Neelix was not Star Trek: Voyager’s most popular character before season 4, but another character’s exit ended up turning his favor around with fans.
The character of Neelix got off to a rocky start in popularity on Star Trek: Voyager, but season 4 marked a turning point for him – mostly due to another character’s exit from the show. Star Trek: Voyager ran from 1995 to 2001, and followed the crew of the USS Voyager as they journeyed through the Delta Quadrant in an attempt to get home. Neelix was a Talaxian, a Delta Quadrant alien who joined Voyager’s crew during the pilot episode along with his girlfriend, Kes. The two of them stayed with Voyager for most of their trip, although Kes left the ship at the beginning of the 4th season and Neelix departed in the 7th season just before Voyager found a way back to Earth.
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Neelix is remembered by fans for being a flamboyant character. Everything from his colorful suits to his ebullient personality made that very clear. While this made him eye-catching, it didn’t necessarily endear him to fans from the start. Over the years, Neelix has been criticized for being annoying and too overenthusiastic, especially in his duties as Voyager’s cook and morale officer. Indeed, many of Neelix’s storylines in the first three seasons played up his more unpleasant characteristics, especially those having to do with his relationship with Kes.
From the start, Neelix and Kes were the odd couple in more ways than one. Kes was an Ocampan, a species that only lived about eight or nine years, which meant that the age difference between her and Neelix was rather extreme. This resulted in an uncomfortable dynamic between the two. Neelix often had a more paternalistic attitude towards Kes, and struggled with intense possessiveness and jealously over her. This, combined with the writers seemingly not knowing how to give the couple fulfilling storylines, resulted in a relationship that was badly received by fans and hurt both characters’ popularity. Star Trek: Voyager’s creative team tried to make the relationship work for the first two and a half seasons, but eventually conceded defeat and broke Neelix and Kes up mid-way through season 3.
In large part because of his relationship with Kes, Neelix was one of the least popular characters on Voyager for a while. However, because of other issues with her character, the decision was made to write Kes off the show at the beginning of season 4. This turned out to be the right decision all around, not only paving the way for Seven of Nine to join the cast but also finally giving Neelix the chance to shine like he never had before. Without Kes, Neelix’s uglier traits such as his jealousy either mellowed or went away entirely. Her departure also allowed him to be more involved in storylines with other characters, such as Tuvok and Naomi Wildman. Most of Neelix’s best episodes are in seasons 4 through 7 of Voyager, thanks in large part to his storylines no longer being encumbered by having to involve Kes.
Of course, this newer version of Neelix wasn’t able to sway everyone to his side. Many fans still regard him as one of their least favorite characters, and some still think his potential as a character was wasted throughout the series. There is no denying, however, that Neelix’s personality and storylines improved dramatically once he was not being forced into an awkward romance with Kes. Star Trek: Voyager did the right thing by first ending the relationship and then giving Neelix more to do with other characters once Kes had left the show.
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