Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Riddles”

“Riddles”
Written by André Bormanis and Robert Doherty
Directed by Roxann Dawson
Season 6, Episode 6
Production episode 227
Original air date: November 3, 1999
Stardate: 53263.2

Captain’s log. Neelix and Tuvok are returning from a diplomatic mission with the Kesat in the Delta Flyer. Neelix’s attempts to engage Tuvok in conversation or games or something fall on uninterested pointy ears. When Tuvok finally agrees to a riddle, Neelix tells a joke with a bad pun for a punchline, at which point Tuvok retreats to the aft section to get away from him.

While there, Tuvok detects someone downloading their tactical data. Tuvok scans with a tricorder and finds a cloaking frequency, but he’s then hit with weapons fire and collapses. Neelix rushes to his aid and sends a mayday to Voyager. The Flyer and Voyager rendezvous and the EMH is able to stabilize Tuvok. However, he has suffered significant brain damage, and the EMH is unable to determine a course of treatment without knowing what kind of weapon he was struck with. Unfortunately, Neelix was too busy piloting the ship to take sensor readings of the aft section—which nobody blames him for, as his quick action is what saved Tuvok’s life—and Tuvok’s attackers destroyed his tricorder, wiping out the data he scanned.

Janeway suggests Neelix contact his new friends among the Kesat to see if they know anything about it. They send a deputy investigator, Naroq, who comes on board. Naroq believes this is the latest attack by the Ba’Neth, a xenophobic species that cloak their ships and whom no one has ever seen, and whom many Kesat believe to be a myth. However, there have been twelve other attacks like the one on the Flyer, though the previous victims of Ba’Neth weapons fire all perished from the brain damage. However, Vulcans are made of sterner stuff.

Neelix brings some of Tuvok’s stuff into sickbay, and also plays Vulcan music and threatens—er, that is, promises to enact a Vulcan epic, but then Tuvok wakes up. He seems confused, and is as yet unable to speak. He appears to have lost his memory, as he doesn’t seem to recognize anybody or anything. But he is conscious and aware of his surroundings.

Naroq and Seven are able to examine the particle residue in the aft section of the Flyer and, using Kesat tech and Borg ingenuity, create a virtual image of the Ba’Neth. Naroq is thrilled to see what they look like, and Janeway believes they can adjust Voyager’s sensors to detect their ships with this new information.

The EMH reports that Tuvok’s brain is basically rebuilding itself. For the moment, he seems to have no recollection of who he is, and he still isn’t talking. Neelix takes him on a tour of the ship. He seems to recognize the tactical console, but then he accidentally activates the photon torpedo launcher.

Voyager is able to detect the Ba’Neth ships, only to discover that there are a whole fleet of them nearby. Without the cloaking frequency, however, they can only detect them when they’re nearby, and after a brief firefight, the Ba’Neth retreat.

During the firefight, Tuvok—who is now in his quarters with Neelix—gets scared and cowers behind a chair. He also talks for the first time, sounding very much like a child. He says that he’s safe with Neelix, mainly because Neelix has been telling him that since he woke up.

Star Trek: Voyager "Riddles"

Screenshot: CBS

Tuvok meets Naroq, who queries him about the cloaking frequency he saw on his tricorder before he was shot, but Tuvok can’t remember it, and finds the bits of memory he does have disturbing. Neelix takes him away from Naroq’s interrogation.

Various crew members spend time with Tuvok to try to help jog his memory. Kim tries to show him kal-toh, but Tuvok grows frustrated with the game quickly. Tuvok then reads his personnel file and is annoyed that he is nothing like the person described in it. He has a tantrum, to the point where the EMH has to ask Neelix to leave sickbay.

Neelix and Seven have a heart-to-heart, as Neelix is frustrated with his trying to bring Tuvok back to himself, and Seven points out that he should be focusing on who Tuvok is now, not who he used to be. Tuvok then gives Neelix a wax flower he made by way of apology. He says he isn’t interested in logic and meditation and kal-toh. He wants to have fun—he’s also boggled as to why Tuvok and Neelix weren’t always friends.

They go to the mess hall, where Tuvok starts to bake things, which Kim and Paris rather enjoy tasting. So does Janeway, but she also asks him about the cloaking frequency. Tuvok does remember what it looks like, and he re-creates it with the icing on the cake he’s baking. Thrilled, Janeway takes that to the bridge.

Using that frequency, Voyager is able to track down the Ba’Neth. They explain that they seek out tactical information on alien species to see if they’re a threat. Janeway offers tactical information on local aliens they’ve acquired in exchange for the specs of the weapon they shot Tuvok with. If they don’t play ball, Janeway will just have to inform the Kesat of where the Ba’Neth are hiding.

Star Trek: Voyager "Riddles"

Screenshot: CBS

The Ba’Neth agree, and the EMH is able to synthesize a cure for Tuvok’s brain damage. However, Tuvok isn’t sure if he wants to take it. He enjoys life, and doesn’t know if he wants to go back to the way he was. Neelix agrees that he enjoys this Tuvok more—but Voyager needs its tactical officer, and that’s more important than Neelix’s enjoyment.

Later, Neelix encounters Tuvok in the mess hall, now back to his old self, and ready to return to duty. Tuvok expresses no interest in continuing his baking hobby—though he does provide a variation on Neelix’s riddle with a bad pun of his own.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The notion of a cloaking frequency is introduced in this episode, and will never ever be mentioned ever again, even though it apparently allows one to see through a cloak, which would be, y’know, useful.

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway is surprisingly subdued in an episode that is about her oldest friend suffering. It’s like they forgot that Tuvok and Janeway’s friendship is the longest-standing one on board or something…

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok agrees to hear Neelix’s riddle, probably expecting it to be something worthy of the Sphinx. Instead, he tells of an ensign trapped on a Class-L planet for a year with only a calendar. He survived by eating the dates. While this initially sends Tuvok to another room to avoid the possibility of further stupid riddles, at the episode’s end, Tuvok admits that the ensign could’ve also survived by eating sundaes.

Half and half. Typically, actors directing their first episode, as Roxann Dawson does here, have very little screen time in their inaugural directorial endeavor—in this case, Torres doesn’t appear in the episode at all.

Forever an ensign. Kim seems to take great pleasure in the reversal of him teaching Tuvok how to play kal-toh, though the Vulcan’s frustration takes all the fun out of it.

Star Trek: Voyager "Riddles"

Screenshot: CBS

Everybody comes to Neelix’s. Neelix is still acting as ship’s ambassador, making contact with the Kesat, and also as morale officer, trying to help Tuvok throughout the episode.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. Once he is given the specs of the weapon used on Tuvok, the EMH is able to cure him. Because he’s just that awesome.

Resistance is futile. Seven reminds Neelix that what happened to Tuvok is similar to what happened to her when Janeway separated her from the Collective. She had to learn to become a different person, and that may be what Tuvok needs more than reminders of who he once was.

Do it.

“The Vulcan brain: a puzzle wrapped inside an enigma housed inside a cranium.”

–The EMH’s poetic description of Vulcan neuroscience.

Welcome aboard. Only one guest this time round: Mark Moses as Naroq. Moses will later play Captain Archer’s Dad Henry in the Enterprise pilot “Broken Bow.”

Trivial matters: Roxann Dawson joins Robert Duncan McNeill and Robert Picardo from this show, and Jonathan Frakes, Sir Patrick Stewart, LeVar Burton, Gates McFadden, Michael Dorn, Rene Auberjonois, Andrew J. Robinson, Siddig el-Fadil, and Avery Brooks from the previous two shows in going from in front of the camera to behind it. Dawson will take to directing like a duck to water, and in the years since Trek, her directorial career—like that of Frakes and McNeill—has eclipsed her acting career.

Neelix wants to re-enact Clash on the Fire Plains to Tuvok. Tuvok previously mentioned the Fire Plains on Vulcan in “Innocence” as part of the song he sang about Falor. The Fire Plains will be seen in the Enterprise episode “Home.”

Star Trek: Voyager "Riddles"

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “If anyone can provoke Tuvok, Mr. Neelix, it’s you.” I’ve been going back and forth in my head about this episode, because there’s a lot to like about it, but also a lot that really frustrates me about it.

Let’s go with the three best elements of it to start. It’s not really a surprise watching this episode to learn that Roxann Dawson has become a heavily in-demand director to the point where she hasn’t done any acting work in a decade, but has more than fifty directorial credits in that same span. In her inaugural turn behind the camera, we see excellent use of closeups, strong performances from all the actors, and some beautifully framed shots. This feels like one of the better outings from Jonathan Frakes or Winrich Kolbe, which is high praise indeed.

And then there’s two of those great performances. As ever, when given material that takes his character seriously, Ethan Phillips is up to the challenge, giving us a Neelix who is almost fanatically eager to please, but also one who will do whatever he can to help the people he cares about. Even when he’s being Super-Duper Annoying Neelix in the early scenes in the Flyer, it’s not as irritating as it usually is—mainly because it plays so well against Tuvok’s dry wit. This double act has worked well any number of times, from their initial meeting in “Caretaker” (“You can… take a bath”) onward, most notably in “Rise,” and it’s nicely turned on its ear here.

Tim Russ gives the performance of a lifetime, as Tuvok does Flowers for Algernon in reverse. As good as he is as the petulant, childlike Tuvok who is frustrated by kal-toh and the spectre of his past self, the best performance he gives is before Tuvok regains his ability to speak. Watching him struggle wordlessly and seeing the emotions play on a face that we’re not used to seeing emotions play on is just amazing. In many ways, the point of this episode is to be an acting exercise for Russ in much the same way “Infinite Regress” was for Jeri Ryan. And as that, it works superbly.

But I find so much of the episode frustrating as well. For starters, where is Janeway during this? Her interest in Tuvok’s condition is far more related to whether or not he can help them find the Ba’Neth to cure him, but where’s her concern for her old friend? The Janeway-Tuvok friendship is one of many years’ standing, and has been a bedrock of the show (notably in “Prime Factors,” “Alliances,” and “Flashback“), and to not have it be a factor here is a major lost opportunity.

As good as Seven’s speech to Neelix in the mess hall was, encouraging him to let Tuvok be the current Tuvok instead of trying to recapture past glory, it was frustrating to watch because six years in, we know that Tuvok is gonna fixed by the end of it. Voyager doesn’t just push the reset button, it jumps up and down on it. That speech from Seven just felt like a waste of time, because it wasn’t going to matter. This would’ve been so much better as a multi-episode storyline in which Tuvok slowly recovered, but that wasn’t the mode the show chose.

At the very least, we had Tuvok being allowed to make the choice himself, rather than go all “Tuvix” and “Nothing Human” and have the decision made for the patient against their wishes. But I feel like the decision needed a bit more oomph to it than it got, and that the arguments needed to go beyond “Voyager needs its tactical officer.” This called for the level of conversation that we saw about the Prime Directive in TNG’s “Pen Pals” or about the “Jack pack” in DS9’s “Statistical Probabilities” and “Chrysalis.”

Plus, with a title like “Riddles,” I was hoping we’d get some genuine riddles. Not the cheap-shit wordplay Neelix indulged in, nor Seven’s literal-minded answer to Neelix’s conundrum (“When is a Vulcan no longer a Vulcan?” to which Seven replies, “When his genetic code is sufficiently altered”), but some real Oedipus or Bilbo-and-Gollum stuff. Though the sundae/Sunday pun at the end did make me smile…

Warp factor rating: 6

Keith R.A. DeCandido’s latest book is All-the-Way House, which is part of the Systema Paradoxa series of novellas about cryptids. His tale, which spans three centuries, is about the origin of the legendary Jersey Devil, and is available to order.

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