Pros: interesting plot, first rate acting, raises serious social issues
Cons: dated special effects, shortest skirt in Star Trek history, slows down in the middle
Dagger of the Mind was the ninth episode aired in the first season of Star Trek in 1966. I remember the title as Daggers with an S, but the Internet Movie Data base (IMDB) lists it as Dagger with no S.
This episode introduces the Vulcan mind meld, which enables Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) to directly share thoughts with others.
The script is credited to Shimon Wencelberg, but a team of writers worked on it. An early draft of the script called for Mr. Spock to hypnotize Van Gelder, but they were told that they must have hypnotism performed by Dr. McCoy, unless they could establish that Mr. Spock had been specifically trained to do this.
Dr. Simon Van Gelder (Morgan Woodward) has developed humane standards and practices in the prison where some of the most insane criminals in the galaxy have been incarcerated. He even uses a machine that works on their brains to cure mental illness. That machine is used as a metaphor for the electro-shock treatments that were commonly given to mental patients who suffered from severe depression. This practice is now severely limited.
Unfortunately, the miracle machine, the neural neutralizer, has been turned into an instrument of torture.
When one of the inmates manages to get loose, he delivers himself to the Enterprise in an escape pod that is supposed to deliver research materials. The man is trying to tell them something, but his speech is blocked by some deep mental anguish that the others can only guess at. He is extremely agitated, but he is unable to explain why.
The escapee turns out to be Dr. Van Gelder himself, and not an inmate of the penal colony. The head of the penal colony, Dr. Tristan Adams (James Gregory), explains that Dr. Van Gelder is suffering from a serious mental disorder and must return to continue his treatment.
Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) senses that something is wrong, so he insists that Captain Kirk (William Shatner) beam down to the Tantalus penal colony to check things out. He enters the incident into his medical log, so regulations require the Captain to investigate. This shows that the doctor has some power over his superior officer.
In order to minimize any distress to the prisoners and their keepers, Kirk takes along only one crew member, Dr. Helen Noel (Marianna Hill)
They are greeted by Dr. Adams, who takes them on a tour of the facility. Kirk shows a great interest in the machine that the doctor uses on the brains of the inmates. When he gets too nosy, the machine is used on Kirk.
Dr. Adams is not what he appears to be. Mentally ill himself, he has been using the machine to control the other prisoners and the staff.
The name of the penal colony, Tantalus, hints at what we will find there. In Greek myth, Tantalus angered the gods, so they punished him in Hades by hanging a bunch of grapes above his head while he stood in a pool of water. If he bent down to drink from the pool, the water flowed away. If he reached up to eat the grapes, they rose higher than he could reach. Thus, he was eternally hungry and thirsty, with food and water just beyond his reach. That is where we get our word tantalize.
This episode raises some serious concerns about how we treat the mentally ill. Are we really trying to help them, or are we simply trying to turn them into model citizens for our own convenience? The mentally ill do not fit into society. They are a nuisance. On the other hand, they are human beings who deserve our sympathy and respect.
Dr. Noel is definitely Kirks love interest, but she does not fall for him. She is a strong, independent professional woman. The two characters do have some history together, and her short skirt does show all of her legs, but the script does not stoop so low as to force her to fall into his arms.
Finally, I do not understand the villains motivation. Yes, Dr. Adams is insane, but why does he want to take over the facility? It would seem more likely that he would want to escape.
In spite of its flaws, this episode is a strong contender for my favorite. However, it simply fails to rise to the level of What Are Little Girls Made Of?
The story starts off strong and then devolves, instead of evolving.
It is still one of the best and well worth watching.
Thank you so much for reading my Epinion!