On Star Trek: Voyager, Neelix wasn’t a very well liked character.
He had his good moments, but, for some, the character was more of an irritant than a benefit to Star Trek: Voyager. He often came across as being too helpful or trying to be braver than he really was. And there are plenty of fans that didn’t see his purpose aboard the ship.
Neelix, played by Ethan Phillips, represented the outlier much like Kes, someone who wasn’t a member of Starfleet and didn’t really belong on the long journey back to Earth. Having him aboard, though, made the series about more than just finding a way home as Neelix was actually trying to find a home, and one episode explains him, who he was, and how he became the way he was.
A first season episode of Star Trek: Voyager set the tone for Neelix
In the first season episode, “Jetrel,” Neelix comes face to face with the scientist who designed the weapon that eradicated over a quarter of a million of his people, including his family, on Rinax. He’s angry and heartbroken, but beneath the rage, there’s a layer of guilt as we soon learn that Neelix was on Talax when the weapn was deployed. He was supposed to be there as a part of the defense team, fighting the Haakonians. Instead, he was hiding.
Neelix didn’t believe the war was worth fighting, and his failure to report to duty weighed heavily on him when he returned to Rinax and discovered the devastation. Neelix tells Kes that he was a coward, and she realizes he’s been harder on himself than anyone else, that Neelix is angrier at himself than the scientist, Jetrel.
This episode set the tone for Neelix. He’d spent years hiding his secret and carrying his shame. But once that had been brought to light, and he’d found it within himself to forgive Jetrel, he wanted to make up for what he believed was his cowardice.
So it makes sense that he would go overboard to try to help, that he would want to make himself indispensable to Captain Janeway and the rest of the crew. Neelix couldn’t save his family, and he didn’t fight for his race while on Talax, but he would fight for those aboard Voyager.
Yes, Neelix could come across as a bit too enthusiastic at times, but once the burden of guilt had been lifted, it was like he found a new lease on life. He wanted to be a better person than what he thought he had been. The loss of his family, witnessing the brutal destruction of his people, and feeling as though he let them down weighed heavily on him, but once he’d forgiven himself more than Jetrel, he gave himself even more wholeheartedly to the mission because he needed to be needed and because Voyager had become his home, one that he would defend at all costs.