(written from a Production point of view)
After being killed on an away mission and then revived by Seven's Borg nanoprobes, Neelix finds himself in a deep existential and spiritual crisis, questioning his faith and the meaning of his existence.
Neelix is very busy in the mess hall, offering Ensign Harry Kim strong coffee to finish his ops report and Seven of Nine some nutritional supplements made with Talaxian spices, which she complains are pungent. Commander Chakotay offers Neelix the opportunity to survey a class 1 nebula containing protomatter, which Neelix is very intrigued about. After putting Naomi Wildman to bed with vivid and entertaining stories of the Great Forest, where Talaxians go to when they die, Neelix joins the away team of Chakotay and Thomas Paris. While in the nebula, the protomatter transport goes awry and a beam of energy strikes Neelix, killing him.
Paris continues to examine Neelix, and, disappointed, decides that some of the usual measures of keeping someone alive won't work. He's suffered too much brain damage. Chakotay must call him back to the chair so they can pilot out of the nebula.
- "Captain's log, stardate 51449.2. After receiving a distress call from Commander Chakotay, we've sent a beacon into the nebula and we're in the process of tracking down the away team."
The Doctor pronounces Neelix dead, shocking and saddening the crew. Janeway vows that he will be mourned according to Talaxian customs, but Seven suddenly enters the room, bluntly asking if his neural pathways are intact. With everyone confused, she proposes a revival procedure using nanoprobes from her bloodstream. After discussing it with The Doctor and Captain Janeway, the Captain orders The Doctor to proceed, even though Neelix has been dead for 18 hours. Seven quickly modifies and administers the nanoprobes, they proceed, and, after some touch and go, Neelix is revived. He has no recollection of what happened and where he has been and wonders why he is in sickbay.
Neelix is incredulous at his revival, and is taken aback by the Borg nanoprobes in his system. Janeway informs him the protomatter mission was a failure, and despite his protests, orders him to take some time off. As Janeway walks Neelix to his quarters, he insists on continuing preparations for his planned celebration of the Talaxian festival of Prixin, and she relents.
In his quarters, Neelix takes a moment to himself, then kneels before the tree statuette from the Great Forest and wonders why his sister Alixia wasn't there when he was dead. Meanwhile, Tuvok and Seven discuss perceptions of mortality in the hallway. Seven sees death as a natural biological function, though she also muses that, since her memories are still part of the Borg Collective, part of her will always exist.
Chakotay, Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres work on investigating the accident, and Chakotay and Neelix proceed to the holodeck to simulate the events. Neelix observes his own death in the simulation. Freezing the program, he reveals to Chakotay he saw no afterlife, that is, the Great Forest, as he was taught and believed his whole life. Chakotay tries to console him, telling him he was probably pulled back before any of that could happen, but Neelix feels that he should have experienced something in the eighteen hours he was dead. He didn't, and now he feels that his beliefs were myths.
Tuvok addresses a bustling celebration in the mess hall with the traditional salutation. Paris and the party toast Neelix, who is still distressed but puts up a brave front, telling Chakotay he's fine now.
Janeway entreats Seven to join the festivities by chiming into a discussion. Hearing Ensign Samantha Wildman discussing children with The Doctor, Seven informs them that Borg children develop in maturation chambers. Somewhat taken aback, Wildman excuses herself and talks with Neelix telling him that Naomi has missed him for the last few days. Desperate to leave the party, Neelix decides to pay her a visit and tuck her into bed. Naomi again insists on a tale of the Great Forest as she dreamed about it the previous night, and Neelix tells her of its beauty but does do dishearteningly now that he no longer believes in it.
Later, Seven meets Neelix in the mess hall for a blood scan. Neelix blows up at Seven, insisting he hadn't asked to be revived, but almost immediately his body begins to necrotize again, and Seven escorts him to sickbay.
The Doctor reports that Neelix's body was rejecting the nanoprobes, and reports more extensive medical care will be needed. Neelix requests Chakotay aid him in a vision quest. Neelix prepares a medicine bundle, and meets Chakotay in his quarters.
Neelix' vision shows him in the mess hall, trying to get to his dead sister, who keeps running away from him. He chases her down the hall and into the Great Forest, where she talks with him. She tells him it is a lie, created from a fear of death. His sister mocks him, and dies as in the metreon cascade. The Forest goes dark, and Neelix finds himself dead on a slab.
Before he awakens, all the characters in the vision insist on the pointlessness of his existence, and that he knows what he has to do.
Neelix goes to astrometrics and long-windedly apologizes to Seven, implying he may be leaving. Later, Chakotay finds Neelix in the mess hall cleaning, and reminds Neelix that vision quests are not a one-time event, and are subject to interpretation. Neelix closes up the mess hall.
- (Log entry made by Neelix) "And finally, Mister Tuvok. I'm grateful for the opportunity I had to win your respect. Your strength and your wisdom were an inspiration to me, and I can only hope that your memory of me will serve to inspire you in some way. It was an honor to spend my last years on Voyager, with this crew. I want to thank all of you for your kindness and companionship. Goodbye. Computer, end log and code for delivery to Captain Janeway in one hour."
Neelix then attempts to beam himself into the nebula. Harry Kim stops his initial attempt, but Neelix holds up a tricorder and states he has an unblockable site-to-site transport rigged up. Chakotay faces Neelix in the transporter room. Neelix reveals what really happened in his Vision Quest, and Chakotay tries to convince him the vision is open to interpretation and shouldn't be taken at face value. Neelix tells Chakotay that when he lost his family in the war, all that kept him going was knowing that he would see them again in the afterlife and now he's lost that hope he doesn't know how he can go on. Chakotay tells Neelix that there's no way of knowing what awaits him after death, and that the crew of Voyager are his family now. Ensign Wildman then coms Neelix, and while Neelix tries to ignore it Chakotay tells him that his life is trying to call him back. He tells him that even Seven of Nine understands how important he is to the crew, and that he isn't only valued for his skills, talents, or knowledge, but for the way his compassion and kindness makes the crew aboard Voyager seem connected like a family and that is something worth living for. Ensign Wildman then arrives (having used the computer to locate him) unaware of what Neelix was about to do, asking him to tuck in Naomi again. Neelix finally accepts that he still has things worth living for and hands Chakotay the tricorder. Neelix then tucks in Naomi, who sleeps with happy dreams of the Great Forest.
- - Chakotay and Tom Paris
"For 18 hours, 49 minutes 13 seconds. Congratulations, Mr. Neelix. You've just set a new world record."
"You mean I lost consciousness, I was in a coma?"
"No, you were dead."
"I'm stunned, I'm amazed, I'm grateful, thank you, Doctor."
"You can thank Seven of Nine, the procedure was her idea."
"The Borg assimilated the technique from species 149, I simply modified it, but you are welcome."
- - Neelix, Seven of Nine, and The Doctor
- - Neelix, recurring
"Neelix, you've just returned from the dead. Go easy on yourself."
- - Janeway
"I didn't ask to be brought back!"
"You were dead at the time."
- - Neelix and Seven of Nine
"You will be assimilated."
"No time for that now, maybe later."
- - Seven of Nine and Neelix in a vision
"As long as I don't start assimilating the crew or sprouting Borg implants, I guess I can live with it."
- - Neelix, later on
"Suffice it to say the list is extensive."
- - Tuvok, during his "traditional salutation" of the first night of Prixin.
- - Janeway and Seven of Nine, on socializing
"Children assimilated by the Borg are placed in maturation chambers for seventeen cycles."
"Interesting… well, if you'll excuse me, I need to go talk to Neelix."
"In these… maturation chambers, the development of conversational skills is, I suppose, a low priority?"
- - Seven of Nine, Ensign Wildman and The Doctor, when Seven attempts small talk at the Captain's request
"You are a peculiar creature, Neelix."
- - Seven and Neelix
- - Harry Kim, to Neelix in a vision
"Even our Borg understands how important you are on this ship."
- - Chakotay, to Neelix
Title, story, and script
- This episode takes its name from part of the "To be, or not to be" soliloquy from William Shakespeare's play Hamlet: "For in that sleep of death what dreams may come / When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, / Must give us pause…"
- This episode underwent numerous rewrites. Although the episode does not credit her for her work, freelance writer Kathy Hankinson pitched the premise that would eventually develop into this installment. Her original idea involved a death fetishist with an immortal, regenerating body who, merely for fun, repeatedly fooled The Doctor into killing him. The members of Star Trek: Voyager's writing staff immediately found this plot concept appealing, thinking it was "interesting" and "weird." They subsequently began to contemplate its primary theme of death, wondering both how they could do an unusual spin on a near-death experience and exactly how the revived person would be brought back to life. (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 18)
- The writing staff then came up with the idea of having Borg technology be the revival method. Co-executive producer Brannon Braga said of the episode, "It started off broad, bringing back the dead using Borg technology." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 94) The writing staff also initially decided that the main character would be Ensign Samantha Wildman. Staff writer Bryan Fuller remembered, "We were going to do this Pet Sematary episode where Ensign Wildman goes on a shuttle mission and dies, and Seven of Nine brings her back to life using Borg technology, except that now she's 'zombie mom.' She's not all there. Wildman's more connected with death than life, and her only link to life is through her daughter. She wants to kill her daughter, though, to bring her back to 'life' so she can share that experience with her. Really a creepy, morbid story! I thought, 'This is going to be so much fun to write. There has been nothing on Star Trek remotely like that, ever.' So we broke the story, and everybody was pretty happy about it." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 18)
- This early version of the story was ultimately deemed to be too extreme, however. While Bryan Fuller was working on the script over a weekend and was about halfway through the scripting process, he received a call from Brannon Braga, who told Fuller to stop working on the script and relayed news to him that executive producer Rick Berman as well as Paramount Pictures studio executives didn't like the story; they had objected because they didn't want to see a young mother die and try to kill her own daughter. "I can understand why," Bryan Fuller remarked, "but now we have to re-examine how to tell the story. I was already halfway through it, and time was short." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 18)
- The writing staff subsequently re-broke the story, at which time it was decided that Chakotay would be the person who was revived from death, influencing him to subsequently question his Native American beliefs. Bryan Fuller thereafter started to write this revised version of the story. After he spent four days of working on the rewrite, he again received a call to stop working on the script. He explained, "They decided to stay away from Native American spirituality. Plus, afterlife beliefs tend to be very paganistic and materialistic, and many Native American cultures frown on it. They think it's tasteless, because it becomes very prideful and egocentric." As a result of the producers' objections, the story's main character finally changed to being Neelix. (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 18) Brannon Braga and staff writer Joe Menosky eventually worked on the rewrite. Menosky noted, "Brannon and I did rewriting on it, but Bryan did a really, really nice first draft." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 94)
- At one point of this episode, Seven of Nine describes the Kazon as having been rejected for possible assimilation by the Borg, on the grounds that they would have "detracted from perfection." This may or may not be an in-joke by the producers, based on comments made by Jeri Taylor (in Star Trek Monthly(citation needed • edit) and elsewhere) that she had never really liked the Kazon as a major enemy for Voyager, and regretted having used them so heavily in the first two seasons. However, the Borg's view of the Kazon does contradict a statement made by Locutus of Borg in "The Best of Both Worlds, Part II", that the Borg "only wish to raise quality of life, for all species."
- The final draft of this episode's script was submitted on 17 September 1997. 
Cast and production
- Bryan Fuller believed that, while this episode's thematic exploration remained grim, its impact was lessened via the use of Neelix as the protagonist. "Because it's this little hedgehog guy from outer space doing it, then it's much more palpable," Fuller opined. "You can get in through the back door." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 18)
- At one point during this episode's production stage, Joe Menosky was amazed by a certain performance that Neelix actor Ethan Phillips delivered. Menosky recollected, "I went down to the set when they were shooting that 'man on a ledge scene' when Neelix was in the transporter room, and I thought Ethan Phillips was awesome. Everybody had tears in their eyes on the set when he was playing that." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 94)
- Brannon Braga, Jeri Taylor and Bryan Fuller were also delighted by Ethan Phillips' acting herein. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 94; Star Trek Monthly issue 36, p. 12; The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 18, p. 63) Braga said of the installment, "[It] became something very personal and very touching, in large part because of Ethan Phillips' performance." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 94) Jeri Taylor commented, "Phillips does a fantastic job in this. He is such a good actor, and he really brought a great deal of depth and texture to that role." (Star Trek Monthly issue 36, p. 12)
- Ethan Phillips himself was particularly pleased with this episode generally. "I was so happy with that show," he enthused. (Star Trek Monthly issue 40, p. 31) Phillips cited this episode among five "Best of Neelix" installments, commenting, "This was probably his greatest episode [....] It was an important episode, and I'm glad Neelix was at the center of it." (Star Trek Magazine issue 179, p. 77)
- Naomi Wildman's first name is finally revealed in this episode (a year and a half after her birth, which is depicted in the second season installment "Deadlock").
- This episode's reference to the Kazon is the first time they are mentioned since the third season opener "Basics, Part II".
- It is mentioned in this episode that Ktarians, like Klingons, are prone to growing faster than Humans (which is used to explain how Naomi, who should only be eighteen months old at this point, resembles a six-year old child).
- This episode is similar (in some ways) to "Barge of the Dead", in its addressing the concept of an afterlife, but different in that this episode seems to indicate that it does not exist.
- Neelix's experiences in this episode are somewhat followed up on in the fifth season episode "Night", in which he is diagnosed with "nihiliphobia: the fear of nothingness" as Voyager travels through a starless black sector dubbed "the Void".
- During the resurrection process, Seven of Nine mentions that the "alveoli in his (Neelix's) lung are regenerating." This correctly corresponds with events that take place in the first season episode "Phage"; specifically, that Neelix's original lungs are stolen by Vidiians and that, afterward, Kes donates a single lung to him so he can continue to survive.
- The shot of the transporter pad as Neelix begins to transport off the ship is virtually identical to a shot in "Caretaker" when Neelix first beams aboard.
- This installment was Bryan Fuller's favorite from the episodes that he wrote during Voyager's fourth season. (Star Trek Monthly issue 42, p. 18; The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 18, p. 64) This was particularly because the episode addresses his opinions of religious doctrines he had discarded years before working on the episode. Citing his reasoning why this episode was his favorite from the ones he had written for the fourth season, Fuller stated, "It had these spiritual elements that were so much a part of growing up Catholic, and there was a great deal of me in that." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 18, p. 64) Additionally, Fuller said of the installment, "It was a fascinating journey for me to watch and to write." (Star Trek Monthly issue 42, p. 18) He also believed that Neelix's predicament here could be universally related to and appreciated. "What would be worse," Fuller rhetorically asked, "than having your own dead grandmother come back and say, 'You know, there is no God. This is all a figment of your imagination, you're going to die, and there's nothing after. You disappear, and that's that. See ya!' So that one, I think, really speaks to many fears. And in a way that's what Star Trek does best. It turns a secular element that runs through everyone's lives on its ear and tells it in a different way that you can appreciate, and you won't be offended by it." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 18, p. 63)
- Brannon Braga was also pleased with how this installment turned out, calling it "a lovely show." (Star Trek Monthly issue 44, p. 14) Additionally, he commented, "I was very happy with 'Mortal Coil' [....] That was an episode that I felt very close to. It dealt with religion, and loss of faith. I very much liked the fact that in the end, Neelix does not actually regain his faith, and yet he has passed on something to the little girl. The ability to imagine the world that he has lost is going to help this girl sleep at night. I don't know exactly what it means, but it felt real somehow." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 94)
- Another staff writer who was pleased with the episode's final form was Joe Menosky. At the end of the fourth season, he raved, "It's my favorite episode of the year [....] I think 'Mortal Coil' was very, very successful, darkly strange, and magical, and melancholy, and very affecting." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 94)
- During the lead-up to this episode's first airing, Jeri Taylor predicted that the installment would be successful. "I think [it] should come out well," she noted. (Star Trek Monthly issue 36, p. 12)
- This episode achieved a Nielsen rating of 3.9 million homes, and a 6% share.
- Cinefantastique rated this episode 2 and a half out of 4 stars. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 93)
- Star Trek Monthly issue 40, p. 59 scored this episode 3 out of 5 stars.
- The unauthorized reference book Delta Quadrant (p. 217) gives this installment a rating of 3 out of 10.
- Shortly after the completion of the fourth season, Ethan Phillips hoped for more episodes like this one. "Boy, if I can get one show like that every year, I will be a happy man!" he announced. (Star Trek Monthly issue 40, p. 31)
Video and DVD releases
- UK VHS release (two-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 4.6, catalog number VHR 4627, 15 June 1998
- As part of the VOY Season 4 DVD collection
Links and references
- Robert Beltran as Commander Chakotay
- Roxann Dawson as Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres
- Robert Duncan McNeill as Lieutenant Tom Paris
- Ethan Phillips as Neelix
- Robert Picardo as The Doctor
- Tim Russ as Lieutenant Commander Tuvok
- Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine
- Garrett Wang as Ensign Harry Kim
- Brian Donofrio as sciences officer
- Heather Rattray as operations officer
- Andrew English as operations officer
- John Copage as sciences officer
- Heather Ferguson as command officer
- Keith Rayve as command officer
- Pablo Soriano as operations ensign
abort sequence; acetylcholine; akoonah; alveoli; AMU; assimilation; autonomic bypass; bedside manner; blood pressure; blood viscosity; Borg Collective; brain; bread; brother; cadaver; class 1 nebula; cell; centimeter; cerebral cortex; cheese; coffee; colony; cycle; containment cylinder; containment field; cortical stimulator; cup; curd; death; Delta Quadrant; Dunes of Talmouth; father; father's brother; father's father; father's mother; fermentation; firenut blend; firstborn; fruit compote; Gand sector; Great Forest, The; Grid 6920; Guiding Tree; heart; hematological scan; holodeck; Kazon; Kes; Ktarian; lung; maturation chamber; maturation cycle; medicine bundle; microgram; milk; mitochondria; monster; mother; mother's brother; motor neuron; nacelle; nanoprobe; necrosis; Neelix' cousins; Neelix' father; Neelix' mother; Neelix' sisters; neural pathway; neuroelectric isopulse; neurotransmitter; nutritional supplement; pattern buffer; phase variance; physical; pizza; postmortem analysis; Prixin; protomatter; recycling; resuscitation; root nectar; site-to-site transport; Shirk; shock; Species 149; Species 329; spoon; suicide; Talaxian; Talaxian-Haakonian War; Talaxian spice; taste bud; Thursday; toast; tomato; transporter beam; transporter log; transporter range; transporter signal; vision quest; whey.
- "Mortal Coil" at StarTrek.com, the official Star Trek website
- "Mortal Coil" at Memory Beta, the wiki for licensed Star Trek works
- "Mortal Coil" at Wikipedia
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