Blogger Willow Yang reviews the STAR TREK: VOYAGER episode “Meld” and the breakout performance of Tim Russ (Tuvok) after watching it with friends and getting into a deep conversation about the nature of “the typical Betazoid.”
Continuing on with my review of episodes from Voyager – something that I’m sure Josip strongly approves of – I have, not too long ago, had the opportunity to join Toren Atkinson and his friends on a watchalong of the double header Meld and Revulsions, both of which, of course, involved serial killers. I’m writing to discuss the former.
To give a recap, Neelix harasses Tuvok about some ancient Vulcan festival that involves naked oil wrestling, something that Neelix wants to attempt on board the Voyager to raise morale. Tuvok gets called into engineering where a dead body had been found. The crewman – who’s ironically named Darwin – has apparently been bludgeoned to death. After an investigation, Tuvok and co were able to zero in on a prime suspect, Suder, a former member of the Marquis and also a Betazoid.Suder very quickly confesses to the crime (as someone in our watchalong group stated, this is the shortest murder mystery ever), but fails to provide a logical motive for it. Unsatisfied with his explanation (or, more accurately, lack thereof), Tuvok mind-melds with Suder. As a result, Suder becomes calm and controlled while Tuvok is filled with violent, murderous impulses. Sometime later, Neelix harasses Tuvok again and, finally having had enough, Tuvok strangles him to death to the applause of thousands of viewers across the country.
Unfortunately, however, the writers were just trolling the audience because, as it turned out, this completely justifiable murder was actually a holodeck simulation. Unable to control his violent tendencies, Tuvok confines himself in his quarters. The Doctor attempts to treat him, but fails. Finally, Tuvok seeks out Suder again to kill him, but is successfully dissuaded by the latter and instead mind-melds with him again, regaining his control in the process. In a side-plot, Paris begins a gambling ring over replicator rations, but gets caught and shut down by Chakotay.
I really enjoyed Meld, and my viewing experience was only enhanced by having watched it with a group of people as they made commentary and quips throughout the episode. I really loved seeing Star Trek do a crime thriller in the vein of Silence of the Lambs.
My one major criticism of the episode is that I found the side plot of Paris starting a gambling ring to be a complete waste of time. It didn’t provide anything interesting or even amusing, and it did nothing more than distract from the much more compelling main storyline. It felt to me like a case of the writers just trying to add some filler to get the episode to its obligatory 45-minute runtime. I think, however, that they could have instead invested more time delving into human psychology and nature (and yes, I know that neither Suder nor Tuvok are humans, but they are clearly meant to be analogues for humans here). I would have liked to have seen more of the conversations between the two central characters.
Tim Russ (Tuvok) finally shines
And this leads me to what I believe is the biggest strength of the episode: the performances.
I haven’t really cared that much for Tuvok up to this point, and that’s probably in part because I haven’t seen all that many episodes focussing on the character. Meld provided an opportunity for Tim Russ to shine, and he did, with a compelling portrayal of a highly disciplined and intelligent person who’s losing control of their most primal urges. In some ways, Meld is reminiscent of the acclaimed and poignant The Next Generation episode, Sarek, in depicting the passions that Vulcans have to keep suppressed, and one has to question whether that sort of repression is actually healthy, if it is actually worth it to achieve a highly advanced and productive society.
And while some may find Tuvok’s breakdown in sickbay to be a little too over the top, I actually think it’s completely appropriate, given all of the pent-up emotions that the character has accumulated over the years. My only disappointment with the aforementioned scene is that I do wish Neelix could have been present: I’m sure that Tuvok would have a few choice words to say to him.
Then, of course, there’s the guest actor brought on to the episode, Brad Dourif. Of course, Star Trek already previously had Academy award winner Louis Fletcher on Deep Space 9, and it was great seeing them bring on another actor from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (although Dourif is probably now better known for his depiction of Wormtongue from Lord of the Rings). I thought he was superb with his creepy but still nuanced portrayal of the serial killer Suder; he was able to be both chilling but also, at times, sympathetic, as a person who’s just unable to control his most savage and violent desires.
I will end this letter with a few final thoughts on Meld. Firstly, I do find it somewhat interesting that the episode chose to have a Betazoid as the serial killer rather than a human or other humanoid alien. At the risk of being a Betazoidist, I’ve always found their black eyes to be a bit unsettling. Notably, Chakotay described Suder as being a “typical Betazoid” who “kept to himself”. Someone in our watchalong group inquired whether a Betazoid has ever appeared in any other Star Trek series apart from The Next Generation.
Now that I think about it, I don’t recall that happening…unless you count Lwaxana popping up again in Deep Space 9. Well, Lwaxanna certainly does not keep to herself; indeed, I think that Picard would probably have been more welcoming of her visits on board the Enterprise if she had kept to herself more rather than spent all of her time trying to get into his uniform.
So is Suder more representative of the Betazoids or is Lxawanna? Or perhaps male and female Betazoids are just very different from each other? Secondly, and more importantly, I just loved that Meld gave us the scene of Tuvok strangling Neelix to death. Sure, it turned out to be a disappointing fakeout, but it does seem to be an acknowledgement on the writers’ part of the fantasy that probably all Voyager viewers have had about the Star Trek version of Jar Jar Binks (although, I do realise that Voyager came out before The Phantom Menace).
If Neelix does ever actually get killed, it would make a very interesting and compelling murder mystery since practically everyone would be a suspect.
Live long and prosper,