the story: Tuvok becomes entangled in an unlikely relationship with an apparent holographic character.
what it's all about: "Alter Ego" has a lot going for it. One is the unusual pairing of Harry Kim and Tuvok, who otherwise really don't have any other shared experiences in the series. Harry is having one of his romantic problems, this time with a holodeck character, or so he thinks. It's intriguing, since that means the episode is kind of a precursor to the controversial sixth season entry "Fair Haven," in which Janeway really does have such a relationship. For a crew faced with limited romantic options, it's a good idea to mine for material, and sort of flips on its head part of Barclay's problem in Next Generation's "Hollow Pursuits," where we first met the nebbish engineer destined to make a significant impact on Voyager.
He turns to Tuvok for advice, but that only makes things worse, because Tuvok investigates the holodeck character, who decides she's interested in Tuvok instead of Harry, which makes Harry jealous. This development is two-fold. Harry usually seems like the quintessential Starfleet officer, fresh out of the Academy and as gung ho about his job as anyone could be. The question of why such a consummate professional would have a hard time being promoted on a ship lost in the Delta Quadrant even though he's one of the best hands of the crew can thusly be explained by his lack of maturity, with experiences like "Alter Ego" spelling it out.
The episode then becomes about Tuvok himself. Tuvok spotlights were always few and far between, the series no doubt concerned that someone might worry he was trying to replace Spock. Tuvok, of course, is full Vulcan, unlike the half-human Spock, so he was always going to present a unique portrait. As a Vulcan, his relationships rarely involved emotion, except when concerning Neelix (but more on that in the forthcoming "Rise"), even his close bond with Janeway, one of the most neglected in the series (even their experiences in "Flashback" were somewhat caustic).
The problem was really Tuvok's sense of isolation, which dovetails nicely with the further developments of this episode. (Chakotay, it might be argued, also suffered from isolation the longer the series continued, which is why it was nice for him to end up in a relationship with Seven. It was kind of like finally replacing the toxic Seska.) The holographic character turns out to be a real person, who's hacked the ship (hacking a Starfleet ship is a brilliant idea, by the way, and a rare phenomenon) because she's got a job that keeps her, y'know, in isolation. She finds Tuvok fascinating. He's an enigma, someone who manages to remain functional even while keeping a distance from those around him.
Anyway, I like how the episode progresses. It's always been one of my favorites from the season. Enterprise's "Exile" is a similar story, which doesn't really evolve as organically, so the merits of "Alter Ego" becomes all the easier to admire.
- franchise - The original premise of the episode revolves around holographic characters, long a Star Trek staple.
series- Not hugely connected to the premise.
- character - But it becomes hugely significant to not only Harry but Tuvok as the story progresses.
- essential - It's an episode that helps explain both of them.
Alexander Enberg (Vorik)