Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Riddles"

**

Air date: 11/3/1999
Teleplay by Robert J. Doherty
Story by Andre Bormanis
Directed by Roxann Dawson

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"When is a Vulcan no longer a Vulcan?"
"When his genetic code is sufficiently altered."

— Neelix and Seven (deadpan humor, Voyager style)

(Note: This episode was re-rated from 2.5 to 2 stars when the season recap was written.)

Nutshell: An agreeable hour, but the premise deserves deeper treatment. As is, it can't transcend being an exercise.

An episode like the amiable but frustrating "Riddles" reminds me how torn I am between trying to accept what Voyager is and scrutinizing it for what it could be. Where must I draw the line in accepting that nothing of significance on this series will ever be allowed to have an impact that isn't automatically reset to zero? Perhaps more urgent concerning the hour at hand: Are the events that stand alone here engaging enough to make me overlook the use of the Voyager Reset Button?

I guess the answer to that last question is, "Well, not quite." "Riddles" has its good moments, but the more I think about this show, the more I realize that all it really consists of is moments—moments that stand alone and don't add up to mean much of anything on a bigger scale.

The episode is the first Tuvok/Neelix vehicle in quite some time—perhaps even since the awful "Rise" from season three. As a Tuvok/Neelix show, it's above average overall (although I admit that's not saying much). The story begins on the Delta Flyer with Tuvok and Neelix alone on one of those shuttle missions where the primary objective is to have two characters alone on a shuttle mission. Neelix still calls Tuvok "Mr. Vulcan," which has always annoyed me plenty, but I suppose acknowledging past characterization is a good thing. Tuvok still barely tolerates Neelix's non-stop blathering, occasionally voicing a flat, Tuvokian request for silence.

Been here and done this—but in "Riddles" the writers put a new spin on the Tuvok/Neelix relationship when Tuvok is zapped by an alien weapon, leaving him severely brain damaged and with memory loss. Doc is able to save his life, but the question is whether Tuvok will recover and reclaim who he was. Neelix becomes the guy to help rehabilitate Tuvok by re-familiarizing him with the previously familiar.

There's also a B-story here involving the crew's attempts to track down the mysterious aliens who attacked Tuvok. With the help of a representative from the Kesat society, named Naroq (Mark Moses), the crew begins a special-technology-assisted search for these mysterious aliens, called the Ba'neth, who apparently go to great lengths to hide themselves from other space travelers. The Kesat on the whole do not even believe the Ba'neth exist; Naroq comes across as a sort of Kesat equivalent of "Spooky Mulder"—he's on a crusade to prove the existence of the Ba'neth to a society that doesn't want to acknowledge the possibility.

What's strange is that the Routine Alien Subplot is actually one of the potentially least routine of its type in some time—in concept, at least. The Ba'neth could've made for a genuinely intriguing storyline—they're a mysterious, invisible society that is well-envisioned through some nifty special effects that maintain an interesting obscurity—but, alas, they're not used in very interesting ways, and turn out to be the usual xenophobes. Nine times out of 10 I'll say "who cares" regarding the alien subplot and welcome emphasis on the character story. Unfortunately, this is Case #10, where the aliens could've been a superior plot of their own. It's a shame that we see so little of them and their motives, and that this subplot chews its way along the typical lines because of the maintained emphasis on Tuvok/Neelix.

So ultimately, and not surprisingly, "Riddles" lives or dies on the strength of the Tuvok/Neelix plot. In short, while there's some decent material here, it's just not on par with the situation's potential. Ostensibly, the story is about Tuvok's battle to reclaim who he is, and then later to accept what he has become. But it doesn't demonstrate these intentions in ways that are particularly fresh. There's a scene between Neelix and Seven that appropriately uses some character history ... but to me it seems the lesson to be learned here (that of molding someone into what they can be rather than what they're unlikely to reclaim) is a pretty obvious lesson that Neelix should've learned on his own. And why is it all lessons are seemingly learned in quiet, empty, darkened rooms, anyway?

If you're on board just to see Tuvok exhibit weird, un-Vulcan-like behavior, then you'll get your money's worth. Tuvok essentially turns into a child because of his brain damage—a sort of "Flowers for Algernon" in reverse—leading to scenes where he reacts in fear, anger, and frustration for what he has lost. And, of course, a scene where he bakes cakes. Seeing an un-Tuvok-like performance by Tim Russ is an interesting experience; you realize just how perfectly controlled, pragmatic, and intentionally flat Tuvok's voice generally is, and how much range Russ milks from the Vulcan confines. Here you see facets of Russ you typically never do (although his intensity in "Meld" from several years back was far more compelling than the child-like antics here). But the story could've gone so much further than it does. I was hoping for a real challenge for Tuvok that would somehow expose the nuts and bolts of who he is.

As it is, the nature of the plot deactivates/reactivates his personality too simplistically, flipping it like a light switch. The eventual restoration of Tuvok to his normal self is entirely too cut-and-dried, without much hint that any of the experience has really affected him. The normal-and-restored Tuvok is so far removed from the damaged Tuvok that we can't see that there's been any noteworthy net change (or even realization) in the final analysis ... and that hurts. "Barge of the Dead" might not be explicitly followed up, but at least it had a sense of B'Elanna's progress and realization. Here, it's hard to see "Riddles" as much more than a pointless exercise.

Naturally, I must point out that anyone with any doubt that Tuvok would make a full recovery by episode's end has not clued into the very obvious established Voyager pattern that Nothing May Have Any Consequences. Perhaps the real tragedy is that I've become so used to the Voyager formula that I already knew how "Riddles" was going to end 20 minutes into the show. Tracking down the Ba'neth would obviously lead to a magical cure that would restore Tuvok to his normal self. While the details of the plot work for the most part, I can't say they're particularly discussion-worthy.

On the whole, "Riddles" isn't bad or misguided—it's just that the events are ho-hum when they should be genuinely involving. Pretty much every scene here had an aura of pleasant reasonableness to it, but also an aura of predictability.

What I did like about this episode was the sympathy it reveals for Neelix. Here's a guy who just wants to be friends with Tuvok, but Tuvok just won't have it. Neelix pushes hard at a guy who by definition cannot be pushed in such ways. After the brain damage we are able to see Neelix connect with Tuvok, and it's under a situation where Tuvok can return the feelings. It's nice seeing Neelix as a helpful person whose motive is not simply to bid annoyingly for Tuvok's attention.

But the episode is never able to escape its own preset "reset to zero" destination. We realize everything will be so neatly fixed by the end, and the story is never able to completely break free from that liability. The final scene is subtle. Too subtle. Tuvok makes a joke that brings a new insight to the episode's opening pun, and we wonder if maybe this experience has somewhat changed him. But the question I'm asking is why the writers seem to think Tuvok can't have friends without a switch in his brain being flipped. Vulcans do have emotions, even if they don't typically express them. The way Tuvok seems to ignore Neelix in the final scene is painful—as I'm sure it's intended to be—but I don't really buy it. Tuvok obviously remembers everything that happened, yet he doesn't acknowledge what Neelix did for him, which I don't think is the right choice by the writers. We need some evidence that this meant something for Tuvok—and I don't think his final pun is nearly enough, especially given the ambivalent-at-best reaction Tuvok has to his own joke.

Since we'll doubtlessly never hear about any of this again, I'm guessing we'll never really know what it's supposed to mean. The writers make most of the show pretty obvious, so why go subtle on us at the last minute? I suppose we can chalk it up to the mystery of the Vulcan mind. Still, I just get the feeling that even the normal-and-emotion-free Tuvok should have more depth and emotional latitude than he's allowed to have here. I know he's capable, but the writers don't seem to.

Next week: Voyager is drawn into an alien conflict. That's a pretty impressive trailer with intense visuals and quite a hook—even with the return of the Big Words [TM].

Previous episode: Alice
Next episode: Dragon's Teeth

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25 comments on this review

grumpy_otter - Wed, Jul 2, 2008 - 4:57pm (USA Central)
I would have given this one 3 stars. While I agree that we all knew the reset was coming, I truly enjoyed the new Tuvok discovering jazz, and games, and pastry, and crafts ("It's not good" had such a great face to go with it).

I liked it also because Neelix was not annoying. His response to Tuvok's "illness" and his dedication to finding out what the new Tuvok COULD accomplish really moved me.

Every once in a while we get a reminder that Tim Russ is more than a one-note actor--this was one such episode, and I liked it.
Fido - Thu, Jan 8, 2009 - 5:13pm (USA Central)
I actually really liked this one. Tim Russ got to show new levels of the character...and the touching moments between Neelix and Tuvok were very moving. The moment when Tuvok tells Neelix he doesn't want to revert back to his old self because they'll stop being friends...if that doesn't pull on your heartstrings...you're a statue.
Michael - Wed, Jul 7, 2010 - 1:40pm (USA Central)
This was a really good episode, 3.5 stars, I'd say. There was slightly too much Tuvok (and Tuvok-Neelix) drama but even those scenes were not too static or saccharine. The "sci" facet of the show was entertaining and provocative.

The only annoying thing was toward the end when the time came to restore the old Tuvok and he didn't want to be changed. It's the same jaded politically-correct human-rightsy theme that's been done ad nauseam already and now recycled yet again. I'd personally have almost preferred to see Tuvok do splits on a trampoline to this.
Cloudane - Thu, Feb 24, 2011 - 9:22am (USA Central)
Tuvix 2.0 Released!

Changelog:
- Kept Tuvok and Neelix physically separate
- Made the treatment decision more politically correct following calls to have Janeway tried for murder in v1.0
- Made it more obvious that you'd have to be brain damaged to enjoy being around Neelix


(I actually quite liked it. It had some good honest moments. It's a better episode if you try to "forget" that there won't be consequences, even if it would've been awesome to keep him as he was and develop that over the remainder of the series)
enniofan - Tue, Apr 5, 2011 - 10:21am (USA Central)
strangely affecting episode; nicely done...makes me wonder though, after watching Tim Russ here, if Vulcans are actually emotionally mature. They suppress and suppress and it seems when they do release emotions somehow, it's unusually despondent and/or amazingly childlike.


3 stars for sure for me.

Robots4Ever - Sun, Nov 27, 2011 - 5:58am (USA Central)
Certain characters need to be reset. Tuvok, Seven and the Doctor (to some extent) add the much needed down to earth approach, and counter the mush that spouts from the other characters.
Just Another Trekkie - Sun, Mar 25, 2012 - 5:15am (USA Central)
Excellent points. As always, your reviews are insightful and thought-provoking.

I agree that this episode offers an interesting characterization of Neelix. Usually his cheery persistence grates on my nerves, but here we see genuine goodwill.

Though it's true that Tuvok's problem is ultimately so neatly shrunk and dessicated that it would make the Ferengi proud, Neelix's situation at the end is left more open-ended.

I think it brings up an interesting question: who does Neelix--friend to all, confidant to all, gently teased by all--really turn to for support?

Aside from the (let's face it) never remotely convincing relationship between him and Kes, Neelix doesn't seem to have that one "special relationship" that most of the other crewmen do (see: Janeway/Chakotay, Tom/B'Elanna, Tom/Harry Kim, Seven/Janeway).

In "Mortal Coil" we saw Neelix lose the foundation for his continual confidence; how has he regained it? Or has he even?

Such a social being, Neelix is a source of support for many. But who is his support?
Captain Jim - Mon, Apr 9, 2012 - 9:51pm (USA Central)
This is one of those times that I thought Jammer was too hard. I enjoyed this a lot. There are many episodes in which the use of the Voyager reset switch is a legitimate criticism, but I don't think this is one of them. Nor does knowing the obvious outcome prevent one from enjoying this. Great character moments from Neelix here. I will, however, concede that Tuvok should have acknowledged Neelix's help and at least said thank you in some awkward fashion.
Jelendra - Thu, May 24, 2012 - 11:59am (USA Central)
I just saw this one...honestly I nearly cried. I thought this was a GREAT story. I loved how Neelix and Tuvok bonded...and I realized Tim Russ' range as an actor...He does incredibly well with such sparse material seeing this makes me want to see more of his acting...I give this one 3 maybe 3.5 stars...
Destructor - Wed, Jun 13, 2012 - 10:52pm (USA Central)
Boring, forgettable.
Curtis - Thu, Jun 14, 2012 - 5:21am (USA Central)
This episode REALLY needed Tuvok to say "thank you" to Neelix at the end and continue the unique friendship. I got so tired of the reset to where Tuvok 'tolerated' Neelix. If I were Neelix, that would piss me off. The writers really had an opportunity to show that friendship and bonds come in a all shapes and sizes.
Brad Rock - Fri, Jul 20, 2012 - 1:14pm (USA Central)
That line at the end got me, caused a combination of getting misty-eyed and laughing out loud. I didn't think another tolerable Neelix episode would ever happen.
Cail Corishev - Thu, Sep 27, 2012 - 8:26pm (USA Central)
I guess I'm a sucker for a good friendship story, and this one gets me, especially the part where Neelix is willing to sacrifice the friendship because he knows it's the right thing to do for Tuvok. Normally I can't stand Neelix, especially the way he pesters Tuvok when he knows it's only going to annoy him. As an introvert myself, he's like a super-extrovert who keeps asking, "So what are you thinking? Is something wrong?" because I haven't spoken in the last 10 seconds.

But here he wasn't pestering Tuvok for his own sake, at least not after a while. He was genuinely trying to help him and do what was best for him. He enjoyed the fact that Tuvok finally liked him, but that wasn't his reason. Everything Jammer said about the Reset Button is true, but with a good enough story, I don't really care. And I thought the idea of a race so reclusive that their neighbors think they're a myth had potential, though they didn't do much with it except spout technobabble.

As for the ending, I thought Tuvok *had* changed more than he was showing, but that didn't mean he wanted Neelix popping by to listen to jazz together every evening. So he came up with the smallest gesture possible, to let Neelix know that he did remember and that it did all mean something to him, but that it didn't mean he wanted to be buddies. If he'd given any more of a thank-you, Neelix might not have been able to control himself.
Jack - Sun, Jan 13, 2013 - 1:57pm (USA Central)
Why did Tuvok wanting to stay with Neelix negate the possibility of the lunch, instead of lettign Neelix eat too...was Janeway adamant that it only be her and Tuvok, or nothing at all?
T'Paul - Fri, Apr 12, 2013 - 5:30pm (USA Central)
Neelix: "When is a Vulcan no longer a Vulcan?"

Seven: "When his genetic code has been sufficiently altered"

Loved that line...
azcats - Mon, Aug 12, 2013 - 2:27pm (USA Central)
for a character episode i liked this. how can Tim Russ show his range when his character is mono-everything. you need to find some way to alter him.

once again Jammer is on his Reset rants. you would thinkd DS9 came BEFORE TNG and TOS. lol

my favorite series is Law&Order and they are BUILT on resets, for the most part.

over 100 episodes into Voyager.....

oh well.

i give it 2.5/3 stars.
Lt. Yarko - Thu, Aug 22, 2013 - 11:35pm (USA Central)
It's just too bad that a little residual affection for Neelix couldn't have been left over. I mean a little more than a desire to expand the riddle's answer.
SpiceRak2 - Mon, Sep 2, 2013 - 2:45am (USA Central)
I understand Jammer wanting story arcs to give more depth and character development but that's not what Voyager was ever about. Let it go.

As far as this particular episode, I was infuriated by Janeway's lack of emotion for Tuvok's predicament. This Vulcan is supposed to be a long time colleague and close friend, yet all she was concerned about was whether or not he could give them the cloaking frequency codes. Even when Neelix says (in an unnecessary attempt to reassure the Captain) that they will get Tuvok' back to the way he was, Janeway merely glances back over her shoulder before walking out of sick bay. The writers just neglected a key relationship (Janeway/Tuvok) in this storyline.
Nic - Wed, Sep 4, 2013 - 8:22am (USA Central)
I for one agree with Jammer. There were a lot of nice isolated moments in this episode, but they don't end up meaning anything, and that's a shame. It would have been interesting to see Tuvok re-learn his former skills throughout the course of the season rather than be magically zapped back to his old self.

Irrelevant sidenote: apparently the characters (and thus, the writers) don't know the difference between a frequency and a wavelength.
Niall - Fri, Sep 6, 2013 - 1:12pm (USA Central)
This episode fails where Gravity succeeded. The latter was a much better character study of Tuvok than people give it credit for. Jammer's correct - Tuvok may be a Vulcan, but his character is written far too restrictively. Just because he's logical and doesn't express emotion shouldn't mean he's rude, inflexible, unable to articulate thanks etc. For 7 years they wrote him as a robot when they shouldn't have, and it's a real shame.
Joseph S. - Thu, Dec 26, 2013 - 9:35pm (USA Central)
I totally agree with Jammer that the ending was too subtle. Tuvok should've thanked Neelix at the end, just as others above commented. It wouldn't have had to be emotional; in fact, I think it would've been more poignant to have an unemotional Tuvok simply say: "Mr. Neelix, I must express my gratitude for your assistance while I was incapacitated." I definitely see where the writers were going, but I think that being more direct would've had a deeper payoff.

I also have to hand it to Ethan Phillips in this episode. I got the sense several times that Phillips wanted to portray Neelix as feeling guilty over Tuvok's attack. When Tuvok became despondent in sickbay, Phillips' facial expressions made me think there would be a follow-up scene where Neelix just let it all out, saying that, because his unwillingness to let Tuvok have his peace and quiet led Tuvok away from helm control and right into his attacker's grasp. I actually thought that scene would be with Seven of Nine, but alas. What a missed opportunity to add rare depth to this character.
Amanda - Tue, Feb 18, 2014 - 9:56am (USA Central)
I'd given it 3.5 if they never made Tuvix. Been done but now with a PC approach.
Amanda - Tue, Feb 18, 2014 - 9:57am (USA Central)
I'd given it 3.5 if they never made Tuvix. Been done but now with a PC approach.
Ric - Mon, May 5, 2014 - 7:44pm (USA Central)
Interesting argument, with a flat, uninteresting execution.

I am not a traditional hater of Neelix, although not a lover either. But I have to say that in this episode he is in fact insupportable to watch. Every single joke he tries, fails to be funny. Even single touching line fails to be touching. Every single cute silliness fails to be cute, succeeding only in being silly. To make things worse, Tim Russ delivers mostly an uninspired, cartoonish acting.

Yeah, the main story is not bad. The idea of a species that was never seen is inspired (but wasted). The attempt to bring Tuvok and Neelix closer is commendable (and sort of works). The deeper issue of what sustains a friendly relationship could have been interesting, but was not pushed forward enough.

To summarize, the whole execution just does not stand. It is actually frustrating. Besides, holly Trek, what was that cake thing? Starfleet should certainly include bakers in all ships from now on. And what about the listening-jazz scene? Once again it looks like Trek is not ashamed to establish that there is no other music styles in the next three centuries, not to mention outside US. You know, the future is shiny...

In the end, an average-ish episode. With a finally touching last scene.
MisterFred - Sun, Jun 1, 2014 - 3:06pm (USA Central)
I've disagreed with you before on ratings, but here I'm genuinely surprised at your low rating. To be fair, the Reset Button was expected and used once again.

But this is still one of my favorite episodes of Voyager. And it managed the salvage the heretofore disastrous Neelix/Tuvok dynamic in what for me was a completely unexpected way.

Tuvok HATES Neelix. With the passion of a thousand suns that only a Vulcan can feel - and suppress.

Which leads to the double tragedy of this episode - and I'm a sucker for tragedy. The direct one, dealing with brain damage, is more poignant than you give it credit for. Yes, it should be obvious that damaged Tuvok should be taught to become what he can be, not what he was. Yet this is a lesson that people in the real world never manage to learn until something FORCES them to understand the person they knew will never be the same again.

It's an obvious lesson - but it's one that has to be learned, over and over again, so one I absolutely do not fault the script for. (Though I suppose you could argue that Trek mores are supposed to be advanced enough this would be the default Trekkian response.)

And while the primary Tuvok plot was good enough as an allegory to brain damage in our world, the Reset Button is forgiven by me precisely because it's the Reset that provides the real emotional punch of the episode.

Neelix LIKES Tuvok, and damaged Tuvok likes him back, yet Neelix must accept the death of this relationship for the good of his friend. That's powerfully sad, and yet something that can only be cheered on by Neelix himself.

A complex emotional resonance that the Reset gives us.

Tuvok HATES Neelix, yet repaired Tuvok owes Neelix an unpayable debt for Neelix's dedication to him during his recovery. And he has the memory of his gratitude for Neelix, and more, his dependence on him.

But repaired Tuvok still HATES Neelix. It quite frankly hurts him to admit any attachment to Neelix at all. Yet he is compelled to do so to the extent he can because of the unpayable debt. And so he maintains tremendous guilt for his revocation of their temporary friendship - yet proves he will humiliate himself to please Neelix (even if only a tiny bit) out of gratitude.

It's incredibly powerful stuff. Full of exceptional characterization (all the more remarkable since it ably incorporates the previous badly-written dynamic). And while I agree with you that the aliens could have been interesting & some Voyager cliches are present, as with some of your DS9 reviews, I have to say the sheer weight of the episode forgives what would otherwise be flaws.

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