"Tuvix" (was "Symbiogenesis")


The following is a SPOILER Review. If you have not seen the episode yet and do not want to have the plot given away, stop reading now.

This is not just a review; it's a retelling of the episode from start to finish, limited only by my ability to remember the details. I do this for my friends in uniform and those living overseas or who otherwise do not have access to the episodes as they are aired.

I watch the episode only once--maybe twice--before I compose a review, and I rarely don't take notes. I rely on my memory, hence the term SASR (short attention span review).

WARNING: I am also a charter member of the Wordy Muthah Hall of Fame. I'm enrolled in a Brevity twelve-step program, but these things take time.


A transporter malfunction turns Neelix and Tuvok into ... Tuvix.

Jump straight to the Analysis


Neelix and Tuvok are on a planet, collecting samples of vegetation which may have nutritional value. Neelix is usual affable self, urging Tuvok to enjoy the walk in the woods. Tuvok plays the traditional party-pooper Vulcan, arguing Spock-like semantics with the Talaxian Bones McCoy. Neelix tries to liven things up by singing a chipper little Vulcan tune, which Tuvok informs him is a traditional funeral dirge. You know, the standard cross-cultural wackiness we've come to expect when Vulcans get huffy about their unflappability.

The mission complete for now, they request beamup, but a small transporter glitch is causing delays. Harry Kim believes he's fixed it, and he tells Hogan to proceed. Two to beam up...

But only one actually does. Or both, or neither, depending on how you want to look at it. Standing on the transporter platform is a tall, hefty, dark-skinned, funky-haired guy with a uniform of Starfleet and Talaxian blend, the ears of a Vulcan and the eyes of Speed Racer.

Naturally, Harry Kim draws his phaser and asks the stranger to identify himself. "I am Tuvok...and I am Neelix," says the creature in wide-eyed wonder.

In sickbay, Holodoc confirms those cryptic first words--the man is an intricately weaved DNA mix of Neelix, Tuvok...and a plant. ("Swamp Thing"?) The odd thing is, the hybrid seems perfectly healthy, and even a tad amused by the whole thing. Janeway and Kes are most decidedly not sharing his emotions, looking at him with a mix of horror and mistrust.

Holodoc orders Kes to run the man through further diagnostics. She does so with distracted efficiency, as he tries to offer some comfort. Kes helps him pick out a name--he discards Neevok before settling on Tuvix. (Good choice, sez I.) But though he may think of himself as at least partly Neelix, Kes sees no Neelix there. Nor does she see any of Tuvok, her teacher. All she sees is a reminder of who is no longer aboard--the two men who mean most to her on board. He calls her sweetie, a natural instinct, and she recoils.

Forget Star Trek; this is one for Talk Soup.

Later, Janeway visits Tuvix in sickbay. He swears he feels fine, and is eager to return to duty. Janeway remarks that the mess hall could use his guiding hand; Tuvix declares that he feels his skills would best be utilized in Tuvok's tactical station. Janeway isn't about to go for that just yet, but she does invite him to a staff meeting where they will discuss the transporter mishap that created this conundrum.

Holodoc asks (begs) Janeway to release Tuvix; he has, sez Holodoc, "Tuvok's annoying air of superiority and Neelix's ebullience." Or something. Tuvix takes it as a compliment, and gives Doc a one-armed bearhug, jump-starting Holodoc's "Oh, please" subroutine. Janeway consents, and Tuvix flatters the heck out of her. Janeway says that flattery will get him nowhere, but the over-the-shoulder smirk she gives him on her way out of sickbay suggests this hybrid is more than your average transporter malfunction.

At the staff meeting, the theories are...nonexistent. They checked the transporter, and the little glitch before beamup was a red herring--it just wasn't a factor. The weather, time-traveling demigods, subspace phenomena, Holodeck weirdness...none of the usual Plot Complications seem to be in evidence. They're stumped, and Janeway is irked.

So, naturally, Tuvix switches the subject to SEX. Conversation stops and Janeway looks at him like he'd better have a dang good reason for saying "sex" when they're talking transporter weirdness. The foot thus in the door, Tuvix explains himself. Among the plant samples they'd beamed up was an orchid with certain odd properties--reproduction by hybridization. It takes two other plant species and mixes with them to make a unique hybrid, Tuvix theorizes. Janeway admits there is an analog--the Andorian amoeba, for example--that uses "symbiogenesis" to reproduce. But she argues that such things typically happen only at the single-cellular level.

Ah, replies Tuvix, but what does a transporter do? Turn multicellular things into subcellular things, and if the plant mingled with the menfolk matter stream, (snap of the fingers) "Tuvix is born!"

Smart AND sassy. You gotta like this guy.

Janeway considers this. It's the best theory yet--well, the only theory yet. It seems worth pursuing. She tells Paris to take a shuttle to the planet to get some frisky orchids the old-fashioned way. She commends Tuvix for his smarts.

Kes runs into Tuvix, who seems to be waiting for her. It's an evening when Neelix and Kes usually had dinner together, and he didn't want to break the date. But Kes doesn't see Tuvix and think Neelix. She tries to resist, but this mutant is a charmer, and soon he has her joining him to the galley.

Where chaos reigns. Too many cooks, and all that. Hogan is in the thick of it--we've seen and heard a lot from Hogan this season. One wonders if he may get Intro Credit billing one day. Tuvix stares at this confusion with consternation. He plunges in and kicks everyone out. "On who's authority?" Hogan demands. "Chief of security or head chef, take your pick!" he rumbles amiably. (Nice trick.) So much for that quiet dinner for two. But Tuvix has seemingly cracked another shell--Kes looks at him and giggles in that cutely familiar way. It's the first time she hasn't looked at him with loathing.

Later, it's just the two of them again. She compliments him on his cooking; apparently the Vulcan side of him provides a tempering effect on the mushrooms tempura. Tuvix complains a bit about Neelix's old dish organization, They seem to share a tender moment, but when he takes her hand, she's back on the defensive and out the door.

The next morning, Janeway and Chakotay find Tuvix wearing a standard Starfleet uniform (not the funky blend that I actually quite liked) and at his post. He's been hard at work for hours, and has already solved a problem that had kept Tuvok stymied for weeks. "I had a hunch," Tuvix explains, and Janeway and Chakotay share a moment of twinkle-eyed, slack-jawed amazement.

Chakotay gives some "my people have a saying" spiel about "the whole is never greater than the sum of its parts." Apparently he never heard of synergy--the whole can often be greater than the sum of its parts. (But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.)

Paris and Torres gather rosebuds while they may...and a few frisky alien orchids to boot. In go variant plants, up beams a funky hybrid. Tuvix's theory is borne out.

Unfortunately, the reverse isn't nearly as easy. After a hundred or so attempts, Holodoc and Kim announce that the DNA strands are just too darn tightly interweaved. It's possible that they'll never get the original Neelix and Tuvok back. (Holodoc makes some comment about no original DNA from which to make a distinction. I'm surprised he didn't know about Dr. Pulaski's "hairbrush" trick from TNG. I bet Neelix sheds like crazy.) Tuvix doesn't seem overly perturbed at the news--he's having a good time being himself. But Kes and Janeway take the announcement like a blow to the solar plexus.

In her darkened quarters, Kes meditates before lit candles. Tuvix enters, and notes its purpose--it's a time of mourning for her. Kes admits her difficulty with the situation--Neelix was her mate for life, Tuvok was her father-figure, and now both are gone. Tuvix is both of them, yet he is neither--an entirely new creature for whom she feels no present affection, only a physical (and persistent) reminder of her loss. He proclaims his love for her; she asks him about T'Pel, Tuvok's wife back home. He loves her as well, he says, but it doesn't change his feelings for Kes, who is here and hurting. She asks him to leave, clearly torn. A chaste kiss on the cheek, and he's gone.

Kes visits the captain's quarters. Janeway is dressed for bed, hair down and lost in thought. The two women contemplate their joint loss--Tuvok was Janeway's closest thing to an old friend on board, and she had actually come to grow fond of Neelix (though not his cooking). Kes tells Janeway about Tuvix's profession of love; at first she was angry, because he just ain't Neelix.

Janeway voices her own inner turmoil--her feelings for Mark, her man back on Earth, and the struggle to delay the day when she has to finally admit to herself that they'll never be "us" again. She tries to be strong for the crew, to keep that hope alive of a rapid end to their journey, but there are days when it's all she can do to face her people. She knows everyone else has the same struggles (except maybe Tom Paris, who pretty much burned every bridge the Alpha Quadrant had to offer), and she welcomes Kes to the broken-hearts club.

Kes asks if Janeway is telling her to give up on ever seeing Neelix again. Janeway softens and assures her that she will not impose that choice on anyone. She was speaking only for herself. Kes hugs Janeway as if her life hangs in the balance, then leaves.

Over the next two weeks, Tuvix integrates nicely with the crew, networking like mad, hanging art on the walls, whipping up cooking Neelix never could, making friends, influencing people, cracking jokes, and basically making a new life for himself. Tuvix is indeed a charismatic guy, and there's a part of me that wished strongly that he would be allowed to stick around for a few episodes.

Yeah, right. Who wants odds on that happening?

Anyway. You get the picture. Kes and Janeway may be bummed that their respective Favorite Shipboard Men have mutated into someone everyone ELSE likes better than either of them (Tuvok ain't exactly Mr. Congeniality, and Neelix's meals are better discussed than eaten).

Harry Kim is practicing his clarinet when Holodoc hails him with a question about those funky alien plants. Harry smells an interesting challenge and heads for sickbay.

In the holodeck Marsailles tavern, Tuvix is playing pool like Tom Cruise in "The Color of Money". After Tuvix sinks the eight ball just as he called it, Paris turns to Chakotay and smirks, "We've created a monster." Tuvix accepts Chakotay's "best 3 out of 5?" offer, but in walks Kes with the "can we talk?" tilt of the head.

He has given Kes a respectful distance the past few weeks, and she has come to a decision--she wants to be friends. He accepts this eagerly. She says she hopes the friendship can "grow." He looks even happier.

It's good to be alive.

"Holodoc to Mr. Tuvix."


Show of hands...who didn't see this coming?

Harry and Holodoc explain their new discovery. Using an old earth trick of guzzling barium to clarify x-ray pictures, they've come up with a bit of applied technobabble which will latch onto a specific DNA pattern and allow them to separate the pieces. They show two plants that had been previously merged, now separate and very much alive. (so what happened to the frisky orchid?) They feel there should be no problem bringing back Neelix and Tuvok.

Kes is ecstatic. Janeway is thrilled. Tuvix doesn't want to die. (Would you?)

Janeway consults Chakotay. "Two weeks ago, I wouldn't have hesitated. But now...he's integrated well with the crew. He's made friends," Janeway said. "I'm one of them," Chakotay agrees. "When did he cease being a malfunction and become a person?" She wonders aloud.

In comes Tuvix, tossing off a flippant reference to an inquisition. Chakotay exits, and Janeway gets to the point. She wants to know what he thinks before she makes her decision. "What makes you think it's your decision to make?" Tuvix asks. "I'm the captain," she responds (weak argument there) "and I must be called on to speak for the two men who aren't here to speak for themselves--Neelix and Tuvok." "They're both here, in a way--inside me." "Yes, but they have families and people who care about them." (And they have contracts with Paramount and above-title billing.)

You get the idea. Janeway is leaning towards the procedure. Tuvix doesn't want to die, and considers her desire nothing more than an execution for a crime he didn't commit. He can't be blamed for his own creation, though it resulted in the "deaths" of his genetic forebears.

Janeway doesn't decide right away, but Tuvix sees the signs. He goes to Kes, asking her to speak on his behalf. Kes sees the captain, and tells her what Tuvix had asked her to do..."but I can't." She feels terribly guilty, but she wants Neelix back. And Tuvok.

Say goodbye, Tuvix.

Tuvix asks Paris to help him run some tests. Paris looks to Chakotay, who says that until the captain decides he's still the tactical officer. (Knowing Chakotay's "fondness" for Tuvok, one wonders how quickly Tuvix would be welcomed onto a Maquis-led ship.)

Alone in her ready room, Janeway sits in silent anguish. Then she makes her decision. She stands, strides onto the bridge, and asks to speak with Tuvix. Tuvix tries to rally the bridge crew to his defense, but nobody does. He begs, pleads, appeals to moral courage...and finds only silence.

And two humongous security guards. He tries to run, but gets nowhere (bummer that he inherited his running ability from Neelix). Finally, resigned to his fate, he says a guilt-inducing farewell and absolution to his friends.

The long walk begins. All that's missing is a Latin-intoning priest.

In sickbay, Holodoc announces that he cannot perform the procedure--he has sworn an oath to do no harm, and he will not take Tuvix's life against his will. Harry Kim also looks a little squeamish. Janeway made the decision, so she walks the walk. She takes the hypospray from Harry Kim and performs the injection herself. She then operates the control, giving Tuvix a final, lingering stare. She executes the transporter with swift precision, and soon Tuvix is beside himself. The images of Tuvix, Tuvok and Neelix mix and mingle, but in the end two figures resolve--identically clad Neelix and Tuvok.

Kes rushes to Neelix's arms. "Hi, sweetie," he says softly.

Tuvok nods at the captain. She welcomes him back. She then exits sickbay alone. When the doors slide closed behind her, she stops in her tracks, takes a shuddering breath, lets a mask descend over her emotions, and walks away.

Fade to credits.


This isn't the first time this plot device has been used, in Trek and elsewhere. Curzon Dax and Odo turned into Curzon Odo in DS9, and predictably this new creature didn't much feel like separating into individuals either. In that case as well as here, the mix has something more.

I'm not saying Neelix and Tuvok aren't interesting by themselves, but I would say they have too often been presented as caricatures rather than characters; the episodes where we really get to know them in a sympathetic way are few and far between. So you throw them together, get something with the best and worst qualities of each, and you've got yourself one pretty interesting guy.

Credit goes to Tom Wright; he played Tuvix with a good balance of humor and recognizable traits of both Neelix and Tuvok. He was reminiscent of his origins, but he was also himself. In a very short period of time he became someone I cared about.

In previous reviews I've complained long and loud about Voyager's tendency to go for episode-spanning plots. In the case of Tuvix, I wouldn't have minded seeing this go for at least one more episode. A two parter, or just back to back episodes, at least. As it was, the "life or death" question came too abruptly. THEY had weeks of contact; we still had only the 48 minutes of screen time. The patented Trek Ending demands that all loose ends be tied up by episode's end. Except for the ones they feel like drawing out interminably.

I can't blame them for not keeping Tuvix around for a couple of episodes, but I can dream, can't I? Imagine having Tuvix as a regular character for three or four episodes, with that annoying "placemark" scenes to show that Kes and/or Janeway are coping or not coping, Holodoc is plugging away with or without Kes's knowledge or consent, a few mundane episodes where Tuvix has nothing particularly special to do and a few where he plays an integral role...and then come up with the way to do it. Then we've got as much of an investment in his character, and his protestations about his right to exist would resonate in our minds. When Janeway pulls the switch and ends Tuvix's life, it shatters us. The loss, and the recovery, become keenly felt.

But I digress.

Actually, I hope they keep some of that orchid around. It could be great fun at parties--can you see Tom Paris pulling a practical joke or two, beaming people together in a bizarre twist on Spin the Bottle? Imagine the dates with the Delaney Sisters this little plant could conjure up. Or if crew were arguing, slap some penal corsages on their wrists and do a little transporter therapy. Yes, now you CAN walk a mile in someone else's shoes.

This assumes a lot, though. Thanks to Trek Endings, there's no guarantee that Neelix and Tuvok will retain any of their shared memories or experience. Another reason why I would have liked to see at least another episode devoted to Tuvix was to see the aftermath. We had Tuvok and Neelix not seeing eye-to-eye at episode's beginning--how do they relate afterwards? Do they understand each other better? Do they pick up any mannerisms from each other? Or did the essense of Tuvix disappear with the discarded orchid DNA?

Okay. Plenty of gripes, to be sure, but taken for itself I did like this episode. The acting of Tom Wright was spot-on and ultimately tragic, Janeway and Kes gave appropriately in-character responses to Tuvix, and I'm glad Holodoc refused to perform the procedure against Tuvix's will.

On a scale of 0-10, I'd give this one a 7.25. Not a classic, but an hour of Trek I felt was well spent.

Next week: Janeway and Chakotay visit the Blue Lagoon.

Copyright © 1996 Jim Wright

Star Trek (R) is a registered trademark of Paramount Pictures registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Star Trek: Voyager is a trademark of Paramount Pictures.

Last Updated: May 27, 1996
[Previous Review] [Home Page] [Next Review] [E-Mail]