The story is a rather simple one, there is a murder on the ship and the murderer has to be dealt with. Since Star Fleet does not execute prisoners the question of what to do with a criminal for a 75 year journey becomes a serious issue. At this point it seems that the episode would simply become a debate on the death penalty and humane treatment of prisoners – and it does touch on that, this is actually the through line of the story – but the episode quickly becomes a character study of Tuvok and the nature of violence in general.
The murderer – crewman Suder a slightly psychotic Betazoid – confounds Tuvok by seemingly having no motive for the crime. He simply wanted to kill and so he did. Suder was compelled to kill because he wanted to; and to Tuvok’s logical mind this makes no sense and so he becomes obsessed with finding the “real” answer. And so he mind-melds with Suder in an attempt to find the deeper meaning to his violence. This does not go well. Suder’s violent tendencies begin to infiltrate Tuvok’s mind till he begins to have murderous fantasies of his own culminating in a complete mental/emotional breakdown.
The real strength of the episode comes down to the two leads. Brad Dourif brings a quiet menace to his performance (but let’s face it Dourif is fantastic in everything so no surprise there) and the all black contacts he wears only enhance his creepy presence.
But the real heavy lifting is done by Tim Russ as Tuvok who, in my opinion, does his best acting in the series so far. Russ plays Tuvok’s slow detrition to madness with a combination of confusion and pain. The scene where he is found in his trashed cabin quietly sitting in restrained anger is both subtle and dark; as is his cold strangling of “Neelix” to death on the holodeck. And when his final confrontation with Janeway finally arrives Russ revels in vicious glee as he verbally lets loose on her. I was almost sad to see him go back to being Vulcan again.
Dourif by contrast in calm; he does not raise his voice, he is calculated and measured. These both make him seem more dangerous and at the same time sympathetic. It also serves to contrast Tuvok’s decline and emphasizes the tragedy of the situation.
When the two in the end have their showdown it is easily one of the tensest scenes in Trek; Dourif plays Suder as willing to die but with obvious fear to do so; while Russ exudes rage and anger while fighting it and desperately trying to regain control. It is chilling.
And as I said at the beginning this has actual long lasting consequences. Up till this point Janeway has called Tuvok her closest friend and confidant; that begins to change. While he never completely loses her trust, the role of “closest friend and confidant” will slowly become Chakotay. Tuvok will never again be trusted without hesitation. To be fair this is understandable. The meld with Suder broke down Tuvok’s Vulcan emotional defenses and enhanced his violent tendencies, yes, but it didn’t (or it was never mentioned) change or alter his thinking. When he lashes out at Janeway and tells her she disgusts him, this must have come from somewhere inside. He is able to repress those emotions, but he still felt them. And Janeway seems to know this. Sure she hand waves the events away when Tuvok apologizes; but her face leaves the whole matter ambiguous as to whether she truly believes him or not. And the fact this subtle distrust will carry over into future stories is impressive for a show that usually likes to reset the status quo at story’s end.
Overall this is a fine episode and the stand-out episode from season two so far. And even a B-list subplot involving Tom and Harry running a gambling syndicate can’t take away from just how good it really is.
The Journey continues.