Star Trek Voyager: Tuvix

"Each of you is going to have to live with this, and I'm sorry for that, for you are all good, good people."

A transporter accident blends Tuvok and Neelix into a single hybrid being called Tuvix, resulting in a serious ethical dilemma for the Captain.

It would be hard to find two more different characters than Tuvok and Neelix, which is, of course, why they so often have stories together. This episode puts them together in a particularly interesting and literal way, as they are spliced into one being by the transporter before the credits. The fact that Tuvix has a 'single consciousness' is a fascinating but difficult way to do it, and both the writing and Tom Wright's performance do a great job presenting a character who is both Tuvok and Neelix, and neither of them.

The palpable discomfort in the scenes between Kes and Tuvix is brilliant, especially when he calls her "sweetie" early on, and the horribly uncomfortable scene in which he professes his love for her (and Tuvok's wife as well - together with a somewhat cold observation that he could have a relationship with Kes that would last her entire lifetime before maybe returning to the Alpha Quadrant and Tuvok's wife. Ouch.) Jennifer Lien does a great job, especially when she tells Janeway that she can't speak up for Tuvix because, although she feels horrible about it, she just wants her boyfriend back.

Janeway and Kes have always been close but this episode is a really nice reinforcement of their relationship. Tuvok and Neelix are Kes's closest friends, so without them she's unsurprisingly lost - and her other close friends, the Doctor and Paris, are unlikely to be helpful (the Doctor isn't that great with emotional stuff, and Paris probably isn't someone she wants to talk to about Neelix). We're reminded of how much Janeway loves Tuvok as well, though of course she wouldn't put it that way, since he wouldn't like that.

The most memorable thing about this episode, though, is its final act and divisive conclusion. We know that, because this is Voyager and, despite some arc plots, it's largely a Space Oddity Of The Week style show, Tuvix will be gone and Tuvok and Neelix will be back by the end of the episode. Voyager's detractors would say the show presses the reset button, and to an extent that's true, but there are reset buttons and there are reset buttons. Tuvix could have been suffering from some kind of physical problem, the nature of the transporter accident shortening his lifespan, necessitating the 'cure' that transforms him back into Tuvok and Neelix, or Tuvix could have voluntarily sacrificed himself for the sake of the two people he was made from. Either would represent the sort of 'reset button' we're familiar with from Star Trek.

But neither of those things happen. Tuvix is perfectly healthy - indeed, probably more so than Neelix, who has only one lung and that donated by a woman with a nine-year lifespan. Since it was thought for some time that nothing could be done, Tuvix had started to build a life of his own, and he has skills - or rather, combinations of skills - that the two separately don't (as Chakotay rather harshly points out). As Tuvix angrily tells Janeway, by 'curing' him, she is actually murdering the person he has become. And Tuvix is not the self-sacrificing type, despite the fact, as Janeway insists, certainly Tuvok and probably Neelix (though I'm not so sure there) would have done so (since the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few - or the one).

Janeway is left with a horrible ethical dilemma - should she execute one person in order to save two? The Doctor's ethical subroutines answer clearly in the negative due to his Hippocratic oath. He worked out the 'cure' on the assumption that everyone, including Tuvix, would want Tuvok and Neelix back, but cannot carry out the procedure because Tuvix is unwilling, leaving Janeway to carry it out herself. However, no one else protests - probably partly because, like Janeway and like the audience, they want Tuvok and Neelix back (well, they want Tuvok back).

The dilemma is really given space to breathe, which is good, the finale act taking up a substantial part of the episode. The scene when Tuvix begs for support from the bridge crew - all giving him the cold shoulder for refusing to give up his life for their friends - and has to be restrained by security is chilling. He even says "I forgive you" which is a bit excessively messianic, but it gets the point across. He is being sacrificed for the sake of two people they love more than they love him.

This is an unusual example of Star Trek depicting a lead character doing something morally questionable and it's really interesting looking at online discussion of the ethics of the episode. There are some shows (frequently featuring vampires) in which lead characters do unethical things reasonably often, and although the audience aren't necessary expected to condone their actions, they are expected to continue to like and root for the character anyway. Star Trek, however, doesn't usually operate that way. In the original series, TNG and Voyager, there is a general expectation that our heroes will do the right thing and fight for whatever seems to be morally and ethically the right thing to do in the face of less scrupulous bad guys. Nothing is unsolvable - Captain Kirk doesn't believe in the no-win scenario. Here, however, Janeway finds herself in just such a scenario and whether you agree with her actions or not, it's certainly an example of a Star Trek Captain doing something at least questionable, and as such is an interesting departure from the series' usual tone.

I love it when science fiction uses an impossible situation to explore an interesting dilemma. It's both a fascinating philosophical exercise - what would you do? What is the right thing to do? Is there a right thing to do? - and it provides more insight into our regular characters. It's no surprise that Janeway takes this on herself, despite probably doing it partly for Kes. Janeway tends to take everything on herself, especially since she is the highest Starfleet authority figure for light years around. Kes' reaction, however, does provide some insight into her - she is a very moral and self-sacrificing person, but she is also passionate enough to be swayed by her love for Neelix (and Tuvok), beyond the philosophical considerations. This is a great use of a neat sci-fi concept.

Bits and pieces

 - I love the detail of Tuvix's initial 'blended' uniform.

 - Tuvok and Neelix were working together on an alien orchid, which prompted the accident - we found out that Tuvok breeds orchids earlier this season, when Neelix tried to use it to bond with him.

 - Tuvix says 'sex' rather abruptly at one point, and the camera goes straight to Kes and Paris, sitting together.

 - Janeway offers Kes tea. Tea?! OK, it's bedtime, but Janeway drinking tea is just wrong.

 - Janeway flirting watch: Minimal flirting, but she talks about accepting that her fiancee back home is not 'part of her life any more'.

 - Kim gets a random clarinet solo for no particular reason, other than to show him on his downtime. It's rather nice. Scenes like this are one of the things I like about this show.

 - Chakotay counts himself Tuvix's friend, which is interesting, as he isn't especially close to either Tuvok or Neelix.

 - Do Tuvok and Neelix remember being Tuvix? The ending is so focused on Janeway, it's never addressed.

 - Regular cast death count: It's really hard to know how to categorise this one. It's also a sticky point, because whether or not you think Janeway did the right thing depends partly on whether you see Tuvok and Neelix as dead - so Tuvix was killed to bring people back from the dead, usually a no-no - or alive but suffering from a medical condition - in which case Tuvix was allowed to die in order to save Tuvok and Neelix, which isn't much better, but is slightly a different thing. As far as the running tally goes, technically, Tuvok and Neelix - their souls, brains, whatever - are still there the whole time, and at no point do they stop breathing, hearts stop beating etc., so on balance I'd say this doesn't count - it's Tuvix who dies, and he's not a regular cast member.

Quotes

Tuvok: That "lovely tune" is a traditional funeral dirge.
Neelix: I know, but it was the most cheerful song I could find in the Vulcan database.

Doctor: 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.

Tuvix: Everybody out!
Hogan: On whose authority?
Tuvix: Chief of Security or Head Chef, take your pick. Out, out, out!

Janeway: At what point did he become an individual, and not a transporter accident?

I love Tuvok episodes, even when Tuvok himself is barely in them (plus this is a really interesting story idea). Three out of four alien orchids.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.

4 comments:

Heather1 said...

Great review, Juliette. I remember being shocked that Janeway "killed" Tuvix. I understood that of course, from a television standpoint, something would have to happen, and perhaps I should applaud that Voyager didn't go the easy route of having something "go wrong" with Tuvix, prompting him to sacrifice himself. However, by doing it this way, in my opinion, there is no way Janeway comes out of this without doing something reprehensible, something that makes her much much less than what she was before.

Billie Doux said...

I also remember being impressed by the complexities in this episode. Excellent review, Juliette.

Juliette said...

Thanks guys :) Heather, I didn't have quite such a strong reaction to Janeway's actions here (possibly partly because I've never actually watched the series in order before) but I know what you mean - I have had similar reactions to characters in other shows who've crossed lines I wasn't comfortable with (Torchwood and, debateably, Game of Thrones have both done that for me)

Lora S. said...

As someone who never particularly liked Tuvok or Nelix this episode was always a letdown for me, because I actually wanted Tuvix to become a new on-going character.

Still, it was a good one and the moral dilemma was perfectly Star Trek, even with the less than ethical choice that Janeway made.