Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Meld"

When a Star Trek series features a Vulcan as a main character, it is inevitable the character will experience emotions at some point. A viewer can only hope the episode in which it happens presents it in a compelling way. We have seen a drunken Spock nearly coming on to Kirk and a high Spock cavorting with a pretty girl. We have also seen Sarek’s descent into senility done in a highly charged, sympathetic manner. So the story can go both ways. Overall, I find “Meld” to be more of the latter, though the episode is tainted by some preachy Federation philosophy.

A crewman is found bludgeoned to death in engineering. But rather than become a murder mystery, ’Meld” becomes a character exploration for Tuvok. The killer, suder, is discovered almost immediately through DNA tests. The conflict of the episode arises when took cannot bring himself to accept suder’s motivation for murder was because his victim looked at him wrong.

I do think Tuvok’s problem is manufactured drama. Surely a Vulcan who routinely expresses irritation at the illogic of human actions due to emotions would not be surprised someone was murdered for a flimsy reason. I am going to excuse that, however, because took comes across as an incredibly decent, somewhat na├»ve guy when it comes to dealing with people. Looking at it from that perspective, he grows as a character because he learns by the end there is not always a logical reason for someone’s actions. Sometimes, “I felt like it’ is a legitimate answer. One assumes that is a necessary lesson for a successful security officer to learn.

Tuvok decades to meld with Suder in order to discover his true motivation. Shortly after doing so, he begins experiencing violent impulses which result in, among other things, a unintentionally hilarious holodeck program in which he strangles Neelix for annoying him. One wonders if he had just created that program, or if it is a regular indulgence for anyone who needs to blow off steam. So far, Harry is the only character who has not expressed an open animosity for Neelix. Would it not be fun to know there is a program they all use when they feel like murdering him?

Took finds it increasingly difficult to control himself. In sickbay, the doctor explains the meld went all screwy because Suder is a Betazoid and bipolar, oddly enough in that order. Chemical imbalances play second fiddle to ethnicity. The doctor treats Tuvok behind a force field with neural doodads attached to his forehead. Tim Russ gets a chance to ham it up for half the fourth act as he blasts Janeway for her, as he sees it, limp wrist refusal to execute Suder for the crime he readily confessed to committing. More on his argument in a moment.

The treatment appears to work. He passes out from the treatment, only to wake up alone in sickbay. He escapes the force field by improvising a way to short circuit it with the neural doodads.. You would think someone would have considered the possibility of that happening. He decides to satisfy his urge to kill by executing Suder himself, but the treatment suddenly kicks in before he can successful do the deed. He apologizes to Janeway for his actions and readily accepts her stipulation that he no longer meld without her permission. The prohibition seems awfully pretentious of her, but all right. Not really out of character, is it?

I mentioned Tuvok’s deranged argument above about Janeway’s position on the death penalty. It is a shame Tuvok had to be mentally ill at the time, because he has a point. Janeway’s solution of what to do with Suder is to confine him to quarters for the next 70 years. She even specifically rules out keeping him in the brig all that time as inappropriate, but without offering any explanation as to why it is. Her only argument is that executing Suder would make them no better than he is.

There is a load of hypocrisy in her statement considering her actions in past episodes and will come up again in the future installments. There is no need to rehash the past, and I will examine Janeway’s future infractions as they come. You will not have to wait long. Heck, next Thursday will involve Tuvok on the receiving end of her extreme justice. Please excuse her specifically for now and look at the 24th century view of crime and punishment.

I am a supporter of the death penalty. The social contract demands paying a higher price for more devastating crimes. I do not think Janeway is enlightened at all by claiming it is more fair to allow Suder the comforts of his surroundings, replicator rations and all, rather than punish him. The isolation is not going to punish a guy with antisocial tendencies. Even if you do support life imprisonment over the death penalty--I have no problem with offenders sentenced to that when appropriate--but Janeway, the arbiter of 24th century perfect human morality, says that is too cruel, as well. There is no balance in this sense of justice. Suder’s victim is dead and gone while he sits in his jammies all day reading books and eating ice cream. He feels no remorse for his actions, so he is essentially retiring to a life of leisure.

I understand VOY has a philosophy that the crew is going to maintain Federation principles even out here in the wild frontier, but it is difficult to appreciate the dedication when the principles are so dumb. On any other show, Suder would have been shot or spaced. On VOY, he lives in the lap of luxury until the inevitable chance to redeem himself, as if one really can be fully redeemed for murder under the social contract, presents itself. He will be redeemed, of course, but the Federation is always right. All that to say that when demented Tuok tells janeway she is a soft idiot, I was thinking it, too.

“Meld” does have a few problems. Aside from the implausible idea Tuvok does not accept Suder committed murder out of illogical impulse, one wonders why he has less control over suder’s violent urges than does Suder himself. I would think that famous vulcan mental discipline could keep them in check. Another problem is the B-story in which tom runs a gambling ring that is busted up by Chakotay. We will learn soon enough it is part of a ruse to smoke out the traitor, but it comes across as a pointless distraction from the much better A-story. If there is a big technical flaw in televised Star Trek, it is the need to have two stories rolling in each episode. They often wind up being uneven. Therefore they can drag an episode down when it would otherwise be great. I consider DS9 the biggest offender in this regard, but VOY has frequent cases, too.

I do have to note that these enlightened Federation members, all of whom are provided for under a socialist regime, resort to gambling anyway in order to at least give the appearance of having a little bit more than the next guy. Human nature, folks. You cannot ignore it when planning a government and/or economic system.

There are two high points to make up for the lows. One is Brad Dourif, who plays Suder. Since portraying a serial killer who taunts scully in The X-Files’ “Beyond the Sea,” dourif has made a career out of playing essentially the same character under different names. I can see why he is successful with it. It is at times both unassuming and scary in “Meld.” He plays a fantastic psycho. He even desperately looks the part. The other is Tim Russ, who looks like he is having a good time cutting loose from his otherwise reserved character. The two aspects make ’Meld” enjoyable, but not a classic.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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