ST: Voyager Liveblog — S1, E4: Phage

Janeway logs (I’m verbing it. We use “blog,” don’t we? Deal) that Voyager is on its way to a rogue planetoid that Neelix says is a rich source of rare dilithium. Y’all I don’t know what a “rogue planetoid” is exactly but it sounds like that guy who shows up twenty minutes into the movie and beats up one of the good guys, then ends up fighting on their side in the final battle. Definitely this planetoid should have a skunk stripe in its hair. Janeway and Chakotay discuss how they’ll need a processing facility to refine the dilithium and wow, I’m already bored. SKIP TO THE END, as they say on “Spaced.”

Janeway walks into the officer’s mess expecting to have a breakfast of Ration Pack Number 5 and finds Neelix smoking up the place with a fancy breakfast made with veggies from the hydroponics bay. I like Neelix in this scene the best I’ve liked him so far, probably because he’s actually DOING something. But Janeway is annoyed, because–ohhh, this isn’t the officer’s mess: it’s the captain’s private dining room. Or it used to be, before Neelix requisitioned equipment from all over the ship and rerouted some of the power conduits. This misunderstanding is left unresolved, however (and the captain gets no breakfast), because they’ve reached the rogue planetoid. Janeway orders Neelix with her to the bridge.

The planetoid isn’t wearing a casual vest or sneering or playing with a butterfly knife (that might be slightly more hoodlum than rogue), but scans indicate that there is maybe 500-1000 metric tons of dilithium under its surface, and a series of caves that appear to have breathable air. Janeway orders Chakotay to take an away team down to geologize; he picks Harry, because Harry is as versatile in his way as he is boring. Neelix wants to go too, and Janeway agrees in a way that is both amused and condescending. Not that I blame her particularly, given what Neelix has done so far.

On–or really under–the surface, Chakotay, Harry, and Neelix split up to better survey the area. As Neelix wanders off in one direction, a cave wall behind him disappears to reveal a fancy corridor that’s quite reminiscent of DS9, and a shadowy figure appears from around a corner. I wonder if he’s a ROGUE?

Credits. Professional pilot on closed course; do not attempt to cruise your starship this close to solar flares.

Chakotay and Harry are finding dilithium signatures, but no actual dilithium. Man, I knew they should have tried to get some beryllium instead. Neelix beeps in to say that he’s found indications of a cavern nearby with a huge dilithium formation. Chakotay tells him not to go any further right now, but we already know how interdictions work in fiction, right? Neelix keeps going, but finds nothing. Chakotay is ready to abandon the search when Neelix gets a bio-organic signature off a rock face. “I think there’s something alive down here,” he says.

Chakotay’s all “uh-oh nope get back here,” but Neelix understandably thinks of Starfleet orders as more like suggestions, and keeps looking. Then our shadowy ROGUE opens up a corridor and slips out, leaving the corridor for Neelix to discover. He slips around Neelix while he’s distracted by the corridor and then shoots him with a nasty-looking gun. Positively rogueish!

Chakotay and Harry come to the rescue and find Neelix convulsing. Voyager beams them directly to sick bay, where the Doctor tells Chakotay to get the blood-gas infuser. He puts Neelix into an induced coma and announces that he’ll be dead after an hour, because HIS LUNGS HAVE BEEN REMOVED.

I really, really, really, really didn’t expect that.

Chakotay briefs Janeway. She’s like “Buh, wah?” or something similar–I might be projecting a little–and Chakotay says the Doctor believes someone used some sort of transporter to BEAM NEELIX’S LUNGS RIGHT OUT OF HIS BODY. Y’all, this is some spooky-ass plot development. I hope it’s not inspired by that urban legend about the organ thieves, though, because that shit was hella racist.

Kes shows up and stays in frame long enough to look vexed. Harry says Neelix’s tricorder picked up a class-three humanoid organism. Thanks, Harry, that really narrows it down. So you’re saying it has four limbs and a head, like every other bumpy-headed alien in Star Trek? Guess we can leave Del Toro’s Guide to Non-Bipedal Alien Types on the shelf under that half-meter of dust, then.

The Doctor says he can save Neelix if they get his lungs back, which now that the shock and horror has worn off, I am finding hilarious. “Bring Me the Lungs of Neelix the Talaxian” is my favorite Peckinpah.

Janeway decides she’s taking another away team to the planetoid to find the rogue. (See what I did there.) It sounds exasperating for a second, on account of what if the rogue is really after some Janeway lungs or liver or spleen, but she’s taking three security detachments, which sounds pretty serious. Paris, who is insufferable, stays in sick bay to “assist” the Doctor, while Kes hovers.

On the planetoid, Janeway notices that some of the rock is warmer than the rest, because Janeway finds everything. Seriously, why does she need all these idiots with her? She could run shit her own self. Then she’s like “Let’s shoot the wall and see if it gives up its secrets,” OK not verbatim, but I can dream.

Phaser fire reveals the corridor, and Tuvok exposits that there was a force field. Do I look stupid, Tuvok? WELL DO I?!?

Back to the ship, because someone wrote something in the show bible about intercutting, I guess. (That person is my nemesis.) Neelix’s cell toxicity levels are rising, which actually sounds like it could be a real thing. They need a cytoplasmic stimulator, which sounds less real, and in fact is not on board, but Paris, who is insufferable, replicates one. (I have no comment on the “comedy” of Paris being useless in Sick Bay because why is he there, then? And why make an actor do comedy who isn’t funny? Especially opposite Robert Picardo, who can certainly do comedy, but when all he has to bounce off of is Paris it just makes me sad?)

Anyways (thanks David Milch) the replicating and Kes’s offer of a lung transplant gets the Doctor thinking that maybe they can simulate-not-replicate some lungs for Neelix. It’s not really clear at first what he means, but then he says he wants to try to use Neelix’s last transporter signature to make some working HOLOGRAPHIC lungs. I know I am using my Caps Lock a lot for this episode but HOW COOL OF AN IDEA IS THAT? This episode is kind of batshit awesome. Also, to prove that the lungs could have something akin to solid matter, the Doctor slaps Paris, who is insufferable, across the face. Reader, I LOLed.

Not just that, but he can modulate the magnetic-holographic-whozit to allow air to pass into the bloodstream but otherwise be solid. Kes wants to know what this means, which is stupid. Kes is not stupid, I don’t think, but the questions she asks are, as is her deliberation, because obviously this is a crisis situation and a desperate gamble; either it will work and Neelix will live, or it won’t and he’ll die. The Doctor manages to communicate this in a way that is much nicer, with the additional information that if it does work, Neelix will have to be immobilized so that the holo-lungs match up to the rest of him.

Look obviously you have to pause now and again even in a story that moves at a breakneck pace to let the characters process something, or talk about why what they are doing matters, or just to be people, so that we care. But this is an example of the wrong pause in the wrong place, at least in my opinion.

On the planet, Tuvok leads Harry, Janeway, and anonymous goldshirt number 4 to a chamber powered by a dilithium matrix–the source of those misleading readings. The chamber is some sort of biological repository with tanks and such, which begs the question of what do a Talaxian’s lungs look like? They’re not there, anyway, and Janeway finds traces of a recent life sign, so they set off in pursuit through another door. They find the Rogue pretty quickly; Tuvok shoots him and he drops his weapon, but he runs off and escapes through a force-field with a rotating phase modulation, which makes me sort of angry to type.

Chakotay calls down to say that an alien ship is leaving the planet (it’s a planetOID, dammit). Janeway says tractor it, but Chakotay says they already went into warp. Janeway is so pissed. “Beam us back. As soon as we’re aboard, lay in a course for pursuit, maximum warp.” I really do love her decisiveness.

Meanwhile Neelix’s holo-lungs work, and he starts getting better.

After the commercial, Janeway reports that they’re in pursuit, but the alien ship (Is it a ROGUE SHIP?) is as fast as they are, so they’re just matching speed. In sickbay, Neelix and the Doctor discuss his condition. Neelix doesn’t like the sound of “indefinitely immobilized,” and who would. I just realized that his contraption looks like an iron lung, which feels very on-the-nose, but OK. “Well, if I’m gonna be in here a while,” he says, “now’s as good a time as any to tell you–your ceiling is hideous.” He asks for the lights to be lowered, and then he asks if the doctor is programmed to sing. I wish I could do justice to Picardo’s reaction shot.

Janeway calls Paris to the bridge, and because he and Kes speak to each other as he leaves, Neelix gets jealous and crazy and oh boy. Can we skip this scene? Yes, I’m skipping it. The Doctor kicks Kes out, and you are spared from the man-gets-scared-and-jealous-and-self-pitying scene I just watched.

On the bridge, Torres and Tuvok exposit that the alien weapon is also a medical scanner and surgical instrument. Janeway asks why develop such a sophisticated technology just to steal alien organs, but before anyone can ask “Was that a rhetorical question?” the alien ship drops out of warp and docks inside an asteroid–a ROGUE one, I assume. When Paris finds the entry point, Janeway asks how large it is, and Tuvok immediately says “Whoa hey don’t get crazy” and Janeway’s all “Who said I was gonna get crazy” and Tuvok comes back with “Girl I been watching you and I know how you work” and is it getting a little warm in here? Settle down, you two. Anyways Janeway is obviously planning on Entering the Asteroid, which coincidentally is the name of my hardcore spaceship sex e-book set in the Kuiper belt. Red alert, maximum shields, phasers at the ready, cut to commercial.

Remember commercials? I mean, I have Hulu, so obviously I remember commercials. TV is different now. Back in my day we had rabbit-ear antennas and UHF and VHF and oh shit I forgot to pause it just a sec

The passageway is getting tight and they can only scan 500 meters ahead and are they being scanned or probed and what is the difference between the two and why is space so damn porny anyway? Who cares, let’s just be glad that it is.

Back in sick bay someone, most likely Kes, has hung a little mobile over Neelix’s bed as if he’s an infant. He asks the doctor to scratch an itch for him, then says he feels like he’s all alone. “You are all alone,” says the Doctor. “I’m a holographic projection.” I would just like to savor this for a moment, because that is the funniest line this show has had yet. But Neelix is feeling claustrophobic. “I’m not sure what to do,” he says.

“There’s nothing you can do except lie there and be quiet,” says the Doctor, and OK funny but also mean. Julian has way better bedside manner than this, maybe they should have used him as the model after all. Neelix starts freaking out and demanding to be released. The Doctor’s like “Calm down” and that’s of course a stupid thing to say. Neelix starts hyperventilating, and finally the Doctor sedates him and then looks like he’s not sure he’s doing anything right. Oh, Robert Picardo, you are so good.

Dr. Zimmerman, I Presume

Dr. Zimmerman, I Presume

Paris pilots Voyager into a chamber somewhere deep in the asteroid, which turns out to be filled with projections of both Voyager and the alien ship they’ve been chasing. I assume that this is based on the hall of mirrors scene in “Enter the Dragon”–I honestly can’t think where else the idea came from. Tuvok says there’s too much interference to figure out which ship is the real one. These aliens are annoying, but they’re kind of dumb, aren’t they? What exactly is their endgame here? Paris is still picking up an ion trail, and although they could have faked one, Janeway decides to risk it. She tells Tuvok to extend the deflectors to maximum range. “Follow the ion trail, Mr. Paris… slowly.”

The Doctor invites Kes back to sick bay to help keep Neelix calm, but he’s still sleeping, so she ends up comforting the Doctor, who is overwhelmed. It really is kind of unbelievable that EVERY person on both ships with a medical background was killed, but if that hadn’t happened there wouldn’t be any Robert Picardo so I’m cool with it.

Something starts draining Voyager’s warp core. Janeway puts them on emergency power and asks Harry to pinpoint the source of the dampening field, which he conveniently does. Janeway asks about firing phasers at the source, but Tuvok says they would just reflect off the walls and possibly hit the ship. Chakotay suggests firing them at their lowest setting, so that they ricochet-reflect until they reveal the real alien ship. Lots of good ideas in this episode, y’all. It works; they find the ship, detect two life signs onboard, and then beam them aboard–although frankly, those last two things should probably be impossible with all the interference that Tuvok was talking about. Oh well.

The two ROGUES–the Vidiians–don’t look so menacing when you can see all of them; they look like they have several skin conditions. They explain that they’re stealing organs to fight the Phage, which is also the title of this episode, which is probably a coincidence. Their people have been suffering from this disease for two millenia, and–TWO MILLENIA?!? How are they not all dead?? So they run around harvesting organs from other races, which almost makes sense, except that if you think about it, most likely either there isn’t enough life in this part of space for them to harvest from to stay alive, or there is enough life, and at some point one or more civilizations would decide to hunt down and destroy those pesky organ harvesters. Which is to say, the universe-building here doesn’t really scan for me.

Janeway wants the lungs back, dammit, but the Vidiians have already transplanted them into themselves. These are horrible people and this is morally indefensible, OK? I don’t give a shit about their anguished explanations. They whine about their suffering for a bit, and Janeway isn’t sympathetic in the least. She lays into them and threatens them and then she–lets them go? But I guess the way she berates them maybe gets through, so they decide to try to help Neelix. That all seems a little odd, frankly, but OK.

Hi, I'm the worst, and it's not just because I look like death.

Hi, I’m the worst, and it’s not because I look like death.

Anyways the Vidiians are still awful but they have superior medical technology, and they transplant one of Kes’s lungs into Neelix. Janeway lets them go and lets Neelix keep his kitchen. Kes wakes up to the Doctor’s offer to train her as a medical assistant, since obviously Paris is worthless. And that’s the end.

One of the most consistent things about Star Trek, in my experience, is that few episodes are entirely good or entirely bad; this episode has some great WTFuckery up top, some cool SFnal ideas in the 2nd and 3rd acts, and then kind of falls apart at the end. I guess I’m OK with it, though, because up until that point I really enjoyed the ride. Wikipedia classifies this as a Neelix-centric episode, but I strongly disagree with that, since Neelix spends about half of the episode out of commission and a quarter of it in distress that is understandable but not character-significant. It’s more of a Doctor and maybe a Kes episode, with bonus Janeway being boss all throughout.

NEXT UP: Hey what happens when Tuvok goes into pon farr?