Star Trek: Dagger of the Mind

McCoy: "It's hard to believe that a man could die of loneliness."
Kirk: "Not when you've sat in that room."

The future we see in Star Trek is idealized, a best possible, where human beings are nearly as good as we can be. That's the main reason why it appealed so strongly to so many fans over the years. I like that it included the humane, medical treatment of prisoners, because it makes sense. "Clean, decent hospitals for sick minds," indeed.

What didn't make sense was that the new, humane way of treating prisoners had only been around for twenty years. And only because of Dr. Tristan Adams, who was so evil that he used his new treatment therapy to turn his charges and co-workers into Stepford people. Why would a monster like Dr. Adams be at the forefront of such a humane wave of change? I suppose he was corrupted by power. He certainly got his karmic reward, although it was more of an eye for an eye than the humane type of treatment he initially advocated for prisoners.

The cool part of this episode was the introduction of the Vulcan mind meld, which Spock used to hear the thoughts of the victimized Dr. Simon Van Gelder. The alien tone of the experience, the way Spock touched Van Gelder with his hands as he touched the man's mind, was strangely intimate and quite striking. Lovely performance by Leonard Nimoy, who always put a lot of work into his portrayal of Spock. Good performance also by Morgan Woodward as Van Gelder.

Dr. Helen Noel was knowledgeable and professional, courageous when things went wrong, and she looked great in a blue mini scrambling through airducts. It was all her fault that Kirk was so irresistible that she brought up that Christmas party, huh? Since I'm fairly certain we never see her again, it's a good thing Kirk had such exceptional strength of will and was able to resist the neural neutralizer to some extent; loving Helen forever probably won't be a problem for him.

Ben says...

Warning: serious comment ahead.

It is really easy to nitpick Star Trek. It is hopelessly sexist, some of the plots make very little sense, and it occasionally slips into a startlingly paternal "white man knows best" mode. But this episode is a real masterpiece in the ideas it explores and the contradictions science fiction can highlight. It draws out what the sociologist George Ritzer describes as the "irrationalities of the rational." What if we could fix the worst amongst us, I mean the really terrible ones. Wouldn't that make our society perfect? Can we hope to create a utopian world? Aren't the tools to create that world also the perfect tools for enforcing your will on others? These are questions that stay with us as we seek perfect security in the post 9/11 world, or as we attempt to wipe out disease with genetic techniques which would make Dr. Frankenstein say, "Whoa buddy, slow up there." Think I am reading too much into it? What if we could put those brain-fixing machines in airports and they would only issue one command, "Don't blow up airplanes." That would be a good thing, wouldn't it?

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

-- Star date 2715.1. Tantalus Penal Colony. The new special effects showed Tantalus as golden, surrounded by rings, and absolutely gorgeous. I honestly don't recall how it originally looked.

-- The moral issues surrounding the brainwashing of criminals to make them "behave" was better explored by the classic novel and movie, A Clockwork Orange. It was first published in 1962, so I bet the writer of this episode was thinking about it.

-- Spock said that the mind meld had never been used on a human before.

-- All the comments about Tantalus being like a resort made me think of Gitmo, which most certainly was not. As it turned out, neither was Tantalus.

-- Apparently, the abjuring of emotion on Vulcan has lessened the crime rate. You'd think that nasty Vulcan criminals wouldn't care about controlling their emotions, though.

-- Force fields can prevent beaming as well as communication.

-- A person-sized box was beamed aboard Enterprise from a prison, and no one searched it first? Come on.

-- The purple and green caves reminded me of "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" There were also bright orange walls.

-- Morgan Woodward, who did a fine job as the crazed Van Gelder, returned later in the series in another part.

Could have been better, but this one has its good points. Three out of four neural neutralizers,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

6 comments:

Mark Greig said...

This has long been one of my favourite episodes but thanks to Matt Stone and Trey Parker it’s now almost impossible for me to take it the least bit seriously (“You like the planetarium, Captain Kirk. To not like the planetarium cause you incredible pain, incredible pain!).

Remco said...

Haha! I didn't even make that connection!

I really liked this episode. In fact, this may be the best episode since the unaired pilot. It pretty much established Star Trek's near-utopian society. And, as noted, it had a genuinely interesting scifi what-if scenario. What if we could cure crime? A 'cerebral' episode that stands the test of time much better than those 60s action adventures.

Anonymous said...

this is also the first time , at 18:00 minutes in, that Kirk clearly checks out a rack.

Anonymous said...

oops, 17:00 sry

tinkapuss said...

One of my all-time favourite episodes. Not sure why but I just love it.

David Miller said...

Another fine review, Billie and Bob. Remember: context is everything. When this episode was written, how the mentally ill was being treated was a hot button issue in America. And since science fiction is always commenting on the present (not the future) that's probably why you're experiencing the contradictions in the perfect Star Fleet future.