This article contains major STAR TREK: PICARD spoilers.
Can Synthetics do everything that organics can do, only better? In Episode 9 of Star Trek: Picard, “Et in Arcadia Ego Part 1,” we see an android bust-out a classic Star Trek superpower, that previously, we only thought flesh-and-blood aliens could manage. In fact, isn’t the Vulcan mind meld only reserved for aliens who are actually, you know, Vulcans? Everybody assumed androids couldn’t do a mind meld, but what Picard presupposes is… maybe they can?
If you’re confused about this latest twist, it turns out there’s actually several precedents that make this possible. Let’s get into it. My canon thoughts to your canon thoughts…
When the yellow-eyed android Sutra (Isa Briones) decides to use the Vulcan mind meld to extract information from the mind of Dr. Jurati, the groan from inflexible Star Trek fans was as audible as that funky V’Ger bass line touching Spock’s mind in The Motion Picture. But, here’s the thing; the rules of who can do the mind-meld and how it’s done have been in flux for awhile.
The Vulcan mind-meld originates in the TOS episode “Dagger of the Mind,” in which Spock probes the tortured mind of a prison inmate in order to get to the bottom of a confounding mystery all about people going crazy from a machine that is supposed to be healing them. Notably, Spock is only half-Vulcan since his mom, Amanda Grayson is a human. So, from its very inception the idea of who can do the Vulcan mind-meld was already loosey-goosey. Like Commodore Oh in Star Trek: Picard, Spock is only half-Vulcan. (We’re told in Episode 8 that Oh is half-Vulcan, half-Romulan.) So if Vulcan hybrids can do a skill normally reserved to Vulcans, the door is already open to other species figuring it out.
Then again, some might argue that intelligent machines shouldn’t be able to possess the pseudo-telepathy from a Vulcan mind-meld. Wetware is not hardware, so whatever magic brain energy necessary to do the mind meld, shouldn’t work with a robot, right? Well, that would be a reasonable argument, assuming, you’d never seen Star Trek: The Motion Picture. You know that TNG theme music you love so much? The Jerry Goldsmith score? Well, that comes from The Motion Picture, and in that film — get ready — a super intelligent machine contacts Spock’s brain from across the entire galaxy. Here’s a refresher.
Spock’s got long hair. He’s chilling on Vulcan, about to undergo the Kolinahr — a process where he would shed all remnants of emotion. BUT, he doesn’t. And that’s because his brain is contacted by a superior A.I. intelligence from beyond. (Sound familiar?) When Spock pauses during the ceremony, the Vulcan High Priestess demands a mind meld and then she says:
This conciseness calling to you from space… it touches your human blood, Spock.
Now, in the context of The Motion Picture, this meant that Spock needed to hang on to his human side a little longer, and figure out what was going on with this giant conciseness calling to him from space. But, in the context of Star Trek canon as a whole, check int out: V’Ger, a giant living machine that was 100 percent an A.I. cloud, was able to mind meld with Spock. Later, Spock returns the favor, by mind melding with V’Ger itself, while he’s wearing a space suit and gloves, I might add.
In the Original Series episode, “The Changeling,” Spock also mind melded with a straight-up robot named Nomad (sterilize!) and in “A Taste of Armageddon” even long-distance mind-melded through a door. There’s a lot of different variations of mind melds!
And then there’s Data. We have no reason to believe that Data was telepathic, or had mastered the ability to mind meld. And yet, in Star Trek: First Contact, he seems to project a telepathic message to Picard. Arguably, this is because Data was hooked-up with the Borg at this point, and Picard had some Borg receptors that allowed for this kind of message, but still. It counts, right?
Like Sutra, Data amdired Vulcan culture, though, as he said in “Data’s Day,” he did find their strict adherence to total logic to be “limiting.” And yet, in the famous Spock crossover TNG episode, “Unification,” Data demonstrated his ability to use a Vulcan nerve pinch to disable Sela. If Data can do a Vulcan nerve pinch, and Spock can get telepathic messages from V’Ger, it seems like we could all easily believe that Sutra, a very advanced android, could, in fact, teach herself to mind meld.
Does this mean what Sutra saw in Jurati’s mind was accurate? Maybe. Maybe not. But her ability to do the mind meld at all is totally, unswervingly, logical.