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Star Trek: Voyager – The Haunting of Deck Twelve (Review)

It seems strange that Neelix was not a larger part of Star Trek: Voyager.

To be fair, Neelix never disappeared into the ensemble to the same degree as characters like Chakotay, Kim and Tuvok. However, the series often struggled with how best to approach the character and how to make him work. It is notable that the production team went to the effort of writing Neelix off the show shortly before the seventh season finale, sending him to live with a colony of (very far from home) Talaxians in Homestead and consigning him to a cameo in Endgame. The character was often just there, his role hazy and undefined.

A Briefing With Death!
Errr, I mean, Neelix.

Of course, there were reasons for this. Neelix had been drafted on to the crew as an expert on the Delta Quadrant in Caretaker, and it made sense that this role would become increasingly redundant as time went on. By Fair Trade, Neelix was largely redundant, his knowledge exhausted. More than that, the early seasons of Voyager anchored Neelix’s character development to an abusive relationship with two-year-old. The toxicity of Neelix’s relationship with Kes in episodes like PhageTwisted and Parturition made it hard to invest in Neelix as a character worthy of attention or effort.

However, across the seven seasons of Voyager, there is a strange sense that Neelix is perhaps the single character most perfectly adapted to Voyager. He is the character who has developed in the direction that is perhaps most compatible with what Voyager has become, both in how it tells its stories and what it uses those stories to talk about. More than any other character on Voyager, Neelix is the character with the deepest roots in Delta Quadrant history and the character who is most firmly committed to oral traditions of storytelling, both recurring motifs within Voyager.

Smoke and mirrors.

More than any other Star Trek series, Voyager is engaged with the idea of history and culture, and how the two inform and shape one another. Voyager often feels like a series about storytelling, to the point that its characters often feel like abstract concepts that can be slotted into stories about much bigger ideas; consider how the crew seem to drift into the histories and traditions of other worlds, becoming (or challenging) mythology in episodes like False Profits, Distant Origin, Living Witness, Blink of an Eye and Muse. In Darkling, the Mikhal Travelers talk about the Delta Quadrant in mythic terms.

Indeed, the early seasons even suggested the Delta Quadrant had become a dumping ground for lost stories from the Alpha Quadrant, populated with the relics of long-lost myths and legends. In The 37’s confirmed that Amelia Earhart had been abducted by aliens and locked away in stasis on a distant world. Tattoo suggested that the deities worshiped by ancient human civilisations had retreated to the Delta Quadrant. At certain points, it even seemed like the Delta Quadrant was populated by creatures from ancient mythology; the space-faring sirens of Favourite Son, the hungry demons in Coda.

Lightening the mood.

Voyager is very much engaged with the manners in which cultures preserve (and also distort) history, often through the process of mythology and storytelling more than through concrete records. Holocaust denial is a recurring theme on Voyager, which often advocates for the preservation of an emotional response above concrete documentation, such as with the living memories in Remember or Memorial. Often, there is little emphasis on the concrete facts, on the stone etchings and the hard figures. Voyager suggests that history is preserved through the telling of stories.

In fact, the ship and crew themselves maintain something of a narrative tradition. It is no surprise that Voyager contains the franchise’s highest concentration of holodeck-driven episodes, with the holodeck serving as an opportunity for characters to escape into other narratives like Beowulf in Heroes and Demons or Captain Proton in Bride of Chaotica! The crew seemed to constantly writing their own narratives and stories, with Tuvok and Paris co-authoring a twenty-fourth century pulpy adventure in Worst Case Scenario or the EMH offering his own memoirs in Author, Author.

Telling stories…

With the possible exception of the EMH, who is quite literally a made-up person, Neelix is the character who most comfortably fits within this framework. Neelix is very much tied to the oral tradition that runs through Voyager. Neelix often knows about other cultures through hearsay or fairy tales, what is said about them more than what is actually known. In Persistence of Vision, to pick one example, he gathers information on the Bothan through “subspace contact with some old friends”; the scuttlebutt of “nomads, collectors.” They tell horror stories about “ships entering Bothan space, never to be heard from again.”

Similarly, in Dragon’s Teeth, it was Neelix who correctly deduced the agenda and intentions of the Vaadwaur. He did so by drawing on the folk tales of his own people, rather than by reference to the historical record. Neelix deduced that the Vaadwaur were untrustworthy and unreliable through the literal application of language, most notably the fact that “Vaadwaur” translates as “foolish” in Talaxian. (This mythic root was reinforced by Chakotay’s description of the Vaadwaur defining them in reference to ancient Greek mythology, lending the episode its title.)

Going in circles.

Neelix has repeatedly been defined as something of a storyteller. Although Neelix is never cast in quite the same light as the wheeling-and-dealing Quark on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the show’s resident Talaxian is prone to exaggeration and distortion. This is obvious from his introduction in Caretaker, in which he leads the crew into a stand-off with Kazon by providing them with misleading information to help him rescue Kes. Neelix lies about his experience with “mag-lev carriages” in Rise. It is suggested in Fair Trade that Neelix has also lied to Janeway and the crew about the shadier aspects of his past.

In fact, several Neelix-centric stories are built around the idea of Neelix as a storyteller. Mortal Coil finds Neelix forced to confront his belief in an afterlife, but it does this specifically through the idea of storytelling and fairy tales. Mortal Coil seems to suggest that one of Neelix’s primary duties on Voyager is telling Naomi Wildman bedtime stories so that she can fall asleep. This is reinforced in Once Upon a Time, in which Neelix seeks to distract Naomi from her mother’s absence by taking her into a holodeck adventure that is clearly meant to evoke children’s stories.

There was not, in fact, coffee in this particular nebula.

As such, it seems strange that this aspect of Neelix has not been pushed to the fore, as it represents an aspect of his character that seems very much in line with the core thematic concerns of Voyager as a television series. Instead, this aspect of the character seems to unfold primarily as a background detail, such as with the reveal that Neelix provided Dala with the all the information that she needed to impersonate Janeway in Live Fast and Prosper. Episodes of Voyager that focus on storytelling – like Living Witness, Blink of an Eye or Muse – often focus on characters other than Neelix.

Still, there’s something very clever in the basic premise of The Haunting of Deck Twelve, which finds Neelix assigned during a blackout to comfort and reassure the Borg children recovered in Collective. Neelix does this in the time-honoured tradition of gathering them around to tell a ghost story by lantern-light. It is all very atmospheric, particularly with the lights turned down low. It seems almost like the twenty-fourth century equivalent of a family telling ghost stories around a fire. (It is such an effective motif that it’s no surprise that Star Trek: Enterprise would return to it in Strange New World.)

Without a shadow of a doubt.

In Cinefantastique, writer Bryan Fuller explained that the writing staff consciously approached The Haunting of Deck Twelve as a ghost story:

We use Neelix telling the Borg children a story as a framing device, to tell a haunted house story. He actually has quite a bit to do in it. It’s a Janeway-Neelix story. The stories are separate in a way, their arcs separate, but it focuses more on Janeway and Neelix.

This is a relatively novel and experimental approach to storytelling from Voyager, which is arguably the most narratively conservative of the Star Trek spin-offs.

A dark little fairy tale.

Indeed, the premise of The Haunting of Deck Twelve recalls Michael Taylor’s original pitch for Once Upon a Time. The writer had originally planned for a much more experimental story, told entirely from the perspective of Naomi Wildman as Neelix attempted to use the holodeck to distract her from something that was happening on the ship. It was a clever concept, one that took advantage of some of the more unique aspects of Voyager, most notably the fact that not everybody on the ship was a trained Starfleet officer and that the crew would have to make some changes to account for that.

Naturally, Once Upon a Time was deemed to ambitious for Voyager, too large a departure from the established Star Trek template. As a result, the finished episode was much more conventional in execution, with a subplot on the Delta Flyer and a lot of time spent with the adult cast members. It should be noted that Taylor’s ambition was repeatedly tempered by the production team during the fifth season, with the writing pitching a much bolder (and more intriguing) version of The Fight than the one that made it to screen.

If you kids want to hear a real horror story, Neelix can tell you about Alliances or Threshold.

The Haunting of Deck Twelve borrows some of that original thwarted pitch for Once Upon a Time, with Neelix assigned to distract the Borg children during a particularly tense situation. Neelix does this by telling them a story. It’s an interesting hook for an episode, one which recalls the premise of other episodes involving fictionalised versions of the Voyager cast – the official records of Living Witness, the computer simulations in Worst Case Scenario, the slightly-tweaked characters in Author, Author.

Of course, The Haunting of Deck Twelve never quite embraces the central hook of its premise, the opportunity to explore how events might be warped and distorted through storytelling or how a participant’s perspective might subtly alter the record of what happened. The Haunting of Deck Twelve is not Roshomon. It is not even Bad Blood. It is not especially fixed to Neelix’s perspective, with the character narrative scenes which occurred while he was not present. As such, The Haunting of Deck Twelve is a compromised execution of an intriguing premise.

A storied history indeed.

Nevertheless, there are a number of clever beats in The Haunting of Deck Twelve, which draw attention to the nature of the story. There are some delightfully wry jokes, with the children repeatedly interrupting Neelix’s attempt to tell the story to point out perceived gaps or flaws. “You’re not remembering correctly,” Icheb states after Neelix spouts some technobabble. “The Bussard Collectors don’t produce nadion emissions.” Neelix replies, “Well, the technical details don’t matter. What’s important is that Voyager’s presence was destabilising the nebula–“

Later on, while Neelix is recounting Seven of Nine’s encounter with the alien menace, Icheb interrupts again. “Why didn’t she remodulate her neural transceiver and send a message that way?” he demands, asking the sort of nit-picky question that occurs to fans who also wonder why the Federation doesn’t use the time travel plot device from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home to solve more problems. Neelix brushes the question aside, “That’s an interesting question. You’ll have to ask her.” Like the technobabble, it is not important to the story being told. “Stop interrupting,” Mezoti warns Icheb.

“Why did Captain Janeway simply not use techno-babble to conveniently side-step the central narrative dilemma?”

There is a sense that The Haunting of Deck Twelve is being just a little self-aware here, acknowledging the conversations and discussions that typically take place around narratives in general and about Star Trek in particular. Icheb is playing the role of the critical audience member, albeit one who isn’t engaging with the narrative so much as picking at the details. Icheb is the kind of audience member who wonders how Bruce Wayne managed to get across the globe and sneak back into Gotham in The Dark Knight Rises, ignoring the simple answer, “Because he’s Batman, and that’s what Batman does.”

Icheb seems to speak for a very particular kind of audience, for the hard-core fans with a deep appreciation of the internal logic of the fictional universe of Star Trek. It should be noted that “Bussard Collectors” don’t actually exist in the real world, and how they operate within the fictional world of Star Trek is incidental to their function; they exist to add a layer of technobabble sheen to the technology that allows the franchise to tell the stories that it wants to tell. Nevertheless, there are vocal online fan communities who are very engaged in how these fictional technologies are supposed to work.

It doesn’t quite gel.

The Haunting of Deck Twelve seems to be riffing on this sort of fan engagement with storytelling. Of course, there has always been some form of engagement between creators and their audience. As Isaac Bell argues, there is a tendency to assume that engagement is a relatively new phenomenon tied to the emergence of the internet as a dominant cultural force:

[I]t would be naïve to suggest that these boundaries only became permeable with the advent of modern telecommunications. Many scholars, from Ede and Lunsford to Livingstone and Jenkins have shown that these static roles do not reflect reality. Conversations have happened between audience members in different roles, and between audiences and creators, for as long people have tried to express themselves. Greek poets and scholars addressed amphitheaters where they received immediate feedback—Aristotle wrote Rhetoric and Poetics in order to help orators and artists to better communicate in such an environment, where the audience could respond instantly. Patrons told creators what they wanted, and what they liked or didn’t like. Nineteenth century authors such as Charles Dickens or Samuel Clemens met with crowds, had publishers, received mail, and had regular conversations with people who had strong feelings about their work. For example, according to James Gunn’s comprehensive study of the history of the science fiction genre, most of the writers of the 1930s and 1940s were inspired by previous authors such as H.G. Wells or E.E. “Doc” Smith. These writers were the passive individual readers who may have believed they were the only ones in the world who loved this genre, and as they became more engaged fans, they decided to become creators themselves. These creators then serve as gatekeepers for other works, creating fanzines (fan magazines) to publish the work of their fellow audience members, who continue to act as fan audiences while looking at each other’s stories, and then become creators again to respond to them. In this way, Gunn demonstrates that everyone involved in the science fiction genre is part of a discourse community with one another, and within that community may sometimes be a creator, a passive audience, or a fan. Yet I contend that while this kind of boundary-crossing audience action could be observed throughout history, the speed and variety of these actions has grown considerably thanks to new media facilitating interaction and experiments in fan creativity.

While this sort of engagement between storyteller and audience is not new – to the point that Muse offered a version of the dynamic that can be traced back to antiquity in Kellis’ relationship to his patron – it is very much informed by the ease of access that the internet afforded fans. Fans had always organised and published, but the internet provided an easily accessible platform and sturdier conduit for conversation.

Reading the comments can be a painful experience.

Star Trek fandom was among the first fandoms to really organise online, to capitalise on the potential of the internet as a tool to facilitate fandom activities. In was also one of the first fandoms to have creators directly engage with that fandom online. Ronald D. Moore would host mail-shoots, in which he would respond to questions from fans on the message boards. The official website would host webchats with writers like Ira Steven Behr to engage with the fans. Jeri Taylor would take questions from online fans to promote Mosaic.

Some of these interactions were even less moderated. Enterprise writers Mike Sussman and David Goodman would post on TrekBBS. More that, the writers would occasionally acknowledge that they were aware of the conversations that were taking place on-line around the show. Brannon Braga was particularly sensitive to such criticisms, taking offense at what he termed “continuity pornographers” picking at small internal inconsistencies. Braga has talked about the difficulty in separating substantive criticism from background noise online.

Shaking things up.

In some ways, The Haunting of Deck Twelve seems to be playing with the erosion of that barrier between audience and creator, which is a relatively prescient aspect of an episode that aired at the turn of the millennium. As Caroline Framke points out, many television writers and producers are still grappling with this challenge almost two decades after the fact:

The relationship between fans and creators has always been incredibly complex, and in recent years it’s grown quite intense and fraught. While creators often depend on fans to keep their works alive and relevant, historically there was a clear distance between them. These days, the internet makes it easy for people to contact — or at least publicly comment on — the people whose works they love (or hate), creating an immediate feedback channel that doesn’t always go both ways and isn’t always welcome.

Some creators invite and encourage engagement from their fervent fan bases, especially if they’re already familiar with fan culture. J.K. Rowling has always supported Harry Potter fanfiction; Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda credits the fans who annotated Hamilton on the lyric site Genius for making him step up his game when he wrote his own in-depth explainer.

But for television especially, fans’ ability to contact writers and creators directly has been an uncomfortable jolt to the system — and no one knows exactly how to handle it.

There are any number of examples of how the barrier between storytellers and their audiences have been eroded in the twenty-first century. Rian Johnson finds himself engaged in a constant back-and-forth with angry and obsessive fans upset at various narrative choices in Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. William Shatner became tied up in a fandom debate about Ronald D. Moore’s Outlander.

“C’mon internet. What if I give you a Borg episode next week?”

This breakdown of traditional barriers poses a particular challenge to television writers. A movie is generally finished before it is released to the public, meaning that criticism of the object largely exists at a remove from the object itself. The feature film is finished, and so exists as a complete entity, before the conversation about it can begin. The online discourse is a separate conversation. This offers some insulation to artists, who are afforded some space in which they might tell the stories that they want to tell and can do so without feeling obligated to engage in a conversation about a work in progress.

In contrast, network television offers its audience weekly slices of an active and unfolding narrative. While many modern prestige series and Netlfix shows are completed before the first episode airs, there are still a large number of television series that are produced on a weekly basis, allowing for a more dynamic model of engagement. In some cases, writers will not have finished the final scripts for the season by the time that aggressive on-line feedback is pouring in, creating an interesting dynamic. Audiences can expect these shows to change direction, based on their feedback.

“… and it turns out that the internet feedback was coming from inside the house all along.”

This creates a conflict between the audience and the storyteller, a debate about who owns the narrative. Is the storyteller’s duty to give the audience what they want, or is the storyteller’s only obligation to remain true to their own vision? This becomes particularly loaded in the case of franchises with strong fan followings, with audiences that feel a very strong sense of ownership for these characters and the world in which they operate. These audiences are perhaps more likely to interject and to assume that the storyteller should service their needs.

There are a few points in The Haunting of Deck Twelve when Neelix has to actively reassert control of the narrative from the children. At one point, Icheb actively jumps ahead of the narrative, almost as though he recognises it as a boilerplate Star Trek story. “What none of us knew was that a mysterious stowaway had come aboard Voyager,” Neelix states, building suspense. Icheb has little time for suspense. “It was obviously a space-dwelling lifeform.” Neelix tries to get bask to the story. “Yes, but we didn’t know that, not at that point.”

A bitter aftertaste.

There is a recurring sense that the children’s interjections – while with merit and technically valid – are interrupting the flow of the story that Neelix is trying to tell. Azan, Icheb and Mezoti argue about the creature that has invaded Voyager, debating whether they can identify it based up their encyclopedic knowledge of the Star Trek universe. Neelix grows frustrated with this line of inquiry, correctly observing that this is not the point of his story. “We can either debate comparative xenobiology or I can continue with the story. Now it’s up to you.” Neelix is trying to rebuild the barrier between storyteller and audience.

The Haunting of Deck Twelve doesn’t belabour this point too heavily, but it’s a recurring fascination for the episode. Mostly, the episode has a great deal of fun with the idea of Neelix crafting ghost stories for impressionable young children. Ethan Phillips relishes the clichés that the script afford him. “We’d taken some minor damage, but for the most part everything was fine,” he states at one point. Dramatic pause. “Or so we thought.” Later on, he explains, “Meanwhile, Commander Chakotay was headed for Engineering.” Dramatic pause. “Or so he thought.”

Spoiler: He got to Engineering.

There’s something interesting in seeing a Star Trek story told in this way, foregoing the familiar formulaic trappings of the classic “Captain’s Log” for something that serves a similar narrative purpose while being a lot less formal. Indeed, Voyager was arguably at its best when it relaxed the rigourous formal constraints associated with the Star Trek franchise, whether with the black-and-white sequences of Night or the montage-set-to-music at the start of Counterpoint. Although it was often too formulaic for its own good, Voyager was at its best when being just a little bit playful or cheeky.

Director David Livingston has fun with the episode, shooting it as a family-friendly horror story. Livingston is one of the most dynamic directors to work on the franchise with a knack for heightened and stylised storytelling, one of the television franchise’s rare blockbuster directors. He directed Deadlock, one of the defining early episodes of Voyager. He was also responsible for a number of the big bombastic blockbuster episodes like Future’s End, Part IScorpion, Part I, The Killing Game, Part I, Equinox, Part I and Equinox, Part II.

Looking for a fresh angle on a familiar story.

It may be revealing that Livingston tended to direct the opening episodes of two-parters, rather than the conclusions. The director has a knack for building momentum and suspense, and so is a comfortable fit with episodes that are designed to race towards a cliffhanger. Perhaps the same principles apply to horror and suspense episodes, relying on a director who can propel an audience towards some grim reveal or dark twist. On Enterprise, Livingston would affirm his status as one of the franchise’s best horror directors, directing the zombie thrillers Regeneration and Impulse.

The script to The Haunting of Deck Twelve provides all the requisite gothic elements for a moody and brooding horror film. This makes sense, given that Bryan Fuller’s first credits on Deep Space Nine were The Darkness and the Light and Empok NorThe Haunting of Deck Twelve features a creeping mist, dimmed lights, an air of mystery. There is even a point-of-view attack on Seven of Nine, that most lurid and sensational of horror movie clichés. Livingston consciously leans into these aspects of the story, embracing the opportunity afforded him.

Red light at night, a Voyager director’s delight…

The use of lighting in The Haunting of Deck Twelve is particularly effective. Livingstone is not afraid of darkness, in marked contrast to the occasionally too-bright aesthetic of Voyager. “Red alert” is a Star Trek staple, but The Haunting of Deck Twelve makes red alert seem much more intense and heightened; pulsing red lights in the darkness. Narratively speaking, Janeway’s struggle at the climax with the creature is archetypal Star Trek plotting, a race against time to find a peaceful solution to a crisis. The material is elevated through Livingston’s direction. The director is relishing the opportunity to tell a Star Trek ghost story.

As much as The Haunting of Deck Twelve is a horror story, it is a horror story with the standard Star Trek trappings. There is something endearingly old-school about the creature, evoking the sentient elemental monsters that haunted Kirk in episodes like Obsession or The Lights of Zetar. The episode also hinges on the classic Star Trek twist that the monster… isn’t really a monster. It is a sentient creature, just trying to survive. What appears to be beastly is ultimately intelligent, evoking the familiar narrative template established by The Devil in the Dark and extended to The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry.

Red scare.

Voyager attempted something like this with Good Shepherd earlier in the season, although the narrative was bungled in the execution. Good Shepherd implied that its dangerous and invasive monster was only trying to get home, while The Haunting of Deck Twelve explicitly confirms as much. Assessing the way that the cloud has manipulated the ship’s system, Janeway observes, “I’m not so sure they were random. Navigational sensors were fooling us into heading back toward the nebula and then, when Tom tried to resume course, he was attacked. This lifeform isn’t trying to hurt us, it’s trying to get home.”

As such, the creature in The Haunting of Deck Twelve is a mirror of the ship upon which it finds itself hiding, another wanderer desperately searching for a home among the vast cosmos. Voyager frequently mirrors Janeway in her antagonists, often featuring aliens who long to return to a nebulous concept of “home.” In Hope and Fear, Arturis longs to take the Voyager crew back to his lost home, assimilated by the Borg. This yearning to return is often framed in terms of time travel, with Annorax seeking to restore his lost family in Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II or Kes trying to reset her history to return home in Fury.

A ghost of continuity issues.

What is interesting about the juxtaposition within The Haunting of Deck Twelve is that it suggests a parallel between the crew and the creature. If the monster in The Haunting of Deck Twelve is ultimately just a ghost, as the children explicitly and the title implicitly frame the creature, then does that suggest that the Voyager crew are ultimately ghosts themselves? It should be noted that pre-production planning was already underway on Enterprise, and that everybody working on Voyager knew that the looming seventh season would be its last year. Maybe Voyager is as much a ghost story as The Haunting of Deck Twelve.

That said, The Haunting of Deck Twelve is not as cheeky or as subversive as it could be. There is a sense that the audience is effectively watching Neelix narrate a fairly standard episode of Voyager, just with occasional interjections from the audience. The framing device is never as wry or subversive as it could be, Neelix’s narration never properly juxtaposed with the events as they happened and his perspective of events never properly interrogated. It would be easy enough to package the core plot of The Haunting of Deck Twelve as a standard Voyager episode.

A breathe of fresh air.

Indeed, in some ways, it would be easier to have written the story that way. In a rare acknowledgement that time moves on Voyager, Neelix explains to the children that the bulk of the story unfolds before the events of Collective. He tells them, “It all began several months ago, before you joined Voyager.” This is an interesting hook, an opportunity to journey into the show’s own past like in Relativity. However, the sixth season is a much more immediate time frame. Voyager does not embrace change, so there is little difference between where the ship was at the start of the season and where it is at the end.

However, The Haunting of Deck Twelve still suggests any number of minor discontinuities and inconsistencies. As with Fury, the basic plot of the episode involves a minor rewriting of Voyager‘s internal continuity, with an implication that the audience hasn’t actually seen the real adventures of the ship so much as a surface-level iteration. The Haunting of Deck Twelve implies that every sixth season episode of Voyager needs to watched with the knowledge that there was also secretly a monster sleeping on deck twelve waiting for an opportunity to get home.

Shining some light on these dangers.

This retroactive revelation raises all sorts of questions about the previous episodes. Assuming that the creature came on board Voyager a few months before the events of Collective, does that mean it was present during the events of episodes like Spirit Folk or Memorial? How did the creature respond to the passing of the storm front in Spirit Folk? Was the creature affected by the telepathic projections sent out in Memorial? Even in the episodes that followed Collective, it is strange that the creature was not more of a concern during Kes’ attack on the ship in Fury?

More than that, there are lingering questions about how the creature could possibly have never come up during any of the senior staff briefings in the intervening episodes. Surely it merited some discussion with Starfleet in Life Line? It might have merited some discussion when Lyndsay Ballard returned from the dead in Ashes to Ashes, even just as a casual “stay out of deck twelve.” It would have made a great story for Kellis to tell in Muse, and nobody on Voyager would ever have been any wiser. Still, none of this technically violates any continuity, it just seems rather incongruous.

Another fine messhall you’ve gotten us into, Neelix.

Similarly, the episode’s use of Tal Celes is notable, because her appearance her technically predates her first appearance in Good Shepherd. This is a very interesting choice on a number of levels. Obviously, this is the character as she existed before she received the advanced leadership training from Janeway in the Delta Flyer over the course of Good Shepherd. In fact, the episode even features a couple of small indications that the character is still insecure and indecisive. “Did I do something wrong?” she asks when Seven inspects her work.

However, there are also faint traces of a more confident and assertive version of the character, one perhaps more in keeping with somebody who had survived the life-and-death crisis in Good Shepherd. When it becomes clear that her work on the control panel could not have accounted for the strange malfunction, she sighs, “I know that wasn’t my fault.” Of course, it is hard to get a read on a character from one line in one scene; Celes could simply be responding sarcastically or trying to distract from her insecurity. There is not enough material here to get a read on the character.

Tal tells…

This raises the question of why Celes appears in The Haunting of Deck Twelve. This is the character’s only guest appearance outside of Good Shepherd, and it seems strange that her only appearance should be in a story that unfolds before her introduction and her major character arc. It would be akin to featuring Barclay in the flashback sequences of All Good Things… set before his proper introduction in Hollow Pursuits. The character exists in that point of the show’s history, but has not yet been identified as an active participant in the narrative.

Like the retroactive writing of the creature into episodes like Fury, there is a sense that something is not-quite-right in all of this. Much like the big reset of Voyager continuity in Fury, the hazily-defined non-continuity of The Haunting of Deck Twelve suggests that Voyager exists almost free from the normal flow of time. A story that unfolded months earlier is nominally indistinct from a story that is unfolding right now, and it is possible for the entire history of the series to be overwritten with a few small lines.

“If we survive this, remind me to single you out as grossly incompetent.”

Episodes like Future’s End, Part I, Future’s End, Part II and Relativity suggested that Voyager was a series without a future. Even centuries beyond the present moment, the status quo was largely unchanged. Episodes like Fury and The Haunting of Deck Twelve are the other side of that coin. They suggest that Voyager is a series with a past, instead stuck in a perpetual present. Eliane Glaser argues that this is just one expression of Fukuyama’s “end of history”:

“In the post-historical period,” Fukuyama continues, “there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history. I can feel in myself, and see in others around me, a powerful nostalgia for the time when history existed.” Doesn’t this vision seem exactly right? We appear to be losing a clear sense of both our history and our future, living in a perpetual present in which we have forgotten that things were different in the past and that there are, therefore, alternatives. (A parallel can perhaps be drawn with pop: we are in the post-postmodern age of the retro-authentic mashup. Contemporary songs – by Adele, Lady Gaga, La Roux – are simulacra of those produced in the 60s, 70s and 80s.)

Even though Neelix claims that the story took place months before the Borg children came on board in Collective, it could just as easily have unfolded during the fifth season or the fourth season. The show would have been just as unconcerned with how the creature affected the Hirogen occupation of the ship in The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II as it would be about how it endured Kes’ assault in Fury.

Tubes of terror!

It is tempting to read this sense of discontinuity as a commentary on the nature of storytelling; how stories are constantly present, even when they unfold in different time periods. Westerns like The Hateful Eight or Bone Tomahawk have a lot to say about contemporary America. The Star Trek franchise has a lot to say about contemporary society, despite being set centuries in the future. Time means nothing in stories; it can be compressed, bent, or distorted. However, there is a sense that The Haunting of Deck Twelve is not being so canny or so clever.

This is reinforced at the episode’s conclusion, with Neelix finishing his story so that the children might retire. “What if the lifeform didn’t leave?” Rebi asks. “What if it wants revenge?” Azan expands. Neelix replies, “What if I told you I made up the whole thing?” It’s a playful and provocative question, directed as much at the audience as at the children. What if the story that the children had just listened to, and which the audience had just seen, was entirely fictional? What if all of those strange little inconsistencies didn’t add up because they were a result of imagination rather than history?

Making light…

Would it be a “cheat” if Neelix had effectively completely fabricated the entire story that he told? After all, audiences are justifiably skeptical of the cheap “it was all a dream” ending that seeks to brush aside any real-world impact of the story being told. Certainly, “he just made it all up” can be a deeply unsatisfying conclusion, particularly as a narrative cul-de-sac in an on-going series. However, there are cases when it can work very well; films like Memento and The Usual Suspects hinge on similar reveals.

What difference does it make if Neelix made up the story, as compared to Bryan Fuller, Mike Sussman and Kenneth Biller? What does it matter if Neelix’s story is an imaginary story, because… aren’t they all? The Haunting of Deck Twelve is a fictional episode, just like Life Line or Fury before it. Voyager is a fiction built from other fictions woven together, itself tied into the larger fiction of Star Trek. More than that, what difference does it make if The Haunting of Deck Twelve was a different kind of fiction than Unimatrix Zero, Part I and Unimatrix Zero, Part II? It is not as though those episodes will have any greater impact in the long term.

“You know, the budget really does get tight towards the end of the season.”

However, The Haunting of Deck Twelve makes a point to consciously side-step any potential controversy, closing with a scene of Neelix visiting the bridge to check in on the status of the creature. When Paris suggests that Neelix should have told the children “Mother Goose”, Neelix rejects the idea. “Some of those fairy tales can be frightening,” he observes. “Ogres and child eating monsters. Speaking of which, is everything okay?” When Janeway confirms that it is, Neelix smiles. “Well, I hope it lives happily ever after.” It is a sweet ending, even if it shies away from the bolder implications of the episode.

Even when being playful, Voyager is still only interested in telling fairly standard stories.

7 Responses

  1. >It seems strange that Neelix was not a larger part of Star Trek: Voyager.

    Especially considering he was the one the creators predicted would be their ‘breakout’ character – utterly oblivious then to what a goldmine Robert Picardo would be.

    • Yep. Watching the early episodes, it’s amazing how Picardo has to basically claw his way to the front of the ensemble, scrambling over the bodies of Beltran, Wang and Russ on the way. (They arguably never got more to do than during those first two seasons.)

  2. I watched this last night, and all I could think was “this is ‘Lonely Among Us’ except entertaining!”

  3. Adding Crewman Celes was a nice, albeit completely gratuitous and forgotten miniscule touch of continuity from “Good Shepherd”.

    I liked the episode far better now than years ago. It is funny to see Icheb questioning the story and observing plot holes like a Trek fan or a writer of reviews … I could very well identify with him and felt like Neelix talked to me when basically saying not to care for the details and trust him.

    One note showing how sick our popular culture and media has become: In a story about “alternative facts” like this one, before it became the terror of today, I felt eerily reminded of Trump’s comment on how UV light from the inside could clean the lungs from the Corona virus, when Tuvok told Neelix to meditate by imagining his lungs being filled with light…. SAD!

    • Yep. It’s a bit of a mess of an episode, but it fits with the general reflexive tone of the sixth season, which often seems to be about writing and watching and playing at Star TrekTinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy, Muse, Live Fast and Prosper, Blink of an Eye and Pathfinder.

  4. This is obviously a ‘bottle episode’, with most special effects being provided via lighting. I suppose they were saving the money for the season finale. It also seems to be a deliberate attempt to appeal to the 10-15 year olds fans. Neelix is more afraid of a gas cloud than the Borg or Viidians, which is ludicrous since we’ve seen the Borg dismembered on ships and the horrors of Viidian organ harvesting.

    I got strong vibes similar to the classic 90s Canadian youth horror show “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”

    It’s not to say this is a ‘bad’ episode. It was just quite dull and plodding for me. Yet another nebula lifeform.

    Ah well. It did give Neelix a chance to flex his character. I think his evolution was hampered by the early writing, but also the colour palette and general silhouette his costume/look conveyed. Quark may be ugly, but he has a sharp edge to him. Neelix is more of a scruffy fuzzy hedgehog. I love Ethan Phillips. His appearances on Better Call Saul were great. But I do think he needed better material to work with. Then again, so did Tuvok.

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