the story: Neelix is confronted by the scientist responsible for a horrific weapon used against his people in a devastating war.
what it's all about: It's really quite alarming how Neelix became the Jar Jar Binks of Voyager, used as a poster child for everything that was wrong with the series. He was considered too obnoxious, and that was pretty much all anyone who hated him and/or the series had to say. People who either purposefully reduced his character to the basics anyone would've seen watching scraps here and there, or...I don't really know another way it could've happened.
"Jetrel" is another bold first season episode that flatly contradicts the general perception of Voyager, whether from its early years or throughout its run. It explains Neelix's backstory in stark terms that are rare in the franchise, so that he's no longer the random passenger taken aboard in the pilot because of circumstances, but actually has a tragic reason for why he was meandering through space to begin with. Especially, again, when you take into account the effect or even the effect of the effect the Borg had in the Delta Quadrant, the sad tales of aliens to be found throughout Voyager makes perfect sense, and there's really no more important sad tale than Neelix's, so to have a whole episode dedicated to it, right at the start, is startling foresight for a series everyone always claims didn't think anything through...
Anyway, "Jetrel" has echoes of "The Conscience of the King" in it, and is also a touchstone for Enterprise's later "Stratagem," setting during its third season Xindi arc. The idea itself is hardly unique, but having Neelix once again contradict the impression he usually gives as unfailingly congenial (we first saw this in "Phage," and will again in the harrowing "Mortal Coil") is compelling in terms of character depth. There's often a reason why people who seem happy all the time are so eager to project that image, which never seems to crack. It's not even about the clown crying on the inside, but that Neelix has so many reasons to focus on the positive rather than the negative, and "Jetrel" most of all explains that: he's never really convinced by his performance, either. So he spends all his time defying his impulses, which is why he's such a natural foil for Tuvok, not because they're opposites but because they're so much alike. It's just, Neelix has found a way to keep his emotions. He risks more but he's also capable of grand gestures like realizing the scientist whom he should revile deserves compassion.
It's a shame that we didn't see more Talaxians in the series, but it makes sense. Neelix represents them well.
- franchise - The familiar trope of the man behind a terrible event being exposed.
- series - Gives a context to Neelix.
- character - Gives Neelix some of his best material.
- essential - It helps explain a lot of fans tend to overlook about Neelix.