Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Voyager, Season 1: Phage

Voyager, Season 1
Airdate: February 6, 1995
4 of 168 produced
4 of 168 aired


Neelix is attacked by mysterious aliens who steals his lungs. The Doctor manages a makeshift cure, but it may be worse than the problem. The crew races to find the thieves, but once they are found, the reason for their crime is something the crew could never have imagined.


Kevin: This is a great episode, no two ways about it. As much as Matt and I debate the relative merit of character versus sci-fi for an episode, we agree the best episodes have both, and this one has it in spades. The science fiction is strong with the novel length science can go to save a life and the impact a disease can have on a society. I have a few lingering questions about how holographic alveoli can bond real oxygen to hemoglobin, but that's a nitpick if ever there was one. Not only is the Vidiian plot a neat interpretation of the urban legend of organ thieves, the idea of being unable to move more than two microns is really upsetting. More than even TNG's "Ethics," it starkly portrays the difficult choices life sustaining technologies pose. The Vidiians themselves were also portrayed as more than one dimensional villains. I interpreted the line, "We were educators and explorers," to directly invoke the image of the Federation. Even the internal disagreement between the two Vidiians helped give dimension to their story.

Matthew: It is Star Trek to the core to take zombie organ thieves and turn them into a sympathetic victim of circumstance. In this way, this episode is very much in the tradition of "The Devil In The Dark." The dialogue given to Motura was really evocative, not only of the Federation, but of the way we fancy our present Western industrialized civilization. I think there is a clear AIDS parallel here, too, imagining what it would be like had the epidemic spiraled out of control. As you mentioned, the medical ethics story also is quite germane to contemporary viewers. I also really liked how they resolved the story - the Vidiians, having fought this disease for two millennia, would naturally have the technology to graft otherwise incompatible organs into a new body. As such, it doesn't seem like a Deus Ex Machina to me at all, at least not an egregious one.

Kevin: I like the character development here as well. Neelix's panic is credible as is Kes' concern. I liked seeing the doctor flounder at the increasing demands placed on him. Crisis tends to tell us a lot about people and this story certainly demonstrates that.

Matthew:  I appreciate the writers' willingness to make Neelix a real person in the face of his malady. He isn't just a martyr. He's petty, jealous, and unreasonable, just as many people with terminal illnesses can be. Whatever my problems are with Neelix's general portrayal (especially his relationship with Kes), it can't be said that he isn't being written consistently. And it works here.

Kevin: I particularly liked Janeway's speech in the transporter room. It was a lovely summary of the conflict of Federation values and Delta Quadrant reality. I liked how sharply the decision was drawn. There was no middle ground. It was either murder him to save Neelix or let them go. It makes the test of Janeway's morals really meaningful. I also like how emotional Janeway becomes. Particularly for a female captain, I like that Janeway is not written as lacking emotions to reinforce the idea of a woman in power. Her outrage read as real and credible, even if it may have been portrayed more explicitly than with other captains.

Matthew: I think that scene was excellent, though I might have liked a bit more time to be spent with the Vidiians. It's too bad that it basically all took place in one transporter room conversation. Janeway could have been given more time to ruminate, she could have had an argument or two with some crew mates (not to mention Neelix). I think they could have cut the hall of mirrors stuff in order to give us more backdrop for the Vidiians, especially since what we did get was so interesting.

Kevin: My complaints are few otherwise. The hall of mirrors effect was a little much. I can buy reflective surfaces in the asteroid, but not ones buffed to a shine. The fact that the Kazon were chosen as the villains rather than the Vidiians is the series' fault, not this episode's.

Matthew: Is this like some common trick for the Vidiians? Do they buy it at Asteroids-R-Us? Didn't a scanner pick it up from outside? The asteroid bugged me generally. How many asteroids have oxygen-nitrogen atmospheres and earth-equivalent gravity? How did no one know about this besides Neelix, and how did he know just enough to get them there but not enough to know of the organ stealing zombies therein?


Kevin: Mulgrew gives her best performance to date, and that is saying something. Verge of tears is hard to do, and she delivers in spades. I bought her outrage and resolve. I appreciate that she played Janeway as emotional. It never reads as "over-emotional" or as if she can't handle the job.

Matthew: Yep. She is excellent. I think she is vaulting into the rarefied air of Shatner-Stewart territory, and she is doing it quickly. I think she does comedy well, too. Her scenes with Ethan Phillips in the mess hall were funny, as was her banter with Robert Beltran. So she really is a double threat.

Kevin: As much as I get annoyed by Neelix, the actor is never at fault. His gallows humor and his panic all play as completely genuine and affecting. The two Vidiians also did a bang up job. They really gave the Vidiian moral struggle some life.

Matthew: This episode was well acted all around. Ethan Phillips' struggling to breathe was gut wrenching, literally and figuratively. Even someone like Robert Duncan McNeill was effective in portraying haplessness in his sickbay scenes. The whole cast, along with all guest stars, have been pretty uniformly excellent so far in the series.

Production Values

Kevin: I loved the Vidiian props. The scanner/transporter had a nice heft and solidity. The makeup was amazing. It really looked like a patchwork of skin. What impressed me was how mobile it was. Fine movements around the mouth and eyes were really nicely done. It was a real coup from both a design and technical standpoint.

Matthew: Definitely, the makeup was Emmy-worthy. It didn't get nominated, but whatever. It didn't look like a rubber helmet, which some of these sorts of appliances can look. I think the Vidiian ship was a bit mundane. I guess this culture is sort of haphazardly organized because of the phage, so maybe they have an assortment of ships. I just like seeing a technology reflect its culture.

Kevin: The mirror effect was technically well done but doesn't work from a plot point. I did like a lot of the camera work in sickbay. It was tight and claustrophobic.

Matthew: The effect of Paris slapping the Doctor was neat. It was a funny moment in the script, but it was made even funnier by adding that sci-fi touch. I wish we had seen the process of creating holo-organs with a bit more grisly detail. The "blood gas infuser" looked like a decoration from a dentist office in the early 90s.


Kevin: This is a 5. The very idea of the Vidiians is compelling. The personal cost to Neelix is haunting and well portrayed. The addition of bad guys who are not merely bad elevates this episode to a highlight of the first season.

Matthew: I agree on the 5 for a total of 10. The sci-fi is very strong, both on the Vidiians as well as on the Neelix medical story. The character development for Neelix and Janeway are also excellent. The production values are very solid, the performances are good, and the pace is exciting. This is definitely the best episode of Voyager so far. 



  1. Even though it's just a small moment, I really like the part on the bridge when Tuvok knows what Janeway is going to do. I like how Tuvok portrays genuine friendship, but still in a very vulcan sort of way. That one scene in Caretaker is another example

    1. I love that scene in Caretaker. It's a perfect crystallization of what makes Voyager great (deep, organic characterization), and it happens in the first episode.

  2. I haven't seen this episode since it first aired, and it still haunts me. I might have to re-watch it with the podcast when I'm feeling braver.

    1. Let us know if our first Voyager 10 was deserved!

  3. I am sorry, I am really surprised at this rating. I found this episode to be so boring and I always skip it on rematch. I cant place my finger on it but it just does not do anything for me. I like Janeway's admonishment of the Vidiian in the end but overall this episode just bores me.