Retro Review: Meld

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Tuvok becomes obsessed with violence when he imprisons an ex-Maquis who has murdered a Starfleet engineer.

Plot Summary: While Paris sets up a betting pool at Sandrine’s, Torres investigates the failure of a warp drive system and finds the body of a crewmember in an EPS conduit. Upon examination, the Doctor concludes that Crewman Darwin was already dead when placed in the conduit, where radiation would have dissolved the corpse if a circuit disrupting the warp drive hadn’t failed. The only person logged on duty when Darwin arrived in Engineering was a former Maquis, Betazoid Lon Suder, whom Chakotay and Torres recall as violent and uncontrollable. Suder tells Tuvok that he hardly knew Darwin and had no reason to kill him, but when DNA evidence implicates the Betazoid, Suder then confesses that he murdered Darwin because he didn’t like the way Darwin looked at him. Janeway decides that it makes the most sense to turn Suder’s quarters into a permanent prison, since keeping him in the brig for the entire trip isn’t practical. Tuvok concludes that there must be a motive they haven’t yet uncovered and suggests a mind meld to Suder, claiming it will help Suder control feelings of rage as well as giving Tuvok insight into Suder’s hidden thoughts. While the meld indeed teaches Suder to distance himself from violent impulses, the Vulcan’s mind is filled with hostile emotions. After Tuvok removes himself from the chain of command and destroys his quarters, Janeway asks the Doctor to work with him, though Tuvok threatens to kill Suder and sabotages Sickbay. He goes to Suder’s quarters intent on killing the murderer, then chooses instead to perform another mind meld, which persuades Tuvok that another killing won’t restore his equilibrium. Chakotay shuts down Paris’s betting pool. The Doctor is able to help Tuvok repress his violent impulses by bolstering his neuropeptides, and an incarcerated Suder expresses interest in learning meditation and logic from Tuvok.

Analysis: A lot of people make embarrassingly bad decisions in “Meld,” yet it remains a strong episode in large part because of Brad Dourif’s unforgettable performance as the terrifying Suder and Tim Russ’s nuanced depiction of the unrepressed Tuvok. Suder is unlike any Betazoid we’ve ever met before, though it’s not clear why – if Lwaxana Troi’s telepathic abilities lead not to empathy than to narcissism, then Suder’s seem to lead to sociopathy, even if the Doctor declares (preposterously) that Suder can’t be bipolar or psychotic because it would show up in his genetic profile. If it’s disturbing to learn of the super-educated EMH’s belef that all conditions which might permit a legal insanity defense are hereditary, it’s far more so to hear him declare that all the Maquis crewmembers have elevated norepinephrine levels, suggesting aggressive, violent tendencies, signifying to the Doctor that “it takes a certain personality type to be attracted to the life of an outlaw” rather than that most members of the Maquis suffered such trauma that it caused changes in their brain chemistry, something doctors have known of patients with PTSD since before Voyager aired. Chakotay tells Janeway that nearly all the members of his crew had some trauma that led them to join the Maquis, though Chakotay never learned what Suder’s was, other than it apparently wasn’t defending family. Yet the Doctor strongly implies that the Maquis are not ideological rebels, but misfits and cutthroats. I guess this makes Chakotay look less foolish for having both Starfleet and Cardassian spies on his ship, since at least he instinctively knew he was picking relatively stable personalities with Tuvok and Seska. As calculating schemers, they’re more understandable choices for crewmates than the brilliant yet violent Torres, the pathetic, sleazy Jonas, the disrespectful, temperamental Hogan, the quartet of undisciplined below deck crewmembers, and the serial killer Suder.

I can’t decide whether it’s refreshingly realistic or painfully depressing to learn that even in the idealized future represented by Star Trek, so many social problems remain. Often, complicated personality traits are given to non-humans – the Vulcans get both the logic and the introverted, non-social tendencies that Neelix finds so frustrating as he attempts to get to know Tuvok, the Klingons get the impulse control and violence issues, the Ferengi get rampant self-interest and greed, the Orions get unchecked libidos – and though Suder is a representation of the same tendency, a vicious murderer scripted as a thought-sensitive Betazoid, the majority of Chakotay’s troubled former crew is made up of humans, all with their own reasons for joining the Maquis. Perhaps it wouldn’t be very Roddenberry-like, yet I can’t help thinking that this episode would be so much more interesting had Suder been a Starfleet officer, someone who joined up so he could kill enemies legally, and has had that opportunity thwarted. It would be a much bigger moral dilemma for Janeway than whether to keep this rogue Maquis locked up in the brig or his quarters without benefit of a court-martial hearing. The script seems to be leading us to expect that Tuvok will discover Suder’s hidden suffering and help him bring it to light in “Meld,” but that never happens – we’re never given any reason why Suder is the way he is, and the focus switches to Tuvok and how that discovery affects him. So even the supposedly enlightened races of the 24th century can’t fix everything. I remember being glad when this first aired that they didn’t kill off Suder quickly in an accident or have him die trying to escape, since an incarcerated murderer on the ship makes for good background drama.

Tuvok may say the expected Vulcan lines about logic over emotion and control over lawlessness, but he doesn’t have a system in place to stop crewmembers from running off with shuttles, sending illegal messages to Seska, nearly getting away with murder and destroying a body, even running an illegal gambling ring that Chakotay ends up busting instead. The less said about that subplot, the better, since it makes Paris and Kim and Tuvok look bad, though at one time it did give rise to some delightful fan fiction in which Paris takes bets on whether Janeway and Chakotay are lovers yet. Hey — that’s no sillier than Tuvok citing the hundred years that he’s studied human violence without explaining why he isn’t sharp enough to realize the risks of taking a Betazoid’s violent impulses into his own brain without consulting either the Doctor or the captain. The final meld is reminiscent of one of my least favorite moments in all of Star Trek, when Spock mind-rapes Valeris on the bridge to find out who’s behind the attempted sabotage at Khitomer. Suder’s weird enough to look like he’s getting off on having Tuvok inside his head, but it’s a violation nonetheless, and yet it’s treated like a great thing since at least Tuvok doesn’t kill Suder and there’s no punishment for Tuvok. Suder’s punishment seems light as well, but it’s hard to get worked up about it since it’s not like anyone cares about the guy he kills. It’s more upsetting when Tuvok imagines himself killing Neelix – who turns out to be a holographic caricature – than when we learn the unfamiliar name of the charred body. Darwin is abstract to us, we learn almost nothing about him, and nobody seems to mourn him the way the crew mourned Kurt Bendera. If people yelled at Janeway over fear of the Kazon, I’d expect more of them to yell at her over having a murderer incarcerated on the ship…especially with a security officer who makes as many silly choices as Tuvok.

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Michelle Erica Green

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Michelle Erica Green

Writer, mother, reader, traveler, teacher, partner, photographer, activist, friend, fangirl, student, critic, citizen, environmentalist, feminist, vegetarian, enthusiast. TrekToday staffer for many years, former news reporter, current retro reviewer.

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