Wednesday, July 18, 2012

If You're Watching Star Trek: Voyager, Raise Your Glasses And Sing "Psychokiller" For "Meld!"

The Good: Excellent acting, Interesting character development/exploration
The Bad: Very weak plot
The Basics: When Tuvok mind-melds with a psychopath, he begins to degenerate into an emotional being in an episode defined by great acting and two interesting characters.

Star Trek: Voyager had very few opportunities that it took to explore anything truly unique in the Star Trek pantheon. More than any of its predecessor series's, Star Trek: Voyager had the feeling of standing on the shoulders of the past greatness's of the franchise and it suffered some with the fans as a result. From characters that were created by combining some of the best elements of Star Trek: The Next Generation to a betrayal of the original idea of the series to the recycled plots, Star Trek: Voyager stacked up poorly alongside its sister series'. As a result, the truly original and intriguing episodes of Star Trek: Voyager actually stand out quite well, even when they do not succeed. "Meld" is a success and it stands out as one of the weakest plots, but best character exploration episodes of Star Trek: Voyager's seven year run.

When Lieutenant Torres finds a dead body on the ship, she calls for security and Tuvok begins an investigation into the murder of the crewman. The investigation is ridiculously short as the Doctor finds DNA evidence linking the murder to Lieutenant Lon Suder, one of the Maquis officers and a Betazoid. Suder, it turns out, is a certifiable psychopath and he openly admits to murdering the crewman. Tuvok, however, is unsatisfied with the emotionally-based answer Suder provides to the puzzle and he struggles to understand the crime and apply a motive to it. This leads him to mind-meld with Suder and the result is that Tuvok begins to unravel . . .

"Meld" is a fairly straightforward and even predictable episode of Star Trek: Voyager and it does not do much to push the envelope as far as television goes. It is not extraordinary for its plot and the direction is remarkably simple. As well, there are no special effects to speak of, so the episode seems rather standard on its surface and uncomplicated.

Looks here are somewhat deceiving and giving the episode attention is worthwhile. The writers of the episode were clever in the execution of the idea; as Tuvok becomes more and more obsessed with learning about the crime and applying a motive to it, Suder actually gains the control he needs to to overcome his psychosis through the mind-meld. For an hour, Tuvok - logical Vulcan and face of the law on Voyager - and Lon Suder - emotional and a psychopath - become foil characters and they play off each other's characters perfectly. Suder begins to get under his skin, but benefits from the mind-meld that, in turn, is causing Tuvok to degenerate into madness.

The Star Trek franchise has done essentially plotless episodes that are rich in character exploration before. On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the pinnacle of this style was executed with perfection in "Duet" (reviewed here!). Star Trek: Voyager's attempt at a hard character study works out well, especially considering the character chosen and the foil character created for the episode. Tuvok is one of the gold mines of Star Trek: Voyager who was largely neglected for much of the series in favor of the Doctor, Kes, and later Seven of Nine. Despite early enthusiasm over the idea of a full-Vulcan officer, Tuvok was swept under the rug for much of the series. In "Meld," he takes a front and center role and it's about time.

Actor Tim Russ is easily up to the challenge. He effortlessly reminds the viewer of Tuvok's stoic disposition and logical sense of operations before degenerating the character into the conflict that begins to rule him. Unlike Spock on Star Trek, Tuvok has no inner conflict, no demons he wrestles with. As a result, maintaining a distinctly Vulcan approach to the degeneration into psychosis is one that Russ must invent and he does it admirably.

Russ is played off by actor Brad Dourif. Dourif might be best known for his role as Grima Wormtongue in The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (reviewed here!) or as the freakish scientist in Alien Resurrection, but here he is equally memorable. Dourif plays Lon Suder as cool and smarmy and he is able to portray the character transforming before the viewer's eyes without ever leading the viewer to doubt that the changes are organic. Suder uses a wonderful sense of body language and vocal modulation to create the transformation and he carries a gravity similar to Russ for the role, making the foil character characterization pay off.

This is a remarkably accessible episode to general audiences - whatwith the Vulcan mind-meld having worked its way into general American cultural knowledge over the last forty years. Indeed, it is likely to be enjoyed by anyone who likes a good character study, not just a decent science fiction tale. Anyone who likes dramatic character explorations will likely enjoy watching two character switch roles over the course of this bottle episode. The episode works great, as long as you're not expecting much to actually happen.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete Second Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the sophomore season here!

For other works with Brad Dourif, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy
Alien: Resurrection
The X-Files “Beyond The Sea”
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, be sure to visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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