The story in this episide “Meld” centres on Commander Tuvok, a member of the Vulcan race and Voyager’s Chief Tactical and Chief Security Officer. He is also the Captain’s friend and most trusted confidant.
Vulcans are a race of beings that pride Logic above all else. Their lives are ruled by its tenets, and all decisions, actions, and motivations are immersed in Logic. In addition, Vulcans suppress emotion. They were once a violent society ruled by deep emotional feelings. Still, to evolve and save themselves from self-annihilation at the hands of extreme emotions, they embraced Logic and the suppression of emotions as the solution.
As a Vulcan, Tuvok possesses physical and mental abilities far above that of human beings. He employs daily meditation and other disciplines to curb his once-violent emotional nature. As viewers, we can discern the unexpressed feelings of superiority to humans and other less evolved races. There is even an element of thinly veiled contempt.
In this episode, Tuvok has to solve the murder of a crewman. He is not satisfied when the murderer, Lon Suder, confesses to the crime but provides no reason. Tuvok embarks on a quest to discover the motive. He believes his powers of deduction and disciplined approach to the investigation will see him successfully explain the crime, thus proving his superiority over his crewmates.
The resulting morality tale explores atonement, rehabilitation vs punishment and redemption. It also fascinatingly leads to a storyline that sees the illustrious proponent of poise, restraint, and Logic completely lose his shit, with severe consequences.
Suppose you’re someone who practices keeping your emotions in check. In that case, this story might make you think again. As we watch the unravelling of a logical mind and the display of frightening and despicable behaviour as long-suppressed emotions rise to the surface.
It is undoubtedly one of my favourite STV episodes.
Crime and punishment
Who decides what’s an appropriate punishment for a crime. In biblical times ‘an eye for an eye used to be the punishment, meaning the perpetrator should suffer the same consequences that he imposed on his victim(s). There is a scene in The Godfather, where the undertaker Amerigo Bonasera, demands justice from Don Corleone for the men who beat up and attempted to rape his daughter. Bonasera’s version of justice is to have the men killed.
Don Corleone cannot refuse any request on his Daughters wedding day, a Sicilian tradition, but chastises Bonasera, “That is not justice. Your daughter is alive”. They agree on a lesser punishment, “I mean, we’re not murderers, in spite of what this undertaker thinks…” says Don Corleone, as he delegates the metering out of the punishment to his lieutenants.
In the murder case aboard USS Voyager, Chief Security Officer Tuvok, subordinate only to the Captain and her First Officer Chakotay, does not have many options.
Suder indicated his willingness to die for his crime, a suggestion that Tuvok relays to the Captain. Capt. Janeway makes it plain that she favours rehabilitation over punishment and is not interested in the Suder offer.
This offends Tuvok’s Vulcan Logic. He reasons that if the perpetrator is prepared to die for his crime, it is a solution to their problem and one he impresses on the Captain to take.
Still, Tuvok is more unhappy with the lack of motive for the crime than the method of punishment. He turns to the Doctor to see if there is some medical imbalance that might shed some light on the motive. There is none.
Although able to tolerate Suder’s suggested punishment, Tuvok cannot accept his reason for the murderous act. It’s unclear whether he sees this as a blight on his abilities or just his Logic overpowering him.
The Federation, to which the crew belongs, has outlawed capital punishment. Still, locking someone up for 70 years contravenes Tuvok’s sense of Logic. The sentence does not suit the gravity of the crime.
Seemingly with few options left to him, Tuvok decides he must perform a meld, a merging of minds, to help him decide how to resolve the story.
As people, we always want to finish a story. Suppose we cannot deduce an ending or find it unsatisfactory. In that case, we will make one up using the information from the original story, the context and our imagination to reach a satisfactory conclusion.
Think about how often you’ve heard part of a story and surmised a conclusion about how it ends.
To this end, it would seem humans and Vulcans are alike.
After performing the mind-meld, we see Tuvok lose his sense of reason. He locks himself away, unable to keep his violent thoughts in check.
The Doctor attempts to fix the problem by performing a ‘reboot’ of Tuvoks brain. This process must first remove all the mental restraints Tuvok has worked over the years to install, but the procedure only worsens the situation. We see a side of the Vulcan that we’ve never seen before.
He’s rude, belittling, manipulative and violent. He curses the Captain, his best friend, ensuring that she’s in no doubt about the disgust he feels for all humans, herself included.
She understands that he is expressing feelings he would never have spoken of if he was in his right mind. Nonetheless, it has to have hurt.
I don’t want to reveal the entire plot of the episode. Still, I will admit that it is Suder, the criminal, who eventually helps Tuvok regain his composure and return to his ‘winning’ personality.
Both Suder and Tuvok were affected by the meld. But each had very different outcomes. The mind that practices restraint lost it all. The one unfettered by remorse found a route towards more stability and the resurgence of a conscience.
Both expressed remorse for their actions and found some way to atone.
What conclusion can we draw? Well, that’s up to you to decide once you’ve watched it. Come talk to me on social media once you have.
We can discuss the lessons learned from an episode that left me feeling a little uncomfortable and less in awe of this paragon of Logic.
The realisation that underneath it all, he can be just as shitty a person as the rest of us.