In the twenty-fourth episode of the second season ofÂ Voyager, a transporter accident thrusts a terrible moral dilemma upon the crew. Intrigued? Then itâ€™s time for Mark to watchÂ Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of consent.
I thought this would be a wacky and silly episode.Â I was so wrong. Indeed, the very idea of the transporter smushing together Neelix and Tuvok into one person is hilarious. Who else exists on such polar extremes as these two? Hell, the cold open definitively demonstrates that these two characters are utterly unlike one another. (I really think in another universe, Tuvok has already murdered Neelix. IT HAS HAPPENED.) So the concept of them existing in the same body is justâ€¦ bizarre? Unthinkable? Surely an absurd buddy caper of some sort?
Yet it is the incredible acting power of Tom Wright, Jennifer Lien, and Kate Mulgrew that elevates this story â€“ which on paper sounds like too much â€“ to something transformative. And to be fair, the second half of this script deserves praise because it goes to a place I never expected. But itâ€™s the logical conclusion of this story, isnâ€™t it? If youâ€™re going to combine Tuvok and Neelix into a single character, then youâ€™ll have to separate them by the end of the episode, at least by the terms whichÂ VoyagerÂ dictates its stories follow. This show doesnâ€™t do the same kind of serialization that we get onÂ Deep Space Nine.
So, â€œTuvixâ€ asks an incredibly uncomfortable question: what does it mean to ask for these characters back? If we return Neelix and Tuvok to the show, what are we actuallyÂ doing? It seemed to be a simple enough conflict. All the team needed to do was discover a method of separating out the DNA of their crewmates from the local orchidâ€™s DNA that caused the symbiogenetic fusion. Right? So, science! And in the meantime, things would be awkward, and Tuvix would get into ~constant shenanigans~ and then everything would be fine in the end. Oh, thereâ€™d be some angst from Kes, which would be understandable, but by the time the credits rolled, thisâ€™d be a grand olâ€™ adventure.
And then this episode turned to me and whispered,Â â€No.â€
I appreciate this episode for a number of things â€“ the casting, the acting, the writing â€“ but Iâ€™ll hone in on one thing. The writers follow through on what they create. It would have been so much easier to have Tuvix bumble about the ship, unable to fit in, and demand to be returned to his two separate identities. Instead, Tom Wrightâ€™s portrayal of this composite character is an eerie amalgamation of the best qualities of Neelix and Tuvok, so much so thatÂ we begin to like him. Not just the audience, but the crew itself comes to enjoy Tuvix as a person! Heâ€™s charming and funny, but Tuvokâ€™s logic tempers that humor. On the other side of the coin, Neelixâ€™s sense of humor and whimsy brings Tuvokâ€™s devotion to logic to a more grounded place. That doesnâ€™t mean that the original characters are awful people, of course; itâ€™s just that theyâ€™re polarizing characters.
Even when it comes to Kes, who has the most complicated journey out of anyone else on the crew, she eventually accepts that Tuvix is someone she can be friends with and possibly more. The depiction of that is honest and real, and itâ€™s why this episode hits as hard as it does. Kes loves Neelix, and even if thereâ€™s a great deal of Neelix in Tuvix, itâ€™s not the same. But oh my god, thereâ€™s ONE OF MY FAVORITE SCENES IN ALL OFÂ STAR TREKÂ IN THIS EPISODE. Yâ€™all, I adore that moment where Kes reaches out to Janeway, and Janeway delivers poignant, sympathetic advice. She draws a heartbreaking parallel to what the original crew have been going through: whether or not to have hope that theyâ€™ll see their loved ones ever again. Iâ€™d not even considered that angle, but then, from just one scene, MY HEART WAS READY TO EXPLODE.
Except it wasnâ€™t, because â€œTuvixâ€ was saving one last punch to my emotions for the final act. Tuvix, over the course of this episode, became a person.Â WasÂ a person. He had his own identity, his own life, his own experiences. He successfully found a way to settle in onÂ Voyager, and he affected people. He became an advisor for Janeway, and he improved the cooking in the mess hall. He mattered for the few weeks he was here, and it was in his every right to want to live. And thatâ€™s the uncomfortable place weâ€™re taken: Why should Tuvix sacrifice his life? Does his consent matter?
I imagine that this was aÂ veryÂ polarizing episode, and I donâ€™t blame people for being horrified by this ending. But Tuvok and Neelix had to come back, and that meant that without Tuvixâ€™s consent, Janeway would have to â€œkillâ€ Tuvix. It is an absolutely heartbreaking sequence, from Tuvix trying to appeal to the moral sensibility ofÂ anyoneÂ on the bridge to the Doctor refusing to do the procedure. But Wright fixes a sober look on Tuvixâ€™s face just before Janeway herself activates the transporter beam, and itâ€™s a total condemnation of what sheâ€™s doing, a quiet refusal to give his willpower to anyone else. This is somethingÂ everyoneÂ will have to live with. Yes, itâ€™s great to get Tuvok and Neelix back, but there was a cost to do so, and â€œTuvixâ€ doesnâ€™t shy away from portraying that.
The video for â€œTuvixâ€ can be downloadedÂ here for $0.99.
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