FORMULA: Insurrection + Redemption Part I
WHY WE LIKE IT: A proper exit for a cast member.
WHY WE DON'T: Distance issues. For once, the effects.
REVIEW: When Voyager discovers an asteroid full of Talaxians, Neelix realizes that he's on the opposite trip from everyone else aboard. Yes, we're saying goodbye to Neelix, he won't be going the whole way to Earth, and it's a proper exit from the series. The episode tries to fake us out a couple times, setting up a deadly self-sacrifice and then a goodbye scene between Neelix and what will become his adopted family, Dexa and Brax, but by the end, he leaves the ship for real.
Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first. My big problem with this episode is that it treats everything in the Delta Quadrant as if it were bunched together. Not only is the first isolated spot these Talaxians ever found is decades out from Talax, but they actually discuss the possibility of going back there. How? Just coincidentally finding Talaxian refugees this far out made it a small galaxy, let's not go overboard. And I don't know if the cash is running out or if they're getting bolder about the effects, but the ones in Homestead don't quite work. The Flyer's crash doesn't look convincing by the show's usual standards, and the miniature of the Talaxians' set-up would fit in well on TOS.
But there's a lot to recommend about Neelix's last adventure. Once the Talaxians are endangered, watch how Tuvok instructs Neelix on how to take a leadership role in this. Is he acting out of friendship, or trying to get rid of a pest? Neelix can of course get involved, it's his people and the Prime Directive doesn't apply (though Janeway can't help herself later). Tuvok is right though: Neelix has it in him to be a leader, which leads to a reasonably exciting sequence in which he's almost heroically killed. With fingers hovering over the reset button, Neelix expresses weariness and regret at leaving his people behind, but it's clear his sense of duty is stronger than any of his more selfish concerns. Janeway, in a moment of rare psychological clarity, provides him an out. She makes him ambassador to the Delta Quadrant, something requiring frequent contact with Voyager (via the magic Starfleet telephone system eventually).
The episode makes it clear that Neelix is important to the crew (such as when they save him from embarrassment when the boy Brax asks where his station is), but it's the walk stolen from Redemption that best tells the tale. There is, after all, no character who could possibly have touched the lives of everyone on board like Neelix, so I forgive the steal. I was disappointed that his farewell scene with Naomi wasn't so much a goodbye as a brush-off. She's 6-going-on-13 and doesn't need him anymore? Meh. Much better was the idea of giving Tuvok the last goodbye given the history between these two. The Vulcan dance step was a beautiful gesture that got me a little teary, I have to admit, despite seeing it coming from the first scene when such a thing was mentioned.
LESSON: If you want a lost ship to come home quickly, just make sure there's no one to do the cooking. They'll be home any time now.
REWATCHABILITY - High Medium: Neelix gets a proper send off. In rewatching the series, he's probably the character I found most improved, from his annoying early years to Voyager's resident wise man.