Let’s Talk About the Rights of Composite Beings

Although a few years back on my blog I had rated and given snarky mini-reviews of the complete Voyager series, there were a few episodes outstanding that I needed to finish up. One of those episodes was from the second season: “Tuvix.”

This episode deals with another transporter accident (*sigh*), this one involving Tuvok and Neelix, and a symbiogenetic orchid that fuses their DNA while in flux during transport. This doesn’t explain how their two uniforms are fused during transport, but let’s not dwell on minutia.

While the Doctor is working on a way to undo this process, the fused being – Tuvix – lives his life as a crewmember over the course of several weeks, and his crewmates (Janeway and Kes, primarily) try to come to terms with the whole situation.  When the “cure” is found, Tuvix refuses to submit to the procedure, stating that he “does not want to die.” After hemming and hawing, Janeway forces him to undergo the transport procedure which which ends the existence of Tuvix but restores Tuvok and Neelix.

This is an interesting episode not only for the concept but the way the writers handle Janeway and the crew. Throughout the episode we’re meant to sympathize both with Tuvix and with Kes. Without Neelix, Kes lost her loved one. Without Tuvok, his wife and children will never have a chance to be reunited with their husband/father (not that we as an audience have much investment in that, but it’s a point well made by Janeway).

Tuvix is portrayed as his own man, and it’s showcased how well he integrates into the ship (problem solving faster than Tuvik, cooking better than Neelix)

For much of the episode, Kes is understandably weirded out by Tuvix’s overtures toward her, and she distances herself from him until the last act when she reaches out to him and invites their friendship to grow. This is of course the point where the Doctor announces he’s found a way to restore Tuvok and Neelix, so we can never see the Tuvix/Kes friendship grow. When Tuvix refuses the ‘treatment’, Janeway transforms into stern executioner, complete with a scene where Tuvix is frogmarched down a corridor complete with military snare drum marching soundtrack. 

Since Voyager is an episodic show (right?) we of course have to end this episode where we began. But I can’t help wondering, what if…

What if it went for an entire season with Tuvix as part of the crew, and the crew and audience had more time to adjust. The episode focuses so much on Kes, Tuvix and Janeway that we don’t get any input from the other crew. In fact they’re just as cold to Tuvix when he is pleading for his life on the bridge. As Janeway stated in the episode, “if we had a way to separate him as soon as the merging accident happened, I wouldn’t have hesitated” — with even more time to accept Tuvix among the crew, would Janeway have honored Tuvix’ wishes when the separation option became available?

What if Tuvix had resigned as a Starfleet officer? Would Janeway still have marched him to sick bay for the procedure against his will? 

What if the merging of two crewpersons involved different genders? What if Neelix and B’elanna became B’elannix? 

It may not be accurate to say that Tuvok and Neelix died during the initial transporter accident, because in a way their memories and personalities both live on in Tuvix. But certainly as individuals they ceased to exist. And it wasn’t anyone’s fault. So does Janeway or anyone else have the right to force someone to ‘die’ (or become undone) so that two other people can be ‘resurrected?’  If Tuvix is both Neelix and Tuvok in one, then does that count as two votes? 

My take is that Janeway was wrong to force Tuvix to be separated against his will. And worse than that I think this was one of many missed opportunities this series could have made to grow and better itself. Imagine if Tuvix remained even though the procedure existed for him/them to be separated at any time. And then perhaps over the course of a season his personalities started to fight with one another, or his cells began to break down, or he started to turn into an orchid creature (sounds like something Voyager would do)… and so after coming to terms with Tuvix, now they have to come to terms with losing him, and then Tuvok and Neelix come back onto the show and they have to deal with all the fallout. I feel like this would be just as dramatic – even more so – than Janeway making the call to end Tuvix’s existence. 

But I think we all know that the only reason Tuvix died was because Voyager was episodic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against episodic at all. Discovery & Picard made me pine for it.