Tuesday, July 31, 2012

I Return To My Reviews As Kes Faces A Dilemma Named "Tuvix"

The Good: Well acted, Mildly original concept, Decent moral dilemmas
The Bad: Predictable and obvious to fans of the genre
The Basics: When Neelix and Tuvok become joined as one being, the viewer is presented with an interesting life and choice dilemma.

Every now and then, the writers or producers of shows in the Star Trek franchise change the name of an episode late in the game. The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Time Squared" (reviewed here!) is still often mislabeled "Time To The Second" by TV Guide. It's rare I remember such things, but when the episode "Symbiogenesis" was changed to "Tuvix," I remember being disappointed. Star Trek: Voyager had dumbed down from an intriguing title to the obvious. That's somewhat emblematic of the problem with "Tuvix."

When Tuvok and Neelix beam up from an alien planet carrying a new, rare flower, the two are merged by the transporter into a single lifeform. The awkward, part Talaxian, part Vulcan takes on the name Tuvix and begins to interact with the crew of the USS Voyager. Captain Janeway finds herself in the awkward role-reversal of mentor to half her mentor and Kes finds herself in the awkward position of trying to continue a relationship with a man who is the combination of both her lover and her mentor.

Tuvix, for his part, soon becomes an invaluable member of the crew as a cook and tactical officer, though many of the crew are unsure how to respond to this entity that is not Tuvok and not Neelix. This becomes of vital concern when Ensign Kim and The Doctor figure out how to separate the two from one another. Tuvix begins to plead for his unique life and the crew finds themselves in an ethical bind.

This episode represents one of the last true chances Janeway has to make a strong ethical dilemma that is not in any way tied to Seven of Nine (the former Borg character that enters in Season 4). Recently in the second season, Janeway has been forced to rule on issues of life and death, like in "Death Wish" (reviewed here!) and "Tuvix" represents much the same dilemma between free will and the obligations of the individual.

On a straight plot level, "Tuvix" represents a rather banal twist on a Star Trek standard. Ever since early in the first season of Star Trek when Captain Kirk was split by the transporter into two beings (the good and the evil or the aggressive and the weak, depending on perspective), Star Trek has had a "thing" about splitting recognizable characters into two versions of themselves. "Tuvix" takes the opposite tact in an attempt to be original by combining Tuvok and Neelix. Sadly, this comes well after Odo and Dax were combined over on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the episode "Facets" (reviewed here!), so this potentially original episode smacks of derivations like so many of the episodes of Star Trek: Voyager.

Why is this worth your time, then? First off, Tuvix is an interesting enough character. The blending of the unlikely combination of Neelix and Tuvok - two characters who are otherwise foils of one another - creates a character that is impressive enough to dominate the viewer's attention for the full episode. Far less silly than Neelix, Tuvix becomes a joyful reinterpretation of Tuvok and the interactions between Tuvix and Janeway and Tuvix and Kes become dramatically tense.

On the character level, Tuvix is more than a simple statement to the viewer where we have yet another argument in the Star Trek pantheon for the value of life. No, Tuvix becomes convincing in his own right combining the reason of Tuvok with the passion of Neelix as he pleads for his right to exist and not simply end up as an ended experiment. It's too bad, in some ways, how this episode resolves itself as the outcome is both obvious and disappointing on a character level. Tuvix stirs up a character who has been swept under the rug and one who is just goofy.

Tuvix is brilliantly acted by Tom Wright, the actor who electrified the third season of NYPD Blue in the episode "The Blackboard Jungle.” Wright proves his ability to act with a reserved, very Vulcan, quality that is lightyears from his angry, passionate character of Kwazi on NYPD Blue. Wright has a bearing to him that instantly brings him credibility, eliminating the doubts that his Tuvix character is not genuine or legitimate. Indeed, Wright appears to have studied the mannerisms of both Tim Russ (Tuvok) and Ethan Philips (Neelix) to play the role. There's not a hint of the silly Neelix when Tuvix is passionately arguing with Janeway for his right to exist, a credit to Wright.

And both Jennifer Lein (Kes) and Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway) play off Wright perfectly. Mulgrew is passionate and expressive giving a performance that is utterly believable as she fights for the return of her beloved mentor. Lein is faced with the acting challenge that twists her character in knots and the viewer instantly empathizes with Kes as a result of her performance. Lein insinuates a quiet desperation into Kes as the character wrestles with becoming attached to Tuvix or wanting only to have Neelix and Tuvok returned to her in their more useful capacities.

So, all that truly suffers in Tuvix is a derivative concept and plot execution. This is par for the course with Star Trek: Voyager and this aspect is mitigated some by the interesting character and the focus on the dilemma that follows his existence. Instead of becoming preoccupied with the science that created the unified being Tuvix, the show focuses on what it means that he exists and now that he has experiences neither Tuvok nor Neelix had, what does reversing the process (splitting the one character back into two) mean ethically. That's a nice twist and it offers solid entertainment value to anyone who is a fan of science fiction and likes a decent character study.

There might be just enough for general fans of character studies to enjoy "Tuvix," though the technobabble may be a bit much. It certainly remains one of the few Star Trek: Voyager episodes worth returning to.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete Second Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the sophomore season here!


For other Star Trek reviews, be sure to check out my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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