Nutshell: It's the inevitable "Tuvok gets emotions" episode, and it has a surprising amount of depth and a wonderful guest character.
When a crew member is murdered, Tuvok finds himself in over his head in an argument of logic versus emotion as he discovers the perpetrator has no motive or remorse—only the simple explanation that the arbitrary killing was the only option available in his mind. In a search for answers, Tuvok mind melds with the killer, only to cause his own dark side to emerge.
Well, I knew it had to happen eventually: the "Tuvok exhibits emotions" show. Face it—it's something that Tim Russ and the writers have probably been looking forward to since the onset of the series. After all, TOS had its fair share of "Spock exhibits emotions" episodes. And weren't they always something we enjoyed seeing? I'm surprised Voyager went an entire year before finally breaking down and giving this to us.
Whether you see Tuvok losing control of his emotions as completely gratuitous or not, "Meld" is an effective bottle show, featuring an admirable performance by Tim Russ and a reasonably compelling story, courtesy of resident cerebral scripter Michael Piller, from a story by Michael Sussman.
The plot centers around Tuvok's attempts to dissect the circumstances surrounding an unprovoked murder performed by Crewman Suder (Brad Dourif): a quiet, disturbed Betazoid from Chakotay's Maquis crew with a history of repressed violence and antisocial behavior.
If not stranded in the Delta Quadrant, Suder would probably be a case study. He's quiet and soft-spoken, and one day out of the blue he beats a man to death simply because he didn't like the way the man looked at him. After the killing, he covers it up and doesn't give it another thought. However, he doesn't cover his tracks well enough, and when the body is discovered, it takes Tuvok very little time to piece the clues together and arrest him.
But this murder puzzles Tuvok's logic to no end. Suder fully admits to the deed once he realizes he isn't going to get away with it. He does not, however, have any feelings of the matter, nor does he have a reason for what he did. Tuvok is not willing to leave it at this. He's curiously troubled, and wants to understand why someone would do something like this for no apparent reason.
In essence, "Meld" asks: Why does a killer kill? If for no other tangible reason, what does a person seek to gain by murdering? It's a fascinating question, I'll have to admit—and serial killer analysis is something not very often seen on Star Trek. "Meld" does a respectable job of bringing up this issue and exploring it through the Suder character, and Tuvok's frustrated perplexity over this cold-blooded killer is both an interesting and appropriate idea. Cliff Bole's direction is very good, featuring some use of shadows that accentuate the dark mood in scenes between Tuvok and Suder.
The results of Tuvok's mind meld with Suder proves entertaining and effective, even if not completely justified. While I don't quite understand why a mind meld would have such a profound effect on a Vulcan (Tuvok's virtually instantaneous transformation from his usual self into a person with even less control than Suder remains a little bit hazy to me), I do like the manner in which the episode shows Tuvok's inability to cope with the experience.
First of all (and, personally, my favorite scene), there's the holographic simulation where Tuvok strangles Neelix to death. It's simultaneously unexpected, disturbing, and hilarious in a macabre kind of way. (Haven't we all wanted to strangle Neelix on occasion when he gets annoying?)
Then there's the scene where Tuvok goes to see Suder, only to find Suder is suddenly less at the mercy of emotional impulses than he is. Here Tuvok is the victim of a classic irony: The lunatic begins appearing more sane than the psychologist.
There's also a very well-played scene where Janeway goes to Tuvok's self-destroyed quarters to find out why her security officer has isolated himself from the ship. (Naturally, it's for everybody else's protection.) Tuvok sits quietly in the corner of his room, covered in sweat, looking like a proximity bomb that could go off with the slightest provocation. Tuvok's unforgettable line, "Captain, please do not come any closer," is said and then repeated with such a calm, unemotional urgency that Janeway seems almost foolish (or really bold) to take the one more step to get within conversational distance.
Then, of course, there's the culmination in sickbay, where the Doctor puts Tuvok behind a force field and subjects him to some "therapy" to reverse the effects of the mind meld. This therapy involves temporarily disabling the part of Tuvok's brain responsible for inhibiting his emotions. The result is basically a "Tuvok uncensored," who condescends to everybody and treats Janeway with surprising disrespect. Sure, this therapy angle is no more than an excuse to give Tuvok emotions for a while, but the ends justify the means. Here Russ delivers the goods with a sense of lunacy but without going completely over-the-top, playing Tuvok as an angry, intelligent person who isn't afraid to tell everybody else what's on his mind—no matter what they're likely to think of what he says.
The episode's finale features Tuvok's choice of whether or not to use uncondoned vigilante justice on Suder for his crime. Suder turns out to be a surprisingly dimensional character, brought to life with Dourig's compelling presence. He really sounds like a guy speaking from experience on violent impulses; he understands Tuvok's dilemma, and knows that the demons within will not be silenced by just one murder.
This is somewhat highbrow storytelling. "Meld" has a number of effective subtexts in the issues of violence and antisocial behavior. There's also the relevant question of what to do with a murderer among the crew (although a polemical statement concerning capital punishment seems preachy and is introduced without the necessary depth). Giving Tuvok emotions was the easy, superficial part. But "Meld" also has the shining moments of depth.
Personally, I think that incarcerating Suder in his quarters for what he did is a fairly adequate punishment. He'd be a man isolated with no purpose. I doubt there's much more you can take away from a person.
By the way (I almost forgot), "Meld" also has a completely pedestrian B-story involving Paris running a gambling pool using replicator rations. This is the show's most notable weakness—just forgettable filler that sits there and shrugs. Chakotay shutting down the pool and putting Paris on report has an unfortunate "who cares" effect. Let's not dwell on it, though. The show more than makes up for it.