Thursday, December 6, 2012

Classics: Voyager 2:24 - Tuvix

Overall Rating: 9.0

High concept sci fi (and a pretty improbable high concept at that) done very right.  On Voyager.  Vot next, a believable Trek romance??  Naaahhh...

Plot Synopsis:

Tuvok + Neelix + alien flower + LSD = TUVIX...the perfect amalgam character that the show should always have had!  Read the actual details here, courtesy of Memory Alpha.

The Skinny:

The entire idea of there existing one type of DNA that is capable of melding two other foreign DNA structures into one new life form is laughably implausible.  But a plant that can not only meld two foreign DNA sequences into a FUNCTIONAL hybrid, but also merge clothing with plant matter, and build one life form with half the mass of the former two...and somehow maintain the experiential memories of both of the former lives going into the melting pot, and then that this process could be reversed using just our transporter technology and a radio-isotope...the person who thought this up must have been high on seven different kinds of drugs at once.  Wow.

Let's stop and address the scientific problems with DNA that constantly crop up on sci-fi shows like Voyager and Stargate.  The fact that our bodies are constructed using DNA does mean that if you change the DNA, you instantly get a new structure.  The reality is more like what happens with cancer.  Altered DNA must gradually BUILD new cells...and this process is universally FATAL to the original life form if it goes too far.  The concept of symbiogenesis put forward in this story would, in theory, require the building of a whole new life.  Tovuk and Neelix would not cease to exist...an embryo with their melded DNA would be generated.

In this episode we also have other failed sci-fi concepts like:
  • Memory is NOT tied to genetics...it's tied to physical neuron circuit pathways in the brain - even if symbiogenesis by transporter could make one new body out of two, the memories couldn't possibly be there.  The new body has different neural pathways.
  • Conservation of energy/mass is deeply violated by this episode.  If go take a mass of 200 kg (their net size) and turn it into an alien with a mass of about 120 kg, the 80 kg of mass that is now missing would come out in the form of a MASSIVE amount of heat.  Tuvix, once formed, would be fricasseed and returned to the transporter pad as a bubbling mass of molten organic matter.  Yummy.  And the reverse is also true...if you take a 120 kg amalgam who somehow survived the transporter accident that created him...and then turned him back into two guys weighing 200 kg, the energy would come out of the ambient environment...the air around them would cool dramatically and they would instantly freeze solid.
  • The concept of using a radionuclide marker to attach to only one type of DNA and not the other in the merged Tuvix species is ridiculous.  The merged DNA would, by definition HAVE to be missing HALF of the nucleotide sequence for each...yo would get HALF a person back...which would look like a pile of organic mush...not the fully restored person.  That's assuming it's even POSSIBLE to get a radionuclide to bond with a molecule as stable as DNA.
But I digress...the science if hilariously bad...but who cares when the story is AWESOME.  The rule of cool applies.  This episode excels for all of the reasons that most Voyager "high concept" pieces fail.
  • The concept is just a backdrop to the real story, not the main feature (e.g. "The Cloud", "Threshold" or "Twisted").  Here, the transporter accident happens, little effort is made to explain every detail of what they're doing to fix the problem - all attention is on Tuvix and the crew's reaction to him.
  • The high concept produces a real ethical dilemma that is character driven (unlike, say, "Time and Again" or "Emanations," where the consequences of the moral discussion fall on people we don't know and are not invested in, or "Heroes and Demons" or "The 37s," where there are no consequences at all).  Here, the question is raised...is it right to kill a man you just met to save two men you know and love?  And before it comes to that, we've gotten to meet Tuvix and he is a very agreeable, wonderful person who has many things to contribute to the ship.
  • The ethical dilemma is resolved with a real choice, and the choice is both understandable and horrible at the same time.  The characters involved pay a deep emotional toll to make that choice, and there is no magical third choice that makes everything OK.  Janeway chooses the rights of her existing crew over the rights of Tuvix...comes to the aid of Kes, herself and every other crewman who has formed an attachment to Tuvok and Neelix, rather than coming to defend Tuvix.  And let's face it...no matter what decision she makes, she's basically committing a homicide.  It's a no-win scenario, and she handles it with the firm resolve of a true leader.
  • The episode sheds light on the positive virtues of both Tuvok and Neelix.  We learn more about each character through the resulting merger of Tuvix.  The concept that the whole might be greater than the sum of the parts applies here...Tuvix possesses Tuvok's wisdom and worldliness - his love of the arts (horticulture, culinary arts, aesthetics and literature), his understanding of human nature, and his clear-headedness and logical reasoning skill - AND the unending optimism, compassion and gigantic heart of Neelix, his passion for those he loves, his willingness to try new things and sense of adventure.  It shows what both men bring to the table in a way that is easier to understand...when they are able to cooperate, they are valuable assets.  Neelix's zest for life and his lack of wisdom get him in trouble frequently, as do Tuvok's tendencies toward rigid routine (his loathing of stepping outside his comfort zones), and mental inflexibility.  These two really COULD have been a bizarre slash pairing if you were into that sort of thing (I'm not, but I can see how it would work).  At least, it would have been nice if Neelix and Tuvok had ever developed a grudging (on Tuvok's part) friendship and mutual understanding.
 All things considered...if Voyager had been written this way all along, it would never have gotten a reputation as being nothing but saccharine in shit tea.  The concept is stupid...there's no doubt about that...but what they did with it was deeply satisfying to me...and the reason?  It's the character's, silly!

Writing: 8.0

There are plot holes and bad science - the characteristic trademarks of a Kenneth Biller script - and there are moments where the dialogue is a bit maudlin (when Tuvix is pleading for his life on the bridge, for example), but...on the whole, this is an excellent story executed well...and written by Biller!  I guess even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and again.

Acting: 9.5

Tom Wright strikes a nice balance between Neelix's tendency toward bombast and Tuvok's even and sometimes monotone delivery - his character really does feel like a nice blend of the two we know.  Not to be outdone, Kate Mulgrew was on her game BIG TIME at the end, and Jennifer Lien has some moments of brilliance as well.

Message: 9.5

See above comments for the reasoning here...suffice to say, I prefer stories that enhance our understanding of the characters and moral dilemmas that are "solved" through sacrifice and real choices with real consequences.  Bravo!

2 comments:

  1. These two really COULD have been a bizarre slash pairing if you were into that sort of thing (I'm not, but I can see how it would work).

    That's okay. Not everyone can be as weird as I am.

    (PS: Tuvok/Neelix forever!)

    ReplyDelete