Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Meld"

***

Air date: 2/5/1996
Teleplay by Michael Piller
Story by Michael Sussman
Directed by Cliff Bole

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Do you know what a mind meld is?"
"It's...that Vulcan thing where you grab someone's head."

— Tuvok and Suder

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.

Previous episode: Threshold
Next episode: Dreadnought

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23 comments on this review

mlk - Sun, Dec 16, 2007 - 6:23pm (USA Central)
Tuvok killing Neelix was the best moment in Voyager up to this point.
David Forrest - Mon, Mar 10, 2008 - 12:15pm (USA Central)
I enjoyed this episode and enjoyed your review. I agree with a majority of it in that I liked how they solved the murder fairly quickly and then it "Why did he do it?" I thought it was fascinating to see on Star Trek, that Suder killed just "because he looked at him the wrong way". Brad Dourif was excellent as the guest star and it was defintely an enjoyable hour.

As for the filler B-part, I do like how the writers were attempting to set the stage for Paris's "leaving the ship".
Anthony2816 - Thu, Jul 3, 2008 - 1:55am (USA Central)
"Tuvok killing Neelix was the best moment in Voyager up to this point."

The only way it could have been better would be if it hadn't been a simulation.
mr. E - Sun, Jun 14, 2009 - 10:18pm (USA Central)
Maybe I'm missing something, but how did the holographic characters have replicator credits to bet with in the first place?
Will - Mon, Jan 4, 2010 - 12:55pm (USA Central)
The sad part is, this story gets reused as "Random Thoughts". Still, at least Tuvok gets to stand in the limelight for once, shame it was one of the last times.
Ken - Tue, Feb 8, 2011 - 2:25pm (USA Central)
I have mixed feelings about the episode. It's great to see Tuvok go through all of these changes and get emotional. It really adds a lot to his character. Tim Russ does a really great job throughout the whole episode.

The "death" of Neelix is an exceptional scene, because I think many of the audience members want to see Neelix dead. Maybe it's our own violent impulses that the story is trying to tell us about that are being confirmed within us through this scene ;)

On the other hand, I just found myself not caring about the plot. Who is this unknown Maquis that's been on the ship for the last 1.5 years? He's just a convenient crew member to use a plot device. I've never seen him, even in the background.

Beyond that, this Maquis murdered someone, we found out who did it, and it was all wrapped up fairly quickly. Beyond that, the plot is fairly uninteresting.

There's no really interesting climax here. We know Tuvok is going to be reset. So he didn't give in to the violence... big deal? It didn't do anything for me.

It's also disappointing to watch an episode with some promise only to have a lack-luster ending. And in this case, the premise of the story is not believable either - due to the convenient guest star we've never seen before (who I think members of the crew would have noticed or talked about in 1.5 years of traveling in space).

Ultimately, bad beginnings and bad endings make bad episodes.
Destructor - Sun, Mar 20, 2011 - 7:44pm (USA Central)
I saw this for the second time yesterday and I think it's an amazing episode- probably the best work Voyager has done to date. It's not just a decent episode, it's actually a very deep study into violence and justice, where they come from, how they are inter-related. Amazing work from Dourif, Russ and Mulgrew, and it all ties together in a very interesting, intelligent way.

Regarding Ken's comment, it seemed that Suder worked on a different shift, so it's certainly possible we'd not have seen him in the 11 months the ship has been in the DQ.
Ken - Sun, Apr 10, 2011 - 5:04pm (USA Central)
I suppose he could work on a different shift, but that's rationalizing things.

There were still many times B'Elanna would work throughout the night or on different shifts and we would not see him.

It's really not as if we haven't seen different shifts on this show - we have.
Carbetarian - Fri, Apr 22, 2011 - 5:02pm (USA Central)
@Ken I think you're nitpicking a little too hard here. I believe it was established in the 37s that Voyager has a crew of 150. Realistically speaking, we aren't going to see all of them. That Voyager would seem to go on to have a crew closer to 1,000 and about 50 shuttle crafts to burn by the end of the show's run though is, for me, a more pertinent matter to nitpick about. Feel free to tear that one apart as much as you want.

Anyway, third me in for praising the scene where Neelix gets throttled! Every episode should have a scene like that. In fact, Neelix should have been like Kenny on South Park. Every week he dies a new death! They could have had some scenes like this:

*Janeway, Chakotay and Tuvok stand in cargo bay 2*

Janeyway: What are we going to do about this wacky spatial anomaly that's threatening our ship this week?

Chakotay: Well, I was thinking we just kind of do whatever we did the first 50 times this happened.

Tuvok: Logic dictates that we should consider not flying into spatial anomalies all together in the future. How about that? Amiright?

*enter Neelix*

Neelix: Well hello there Captain, Chuckles, Mr. Vulcan! I brought you all some leftover pieces of my Jabalian Omelets from breakfast! Can't think without sustenance after all-

Chakotay: Captain, Tuvok - QUICK, GRAB HOLD OF SOMETHING STRONG!

*Cargo bay door opens, Neelix is sucked out into space*

Chakotay: WHOOPS! My finger must have slipped...


Or how about this...

*Janeway, the doctor, Neelix and Kes are all in sickbay*

The doctor: I've been working on a new cortical supplement that would vastly improve the crew's brain power.

Janeway: That's great! How does it work?

Kes: I've convinced Neelix to be our first test subject.

Neelix: Anything for you, my sweet.

The Doctor: Yes, and as Neelix is the dumbest person currently on board the ship, he also stands the most to gain by this working.

Janeway: Agreed. Let's try it.

*the doctor injects Neelix in his temples, Neelix immediately drops dead*

The Doctor: Oh well, needs work.

*end scene*


Anyway, in all seriousness, this was a good episode. Three stars from me too!
V - Tue, Jan 10, 2012 - 11:59pm (USA Central)
@carbetarian I've never laughed so hard in so long! That was heck of funny. All star trek should at least do 1 comedic episode per season. Your suggestionwould work if they do it using a Frame Story/metanarrative strategy.
Justin - Tue, Mar 13, 2012 - 9:17pm (USA Central)
This is the kind of story that was just begging to be told. The character of Tuvok has some interesting built-in contradictions. He is Vulcan - born and bred to prefer non-violent solutions, yet he is Voyager's Security/Tactical officer. Quite often violence is his job - applied logically, of course. Unfortunately, this is one of the only times they really explore how much it takes for a Vulcan to suppress their inherent violent tendencies. The psychological study of a serial killer is the perfect outlet for that exploration. I give this episode 3 & 1/2 stars.
Paul York - Wed, May 9, 2012 - 12:41am (USA Central)
The violence in Vulcans and their suppression of it for the sake of having civilization is a metaphor for the superego's suppression (repression) of the id in human psychology. Freud shed light on this long ago. The Klingon is pure id, but the superego comes out in his concern for honour - another metaphor for the human condition. I thought this was one of the best episodes insofar as it explored violence and the battle for good and evil within all of us. It was nothing short of brilliant, in fact. Suder's commentary was very incisive: the idea that once acted on, violence takes over -- very true. Violence is at the heart of our society in many ways (structural violence against animals, war, prejudice), but the inclination to good is also present in us -- an eternal battle within, reflected in our laws and customs and traditions. All of us are capable of murder but few act on it because of laws, and because of "the moral law within" that tells us it is wrong. This question was explored through Tuvok's plight, which was exacerbated by the isolation of Voyager in the Delta Quadrant, far from Starfleet's justice system.
duhknees - Thu, Jun 14, 2012 - 8:59am (USA Central)
Ditto, Paul. The discussion of the irony of capital punishment being an act of vengeance was worth the lukewarm B story. And Dourif is a great actor who's been underused since his part in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. No background extra could have pulled that off.
Lt. Yarko - Wed, Jun 12, 2013 - 2:25am (USA Central)
LOL @ Carbetarian

*Neelix walks into Tom Paris' darkened holodeck bar*

Neelix: Tom? Harry? Is anyone here?

Entire Crew: (jumping out from hiding places) Surprise!

Neelix: (surprised and smiling) Hey! Well!

*Entire crew screams, runs forward, and beats Neelix with various blunt objects until he is a bloody pile of unrecognizable flesh*

Chakotay: WHOOPS!
ian - Wed, Jul 17, 2013 - 11:49pm (USA Central)
Tuvok really seems to be a poor excuse for a Vulcan compared to the few others seen.

But his being unsure about the motive for murder actually resembles part of the story from TOS "Journey To Babel." Spock also is confused by seeming random acts of murder until the Andorian ambassador says quite simply "Forget logic and concentarte on motivations of passion or gain, THOSE are reasons for murder..."
ProgHead777 - Thu, Aug 1, 2013 - 11:47pm (USA Central)
"Tuvok really seems to be a poor excuse for a Vulcan compared to the few others seen."

Shut yo mouth, son! Tim Russ' depiction of Tuvok is, in my opinion, the second best rendition of the Vulcan archetype after Leonard Nimoy himself. Voyager was surely a severely flawed series in many ways, but I've never heard anyone accuse Tim Russ' Tuvok as one of the major contributing factors. Until now.
T'Paul - Fri, Sep 6, 2013 - 4:14pm (USA Central)
I fully agree with ProgHead... I think that other than Nimoy, Russ is THE Vulcan.

He perfectly conveys the ancient struggle that Vulcans endure to supress their emotion, but unlike T'Pol, does it with humor, irony, wit, mystery.

For me he saved the Vulcans from the savaging they got in later trek series.
Petrus - Wed, Oct 9, 2013 - 11:11am (USA Central)
>I fully agree with ProgHead... I think that other >than Nimoy, Russ is THE Vulcan.

While I agree that Russ' performance was fantastic, I've truthfully always viewed Tuvok as an outcast, where Vulcans are concerned. We pretty much find that out in "Gravity."

Tuvok, vocationally and temperamentally speaking, is a warrior, in a society which completely abhors violence. Granted, Spock and several other Vulcans went through a certain amount of self-deception where their own emotions were concerned, but I never saw any of them express anywhere near the degree of internal conflict that Tuvok does. He *hates* being Vulcan, if he would only be honest with himself; it makes him miserable.

If he hadn't been married, then after Voyager got home, part of me would have advocated having Janeway recommend to him, that he move to Romulus. I think he would have been *much* happier as one of them.
inline79 - Mon, Oct 21, 2013 - 3:27pm (USA Central)
I'm sure I saw this one when it was first run but only now, seeing it again after the release of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, do I appreciate just how fortunately Voyager was to have Brad Dourif guest star. For me, "Wormtongue" steals the show away from Tim Russ and, in another "Voyager First", I might even suggest that Suder poisons Tuvok much like Wormtongue poisons Theoden. Coincidence?
SlackerInc - Tue, Nov 26, 2013 - 11:13pm (USA Central)
I was blown away by this episode. Cerebral and highrow indeed--more, please! Are Piller's other episodes commensurate with this one?
Elliott - Wed, Nov 27, 2013 - 12:47am (USA Central)
@SlackerInc

Piller was definitely an asset to the franchise and was responsible for "Best of Both Worlds", without which, both DS9 and Voyager (and late TNG, for better or worse) would be unrecognisable. That said, he definitely had his slump episodes on all three series for which he wrote : "Rascals", "If Wishes Were Horses" and "Ex Post Facto" all come to mind. He also did great work (besides BoBW) for those three series including "Yesterday's Enterprise", "First Contact" (the episodes), "Whispers", "Death Wish" and "Meld", which you mentioned.
Adam - Fri, Dec 13, 2013 - 2:23am (USA Central)
They should have kept Dourif around for longer, in a recurring role. He was awesome as Suder. Shame they killed him off in 'Basics Part 2'
Corey - Thu, Feb 20, 2014 - 6:16pm (USA Central)
Is it just me or is Tuvok ALWAYS frowning and angry, in EVERY episode? He seems to be perpetually "ticked off".

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