Voyager rewatch 4.24 – “Tuvix”

Maybe Neelix and Tuvok aren’t such a great team after all.

“Tuvix” is a controversial episode. I know more than one person who either ragequit the series because of its ending, or who simply never trusted Voyager again.

I can’t entirely blame them, because “Tuvix” is not a good episode, and its ending has a dark complexity it absolutely has not earned.

But let’s start at the beginning: Neelix and Tuvok are having a fantastic day (Neelix) or an adequate day (Tuvok) planetside, collecting some useful alien plant matter. Neelix breaks into song, but that’s not the worst thing that happens in this episode.

For one thing, a freak transporter accident combines Neelix and Tuvok into … Tuvix. Which I assume is also the portmanteau pairing name used by Neelix/Tuvok shippers. Or maybe they prefer Neevok, who knows? Are there Neelix/Tuvok shippers? There are 228 Neelix/Tuvok (Tuvok/Neelix?) fics on AO3, and I’d rather read every single one of them than think about Tuvix.

Chakotay remarks, “There’s an old axiom. The whole is never greater than the sum of its parts. I think Tuvix might be disproving that notion.”

With respect, Chakotay, you would say that because you didn’t care for Tuvok. Whereas for me, Tuvix (and his cooking) might be an improvement on Neelix, but he cannot begin to fill Tuvok’s shoes.

Which is not the fault of poor Tom Wright, who is doing his best. He’s very, very good at capturing Tim Russ’s intonations and Ethan Philips’ body language, and it’s not his fault that Tuvix himself is awful.

“Tuvix” is a very small, quiet episode, only rising to the level of drama in the final act. It’s a character study — and unfortunately, Tuvix is not as likeable or charming a character as he needed to be. He starts out practically stalking Kes, proposing that they continue the relationship she had with Neelix, despite Tuvok’s marriage. Perhaps he assumed that Kes will have reached the end of her lifespan before Voyager gets home and he has to have an awkward conversation with T’Pel?

Although they’ve reached a rapprochement by the final act, with Kes open to a friendship and maybe more, Tuvix — learning that the Doctor has finally found a way to separate Neelix and Tuvok — goes and shreds the fragile bit of sympathy I’d had for him by making Kes intercede with Janeway.

“He shouldn’t have put you in the middle of this,” Janeway says gently, while I sharpen my pitchfork and prepare to push him out an airlock. Tuvix may be a sentient being who deserves a chance of life, but he is also a useless fuckboy who made Kes cry, and the penalty for that, my friends, is murder.

Or at least consignment to history, never to be spoken of again, because, seriously — did the writers imagine for a moment that there would be any suspense about the outcome? They weren’t going to sacrifice two main characters like this. The only mystery was how Neelix and Tuvok would be separated, and when, and what would be lost.

And this is Voyager, a show where consequences barely happen. I mean, I love it, but they’re only just slowly emerging from TNG-style pure episodic storytelling. If you’re going to have your captain, your lead character, end a person’s existence against their will like this, you’d better commit to addressing the consequences.

Voyager is not that show. I don’t think it ever really became that show. I think “Tuvix” has a really fascinating premise, but this was not the series for it.

As for the ethics of Janeway’s decision — well, the twist that Tuvix wants to live comes too late to really dig into the issue with any depth. But, as a person whose education in ethical philosophy comes mostly from watching The Good Place, I feel like the law of double effect applies. The needs of the many, and all that.

But I am, you’ll have noticed, biased against Tuvix, who combines Neelix’s worst traits with … sounding like Tuvok and occasionally mentioning logic. I’m fond of Neelix, but I took an instant, visceral dislike to Tuvix and never got over it. I even resent him for waiting until the last minute to articulate that he wants to live, even though I think we’re meant to see that as a decision that surprises even him.

Spoilers, my favourite scene in “Tuvix” involved Janeway and Kes

Obviously it’s the one where Kes seeks Janeway’s guidance late one night, and they sit in the dark and talk about loss and hope and moving on.

This is Janeway at her most vulnerable, and I think it’s significant that she’s sharing this part of herself with Kes, who is outside the chain of command, and who doesn’t expect anything from Janeway except honesty and respect. Janeway’s monologue about sometimes being full of hope, and sometimes wanting to give up, really spoke to me — and it’s a seed of characterisation which makes, for example, her depression in “Night” feel organic.

Also, I wish I had a stash of letters from Tuvok. I bet he approaches Austen-levels of funny-mean in his observations.

The other bit I liked, even though I’m ambiguous about the ending, is that Janeway isn’t let off the hook; we don’t see Tuvok and Neelix thanking her for saving them. (Ungrateful so-and-sos.) She made the choice, and she has to live with it. (Except not really, because that would require more continuity than Voyager will commit to.)

Other observations

  • Janeway’s cheekbones were on point this week
  • I feel compelled to clarify that obviously I don’t think “being unappealing to Liz” is grounds for homicide in real life, even for useless fuckboys who are bad at boundaries
  • Harry has played the clarinet several times this season, but I only just twigged that it looks like Garrett Wang is actually playing???
  • (Google tells me he did indeed learn to play the clarinet at some point in the show’s run)
  • Not a single person objects to Janeway’s order to drag Tuvix to sickbay and have him forcibly separated, and that feels … maybe realistic? But it doesn’t say good things about this crew, which is full of people we’re meant to like.

In conclusion

“Tuvix” really wants to be one of those crunchy, highbrow Star Trek episodes about IDEAS and ETHICS and whatnot. But it’s not willing to put the work in. The result diminishes the series and is extremely skippable. One and a half fancy space orchids out of five.

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