Hold Your Breath
"Phage" Plot Summary:
As they walk through the corridors, Janeway and Chakotay discuss some of the changes they have had to make on Voyager to adapt to their circumstances. Chakotay recommends that Janeway let Torres build a dilithium refinery on the ship, though the captain rolls her eyes at the Maquis engineer's unconventional methods. She invites Chakotay to breakfast in her private dining room, but he says he has already eaten rations. Going in alone, she finds Neelix cooking, having converted her dining room into a kitchen for the nearby mess.
Chakotay agrees to take Neelix on an away mission with Harry Kim, but the newly dubbed chef wanders away in a cave and is attacked by an alien who uses a medical device to remove his lungs. The Doctor creates holographic lungs to keep Neelix alive, but the Talaxian must remain under restraint in sickbay in order for them to function. Janeway and Tuvok beam down to investigate, discovering that the cave is artificial and hides an alien laboratory including organs taken from many different species. They detect and pursue the ship which they believe holds the aliens who have stolen Neelix's lungs.
Neelix is understandably very upset about the prospect of having to spend the rest of his life in Sickbay, and Kes finds it difficult to comfort him since Neelix suspects she has feelings for Tom Paris. Voyager tracks the alien ship to an asteroid and, despite sensor echoes, manages to get a lock on it and transport the aliens aboard. They explain that their race has been decimated by a deadly illness, the phage, and must steal healthy organs in order to survive.
Janeway is sympathetic to the horror the Vidiians must contend with, but declares that if they ever come near her ship or crew again, she will attack them with the deadliest of force. The aliens cannot restore Neelix's lungs, since they have been altered to work with a Vidiian body, but they can perform a transplant using their advanced medical technology to save the Talaxian, though the Doctor had not thought any of the crewmembers could be a suitable donor. Kes gives Neelix one of her lungs, and the Vidiians leave posthaste.
Voyager's first really successful issue-oriented episode, "Phage" had everything going for it - terrific characterization, a frightening new alien adversary, a complex decision on the part of the captain. It opens with a delightful scene between Janeway and Chakotay that sets the tone: he's making a formal proposal on behalf of Lieutenant Torres whom Janeway doesn't really know, yet she calls the chief engineer by her first name and happily agrees to her plan before inviting Chakotay to what sounds like an intimate breakfast of filling, creamy foods. Whew, do sparks fly between these two! Breakfast is cut short because Neelix has taken over, and we learn a little more about the Talaxian jack-of-all-trades before his crisis erupts.
I liked both that Janeway did not join the initial landing party - no unnecessary risks - and that she did join the subsequent search for the aliens - unwilling to send her crew into any danger she wouldn't face herself. I also liked the speed of her decisionmaking when they realized what they were up against. Mulgrew gave an absolutely stunning performance in the face-to-face confrontation, balancing Janeway's compassion for the race on the verge of extinction with her fury at having her crew treated as unwilling organ donors by selfish people with a superiority complex. I hope she follows through on her threat to use the deadliest of force, but it would be interesting to find out more about these Vidiians and why scavenge and slaughter are considered acceptable for their survival.
The disease itself had parallels with both AIDS and various wasting diseases; the episode seemed designed to make people feel squeamish about organ donation, which seemed odd to me considering how progressive Trek usually is about such issues. I was interested in the fact that the Doctor let the Vidiians operate considering that he doesn't know whether contact with them could make the phage contagious! All in all, this was a thought-provoking story which also had good action and terrific dramatic performances. Stellar stuff.