VOY: S1E14: “Jetrel”

In which a really good episode turns into a terrible one at the last possible moment. 

Neelix and Tuvok are playing pool, and Paris explains the concept of a safety – leaving the cue ball somewhere where the other person is screwed on their turn. I wonder if this metaphor will become relevant some time in the next forty-five minutes and fifteen seconds. Also I don’t know what version of pool they’re playing but by 21st century rules, that was absolutely a scratch. Also, Tuvok is painfully bad at pool.

I'd make a joke here but Jetrel's probably going to turn out to be Space-Mengele

I’d make a joke here but Jetrel’s probably going to turn out to be Space-Mengele

Neelix is called to the bridge, as an approaching vessel has asked for him. The Talaxians have some history with the Hakonians – a rather hostile one, although this one, Doctor Jetrel, seems cordial enough. We must therefore go into the credits somewhat confused as to why Neelix is so angry he can’t breathe.

Neelix grew up on a colony moon which was basically a paradise which was destroyed by a weapon of mass destruction built and deployed by Doctor Jetrel, killing three hundred thousand people and ending the war. Neelix’s whole family was killed. Janeway can put on a smile to meet with him, though. Jetrel, however, is ostensibly here to follow up because Neelix was a rescue worker after the weapon deployed, and a bunch of other rescue workers have all gotten some sort of post-exposure disease that tears apart cells. Jetrel seems to be working towards some sort of redemption, insofar as that’s possible.

I’m holding out some measure of hope for a visceral treatment on PTSD, atrocity, and redemption and it hasn’t been ruined yet. Of course, if it turns out that Jetrel is actually a mustache-twirling villain who’s.. I dunno, harvesting exotic particles or something, then we’ll be back in garbage country. After some heartfelt persuasion by Janeway and Kes, Neelix gives in, but not without reservation.

Jetrel is not particularly regretful about the design and use of the Metreon Cascade weapon. His only real point of regret seems to be that he wasn’t expecting a follow-up effect, which is a little like Oppenheimer telling a peripheral resident of Hiroshima or Nagasaki “look, if it’s any consolation, we didn’t think you’d get radiation poisoning. We figured everyone would either be vaporized or fine.”

On the examination table, Neelix tells  a story of vermin-hunting from his youth – he built a trap, caught one and had it pinned but not killed, as an obvious allegory. Oh also it turns out that he’s about to have his blood explode.

"Hey, good news! I'm going to die first and you'll only have to live without me for, what, five, six years tops?"

“Hey, good news! I’m going to die first and you’ll only have to live without me for, what, five, six years tops?”

He’s putting on a brave face for Kes, in rather typically poor fashion. This is also hitting Janeway somewhat hard. In fact the only person completely unphased is Jetrel, who seems cut from a suspicious mold of detached and somewhat monstrous scientists. He’s interested in using the transporter to get a sample of the poison isotope cloud, which might actually create a cure. They detour off to Talax, and Jetrel shows the first signs. Who wants to lay odds that he has the bloodsplosion disease too, and the only reason he’s doing this research is to cure himself?

Some inconsequential dialogue flows into Jetrel making a speech about how inevitable the Metreon Cascade was. If he didn’t discover it someone else would, et cetera. Only their technology is much further down the tech tree, in absolute terms, than Federation science and I don’t think we’ve heard of Metreon particles before. I kind of wish the discovery had been regarding some way to weaponize Warp Drive, or subspace, or some other benign technology the Federation uses daily, rather than just another exhibit in the Star Trek Particle Zoo. It’s not the main thrust of the episode, but show me a guy who took a technology with obvious and proven peaceful utility and turned it into genocide. Not just a focused maniac. Or hell, combine them, it makes for damn good Star Trek.

I’m a little stunned that Jetrel thinks his sob story about his wife leaving him for destroying a planet is going to make Neelix feel bad for him. Oh look, Jetrel seems to have a soul after all, and it makes a decent twist on the reveal of Jetrel being sick too.

"I represent your survivor's guilt. I see you've already met Self-loathing and Cowardice."

“I represent your survivor’s guilt. I see you’ve already met Self-loathing and Cowardice.”

Dream sequence! Neelix is introduced to all of his inner demons and wakes up as Voyager approaches Rynax, the dead moon, and Torres, who’s not been very busy this episode, transports the sample aboard while Neelix hides in the Mess Hall.

Neelix has a private revelation – the night of the bombing, Neelix was draft-dodging, not fighting in the defense forces, and he’s been carrying the guilt of not helping, for whatever that would have been worth. And while Kes’ psychological insights are probably valuable, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for Neelix to blame Jetrel for killing basically everyone in his life.

Oh hey look Jetrel’s shutting off the doctor in  an exceptionally sinister manner and using the metreon cloud to… uh… materialize a slug? Neelix has walked in on it and gets sedated, and there it is. We’ve gone from an honestly pretty good exploration of the morality of atrocity to some creepy obsession. Apparently he thinks his research can bring back all the people who died on the planet.

His thesis is that everyone who vaporized in the explosion is still hanging around as cohesive energy beings. It’s not entirely unprecedented, but Janeway doesn’t read mission logs. Jetrel wants to use the transporters to isolate a specific victim and reintegrate them. Again, Janeway hasn’t done any homework whatsoever, for someone who just randomly grabs controls away from Torres. Where’s Riker when you need him? Jetrel is, in the end, desperate to undo his damage and reverse his legacy, but Janeway doesn’t even want to let him try, and doesn’t give more than the vaguest of reasons why.

Eventually, the combined disbelieving rage of everyone watching the episode travels back through time and makes the writers show us this won’t work. They get something that looks vaguely humanoid before the transporter loses cohesion and fails to reintigrate. Jetrel has been saving his strength for this and collapses from bloodsplosion, and this will likely be the end for him. And although we get a nice little reconciliation scene with him and Neelix, unburdoning the both of them just before the end, but absolutely no mention of sticking around for a few weeks to download transporter schematics and Jetrel’s research to the Talaxian central database in the hopes of getting enough power through the pattern compensators. Because Starfleet doesn’t share technology with other people, they just get indignant and snotty when they’re on the receiving end of that policy.

Did we miss something awesome?