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Tuvix

WARNING: Spoilers await for Tuvok ... no, Neelix ... no, Voyager's "Tuvix".

In brief: Dumb, dumb idea -- but amazingly, it came off pretty well.

Written by: Kenneth Biller (teleplay); Andrew Shepard Price & Mark Gaberna (story) Directed by: Cliff Bole Brief summary: A transporter accident merges Tuvok and Neelix into an entirely new person, Tuvix, who possesses the memories of both individuals and who does not wish to be "separated".

"Tuvix" started off with such a fundamentally silly idea at its heart that it had a long way to go to make up for it. As if holodeck-gone-wonky stories weren't enough, and as if various transporter stories weren't enough (they're split in two! they're turned into children! they can be magically restored to youth! they slice, they dice -- and boy, can they catch fish!), "Tuvix" decided to take things a step sillier and magically "merge" two entirely different people (even different species) into one.

This isn't an error that bugs me on the level of those in "Genesis" or "Threshold", but it's still pretty dumb. The basic idea of one-celled creatures merging to form a third new species strikes me as potentially plausible (or at least, so saith my evolutionary biologist wife :-) ); however, there are tons of reasons why no species would "want" to do that (among other things, you're not perpetuating your own species), and attempts to extrapolate that up to multicellular life like the Merging Orchids of Doom shown in the episode strike me as ... really really really questionable, at best. I've said in the past that shows like "Genesis" had students of mine coming up to me and saying "oh, come on" -- well, one student of mine who *liked* "Genesis" said to me after "Tuvix", "that was a pretty dumb idea." [One reason why I don't see it as quite so dumb as "Genesis", I suppose, is that it involved the transporter, which is enough magic-tech in itself that things aren't provably idiotic.]

All that said, however ... "Tuvix" actually managed to pull off a fairly decent episode after such a dumb premise. The character was genuinely interesting, at least most of the time -- and more to the point, many of the reactions _to_ Tuvix were relatively on target. There wasn't anyone who insisted resolutely that his presence was "an abomination" [to quote _Dune_], which is a view I would have expected to see from at least one person (perhaps even Chakotay, given his spiritual views), but there did seem to be at least a reasonable range of reactions, from acceptance to discomfort. I would have liked to have seen some more extreme positions shown from both sides (the only one arguing really strenuously in Tuvix's defense was Tuvix himself, and the strongest advocate of removing him appears to have been Janeway), but there was at least a decent spectrum of reactions shown.

The choice to use Kes as the person through whom most of this was viewed was an obvious choice, given her relationship to Neelix, but it's one that worked anyway. As Janeway quite correctly pointed out, she was one of the few people who hadn't experienced the same feelings of doubt and loss that everyone else on board had experienced when they were stranded in the Delta Quadrant, and as such her own feelings of loss were going to be the most dramatic ones to examine. (The other ... logical ... choice would have been Janeway, as she lost her close friend Tuvok, but she had her own fish to fry here.) As a result, the Kes/Tuvix scenes had a sense of novelty to them that's been a bit lacking for most of this year -- and the Kes/Janeway scenes were just on the right side of being reassuring and emotional without being cloying. As much as I've been left cold by various Kes moments (and Kes/Neelix in particular), in this case Kes was a good tool for the job.

The story, in many ways, wasn't much. There was the initial shock and curiosity regarding Tuvix's existence, and the slow discovery by the crew (and viewers) of just how different and yet similar Tuvix was. (Some of that felt cliched to me: the facts that the merged one solved security problems better than Tuvok and that his cooking was better than Neelix's, for instance, felt like particularly obvious gestures.) It was also just as expected that a possible reversal would suggest itself at the very moment Tuvix started feeling really accepted by everyone (particularly Kes), and once everyone had gotten used to not being able to get Tuvok and Neelix back. That doesn't mean the scenes themselves didn't work; a great many of them did. I just wish there had been a few turns I hadn't predicted half an hour in advance.

Much of the credit for "Tuvix"'s success has to go to Tom Wright, who played Tuvix. His performance did seem like an effective merging of both Tim Russ's Tuvok and Ethan Phillips's Neelix; possessing, as the doctor called it, both "Tuvok's irritating sense of intellectual superiority and Neelix's annoying ebullience", he wound up being far more tolerable than the Neelix, and perhaps less frustrating than Tuvok. I like Tuvok quite a bit, so I'm not at all certain that I liked Tuvix better than both of the characters he replaced; but he was certainly extremely interesting, and was both fairly well- written and quite well-played in order to bring that about. Little moments like Tuvix ordering everyone out of the kitchen as "chief of security or head chef, take your pick" did more for me than a host of speeches would have.

The final question arose in the final act (actually just before): now that the possibility exists to turn Tuvix back in to Tuvok and Neelix, do they have the right to do that? I'm of somewhat mixed emotions about how that act was handled, but overall I got a good impression about it. Some of the dialogue was handled just beautifully (Tuvix's reasoned "are you suggesting that this is *your* decision to make?", for instance), and Tuvix's ill-considered choice to ask Kes to help him influence Janeway felt like exactly the sort of wrong choice he should have made. (Kes's "Tuvix has asked me to speak to you on his behalf ... but I can't" was surprisingly effective.) That work was good enough to balance out the speechmaking, which was mixed (Tuvix's final speech didn't do much for me, though the doctor's did). As a result, the fifth act tended to leave me impressed, which is rare for a Voyager fifth act (though less so of late).

I do have a few problems with the ending, however. The primary one is that it was just too sudden; suddenly Tuvok and Neelix are back, and we don't get time to see anyone's long-term reaction to the return to status quo. (I wouldn't have a problem with it if it were to be brought up later, but given past habits I'm not holding my breath to see that.) The secondary one is actually a part of that:

I don't object to Janeway's decision. It's not the one I would have made, and I think she'd have an interesting time defending it, but I don't equate "bad decision" with "bad show" (at least usually). However, the fact that Janeway has just made a decision to do what some on the crew *will* see as a cold-blooded murder is something that demands a followup. This is an issue that absolutely needs to get thrown back in her face -- whether as part of an actual mutiny or just by someone disgruntled (or even just by Chakotay or something, when noting that there is dissension in the crew). If that happens sometime soon, I'll be substantially happier, both with the ending here and with the series -- but frankly, I'm pessimistic enough that I don't think it will. (Heaven knows that virtually nothing else has.) Given the assumption that it won't, then, I think the conclusion was inadequate.

Even given that, however, "Tuvix" managed to eke out a net win. It certainly kept me more interested than most of this season (probably the last one to keep me this interested was "Meld"), and that's a help.

So, wrapping up:

Writing: ghastly notion in the first place, but some tender moments and interesting issues (admittedly left half-done in places). Directing: Nothing felt particularly strong, but the show didn't overly lag, either. Acting: Good, good work from Tom Wright, and fairly strong work from Mulgrew and Jennifer Lien. OVERALL: 6.5, I think; working from a major deficit, but mostly good afterwards.

NEXT WEEK: Janeway's farewell?

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) tlynch@alumni.caltech.edu <*> "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." -- the Doctor Copyright 1996, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.

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