“Dagger of the Mind”
Production Order #11
Airing Order #9
Directed by Vincent McEveety
Written by S. Bar-David
After last week’s fantastic introduction to the Romulans in “Balance of Terror”, the show has some big shoes to fill this week. Now I’m not saying I expect classic episodes and alien races each week, but it would be nice to see the series actually capitalize on momentum for once instead of alternating good to great episodes and duds. I can safely say though; this week broke the trend if not exactly in the way I was hoping for.
I quite like the way the show’s prologue often just shows them going about their general business even if that business seems to be “whatever is needed for the plot” and the fact that I’m still not sure how it all connects to this five year mission that is supposed to be overarching the story. This time they are a glorified cargo ship, exchanging cargo with the penal colony Tantalus V. The colony returns only one package which unsurprisingly contains a man (seriously, if a package says “Classified: Do Not Open” on it and is coming from a penal colony you have to know someone is using that to escape).
The episode feints at another terror of the Enterprise like episode in the vein of “The Enemy Within” but thankfully, the karate chopping, security personal impersonating madman is merely seeing asylum. He’s clearly is clearly suffering from something but nothing McCoy can recognize and is only able to struggle out that his name was Simon, that he was the director of the colony, and eventually that there is an awful room that made him the way he is now. The episode barely hesitates in confirming he was a doctor assigned there under a Dr. Adams and it becomes abundantly clear (if it wasn’t from the second he opened his mouth) how the plot will proceed from here.
McCoy for once is the person coming out on the right side of things with his opinion on prisons (“a cage is a cage”), his suspicions of Dr. Adams, his seeing through Dr. Adams’ manipulations of Kirk, and belief in Simon. Kirk on the other hand admires Dr. Adams and all he’s done for modernizing prisons (though claiming any penal colony is like a resort raises so many red flags) and leaves a compelling topic on how to maintain prisons and prison reform in general on the table. I honestly have no clue how the writers feel on the issue since they only care about it to the extent of propelling the plot forward (by forcing Kirk by protocol to examine the penal colony) and creating a bit of internal conflict which is deemphasized by splitting Kirk and McCoy up for most of the episode.
McCoy would have been a perfect companion for Kirk as he conducted his investigation but instead they introduce a never before seen psychologist, Dr. Noel. I fucking hate the camera and the music clearly playing up the attractiveness of Dr. Noel (along with her connection to Kirk) since that is clearly the most important thing about any female in the cast and this is made worse by Kirk being annoyed that someone he has had relations with (or as it is revealed later merely danced with once) being around him.
The fact that the script keeps having her insist they all call her Helen because no, can’t have a female doctor going around thinking she deserves equal respect just makes me even more annoyed. When they later find out that the therapy encourages burying the past, the episode doesn’t seem to expect us to find this suspicious and instead Dr. Noel insists this is basic stuff, I finally get the real reason she insists on everyone calling her Helen. She clearly got her medical degree from the University of Phoenix. Heck, her constant defense of Dr. Adams (even beyond Kirk’s beliefs and in spite of increasingly suspicious evidence against him) had me believing she was actually a mole or an inevitable betrayer, but nope, she’s just a complete idiot.
Speaking of Dr. Adams, while he appears outwardly helpful and cordial, speaking “honestly” about Simon being a doctor and who he claims experimented on himself, it doesn’t take even half way through the episode to reveal he’s evil and able to reshape any human mind he wishes with a neural neutralizer, a device that we see causing a ton of pain. The episode continues Star Trek’s habit of killing any suspense. If you are going to play up the mystery elements, don’t undercut things by revealing the truth before your characters learn. It may be obvious from the start, but either reveal the answer straight off (Columbo) or hold off until the characters figure things out (most detective stories). Splitting the difference just doesn’t work and we just spend the rest of the episode waiting for Kirk to catch up and for Dr. Adams to inevitably get his comeuppance by having his mind wiped by his own machine.
Spock gets a good dig on McCoy for the human race’s glorifying of criminals and yet locking them up, but his race’s no emotion, no motive for violence gets a surprisingly subtle examination here. It’s a shame there really isn’t any examination of the morality with it instead coming down to simple hypnotism and torture. Once again, it’s like the episode walked right up to the interesting concept of whether curing violent/insane prisoners by removing their emotions is moral or not and instead just gets distracted by the pain it causes them. There’s even a moment where one of the inmates (now working as a therapist) mentions that her crime hardly matters now and the episode instead treats it as a way to skim over the issue of just what got these people committed here.
And that’s all this episode is, some missed opportunities for a deeper examination of prisons and/or psychology and a bunch of characters acting like dopes. TV is usually terrible when it comes to psychology so I can’t blame them for skirting the issue and it’s not like most shows of the era would do anything more with it, but one of the major appeals of sci-fi is the ability to examine issues of the day in fantastical settings. Maybe it’s wrong of me to expect more and but I almost wish the show would either choose to commit to the allegories or avoid them entirely because the noncommittal nature it has so far often just leaves me unsatisfied from both sides.
– Dr. Adams is played by James Gregory of The Manchurian Candidate and Barney Milley (where he played the racist, homophobic jerk Frank Luger).
– Rand was originally set to be Kirk’s accompaniment to the planet but was written out for various reasons. She’d be an even worse and more random pick to go down there than Dr. Noel but it might explain why Dr. Noel was written so poorly considering how much the writers seemed to hate Rand (and because she was not a doctor).
– Like much of Star Trek’s naming conventions, the colony’s name is drawn from history, specifically the Greek mythological figure who like Prometheus with fire, stole ambrosia and nectar from the gods to give to humans. Unlike other occasions though, the name here is more wishful thinking on the part of the doctor as he brings upon torture and not bliss.
– The name of the episode on the other hand is a Shakespearean reference, Macbeth to be exact.
– Why the hell was one of the redshirts wearing something that resembled evening attire?
– Spock seems to be genuinely enjoying the conflict between Kirk and McCoy and the mischievous smirk he gets really betrays that whole lack of emotions thing he supposedly has. It’s too delightful for me to care though and it’s a continuing subtle reminder that thanks to Spock’s human half he does have emotions, they are just extremely repressed/controlled.
– Kirk stupidly experiments on himself with the help Dr. Noel when he believes that the device is being used for evil and I guess that shows a lot of trust in Dr. Noel (who he until that point had been openly distrusting of) but it’s still a huge risk to be performing on the CAPTAIN OF THE SHIP. Of course she then implants in his head that they didn’t just dance and briefly talk at the Christmas Party (Get it? Noel…), but that they did something more revealing her to be nuts as well as a naïve idiot and even more predictably, Dr. Adams catches them and then experiments further on Kirk and forces him to be in pain of longing for her. I don’t care how old hat pointing this stuff out it, I will continue to make fun of the show for how stupid it is.
– We get to see the first Vulcan mind meld as Spock tries it for the first time on a human. I’m not sure how I feel about the introduction of this mysticism but it looks cool and for once we see Spock naturally distressed out of concern for performing a deeply personal and dangerous “procedure” for the first time on a species. Spock alone elevates this episode (again).
Production Order #12
Airing Order #8
Directed by Vincent McEveety
Written by Adrian Spies
Cinema and TV have a long history of creepy kids. Between Children of the Corn, Village of the Damned, The Omen, The Bad Seed, “It’s a Good Life” from The Twilight Zone, etc. it’s clear that one of the easiest form of horror is take something that is typically so innocent and make it evil. Since no sci-fi plot is safe from Star Trek, here’s their take on it, “Miri”.
The episode begins with the discovery of a planet that is an exact duplicate of Earth but is not Earth. In most other stories, this would be the defining plot point. Perhaps a chance for a metaphor or warning about the future of Earth if we don’t change, a bizarro universe, or whatever. Here it is a plot point that they make a big deal about when they discover it only to completely forget about it and never mention it again. It’d be an interesting subversion if it didn’t seem so token. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Rand, and a pair of redshirts beam down to the planet and find a ghost town where no one appears to be alive (there or on the planet), the buildings are decaying, and the distress signal likely automated. It’s a great setup complete with the awesome shot of the decomposing tricycle (seen below) that creates an almost Twilight Zone-like feel to things.
There is a mysterious door closing that no one notices and for a time it seems like the episode is going to go the way of full horror. An old, crazy, disfigured man with the mind of a child runs out and attacks McCoy before being fought off and dying to drive that in more. He’s apparently aged a century in a few minutes you can feel the dread seeping in. They finally find a scared child named Miri who tells of all the animals and such dying along with plenty of other animal like children.
Kirk and everyone aside from Spock (merely a carrier) is revealed to be infected (once again, why are all the most important people on the ship beamed down onto the planet without so much as the smallest bit of protective gear?) with blue spots appearing on them and slowly growing. It’s here that the episode switches focus as they must now figure out to cure it in the next 170 hours. While this seems like a natural point to build on the horror, it’s also where the episode goes off the rails a bit.
The attempts to figure out what happened and how to cure it drive everyone a bit mad which to William Shatner is a perfect time to hilariously chew the scenery. The kids are even worse with all the “bonk bonk” talk and less creepy than probably intended. Hell making me unnerved by kids is an easy mode since I assume all those little devils are conspiring against me as is and with the exception of the scene in the header for this episode where they slowly close in on Kirk (complete with requisite smiling blond girl), they are a complete joke.
The backstory of a virus that in an intentional attempt to stop aging, accidently obliterated all the adults starting with the oldest and takes hold of all of the kids when they inevitably enter puberty is good sci-fi pandemic stuff. The children aging one month for every 100 years, meaning that Miri and the others are at least 300 years old, helps separate the premise from its later ilk such as Gas-s-s-s, City Limits and Between but I feel like this part of the premise is mostly ignored aside from allowing the kids to roam a ruined (though holding up pretty well for 300 years) city and somehow they still have 6-7 months worth of food despite no visible means of production. They must really enjoy the taste of honey.
In the day of trying to redeem McCoy in my eyes, it’s up to him to save the day, creating a treatment for the virus. He even nearly dies testing it on himself when the kids, with the help of a jealous of Rand Miri, steal the communicators which were keeping them in contact with the ship. Granted it looks like all he should have needed to do is create paint thinner since the disease seems to manifest in the form of globs of blue paint, but I appreciate that he is finally finding his role aside from being racist.
I’m not sure I’d call it a good episode and it certainly isn’t a deep one but it did entertain me and had far better pacing than most. The episode feels like it is missing lots of scenes including the discussion of the parallel Earth and the development of Miri as a character as the week they had to fix things flew by. Still, it’s better than its middling reputation would suggest.
– Hey, for once we get episodes that actually aired back to back being reviewed together (albeit in the opposite order) and coincidentally directed by the same man.
– The episode features appearances from Kim Darby (the original True Grit) and the kids of William Shatner, Grace Lee Whitney, and Gene Roddenberry.
– Along with the more obvious comparison to Children of the Corn, “The Wacky Molestation Adventure” episode of South Park clearly reference this episode as well including talk of “the before time” and stealing of the communicators.
– What is “Space Central”? I know it’s referring to Starfleet before that name was normalized but could they have come up with anything lamer?
– Continues the theme of women being creepily into Kirk from the last episode, this time in the form of a child.
– “I never get involved with older women”. Stay creepy Kirk with your jokes. I know she’s 300+ years old but she is still prepubescent in appearance and mindset and that look from Rand where she wanted to slap the shit out of you neatly mirrored my own.
– Rand also reveals that she has been trying to get Kirk to be interested in her for a while now, a plot point the show basically ignores since I think they were afraid to give her another trait besides being scared and being attractive.
– Kirk accidently kills one of the kids with a phaser set to stun and yet this never gets brought up again.
Next Up: On Monday we start a new season of Doctor Who with the “The Tomb of the Cybermen”. Star Trek: TOS returns on a Friday with “The Conscience of the King” and “The Galileo Seven”. Which Friday I’m not sure so check Monday’s Doctor Who for an update on if Star Trek will be running next week or will be taking a brief break (something will likely air in its place) to recharge on the show.