whole. That's simply not true, and is an example of what David Goodstein calls "the myth of the noble scientist". Scientists don't _have_ to believe that they're working for the good of humanity any more than lawyers have to believe they're working to fight injustice; sure, some do, but not all. (Jetrel is also presented as being able to do anything -- theorize, create practical applications and test everything all by himself. That's a standard technique for Trek, but it's not any more right here than it's been before.)
-- Metremia apparently "makes the body's atomic structure undergo fission." Here's where the Hiroshima parallel breaks down. I imagine this was meant to be an analogue to having uncontrolled division of _cells_ in the body, which is cancer. However, it's just silly (to say nothing of being energetically impossible); are we intended to think Jetrel's running around being essentially radioactive, without anyone noticing?
-- Then, we have the ending. First, there's the argument that genetic patterns can be found at a subatomic level, which is 100% wrong -- once you're down to subatomic particles, any proton/electron/etc. is exactly like any other of the same type. Second, there's probably my favorite line of technobabble in years -- finding something in a state of "animated suspension"! The image of Wile E. Coyote realizing he's about to fall off a cliff is absolutely impossible to shake here. :-)
I think that about does it. I like some of the things "Jetrel" *attempted* to do, namely open the question of a scientist's moral responsibility and delineate Neelix a bit better. However, a bludgeoning approach isn't any more effective here than usual, and I'm once again left with a fairly empty feeling about the show.
So, to wrap up:
- Writing: Sigh. As the sledgehammer goeth, so does the show. A few isolated moments are decent, though.
- Directing: Kim Friedman managed to keep things moving as best as she could, and some moments such as Neelix's dream worked reasonably well.
- Acting: Fine given the material.
OVERALL: A little weaker than "Faces" -- call it a 4.5. The series has been in a major holding pattern for weeks; time to move on!
NEXT WEEK: Tuvok trains some Maquis in Starfleet techniques. Disaster strikes. Film at 8, 7 central.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) firstname.lastname@example.org "Those are consequences, Dr. Jetrel." -- Neelix Copyright 1995, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.