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Star Trek Episodes : The Original Series : Season One
Dagger of the Mind
Episode number: 9
Production number: 11
Original Airdate: November 3, 1966
mauler's rating: 3 out of 4 stars
Synopsis (Spoiler Alert)
The Enterprise boldly travels to prison colony Tantalus V to beam down some medicine. In exchange the colony beams up a large crate of research materials to be returned to Earth on the next mail run. But as soon as no one is looking, a crazed madman jumps out of the crate and starts attacking people.
Meanwhile on the bridge, Captain Kirk gets a hail from the prison colony, warning him that they are missing a convict who is "extremely violent." Kirk orders the ship to Security Level 3: "Intruder Alert!" But despite the ship being put onto security lockdown, the escapee makes his way to the bridge where he gets the drop on Kirk with a phaser he stole from a security officer he knocked out. He demands "asylum" and begs not to be returned to Tantalus V. When asked his name, he suddenly seems to be in great pain, but manages to spit out the name "Van Gelder."
Kirk, perhaps sensing he is not as crazed as he seems, stares him down and slowly advances, allowing Spock to sneak up behind him and disable him, whereupon Kirk orders him taken to sickbay for medical evaluation and the ship itself back to the penal colony.
As the Enterprise heads back to Tantalus V, McCoy interrogates Van Gelder further. Again seeming to be in great pain, he claims that he is Dr. Simon Van Gelder, assistant to Dr. Tristan Adams, the director of the penal colony, that he is not a criminal, and that what made him this way is something called a "neural neutralizer." Kirk contacts Dr. Adams to find out if this is true. Adams gamely admits that the escapee is Van Gelder, but insists that what happened to Van Gelder was an accident - one of Van Gelder's own experiments gone wrong.
McCoy can't put his finger on it, but feels certain Adams is not telling the truth. Kirk is an admirer of Adams's revolutionary methods for rehabilitating prisoners, and is tempted to accept Adams's word, but McCoy takes advantage of Starfleet regulations to force Kirk to agree to a full investigation.
Kirk prepares to beam down, and asks McCoy if there is anyone on his staff who has expertise in both psychiatry and penology. McCoy informs him that there is such a person, and Kirk orders that they accompany him. When he gets to the transporter room, Kirk finds out that said expert is the stunningly beautiful Dr. Helen Noel, a woman he had a brief, romantic encounter with at last year's Science Lab Christmas Party. After an awkward exchange, the two beam down.
Down on the penal colony, Dr. Adams puts on a good show, allowing Kirk to keep his phaser, offering Kirk and Noel drinks and a toast, and generally being quite genial. Adams introduces them to Lethe, a blank, emotionless woman who was formerly a prisoner but is now one of his assistants.
Dr. Noel seems disposed to accept Adams's explanations of an experiment gone wrong at face value, but Kirk grows suspicious at the woodenness of the prison staff. When Adams displays a moments hesitation regarding Kirk's question about a certain treatment room, Kirk insists he be shown it. It turns out to be the "neural neutralizer" that drove Van Gelder mad - a "failed experiment, nothing more" insists Adams.
As soon as Adams, Kirk, and Noel leave, one of Adams's assistant turns the neutralizer intensity up to full strength and uses it on a panic-stricken inmate, suggesting into a microphone that he forget everything he just heard or else he will feel terrible pain, a pain "growing more terrible the more you try to remember."
Back in the lobby of the prison, Kirk checks in via communicator with Spock, who is in sickbay with McCoy, and tells him everything is alright. Spock asks if he will be beaming back up to the ship, but Kirk says he'd like to remain at the prison overnight. Just after Kirk signs off Van Gelder, who overheard the conversation, starts screaming "No! No! Don't let the captain stay down there!"
When McCoy and Spock ask Van Gelder to elaborate, he is overcome by extreme pain, and has to be sedated. McCoy then urges Spock to use a Vulcan mind meld to get the information they need, and Spock reluctantly agrees. Under Spock's meld, Van Gelder reveals what everyone has long guessed by now: that Adams used the neural neutralizer to try to drive him insane and brainwash him. The machine removes all thought from the brain, Van Gelder says. After a while, the mind becomes so lonely and empty, so desperate for a thought, any thought, that it will accept whatever thoughts Adams decides to put inside. Spock decides to assemble a team to rescue Kirk and Noel, but cannot beam down unless somebody can lower the prison's protective shield that prevents beaming.
Meanwhile, back on the planet, it is the middle of the night, and Kirk orders Noel to sneak with him into the neural neutralizer room and test the machine out on Kirk, with Noel at the controls. Noel sets it on the lowest intensity for one minute. Nothing seems to happen, so Kirk asks her to do it a gain but give him a harmless suggestion. She turns it on for a second and says "You're hungry" before turning it off. Kirk starts complaining that nothing happened again, but he is ravenously hungry. So it seems the machine is quite effective.
Kirk foolishly wants to try it one more time "just to be sure" and asks Noel to give him a "playful" suggestion, "something we'll both remember." Noel decides to suggest to him that their encounter last Christmas went farther than it actually did. In a dream sequence, Kirk carries Noel into his bedchamber, where she says she does want his affection, but only if it comes out of real love. But in the middle of it all Adams bursts into the treatment room with an assistant and takes over, cranking the machine up to max and brainwashing Kirk that he is madly in love with Noel and would do anything to have her. He then starts talking about how Kirk cannot have her because she is "gone," in an effort to start creating the "loneliness" required to brainwash Kirk. This brings Kirk to tears and he screams in agony.
When Kirk comes to, for some reason Adams has not only left Kirk and Noel alone together, but has left them in a bedchamber with conveniently human-sized air ducts with conveniently loose grate covers located conveniently at chest height. At first Kirk starts kissing Noel and professing his love for her, but she resists his advances insists its just brainwashing. Kirk recovers his wits, pries off the grate cover, and orders Noel into the ducts to find the power supply. Although Kirk warns her about the dangerous "mega-voltage" wires he sees in the duct, she gamely hops in and starts crawling off to find the power. Kirk hastily closes the grate and just then Adam returns to take him off to another "session" with the neural neutralizer.
Kirk heroically resists the brainwashing, much to Adams's surprise. Ultimately he falls unconscious rather than be compelled to accept programming against his nature. Just then Lethe' bursts in and informs Adams that Noel is missing. Adams orders a prison-wide search for her.
Meanwhile, Noel has wormed her way to the power supply room. She is about to turn off the huge switch that says "on-off" to "off" when two guards with phasers burst in. She hides before they can see her, then sneaks back and turns the power off. But one of the guards has doubled back, knocks her to the floor, and turns the power back on. He then goes to collect Noel. She pretends to be unconscious, but as soon as he approaches, she kicks him in the crotch and hurls him back against the power switch, simultaneously electrocuting him to death and turning off the power. She then climbs back into the ventilation ducts.
As the power goes out, Kirk wakes up and knocks Adams unconscious. Leaving Adams in the room, he rushes off to find Noel. Meanwhile Spock notices the shield is down and beams down to the power supply room. He turns off the shield and turns the power back on. Dr. Adams now comes under the full power of the neural neutralizer and starts screaming in agony.
Kirk finds Noel back in the bedchamber and starts furiously kissing her and professing his love for her, but she again resists him, telling him its not real. Spock catches them in an embrace and quizzically raises an eyebrow. Meanwhile, McCoy and an Enterprise security team beams down and arrests Lethe and other assistants.
Kirk, McCoy, and Noel find Adams dead in the neural neutralizer room. Noel expresses surprise, noting that the power was not enough to kill a man. "It's hard to believe a man can die of loneliness," McCoy says. "Not when you've sat in that chair," Kirk replies.
Back on the Enterprise we learn that Dr. Van Gelder has recovered enough to be left in charge of the penal colony. We are left to wonder if Kirk ever gets over his undying love for Helen Noel.
"Dagger of the Mind" is definitely in the upper echelon of Star Trek episodes. Its premise is fairly well-worn and predictable, but the meditations on punishment, rehabilitation, and loneliness are intriguing enough to inspire some further contemplation, which is the hallmark of a good Trek episode. For an original series episode, it has quite a bit of action and zips along, maintaining good pacing throughout. The acting is also consistently good to great. Almost every episode has a requisite beautiful woman for Kirk to kiss, but Marianna Hill as Dr. Helen Noel is a revelation as one of the few of Kirk's women who has brains and an attitude to go along with her beauty. In giving her one of the shortest skirts ever seen on a female crew member, you almost feel they did it out of guilty conscience for letting up on the sexism long enough to let a woman be an actual medical doctor. Veteran Western actor Morgan Woodward gives a brilliant performance as the crazed but sane Dr. Van Gelder, and William Shatner's tendency to overact as Captain Kirk actually finds a worthy match in the form of the torture chamber. Leonard Nimoy's deftly underplayed emotion makes what could have been an extremely cheesy mind meld scene one of the best scenes in the episode, and the final moments of Adams's death and Kirk's musing on the bridge as the Enterprise heads back out into the vastness of space are well-written and well acted.
- This episode marks the first ever appearance of the Vulcan mind meld.
- The title of the episode is a reference to Shakespeare's Macbeth, Act II, Scene i, when Macbeth has a vision of a dagger before him: "art thou but / A dagger of the mind, a false creation, / Proceeding from the oppressèd brain?"
- Most of the names in this episode have double meanings. Tantalus is the figure in Greek myth, punished to spend eternity in Hades standing desperately thirsty in a pool of water that recedes every time he bends over to take a drink. Lethe is the river of forgetfulness in Hades. Captain Kirk meets Dr. Helen Noel at Christmas; "Noel" means "Christmas" in French.
- Montgomery Scott and Sulu do not appear in this episode.
James Gregory as Dr. Tristan Adams
Morgan Woodward as Dr. Simon Van Gelder
Marianna Hill - Lt. Helen Noel
Susanne Wasson - Lethe
Directed by: Vincent McEveety
Written by: "S. Bar-David", a pseudonym for Shimon Wincelberg
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