Neelix meets Ma’bor Jetrel, the scientist who created the Metreon Cascade, the superweapon that killed most of Neelix’s family — so it’s like a Japanese citizen who had family in Hiroshima meeting Robert Oppenheimer. The Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch unreservedly loves “Jetrel,” which finally gives Ethan Phillips a chance to act instead of being dopey comic relief.
I said back in the rewatch of “Caretaker” that Neelix was at his most interesting when he had an edge to him, which he had during the rescue of Kes from the Kazon and its immediate aftermath, and which has been depressingly absent from the dozen or so episodes in the interim. But it’s back in full force in “Jetrel,” and it’s a joy to see. Freed from having to be the goofball, Phillips shines. The roller-coaster of emotion in his performance is superb, from his near-panic attack when Jetrel identifies himself to his frustrated disgust when Janeway and Kes try to convince him to see Jetrel to his pure contempt when he first confronts Jetrel (the line quoted in the “Do it” section above about convenient distinctions may be Phillips’s best moment in the entire seven-year history of the show) to his depressed hiding in the mess hall until Kes finds him to his passionate retellings of his experiences on Rinax to both Jetrel and the bridge crew. It’s a bravura performance, bringing depth to a character who was utterly bereft of it up until this point.
And that lack of depth is given an explanation. Neelix has lost everything, and worse, he lost everything when he himself was hiding from his duty, and the guilt is overwhelming. With that much tragedy, retreating into a ridiculous persona is a perfectly understandable bit of psychological self-trickery.