Mind meld dignity could be restored in Strange New Worlds.
It didn’t take Star Trek: Strange New Worlds long to work in the Vulcan mind meld as a plot device. In its fourth episode, “Memento Mori,” La’an Noonien-Singh asks Spock to help her recover long-suppressed memories of her devastating childhood encounter with the Gorn.
To the credit of “Memento Mori,” it does not treat the mind meld casually. La’an tells Spock,”I’ve heard what Vulcans can do,” implying the mind meld is only hearsay or rumor, perhaps even legend, among non-Vulcans. And Spock cautions La’an, “The mind meld is not a shortcut for dealing with mental trauma. Resurfacing hidden memories can be painful, even dangerous.”
The episode handles the meld almost as delicately as did “Dagger of the Mind” 56 years ago when it introduced the Vulcan joining of minds into Star Trek mythos. In that episode, too, another character—in this case, Dr. McCoy—is gently but firmly pressuring Spock to perform the meld in a moment of extreme need. And in that episode, too, Spock pushes back: “It’s a hidden, personal thing to the Vulcan people,” Spock tells McCoy, “part of our private lives.” He also warns Dr. Van Gelder, with whom he melds, “It could be dangerous.”
(Intriguingly, Spock also told McCoy he had “never used [the mind meld] on a human.” Did Strange New Worlds pull off a mind meld retcon? Or did Spock, who we know to be a master secret-keeper, keep his meld with La’an—who is still human, albeit genetically augmented—confidential? I’d like to believe the latter.)
Nimoy himself lamented in his autobiography I Am Spock (1995) that “the more Spock utilized the mind meld, the less dangerous it seemed to become” (p. 59). It was hard for Star Trek writers to keep away from such a dramatic plot device, and mind melds became increasingly routine and undramatic. The low point was the last mind meld Nimoy ever acted: Spock Prime’s hasty and unceremonious “infodump” meld to show Kirk, and the audience, his history with Nero in Star Trek (2009).
But “Memento Mori” gives me hope Star Trek can still deliver dramatic and meaningful mind meld scenes—scenes like the three best mind melds we ever saw Spock perform.
Spock Mind Melds with the Horta in “The Devil in the Dark”
In a lesser actor’s hands, Spock’s meeting of the minds with the Horta would be nothing but laughable. But Leonard Nimoy proved his mastery of his craft when he was able to make viewers believe Spock was psychically communing with the creature. His wide eyes and high voice as he speaks the Horta’s lament for her murdered children make the moment truly heartbreaking. The scene became such an iconic Star Trek moment, Hallmark even turned it into a Christmas ornament in 2014!
Spock Mind Melds with Kirk in “Spectre of the Gun”
Spock uses the Vulcan mind meld to make his fellow Enterprise landing party members absolutely certain the bullets “Wyatt Earp” and his gang are shooting at the Melkotians’ “OK Corral” aren’t real. It ranks as one of the best because, as the late Margaret Wander Bonnano noted in her classic Star Trek novel Strangers from the Sky, it was the first time we saw Spock mind meld with Kirk. Perhaps they joined minds during some earlier, unseen adventure. But it wasn’t until this late in the series’ run—and in the oft-maligned third season, no less—that viewers saw these two close friends share this strong psychic bond.
Spock Mind Melds with McCoy in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
How could the mind meld that saved Spock’s katra not rank among his best? “But wait!” you might say. “Spock melded with McCoy in Star Trek II, not Star Trek III!” From the in-universe perspective, you’d be right. But the hand we see clumsily touching DeForest Kelley’s face in The Wrath of Khan is not Leonard Nimoy’s hand. Not until the “security footage” in The Search for Spock do we see the two-shot in which Nimoy helps McCoy “remember” in proper Spock fashion.
As of this writing, there are only three episodes left in season 1. It’s hard to know whether Strange New Worlds will feature any more mind melds. (Does Spock and T’Pring’s accidental gender-swap in “Spock Amok” count?) If the show does, here’s hoping the series continues to treat the meld as more than a mere plot device, but with the dignity it deserves.