The Good: General idea, Moments of character
The Bad: Acting is terrible, Plot is pretty dismal, Purpose in the larger series is ultimately lost.
The Basics: When Voyager enters a region of space at the limits of Neelix's knowledge, the ship's guide gets into trouble trying to find a map.
As Star Trek: Voyager ambled toward the middle of the third season, it almost seemed like it wanted to maybe have a point. Occasionally, the writers and producers would insert a line reminding the viewers through one of the characters that the ship was on a trip home. For sure, they do not seem to be in any real hurry and without a doubt, they get in the way of more trouble than they manage to avoid, but we are told that they are on their way home and the viewer is expected to believe it. Indeed, the only characters not on their way home are Kes and Neelix, the guides through the Delta Quadrant. And with "Fair Trade," Neelix, who had previously served as local guide through the areas of space Voyager found itself in, becomes utterly worthless to the ship and crew.
The U.S.S. Voyager reaches the Nekrit Expanse, a region of space at the limits of Neelix's knowledge. Facing obsolescence, Neelix encourages Voyager to dock at an alien trading post near the Expanse, where he finds himself in the company of another Talaxian, Wixiban. Wixiban and Neelix have a history and Neelix is eager to get a map from the other Talaxian, who is more concerned with local drug trade. As Wixiban draws Neelix into the local crime syndicate, Neelix finds himself caught between doing what it right and doing what is expedient.
This is easily one of the most tired moral dilemmas of all time and it's far more appropriate to a show featuring teens attempting to moralize between what is right and wrong than on Star Trek: Voyager. This is not a Star Trek caliber dilemma, this is not asking the question of "Is it right to kill a hundred people to save ten thousand?" No, this is basic, "We're in over our head, should we tell the truth and risk looking guilty or try to get away with it" tripe. And it comes across as silly and juvenile.
Sadly, this becomes the epitaph for Neelix. Lacking in real knowledge of what lays beyond the Nekrit expanse makes him pretty much useless to the crew of Voyager outside his role as ship's cook. And the truth is, that niche could be filled by any ensign on the ship. No, from this point forth, Neelix ought to be considered a liability and the problem with the series from this point on is that the ship will continue to risk itself for Neelix.
Now, I'm not saying there is nothing to camaraderie. Yea camaraderie! But Neelix is not a member of StarFleet or the Maquis. He wasn't particularly helpful within the space he did know (how is it he didn't know about the Trabe and their animosity toward the Kazon?!), he complained a lot, and he has no set goal or impetus to continue with Voyager, making him the most likely to be bought off or manipulated toward turning against the crew. So, why is Janeway keeping him around? What is motivating him to stay? (The desire for fresh water that initially characterized Neelix in "Caretaker" - reviewed here! - seems to have been a local phenomenon as water was never as scarce after moving away from the early sectors of the series.)
And the problem with "Fair Trade" is that the writers seem to be as lost as the viewers as to a reason to care about Neelix. One wonders why the problems with Wixiban didn't simply resolve themselves by the loss of Neelix . . . Were it not for the brilliant fourth season episode "Mortal Coil," I'd argue that it would have been the best thing for Neelix. But as it is, Neelix slouches through this episode and it will be some time before the writers and producers of Star Trek: Voyager have any clue as to what to do with him.
This unfortunate sendoff for Neelix is a terrible waste of the viewer's time as much of the episode belabors the simplistic moral dilemma. Neelix illustrates a loyalty to Wixiban for their past together, but illustrates a complete lack of faith or judgment as far as Janeway is concerned when Wixiban kills in self-defense.
For all of my gripes about Neelix as a character and his impending uselessness, it is worth noting that this is not a reflection on actor Ethan Phillips. Phillips, who plays Neelix, is quite good. Unfortunately, in "Fair Trade," Phillips is not given a script to work with that gives him any room to perform anything remotely meaningful. As a result, Phillips is relegated to bleating out some of the most canned platitudes about telling the truth in the history of television.
Sadly, none of the rest of the cast is given anything interesting to say or do either and Kate Mulgrew's closing lecture is delivered with a sense of boredom which is likely to go unnoticed by the exceptionally bored audience that is still tuned in.
The only thing that saves "Fair Trade" from the farthest regions of the trash heap - other than Phillips doing as best he can with the terrible script - is the make-up. Michael Westmore's aliens on the Nekrit Expanse supply depot look cool. And sadly, that's the best I can say about this episode that otherwise underperforms on its own or within the context of the show. Even fans of Star Trek and Star Trek: Voyager are unlikely to find this one worthwhile. Fans of general science fiction will find nothing to enjoy here.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete Third Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the entire season here!
For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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