The Good: Decent acting, Good character development (in the episode), Interesting-enough plot
The Bad: Obvious bottle episode, Huge continuity issues
The Basics: Despite a seemingly weak concept and a serious issue with how it fits in with other episodes, “Riddles” is a good opportunity for Tim Russ to do something different with Tuvok!
The biggest problem with “Riddles” has nothing to do with the episode itself. Instead, the biggest issues with “Riddles” come with how it fits in to the larger Star Trek: Voyager narrative and the way it is resolved by the end of the episode. Instead of playing out the arc over several episodes and forcing the Voyager crew to adapt to the effective loss of Tuvok, “Riddles” takes a complicated character change and resolves it by the end of the episode, which makes for a predictable and less enjoyable execution of the overall episode.
The real problem with “Riddles,” though, is how the episode fits in with previously presented Star Trek: Voyager episodes. Anyone who has seen either of them on the convention circuit knows there is no love lost between actors Tim Russ and Ethan Philips. Realizing early – after Neelix entered the series hugging Tuvok and Russ complained loudly on the convention circuit about how little acting his performance required for the annoyance Tuvok displayed – that they could have fun with the performers by putting them together, writers began to write works that put Neelix and Tuvok together. This literally occurred in “Tuvix” (reviewed here!), where a transporter accident merges the two individuals and the lack of follow-up to that episode was deeply troubling. After Kes left, no one on Voyager was more equipped to be sympathetic to Neelix than Tuvok and that level of compassion would have been great for the character. The Star Trek franchise is filled with episodes where the theme is “justice without compassion is unjust and illogical,” so having Tuvok – as Security Chief, the arbiter of justice on Voyager – be compassionate because he knew everything about how Neelix felt from his own experiences and within Neelix’s mind, would have been pleasant growth for the character. Moreover, in “Rise” (reviewed here!), Neelix called out Tuvok on his character defects – how Tuvok is not just logical, he has a tendency to be mean. The list goes on. But it might amuse the careful viewer to note that by the time “Riddles” came to production, Neelix and Tuvok’s relationship was virtually unchanged, whereas the single common encounter Harry Kim and Tuvok shared in “Alter Ego” (reviewed here!) has led to frequent scenes where the two continue to play the Vulcan game Kal’to. So, the fundamental issue of “Riddles” is that the relationship between Neelix and Tuvok had not changed long before this episode (“Tuvix” should have been to Neelix and Tuvok what “Armageddon Game” - reviewed here! – was to Bashir and O’Brien on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine).
The Delta Flyer is returning from negotiations when Tuvok, trying to avoid spending time with Neelix when he tires of Neelix trying to play word games with him, goes to the aft compartment. There, he is attacked by an invisible alien. By the time Neelix gets Tuvok back to Voyager, Tuvok has suffered brain damage. Voyager re-contacts the Kassat, who send Naroq. Naroq tells Janeway about the Ba’Neth, xenophobic, invisible aliens of Kassat myth who attack alien ships passing through the sector. Naroq wants to use new tools he has developed to find the Ba’Neth and stop them, which might help the Doctor reverse Tuvok’s brain damage.
Neelix, eager to help Tuvok and feeling guilty for not being able to save the Security Chief aboard the Delta Flyer, surrounds Tuvok with things from Tuvok’s quarters and that help to revive him. Tuvok quickly latches on to Neelix and sees him as a safe person to hang around with. When Tuvok is frustrated by not knowing what Janeway and Naroq want of him and he finds himself unable to do the things he used to, he gets very frustrated. After a conversation with Seven Of Nine, Neelix encourages Tuvok to reject his attempts to play Kal’to and figure out the cloaking frequency and, instead, do things he actually wants. Tuvok begins baking creative pastries and delighting in spending time with Neelix. As his recovery progresses, Neelix bonds with Tuvok, knowing that if Voyager successfully negotiates with the Ba’Neth, he will lose his new friend.
“Riddles” is directed by Roxann Dawson is an acting tour de force for Tim Russ. Russ has, fortunately, not been given the same acting challenge as Leonard Nimoy. Nimoy, who portrayed the half-Vulcan Spock, was almost constantly thrown scripts and situations that forced him to play Spock with some level of emotion. In fact, going back and rewatching Star Trek, one might note that Spock is characterized more by what people say about him than how he actually acts. It seems like almost every other episode features the “exception” where Spock is forced to reveal some emotion and Nimoy had to play that. Tim Russ, on the other hand, has had the comparatively harder acting position of playing a full Vulcan who does not express any emotions. While there have been a few episodes that force Russ to challenge his stony façade, the writers and producers have not made it the habit that the writers on Star Trek did for Spock. “Riddles” puts Tim Russ in the position, a reverse Flowers For Algernon, where Tuvok’s brain injury forces him to play a sophisticated, intelligent character as suddenly infantile and openly emotional. Given that there is another Vulcan on Voyager, “Riddles” suffers on the continuity front as well because the episode becomes largely unnecessary in that Vorik could have performed a mind-meld with Tuvok right away and learned what he needed to know to find the Ba’Neth.
And Tim Russ pulls it off. For such a character-centered episode, it is surprising that Dawson did not find a way to put herself into “Riddles,” so B’Elanna’s absence is noticeable (Tom Paris is also referenced, but does not show up). With their absence, “Riddles” is a far more intimate episode that allows Tim Russ to actually show off his acting chops. Russ plays quietly frustrated and angry exceptionally well; watching him in “Riddles” is like watching a child (in a man’s body) throw a temper tantrum. As important, when Russ plays Tuvok as delighted, it is hard not to feel that emotion sweep over the viewer, the performance is so electric.
Ethan Philips plays off Russ wonderfully, but by this point in the series, it is obvious to only the most dense that Ethan Philips can handle any acting task thrown his way with aplomb. “Riddles” is no different; he plays Neelix as smart and compassionate without being obvious. “Riddles” might not be a big episode where a lot happens, but it is an excellent character study for (unfortunately) yet another iteration of Tuvok that does not survive the episode.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete Sixth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the penultimate season here!
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© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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