Thursday, June 21, 2012

If Only The First Season Had Gone Out On The High Note Of "Jetrel"...

The Good: Wonderful character, Great acting, Compelling conflict and resolution
The Bad: Somewhat simplified - and predictable - resolution
The Basics: When a scientist who wiped out Neelix's family returns to try to undo the mistakes of his past, high drama results!

Sometimes in shows that degenerate into big special effects sequences, important, smaller character stories are neglected and forgotten as a series progresses. It's a shame, because sometimes the smaller episodes become the gems in otherwise forgettable series'. While Star Trek: Deep Space Nine continued to get better and better with shows that exploded the galaxy with the Dominion War, two of the more philosophical and character-intensive episodes continued to resonate with the fans. Indeed, most true fans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine will recall the brilliance of "Duet" (reviewed here!) and the loving character study that made for the sad and tortured "The Visitor" (reviewed here!). In Star Trek: Voyager, there are two episodes that are smaller, focus on Neelix, and become some of the best works Star Trek: Voyager ever manages to create. The first of those gems is "Jetrel."

Life on the U.S.S. Voyager is going as it usually is as the ship aimlessly ambles toward home, when Janeway allows a visitor to come aboard. He is a Haakonian scientist named Dr. Ma'Bor Jetrel and Neelix is horrified to learn that Jetrel is aboard and the the ship is making a sidetrip to Neelix's homeworld. The Talaxian moon Rinax was virtually obliterated using a technology called the Metreon Cascade and Neelix's family had been killed in that attack. Dr. Jetrel was the scientist responsible for creating the Metreon Cascade. Now dying himself, Jetrel seeks to atone for his life as a scientist whose work led to so much death and destruction and he tries to convince Neelix to let him do his work and to be a part of it. Neelix, not eager to be anywhere near Jetrel, resists despite the recurrence of nightmares about the slaughter of his family.

"Jetrel" is a powerful moral tale and for those who do not understand the parallels, Jetrel is based on Oppenheimer, one of the scientists who helped to develop the nuclear bomb. Like Oppenheimer, Jetrel has profound regrets over how his scientific discovery was used for death and destruction. On a side note, the Oppenheimer was once asked by a Senate subcommittee in the U.S. what would prevent others from making what we now call "dirty bombs" and basically blowing one up in a place like New York City. Oppenheimer said that now that the technology was out there, there was no way to prevent the knowledge from being spread and the only way to prevent that sort of eventual attack was to have government control over the uranium mines and enrichment facilities. As several members of the Senate subcommittee had stock in uranium mining interests, they ignored Oppenheimer's advice and the danger still persists.

I mention this because Jetrel in this Star Trek: Voyager episode argues that the Metreon Cascade is a menace he never wanted to see unleashed as it was. Jetrel becomes convincing and compelling by the efforts he makes to undo the scientific abomination he created. The clever aspect of how "Jetrel" works is that it effectively uses the U.S.S. Voyager and its technology. For the first time in the series, Voyager's presence in the Delta Quadrant is seen as a potential good that others have information about and seek to use to make the galaxy a better place. That's compelling and interesting.

Like all great television, though, the episode is not so much about the Metreon Cascade or Jetrel's experiments to try to locate and reassemble the people he obliterated using Voyager's transporters. Instead, what makes "Jetrel" work and worth a viewing for anyone is the character elements.

Jetrel is characterized as a man filled with deep regrets, Neelix is characterized as a man clinging to his hatred and his hurt and the interplay between the two is high drama. This is the definition of great television. Jetrel becomes more than simply a type, more than a social statement. Instead, he is portrayed with mannerisms, even a sense of patriotism that does not dumb down the debate. After all, Jetrel made the Metreon Cascade and he had to have believed it could have been used. Why would he do that? To save his people. To end a war that was killing his people. Jetrel is not written as a simple, monolithic character who is simply guilt-ridden. He is both a patriot and a scientist who is trying to put the genie back in the bottle. That he makes the attempt is honorable, regardless of the outcome.

Neelix here has an equal depth and gravity to him. Certainly, Neelix expresses rage, hurt and loss throughout the episode, reacting negatively to Jetrel in a way we've not seen before. But smartly, he becomes more than just a vehicle for a message and anger when the writers include in him a strong sense of guilt; he was supposed to be on Rinax when it was obliterated and he was not there while his whole family died. His struggle is brilliant and wonderfully written.

It would mean nothing if Ethan Phillips was not bringing his a-game to the episode. Phillips has played Neelix as comic relief and as an annoyance in earlier episodes like "The Cloud" (reviewed here!) and here there is none of that. Phillips is a dramatic heavy overcoming the make-up and prosthetics to present a performance that relies heavily on facial expressions, emotions resonating from his eyes and a profound sense of conveying emotion with his voice. This is his best performance to date and easily the standout performance of the first season. Kate Mulgrew as Captain Janeway did not act with so many layers when her crew was stranded 70 years from home!

Similarly, guest actor James Sloyan does an amazing job as Dr. Jetrel. Sloyan is recognizable to fans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as Odo's adopted father Dr. Mora Pol from "The Alternate" and "The Begotten.” Sloyan is a wonderful character actor and he holds his own with Phillips, making the acting in this episode dramatically powerful.

Jennifer Lein gives a nice supporting performance as Kes, playing off Phillips in more intimate scenes that go a long way to providing a multifaceted story for the audience.

"Jetrel" is likely to be enjoyed by anyone and everyone who wants to watch a work that explores the consequences of war and unfettered science. The episode is all about compelling characters wrestling with the consequences of their youths and the story is brilliant and brilliantly executed. It's too bad so few people remember this gem when viewing the entire series. Rating is more appropriately a 4 1/4.

[Knowing that the season is a much better investment, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete First Season on DVD, which provides the full opening to the series. Read my review of the premiere season by clicking here!

For other works that James Sloyan , be sure to check out my reviews of:
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - “The Begotten”
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - “The Alternate”
Star Trek: The Next Generation - “Firstborn”
Star Trek: The Next Generation - “The Defector”
The Sting


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, visit my Star Trek Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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