Paris and Neelix crash on “Planet Hell” in search of supplies and encounter a baby alien.
Plot Summary: While giving Kes a piloting lesson, Paris finds himself attracted to her and confesses later to Kim that he might be in love with her. Neelix is suspicious and attacks Paris in the mess hall, so that when Janeway summons them for a meeting, they are both covered in food. The crew has discovered “Planet Hell,” an M-class world with high concentrations of amino acids, which suggests that it can provide food sources. But dangerous electrical storms in the atmosphere make it impossible to beam down, so Janeway orders Paris to pilot Neelix to the surface so that the latter can identify edible plants. A violent storm causes the shuttle to crash. While Torres and Kim work on the transporters for a rescue, a bickering Paris and Neelix go looking for a cave where they can shelter from biological irritants in the atmosphere. After sealing themselves in, they discover a nest in which an alien reptile is hatching. Already quarreling over Kes and over Paris’s comments about Neelix’s cooking, the two debate their responsibility to the newborn, with Neelix persuading Paris that they may be the reason the parent has not returned so they have an obligation to care for it. Paris suspects that the amino acids in the atmosphere of the seemingly barren planet may provide food for its inhabitants, and suggests that they leave the cave so the baby can absorb nutrition from the air, though it irritates the humanoids’ skin. When an alien ship approaches, Voyager disables its weapons and waits for a window to attempt to use the transporter. Neelix admits that he may have misjudged Paris, so Paris confesses that he is attracted to Kes, though he would never betray Neelix by acting on those feelings. Finally, Voyager is able to establish communication and warns that an alien from the other ship is approaching. Neelix and Paris make sure the alien finds the baby before the beamout that rescues them. Kes expresses her relief that the two men now seem to be getting along.
Analysis: I’ll confess that I mostly remembered “Parturition” as the episode in which Janeway appears with the hairdo that will become standard several seasons on, yet mysteriously grows out in a week so that she can wear the bun and later the ponytail. It would be better for Paris and especially for Neelix if everyone forgot everything else that transpired on Planet Hell…not that either one makes particularly bad decisions concerning the alien baby, just that the dialogue is so clunkily written and drags on for so long that it slides from comically cheesy to downright annoying. I see that the writers want to work through Neelix’s growing jealous over Kes’s friendship with Paris, but it’s already been belabored for so long that it’s painful to have to sit through an entire episode focused on it. Plus there’s the fact that the jealousy has been unfounded, focused on any male with whom Kes becomes friendly – in “Twisted,” Neelix gets upset merely because she knows where Ayala’s quarters are. So having Paris decide out of the blue that he’s in love with Kes because he experiences ten seconds of proximity-based attraction to her seems to justify Neelix’s paranoia while making Paris look ridiculous, given that he and Kes have so little chemistry that the writers have to come up with a contrived situation to get her to fall into his arms, showing her involved in piloting lessons when it’s much more likely the two would spend time together as field medics in Sickbay. The “jealous Neelix” storyline starts out making him look buffoonish and ends up making him look creepy. He rescues what is in essence an underage girl with almost no experience of her own world, persuades her to see him as protector, is disappointed when she decides not to have a child with him, and obsesses over her friendships with other men despite not having any evidence that she would be unfaithful – in fact, her people are so monogamous that the Doctor believes it must make their literature boring.
In other words, Neelix’s insecurities are all about Neelix, with Kes treated more as an object than an individual. Neelix may give lip service to wanting her to have the chance to explore and learn new things, but every time she does, whether it’s studying with the Doctor or learning about Starfleet from Paris, Neelix goes slightly berserk. Kes is aware of this and feels guilty, though she tells Kim that she knows it’s ridiculous; far too often she questions whether her behavior will upset Neelix instead of making choices purely for herself, thus stopping her from growing exactly the way she came on Voyager to do. Then there’s Paris, who’s already shown romantic interest in Stadi, the Delaney sisters, a couple of aliens, and various holograms; he decides that he’s in love with Kes not because they’ve shared the sort of private emotional details about their backgrounds and goals that he shares with Neelix in this episode, but because she’s warm and friendly and falls into his lap. He knows even less about Kes than Neelix does. I have no issue with Paris finding her attractive – like Kirk, Paris simply seems to appreciate women, regardless of age or species – but the confession scene with Kim makes him seem like even more of a shallow buffoon than the show has already indicated, and Kim mocks him about it. We keep being told that Tom isn’t the screw-up Starfleet believes, with tendencies that sent him to the Maquis, then to prison, but if we’re supposed to find him likable instead of merely tolerable, there has to be more to his inner life than moping about not being able to live up to his father’s expectations and drooling over every female he meets. Sure, it’s cute when he takes an interest in the alien baby he initially wants to abandon, but given that in a few weeks he won’t even blink when his own alien babies get left behind after his Warp 10 adventure in “Threshold,” it’s even more difficult to take his paternal instincts seriously on this rewatch. We also know on a rewatch that we’re never going to see the alien species again, even though they obviously have advanced technology so they might make good allies.
And we know that Paris drops his interest in Kes as quickly as he develops it. So despite a couple of nicely directed scenes between Paris and Neelix, what’s the point? When I first reviewed “Parturition,” I called it “a pretty harmless waste of an hour,” but that’s too generous. The story is the most superficial sci-fi schlock, advancing neither the ship’s mission nor our understanding of the way the crew interacts. When it comes to the characters, everyone looks pretty useless apart from Kim and Torres, even Janeway – not only does she have to play mother to brats who hold positions sufficiently elevated that they have no excuses for their unprofessional behavior, but she decides to risk (and lose) yet another of Voyager’s precious shuttlecraft. I recall that someone did a count and concluded that Voyager ultimately lost 17 of its original six shuttles – or possibly more, if the ones from “Hunters” and “Drone” weren’t rescued and repaired. Although we keep being told that the ship is nearly out of replicator power for food, they must have enough to keep reproducing shuttles to make up for the ones destroyed while looking for something to eat. I’ll forgive Chakotay for making it sound like diverting one single day off course to bolster critical food stores might be a crisis; I assume he just wants an excuse to get Janeway alone in her ready room, at least until they learn that the Doctor has been eavesdropping on all command decisions in which he’s not included, a revelation that makes them both look so concerned that I desperately want to know what they’re afraid the Doctor overheard. You know what I said last week about shipping making otherwise unwatchable episodes enjoyable? “Parturition” is a classic example, whether you’d rather imagine Janeway and Chakotay being spied on by the Doctor or Neelix, Kes and Paris heading off at the end to get drunk and have “piloting lessons” together.