February 22 2024

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Retro Review: Tuvix

7 min read
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A transporter accident merges Tuvok and Neelix into one person who does not want to be separated again.

Plot Summary: While Tuvok and Neelix bicker and collect samples of nutritious flowers on an away mission, Torres tries to repair the transporter. She believes she has succeeded, but when Kim and Hogan attempt to beam the Vulcan and Talaxian back to the ship with their samples, the transporter malfunctions and merges the two men into one person. The Doctor finds that the new individual is healthy, but has no idea how to separate Tuvok and Neelix again, so Tuvix chooses a merged name to match his merged body and asks to continue at the tactical position, though Janeway believes he might be better suited to serving as chef. During a staff meeting, Tuvix guesses that because the flower samples reproduce by symbiotically merging, the plants may have triggered the fusion. He adjusts to having both Neelix’s humor and Tuvok’s logic in his thoughts, becoming a more subtle cook than Neelix and more creative in his tactical hunches than Tuvok. Kes, however, misses both her lover and her spiritual mentor, and when Tuvix tells her that he loves her, she tells Janeway that she can’t consider a romantic relationship with him yet. Kes does want to cultivate a friendship, but while she and Tuvix discuss this at Sandrine’s, the Doctor signals to announce that with Kim’s help, he has been able to create a method for isolating Tuvok’s and Neelix’s separate DNA. But Tuvix does not want to cease to exist and asks Kes to intervene with the captain on his behalf. Kes tells Janeway that no matter the cost, she wants Neelix back, and Janeway makes a unilateral decision to restore two lives by sacrificing one, though she must call security when Tuvix makes an impassioned plea to his crewmates to save him. Since the Doctor refuses to take part in ending Tuvix’s life, Janeway performs the injection and transport herself. Kes is overjoyed to see Neelix, but Janeway leaves sickbay after a perfunctory greeting, unable to look at the two men.

Analysis: “Tuvix” has stuck with me for 20 years, which makes me appreciate it more on a recent viewing than the first time I saw it, though the things that upset me in the past remain just as problematic if not more so. We know now that Tuvix himself will be forgotten and that Janeway will continue to act as an autocrat in a way that previous Star Trek captains rarely did. But the performances, and the fact that the episode engages with the kind of big ethical questions that the original series tackled – also not always successfully – elevates “Tuvix” to one of the must-sees of Voyager‘s second season. It’s strange that what should be an episode about Tuvok and Neelix turns into an episode about Janeway and Kes, something I’m loath to complain about because Kes deserves more development than she’ll ever get, although it’s a shame that the two big scenes between the two women don’t even pass the Bechdel Test. I really dislike that Kes argues for Neelix’s life because she wants Neelix back, not because of who Neelix is as a person, the way Janeway argues for Tuvok’s life based not on her own long friendship with him but based on Tuvok’s selflessness and devotion to duty. I dislike even more that this emotional consideration appears to be the main factor influencing Janeway’s decision to end Tuvix’s life. She must contemplate other factors, but we don’t hear her discussing them with crewmembers or even asking the computer for more data. If Tuvok himself were there, I’d expect him to point out the logic of weighing factors that are never mentioned: Talaxian and Vulcan beliefs about when life begins and ends, the potential risks of separation – especially since we know now from Jeri Taylor’s Mosaic that in trying to save both her father and fiance, Janeway lost both of them – even Starfleet precedent for what is in essence a small-scale Kobayashi Maru test where any choice will lead to someone’s death. When Janeway makes an emotional instead of a logical decision, it feeds into stereotypes about how women think.

It’s true that Kirk sometimes acted like an autocrat when it came to Starfleet regulations, going with his gut regardless of what should have been the limits on his authority, but he usually bounced his ideas off of both Spock and McCoy first, making sure he was balancing his feelings with the facts and trying to figure out whether there might have been something he’d failed to take into account. Given a situation like the one with Tuvix, Kirk might have made the same decision Janeway did, but he’d have talked about it, agonized over it, and – depending on who was involved – possibly have become so paralyzed by the choice that someone else could have knocked him out and made it for him, as in “The Empath.” I have little doubt that Picard would have called a full hearing like the one from “The Measure of a Man” which determined that Data had rights as a sentient being. Even if two people whom Picard loved deeply were involved, I can’t imagine him giving the order to kill someone in order to save them, let alone carrying out the procedure himself. We saw on multiple occasions that Sisko could never choose between the Dax symbiont and its host, which is probably the closest two-into-one analogy; he wasn’t about to sacrifice Jadzia in “Equilibrium” to keep Dax safe even though it was the symbiont with which he had the longer relationship. How could Janeway not have discussed the ethical dilemma with someone like Chakotay, who has strong beliefs about whether each individual has a spirit that can’t be quantified with biology, or with the Doctor, who could describe their differing brain patterns? If Tuvix is Tuvok plus Neelix, doesn’t he have the right to represent their wishes about whether they would want to remain joined or be separated? Of course Tuvix is biased, but so is Kes, and Janeway readily admits that she shares the same wishes about having Mark back that Kes expresses about Neelix. I wouldn’t blame the crew for rebelling, not because Janeway chooses to save Tuvok and Neelix – something it’s made clear that the whole bridge crew supports – but because she behaves like the emotional dictator from “Alliances” and “Investigations” instead of the captain and science officer she trained to be.

Big-picture issues could be addressed if we saw more interaction between Janeway and her crew instead of the abortive romance between Kes and Tuvix, who calls Janeway’s choice to separate him an execution though we’ve been told that the Federation accepts the death penalty only for visiting Talos IV. There could have been discussions about capital punishment, fair trials, the ethics of cloning and genetic manipulation, or abortion since Tuvix is in essence the “child” of Neelix and Tuvok whose continued growth represents a death sentence for the parents. Maybe I’m biased because I really like Tuvix, even near the end when he’s both shrill and ineffectual – you can’t tell me that someone with Tuvok’s memories wouldn’t know how to flee the bridge if he really wanted to. Tom Wright does a nice job blending the most recognizable character affectations of Tim Russ and Ethan Phillips, and he’s quite funny as well, both in the scene where he must (with Vulcan efficiency and Talaxian indignation) sort out the mess in the Mess Hall and in the conference room when he blurts out “Sex!” to explain what caused Tuvok and Neelix to merge. The interactions with Kes are interesting – Tuvix and Kes have more chemistry than Neelix and Kes usually do, something we see Kes resisting with all her might – and there are several wonderful understated moments with the Doctor, at the beginning when the EMH must admit that he’s stumped about how to separate Neelix and Tuvok, then at the end when the EMH refuses to break his medical oath by performing a procedure he discovered yet now realizes will cause irrevocable harm to Tuvix. None of the science makes any sense – even if DNA could be so quickly and thoroughly merged, it makes no sense that the clothing would do the same, let alone that both clones would end up in matching Starfleet outfits afterward (if Janeway programmed clothes into the transporter to save them embarrassment, why not give Neelix his usual outfit?). As always, I can forgive the science if the issues and characterization are really strong, and it’s a great idea for a story. I just don’t love the way it plays out.

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