When an expendable crewman is murdered in Engineering, the question quickly becomes not so much whodunnit? as whydunnit?
'Threshold' appears to have represented some kind of turning point for Voyager. It is the absolute nadir of awfulness, entertaining as it may be, and clearly the writing staff realised they needed to up their game. There are still a few duds in the remainder of season two, but for the most part the back half of the season takes a giant leap in quality and includes some truly great episodes, of which 'Meld' is the first.
As I mentioned in my review of season one's Tuvok episode, 'Ex Post Facto', one of Voyager's smartest moves was to make Tuvok Head of Security and make the majority of his episodes crime procedurals IN SPACE. Full-blooded Vulcans, without Spock's dual identity or android Data's desire to gain emotions and human experiences, can be hard to write (I haven't watched much Enterprise, but I dimly remember this being an issue with T'Pol). However, they make absolutely perfect criminal investigators, using logic and cold calculation to work the case, but sometimes needing to develop a greater understanding of emotional factors to get to the truth, like the best hard-boiled detectives.
It becomes clear pretty quickly whodunnit in this case - it's hard to cover up your on-board murders when the computer knows where you are at all times and if you happen to be a known psycho who enjoys killing Cardassians a bit too much already this all makes for a pretty short investigation. Really, Chakotay and Torres could just have said, "this random guest crewman is played by Brad Dourif" and that would have settled it. In the end, it's DNA evidence that seals it, which probably still seemed quite technologically advanced in the 1990s.
This episode is not about finding out whodunnit, though, but about Tuvok's obsessive determination to understand why he dunnit. Suder (Brad Dourif) had no particular issue with the murdered crewman, no reason to kill him - he admits, once caught, that he did it for "no reason" and because "I didn't like the way he looked at me". Tuvok asks the Doctor is Suder is psychotic and the Doctor says no - he has aggressive, violent tendencies, but no more than the other Maquis crewmen, and no mental illness. Tuvok can't cope with such an illogical explanation and becomes so intent on understanding Suder's motivation that he decides to mind meld with him, convinced he can control his own violent impulses and also hoping that the meld will help Suder to control his. Unsurprisingly, sharing minds with a murderer with extreme violent tendencies turns out not to be such a good idea and Tuvok goes right off the deep end.
Tim Russ is brilliant in this episode, subtly twitching his hands while talking to Janeway right after the meld before eventually going all-out crazy. The scene in which the Doctor gives Tuvok a three-minute treatment for the damage caused by the meld during which Tuvok must be awake and all his normally suppressed emotions released is extraordinary, playing out in real time as Tuvok starts ranting and raving and seriously insulting Janeway while making emotional arguments in favour of the death penalty. The fact he's attacking and insulting Janeway and Kes, his two closest friends, just makes the whole thing more painful.
Tuvok is one of my favourite characters and I think he's easily the best portrayal of a Vulcan in Star Trek. Star Trek mythology has occasionally wavered on exactly what's going on with Vulcans - are they incapable of feeling emotion, or do they suppress emotions? - but Voyager's interpretation of Tuvok and his relationship with his emotions, especially violent impulses, was one of the things they did really well. It's hard to believe this is the same show that spent the last two episodes on the supremely boring (the Kazon) and the supremely ridiculous (lizard babies). I guess after 'Threshold', the only way was up!
Bits 'n' pieces
- Brad Dourif is also, of course, brilliant, as he is in everything. The fact that there are clear differences in performance between convicted murderer Suder, who kills because he likes it, and his convicted murderer Luther Lee Boggs in The X-Files, who kills because he likes it, shows just how subtle an actor he is. Plus, no one does creepy like Dourif.
- Paris is running a gambling operation from the Marseilles holodeck programme using replicator rations as currency - until Chakotay shuts it down, anyway. Is gambling illegal in Starfleet?
- Neelix whining that the Vulcan Day of Atonement is too solemn leaves a really bad taste in my mouth. He wouldn't say that about Yom Kipppur, would he? Granted, Vulcan religious holidays may tend towards the sombre, but that's their prerogative. Neelix wants to bring back an ancient Vulcan festival involving nudity that no one has celebrated in centuries. Someone give him a book on Lupercalia and get rid of him!
- Tuvok tries to get rid of his new violent impulses by pretending to strangle Neelix on the holodeck. This is Voyager's equivalent of that TNG episode where Wesley briefly gets brutally murdered (Q was involved). (It doesn't count towards the regular cast death watch though, as it was only a holodeck programme, not actually Neelix).
- Suder's interpretation of a mind meld as an act of violence is really interesting. Most melds on Star Trek are mutually consensual and less violent-seeming, but Spock's interrogation of Valeris in Star Trek VI certainly implies a much more violent (and deeply unpleasant) aspect to it.
- Starfleet pro tip: If your Head of Security has turned into a violent psychopath, install someone as Acting Head of Security and make sure they post a guard or two on him. Don't just leave him by himself in sickbay.
Tuvok: One may not recognise the motivation, but there is always motivation.
Suder: Most Betazoids can sense other people's emotions. I can't even sense my own.
Suder (on violence): Studying it and knowing it are two different things, aren't they?
Doctor: Anybody with an ounce of sense wouldn't share his brain with someone else. Would you?
Suder: A most logical use of violence, to punish the violent. We both know that I am prepared to die, but are you prepared to kill?
Suder: This will not silence your demons. If you cannot control the violence, the violence controls you.
Tuvok: I was most insulting to you.
Janeway: Don't worry about it, I've been insulted before.
The first really good episode since season one's 'Faces'. Four out of four ill-advised mind melds.
Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.
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