Neelix started out quite the questionable character on Star Trek: Voyager.
When we first meet Neelix, he’s tending to his debris field where he seemingly would be selling off junked starship parts that he procured via numerous, possibly underhanded ways, and selling them off for profit in order to survive in the Delta Quadrant. The one commodity he seemingly could not obtain was something that Federation ships were able to synthesize in an instant: water. Upon realizing this, he decided to take advantage of the Voyager crew’s generosity and innocence to free his girlfriend from enslavement at the hands of the Kazon.
Neelix proved himself to be quite the conniving individual, always seemingly having friends of questionable morals in the right places throughout his region of the Delta Quadrant. The one being whose existence he held above all else was Kes, his 3-year-old Ocampan girlfriend. Since the Ocampans live abbreviated lives, with the eldest Ocampans typically living only eight or nine years, by comparison, that puts Kes to be about the equivalent of being in her mid-20s to early 30s, alternatively, it was always my understanding with all of Neelix’s life experiences, that he was fairly significantly older than Kes…not only in physical age but also in cognitive age as well, which kind of makes him a bit of a creeper. However, just as I wrote previously here, I always viewed Voyager as the story of the redemption of Nick Locarno/Tom Paris & I think the same can easily be said about Neelix as well!
Over the course of Voyager’s 7-year series run, Neelix became quite the upstanding citizen onboard.
Once we got past Neelix‘s jealousy and over-protectiveness towards Kes, he became a solid, trusted source for Captain Janeway to rely upon for information when entering new regions of the Delta Quadrant. As Morale Officer (a position made up specifically for him), he made some great bonds with most of the crew. So much so, that when Ensign Samantha Wildman became pregnant with Naomi, she chose Neelix to be Naomi’s Godfather — a position he took VERY seriously! He read Naomi bedtime stories, checked her room for monsters, and even cared for her while Samantha fulfilled her Starfleet duties on away missions.
Also, while Seven of Nine became a motherly figure for the Borg kids, it was Neelix that she occasionally asked for parenting advice along with The Doctor. Of all of the Voyager crew, Neelix needed to work the hardest to earn the respect of, Lieutenant Commander Tuvok — who would often use a holographic version of Neelix to test his mental & emotional boundaries when he felt compromised. In fact, in one of the final conversations between the two, Tuvok told Neelix that he considered him the most resourceful individual he had ever met, which is extremely high praise coming from a Vulcan! In fact, just before leaving the ship as a Starfleet Ambassador, Tuvok even demonstrated a bit of a “dance” to appease him.
Truth is, the Neelix character grew by leaps and bounds throughout Voyager’s 7-year run, and aside from Tom Paris, I don’t believe that any other character experienced the kind of renaissance that Neelix did, and I think Ethan Phillips did an excellent job in portraying that character. His final walk from the turbo-lift, down the crew-lined corridor was one of the greatest send-offs any character in any Star Trek series ever received, it’s hard not to get teary-eyed while watching Neelix say goodbye to the family he had made for 7 years to rejoin and lead fellow members of his own race.