This post contains spoilers for Star Trek: Lower Decks.
Since its very first episode, Star Trek: Lower Decks has excavated the most embarrassing parts of Star Trek lore, refusing to let even tangential parts of the franchise go forgotten. The Next Generation‘s second-worst enemy race the Pakleds became major antagonists in Lower Decks, and Boimler showed unironic appreciation for a Tom Paris commemorative plate. Heck, even the Space Fun Helmet made a brief appearance.
So it’s no surprise that Lower Decks would eventually get around to one of the great debates in Star Trek history: how do you solve a problem like Tuvix? Directed by Cliff Bole, the Voyager season two episode “Tuvix” used that old Trek standby, a transporter accident, to pose a knotty moral quandary. When an exotic plant disrupts the transporter beam carrying Vulcan security chief Tuvok and Talaxian guide/cook Neelix, the two combine into one being, who calls himself Tuvix (Tom Wright).
Based on a story by Andrew Shepard Price and Mark Gaberman, “Tuvix” is a standout episode in Voyager‘s rough early seasons, and teleplay writer Kenneth Biller fills the episode with complex moral debates, as Janeway weighs the wishes of Tuvix against those of Neelix and Tuvok, who presumably did not consent to losing their lives to create this new being. Further complicating things is Wright’s outstanding and soulful performance as Tuvix, giving real heft to the scenes where he pleads for his life.
In the end, Janeway makes the executive decision to separate Tuvix and restore her crewmembers. And, as is Voyager‘s wont, the crew moves on after the episode’s end, never again mentioning the incident. But in the decades since, others have picked up the debate about whether Captain Janeway killed Tuvik or saved Tuvok and Neelix. Just a cursory glance at Star Trek Reddits finds numerous posts about the episode. Even U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez weighed in on the discussion, bouncing ideas via Twitter with actors Kate Mulgrew and Tim Russ.
For the most part, Lower Decks sidesteps philosophical debates in favor of fast and furious jokes. That’s certainly the case for much of season four’s “Twovix,” in which the same plant from the Voyager episode combines Chief Engineer Billups and Doctor T’Ana into an entity called T’Illups.
Initially, “Twovix” seems to side with those who claim that Janeway murdered Tuvix. Both Captain Freeman and T’Illups register shock when they read about Janeway’s actions. The former tries to find a way to discuss the issue with T’Illups, while the latter responds by making Tuvixes of most of the crew, combining Shax and Barnes (Shabarnes), Lundy and Honus (Chondus), and Swhale Swhalens, a combination of Steve Stevens and Matt the Whale.
Obviously, “Twovix” takes the combinations to outrageous extremes in service of a joke. Neither writer/showrunner Mike McMahan nor directors Barry J. Kelly and Jason Zurek devote much of the episode’s short runtime to ready-room conversations about sentience and free will.
But the absurd escalation of “Twovix” ultimately justifies Janeway’s actions. Yes, Tuvix is a sentient being, but one that came at the cost of two other sentient beings who need not have died. And if Tuvix’s desires outweigh those of Neelix and Tuvok simply because one currently exists and the other does not, does that mean that T’Illups is engaging in acts of creation and not acts of murder when he combines crewmates against their will?
“Twovix” ultimately exonerates Janeway, going by one of Trek‘s most constant maxims: the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. The unholy abomination T’Illups creates by mixing several crew members results in a single sentient being whose desires do not have greater moral weight than the desires of those who were sacrificed in its creation. In the end, Tendi and T’Lyn go the way of Janeway and separate the Tuvixes, killing the mashup but saving the various members.
Although “Twovix” seems to settle the matter, at least from the official Star Trek perspective, the resolution will not likely prevent fans from continuing the debate. And, to be honest, a lively comment section is good for business, so have at it in the section below! Just understand that we know the truth: eventually, everyone realizes that the Janeway way is the right way, and there’s no two ways about it.
Star Trek: Lower Decks is streaming now on Paramount+.