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The Trek Nation - Riddles

Riddles

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 13, 2004 - 10:18 PM GMT

See Also: 'Riddles' Episode Guide

Returning on the Delta Flyer from a mission to the Kassatt, Neelix tells the disinterested Tuvok a riddle about an ensign stranded for months who eats the dates on his calendar to keep from starving. Tuvok rolls his eyes, complains of the illogic, and heads to the back of the craft to seek peace and quiet. Discovering that the aft tactical computer has been activated externally, the Vulcan scans the equipment and is shot with an alien energy bolt. By the time Neelix finds him, Tuvok is unconscious.

In sickbay after rescue, the Doctor and the captain stabilize Tuvok's life signs, but it is clear that he has suffered brain damage. Janeway asks Neelix to get back in touch with the Kassatt in the hope that the aliens might know who attacked the Delta Flyer. Narok, of Kassatt security, soon joins them on Voyager and tells Janeway his theory: he believes the B'neth, the "Shadow People" who are officially dismissed as a myth by his government, were behind the assault. No one has ever seen a B'neth citizen or vessel, but a mysterious force as attacked twelve ships foreign to the region, making sure none have the technology to penetrate their cloaking devices. Nerok believes Tuvok can give them the frequency and prove his theory; Janeway believes Nerok can help them find the B'neth, who may be able to restore Tuvok.

Feeling responsible for Tuvok, Neelix brings Kalto games and flowers to Sickbay and plays a Vulcan chant that drives the Doctor to distraction. It wakes Tuvok up, but the security officer doesn't recognize his colleagues, reacting with fear to a tricorder until Neelix demonstrates that the device is harmless. The Doctor tells the captain that Tuvok's brain is repairing itself, forming new neural pathways around the damage, but he still has no speech and apparently no memory. Neelix takes the Vulcan on a tour of the ship to jog his recall, escorting a smiling Tuvok to the bridge. But Tuvok has no idea where to stand or what to do with his hands, accidentally activating the photon torpedos before Neelix leads him away.

Meanwhile, Seven and Narok work together to try to find B'neth ships. Using photolytic technology, Narok finds viridium isotopes from the adversary's cloaking field, and with Seven's help is able to project an image of what the B'neth look like - sort of large upright multi-tentacled octopuses. The group realizes that if they used the photolytic imager in conjunction with Voyager's deflector array, they might be able to spot B'neth ships at close range. Sure enough, when the deflector is tested, a ghostly alien ship appears right off Voyager's prow...and stern, and everywhere else. They're surrounded by a fleet.

Janeway's hails go ignored, and the B'neth fire on Voyager. The captain pursues the lead vessel, but it outruns them. In his quarters for the first time since the incident, Tuvok cowers against a chair, but is comforted when Neelix reassures him that the shaking will be over soon. After the fighting, Tuvok speaks: "You are Neelix. I am safe with you."

Janeway and Narok both want to question Tuvok for assistance in tracking the B'neth, but although Tuvok is happy to see the captain, he begins to shake and drops his damaged tricorder when asked to recall what he was doing when he was shot. The captain dismisses the foreign officer and invites the Vulcan to lunch, but Tuvok says he'd rather eat with Neelix. In the mess hall, Kim tries to teach Tuvok to play Kalto, but a poor move causes the game structure to collapse. "I don't like this game!" complains Tuvok, refusing to be encouraged when Kim explains that he didn't like it either until the Vulcan taught him how to play.

In sickbay, Tuvok reads his personnel file, learning that he had a family and had been decorated for his service. When Neelix tells him he's an extraordinary fellow, the Vulcan retorts, "I was an extraordinary fellow," becoming tearful and angry that he's no longer "smart enough" to sit on Voyager's bridge. After breaking his belongings, he shoves Neelix, who goes to the mess to find Seven pondering the riddle of how to find an invisible ship. Neelix has a riddle of his own: "When is a Vulcan no longer a Vulcan?" Seven says it's when his genetic code is altered, but concedes the when he loses his logic, a Vulcan might cease to be Vulcan as well. She refuses to see the event as a tragedy, insisting that she too was damaged when she lost her link to the Borg, but she adapted. "Because Captain Janeway didn't give up on you," Neelix reminds her. Seven reminds the Talaxian that Janeway did not try to restore her to her former self, but showed her what she might become.

In sickbay, Tuvok makes an origami flower for Neelix and apologizes for shouting at him. Neelix concedes that he was pushing too hard. "You were disappointed in me," guesses Tuvok, who is sorry he can't do things as well as he did before. Neelix says there are some things he can do better: the Vulcan would never have made a paper flower, considering it a waste of time, and he would not have worried about Neelix's feelings, considering them illogical. Neelix admits he has always had fond feelings for Tuvok, but was sorry Tuvok never smiled at him. "I like to smile," announces the Vulcan, declaring that he won't play Kalto or meditate, but wants to do what Neelix considers fun.

Neelix takes Tuvok to the mess and soon has him making desserts which Paris and Kim declare to be better than Neelix's own. Janeway also lavishly praises the food, but quickly gets down to business and asks again about the cloaking frequency. Tuvok can't even understand her questions, but he draws a pattern on the cake he is icing which reflects what he recalls from his tricorder before the accident. It's a cloaking frequency, and the computer is able to determine the B'neth frequency from the crude illustration.

The bridge crew finds a massive cloaked station which opens fire as soon as Janeway hails them. When she threatens to give the cloaking frequency to the Kassatt, the B'neth talk, listening to her offer to trade information about other local aliens but refusing to give her data on their weapons because she has a dangerous Kassatt officer aboard her ship. Narok is surprised the B'neth know of him, and offers his experimental photolytic converter so they can defend against it in exchange for what Voyager needs to know.

Tuvok is in his quarters listening to jazz from Paris' collection when Neelix arrives with the good news that the B'neth have agreed to help him, but the Vulcan is not happy. He had wanted to take a holodeck trip to Risa with Neelix, not to lose the emotions he is just beginning to explore. When Neelix says Tuvok will be himself again, Tuvok insists, "I am myself, feeling betrayed that his friend wants him to stop enjoying his company. "You'll still experience emotions," Neelix says hopefully. Replies the Vulcan, "But I won't express them. How will you know how much I enjoy being with you?" Neelix points out that the crew needs its tactical officer, which is more important than his own desires.

Tuvok goes to sickbay, reassuring the Doctor that he had pre-surgery jitters but Neelix helped him. After the procedure, the Vulcan walks into the mess with tricorder in hand, catching up on work. Neelix asks hopefully if the Vulcan would like to make dessert, but Tuvok snaps that he has more important things to do. Then he adds, "Sundaes." It's a response to the riddle from before the accident: the ensign who ate the dates from his calendar could also have eaten the Sundays. It't not logical, but neither Tuvok nor Neelix mind.

Analysis:

Microanalysis: A great episode, Roxann Dawson can be justifiably proud of her directing debut and Tim Russ should be lauded for his moving performance. Ethan Phillips was superb as well; he plays Neelix as an everyman among heroes, and as such, he has become the major character most easy to identify with on the show despite having the least conventional appearance. I greatly enjoyed the depth of his emotional involvement in Tuvok's rehabilitation, and his sadness at the probable loss of the one real soulmate he has on the ship.

Russ must have studied the mannerisms and tentativeness of victims of brain damage; he was thoroughly convincing, not knowing where to put his arms, smiling uncertainly as if he knew he wasn't quite himself but wasn't sure what he needed to change to make people stop staring. His tearful tantrum in sickbay and the childish brave face he put on for the Doctor at the end were also masterful. I have to admit that I like out-of-character Tuvok more often than in-character Tuvok.

Though the Vulcan is more outwardly concerned about losing fun and friendship when he regains his memories and control, Neelix is the one who will undoubtedly suffer more. He's never really fit in among the Starfleet elite, and the crew still makes jokes at his expense which he gamely tries to ignore or laugh at, but they must sting. It may be awhile before we find out what if any impact these events will have on Tuvok's development as a character, but it brought out the pathos of Neelix, who doesn't have a Captain Janeway to guide him as Seven of Nine does.

I'll confess to slashy thoughts about Tuvok and Neelix especially during Neelix' final admission of loneliness and desire to bond with the Vulcan - not to mention Tuvok's desire to take Neelix to Risa! - but even without reading sexual suggestions into their bonding, the shared loneliness and desire to take pleasure where they can was terrific. It made these two characters, so often relegated to comic relief, real people who are suffering the real effects of being stranded from family and friends for years. Neelix must be concerned about where he will fit in when Voyager finally reaches the Alpha Quadrant, and for the first time it occurred to me to worry about it as well.

Macroanalysis: What in hell am I doing pretending this episode represents character development for anyone, when this series throws out character development from week to week, let alone from season to season? Voyager has given us two excellent Tuvok/Neelix episodes in the past, "Tuvix" and "Rise." The former in particular should have changed both men forever: they shared the same body and the same consciousness for several weeks, and were separated unwillingly by an order from the captain. We were led to believe at the conclusion of that episode that they both remembered those events, and had come to a new understanding. Tuvix was an excellent cook, and food has been a major bonding point between the individual characters on many occasions. They have also had it out about logic versus fun, and made similar declarations of loyalty under duress, though not as intense.

Do Voyager's lazy, recycle-happy writers not remember those events? Or do they simply wish us to pretend they never happened, so they can swipe some of the concepts and even some of the dialogue for later episodes? I'd accuse them of stealing the basic concept of "Riddles" from Original Trek's "This Side Of Paradise," in which Spock loses his inhibitions, plus "The Changeling," in which Uhura loses her memories because of an alien scan...but that can't be the case because most of the current writing staff swears they never watched and never liked Real Trek. If they were smart enough to be deliberately borrowing from it, Voyager would be a much better series. Probably they just stole this idea from Regarding Henry instead.

I'm not going to deny that I enjoyed this episode while watching it; I did, I thought the performances were terrific, and the directing was both innovative and effective. But it's impossible to think about or be moved by these characters for longer than the 40-some minutes of the show, because even without a typical Trek reset button ending, we can be sure that they will return to square one every week, without incorporating anything they've learned or felt unless they happen to be the resident Borg boob - I mean babe.

Why should I believe Tuvok or Neelix, or Janeway or Chakotay or Paris or Torres or any of the rest of them, will learn and grow, when all previous canon on this series seems to get erased on a weekly basis? They're going to be the first crew ever to explore an alien quadrant and come home having learned exactly nothing. So that's what this series is worth.

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green reviews 'Enterprise' episodes for the Trek Nation, for which she is also a news writer. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.