Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Voyager, Season 4: Mortal Coil

http://www.treknobabble.net/p/rating-system.htmlVoyager, Season 4
"Mortal Coil"
Airdate: December 17, 1997
79 of 168 produced
79 of 163 aired


Neelix is killed in a shuttle accident, but Seven is able to revive him almost a day later. He now must deal with the consequences of realizing death was not what he expected it would be.

That uncomfortable moment when you realize what fans have been doing with your likeness in the holodeck.


Kevin: The basic idea for this episode is an interesting one. We've come close to exploring these issues as least tangentially with Janeway in Coda and Sacred Ground. Emanations springs to mind, and a few others over the course of the entire franchise. The difference is those usually present some kind of experience that leaves the character and viewer wondering what more there might be, etc. This one is interesting because it does the reverse. There's nothing, not even something you could philosophically hitch to a belief system. Neelix died. He ceased to be. Full stop. I'm actually surprised that Star Trek went there. We get some off hand remarks about superstitions over the years, but even in universe, the Federation tends to lean very hard into its cultural relativism and respect for all beliefs thing. Deep Space Nine goes so far as to prove the existence of at least someone's god, so having a character experience nothing at all is an interesting choice generally, Specifically choosing Neelix is almost exquisite, really. It's almost like kicking a puppy. The rest of the crew, even Chakotay, has a pretty ephemeral view of the afterlife if they have one at all. Neelix is so cheery and anytime Talaxian culture has come up, he's clearly engaged it with such earnest gusto that I'm frankly impressed this is the character they decided to put through the wringer.

Matthew: Yeah, this one, like "Emanations" and "Coda" before it (though unlike the much more wishy-washy "Sacred Ground"), has balls to spare.The choice of Neelix is perfect, as you say, because he is the character least wedded to the secular humanist values of the Federation, and he has the sunniest outlook. I totally bought the Great Forest mythology of the Talaxian culture, it fits perfectly well with his prior characterization. I also totally bought Neelix's emotional journey. His crisis of meaning made sense, and the slender thread that brought him back made sense, too.

Kevin: The nature of Neelix's recovery raises questions terrifyingly similar to the ones raised by the magic Khan tribble blood in the Movie That Shall Not Be Named. I'm keeping a level blood pressure because it's couched in terms of the ability to revive a person shortly, though increasingly less shortly, after apparent death and that's in keeping with how we perceive and practice medicine today. It does seem like the Doctor should be able to just keep a jar of the stuff on hand generally, and I would have appreciated some dialogue clarifying that this solution is for specific circumstances or otherwise not generally applicable. I did like the continuity nod in the line referencing Neelix's "lung" rather than lungs. Nice touch.

Matthew: On the one hand, the story hangs a lantern on it, saying it's a technique learned from a specific species. The way it is treated makes sense, too, that the nanoprobes would repair or replace the function of necrotized tissue. This seems to be in keeping with how we imagine medical nano-robots might work. But why would there need to be continual injections? Do nanoprobes wear out? And yes, why can't the Doctor just keep replicating them, completely replacing his current medical technology?

Kevin: The conclusion is what leaves me cold. I'm glad actually they didn't feel the need to create wiggle room. The whole episode wasn't a dream sequence. The nebula suddenly looks like his sister for a second, or some touchy feeling leave-the-door-open-a-crack that Neelix's beliefs were correct all along. He didn't experience his afterlife. That's a tragedy and more specifically, a trauma, and the story does a decent job of watching him explore the consequences of that trauma. I just think it's a little Very Special Episode that his suicide attempt was thwarted apparently permanently because Naomi needs someone to tuck her in. That's just not how it works. This isn't quite "reset button" but I would have really loved it if this were a jumping off point for shading Neelix's perpetual cheer. I'm not saying they need to turn him into a Nihilist, but between losing his family and apparently losing the last thread of hope he will ever actually be with them again should have change him a little.

Matthew: I think what's missing is a scene in between the transporter room and the tuck in, in which Neelix seeks therapy. I feel like it was kind of implied when Naoma says "Mommy said you were sick." I presume Samantha didn't just take a suicidal alien filled with nanoprobes into her daughter's bedroom? Chakotay gave her a little nod which seemed to say "go ahead," though. Hmm.


Kevin: Overall, Phillips does a really good job. I particularly liked his scene watching his death in the holodeck. It has to be weird to watch your own death, and I'm not sure they teach that at Second City, so good job there. The intensity of his...PTSD attack, for lack of a better word was also pitched well.

Matthew: This showed us the Ethan Phillips can do more than just comedy. He never went too far or too screechy. I think his best scenes were probably when he had decided to end it but was maintaining a facade for the crew. 

Kevin: I liked the scenes with Paris and Chakotay and eventually Janeway and the Doctor when Neelix was dead. McNeill and Beltran did a good job forcibly shutting down their grief to get the mission done, and Mulgrew really nailed the weary familiarity with losing a friend and crew member. The Doctor also did a good job advocating for the presumed wishes and the ethical consequences of redefining death.

Matthew: Jeri Ryan was excellent. I really liked the way she showed care for Neelix (in Seven of Nine's stilted sort of way), as well as her brusqueness overall. Her valuation of Neelix helped us value him in the same way, I think.

Production Values

Kevin: Like all dream sequences, the dream sequence was more ponderous than awe inspiring. The scene with his sister was upsetting enough, though. The 90s CGI largely works, though isn't really anything special. The necrotizing tissue was a pretty good makeup job, I will say.

Matthew: I actually thought the dream sequence was pretty good. Much of it was acting, but Neelix's sister was really creepy, in a good way. Her disintegration was just OK. The space effects were effective, and the holodeck scenes with two Neelixes were pretty seamless.


Kevin: This episode is pretty ballsy for prime time television when you think about it. They portray there being no heaven and don't really backtrack even a little from that position. I think they do a good job of setting up the internal consequences of that realization but pull the punch in the final scene. Still, Phillips does a stand up job, and in the end, I am going with a solid 3.

Matthew: I'm very close to a 4 on this. The problems you identify (pat conclusion, magic nanoprobes) would sink a story with lesser characters, actors, and emotions. But all of those things work here. I think this was probably a scene away from a 4 - the kind of scene we got in "Where Silence Has Lease," in which our humans put things in moral or philosophical context. This just needed a slight existential push. But it definitely earns a 3, for a total of 6.


  1. I'm glad to see things have settled down for you guys. My wife and I are going through all of Voyager right now, as she hasn't watched much Trek while I have. While we've been doing that, I've read through all of your episodes from TNG as well as DS9/VOY so far, and it's been quite fun. I've certainly disagreed with some of your scores, but I've agreed with a lot more, and it's actually informed quite a bit of my thoughs on and (mostly hazy) recollections of Star Trek from when I saw much of these episodes growing up. All of that is to say, you guys do good stuff and I enjoy reading it. Thanks!

    1. Joe, when you disagree, comment! The more voices we hear, the better the appraisal of an episode.

  2. I think this was the third episode I ever saw of Voyager and why I had such a positive disposition toward the character that allows me to tolerate his earlier appearances as the asshole junk merchant once I got around to seeing them.

    I would have rated this higher, because the magic nano-probes and pat ending are really not all that out of place compared to other Trek stuff and is just sort of Voyagers thing, lots of things never seem to stick. I hold that as penalties against the series overall, but I generally do not hold it against individual episodes. Stand alone episodes like this are more like Classic Trek when they would find some new technology or magic device that would never be mentioned again but exist in the story for the purpose of talking about stuff. Like a Twilight Zone episode.


  3. I think the choice of Neelix was great and really needed to make the point. It is important because it shows that reality and existential uncertainty can bring even the most optimistic, jolly and cheerful individual to their knees.

    The idea of existence being over after life as we know it ends, is pretty radical and I truly admire Star Trek for taking on such a rather equally radical concept.

    When Neelix dies, the analysis of his death and then eventual resuscitation are described from a purely biological and medical perspective. I loved that. There is no magic that brings him back a day later. No mystery. It is Seven's nanoprobes that are able to fix necrotic tissue.. And even his recovery is contingent upon him having to be injected with nanaoprobes on a daily basis. No prayer or any of that other junk.

    I just love that this episode did not pander to the clich├ęs. That it did not invalidate Neelix's journey and worries as null and void by introducing some caveat at the end that makes room for "higher power" explanations. I loved that they didnt sugarcoat it for us.

    Chakotay's, pathetic if I may say so, attempt at trying to get Neelix to please remain spiritual and believe the Great Forest and all to be true still, was so idiotic. And it did not help, other than make him look stupid and ignorant. When he said "Dont throw away a lifetime of faith because of one anomalous incident" I laughed out loud because it was so lame and trite, he may as well have said "Come on Neelix, dont let reason and facts get in the way of some of your favorite fantasies and fairy tales." I mean...really?

    Disappearing into nothing after death is a pretty frightening and almost unfathomable notion for a lot of us. And I like how this was never negated or contradicted or solved at the end.

    I dont think Neelix ever got back what he lost before his death. I think he just sort of tried to reconcile it with his life, understanding that even if he will never see his sister and family again by the Great Forest etc., there is still enough memory and love in his heart for them to allow him to go on with his life. To continue. To have a hope and faith.

    I dont think it was a surrender as much as it was acceptance and coming to terms with the reality of death, instead of the delusion. Again, pretty powerful and strong stuff for Trek.

    The scene in the forest where Neelix asks Alexia what the point of living is if there is no Great Forest and his loved ones waiting for him at the end and Alexia says "there isnt" ties into that: the misconception a lot of theists and/or religious people in general have is that without a divine and all the things that come with it, life has no meaning. But it could not be further from the truth. You dont need god and a higher power, an afterlife, heaven or the Great Forest etc to derive meaning from life and existence. On the contrary, I would imagine that knowing that this is most likely the only shot you're gonna get can give great meaning to one's life and existence. And I think Neelix realizes that in the end. The festival of Prixin doesnt have to be meaningless just because he will never see his loved ones in eternity.

  4. So I don't think I've seen all of this episode. But I can't stand Neelix and so reading about his misfortune I did experience a little bit of schadenfreude.

    1. Neelix has definitely been rehabbed as a character. People who stopped watching in seasons 1 or 2 can be forgiven for thinking he's an annoying tool.

    2. Can't stand Neelix? Oh my. would you like me to give you some puppy dogs to kick?