Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Voyager, Season 7: Homestead

 Voyager, Season 7
"Homestead"
Airdate: May 9, 2001
166 of 168 produced
166 of 168 aired

Introduction

Neelix faces a difficult decision when Voyager comes across a wayward colony of Talaxians who are in dire straits.

Happy hedgehogs.

 


Writing

Kevin: I'm of two minds on this episode. Inside its four walls, it is a solid character story, buoyed largely by very good performances. But set in the broader landscape of season seven it annoys me. First, there's the painful leap in logic that a group of Talaxian refugees made a longer journey than Voyager in only a few more years, one assumes without help from transwarp conduits, special warp cores, and that jump gate thingy. I understand time and space and numbers are flexible when telling a good story and normally I'm the one saying "repeat to yourself 'It's just a show,' you should really just relax." (MST3K reference for the win) But here, it's just too much. It's approaching Gilligan's Island levels of contrivance, and since the goal of doing so was clearly just to give Neelix an arbitrary endpoint for his character arc, it makes it feel even more artificial. Also, while I bought the connection and obvious homesickness the Talaxians inspire in him, in the end I don't really buy that he would leave the ship at this point. I get this isn't episodic television, but there was no real lead up to give this decision the weight it needed. It's compounded by the fact that Neelix hasn't really gotten an episode this season. I skimmed the list of season 7, and his friendship with the prisoners in Repentance and a running gag in Prophecy, I don't think he really gets a "Neelix episode" so this one shuffling him off the show at the 5-yard-line feels...odd.

Matthew: I think the odd feeling is definitely real, and I think it is very much because leaving at this moment doesn't feel emotionally justifiable. He's known and loved these people for seven years, and now he's going to ditch them for some Talaxians he just met? I think this choice could have been shored up in the writing, if there had been a greater emphasis on the cultural diaspora aspect of Talaxian culture, and some mentions of it in this very teleplay. But there really weren't. Was he just so horny that he could countenance abandoning his family?

Kevin: The structural concerns aside, the progression from point A to point B is solidly and credibly achieved. Neelix has genuine rapport with Dexa and the villains, while not a revelation, are solidly portrayed. The noble last stand story is an old saw for a reason, and while you might accuse the plot of painting by numbers, you can't accuse it of painting any of those numbers incorrectly. The end result for me was an "enjoyable enough while it was on the screen" story.

Matthew: Yeah, I'm pretty much there. I think fighting for a cold, sterile asteroid colony doesn't have the same emotional tenor as an idyllic biosphere. We got that story with Icheb's family, and it worked quite a bit better. Again, this could have been shored up in the writing, but sort of wasn't - the main argument for fighting to maintain that home being "we've sunk five years into it."

Kevin: Again setting aside my concerns about the 'why' of this story, I will say its strongest moments were definitely the crew saying goodbye. It's clear that the real world goodbyes were seeping in a little and it's to the episodes benefit. Janeway's scene with Neelix is pretty good, and while on balance I have found a lot of the "let's mock Tuvok" stories tedious over the years, and I certainly didn't get choked up by it, their last interactions at least felt thoughtfully of a piece with the rest of their relationship.

Matthew: My sole criticism of the goodbye scenes are the way Naomi Wildman is handled. Now, I can see two ways to approach this situation. One is Naomi being "all grown up" and not really needing Neelix as an alternate parental figure any more. The other is her being emotionally broken up about him leaving because of his status as her caregiver and dear friend. I think both are acceptable story choices, though having watched all manner of Flotter and scary story episodes, I think the latter is better supported. The problem here is that the episode kind of has it both ways. For the first half, Naomi is asking Neelix to play Kadis-Kot and he keeps having to rebuff her. So it sure seems like she still wants his companionship. But then, in the crucial scene for their relationship, she blithely dismisses his offer of a tuck-in bedtime story.  But then, after that, during the lineup goodbye, she looks really sad, and doesn't get a word of dialogue. WTF? She should be crying, and saying she's sorry she turned down the story, leading to sweet reassurances from him. I think the story would have been better if Naomi had been the one who had the dialogue with him about what his true feelings were, and being with her (and getting to tell his story) would have been the perfect time to get one last bittersweet moment of togetherness and to solidify his intentions. Janeway isn't the kind of intimate friend to Neelix that Naomi is. Tom or Tuvok would have been better parties to that conversation.

Acting

Kevin: Ethan Philipps is a good comedic and character actor, and when the show figured out how to shade his vulnerability and bravado, it did so to great effect. I don't think he was particularly stretched by this material, but he certainly delivered what was asked of him. Julianne Christie was clearly cut from the cloth of women you would have put in an old school epic about a family on the frontier. She did a good job balancing her understandable caution with her kindness.

Matthew: Julianne Christie for me bore a striking resemblance to Donna Murphy's Anij, and I couldn't shake it. She played the role with a bit of detachment, which I guess makes sense after losing her husband and having to solo parent. Ethan Phillips delivered a believable emotional journey even when the script didn't do all it should have to support that. The rest of the players did fine with what they were given. I would give the prize to Tim Russ for his conversation in the mess hall - it was a really good evocation of underlying affection through a screen of emotional reserve and logic.

Production Values

Kevin: I have no complaints here. The asteroid field and various environs and ships were well done. And as callbacks go, I suppose the one to Worf's goodbye in Redemption is not the worst one to go for. Again, I won't say that I got misty or anything, then or now, but I appreciated that care they were taking in the final moments, even if I wasn't the biggest fan of how we got here.

Matthew: I think the physical aspects of the asteroid colony undercut the story. They just didn't seem like appealing spaces to live in and fight for. Heck, even the mining colony in "The Devil In The Dark," or the complexes in "What Are Little Girls Made Of" and "Spock's Brain" worked better for me at feeling "homey." With that said, yes, the exterior space shots were very competent late 90s CGI, and they added to the story.

Conclusion

Kevin: I've ragged on this episode a fair bit, and I don't think I'm wrong, obviously. Basically, this episode feels reverse engineered from the idea "Oh right, we have contractual obligations to Ethan Phillips and this is the end of the series." That said, the episode we got from this notion is pretty well done. It doesn't break the mold, but it does entertainingly fill it, and buoyed by Ethan Phillips acting falls squarely into a 3.

Matthew: I think this was a tad light on sci-fi, and as mentioned above, some of the emotional aspects failed to cohere for me. I wish Neelix would have gotten a slightly more epic send-off with better emotional development. But the performances carry the day and bring this into average territory. I agree with the 3 for a total of 6.


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