Thursday, July 14, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Tuvix"

“Tuvix” offers writer Kenneth Biller a chance to cut loose with his imagination and explore major ethical issues of life, death, and the existence of the soul. Unfortunately, he does not have it in him, so what we actually get is a ridiculously high concept premise that would have been considered laughably outlandish even on TOS, the glossing over of life and death issue based on the whims of others, and Janeway acting like a domineering psychopath. There was likely a good idea buried somewhere in the story pitch, but it quickly disappeared when Biller started typing.

Tuvok and Neelix are done collecting orchid samples on a planet when something goes awry with the transport back to the ship. They and the samples they were carrying are merged into a single being. He is a perfectly healthy being in possession of both Tuvok and Neelix’s memories. The merge was not caused by a transporter accident for once, but the plant samples the two were carrying. They are highly aggressive in forming hybrids. The kess examined, the better, says I.

Calling himself Tuvix, he goes about as many of his duties as he can muster while winning over the crew while the doctor works on a cure. The rest of the crew adjusts well to Tuvix. He is a better cook and more fun to hang out with than Neelix. He is also a better tactician because he follows sharp hunches and is less arrogant than Tuvok. However, Kes and Janeway struggle with the loss of their respective confidants. For his part, tuvix is patient with the latter two, but he is having a good time fitting in better than he ever has before.

The doctor figures out a method of killing off the plant elements bonding Neelix and Tuvok together, so he can separate them without harm. Unfortunately, Tuvix does not want to be separated. He is now a unique person with his own life. Splitting him into his parts will be an execution. He will not allow himself to be killed.

Here you have the set up for a good ethical dilemma. Tuvix is like the child of Tuvok and Neelix. Genetic material from both have combined to create a new person. For all intents and purposes, Tuvok and Neelix are dead and gone. Does Tuvix not have the right to continue living? Reasonable people would not consider it ethical to kill a child even if somehow doing so would bring the parents back to life.

But the episode does not care about ethics. Janeway wants took back. Kes wants Neelix back. That is all that matters. If anyone else other than tuvix or the doctor, who refuses to perform the procedure against Tuvix’s will, they do not speak up. Demonstrably so. When Janeway decides to order Tuvix to undergo the procedure, he desperately begs each one of the bridge crew to intercede on his behalf. Chakotay and tom take quick glances at Janeway as tuvix begs them personally, almost as if they are afraid to defy her will. Tuvix is dragged to sickbay by security with Janeway escorting.

It is hard to describe just how chilling the scene is of them marching down the hall for what is essentially Tuvix’s execution. It is purposefully presented as a march to the electric chair/gas chamber/lethal injection chamber. If this is supposed to be a commentary on the evils of the death penalty, it misses the mark because the only thing on the audience’s mind is what a crazy psycho Janeway is. There is no ethical discussion. She wants her friend back and she will kill to have him return. End of the story. As I said above, the doctor refuses to perform the procedure on ethical grounds, so Janeway does it herself.

I repeat that, because it bears repeating; Janeway murders a member of the crew because the Doctor refuses to do so on ethical grounds.

There is a lot of potential in exploring the ethics of Tuvix’s fate. The problem, like with so many VOY episodes, is no counterargument to killing him is given any weight. Tuvix’s right to exist is not even addressed by the Doctor. His refusal to perform the procedure that would end Tuvix’s life is based solely on lack of consent. Separating Tuvok and Neelix from Tuvix is done because Janeway and Kes want their friends back. If there are any higher issues involved, the episode does not bother with them. Considering “Tuvix” comes so close after the much better "Death Wish" and "Lifesigns," both of which dealth with similar issues, so its flaws are even more glaring.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

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