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[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Riddles"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager s Riddles. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. Nutshell: An agreeable hour, but the
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 10, 1999
      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager's "Riddles."
      If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.

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

      Plot description: A mysterious alien attack leaves Tuvok's brain damaged and
      his personality altered, leading Neelix to try to rehabilitate him.

      Star Trek: Voyager -- "Riddles"

      Airdate: 11/3/1999 (USA)
      Teleplay by Robert J. Doherty
      Story by Andre Bormanis
      Directed by Roxann Dawson

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: **1/2

      "When is a Vulcan no longer a Vulcan?"
      "When his genetic code is sufficiently altered."
      -- Neelix and Seven (deadpan humor, Voyager style)

      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

      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

      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

      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].

      Copyright (c) 1999 by Jamahl Epsicokhan, all rights reserved. Unauthorized
      reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

      Star Trek: Hypertext - http://www.st-hypertext.com/
      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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