the story: In an attempt to prove his further usefulness, Neelix finds himself in an awful mess.
what it's all about: In hindsight, the biggest missed opportunity of Voyager was the chance to tell Talaxian stories when the series was still in Talaxian space. Instead the first two seasons focused on the Kazon, which was certainly not a bad thing, but no one seemed to realize that there was ample creative room for Neelix to explore at the same time, until it was too late. In a lot of ways, the third season was an opportunity for the producers to take a last look at what had been overlooked previously, and it was ample fodder for rich material, like "Fair Trade."
Now, as most fans didn't really care for Neelix, this is hardly an episode they're going to appreciate one way or another. It's just skippable material to them. It's a shame, because Neelix was one of the best-developed and best-used characters of the series, and it's thanks to material like this. As one of two Delta Quadrant natives to become passengers of the ship, he was always in a unique position to contextualize the crew's journey in unfamiliar territory. But "Trade" sees him reach the last of the territory he himself has explored. It also features the rare fellow Talaxian, another reason why the episode stands out. The whole thing becomes an exercise, like "False Profits" earlier in the season, of contrasting Neelix and Talaxians as a whole with their Ferengi counterparts. Quark had many similar experiences in Deep Space Nine, but they played out differently because Quark was always focused mostly on himself whereas Neelix cared about the crew around him.
"Trade" is another in a series of existential crises for him, and that's really the key to understanding both the character and the episode. He worries here that he still hasn't done enough to justify himself as a permanent passenger, that they're going to kick him off the ship. What he's craved so desperately since before he came aboard was a new family. He never dared dream that he had actually found one. In a way, that impulse fans have to loathe him is broadcast by Neelix himself, because in his doubts he's always trying too hard to please, and for people like Tuvok it's immediately off-putting. Little wonder that a Vulcan represents the interests of the fans. But more on these two in "Rise" six episodes hence...
franchise- I suspect you have to be a fan of the series to truly appreciate it, even though the material resonates well with experiences across Star Trek.
- series - It wonderfully explains what happens to Neelix as originally conceived.
- character - A definitive turning point for ship's morale officer.
- essential - For this series it really is.
Alexander Enberg (Vorik)