Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Meld”

“Meld”
Written by Michael Sussman and Michael Piller
Directed by Cliff Bole
Season 2, Episode 16
Production episode 133
Original air date: February 5, 1996
Stardate: unknown

Captain’s log. Paris is hustling pool on the holodeck, and then starts a betting pool on what the radiogenic particle count will be each day on the ship, with Paris himself taking a cut of each day’s bet.

Hogan reports an issue with the warp drive to one of the EPS conduits, though Crewman Lon Suder had reported the conduit being fine on the previous shift. Torres investigates, and finds the dead body of Crewman Frank Darwin.

Tuvok is summoned from the mess hall, where Neelix is trying to get him to celebrate an ancient Vulcan holiday, and also trying to get him to smile. The initial assumption is that this was a horrible accident, but the EMH’s examination of the body shows that he wasn’t killed by trying to repair the conduit, he was killed by a blow to the base of his skull. Also, if the conduit hadn’t been malfunctioning, the body would’ve been vaporized.

Janeway, Chakotay, and Tuvok meet in the captain’s ready room. The last person to see Darwin was Suder. Tuvok says that Darwin had no enemies or issues with anyone. As for Suder, he is a Betazoid, and was always quiet and kept to himself—but Chakotay also indicates that he was always a little too happy to kill Cardassians. The Maquis did, after all, have a much less rigid screening process for members than Starfleet does…

Suder is questioned by Tuvok, and he claims innocence. However, once the EMH finds Suder’s DNA on Darwin’s body, the crewman confesses. He says he killed Darwin because he didn’t like the way he looked at him. He also produces the murder weapon.

The EMH confirms the murder weapon is what was used to kill Darwin, and also says that there were no indications of psychotic behavior in Suder from his examinations—just elevated norepinephrine levels indicating more aggressive tendencies, but it’s within the norms for all the Maquis crew.

Tuvok goes to the brig to speak to Suder, asking if he can perform a mind-meld with him. The main reason is so that he can determine why Suder is the way he is, and also give the Betazoid some of Tuvok’s control over his emotions that he’s learned over a lifetime of being a Vulcan.

Janeway and Tuvok discuss what to do with Suder. He’s a confessed murderer, and the only option Janeway sees is to keep him confined to quarters for the duration of the journey. The brig is not designed for long-term use, and they can’t leave him with anyone in the Delta Quadrant. Tuvok thinks letting him live in comfort for however long it takes to get home is an insufficient punishment, and actually suggests execution. Janeway is concerned that Tuvok is suffering some effects from the meld, and Tuvok allows as how that may be the case.

Paris’s betting pool keeps resulting in no one winning, but since the house gets ten percent, Paris himself keeps getting a bit of replicator rations each time.

After experimenting in the holodeck with his self-control, and seeing that it’s not what it should be, Tuvok goes to see Suder, who says he has much more self control now. Tuvok locks himself in his cabin with a security field up, deletes his own security clearance, and has the computer inform Janeway that he’s unfit for duty.

Chakotay shuts down Paris’s betting pool, to everyone’s annoyance.

Janeway goes to Tuvok’s quarters to find them trashed. The Vulcan’s emotional control is frayed, and he requests sedation before being sent to sickbay, for the safety of the crew.

The EMH’s diagnosis is that he needs his emotional control artificially removed completely in order to shock his control back into place. Without his emotional control, Tuvok is a complete asshole and longs to execute Suder for his crimes. Later he breaks out of sickbay and goes to the brig, trying to mind-meld with Suder in order to kill him. Suder himself helps to talk him down from it, and Tuvok eventually collapses, unable to commit the murder. Suder uses Tuvok’s combadge to summon sickbay. (Tuvok also rendered Ayala, the guard on duty unconscious. At least, that’s the assumption, as we would see Ayala again, but given Tuvok’s mental state, the crumpled body on the floor of the brig of the brig’s guard was disconcerting, especially since nobody mentioned it.)

Tuvok is actually on the road to recovery, and he apologizes to Janeway for his outbursts. Janeway orders him not to initiate any more mind-melds without her permission. She also confirms that Suder will be confined to quarters for the rest of the journey.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Apparently, the mesiofrontal cortex in a Vulcan is where their emotional control is held. In humans, it’s related to vocalization, but whatever.

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway stands by Tuvok no matter what, and is steadfast in her insistence on imprisoning Suder in his quarters as punishment for murder.

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok is baffled by Suder’s seeming lack of a decent enough motive for murder, and goes to absurd lengths to figure it out, endangering himself, Suder, and the crew.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH has an epic rant on the “utter foolishness” of Vulcan mind-melds, as there are so many things that can go wrong.

Everybody comes to Neelix’s. When Tuvok needs to test his emotional control, he uses the most annoying person on the ship to test it. We don’t know that it’s a holodeck program until after Tuvok has choked Neelix to death, so our hopes are raised that we’re finally rid of Neelix, but those hopes are then dashed when Tuvok calls for the program to end.

Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. Paris’s little betting pool at Chez Sandríne seems like a pointless, harmless diversion to give him and Kim something to do, but this is actually the start of a recurring plotline that will continue through several episodes, coming to a head in “Investigations.”

Do it.

“I remind you, I am trained in the martial arts of many Alpha Quadrant cultures. Sitting here attempting to meditate, I have counted the number of ways I know of killing someone, using just a finger, a hand, a foot. I had reached ninety-four when you entered.”

–Tuvok telling Janeway what a badass he is

Welcome aboard. Three recurring characters in this one: Simon Billig is back as Hogan, having last been seen in “Alliances,” and showing up next in “Investigations.” Angela Dohrmann makes her second and final appearance as Ricky, one of the patrons of Chez Sandríne, having been introduced with the pool-hall program in “The Cloud.”

And best of all, the great Brad Dourif, who has made a stellar career out of playing creepy dudes, plays the incredibly creepy Suder. The character will return in the “Basics” two-parter.

Trivial matters: Suder is seen working with Chakotay in the Maquis in your humble rewatcher’s The Brave and the Bold Book 2, where his telepathy proves useful.

This is the first Trek writing credit for Michael Sussman, who was a writer’s intern at the time. He will continue to freelance for Voyager, eventually becoming a story editor in the seventh season, then move on to Enterprise where he will work his way from executive story editor to co-producer to producer.

With Darwin’s death and Suder’s imprisonment, Voyager has now lost seven crew from the 154 they started with in the Delta Quadrant, the prior five being lost in “Faces” (Durst’s death), “State of Flux” (Seska’s departure), and “Alliances” (three deaths to Kazon battles).

Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “If you can’t control the violence, the violence controls you.” My biggest issue with this episode is one that isn’t entirely the episode’s fault, because it’s a common mistake made when writing procedurals, one that dates back to the earliest days of the mystery novel.

Fiction in the mystery genre has always had as an important component the motivation of the perpetrator of the crime, to the point that the investigator won’t even accuse someone until they know what the perp’s motives were.

Here’s the thing—in actual police procedure, in actual jurisprudence, motive is wholly, utterly, thoroughly irrelevant. What matters in a court of law is proof that the act happened and that the person accused of committing that act did (or didn’t) do it. “If” and “how” are the important parts; “why” is the perp’s shrink’s problem. Sure, sometimes it can help with knowing who to ask, but if you ask any working detective, they will tell you that motive rarely even comes up in a criminal investigation.

So when Tuvok says he can’t close the case until he has Suder’s motive, I winced. The case was closed the minute Suder confessed.

Having said that, it’s still understandable that Tuvok would want to find out why anyhow, not so much in his role as investigator of Darwin’s murder, but in his role as the person responsible for Voyager’s security. Chakotay mentions that Suder enjoyed killing Cardassians a little too much, and there’s a good discussion of the fact that the Maquis didn’t exactly ask for resumés. Still, he’s not the only one like that—as we found out in “Learning Curve,” Dalby joined the Maquis for the express purpose of killing as many Cardassians as possible after his wife was raped and killed. This sort of conflict is something that may come up again (and indeed probably should have come up more often), and Tuvok does need to know the reason.

The meld itself works as an actual melding of minds, functioning in much the same way it did in TNG’s “Sarek,” where each side gets a piece of the other. It’s to Suder’s benefit, as he gains a certain measure of control over his psychotic impulses, but not so much to Tuvok, whose control frays. As seen often in the original series, Vulcans are truly a passionate, turbulently emotional people who use logic and emotional control to keep it all in check, and it’s very bad when they lose that control (as seen with Spock in “The Naked Time,” “This Side of Paradise,” “Amok Time,” and “All Our Yesterdays” and with the title character in “Sarek”).

The episode is made by three grand performances. Tim Russ beautifully plays the collapse of Tuvok’s control. The scene in sickbay when his emotional control is completely removed is a bit too over-the-top—and I’m sorry they couldn’t contrive to get Neelix there to get a lesson in being careful what you wish for, as that’s when Tuvok smiles the way Neelix wanted him to, and it’s when he’s discussing homicide—but the scene in his darkened, destroyed quarters is devastatingly effective. Director Cliff Bole—one of the most prolific and talented of the stable of directors used by the first wave of Trek spinoffs going back to TNG’s first season—films the scene magnificently, with Tuvok staying shadowed for most of it.

Robert Picardo is his usual great self, also, adding his acid commentary to the proceedings, from his analysis proving that it was a homicide all the way to his bitching about how mind-melds never seem to work right. (Not the last time the EMH will provide meta commentary on the various Trek tropes.)

And then there’s Brad Dourif, who excels as the sociopathic Suder. The role could have been played as a dead-eyed automaton, but Dourif manages to give Suder depth and complexity and even a slight tinge of tragedy.

I would’ve liked a bit more consideration for Darwin himself, who’s more of a plot catalyst than a character who should be mourned by the crew (a little bit of the grief seen in places like “Alliances” for Bendera, or in TNG’s “The Bonding” for Marla Aster, would’ve been appropriate), but still, this is an effective meditation on psychosis and a gripping episode. (A nice mental palate-cleanser after the previous monstrosity…)

Warp factor rating: 8

Keith R.A. DeCandido has a bunch of new content up on his Patreon, including reviews of the movies Hobbs & Shaw, Willow, GoodFellas, Casino, Raging Bull, and the 2010 Macbeth starring Sir Patrick Stewart; reviews of the TV shows Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Ms. Fisher’s Modern Mysteries, and Chef! with more to come over the next week; new vignettes featuring characters from his Dragon Precinct and Super City Cops series; excerpts from works in progress; and cat pictures. Please consider supporting Keith!

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