540. Mortal Coil
FORMULA: Phage + Ethics + The Loss
WHY WE LIKE IT: The crew in civvies.
WHY WE DON'T: Emo Neelix.
REVIEW: There are a lot of things wrong with Mortal Coil, but the one thing that works is how they show Neelix's importance to the crew. Or maybe I should say, to the family. There's the usual overview of his duties, but seeing the crew relaxing out of their uniforms (poor Seven isn't very good at it) somehow makes us believe in the community he's helped build. A new role for him is as godfather to Naomi Wildman who's gotten big at incredible speeds (though perhaps not as much as her mom's hair), though not yet mature enough to be played by Scarlett Pomers. At least it's explained, this time (unlike Alexander's maturation process). And Chakotay quoting Seven's robotic assessment of Neelix's importance as the Talaxian is about to commit suicide has real heart...
...But it's how we get there that doesn't work. I could believe a person would be disturbed by there seeming to be no afterlife after a near-death experience, but driving Neelix to the brink of suicide? The pep squad leader? The positive imp who takes Tuvok's scorn in stride daily? It just doesn't seem like him. There's also the fact that the Great Forest has never been mentioned before, so it's a faith they just made up for him so it could be in crisis, essentially. Imagine such a story starring Kira or Worf, whose faiths have been well established. That might have been something. And the episode is quite pointless, since Neelix's major character shift isn't taken into the next episodes (aside from one reference somewhere in the next season). The suicide storyline worked for O'Brien because 1) he already was a tormented, wounded character and 2) later episodes didn't seem to completely ignore Hard Time.
There's also a problem with his resurrection per se. It's never a good idea to write in miracle cures that then beg the question as to why it was never used again. If Borg nanoprobes from Seven's blood can revive a character 18-72 hours after their death, and it seems to work on Neelix fine (though there are complications, he stays alive through the whole of the series), and no one ever says it was a bad or unethical idea to do this, why is it never attempted again? Maybe Neelix IS soulless after this - it's at least an interesting thought - but again, never followed up on. As it is, it just makes him seem limited in his inability to recognize that perhaps he just doesn't remember the Great Forest or that the Almighty knew he wasn't really to die this day so didn't send him there. Basically, we haven't gotten this much wallowing in self-pity since Troi lost her powers.
Chakotay comes off well as the spiritual guide, though the vision quest Neelix has is entirely cynical and a reflection of his current state of mind, though built like a visit from the Prophets. There's also a mention of the Kazon as unfit for assimilation (they would detract from perfection). I'm all for being able to laugh at yourself, but it's still negative legacy building when you admit that your main enemy for 2 years sucked.
LESSON: Don't question miracles.
REWATCHABILITY - Medium-Low: Neelix annoys some people, but how is emo any better than peppy? The wrong idea implemented the wrong way on the wrong character for the wrong reasons.