the story: The crew meet the Vidiians, and Neelix faces his first existential crisis.
what it's all about: In hindsight, "Phage" becomes infinitely more important than it might have seemed when it first aired. Later in the first season the Vidiians appear again in "Faces," which is a better episode and in fact a classic, and the aliens make a few more appearances after that, too, and become one of the signature aliens of the whole series. That they happen to embody the scavenger, desperate nature of the whole Delta Quadrant is probably icing on the cake.
(In case you don't remember, the Vidiians are the ones who harvest without remorse organs from unwitting donors.)
But perhaps more importantly, "Phage" also suggests the hidden depth of Neelix. Neelix kind of became the poster child for everything that irritated fans about Voyager, the Jar Jar Binks of the series. He was found to be too lively. Or something. I never really understood it, so don't ask me to explain. Go find some irrational observer. You'll find plenty. Anyway, this was a character who was perhaps one of the most interesting characters of the series, right from the start, the Delta Quadrant native who volunteered to join Janeway's crew and help them navigate (and there would be plenty of material about how Neelix's feelings on this decision evolved, mirroring Janeway's to try and reach home, or blowing up the original solution). And yeah, he always seemed a little too chipper, but as it turns out this was always a case of the clown crying on the inside. This was a guy who was capable of going as dark as anyone ever did in Star Trek. "Phage" was the first time we see this side of him.
In the original series Uhura could lose her memory and "have it reprogrammed" and no one ever really bothered to think twice about it ("The Changeling"). Neelix agonizes over the loss of his lungs and the Doctor's terrible solutions (no offense to the Doctor) to keep him alive, and it makes for tough viewing, far more difficult than Worf wishing he were dead (Next Generation's "Ethics"), the first sign that this was going to be a first season totally unafraid of pushing traditional franchise storytelling limits ("Faces," again, proves that all over again). Somehow fans totally overlook that. Again, don't ask me to explain.
franchise- I don't want to say casual fans can't appreciate it, but it becomes much more significant later.
- series - Introduces a key alien species in the Vidiians.
- character - The first hint at the true depth of Neelix.
- essential - For Voyager fans it's a can't-miss.
Martha Hackett (Seska)