I have long contested that “Nineteen Eighty-Four” is the finest piece of fiction ever published. It’s a novel that can be attacked in a variety of ways, but everything keeps going back to control. More than anything, the world that Orwell created is one where people are held, watched and examined for every second of their lives, where even rebellion, love and a desire to break free are controlled ideas under the purview of the state.
Although the most memorable part of the work may be near the conclusion when Winston is rehabilitated by O’Brien through his greatest fears, the part that always worked the best for me were much more mundane. I was always interested in how completely Winston could change history by editing pictures, changing text and deleting phrases in books, rearranging memory and leaving behind no trace of error on the part of the government. He reroutes the collective conscious and continuously secures the government’s place at the top, destroying hope, passion and people’s very lives.
Memory is a powerful thing. It’s a marketing device, a form of comfort, a mostly correct diary of our lives and many more things, but it is intrinsically mutable, changing at whims and eroding over time. It makes us uniquely us, but it is considerably harder to hold down or hold onto than any other factor of our personalities.
“Dagger of the Mind” deals with memory and control in a round about way, but it doesn’t seem like that as it begins. While dropping off supplies on the prison planet Tantalus V, an inmate sneaks aboard, knocking out crewmembers and generally trying to make his way to the bridge. He is sedated, and upon study, McCoy comes to the conclusion that the prisoner’s mad babblings about horrible experiments and mind control on the planet may have a seed of truth to them.
Kirk receives word from Dr. Adams, Tantalus’ warden and physician (I think), that the inmate is another doctor who’s experiment went totally wrong and he invites Kirk to come down to the planet to conduct an investigation on the happenings, and in this episode’s no-way-is-he-going-to-fucking-fall-for-that-again moment, he tells Kirk to come without a security detail and with a minimal number of crew members. Being the wily, unbelievably gullible captain that he is, Kirk requests that McCoy give him a psychiatrist as well, and he delivers with Dr. Noel, another beautiful space doctor who had what appears to be a brief fling with Kirk at the Space Christmas Party… in SPACE.
Of course, nothing is quite right on Tantalus V, with prisoners mostly being blank, emotionless blobs, having overly symbolic names, and playing with lasers that burn out memories. Yeah, if you can’t figure out where this is going by now, I don’t think you’ve watched television in a couple decades.
“Dagger of the Mind” isn’t bad and it manages a couple of really great moments that we’ll get to later, but there are some intrinsic problems as soon as we touch down on the planet, the first and greatest of which is Dr. Noel. After looking it up, I found that the woman who played Rand was getting ready to quit the show, and the writers scrambled to cook up foxy leads for Kirk to hit on, but this is such an odd pairing. Noel is initially so critical and antagonistic towards Kirk that I assumed she was a spy or some sort of traitor. It especially doesn’t make sense when she blatantly was flirting with him the scene before. I understand the need to have someone go to the planet with Kirk, but why did it have to be such an odd one that we almost surely will never see again? Much like Nurse Chapel, in “What Are Little Girls Made of?,” Noel really doesn’t bring much of a personality for Kirk to play off of, and he ends up just kind of blank.
The other immediate problem is the threat in the form of Dr. Adams. Adams initially appears to be almost a read herring in the grand tradition of “Scooby Doo.” He’s the only character they meet, and he’s very dismissive of Kirk’s questions, except when he needs to be overly polite and accommodating. So, it’s really no surprise when he starts torturing Kirk and rewriting his memories, but he just doesn’t really click as much of an antagonist. What is his goal in rewriting Kirk’s memories so that he loves Noel? There doesn’t seem like much of a goal, so the stakes are unbelievably low. We see the effects of what the light can do on the escaped doctor on the Enterprise and on the patients on the planet, but without much of a plan in mind, it’s hard to take Adams as much of a real threat to Kirk and his crew. I guess the writers thought that the idea of rewriting memories would be creepy or effective enough and decided to leave it at that, but it just doesn’t really work too well.
The thing is, most of the other stuff in this episode is just fantastic. Shatner does some great work as Kirk is tortured into getting rid of his phaser and communicator as well as when he tries to fight off the new memories. The fight scenes at the end also have a really great sense of “fuck yes,” as Kirk slaps Adams around and escapes the torture chamber. Noel also contributes to what might be the first onscreen death of the series, and there is a real genuine sense of danger to her trying to elude guards and turn off the station’s power.
And then there’s Spock and what I assume to be the fabled Vulcan Mind Meld. It’s really a great suitably weird sequence, with the mad doctor and Spock referring to themselves as “us” and McCoy’s skepticism of the practice. It’s a surreal moment, but it really sets a great counter to the torture scenes.
I feel like the writers had a couple of really great ideas for “Dagger of the Mind,” namely torture, memory wipes, escaped crazed doctors and Vulcan Mind Melds and then realized they had to write a story that put all of these elements together. At times, it almost feels like two episodes instead of one really interesting one. I enjoyed it well enough, but it could have really been so much better.
I spent a lot of time writing jokes about totems, dream levels and “Inception” to myself during this one. In case you were wondering, I am single.
This episode has a really snappy pace, thanks mainly to editing. Cutting back in forth between Kirk’s torture and McCoy and Spock trying to figure out what’s going on as well as conducting the mind meld was a really smart move.
Kirk freaking out in the elevator after they beamed in really bothered me. He said he had experience on penal colonies, I just sort of assumed that meant he wasn’t going to be a total wuss.
Still no Sulu or Scotty. Uhura is back and Rand is gone, seemingly for good. I know these people probably had other responsibilities, but come on.
For fans of space cleavage, this episode continues the grand tradition, when Dr. Noel climbs around in the ventilation shaft. I feel really dirty now.
I didn’t work an “X-Files” reference in this time, but in case you’re curious, the one I was going to use was from “Kill Switch.”
Next Up: “The Corbomite Maneuver” which sounds like an episode of “The Big Bang Theory,” presumably with more Corbomite.