April 24, 2024

Gabbing Geek

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Weekend Trek “Tuvix”

The transporter merges Tuvok and Neelix into one person.

I remember when this episode first aired.  I was in college at the time, sharing a floor in a townhouse-style dormitory with a few friends.  One loved Star Trek much more than I did, and the other wasn’t much of a fan at all, but we did watch this episode together, at least parts of it.  The non-fan joked Janeway “wanted” Kes during a scene when Kes came to get council from Janeway after Janeway had gotten changed for bed…kinda sketchy as jokes go, but we were in our early 20s, and the remark was more or less ignored.  Plus, that guy said that about different Trek scenes all the time.  The big time fan, however, was somewhat amazed and dumbfounded that actor Tom Wright was one-and-done with the Tuvix character by episode’s end.

Me, I figure this episode is as widely-remembered as it is for a reason.

As near as I can make out, there are two really well-known episodes of Voyager at least until Seven of Nine shows up:  this one, and the one where Paris and Janeway mutate into lizards.  The latter is there because it is laughably dumb on so many levels.  But “Tuvix”?  That’s a different story, perhaps because this one is a bit more disturbing.  It is, however, also the episode that Star Trek Lower Decks opted to poke fun at in a B-plot for the Voyager tribute episode.

Essentially, while Tuvok and Neelix are picking alien orchids on a weird planet for possible nutritional benefits, the action of beaming the two men back up results in a single, functional person who is equal parts Tuvok and Neelix.  He has all the memories of both but is still his own person.  He eventually settles on the name “Tuvix” as what he wants to be called, and he actually proves himself more than capable of handling both Tuvok and Neelix’s duties on the ship.  Plus, credit to the make-up department, costuming, and actor Tom Wright because if you had to do a cross between the classic Vulcan and the somewhat annoying Talaxian, Tuvix is probably the result in both look, manner, and personality.  I mean, even the two men’s clothes are merged when Tuvix first steps off the transporter pad.

By the by, I don’t normally do a lot of research into these episodes, but I did a bit for this one:  Tuvix is apparently one of the most requested or mentioned one-off characters in Trek‘s entire history.  Second is the faceless blob that killed Tasha Yar, but I suspect those are a lot less serious.

That all tracks.  Tuvix is, for all that this is his only appearance, a great character in many ways.  First, the idea of merging the two characters with arguably the least in common is something that more or less makes sense.  Second, he’s actually pretty damn charming, taking what he knows of the lives of both men and making him better at the things Tuvok and Neelix both already do.  Tuvok’s logical mind makes him a better cook while Neelix’s humor makes him a better advisor to Janeway.  Even Kes eventually starts to warm up to him.  Now, I know this is episodic TV.  Plot lines for Voyager rarely last very long, and the characters have what may appear to be short memories all things being equal.  Tim Russ and Ethan Philips were no doubt under contract as members of the main cast and were unlikely to be going anywhere.  Tuvix, no matter how charming he is, wasn’t going to be staying.

And then Janeway murders him.

Oh, there’s no doubt that she’s killing him.  She may be doing it with the general approval of everyone, even if no one seems comfortable with the decision, but the episode makes it clear that doing what needs to be done to get Tuvok and Neelix back will absolutely kill Tuvix.  Sure, maybe if Janeway had access to the rest of Starfleet Medical, they could find a way to separate the two without killing Tuvix, but that’s not what happens.  In the meantime, the episode most assuredly goes out of its way to say Tuvix is a new and unique lifeform.  He’s not just two guys smashed together.  Tuvix himself comes up with the explanation for how he came to be, and it ties in with the reproductive cycle of the orchids in question.  He’s a unique life form created by how the plants reproduce.  And if that isn’t enough, even though the Doctor is the one to figure out how to split the two, he won’t do it because it is a violation of his Hippocratic Oath, or at least what he’s been programmed to see as that Oath.  He’ll step aside for Janeway, and Janeway won’t turn him off or anything, but he says he won’t do it because the patient is undergoing the process under duress.

It is very much in Janeway’s character to not only do the procedure herself but also not to punish the Doctor in some way for refusing to do so.

So, Tuvix dies, and the episode ends.  Arguably, the episode ends there because this isn’t the sort of Star Trek that is supposed to make you feel satisfied with what happened.  It’s the sort of Star Trek that is supposed to make you feel uneasy.  Yes, I would have liked a scene showing Tuvok and Neelix either separately or together reflecting on their own experience as Tuvix.  Do they remember what happened?  Has their understanding of each other changed in some way?  The episode doesn’t say, and I don’t think the series ever will.  It may be based on a somewhat silly sci-fi concept in theory, but in execution, it does all the things Star Trek is supposed to do, and the episode brings up profound moral and philosophical questions the way that Star Trek can do very well, and rarely as darkly as it does here outside of Deep Space Nine.

I think it’s safe to say this episode is well-remembered for a damn good reason.