The following is a SPOILER Review. If you have not seen the episode yet and do not want to have the plot given away, stop reading now.
This is not just a review; it's a retelling of the episode from start to finish, limited only by my ability to remember the details. I do this for my friends in uniform and those living overseas or who otherwise do not have access to the episodes as they are aired.
I watch the episode only once--maybe twice--before I compose a review, and I rarely don't take notes. I rely on my memory, hence the term SASR (short attention span review).
WARNING: I am also a charter member of the Wordy Muthah Hall of Fame. I'm enrolled in a Brevity twelve-step program, but these things take time.
A Tom Paris applies a new attitude to an old vice; Tuvok mind-melds with a murderous ensign in search of a motive.
Jump straight to the Analysis
It's Miller time at the holodeck pool hall. Harry's just beaten Tom, who suggests they "make things interesting," and tries to shake Harry's confidence in his triumph. Harry is willing to bet a week's worth of replicator rations, but Tom dissuades him...and suggests instead a game of chance--guess the number of tomorrow's radiogenic particles and win a day's replicator rations. Other crewmen want a piece of that action, so Paris sets up a betting pool...with a small handling fee for himself, of course.
In engineering, the warp drive isn't working. Torres asks Hogan for the status; he replies that they've narrowed it to an EPS flow problem in one of the conduits, which an Ensign Suder had been monitoring. Torres takes an enigmatic look at Suder, then tells Hogan she'll check out the uppity conduit herself.
In the mess hall, Neelix cheerily greets a report-gazing Tuvok with "Happy Kal'Rek!" Tuvok looks as he usually does when Neelix is in Morale Officer mode--eager to be left alone. After a Vulcan wince, he corrects Neelix--Kal'Rek isn't for two weeks. "But it's the Kal'Rek season!" Neelix contends. "There is no Kal'Rek season," the Vulcan replies with visibly strained patience--Kal'Rek is a day of atonement and mediation. Neelix complains about the unremitting dreariness of Vulcan holidays. He has, though, discovered a 1,000 year-old Vulcan pagan festival (Rumari?) involving unclad, greased-up revelers, which he thinks would be fun to introduce to the crew. (You can guess Tuvok's reaction to that one.) Tuvok is saved by a call from Torres, requesting his presence in engineering. Neelix, undeterred, tentatively pens in Tom Paris as the Rumari master of ceremonies.
Tuvok meets Torres by the EPS conduit and asks what the problem is. B'Elanna wordlessly inclines her head toward the inside of the conduit, her features grim. Tuvok peers inside and frowns.
Tuvok to Sickbay. We have a Kentucky-fried crewman.
After the autopsy, Tuvok questions the doctor. Tuvok assumes it is an accident, and has a hypothesis. "Nice theory, but it's wrong," Holodoc replies with customary panache. The deceased, Crewman Darwin, was murdered by a blunt instrument before being tossed into the conduit, where he suffered massive third-degree burns. Only the failure of the warp drive prevented his body from being utterly vaporized.
Tuvok reports his findings and the autopsy results to Janeway and Chakotay. We learn Darwin was an exceptional crewman--he was recommended for Officer training but passed it up to join the Voyager crew. Torres arrives with the duty roster for the time of the murder; the only one in Engineering at the time, she tells Chakotay, was Suder, one of the former Maquis crewmen. Torres and Chakotay share a haunted look.
Janeway asks if Suder's name rings any alarms. Suder had a reputation for "doing his job a little too well," Torres says. "Killing Cardassians," Chakotay adds. He and Torres never felt that comfortable around the man; he was quiet, kept to himself, performed his duties adequately, that kinda thing (hmmm....) But when it came to battle, Suder was a wild man, taking out the enemy with brutal artistry. Tuvok, who had served on Chakotay's ship as a spy, never saw this side of him; Chakotay tells him he never saw battle with Suder. He says he stopped Suder from going too far a few times, and once or twice, "the way he looked at me with those cold eyes, I knew he was this far from killing me too."
"We didn't check resumes," Torres explains to Janeway; "Some were fighting for home and family; others had their own reasons." Suder, a Betazoid, fell in the latter category.
Tuvok asks why none of this was included in Suder's records. Chakotay answers that Suder did nothing wrong as a crewman, and he didn't want to hurt his or any other Maquis' chance for a fresh start on-board Voyager based strictly on personal feelings. Tuvok smacks Chakotay around a bit here, referring to "your Maquis crew" in unflattering and insulting ways, and giving the strong hint that Chakotay has done the ship a disservice by not pointing out the disgruntled postal types sooner.
Chakotay understandably takes umbrage. He and Tuvok have butted heads before, in public and in private. Janeway has tended to say nothing, even when Tuvok's words and his tone have been patently insubordinate. It's pretty clear that Chakotay is not entirely in Janeway's circle of trusted advisors, despite his outranking Tuvok. (If Tuvok talked like that to Riker, Riker would drop him like a malfunctioning turbolift.)
I've said it before, I'll say it again. As a Vulcan, Tuvok makes a great security chief. Temperamentally, Tuvok has more in common with Worf than with Spock. His lack of emotions ("denial" may be closer to the truth) do not hide his prejudices and narrow views. It is not surprising he's still a lieutenant after more than a century of adulthood; he lacks the perspective required to lead or command.
I have nothing against Tim Russ, who is at least as convincing a Vulcan as Kim Cattrel's Valeris. But if the writers want us to like Tuvok, they are doing a terrible job of it. My guess is that it is intentional; There has been a pattern of Vulcan bashing, both subtle and overt, throughout the series. Our first and most potent contact with Vulcans was Spock, and later with his father Sarek--two extraordinary figures. T'Pau was also legendary. But other Vulcans haven't been so impressive. Consider Valeris, T'Lera, T'Pring and Stonn, who are likely better examples of the EveryVulcan than two heroic-age ambassadors and a high priestess. Tuvok clearly falls in the latter category--competent, but not a poster boy for Vulcan virtue.
Is it any wonder that Tuvix, the later-season meshing of Tuvok's logic and Neelix's ebullience, was far greater than the sum of his parts? Spock's greatness came as much from the struggle to reconcile his Vulcan and Human sides as anything else. Tuvok appears to have avoided similar internal battles, and his character development suffers as a result.
(Sorry. End of tangent, back to the episode.) After Tuvok complains about Chakotay's Maquis crewmen, Janeway ignores the exchange (though I think she should have reprimanded Tuvok for talking that way about her second-in-command) and tells Tuvok to interrogate Suder.
Suder arrives for his questioning. Suder looks like Reg Barclay in the Jack Nicholson role in "The Shining." Receding hairline, twin abysses of black retinas that fill the sockets, Suder paints a disquieting portrait. During the questioning, Suder accuses Tuvok of disliking the Maquis, treating them unfairly; Tuvok naturally denies it on the basis of "no feelings." (Yeah, sure, whatever.) Tuvok asks him directly if he killed Darwin, and Suder denies it. But you get the feeling (well, maybe not Tuvok) that he'd deny it even if caught in the act.
Holodoc calls Tuvok to Sickbay; he has found DNA evidence fingering the killer--the DNA was found inside Darwin's skull wound. Tuvok asks if the results are certain, and Holodoc replies, "DNA doesn't know how to lie." (Can Suder conjure up a holo-Johnny Cochrane to defend him? "If the genes don't fit, you must acquit!")
Tuvok hands the proof to Suder, and reads him his rights. Suder, knowing he's caught, paces a bit and then admits everything, including the details of how he did it and where the murder weapon can be found. His manner has changed; he's still soft-spoken, but his voice takes on a cruel edge, and his eyes burn with fevered intensity. Tuvok asks why Suder killed him. "No reason," he says after a pregnant pause. Tuvok doesn't accept this answer--there must be SOME genuine motive, he insists. "I didn't like the way he looked at me," Suder finally responds, then walks out the door, leaving Tuvok to simmer in his own juices. If there's one thing Tuvok can't stand, it's a motiveless crime.
Tuvok speaks with Holodoc, looking for possible explanations. Holodoc isn't all that helpful; he doesn't see the need for a motive when they have a confession and hard evidence; most investigators would be happy with that. Holodoc gets in a few lines of Vulcan bashing while trying to explain that crimes don't necessarily need motives--nearly all species evolved in a breeding ground of violence, and quite a few still keep those tendencies under control only with difficulty. Vulcans are one of the few races that have managed to bury their barbarism under so many emotional controls, but those impulses are still there. Only Holodoc is not bred from violence, though he was programmed by former barbarians.
Needless to say, Tuvok doesn't quit that easily. He asks for a psychological profile, and Suder's records show aggressive tendencies but no outright emotional disorders; Tuvok asks why this was not brought up sooner, and Holodoc explains with mock patience that nearly all the Maquis have similar profiles. Tuvok grills Suder again, this time in the brig, desperate for a motive he can accept. Suder sticks to the "I didn't like the way he looked at me" story, and frustrates Tuvok's efforts to explain the killing to his own satisfaction. He admits to having thought about killing Tuvok (for which at least there would have been a motive). Tuvok says here that he has studied criminal behavior for over 100 years, answering my earlier question about his age. I assumed he was near 100; now it's likelier he's around 125 (and looks dang good for his age; Spock looks a heck of a lot craggier and he's not that much older).
Suder, unlike other Betazoids, cannot sense others' emotions; he claims he can't even sense his own. He feels no remorse, has no satisfactory explanation for Tuvok about the killings and his violent tendencies. He suggests that he would be willing to die for his crimes, though he allows that in the 24th century they don't execute criminals. "I guess I'm lucky," Suder says of modern criminal theory, but his heart appears to disagree.
Tuvok is utterly frustrated in his search for a motive. He leaves to report to Janeway, then stops and returns to the brig and asks to meld with Suder so he can understand the reasons for the killings. He explains the process (melds are a rarity in this series) and tells Suder that the joining of their minds should also give the man the ability to control his violent impulses, if only temporarily. Suder agrees, and soon we hear the familiar chant, "My mind to your mind. Your thoughts to my thoughts...."
In a crowded holodeck pool hall, the radiogenic sweepstakes results are announced--and nobody won. Again. Except Paris, "the house," who gets a cut of the pot. Others are bummed, but Harry Kim is irritated--he's caught on that Tom is the only winner in this little lottery. (And he's SURPRISED by this?) They leave the holodeck with Paris describing his next meal in obscenely extravagant detail as Harry shakes his head.
A post-meld Tuvok reports his findings to Janeway. He says the meld was a worthwhile and enlightening experience. Difficult as it is for Tuvok to accept, Suder was indeed telling the truth--there was no reason for the crime; Suder's simply a man teeming with barely-contained violence. With the benefit of shared consciousness, Tuvok is surprised Suder hadn't killed someone sooner.
Janeway asks for sentencing options. Can't deport, that would be too cruel. The brig is also unacceptable. Janeway suggests installing maximum security on Suder's quarters and keeping him locked up there. Tuvok surprises her by suggesting that Suder is willing to die for his crimes, with the unspoken comment that he is also fond of the idea.
Janeway recoils. Execution is unthinkable to her (at least, until "Tuvix," when she pulls the lever herself). Tuvok presses the point, trying several logical (and surprisingly passionate) arguments, bringing Darwin's three sisters into the argument. Janeway finally orders him to drop it and get with Kim on converting the quarters into a cell. She senses something different about him, and after a pause asks how Suder has been since the meld. Then about how Tuvok is. She's clearly concerned for her friend, who is not himself. (Usually he's only this callous with Chakotay.) Tuvok admits that he's been disquieted since the meld, but it shouldn't affect his ability to perform his duties.
In the mess hall, Tuvok is reading something when Neelix approaches him in full Annoyance Mode. Tuvok is more strained than usual, asking Neelix repeatedly to go away and leave him alone. Neelix, of course, only tries harder to amuse him. Finally, when Neelix threatens to sing Talaxian Happy Songs until Tuvok gives him a nice smile, Tuvok grabs him by the neck, lifts him off the ground and slams him into a nearby wall, letting go only when Neelix's eyes go dead and mouth goes silent.
Tuvok examines his brutal handiwork with an inscrutable look, and tells the computer to end the holodeck simulation. (Dang. Got my hopes up for a second there.) I guess this was supposed to show us that Tuvok's becoming as homicidal as Suder. But hey, I'd say when Neelix is the victim, you could fill a Top Ten list with motives. (Sorry; now I'm just being mean.)
One commercial break later, the radiogenic lottery is halted by an unhappy Chakotay, who confiscates the replicator rations and dresses down Paris in front of the crew. Paris responds with casual disdain, making fun of Chakotay's job ("there's a tough job--filling out reports. But I guess someone's got to do it"). I half-imagined Chakotay borrowing Tuvok's holoprogram, making Paris Neelix's stand-in.
Paris tries to look unconcerned with his change of fortunes, but it looked practiced; did he regret what he just said to Chakotay? He seemed uncomfortable. And when Chakotay had first entered the holoprogram, you could hear the gears turning in Paris' head before he responded.
In the benefit of season hindsight, I can almost hear Paris thinking, "okay, here goes...." This was the beginning of the multi-episode "Bad Paris" subplot that culminated with "Investigations." When this was a new episode, I was mad; this whole gambling thing made no sense, particularly coming right after Tom's soul-searching in "Threshold." Watching it in the "Investigations" perspective helped me catch a the signs that Tom was looking for trouble with Chakotay. Their relationship has hardly been cordial throughout the series, but Tom had been inclined to respect Chakotay's rank if nothing else. Until now. (It may also explain some of Tuvok's denigration of the Maquis crew as Chakotay's sole responsibility, and Janeway's refusal to reprimand him for it. Chakotay was played like a fiddle in this "Bad Paris" miniseries, and not just by Paris.)
Tuvok visits Suder in the brig and asks Suder how he feels. The latter arises, slowly, and with a palpable change in demeanor. Suder says he feels at peace, and I'm inclined to believe him. Tuvok, on the other hand, looks edgier.
Suder talks of this new sensation, of viewing the violence within himself as an interested but separate entity--acknowledging its existence without feeling the urge to succumb to it. He seems pleased with this newfound control and perspective.
Tuvok reminds him that the pacifying effects of the meld aren't permanent, and that he will have to work to maintain control through meditation, and perhaps a regimen of holodeck mayhem to work out his killing impulses. When Tuvok tells Suder not to be too optimistic, he's talking about his own struggles for control. Each therapy he suggests, Suder tells him have never been effective in his treatment.
Suder launches into a chilling monologue about the bright side of violence, the rush of it, the artistic possibilities in carnage. Tuvok seems at once repulsed and drawn to Suder's words. Suder expresses the irony of it--that at last he has someone who knows exactly what he's been going through...and it's a (formerly) dispassionate Vulcan. Suder intellectualizes his dark side quite eloquently, and dispassionately. It seems the calmer Suder gets, the more feral Tuvok becomes in spite of all his efforts.
Suder asks if they can meld again. Tuvok recommends against it. Suder says he understands, and then points out the violent possibilities of a meld--invading someone's mind, ripping away all privacy, leaving no secret undiscovered. And one could even kill through a meld if they lose control. He says this pointedly; it's almost an invitation.
Tuvok returns to his quarters, locks himself in, deletes his security clearances and announces himself unfit for duty. Apparently he's lost his Vulcan mind.
Janeway and a security guard approach Tuvok's quarters; Janeway enters to find Tuvok's room utterly trashed, and Tuvok huddled in a dark corner, urging her to leave immediately. Janeway insists they talk (apparently she didn't see his "Neelix" simulation). Tuvok slips further as he speaks, describing the violent state into which he has slipped, detailing the ways he's counted that he can kill someone. When we see his face, we glimpse the face of Fury. With the last vestiges of his control, he begs to be sedated before they take him to Sickbay.
Holodoc examines a sedated Tuvok as Janeway and Kes look on. He figures the meld went wrong because of incompatibilities between Vulcan and Betazoid physiologies. (Tuvok's a wuss. Spock could mind meld with Horta and godlike clouds without difficulty; he even survived numerous links with the toupee'd pate of Captain Kirk and survived with his follicles intact.)
After the medical diagnosis comes the patented Holodoc Grump(TM). "Vulcan mind melds...utter foolishness," he rants (and you thought only I did that). "Anyone with an ounce of sense wouldn't share his brain with someone else. I wouldn't, would you? And of course when something goes wrong...the first thing they cry is Doctor!'"
They have deactivated Tuvok's suppression systems, and the therapy consists in making Tuvok try to reestablish his mental controls from the ground up. This means letting him be utterly susceptible to his emotions for a few minutes. (Attention Emmy committee...stand by with those VCR remotes....)
The command given, Tuvok awakes. "How do you feel?" they ask. "I...feel!" he says in wonder. "I feel...powerful!" Janeway asks Tuvok if he knows where he is. He laughs. "I know where I am, Captain; I'm just not sure I know who I am." He speaks in staccato, Kirk-like bursts.
Tuvok tries to intellectualize the new experience, asks to be allowed to remain this way for a while. Holodoc says "sorry, the regimen is very specific." Tuvok looks at him with cold fury. "You are not invulnerable, hologram. A few well-chosen commands to the computer and you will cease to exist." Brrrrr. Holodoc is both miffed and understandably frightened.
Tuvok starts chewing scenery with reckless abandon. He suggests with undisguised mockery that if the treatment doesn't work, they can treat him like Suder--lock him in his comfortable quarters, let him read and kick back and eat the crew's food and breathe their air for the next 70 years--a fitting punishment for violent offenders, don't you think, Captain?
Janeway tells him he's not a violent offender. "I could be," he says, and there's no question he means it. He tells her she is wrong to show compassion for Suder, to incarcerate him rather than toss his barbaric hiney out the nearest airlock. "You disgust me," he finally spits. "All you humans do." Tuvok then offers to kill Suder himself; all they have to do is lower the forcefield. He looks truly dangerous now.
To those who think Star Trek started with the Next Generation, I apologize for bringing up the Original Series characters so much. But here we go again.
I'm willing to allow that mind-melding with a murder-minded Betazoid would bring out the worst in Tuvok. But consider this. When Spock lost his emotional controls, he became a Bohemian, swinging from trees and making out with blondes. He had his violent, barbaric side, but even when it was there Spock still preferred being a lover, not a fighter. He was a scientist and an aesthete at heart, a true Renaissance Vulcan.
In contrast, Tuvok is a criminologist, a security chief, where paranoia is a job requirement. Sans emotional controls, Tuvok becomes a power freak. We don't hear any talk of orchids or his wife and children; we get three minutes of violence. A lot of that is Suder. But there had to be enough Evil Tuvok there for it to latch onto. (The depiction of Tuvok isn't unrelentingly negative; I thought he came off pretty well in "", where we got a glimpse of his paternal side. Even if the goal is for us to dislike Tuvok, it is in everyone's best interests to give Tuvok more depth, particularly redeeming qualities.)
Janeway stares with ice-cold compassion (no mean feat, don't you think?), exercising that lethal tough-love that let her later pull the plug on Tuvix. She let him rant, did not back away from her friend, stoic in the face of what he had become. When she won't lower the forcefield, Tuvok tries to give Kes a telepathic whammy so she'll do it, but Kes tells him (with that damnably pure compassion of hers) that they also disabled his telepathic abilities so he can't influence her.
Tuvok finally loses it. He screams "release the forcefield!" and rams his hand into it, doing the ultimate "stuck in a box" mimery, determined to break on through to the other side or fry his brain trying. Fortunately, his timing is perfect; his therapy session is complete mere seconds after he loses unconsciousness from the electric onslaught. They drug him again just to make sure, then they put him back on the bed.
Janeway asks what happens now. Holodoc says there's no way to tell; Tuvok is learning to be Vulcan again, "fighting a classic battle of good against evil; it may happen in a day, a year...or never." So slap a turtle shell on his forehead and call him a Klingon....
Night falls. Tuvok awakes alone in Sickbay, still behind the forcefield. He yanks the blinking things from his temples and escapes, looking fit to kill. Guess where he goes. Ensign Suder is meditating when he calls Tuvok's name. He looks at the door to the brig, where Tuvok is standing over an unconscious guard. Tuvok looks like hell. Actually, he looks like Hell.
"Have you come to kill me?" Suder asks. "To execute you for your crime," Tuvok replies. "We both know that I'm prepared to die," Suder says as Tuvok releases the brig's forcefield, "but are you prepared to kill?" He throws Tuvok's logic back into his face, makes him see that all he's offering are excuses (motives) to kill, and tells Tuvok what to expect once he's taken his first life. "You're stepping over the brink, Tuvok...kill me and you give in to the demons." He argues that if killing is wrong, Tuvok must also die. There's no turning back.
Tuvok forces the mind meld on Suder, a violent and desperate act. Suder's eyes go even wider, and it's clear his mind is being attacked. Tuvok is killing him.
But Tuvok cannot strike the mental death blow. The harder he tries to kill Suder, the more anguish he himself feels. Finally, he sinks to the ground, unconscious. Suder cradles him gently, understanding Tuvok as he knows himself. He hails Chakotay and suggests they bring someone down to the brig; "Tuvok's in trouble."
Tuvok awakens in Sickbay. Holodoc tells him that the attempted murder was actually a good sign; he couldn't finish the dirty deed, which means his controls are reestablishing themselves. He should be as good as new shortly--"or as good as any species that suppresses all their emotions can be," he grumps.
Janeway looks on her friend with compassion. Tuvok is deeply embarrassed over his recent
actions, and the harsh words he gave her. "I've been insulted worse," she assures him. She
urges him to recover quickly, then orders him, "no more mind melds without my permission."
Hard to argue with the logic of that order. He tells her he considers her a friend.
I liked this episode. Suder, played by Brad Dourif (Chucky from Child's Play), gave a chilling and complex performance. He's no Hannibal Lector, but does project a similar meld of the charismatic and the creepy. The peek into the killer mind was interesting, and the subtle adoption of Tuvok's logic and control after the meld was effective. He inadvertently almost destroyed Tuvok, and ultimately was the only one who could save him.
The dichotomy between Tuvok and Suder was well played. Tuvok, the man of allegedly infinite control, slipping to utter chaos. Suder, the man of uncontrolled violence, helping him survive the experience, and in the process gaining his own share of freedom from the demons. They make an odd couple, but the Killer and the Cop make for frequently good drama, and I think it works here.
I do think Tuvok is frequently portrayed as a Vulcan Gump. It's official--Tuvok is well over 100 years old, probably closer to 125, and he says he's been studying violent behavior for 100 years. He's married for over 65 years with several kids, cultivates orchids, can play the lute, is occasionally good with children, and even taught at Starfleet Academy. But his social skills border on the pathetic, and his judgment is frequently lacking. Tuvok hasn't distinguished himself as an officer or a gentleman; in terms of job performance, I don't see why Janeway puts so much trust in him.
Trek writers, take note. Try to give Tuvok at least some redeeming qualities, please. At the very least, let him learn from his experiences. There were several episodes this season where Tuvok could have learned something about himself and how to deal with others, and the lessons haven't caught on. He considers Janeway a friend; he could use one or two more. Neelix is a decent foil, but you'd think after sharing DNA for a few weeks they'd understand each other better. Suder is a logical choice, but he's played by a special guest star; we'll see him only rarely. Kes is his student. Paris could open him up a bit without resorting to Neelix's whining. I would love to see Chakotay and Tuvok bury the hatchet and come to at least a grudging respect for each other. They don't need to be buddies, but a cease-fire and a modicum of civility between them would earn my gratitude.
Paris' actions in this episode are jarringly out of character. He's always had a touch of the rogue, but insubordination is not on his Delta Quadrant resume; he's worked hard to change peoples' opinion of him. This sudden change of attitude comes from nowhere; if Tuvok were investigating Paris' gambling operation, he'd be as hard pressed to come up with a motive as with Suder's murder. (I'm trying not to give too much away, since I know why Paris acts the way he does but you may not. Just know that between now and "Investigations" Paris' actions will seem insanely erratic, but that there is an explanation.)
Holodoc had some great lines, raging about Vulcan mind melds from a position of superior knowledge (as opposed to Leonard McCoy's rantings about Vulcan voodoo), with a better understanding of melds and their effects than Tuvok himself.
Janeway has some decent moments with Tuvok, a combination of steely will and concern for her friend. We got yet another "life or death" episode here; this season we've covered suicide, euthanasia, murder, the death penalty, birth control, and stress-induced coronaries, not to mention spousal abuse and torture. Here's hoping next season will feature some less morbid topics.
Neelix was annoying (considering the way he was used in this episode, I think they went out of their way to make him so), but his death--albeit holographic--was fun to watch.
On a scale of 0-10, I'll give this a 7.50, on the strength of Suder's performance and Holodoc's consistently amusing ripostes. Kudos also to Tim Russ for doing pretty well with the Evil Tuvok stuff, particularly for strangling Neelix one-handed. And that woman Paris kissed in the Holodeck...I hope we see her again. (Could she be one of the fabled Delaney sisters?)
Next week: B'Elanna argues with a torpedo.