“…I Knew Exactly What I Had Become”: “Jetrel” (Star Trek: Voyager, Season 1, Episode 15)
“Jetrel” is one of the strongest episode of Voyager’s first season, thanks in large part to stellar performances from Ethan Phillips as Neelix and guest star James Sloyan as Dr. Ma’bor Jetrel, the Haakonian scientist who developed the Metreon Cascade, a devastating weapon of mass destruction the Haakonians deployed in their war against the Talaxians.
Like Rah, Jetrel is trying to redeem himself and atone for sins he committed during war. He has devised a way, he thinks, to bring back victims of the Cascade using transporter technology. He tells Captain Janeway his motive: “I wanted the world to know I’m not a monster. My theories can be used to heal, as well as to destroy.”
If Jetrel reminds you of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the “father of the atomic bomb” who is currently at the center of much cultural conversation, he should. As author and Star Trek podcaster Duncan Barrett wrote for StarTrek.com in 2020, the episode draws deliberate parallels between the real and the fictional scientists, and their respective breakthroughs. Barrett notes that Jetrel’s reaction to seeing the Cascade explode—“.. . . . I knew at that moment exactly what I had become”—is an overt reference to Oppenheimer’s quotation of the Bhagavad Gita to describe his thoughts when the atomic bomb was tested: “Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds.”
Just before he dies of the radiation disease the Cascade caused, Jetrel receives the forgiveness he has been seeking throughout the episode from Neelix. But although Neelix does not kill Jetrel as M’Benga kills Rah, he makes it clear how “the Cascade was a punishment for all of us, for our hatred, our brutality.” The trauma of war spares no one.
Humanity still has a long way to go before we reach the prosperous and generally peaceful future Star Trek depicts. With episodes like “Under the Cloak of War” taking its place alongside earlier episodes about war, the franchise will continue asking viewers to tackle the tough questions that could bring us closer to that future.