WARNING: Exposing yourself to spoilers unnecessarily for VOY's "Meld" (located below) will probably not silence your demons.
In brief: The main plot was mostly good, particularly on the acting side -- but a somewhat weak ending and a lousy B-plot hurt it.
Written by: Michael Sussman (story); Michael Piller (teleplay) Directed by: Cliff Bole Brief summary: A murder investigation leads Tuvok to meld with a killer to understand the urge for violence -- with unpleasant results.
Saying that "Meld" was a substantial step up from "Threshold" may sound like a particularly vicious example of a backhanded compliment, but it's sincerely meant. "Meld" certainly had flaws -- but unlike "Threshold", the flaws of which basically defined the entire show, "Meld" still came off as a solid piece of work.
It came off as solid because it had a solid foundation. "Meld", at its core, was about Tuvok obsessing over a concept, violence, and taking a few unwise actions to better understand it. That core works: Tuvok's not immune from mistakes or from obsession, and the mind- meld is a nebulous enough concept that what went wrong seems somewhat plausible. The setup for it also worked quite well: Tuvok's insistence that there "had to be" a reason for Suder's act of murder felt extremely Vulcan and extremely right, and the actual investigation was shown precisely as thoroughly as it needed to be.
As workable an idea as "Meld" was, however, it could have all gone wrong in an instant had it dissolved into histrionics. Thanks to some reasonably good scripting and some terrific acting from Tim Russ and especially Brad Dourif, that didn't happen. Tuvok's slow descent into violence felt almost controlled, which in some ways made it eerier. (The fact that he deliberately programmed a holodeck to let him kill a fake Neelix smacked of major premeditation as well, which added to that feeling even more.) Russ played up Tuvok's evident discomfort without making the character look totally altered from who he used to be; that's not always easy to do, and he did a solid job of it.
Even he paled, however, next to Brad Dourif, who is in the running with Joel Grey for best "Voyager" guest star of this season. Even though he tends to get typecast as ... offbeat ... characters ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", "Dune", "Blue Velvet", and more recently Babylon 5's "Passing Through Gethsemane" episode), that happens to be because he's particularly *good* at them, from voice to mannerisms to general personality traits. This time around, I noticed the eyes; as Suder is melding with Tuvok for the first time, Dourif's eyes are both so deep that one can easily fall into them and just unnerving enough that you'd never want to. Later on, Dourif is magnificent the first time we see the effects of the meld on Suder; while he's still clearly the dangerous man he once was, one can see signs of something else -- a control and a self-discipline that could conceivably save him or make him more dangerous still. (He certainly kept up all the debating skills; his point to Tuvok about the meld potentially being a violent act was guaranteed to sting, and something that I've been wanting to see made ever since "Star Trek VI" premiered in 1991.)
So, the basic setup was good and the acting was generally very good. Then what?
Unfortunately, here's where the problems start to come into play. Firstly, I thought the points being made about the death penalty were a textbook case of preaching with a sledgehammer: it felt one-sided (even if it wasn't, and I'm not sure it was), and it was so didactic that parts of the episode felt like they belonged on the Op-Ed page. Not only that, but it was didactic without being effective in the least; even though I'm anti-capital punishment, even I thought Janeway's "no, no part of me wants Suder dead" was an insanely goofy statement. Considering the Doctor's equally preachy claim earlier that everyone has violent impulses, you'd think that Janeway might agree that yes, part of her does, but the Federation isn't in the business of sanctioning revenge killings.
My other chief objection to the main story was that the ending was a bit too easy. Although Tuvok's outbursts in sickbay were marvelous (with "You are not invulnerable, _hologram_" and his disgust at Janeway being particularly high points), his escape was not. Even now, if a patient is disconnected from continuous treatment, alerts are sent; between that and the lack of guards, one's almost led to wonder if Janeway *wanted* Tuvok to kill Suder. More importantly, though, Tuvok's actions seem, all too typically, to have no consequences; the ending of the episode implies that he'll be fine despite his ordeal, and he took back basically everything he said to Janeway. The latter is the most annoying thing of all; the altered Tuvok had no reason to *lie*. He'd be less inhibited, yes, but that's not the same thing. Just as Janeway's claim that no part of her wanted Suder dead didn't wash, neither did Tuvok's claim that he meant none of what he said. I imagine he still *does* disagree strongly with Janeway's decision -- he shouldn't acquiesce just because he perhaps said a few things he later regrets.
Other than that, I've no significant objections to the main story. (I thought the first Neelix/Tuvok scene was virtually unwatchable, though; even given that it was necessary to set up Tuvok's holodeck simulation, there must be a better way than to make us sit through that.) The B-plot, however, is another matter.
I got the impression that the entire "Paris runs a gambling ring" story was written by someone who hadn't seen a single episode of "Voyager" since very early last season. Paris had no depth here, no concern for anything other than a quick laugh, and nothing to interest anyone. Coming immediately off "Threshold", in particular, my thoughts were "so, Tom's just gone through a transcendent experience, and it's left him even more of a venal, stupid, annoying stereotypical frat-boy type than ever before. Great." [To top it all off, Chakotay putting Paris on report was equally dumb; exactly what purpose does it serve at this point?]
That's about all I have to say on "Meld" -- had the ending been stronger it would have been quite good, and as it is it still comes off fairly well. So, a few shorter points and a wrap-up:
-- Given "Threshold", the fact that Suder's murder victim was an ensign *Darwin* took on entirely new meaning. The line that Darwin had no known enemies prompted a response of "oh, yeah? what about anyone involved with the show last week?"
-- On the other hand, the Doc's nanites were a fairly impressive idea, and the idea of DNA was actually used *properly* for a change. Part of me wonders why no one had thought of this particular nanite idea before, but that's not a huge concern.
-- Tuvok: "You are dismissed, crewman. I may have more questions for you later." Us: "So don't leave the ship." :-)
-- This is the second time in a row that Janeway's been insulted by an altered crewmember in sickbay. Hmm...
That should about do it. So, to close:
Writing: The basic idea and setup were good, as were most of the character moments. The last ten minutes were weak, though. Directing: Lots of good use of light and shadow as Tuvok and Suder talked (and Janeway, later). Thumbs up. Acting: MAJOR praise to Russ and Dourif; everyone else held up well. (Mulgrew's quick glance down and back up when Tuvok tells of his disgust is notable, too.) OVERALL: 7.
NEXT WEEK: A doomsday weapon. Hmm ... is there a Matt Decker on board?
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) firstname.lastname@example.org "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 94 when you entered." -- Tuvok Copyright 1996, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.