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Star Trek: Voyager – Homestead (Review)

Homestead represents the culmination of certain impulses within Star Trek: Voyager.

To be fair, some of those impulses were baked into the show from the outset. The end of Caretaker immediately and effectively established the central premise of the series. Voyager was to be a story about a crew trying to get “home.” Of course, the question of what “home” actually meant was always up for debate. Perhaps “home” could be the unlikely bond that this crew formed with one another, a strange alliance of misfits who found a way to belong together in a way they never could apart; the idea of “home” at the heart of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, for example.

“Home.”

However, over the following seven seasons, the idea of “home” came into sharp focus. “Home” was not so much about finding an abstract place where a person might belong. “Home” was about returning to a point of origin. “Home” was a not place that could be created or developed, it was a nostalgic ideal. “Home” was not somewhere that could be found on “the final frontier.” In fact, it was the exact opposite. It was a fixed place that was (by definition) as far from the frontier as possible. This theme was heavily articulated in the show’s seventh and final season.

Of course, this very narrow and rigid definition of “home” creates a problem for one member of the cast. Voyager repeatedly and consciously assumes that all of its cast belong in the Alpha Quadrant, because they originated there. It does not matter that Tom Paris never fit in at home, or that the Maquis characters never integrated into Starfleet. It does not matter that Seven of Nine cannot remember Earth. These characters are going back to their point of origin, because that is what “home” means. What, then, of Neelix? How does Neelix get to go “home”?

“Home.”

The basic premise of Homestead makes no logistical sense. Of course, Voyager has never been a series particularly worried about making logistical sense, especially in terms of mid- to long-term continuity. This is a series that has long favoured plot convenience over internal consistency. This is why the crew has never felt particularly discommoded by their isolation in the Delta Quadrant. Parallax insisted that the holodecks could never be cannibalised for power supplies, so the crew could continue to use them. Torres built a “crude dilithium refinery” on board in Phage.

For all that Voyager is a show about a crew traveling impossible distances, it seems to have little grasp of what those distances actually mean. While the show might occasionally reference how far the crew has come – or how close they are to home – none of that is really meaningful. This is most notable in episodes that feature sizable jumps on the journey home; Night, Timeless, Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II. These leaps have no real impact on the crew’s journey. There is no sense that the crew are further from home in Bliss than The Disease.

Time to go home.

This is true even within Homestead. Janeway makes a small acknowledgement of changes to the status quo in recent months. Since Pathfinder, the crew has been able to communicate with Starfleet on a semi-regular basis. Since Author, Author, that communication has allowed the crew to actually have live conversations with their loved ones. In Friendship One, Starfleet was able to order the crew to embark upon an official mission. However, there is no real sense that anything has actually changed on the ship. It is all business as usual.

“Now that we’ve established two way communication with Earth, it seems to me Starfleet could use a permanent ambassador in the Delta Quadrant,” she tells Neelix. “This ambassador would have to stay in frequent contact with Voyager.” However, these are just words. There’s no indication that Janeway has actually talked to Starfleet about this plan, let alone given Neelix access to the sort of technology that would make such communication easy or manageable. It is a little reference dropped into the script, but without any real substance to it.

“I had the most horrible dream…”

This is part of a long trend within Voyager. The crew spent the first two years of their trip being constantly chased and menaced by the Kazon and the Vidiians, despite the fact that these aliens were rag-tag scavengers trying to survive amid the ruins of fallen empires. The Gift implied that Borg space was about ten thousand lightyears wide, suggesting a limit size on the most powerful force in the Delta Quadrant. This makes a certain amount of sense, given that Star Trek: First Contact suggested that Federation space encompassed around eight-thousand lightyears.

Voyager never paid any serious thought to these measurements. The fifth season implied that the Malon extended over thirty thousand lightyears. The crew encountered the Malon both before and after their massive leaps in Timeless, Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II. Similarly, Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II indicated that the Hirogen were active (and in contact with their brethren) more than thirty-two thousand lightyears from the crew’s last encounter with them in The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II.

“After a quick tour, Commander, I was thinking my new family could have lunch with the EMH’s family.”

These inconsistencies could be written out with a line or two of exposition, such as the suggestion that stable wormholes were much more common than Starfleet had reason to believe based on studies in the Alpha Quadrant. Even then, the distance that Voyager was travelled was always less important than the story that the production team wanted to tell in a given week. The crew did not keep encountering the Borg over thousands and thousands of lightyears because it made any real sense. Those encounters happened because of the stories that the writers wanted to tell.

Even by those standards, it is hard to parse the internal logic of Homestead. The episode centres on the discovery of a Talaxian mining colony. “Who knows, it’s probably the last time I’ll ever see another Talaxian,” Neelix muses, not unreasonably. However, while Homestead does explore why these Talaxians left Talax, it never explores how or why these Talaxians ended up this far from home. In order for these refugees to have found this asteroid field, they would have had to cross Borg, Malon and Hirogen space. If they survived that, Nocona really shouldn’t be a problem.

Miner problems, in the grand scheme of things.

It is a challenge to wrap one’s head around the journey that the Talaxians must have taken. Dexa recalls the end of the war with the Haakonians, implying that the expedition left after the Metreon Cascade. Jetrel placed that atrocity fifteen years before the events of the episode, and Homestead unfolds seven years after that. Within twenty-two years, these Talaxians have crossed roughly forty-five thousand lightyears. Within that time, Dexa reveals, they settled at least once for a reasonably extended period on Phanos.

Voyager is a state-of-the-art and top-of-the-line ship, particularly by the standards of the Delta Quadrant. Neelix’s reaction to the ship in Caretaker suggests that it exists well beyond his frame of reference. However, without accounting for the various shortcuts taken by the crew, the ship could only travel around one thousand lightyears in a given year. Many of the leaps that the crew took on that journey home came as a result of either advanced technology or in response to an encounter with the Borg. It is unfathomable that the Talaxians should have made it this far.

Of course, everybody is glossing over the obvious answer to this, which is that Talaxian years (and Talaxian life spans) are much longer than that of humans. However, that would also mean somehow making Neelix’s relationship with Kes even creepier.

Of course, none of this actually matters within the narrative framework of Voyager. All that matters is that the production team has decided that this is the story that they want to tell. It is not an unreasonable approach; a lot of complaints about continuity or internal consistency can be excused, if those elements are being ignored in service of a story that justifies its telling. The Talaxians are not on that asteroid in Homestead because it makes sense; those Talaxians are on that asteroid in Homestead because this is intended to be Neelix’s farewell story.

To be fair, the decision to write out Neelix two episodes before the end of the series is relatively brave by the standards of Voyager. After all, this is a show that has a very rigid and very conventional approach to storytelling. Ethan Phillips is a credited lead actor, and it would make sense on a traditional and episodic late nineties television series that a credited lead actor would remain a part of the primary cast until the final episode.

Dexa’s midnight runner.

The Star Trek franchise has written out actors before, but often due to contractual necessity or mutual agreement; Leonard Nimoy’s short-lived farewell in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Denise Crosby’s departure in Skin of Evil, Wil Wheaton’s swansong in Final Mission, Jadzia Dax’s death in Tears of the Prophets, Kes’ ascension in The Gift. The franchise has never made a conscious choice to write out a series lead without the influence of those outside factors upon the narrative in question.

So Voyager deserves some credit for playing with audience expectations, even if the production team left it until the last possible moment to do so. In fact, Neelix is only really absent from Renaissance Man. He gets a short scene in Endgame, playing kadis-kot with Seven of Nine over long-distance communication. Still, this is a bold move, especially for a series as narratively conservative of Voyager. It should be noted that even Deep Space Nine held off on a lot of its big deaths – even within the supporting cast – until What You Leave Behind.

It turns out that somebody won’t always have Paris.

It should be noted that some member of the Voyager cast consider Homestead to be something approximating the real end of the series. It is the point at which the family – whether in front of or behind the camera – actually broke up. As Jeri Ryan confessed around the time:

“The sad day for me was the last day we were all together as a cast, which was [during Homestead] when Neelix decided he was going to stay behind,” Ryan said. “And the last scene that we shot with Johnny [Ethan Phillips] where all of us were together, was him walking down the corridor and we’re all lined to say goodbye to Neelix. And I was just blubbering! … That was a tough day.”

After all, this is why most episodic television shows try to keep their casts together until the finale. Over years working together, cast and crew form a special bond. Part of the emotional and narrative weight of a finale (at least for a traditional episodic series) is breaking up that family. As such, Homestead is a big deal. It breaks up that family two weeks before the actual ending.

Kidding around.

The most charitable reading of Neelix’s departure in Homestead might be that it elevates the character. Ignoring the actual execution of the episode, Neelix gets his own special farewell episode with Homestead. It is an episode that belongs entirely to him. Indeed, the episode even lacks the standard secondary subplot that might distract from Neelix’s character arc, like the “Paris learns to drive” subplot from Natural Law. This episode is all about Neelix.

The rest of the cast will have to fit their emotional arcs into Endgame. Although bumper-sized, the series finale will (theoretically at least) have to provide fitting closure for every other member of the regular cast. Factoring in the need to tell a satisfying story and get all the crew home, it is inevitable that many member of the primary cast will find themselves struggling for any narrative space. (Deep Space Nine cannily structured its finale so that the plot resolutions were front-loaded, leaving a lot of room its second hour for character-focused storytelling. Voyager will not do this.)

What a cheesy observation.

In Star Trek Special Edition USA 2016, Phillips confessed that he understood (and was moved by) the enormity of getting his own standalone farewell episode:

“That was Neelix’s goodbye, and it was the best goodbye anybody had. it wasn’t just my goodbye to the cast, but to the whole crew. Everybody was put into Star Trek uniforms and they lined the halls. So I was saying goodbye not only to the cast, but to the crew, the extras, to everybody as I walked down that long hall. It was one of my favorite things on the show to have done. The episode also had that very sweet moment with Tuvok dancing just a bit for Neelix. It was very special.”

This is a very sweet sentiment, and it seems important that the only other lead to get a character-centric episode between Homestead and Endgame is the EMH, the show’s breakout character.

It just doesn’t scan.

However, there is also something disingenuous about this reading of Neelix’s departure. Neelix was never a breakout character on Voyager. To be fair, Neelix did receive considerably more characterisation and development than supporting players like Chakotay, Tuvok or Kim. However, Neelix was never as central a figure as Seven of Nine, the EMH or Janeway. Neelix was comfortably in the middle tier of the show’s characterisation, along with Torres and Paris. The writers generally had a sense of who Neelix was, even if they didn’t know how to develop him.

In the early seasons, Neelix was something of a problem character; mostly because of his intensely creepy and possessive relationship with Kes as explored in episodes like Twisted and Parturition. The character had an edge to him, as a con man and hustler. In Caretaker, he tricked Janeway into rescuing Kes for him. In Phage, Neelix was emotionally manipulative and borderline abusive of his young lover. In The Cloud, he grumbled about Janeway’s decision to enter a nebula and asked to be excluded from some of the ship’s riskier missions.

Everything is ship shape.

The show smoothed over the character’s rough edges in later seasons. From the third season onward, Neelix would reliably and consistently get about one solid character-focused episode in a season; Fair Trade, Mortal Coil, Once Upon a Time, The Haunting of Deck Twelve. More than that, Neelix could work relatively well within an ensemble setting, whether providing back story and exposition in episodes like Dragon’s Teeth or handling a subplot like in Someone to Watch Over Me or supporting another performer in episodes like Riddles.

Neelix was never a breakout character. He never stole the spotlight. He never received the attention lavished on characters like the EMH or Seven of Nine or Janeway. He never held down a major plot within an event story line. He rarely took focus in more than one episode of a given season. With all of that in mind, it seems very strange that Voyager should decide that Neelix merited his own character-driven farewell episode. That is not how Voyager works. Brannon Braga had mooted giving Seven of Nine an operatic farewell in Endgame, but the production team declined.

Suits you, sir.

This is reflected in the structure of the episode. Very little of Homestead is actually given over to Neelix’s decision to leave the ship. That only comes after a fairly standard stories about miners being oppressed and learning to fight back. As producer Kenneth Biller explained to Cinefantastique, Neelix’s departure is only really set up in the final three scenes of the episode:

“We put the script out as if it ended with Neelix saying goodbye to these people. I got a memo back from [Michael Piller] saying, ‘This episode really begs the question of why Neelix is staying on the ship. Wouldn’t it be more daring and more exciting to just have him leave?’ In other words, he was fooled by the script… There were three more scenes that Raf Green had written under my supervision that we just held off until the last minute. Then we finally made an announcement to the cast that this was happening, and [Ethan Phillips] was great about keeping it a secret. But he was very involved in the decision.”

Biller makes the case that Homestead leaned so strongly towards Neelix’s departure that Piller picked up on it, even with the scenes deleted. However, that does not change the fact that the only change that would have to be made to Homestead to keep Neelix on the ship would be to delete the final three scenes.

“The world is mine.”

This is very typical of how Biller plots episodes of Voyager. The production team often used a beat sheet in mapping out episodes, which explains the “… and then…” structure of various episodes like Alter Ego or Worst Case Scenario or Demons, where it often feels like plot ideas have been bolted on to the episode at random to help it reach the obligatory forty-minute run time. Although Homestead does at least hint at Neelix’s departure in its earlier segments, that departure feels bolted on at the end. It happens only after the plot has been resolved and – even then – very quickly.

In terms of basic plot, Homestead feels like a strange return to the roots of Voyager. Ignoring the fact that the miners are Talaxian, the actual plot of Homestead is a tried-and-tested Star Trek template. It recalls the “Maquis” storyline seeded in episodes like Journey’s End or The Maquis, Part I and The Maquis, Part II or Preemptive Strike. Once again, a group of migrants find themselves displaced by a set of bullies. The menacing aliens led by Nocona even look a little bit like Cardassians.

This dude has a real bad case of asteroid rage.

Along with the return to New Age “ancient astronauts” fetishism in Natural Law, this plot feels like a thematic throwback to the show’s origins. Of course, this comparison is never actually articulated in the text. The word “Maquis” is never mentioned. When Neelix wants advice on how best to help the settlers repel their oppressors, he does not consult with any of the crew who have experience with insurgence against a tactically superior opponent, like Chakotay or Torres. Instead, Neelix consults Tuvok.

The story itself is boilerplate stuff. It is notable that even Star Trek: Enterprise would return to this template in its second season episode Marauders, as the crew helps another bunch of isolated miners to stand up to another bunch of jackbooted thugs. However, the plot of Homestead is incidental. The whole point of the episode is to reach a point where Neelix can be written out of the show in the space of three scenes. Everything else is incidental.

“It’s about family.”

Talking with Cinefantastique, Biller explained why he felt that it made sense to write Neelix out of Voyager before the crew returned to the Alpha Quadrant:

“I really liked that episode. I thought it was about showing how Neelix had changed, and how Neelix had become more than he was at the beginning of the journey. I loved the scene where he is asking if Tuvok can help these people, and Tuvok is basically telling him, ‘You are more than you think you are, Mister Neelix.’ To me, that was really the core of the episode. I think it was true that as Neelix was getting further and further away from the home, he has to ask himself what was in store for him. Yes, the Voyager crew were members of his family, but presumably if they got back to Earth, they would all split up and go their own way. He fell in love and found a cause and a position of importance and prominence.”

There is something deeply cynical in all of this, particularly the assertion that Neelix could on find “a cause and a position of importance and prominence” within his own species.

Never too far a field.

This is the culmination of a recurring theme within the seventh season of Voyager, most notably in episodes like Friendship One and Natural Law. The seventh season of Voyager seems to consciously and aggressively reject the idea of exploration and integration as ideas that have merit on their own terms. Friendship One ended with Janeway ruminating that even a single death was too high a price to pay for knowledge or communion. Natural Law insisted that the best way to protect societies might be to erect gigantic force fields around them.

This is a paranoid and isolationist philosophy, but it is very much in keeping with Voyager‘s world view. After all, Displaced was a nightmarish anti-immigrant metaphor and Day of Honour was a cautionary tale about how refugees were just waiting for an opportunity to rob their benefactors blind. This xenophobia would develop and fester during the opening two seasons of Enterprise, with episodes like The Communicator, Dawn and The Crossing written after the attacks on the World Trade Centre.

Putting the franchise to bed.

This fear of the unknown simmers through Homestead, particularly with how the Talaxians treat the crew of the Delta Flyer. Why are you living with aliens?” Dexa demands of Neelix. When Neelix asks why the miners ignored their hails, Dexa replies, “We avoid contact with outsiders.” When Neelix proposes that he and the miners “could talk, get to know each other a little”, Oxilon is open to the idea until Neelix suggests introducing the Voyager crew. “We’ve learned from experience to keep to ourselves,” Oxilon states.

Homestead argues that this is the central philosophy of the Delta Quadrant as a whole. The Talaxian isolationism is not unusual, it is the norm. Dexa tells Neelix about the time that the Talaxians settled on the planet Phanos, and they were kept isolated from the indigenous population. “They said it was a quarantine to protect the population from alien diseases. But it was just an excuse. We were outsiders. They didn’t want us mixing with their people.” This should be horrifying, but it is not. It is the same logic that drive Oxilon, and which drove Friendship One and Natural Law.

Home going.

To be fair, Deep Space Nine had ended by sending some of its lead characters back to be among their own people. Worf became Federation Ambassador to Qo’nos. Odo returned to the Great Link to heal his people. Rom became Grand Nagus. Garak counted the dead on the surface of Cardassia. Even O’Brien returned to Earth. However, these character arcs all hinged on the idea that these characters had been fundamentally changed by their experience, and that they were returning to their homes with new and broader perspectives.

In contrast, Voyager is an inherently conservative show. Everyone has their proper place; there is a natural order to things. In fact, Child’s Play was something of a cynical deconstruction of the show’s central philosophy, skewering the idea the Icheb “belongs” with his own abusive and exploitative parents because he happens to share their genetic make-up. Homestead plays this idea very straight, taking for granted the assumption that Neelix belongs with a bunch of strangers who happen to look like him rather than his friends with whom he has spent the past seven years.

“Why does this feel so much like the climax of Tuvix?”

This conservatism shines through in the decision to provide Neelix with a traditional nuclear family into which he might neatly slot himself. Dexa is conveniently a widow with a young son, allowing Neelix to comfortably insert himself into their lives with minimal disruption. This is a very old-fashioned and outdated idea of family, very much of a piece with episodes like Real Life. There is no sense that modern family relationships might be complex, or that Neelix’s efforts to integrate with Dexa and Brax might be more difficult than the final scene implies. Everything has its place.

It is telling that Homestead explicitly reveals that Talax has been occupied by the Haakonian Order. This could arguably have been implied by the events of Jetrel, with its reference to how Talax “surrendered unconditionally” the day after the Metreon Cascade dropped. However, there was no real discussion of Talaxian politics in Jetrel, and the eponymous character was the only Haakonian to appear on the series. Similarly, given the additional context of enemy occupation, Neelix’s return home in Jetrel should have been a bigger deal.

To be fair, there is something slightly creepy about how Neelix immediately replaces the growing-up Naomi with Brax.

The addition of Haakonian occupation to Neelix’s backstory serves as retroactive motivation in Homestead. After all, Jetrel seemed to suggest that Neelix became a trader and a scavenger because he had no family left on Talax. Wars tend to create these dispossessed individuals, no matter what the outcome. However, Homestead suggests that there must be more it. Neelix’s departure from Talax had to be more than just a response to the horrors that he witnessed and the loss of everyone that he loved.

When Brax wonders why the miners cannot simply return to Talax, nobody points out that this would be a long and impractical journey that would likely bring the miners into contact with the Borg or the Hirogen. Instead, Dexa explains, “It’s still controlled by the Haakonians. They don’t treat Talaxians very well. That’s why we left.” This is a telling line, one that reveals a lot about how the seventh season of Voyager sees the universe. Nobody would ever choose to leave home. The only reason that anybody should move outside their comfort zone is if they absolutely have to.

“You know, you’re probably a bit old for me…”

Homestead seems to suggest that Neelix could never really have felt at home with anybody other than Talaxians. He could never really have made a new life for himself with his friends on the ship. “Home” is not where one finds it. “Home” is a rigidly defined place, one inhabited by people who look like one another and share a common and distinct culture. This feels like a cynical and profound rejection of the ethos of exploration and integration that defines so much of the Star Trek franchise.

To be fair, this problem arguably stems from the decision to fire Jennifer Lien at the start of the fourth season, coinciding with the hiring of Jeri Ryan. Kes was always much more of an explorer than Neelix, much more eager to see the larger universe. In fact, with her reduced lifespan, it seemed highly unlikely that Kes would live long enough to see Earth. However, Kes was open to new ideas and new possibilities. She wanted to leave home. It had been her curiousity that got her captured by the Kazon in Caretaker, but she still hungered for new experiences and possibilities.

Strong as an Oxilon.

Episodes like The Cloud established the relationship between Kes and Neelix as a study in contrasts; Kes the eager adventurer and Neelix the more cautious conservative. Indeed, episodes like Cold Fire presented Kes as something equivalent to a twenty-fourth century hippie, open to expanding her mind in a very literal sense. Of course, Fury suggested that Kes was not immune to Voyager‘s narrative gravity. Her last appearance found her returning to the ship, blaming Janeway for taking her away from her own people, implying that she never should have left her “home.”

This is reinforced as early as the opening scenes of Homestead, in which Neelix has helped to organise a “First Contact Day” celebration in the mess hall. As with Icheb’s report on Captain Kirk at the start of Q2 or the early space probe in Friendship One, this small sequence seems to provide a bridge between Voyager and Enterprise. After all, Enterprise was arguably more of a sequel to First Contact than to Voyager, with Zefram Cochrane serving as the character who passes the torch to the new crew.

Juking it out in a dance battle.

The celebration is steeped in fifties Americana; “cheese pirogues” are served as a jukebox belts out public domain takes on fifties rock ‘n’ roll music. The party is very much for the benefit of the human crew. “Great party, Neelix,” Paris toasts the host. Of course Paris appreciates the party; Paris’ fifties nostalgia in episodes like LifesignsBride of Chaotica! and even Repression echoes the series’ own embrace of fifties science-fiction aesthetics in episodes like Cathexis or In the Flesh.

“First Contact Day” appears to be an exclusively human celebration. After all, Deanna Troi had alluded to a broader “Federation Day” in The Outcast. The Vulcans were obviously a party to First Contact, but their perspective seems minimalised in the context of this party. As a representative of his race, Tuvok is asked to give a “speech” that simply echoes the familiar greeting of “live long and prosper.” There is a sense of performativity to all of this, the aliens on the crew made to perform for the amusement of the humans. “Don’t make me order you to dance,” Janeway warns Tuvok.

Flyin’ fine.

There is something rather tragic in all of this. Neelix throws himself into pleasing the crew, and flattering them. Neelix eagerly embraces their culture. Although Tuvok refuses to amuse the crew with a dance, Neelix eagerly offers up a ridiculous boogie for their amusement. Neelix seems to have assimilated as much as it is humanly possible for an alien to have assimilated. He seems unlikely to complain about root beer in the same way that Quark and Garak did in The Way of the Warrior.

However, despite all of this, Homestead argues that Neelix will never truly be at “home” on Voyager. Neelix will never truly belong with the people that he considers his friends and even the young girl that he raised like a daughter. According to Biller, Neelix’s place among these people will evaporate once he is no longer useful to them. There are shades of that within the episode, when Naomi explains to Neelix, “I can put myself to bed. I’m not a little girl anymore.” Moments like this suggest that Voyager is not a home to Neelix. It is a place of work. And his work is almost done.

“Stupid Talaxian. Stories are for kids.”

Homestead tries to mask this bleak perspective with trite sentimentality. This just demonstrates how weak the writing on Voyager is, particularly in comparison to Deep Space Nine. The writers working on Voyager have no sense of subtlety or nuance. Instead, they simply have characters deliver exposition; whether plot- or character-derived. This is most obvious in the way that Homestead tries to “pay off” the relationship between Tuvok and Neelix, the character’s strongest relationship to another member of the lead cast since the departure of Kes in The Gift.

Tuvok and Neelix have always had a frought relationship, due to their opposing world views. Tuvok is a very ordered individual, and Neelix is more freewheeling. The explains why Voyager has regularly thrown the two characters together in episodes like Tuvix or Rise. Neelix is very open about his respect and admiration for Tuvok. However, Tuvok hides his emotions behind a stoic Vulcan exterior. As such, Neelix’s departure in Homestead has to touch on their dynamic.

I love you, Tu(vok).

Homestead goes straight for the emotional jugular, by having Tuvok explicitly articulate his admiration and respect for Neelix. “You are perhaps the most resourceful individual I have ever known,” Tuvok states. “You do have some annoying habits. However, during your time on Voyager you’ve developed many valuable skills. Skills that would serve you well if you ever decided to assume a leadership role.” He clarifies, “I’m simply telling you that I believe that you are more than capable.” As Neelix prepares to leave, Tuvok even does a little dance for him.

It is clumsy and obvious, the literal-minded way of resolving their dynamic. However, it lacks any nuance and doesn’t seem particularly true to Tuvok as a character. Again, Deep Space Nine provides an interesting counterpoint. Odo and Quark had a very similar relationship to Tuvok and Neelix. Like Neelix, Quark was more open about his emotional attachment to his foil. However, Odo expressed his own strange affection for Quark in little ways; installing soundproofing in Crossfire or turning a blind eye to his scam in The Sound of Her Voice.

Your watch is ended.

These actions said more about Odo’s character than any cheesy gesture or profound monologue. Indeed, they served to make Odo much richer and more complex, suggesting an inner life that was very much at odds with his stoic and inflexible exterior. When Quark and Odo say farewell in What You Leave Behind, Quark tries to force Odo to admit his grudging respect for the Ferengi. Odo refuses to the last. Kira tries to comfort Quark, but Quark is not dejected. He knows how Odo feels, even if Odo could never say it out loud. “That man loves me.”

Homestead lacks the courage to attempt anything as nuanced or as complicated as Odo’s farewell to Quark. Instead, there is a clumsiness to just having Tuvok explicitly state how he feels about Neelix and to confirm that he has always respected the man who caused him near-constant annoyance. Taken on its own terms, this is bad writing. However, it feels especially cynical in the context of an episode that is largely about how Neelix really needs to “go back where [he] came from.”

Playin’ the hits.

Voyager offers a very reactionary twist on the Star Trek mythos, one often shaded by xenophobia and fear of the unknown. Homestead takes that idea to its logical conclusion, essentially arguing that the one character originally from the Delta Quadrant needs to be among his own kind. As ever, Voyager feels in line with certain reactionary California politics of the nineties:

Orange County, a cluster of cities and freeways tucked between Los Angeles and San Diego, is known for being white and politically conservative. California’s Republican bastion, it helped launch Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, who called it the place “where all the good Republicans go to die”.

It led the state’s crackdown on illegal immigration in the 1990s. A sub-group of neo-Nazi surfers acquired notoriety for daubing swastikas on boards. The Real Housewives of Orange County, a reality TV show, has bolstered the impression of a white enclave.

In fact, over the past two decades, the county has become diverse to the point that whites are no longer a majority. They make up 44% of the population of 3 million, with Latinos comprising 34% and Asians 18%.

But melting pot it is not. Most whites live in tracts that are at least 60% white, many of them coastal cities such as Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach and San Clemente. The inland city of Santa Ana, in contrast, once predominantly white, is now 78% Latino.

This was frustrating in the context of its original broadcast, but has only gotten more depressing in the intervening decades. After all, those radical conservative politics have gone national. The President of the United States seems to believe that some people from certain ethnic backgrounds cannot really be Americans, any more than Neelix can really belong on Voyager.

Serves him right.

In some ways, Homestead does represent the end of Voyager. It represents the monstrous culmination of something that had long been simmering in the background, bringing all that hatred and fear to the fore. The crew will still get home in Endgame, but Homestead makes it very clear just who gets to consider themselves part of the crew.

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  1. Wow. That is an utterly damning assessment of that episode and the show itself. O_O

    Well done.

  2. Thanks for another fine analysis that’s much better than the Voyager episode it examines.

    As you point out, the writing for Tuvok is poor, starting with the gushing praise he offers Neelix. Not only does it seem out of place coming from Tuvok, I don’t really see that the Neelix character has earned those plaudits based on the seven years we were shown. Do Vulcan’s blow smoke up other people’s butts? It just sounds so false.

    The dance is intended as an emotional payoff but it is hack writing, just embarrassing. Tim Russ and Ethan Phillips could have done a lot more with their characters if the writing had permitted, but that’s true for nearly every member of the Voyager cast. A damn shame.

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