Episode Guide/Review by Charlynn Schmiedt
Season 1, Episode 4
Stardate 48532.4 (2371)
Episode 4 of 168 Released in Star Trek: Voyager
Episode 4 of 168 Produced in Star Trek: Voyager
Production Number: 105
Original airdate: February 6, 1995
Directed by Winrich Kolbe
Story by Timothy DeHaas
Teleplay by Skye Dent and Brannon Braga
While on an away mission, Neelix’s lungs are taken by members of an alien race known as the Vidiians. With the clock ticking and options limited, the Doctor creates a set of holographic lungs to keep Neelix alive. The plan works, but with one major implication: Neelix cannot move or his holographic lungs will malfunction. Meanwhile, Janeway hunts down the Vidiians that took Neelix’s lungs. When she brings them aboard Voyager, she learns that the Vidiian population has been suffering from an illness called the Phage for generations. They must harvest organs from healthy beings just to keep their species alive. Upon learning that Neelix’s lungs have already been transplanted into one of the Vidiian’s bodies, Janeway sees no other option but to let them go since she can’t turn them over to Starfleet for trial and it would be impractical to keep them in Voyager’s brig. Grateful for having their lives spared, the Vidiians use their superior medical technology to perform a lung transplant on Neelix. Kes volunteers to be the donor. The operation is successful and the Vidiians leave, but not without a stern warning from Janeway that any other actions against her crew “will be met with the deadliest of force.”
When this episode first aired in 1995, I considered the phage as a metaphor for the AIDS epidemic. Back then, research hadn’t found a way to stabilize those with the HIV virus and AIDS. Even today, it requires access to state-of-the-art medicine and more money than what most people have; and there is still no complete cure. In some parts of Africa, HIV still runs rampant and kills thousands every day, just as the phage does to the Vidiians.
Now, I see the phage as more of a metaphor for cancer: It’s difficult to treat once it manifests and takes lives every day. Cancer makes the body turn on itself and destroys it at the cellular level. Despite our advances in cancer research, we still don’t know enough to successfully treat it in all its forms or prevent it 100%. It could strike any of us at any moment, and we all know someone who’s been affected by it. Those that do have a form of cancer end up fighting it for the rest of their lives (or living on constant alert for its possible return).
This episode also raises the issue of ethics in the medical field. Right now, organ donations only come from those that consent to the procedure, and usually in the event that the donor is deceased. Many in need of an organ donation die waiting for a transplant that never comes. But what if humans were in the position of the Vidiians? Would we consider it morally just to commit murder so we could preserve other lives? What if we needed every fighting chance possible because our race as a whole was dying? What about then? The Vidiians represent what we could become if, as Motura said, “our entire existence is at stake.”
This is the episode where Neelix starts putting himself to work as the ship’s cook, and in my opinion, turning the captain’s private dining area into a mess hall was an excellent idea. Nevermind that Neelix didn’t ask anyone for permission before he began the conversion and opened for business—not only is food preparation an area where Neelix’s talents can shine (or not, when it comes to leola root), but the use of space is much more practical on a ship the size of Voyager. It also makes sense that the ship would need a kitchen area to prepare the fresh food that’s being grown in the aeroponics bay.
The Vidiians are one of Voyager’s most unique and threatening aliens. Like all good villains, they aren’t the way they are just because they’re one-dimensionally evil; they’re a victim of circumstance. Because their very survival relies on harming others, it’s not difficult to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing and feel some sympathy toward their plight. Nevertheless, that’s what makes them a danger to the 150 healthy lives aboard Voyager. We see Janeway process this when she confronts the Vidiians in the transporter room.
Neelix really needs to butt out of every aspect of the ship’s operation. He is all over the place. He wants to be the ship’s cook? Fine. He wants to be the ship’s guide? Also fine. Going on an away mission in lieu of checking on Ensign Parsons and finishing the task of serving breakfast? Stop spreading yourself so thin, Neelix. More importantly, why didn’t Janeway or Chakotay put their foot down and simply tell him no? There are plenty of capable officers more qualified for an away mission, especially when he was never called upon to join it in the first place. Neelix just assumed he’d be there and probably got to go just so he’d stay out of Janeway’s hair (heh).
And no, I’m not whining about this because he gets himself into trouble; normally, a redshirt—or even Harry—could have played the victim just fine, even while following Chakotay’s orders (which Neelix didn’t). Neelix isn’t a properly trained officer and if I were Janeway, I would make sure Neelix understood some protocols before sending him down on an away mission. Based on Neelix’s enthusiasm for learning the ins and outs of the tricorder, it sounds like he’d be up for that task. Once done, then Janeway could send him on his first away mission. But that’s not what happened, and the more I think about it, the more it bothers me. Janeway is a stickler for protocol, especially in the first season, but not here.
Is it possible that Neelix planted the idea of singing into the Doctor’s thoughts?
At this point, Neelix’s jealousy over the friendship between Kes and Tom Paris doesn’t annoy me. In part, it’s because it’s early on, but also because Neelix is in such a vulnerable state in this episode. Although I think Tom is simply trying to be a friend to Kes, I can see how his actions come across as something more to Neelix.
I love the dialogue between Janeway and Tuvok when he anticipates that she will take the ship into the asteroid. It’s a great way of showing that they’ve known each other for quite awhile.
Leave it up to a holographic doctor to come up with holographic lungs for Neelix. Though it’s not a perfect or long-term solution, it’s a creative approach to a serious problem—with the clock ticking, no less. This is one of my favorite early moments that I consider uniquely Voyager. Later on, of course, the Vidiians diss the Doctor’s “primitive” solution and his facial reaction is priceless.
“The man drives a 700,000-ton starship, so someone thinks he’d make a good medic.”
—The Doctor, on Tom Paris
“You mean I… could be in here the rest of my life?”
“But we’re trying to find the aliens that did this to you. The captain is doing everything she can.”
“Well…hrm, if I’m going be in here a while, now is as good a time as any to tell you. Your ceiling is hideous.”
“I didn’t design the room, I just work here.”
“Something with a bit of color would help, maybe a nice tapestry or a painting. Could you dim the lights a little?”
“I’m a doctor, mister Neelix, not a decorator.”
—Neelix, The Doctor, and Kes
“He’s just one big hormone walking around the ship.”
—Neelix, warning Kes about Tom Paris
“If I ever encounter your kind again, I will do whatever is necessary to protect my people from this harvesting of yours. Any aggressive actions against this ship and its crew will be met by the deadliest force. Is that clear?”
—Kathryn Janeway, to the Vidiians
The Vidiians. We’ll see them again. Also, Kes’s donation of a lung to Neelix won’t be forgotten.
I love this episode. It’s a strong ensemble piece where all of the main characters make some kind of contribution. We’re presented with a unique and terrifying villain in the Vidiians. Overall, a solid 45 minutes of Trek. I would have loved to have seen more episodes like this early in Voyager’s run.
(8 out of 10)
Cully Fredricksen as Dereth
Stephen B. Rappaport as Motura
Martha Hackett as Seska