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Star Trek: Voyager – Riddles (Review)

Riddles is very much a stock episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

Like Barge of the Dead and Alice before it, Riddles is a character-focused episode of the sixth season that largely retreads character dynamics that feel thorough explored by this point in the show’s run. One of the big issues with Voyager is that it never got past more than a single line of biography for many of its lead characters; Torres is angry, Paris is a restless rebel, Tuvok is logical, Kim is inexperienced. Indeed, in the case of Chakotay, the series even dropped that one-line character synopsis after Michael Piller departed and never bothered to draft a new one.

Stopping to smell the roses.

Riddles is a Tuvok-centric episode that brushes up against the fact that Voyager doesn’t really know (or care) that much about Tuvok beyond the existence of his pointy ears. Tuvok is a Vulcan, and so his stories tend to be about logic and the challenges that it presents. This is not a bad thing, with Tuvok’s repression and logic providing the basis for Meld and Gravity, two of the best episodes of Voyager ever produced. However, Riddles is somewhat underwhelming. It feels like the story has been done before. More than that, this feels like a particularly stock iteration of that story.

Riddles is not a bad episode of Voyager by any measure. It is also not an especially good episode of Voyager either. Instead, Riddles is a perfectly familiar episode of Voyager.

Putting the pieces together.

Riddles is the first script of the sixth season to be written by Rob Doherty. Doherty had previously worked on the show as a production intern, writing Vis à Vis during the fourth season and Bliss during the fifth season. As he explained to Star Trek: The Magazine, he came to Voyager almost by accident:

“I graduated in ’96 and I did the same internship as Brannon had done, the academy of TV Arts and Sciences. I had no idea I would be placed at Star Trek: Voyager; I sent an application to the Academy and they just said I would be based on a one-hour drama somewhere, somehow!”

As Doherty points out, this is very similar to how Brannon Braga had joined the writing staff on Star Trek: The Next Generation, working as an intern during the fourth season and earning a writing credit on Reunion before becoming a fixture of the franchise.

Elementary, my dear Vulcan.”

Indeed, Rob Doherty would become one of the breakout writers of the larger Star Trek franchise, along with writers like Ronald D. Moore and Bryan Fuller. Voyager would serve as a gateway for Doherty, leading to a long and profitable career as a television writer. As with a lot of veteran Star Trek writers who found themselves forced to acclimitise to life outside of the franchise, Doherty would bounce around a number of television series after Voyager wrapped, building up an impressive television resume. However, Doherty would land on his feet.

His later career included a three-season tenure on the Patricia Arquette vehicle Medium. However, he is best known to audiences as the creator of Elementary, the CBS series modeled on the classic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle character of Sherlock Holmes. He worked alongside Star Trek: Deep Space Nine writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe on the series, which turned out to be quite a success for CBS. In hindsight, given his later success, it is somewhat disappointing that Doherty was never allowed to properly develop within the Star Trek franchise.

Tuvok is all ears.

Discussing the episode with Cinefantastique, Doherty explained that Riddles was a tough script and that it was heavily reworked in collaboration with recently returned producer Ken Biller:

“Riddles was a great story. Being my first script of the season, it was a struggle. I would say it was probably the toughest script I’ve had all year. It was ultimately very rewarding I think pairing Tuvok and Neelix is always great. They’re fun characters to write for, especially together. But with Ken’s help in particular, I think it came out very nicely.”

Added Biller, “I thought Riddles was a terrific episode. Roxann Dawson did a really great job directing it. Rob did a really great job on the first draft of the script. I did a lot of rewriting on it, but I love the episode.”

This makes a certain amount of sense. Biller was never a particularly ambitious writer on Voyager, and his interest tended to gravitate towards very simple character-driven plots based on surface-readings of characters; Torres in Faces, Kim’s novice anxiety in Demon, Paris’ failed rebellion in Thirty Days.

“I have been, and always shall be, your frenemy.”

In terms of exploring Tuvok as a character, Riddles is perhaps the most straight-forward of stories imaginable. Tuvok is a Vulcan, and Vulcans are defined in large part by their repression of emotion and their embrace of logic. Since character-driven stories are often rooted in exposing the characters to adversity or undermining core assumptions, what happens if Tuvok’s logic is taken away from him? It is the most basic of character-driven stories, inviting the audience to imagine a character with their core attribute inverted, the contrast providing fertile ground for exploration.

Voyager had done a number of these stories with Tuvok before, although these episodes were never quite as direct. Instead of stripping away Tuvok’s logic, Voyager preferred to force the character to the extremes of it, to confront him with problems that could not be solved without any emotional understanding. Tuvok was forced to train a group of rebels in Learning Curve. Tuvok was forced to play parent to a bunch of (seemingly) unruly children in Innocence. Tuvok confronted psychopathy in Meld. Tuvok wrestled with love in Gravity.

Highly illogical.

None of these earlier Tuvok-driven stories were particularly subtle, but Riddles is particularly inelegant. Tuvok is attacked by a mysterious alien creature that just so happens to scramble his neurology in such a way that his emotional barriers are broken down. As a result, Tuvok is rendered as a child, a doe-eyed innocent almost incapable of processing the world around him and overwhelmed by emotional responses that he spent a lifetime repressing – particularly “volatile ones.”

There are some interesting elements to this story. There is something very touching in the short scene where Tuvok is forced to confront that man that he used to be, with the understanding that he can no longer be that person. “I was an instructor at Starfleet Academy,” Tuvok reflects, browsing his service record as if reading about a stranger. “I’ve received seventeen commendations for valour. I’m a husband, a father.” Neelix agrees, “You’re an extraordinary fellow, Tuvok.” Tuvok concedes, “I was an extraordinary fellow.”

Having his cake and eating it.

There is something very affecting in the idea of Tuvok having to confront his impairment, and to realise the gulf that exists between what he was and what he is. “Why do I no longer work on the bridge?” he asks Neelix. Neelix tries to explain in a gentle manner, “We talked about that. You had an accident.” Tuvok bluntly summarises, “And now I’m not smart enough.” Neelix tries to comfort him, “Tuvok, you’ve just got to be patient. Look how much progress you’ve made already.” Tuvok responds, “He could dismantle a photonic warhead in less than thirty seconds. I can’t even play kal-toh.”

There is something very human in all of this, something very recognisable in this short and emotionally-charged exchange, buried beneath the make-up and the references to “photonic warheads” and “kal-toh.” Many viewers will recognise this conversation from talking with elderly relatives or friends, people grappling with impairments and struggling to come to terms with a loss in cognitive function. There is a tenderness to the sequence, an emotional aspect that tends to get overlooked in discussions of Voyager.

Things come to a head.

Indeed, Tuvok’s condition in Riddles fits loosely with Voyager‘s recurring fascination with mental deterioration. This undoubtedly reflects the context of the show, set against the backdrop of the mid-to-late-nineties. Largely driven by writers like Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky, it constantly seemed like the characters on Voyager were on the cusp of a nervous breakdown. Episodes like Projections, Latent ImageTinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy, Infinite Regress and The Voyager Conspiracy focus on characters like the EMH and Seven of Nine losing touch with objective reality.

However, the series also engages with other forms of psychological breakdown, and with considerably greater frequency than the other Star Trek series. Chakotay’s contact with an alien universe in The Fight almost shatters his sanity, forcing the character to confront a history of psychiatric illness in his family. Endgame reveals that Tuvok suffered from a degenerative neurological illness that leaves him consigned to a psychiatric institution with little control of his faculties.

Tuvok rose to the occasion.

In some ways, this fascination with mental disorder might be seen as an extension of Voyager‘s engagement with postwar America, a sense that Voyager was a Star Trek series anchored in the fifties – an idea reinforced by other episodes like Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy or Alice. After all, American popular culture became truly engaged with the idea of madness after the Second World War, as Marta Caminero-Santangelo argues in The Madwoman Can’t Speak:

At the same time, Americans began a feverish investigation of the psychology of the individual. Friedan saw this trend, too, as its own form of retreat: “After the war, Freudian psychology became much more than a science of human behaviour. … It provided a convenient escape from the atom bomb, McCarthy. … It gave us permission to suppress the troubling questions of the larger world.” Thomas Szasz, a leading figure in the antipsychiatry movement, seemed to agree, condemning the tendency to explain incomprehensible events such as the Holocaust in terms of the “madness” of the culprits, thus diminishing the significance of those crimes with a vocabulary of individual psychology. Writers as dissimilar in other ways as Friedan and Szasz both saw the pursuit of psychology, in its postwar forms, as an escape from the responsibilities imposed by the horrific burdens of the “outside” world. Szasz noted that it was at this time that mental illness became a legal means to avoid criminal responsibility.

This postwar anxiety can be seen in the number of high-profile pieces of pop culture focusing of psychiatric disorders in the years that followed the Second World War, most notably the novel and feature film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Even later works like Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island would use psychiatry and mental illness as a window into the postwar condition.

Just desserts.

Voyager is very much defined by a yearning to return to that period, with a lot of its imagery and iconography rooted in the forties and fifties. Caretaker embraced the aesthetic of classic westerns, casting the Kazon as stock (problematic) savages. The Vidians conjure up the cultural memory of Nazi doctors and concentration camps in Phage and Faces. The atomic bomb haunted narratives like Jetrel, The Omega Directive and Warhead. In some abstract ways, Voyager was almost a prequel to the original Star Trek, shifting its cultural gaze back a decade or so from the sixties.

At the same time, Voyager‘s repeated emphasis on psychiatric disorders also anchors it in the context of the later nineties. Voyager might have looked longingly back to the fifties, but it was also firmly rooted in the context of the nineties. There was a millennial anxiety to Voyager that was largely absent from Deep Space Nine, outside of episodes like The Reckoning and Covenant. After all, Voyager would make several trips back to modern-day earth in episodes like Future’s End, Part I, Future’s End, Part II and 11:59.

Riddle me this.

The series’ fascination with time travel and reset buttons arguably tapped into millennial uncertainty, worries about the end of history reflected in episodes like Time and Again, Year of Hell, Part I, Year of Hell, Part II, Timeless and Relativity. Indeed, Voyager was arguably more likely to engage with nineties social issues than Deep Space Nine. The Kazon were a (problematic) metaphor for gang violence, the Vidians were a (problematic) metaphor for AIDS. The Chute dealt with the prison system. Displaced tackled immigration. Remember wrestled with Holocaust denial.

Of particular note was the series’ repeated engagement with the question of reality – the recurring suggestion that reality was a thorny and brittle construct. Characters throughout the run of the show are constantly grappling with the nature of existence, while Voyager repeatedly confronts the audience with doppelgangers and imitations and copies of the crew: Deadlock, Worst Case Scenario, DemonLiving Witness, Course: Oblivion, Live Fast and Prosper, Author, Author.

The brains of the operation.

Reality was a fragile construct on Voyager, and it seems fair to draw a thematic link to the series’ recurring emphasis on the mental fragility of the primary characters. Indeed, studies at the dawn of the millennium suggested that more Americans than ever were grappling with psychological breakdowns:

According to a study earlier this year, more than a quarter of Americans (26 per cent) say they have felt on the verge of a mental breakdown (relationship problems and being a single parent were most often cited as the cause). The study, by a psychologist at Indiana University, represents an increase of 7 per cent since the last similar study 40 years ago, which may not mean that any more of us are suffering from major depressive episodes, just that more of us are willing to admit it’s a possibility. Whatever ‘it’ is.

This makes a certain amount of sense. In the nineties, the speed of the world seemed to accelerated beyond all control. The creation of the internet and the cultivation of the twenty-four hour news cycle meant that people were being bombarded with more information than ever before.

Psych out.

It has been suggested that this bombardment with information has only increased stress levels. Indeed, nineties popular culture seems very much engaged with the idea of psychological breakdowns. The nineties were populated with tense psychological thrillers rooted in abnormal psychology – The Silence of the Lambs, Single White Female, Kiss the Girls, The Cell. This is to say nothing of films in which protagonists found their conception of reality challenged – 12 Monkeys, Girl, Interrupted, Dark City, The Matrix.

Voyager‘s recurring fascination with psychological breakdowns seems to exist within this larger cultural context, much like its engagement with other contemporary anxieties like conspiracy theory in Latent Image or The Voyager Conspiracy. In the world of Voyager, mental health is incredibly fragile. This would seem to reflect the realities of the late nineties more than the relative stability of the twenty-fourth century. Tuvok’s psychological breakdown in Riddles is very much part of that.

Rose to the occasion.

However, Tuvok’s psychological breakdown in Riddles is also part of a particular subset these episodes about mental deterioration, with Tuvok’s tragic reflection on his faded glory capturing a sense of the psychological erosion that comes with advancing age. In that powerful scene with Neelix in Sickbay, Tuvok seems almost like an old man grappling with dementia or some other psychological illness, trying to reconcile his own current impaired state with his younger self.

Voyager has repeatedly focused on the ravages of old age, particularly in psychological terms. This deterioration has been employed both as a core metaphorical element of episodes like Innocence and The Swarm and as a smaller literal element affecting primary characters in episodes like The Thaw and Scientific Method. To be fair, rapidly ageing characters is something of a science-fiction trope; Star Trek employed it in The Deadly Years, while Deep Space Nine used it in Distant Voices. However, Voyager returns to the idea repeatedly, even in metaphor.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are.”

Voyager repeatedly juxtaposes the idea of youth and old age; the elderly aliens in Innocence are rendered as children and Tuvok fails to recognise them as anything but children, while Kim is transformed into both a baby and an old man in The Thaw so as to emphasise the comparative helplessness and dependency experienced by both. In Riddles, Tuvok’s impairment suggests both the deterioration associated with old age and the innocence of youth; Tuvok wants nothing more than to play games and make deserts, even as he reflects on the man that he once was.

Of course, this is hardly a novel concept; the connection between old age and childhood has been repeatedly and thoroughly explored in countless works of fiction. It is hardly a new idea to suggest that children and the elderly have much in common; it is, for example, a frequent source of comedic contrast on The Simpsons. However, perhaps this repeated juxtaposition of extreme age and extreme youth reflects something fundamental about Voyager. It might speak to an internal thematic dynamic at play across the run of the series.

Tuvok’s bio-neural circuitry is acting up.

Voyager frequently seems caught between its priorities as both the latest iteration of an extended Star Trek franchise and the youngest child within that franchise. Voyager was very much the standard bearer for the Star Trek legacy from the moment it debuted on UPN, with Deep Space Nine cast as the rebellious child. Voyager is at once the culmination of thirty years of Star Trek, and a desire to start over quite apart from what came before. It is a product of the nineties and yet inexorably drawn back to the aesthetic of mid-twentieth century science-fiction.

Voyager is very much a point of transition within the Star Trek franchise, one arguably tethering the franchise’s old age to its second childhood. Chronologically, Voyager marks the end point of the Star Trek future, the last series before the Star Trek franchise doubled back on itself and retreated into its own infancy through prequels and reboots. With the exception of Star Trek: Nemesis and some flashbacks in Star Trek, the continuity of the on-screen Star Trek universe arguably ends in 2378, with the final season of Voyager. The end of the future. Star Trek‘s old age.

Toh be or not toh be.

However, there is not really a clean break between Voyager and everything that would follow. Voyager does not stand entirely apart from the following prequels like Star Trek: Enterprise or Star Trek: Discovery. Most notably, there is a clear continuity of personnel, with Brannon Braga showrunning Enterprise and Bryan Fuller creating Discovery. However, there is also a sense that the nostalgia that defines Enterprise and Discovery really set in during Voyager. In many ways, Voyager felt like the first Star Trek series that really wanted to go backwards.

After all, Voyager was a show about literally wanting to travel backwards rather than press forwards, which seems like an inversion of the classic Star Trek dynamic. More than that, Voyager borrowed a lot of its cues from the sort of cheesy pulpy science-fiction that actually predated the original Star Trek; look at episodes like Threshold or Macrocosm or Rise. In terms of chronology, Voyager was very firmly a sequel series to the original Star Trek. In terms of aesthetic, there were times when it seemed to long to be a prequel series to the original Star Trek. Old age and infancy.

Ba’Neth suspicion.

However, there is a sense that Riddles does not quite trust Tuvok to carry this story – perhaps because it is so familiar. There are some curious pacing decisions in the episode, with Riddles structuring itself so as to avoid or underplay what should be key moments of character drama. It takes a long time for the episode to actually reach the point where Tuvok has been stripped of his logic, instead devoting the first act to Tuvok recovering in Sickbay and Neelix’s devotion to his wounded colleague.

The episode is also overcrowded with a secondary subplot about mysterious aliens operating in the region. The subplot is stock Star Trek, with little particularly interesting or insightful to say. It seems to exist to eat up screentime and to dilute the character-centric plot focused on Tuvok; it recalls the alien menace subplot in The Swarm or the strange phenomenon of the week in Real Life. Doherty cannily weaves this generic alien menace into the primary plot, but it still feels like a distraction from a more interesting story.

Tuvok’s Choice.

Similarly, the episode rushes past what should be a much stronger climactic beat. When the crew make contact with the aliens and determine a way to cure Tuvok, the character insists that he does not want to be cured. “I don’t wish to undergo the procedure,” he states. Neelix responds, “Just think about it. In a few hours, you’ll be yourself again.” Tuvok replies, “I am myself.” This should be a powerful story and character beat, opening up a whole debate on informed consent and mental capacity. Voyager has engaged with these issues before, in episodes like Tuvix, Nothing Human and Latent Image.

Nevertheless, Riddles glosses over the argument. The debate is handled in a few lines, with Neelix managing to convince Tuvok to conquer his “pre-operative jitters” and to consent to the procedure. It all feels very compressed, a huge character beat resolved in a simple exchange. Then again, perhaps there is good reason to gloss over this plot beat. This is well-worn ground for Voyager, to the point that Tuvok has already (kinda) played through this arc in a more thorough fashion in Tuvix. However, it seems strange to broach the point simply to dismiss it a moment later.

The long dark 0000 hours of the soul.

Adding to the sense that Tuvok is being squeezed out of one of his very few character-centric episodes is the fact that Neelix is arguably more of a focal point in Riddles than Tuvok himself. This is most obvious in the way that Neelix carries the first act of the episode while Tuvok is recovering, tending to him in Sickbay and striking up a connection with the disoriented Vulcan once he awakes. However, it plays across the rest of the episode as well, to the point that Riddles might be described as more keenly focused on Neelix than on Tuvok.

This is frustrating for a number of reasons. Most obviously, Tuvok is one of the most neglected characters in the Voyager ensemble, and so it seems unfair to push the character out of focus within a rare character-centric episode. There is also a sense that shifting the focus on to Neelix in some ways undercuts Tuvok’s trauma, particularly when it comes to dealing with how the accident has diminished and infantalised the once-proud Vulcan, reducing the character to something of a shell of his former self.

Cooking up some crazy plans.

The issue is that Neelix has always been one of the least mature characters on Voyager, which is saying something for a show that featured a two-year-old elf-like alien, a computer-generated simulation activated for the first time, and a former drone who was assimilated at the age of seven. However, Neelix is defined in large part by his immaturity and his insecurity, as demonstrated in episodes like Twisted or Parturition. This is why Neelix arguably works so well with children, in episodes like Once Upon a Time or The Haunting of Deck Twelve.

Riddles emphasises Neelix’s immaturity and insecurity, particularly his need for praise and reassurance from the adults in the room. When he beams in Sickbay with an injured Tuvok, Neelix is so distraught about failing to scan for cloaked ships that Janeway has to take a moment to reassure him. “You saved Tuvok’s life, Neelix. You have nothing to be sorry about.” Later on, the EMH and Neelix clash over care for Tuvok, but Neelix convinces Tuvok to submit himself to the necessary tests. “Well done, Mister Neelix,” the EMH states. He seems almost proud.

Borganisational skills.

At one point midway through the episode, after his emotionally-charged conversation with Tuvok about the man that he used to be, Neelix retreats to the messhall. There he finds Seven of Nine starring out at the stars, contemplating her situation. Neelix asks her for advice, and for reassurance. “When is a Vulcan no longer a Vulcan?” Neelix wonders, contemplating how best to help Tuvok. Seven inspires Neelix by recounting how Janeway taught her to embrace her humanity following her separation from the Borg Collective.

This sequence is remarkable, because it illustrates how Neelix ranks on the relative maturity spectrum of the primary cast. Seven of Nine and the EMH are relatively immature beings, only recently coming to terms with their individual identity. As a rule, Seven of Nine and the EMH tend to receive advice and reassurance rather than offering it. Indeed, Seven even manages to turn Dragon’s Teeth into a life lesson, despite the fact that she is not a major character in the context of the episode. (Neelix is arguably a larger focal point of Dragon’s Teeth.)

You can’t go home again.
Well, except literally.
In that case, you very definitely can go home again.

These beats make it seem like Neelix is being infantalised by the crew around him, that he relies on praise and acknowledgement in order to survive. It undercuts the exploration of Tuvok’s condition, with Neelix behaving towards Tuvok in a manner only slightly more paternalistic than the manner in which the rest of the crew behave towards Neelix. There is no sharp contrast between the two men, no sense of how unusual it must be to have a member of the senior staff on a ship like this behave like a child. It seems like handling Tuvok would be only marginally more demanding than handling Neelix.

However, there is something else frustrating in the way that Riddles shifts its emphasis to Neelix rather than Tuvok. It reflects a broader trend in the way that pop culture approaches stories of debilitation and illness, placing an emphasis on those surrounding a suffering character rather than the suffering character themselves – to focus on the emotional strain of providing care and support for somebody with a serious condition, rather than focusing directly on the story of the person who lives with that condition.

“What? B’Elanna got to bring all her stuff down here for Barge of the Dead.”

Films like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, The Intouchables and My Sister’s Keeper and Miss You Already all make a point to emphasise the emotional strain imposed on those who care for people with these sorts of physical and mental conditions. This makes a great deal of sense, in that they are designed to channel the audience’s empathy through a stand-in character. Many people suffer with long-term debilitating conditions, but many more have direct experienced what it is like to live with friends and relatives grappling with such strains.

This approach is legitimate. Caring for somebody living with a chronic illness or disability is incredibly draining, both emotionally and physically. There is surprisingly little empathy and compassion for those people who do devote their lives to the care of others, relatively little social value placed on their activities. However, there is a delicate balance to be stuck, without dehumanising the characters who are actually living with this pain or belittling their own physical and emotional suffering.

The shape of things that have already come.

Riddles stumbles in this regard, with the episode much more invested in Neelix than Tuvok. After all, the episode seems to be more about the hard work that Neelix is doing than about the impossible situation in which Tuvok finds himself; this is most obvious from the care that Janeway and the EMH take to reassure Neelix, but even in the way that the climactic conversation between Neelix and Tuvok is structured. It is Tuvok undergoing the procedure, but it is Neelix who makes the big emotional decision.

The final line of the scene puts a lot of weight on how Neelix feels and the sacrifice that Neelix is making. “Why do you want me to go back to the way I was?” Tuvok asks. Neelix responds, “Because this crew needs its tactical officer on the bridge. And I wouldn’t be a very good friend if I ignored that just so that you’d be nicer to me.” There is little thought to what Tuvok wants, or if he is even capable of making such a decision. Instead, the episode suggests that Neelix is making the tough choice.

A driving force of this plot.

Tuvok even praises Neelix when the pair arrive in Sickbay, telling the EMH, “I was experiencing pre-operative jitters. Neelix helped me overcome them.” The episode treats this as Neelix’s decision to sacrifice this new friendly Tuvok as something heroic and commendable. As a result, Tuvok’s own choice and agency is largely overlooked. Notably, the episode makes a point to skip over the scene of Tuvok waking up with his faculties restored, instead cutting a scene of Neelix interacting with a post-operative Tuvok. The emphasis is clear; this is a story from Neelix’s perspective.

Riddles is also notable as the first episode of Star Trek to be directed by actor Roxann Dawson. Torres is entirely absent from the episode in order to give Dawson the greatest opportunity behind the camera, just as Riker was largely absent from The Offspring to afford Jonathan Frakes the same opportunity. Dawson would direct Workforce, Part II in the seventh season, and would become one of the most prolific directors working on Enterprise, directing episodes like The Andorian Incident, Dead Stop, Exile, and Awakening.

Simply floored.

In Star Trek Monthly, Ethan Phillips praised Dawson’s work on Riddles:

“Roxann directed that episode, and she was unbelievable,” Ethan enthuses. “That was the high point of the show, to work with her. She was extremely specific, relaxed and knew everything she was doing. Marvin Rush, our director of photography, said at the end of the shoot that he thought it was the best job he’d ever seen a Star Trek actor do as a director. She was great. She was just great. I would work with Roxann anywhere, any time. It was like she had been doing it for years. She knew all the things she wanted, but she was very open to collaboration. She just had a very sure hand.

“And, God, she just worked her tail off. Directors are there all day. I worked long hours, too, because it was partially my episode and because of the make-up. But the director is always preparing early and then they never leave. Roxann slept on the lot, I think, for several days, maybe event he whole time. I hope she gets to do another one next year, and hope I get to work with her again.”

Phillips is not wrong. Whatever problems exist with the concept and teleplay, Riddles is directed in a very assured manner.

“Cellular peptide cake with mint frosting, anyone?”

There are a number of impressive shots and compositions in the episode, with Dawson making a point to give the episode an impressively cinematic style for a very dialogue-driven and conventional episode of Voyager. This is perhaps most notable in the bookending shots of Tuvok undergoing transformation; the shots of Tuvok after he has been attacked and before he undergoes his operation, the camera pulling upwards in order to give the audience a god’s-eye view of unfolding events.

Similarly, there is an impressive reveal of the scanning frequency on the cake, a combination of a tilt with a pedestal which allows Dawson to begin the shot by looking at Tuvok and then gracefully re-position the camera so as to reveal the clue that Tuvok has drawn using the icing. This reveal could easily have been relayed through a quick cut from one relatively static position to another, but Dawson quite correctly treats the moment as one of the big emotional and plot beats within the episode.

“What’s the frequency, Tuvok?”

It is no surprise that Dawson would transition away from acting in the years following her time on Voyager, much like other Star Trek actors-turned-directors like Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton or Robert Duncan McNeill. Looking back on her experiences, Dawson credited Star Trek with providing an opportunity to branch out into the field:

Star Trek gave me a great education, just in terms of shooting, of working with actors, and definitely visual effects. Those things were invaluable. Even though the technology has evolved ten-fold since those days, that show gave me a very good understanding and footing in terms of the visual effects world. At that time there were not a lot of directors who understood how that worked. Now there a lot of shows you wouldn’t think are visual effects-heavy that actually are (visual effects-heavy). Visual effects are used all the time now, even on shows that seem somewhat contemporary and normal. So things have changed quite a bit, and Voyager gave me a great understanding of how all that works.

How fulfilling is directing for you, and in what ways is it more fulfilling than acting?

It is more fulfilling because it involves more of the pieces of the pie, I guess. When you’re acting you’re just working on that one little piece. And as a director I have control over a lot more. For a control freak like me, it’s a lot better.

Dawson never quite gave up acting; she made a handful of guest appearances in the early twenty-first century on series like Coupling, The Division, The Lyon’s Den, Without a Trace and The Closer. However, she became a prolific director on series like The Mentalist, The Good Wife, Scandal, House of Cards, Chance, The Deuce and The Americans. Indeed, she leveraged her position as a director on Cold Case to become a producer on the series.

Things are looking up.

Riddles is a perfectly solid episode of Voyager, albeit one that handles an intriguing premise in a decidedly clumsy and conventional manner with some very strange shifts in emphasis. However, the episode is elevated by a clean script from Doherty and confident direction from Dawson.

6 Responses

  1. Blindness….amnesia….evil multiple personalities….he’s run the gamut of soap opera diseases, hasn’t he?

    “The Lyons Den”

    Which also featured Picardo. I watched maybe two episodes. Rob Lowe jumped ship from the then-popular West Wing to helm a dreary law drama.

    • I do want to see that new Rob Lowe sit-com about the lawyer, though.

      • Naturally Fox canceled “The Grinder” after one season, maybe two months after you posted. I think it’s still worth a watch, Lowe, Fred Savage, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, and the actors playing the two children are all very good. It’s a great send up of earnestly self-serious dramas (typically in the legal and medical genres) with Lowe playing actor Dean Sanderson who plays Mitch Grinder in the show within the show. The Grinder featured what many critics thought was too much inside television, but I enjoyed this and you might also. The final episode basically dares Fox to cancel the show, with the characters declaring “we can keep grinding for as long as we wan’t”.

        Lowe would then go directly to the medical drama “Code Black”. I was surprised to see Lowe cast as a surgeon who is the perfect embodiment of “Colonel Doctor Mitch Grinder”, but played straight. It was very strange to see Lowe play such an absurd role of the kind he had skewered in delicious fashion on his previous and much better show. Lowe even did Code Black publicity extolling the virtues of his ridiculous Col. Willis character, unironically mirroring as a real life actor his actor character Dean Sanderson. I will never meet Lowe, but if I did I would ask him what it was like to play the kind of ridiculous character on a meh show that he had just lampooned in a superior comedy. I’m sure it was a nice paycheck, and there is dignity in all work.

  2. This episode was enjoyable mainly just to watch Tim Russ and Ethan Phillips act together and play off each other. Tim Russ does an excellent job.

    However, it often seems like every story about Tuvok (when he even gets a story) is about some upset to his Vulcan nature, a deconstruction of his culture, a loss of control, a negative association with his ethos, etc. Even Gravity, which came the closest to portraying Vulcan society as beautiful or positive, still painted a picture of conflict. Tuvok is the perpetual alien, the outsider, in a way that Worf or even Odo were often able to transcend. It would have been nice to have seen Tuvok destroying people in martial arts training. There was another Vulcan on board, and yet we had almost no scenes between the two of them. They never play Kal’toh together, share meals, or even conversation. It makes little sense. Tuvok is often a verbal punching bag, and even in this rather good episode, he is presented almost as ‘better’ when he’s reduced in infantile human-like status. Janeway isn’t deeply sad or unsettled to see him this way. She takes it in stride and smiles more than anything.

    It’s extremely lazy and weak writing in some way.

  3. I feel like this article glosses over how the episode was a way to show how close Tuvok and Neelix are, but Tuvok’s cold unemotional exterior doesn’t allow him to express the feelings he may actually be feeling. Neelix is so happy to finally see Tuvok “happy” (Neelix is quite the opposite of a Vulcan in terms of his expressionism) and he’s both so happy and sad that Tuvok is able to be healed, worried Tuvok will go back to showing displeasure at Neelix’s company. The end of the episode is subtle and beautiful.

    • That’s probably fair, but I think that reading is taken as granted, in that it’s a story about how Neelix and Tuvok become great friends once Tuvok’s emotional control is stripped away.

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