In its search for energy due to the problems sustained by the ship during the traumatic journey from the Alpha quadrant, the USS Voyager arrives at a desert planet suggested by the good Neelix. The Voyager crew also starts appreciating (!) his culinary skills, by the way, so his transformation into Voyager’s Quark is really happening. An away team led by Chakotay (finally the first officer goes on an away mission and not the captain), and also formed by Kim and Neelix himself, descends on the planet to explore its underground caves. Unfortunately, our favorite Talaxian runs into a dark figure who sends him into a coma with a ranged weapon… and steals both of his lungs!
And then the episode (entitled Phage) goes along two routes: one is the pursuit of the incredibly fast ship of the attacker, and the other is the story of Neelix which is basically a re-enactment of Worf’s story in Ethics (TNG’s fifth season). Neelix can only survive if immobile in Sickbay thanks to a pair of holographic lungs created by the EMH, which gives rise to discussions on whether to live a life like this or to end his life prematurely. It must be said, however, that this part of the episode is a slightly humorous take on euthanasia, and it’s also a good opportunity to develop further the character of Kes, whom I appreciate more and more as the series progresses.
So, while Janeway takes Voyager to the most dangerous places in the Delta quadrant (Janeway likes to enter into things, whether they are space-time anomalies or artificial meteorites, as in this case), Kes collaborates with the EMH until the latter proposes her to be his assistant, also due to the disastrous results achieved so far by Tom Paris. Also, let me add, being both the ship pilot and a nurse would have been too much for him!
In short, in the end the organ thieves are captured (not before having seen a thousand USS Voyagers reflected in the walls of the artificial meteorite, in case the two Voyagers of Parallax were not enough), and it turns out that they are nothing more than poor people belonging to a race that for two millennia has been battling unsuccessfully against a terrible disease called phage. The only way they’ve found to survive is to look for organs from compatible donors and have them extirpated, as they did in Neelix’s case. Janeway is furious (we can guess that despite Kate Mulgrew’s acting skills), but she cannot help but let the two Vidiians free. One of them, moved to compassion, offers his help and thanks to his superior medical knowledge he manages to transplant a lung of Kes, who volunteers, in Neelix.
Problem solved, and the journey home continues with Kes and the EMH who are emerging as the best characters of the series so far, the relatioship between the Ocampa and Neelix even stronger than before, and Janeway who has made a name for herself with a race that is anything but friendly. Not bad! Ciao!
PS: In the The Delta Flyers podcast episode related to Phage, Robert Duncan McNeill and Garrett Wong revealed that the role of the EMH was initially supposed to be minimal: Picardo was only expected to work one day out of the seven required for each episode. Thanks to his skill and the characterization he gave to the EMH when interacting with the rest of the cast (and also with all the props he could get his hands on), he was given the role he deserved as one of the main characters of the series.
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