Space Ramblings

Star Trek Voyager Review – Riddles

Your average TV drama has a limited repertoire of character relationships. Two characters can be friends, enemies, colleagues or lovers.

star trek voyager riddles

Tuvok, Default Expression No. 2

Mostly they’re the first and the third, during sweeps or when the show has gone on too long they may become the fourth and there are the perennial enemies who make up the fourth. The borders tend to be pretty set and follow a simple formula. But then there are the character relationships that seem to exist somewhere outside the formula: the Tuvok/Neelix relationship would definitely have to be filed under this category.

Both Tuvok and Neelix are strong characters in their own strange ways but where Neelix’s strength comes from how much he cares about his friends, Tuvok’s reservoir of strength, like that of all Vulcans, remains a mystery. Ever since Spock came on board and departed along with the rest of the Original Series crew, Star Trek has tried to duplicate the Vulcan formula with more or less success. Star Trek Phase Two, the follow-up to the original series, which never aired but was eventually transmogrified into Star Trek The Motion Picture, had a Vulcan named Xon. The Next Generation confined itself to two strong guest star appearances by Mark Lenard as Sarek and a somewhat less successful one by Leonard Nimoy as Spock. Deep Space Nine featured some embarrassing and unpleasant moments with their unexplained hostility towards Vulcans and Voyager, finally going where Phase Two was meant to go before, featured a Vulcan as part of the cast.

Despite fears, Tuvok was most certainly not a Spock substitute but something different, an angry, hostile and unexpectedly loyal full blooded Vulcan with an attitude bordering on the fascist. As with all Vulcans and characters intended to represent the “Other”, they’re only interesting when coming up against humanity thus defining again what it means to be human. As a result, such a character is often half-human and struggling with humanity as in the case of Spock or B’Elanna, wanting to be human as with Data and the EMH or afflicted with a superiority complex and rejecting humanity but insecure because of his own rejection by his own people like Worf, Odo or Seven of Nine. These of course are not genuine aliens, merely representations of ourselves that we toy with. A genuine alien character might want very little from us and give just as little in return. Such a character is not very interesting to us and this has been Tuvok’s dilemma all along.

We could not see Tuvok as a Vulcan within Vulcan culture because short of the occasional flashback to childhood there are no Vulcans for

star trek voyager riddles

You know him from guest starring on every TV show in the last 10 years... also The Killing

him to interact with in the Delta Quadrant anymore than there are Klingons for B’Elanna Torres to spar with. These species have a meaning in the Alpha Quadrant but in the Delta Quadrant they are just as alien as we are. And so Tuvok as an alien among aliens remains mysterious, a riddle no one can quite solve, though Neelix spends more than a little time trying. Just as McCoy served as the emotional middleman for Spock, Geordi for Data and Quark for Odo, Neelix does his best to be there for Tuvok whether Tuvok wants him to be or not. And that is where we are at the start, Neelix offering Tuvok a riddle whose answer is completely illogical, a joke, a play on words.

As we have seen frequently on Star Trek and other Sci-Fi shows, logical computers do not understand word play and neither does Tuvok. Neelix’s clingy prodding eventually drives him to his doom when he leaves to get some peace and quiet and is promptly zapped by a cloaked alien here to spy on Voyager. Tuvok is brought back to Voyager with his mind severely damaged and Neelix does everything possible to try and help him recover (possibly because he thinks the whole thing is his fault in the first place, although neither he nor Neelix mention this in the episode), from surrounding him with Vulcan objects or playing him Vulcan music to reading him Vulcan drama. Eventually Tuvok wakes up but rather than undergoing the kind of instant recovery characters on Star Trek usually do, he is damaged. At first even unable to speak and completely devoid of logic he becomes something Neelix is very good at dealing with, a child.

We’ve seen that Neelix is very good with children because Neelix is quite a bit of a man-child himself. Where normal adults communicate on a mixture of emotional and rational levels, Neelix can really only communicate on an emotional level and damaged as he is that is the only level on which Tuvok can now receive and respond. While Janeway and Co. assisted by an alien version of Agent Mulder with Janeway serving as his skeptical Scully investigate the mystery of the invisible octapodal aliens (who are wisely kept far enough in the background for us to want to see more of them instead of overexposing them as the Aliens of the Week), Neelix is forced to try and solve another riddle, the riddle of Tuvok.

While Voyager usually operates on the premises of science and rationality, Riddles’ core premise poses two riddles to which the answers are illogical. First is the X-File mystery of the cloaked aliens in which the Mulder character is of course correct, and second is Neelix’s dilemma of how to make Tuvok a whole Vulcan again. The riddle which frames the episode that Neelix asks at the beginning and Tuvok answers at the end points up that same theme. While Tuvok is correct to apply logic to a practical problem, the problems of characters can rarely be solved using logic but “by eating the dates on the calendar.”

When Neelix realizes that he cannot help Tuvok as a Vulcan instead he helps him survive as a friend and a caretaker, appropriately enough,

star trek voyager riddles

They used to have a commercial for this in the 80's

through food. Before Tuvok can become an adult, he must become an emotionally secure child and it is this experience that Neelix is most qualified to provide for him. As an adult Tuvok retains some of what Neelix has taught him during his “childhood”, allowing Tuvok to see past logic. Tuvok’s achievement in suggesting the Sundae solution is not in the answer to the riddle itself but in finding a way to communicate with Neelix and to respond to him on his level. Meanwhile the Inspector whose quest is just as irrational and emotionally driven as Mulder’s compensates for his unfeeling treatment of Tuvok by sacrificing his life’s ambition for him.

There are different levels of riddles interwoven throughout this episode. The core riddle is of the cloak Tuvok uses to conceal himself from others and is paralleled by the cloak the aliens employ to hide themselves from other species. The solution to both riddles is inherently irrational and illogical and joined as it requires restoring the cloaks used by both the aliens and Tuvok. Nevertheless, the logic to both solutions is an emotional one. By carrying through a deal with the aliens allowing them to feel secure, trust is produced allowing there to be hope that someday the aliens will come out of hiding on their own terms. Restoring Tuvok’s cloak allows him to integrate what he has learned of the child with the adult giving us hope that someday he might be more than just that cowling Vulcan in the corner.

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