Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Tuvix”

“Tuvix”
Written by Andrew Shepard Price & Mark Gaberman and Kenneth Biller
Directed by Cliff Bole
Season 2, Episode 24
Production episode 140
Original air date: May 6, 1996
Stardate: 49655.2

Captain’s log. Neelix and Tuvok are on the surface of a planet gathering samples of a flower that is high in nutrition. Neelix continues to play McCoy to Tuvok’s Spock by trying to get him to be more emotional and enjoy the beautiful day, but Tuvok isn’t having any of it.

Kim and Hogan are fixing an imaging issue in the transporter, but it should be fine now. (It isn’t fine now.) They beam Neelix and Tuvok and their plant samples up, and wind up with a single person in the transporter (with no plant samples) whose uniform is a melding of Neelix’s gaudy outfit and a Starfleet uniform, and who looks both Vulcan and Talaxian.

The person identifies himself as both Neelix and Tuvok, and says he should probably report to sickbay. The EMH performs an examination, and he seems to be a complete melding of the two beings—but he’s also completely healthy, er, somehow, and also has plant DNA in his system, which would be the flower samples.

Kes is hugely weirded out by the whole thing and is very awkward around the being, who decides to call himself Tuvix (after suggesting and then rejecting Neevok). Tuvix is eager to return to duty, and the EMH is eager to get him out of sickbay, especially since he seems to have all of Tuvok’s and Neelix’s most annoying qualities. Janeway isn’t ready to let him do bridge duty, but he does go to the mess hall and rein in the chaos that has been let loose in the kitchen as the crew tries and fails to fill in for Neelix’s culinary service.

Tuvix also attends a staff meeting, and he suggests that the plants might provide an explanation: they reproduce by symbiogenesis, the merging of two different species to form another. The Andorian amoeba also reproduces that way. Janeway sends Paris down in a shuttlecraft to collect more samples of the orchids.

Kim and the EMH are able to replicate the transporter accident that created Tuvix with various orchids from the planet—but every attempt to separate them is disastrous.

Two weeks go by. Tuvix has settled into his new role as combination tactical officer and chef and the crew has grown accustomed to him—except for Kes, who remains incredibly uncomfortable around him. Eventually, however, they do come to a kind of rapprochement.

Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

The EMH and Kim then have a breakthrough, a way of detecting one of the types of DNA strands and separating them out that way. However, Tuvix doesn’t wish to undergo the procedure. He’s a unique person, different from Tuvok and Neelix, and he doesn’t want to die—but that’s what will happen. He tries to convince Kes to talk Janeway out of forcing the issue, but Kes can’t do that for him, because she misses Neelix terribly.

Janeway orders him to undergo the procedure—she has to call security to bring him to sickbay—and then the EMH refuses to perform the procedure, because his program won’t allow him to go against a patient’s express wishes like that. So Janeway does it herself, beaming Tuvix away and beaming Tuvok and Neelix back.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The method of separating Tuvix back into his original bits, as it were, is based on a current medical practice, to wit, the swallowing of a radioactive substance like barium that irradiates certain internal organs in order to make them easier to scan. (Your humble rewatcher had a barium swallow a decade and a half ago to diagnose a hiatal hernia.)

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway discusses with Kes the difficulties of knowing that she’ll probably never see Mark again fighting against the hope that she will.

She also performs the separation of Tuvix herself after the EMH refuses to do so.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH has always found Tuvok to be arrogant and Neelix to be annoying, and now he gets them both in one person! He also comes up with the method of separating him but also refuses to perform the procedure because he was programmed to be ethical, which is more than can be said for the captain…

Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Everyone comes to Mr. Vulcan’s. Tuvix fixes a problem Tuvok said would take weeks, due to his following a hunch, and he also proves to be a better chef than Neelix. His Vulcan discipline has toned down the Talaxian’s exhausting cheeriness, and his Talaxian ebullience has smoothed down his Vulcan snottiness.

And in the end he refuses to willingly undergo the treatment that will restore Tuvok and Neelix, though he does forgive Janeway for her action.

Forever an ensign. We see Kim practicing his clarinet without Baytart bitching about it like he did in “The Thaw,” though this time he’s interrupted by the EMH with a new theory on how to split Tuvix back into Tuvok and Neelix.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Tuvix still loves Kes as much as Neelix does, plus there’s the mentor/mentee relationship Tuvok has with her, but Kes doesn’t see how she can pursue a relationship with him—in particular, she asks what about T’Pel, Tuvok’s wife? Tuvix’s answer is not entirely satisfactory…

What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. Tuvix proves to be better at pool than either Tuvok or Neelix, to Paris’s chagrin.

Do it.

“According to my tests, he’s quite correct when he says that he possesses Tuvok’s knowledge and expertise. He also possesses Tuvok’s irritating sense of intellectual superiority and Neelix’s annoying ebullience. I would be very grateful to you if you would assign him some duty—any duty—somewhere else.”

–The EMH’s diagnosis of Tuvix and also his fervent desire to get him the hell out of sickbay.

Welcome aboard. Tom Wright does an amazing job of channeling both Tim Russ and Ethan Phillips as Tuvix. Wright was one of the people considered to play Benjamin Sisko on DS9. He will return to play Ghrath on the Enterprise episode “Storm Front.”

Simon Billig is also back as Hogan.

Trivial matters: The first draft of the script by Andrew Shepard Price & Mark Gaberman was much more humorous, but Kenneth Biller was charged with taking the high concept much more seriously.

The original plan was to have Ethan Phillips play Tuvix with different makeup, but that was nixed due to Phillips’ distinct voice and character.

We once again see Tuvok’s interest in orchids, as established in “Tattoo” and seen in “Alliances.”

Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “At what point did he become an individual and not a transporter accident?” And now for a phrase I’ve used far too many times in this rewatch: This was a great episode until the ending.

I admire the execution of most of this episode. What had been pitched as a comedy, and which could have devolved into the most tiresome of farces, a batshit-science-fictional take on The Odd Couple, instead is a fascinating colloquy on the subject of individuality. Way back in 1970, James Blish wrote the second original Trek novel, Spock Must Die!, and it included a fascinating philosophical discussion as to whether or not you’re killed and a copy made of you every time you use the transporter.

In “Tuvix,” we see that taken to an extreme. We’ve seen awful transporter accidents before, from “The Enemy Within” to The Motion Picture to “Rascals,” and it would have been an easy out for scripter Kenneth Biller to work in a medical reason why Tuvix had to go through the procedure to separate. But he didn’t do that, instead having Tuvix be completely happy and healthy (even though the notion that this kind of fused being could survive for more than half a second is laughable—I would think the transport of the pig lizard in Galaxy Quest would be a more likely outcome). Because the point here is whether or not Tuvix is a viable sentient being in his own right, and should he die so that Tuvok and Neelix can live?

It’s a question with no easy answer. Kes’ question about T’Pel is a valid one, but it’s also exceedingly unlikely that Tuvok will ever see T’Pel again.

Tom Wright does amazing work here, and it’s what makes the episode sing. He manages a perfect melding of Tim Russ and Ethan Phillips’s mannerisms and speaking styles—it’s a bravura performance, one of the best in Trek history because it so perfectly embodies the character he’s playing.

He’s aided by amazing work by Kate Mulgrew and Jennifer Lien. Mulgrew’s struggles with the awful decision she has to make is palpable, and Lien magnificently plays Kes’ anguish, as she finds herself confronted with someone who is both her lover and her mentor, and yet is neither. She’s grieving twice over, and what’s worse, she’s got a constant reminder of what she’s lost wandering the corridors.

But when it comes time to make the final decision, the episode falls horribly short. Part of why is Voyager’s aggressive standalone nature. Actions very rarely have consequences on this show because they avoid consequences like the plague, but Janeway’s decision here is the most consequential she’s made since she decided to blow up the Caretaker’s array. However, aside from a brief mention by Naomi Wildman in season seven, Tuvix will never even be acknowledged ever again.

That wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the episode didn’t end with the separation, but we don’t get that until the last possible second. So we don’t get to see how Janeway deals with a decision so awful that the EMH wouldn’t even perform the procedure. (More on that in a minute.)

What’s infinitely, horribly worse is that we don’t see how Tuvok and Neelix react to it! Do the two of them feel the same way Tuvix did? Are they upset that he’s dead? Are they grateful? Do they have mixed feelings? This is extremely important information to have. I mean, my guess would be that Tuvok the rationalist is more okay with it than Neelix the emotionalist, but we don’t know.

And it absolutely ruins the episode, because the moral dilemma here is a terrible one, one that results in the captain of a Starfleet vessel—an organization that is supposed to be upholding the Federation’s firm belief in the rights of the individual regardless of what species that individual is from—forcing a sentient being to undergo a medical procedure against his will. On the face of it, it’s a hugely despicable act—it’s so far beyond the pale that the EMH out-and-out refuses to do it. On the other hand, Starfleet is a military organization, and Tuvok, Neelix, and Tuvix are all serving under Janeway’s command, and ordering subordinates to their death is something that every ship captain is likely to have to do at some point.

For this episode to truly work as the morality play it set itself up as, the procedure needed to happen at the end of Act 4, not Act 5. Because we know that everything will be back to normal again at the top of the next episode, the consequences of this incredibly difficult decision needed to be seen in this script, and the script utterly botched it, ruining what could have been a great episode.

Warp factor rating: 4

Keith R.A. DeCandido encourages folks to check out “KRAD COVID readings,” in which he has been doing readings of his various writings, mostly short stories—including the Voyager story “Letting Go” from the Distant Shores anthology. In addition, his reading of a chapter from the Star Trek: Klingon Empire novel A Burning House, originally done for KAG Kon 2020: Home Invasion last weekend, is now available on the channel as well.

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