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Recap / Star Trek S1 E9 "Dagger of the Mind"

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Spock and Van Gelder share the very first Mind Meld.

Original air date: November 3, 1966

The Enterprise is delivering some huge ass bottles of drugs to the Tantalus Penal Colony. (Wonder where they got big enough cotton balls?) They also pick up a box marked "Do Not Open" and addressed to "Bureau of Penology, Stockholm, Eurasia-NE". Not sure what it was supposed to be holding, but it is soon revealed to be holding a crazy old man who knows karate!

Said crazy old man is at first believed to be an escaped inmate from Tantalus, but it's discovered that he's actually Simon Van Gelder, one of the doctors. Dr. Adams tells Kirk that Dr. Van Gelder pulled a Professor Guinea Pig while working on a device called the Neural Neutralizer, losing his mind in the process. And would he kindly return him? Bones tells Kirk he smells a rat. Kirk gives Adams some B.S. about how they can't due to some red tape. Adams good naturedly accepts this and cordially invites Kirk down for a visit. Kirk takes him up on this. Bones suggests Kirk take a psychological expert with him. He recommends Dr. Noel. It seems Kirk and Dr. Helen Noel have met before. Apparently, even in the future office Christmas parties can get out of hand...

This episode is also known as "The One That Got Parodied Off By South Park".

Tropes of the Mind:

  • Above the Influence: Zigzagged; when Kirk tells Helen to give him a fake memory, she chooses one where he sweeps Helen off her feet after the Christmas party regardless of what the crew might think. However even in this fantasy she accepts that Kirk doesn't genuinely love her, and is horrified when Dr Adams implants the suggestion in Kirk's mind.
  • Action Survivor: Dr Helen Noel doesn't have the skills to fight security mooks and sabotage power circuits, but she saves the day anyway. In fact, she's the first (and possibly only) Starfleet woman in TOS to straight-up kill someone.
  • Agony Beam: There's a Mind Rape machine that looks like a sun lamp shining on a hair-salon chair. The subject isn't even strapped in, implying that the beam is so intense that no such restraint is typically necessary. Kirk however is so strong-willed (a trait established in several other episodes) that twice he is able to get out of the chair.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: Helen is sent down the air shaft because she'll fit more easily. It appears big enough for Kirk too, but he's hauled off by the guards for further experimentation so it's up to her anyway.
  • Arc Symbol: The logo on Dr. Adams' boiler suit and that of his "helpers" is a hand freeing (or crushing?) a dove under a stylized sun. (We'll see it again in "Whom Gods Destroy.") Or is that "sun" actually the round, flashy light of the Neural Neutralizer?
  • Artistic Licence – Geography: Stockholm's position in Eurasia is clearly to the north-west (NW), not the north-east. (Northeastern Eurasia is basically Siberia.) It is in Northeastern Europe, however.
  • Big Damn Kiss: Kirk plants a Smooch of Victory on Noel. She reluctantly tells him that he was only hypnotized to think he was in love with her.
  • Big Electric Switch: A red double-handed switch is used to shut off the power to the facility, including the security force field. Good thing too, as Helen might not otherwise have known how to Cut the Juice. After he arrives, Spock disables the forcefield by breaking into a circuit box and flicks off a row of switches, then flips the Big Red Switch back on to restore power elsewhere.
  • Big "NO!": When Dr. Van Gelder tries to warn Kirk against staying on Tantalus.
  • Bothering by the Book: Bones does this to force Kirk to investigate what's going on at the Tantalus colony, as Kirk feels it's Someone Else's Problem. Fortunately Kirk is more amused than upset.
  • Bridal Carry: Noel induces an Imagine Spot for Kirk suggesting that he carried her into his quarters this way.
  • Broken Ace: Van Gelder. Perhaps Adams to a degree.
  • Can't Argue with Elves: Spock finds it interesting that "Your Earth people glorify organized violence for forty centuries, but you imprison those who employ it privately." Even Bones has no come back for that.
  • Cat Scare: Aware there's an escaped prisoner on the loose, Kirk and Bones flinch when the turbolift opens behind them only to admit a Red Shirt who takes up position by the door. Which leaves him in an excellent position to be knocked unconscious when a phaser-wielding maniac charges through the turbolift door later on.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The forcefield that prevents beaming in the opening scene becomes a plot point when Kirk and Helen's lives are in danger.
  • Creepy Monotone: Lethe. "I love my work."
  • Critical Psychoanalysis Failure: Dr. Adams turns the tables on the institution's supervisor, turning him into a neurotic wreck who hands the keys over to the patient. And that's just the start...
  • Cut Phone Lines: When Dr Adams forces Kirk to hand over his communicator, Kirk tries to call for help instead, but the forcefield prevents his signal going through.
  • Description Cut:
    • "This is a potentially violent case." Cut to crewman Mugged for Disguise.
    • Van Gelder is raving about the neural neutralizer — cut to Adams explaining the device, which he dismisses as a harmless failure.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: For some reason, Kirk tells Spock, who appears to be at the science station, to "take us out of here, warp factor one."
  • Emotions vs. Stoicism: Spock says "Where there is no emotion, there is no motive for violence."
  • Empty Shell: Adams uses the Neural Neutralizer to render people into mindless servants.
    Van Gelder: He can reshape any mind he chooses. He used it to erase our memories, put his own thoughts there. He was surprised it took so much power. We fought him, remember? But we grew so tired, our minds so blank, so open, that any thought he placed there became our thoughts. Our minds so empty like a sponge, needing thoughts, begging. Empty. Loneliness. So lonely to be sitting there empty, wanting any word from him.
  • Expository Pronoun: Van Gelder and Spock both refer to themselves as "we" during the mind meld.
  • Expy: The Neural Neutralizer works a lot like The Ludovico Technique from A Clockwork Orange.
  • Fake Memories: Adams can empty a person's mind and implant new memories or attitudes there. Needless to say such a technique can be used not only to remove traumatic memories that lead to crime or mental illness, but also to adjust a prisoners' personality or memory according to Adams' whim.
  • Famed In-Story: Kirk is an admirer of Dr Adams who has revolutionised the penal system, though he's never met the man. To his credit when investigating Bones suspicions, Kirk maintains a proper level of skepticism even though Helen shares this admiration.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Adams seems so charming and polite at first. He makes a toast to "love and warmth", but it's only a Mask of Sanity.
  • Freak Out: Dr. Van Gelder has the mother of them all. Screaming, raving, crazy eyes, violent outbursts. He shouts "I am not a criminal!" Incidentally, the actor needed a four-day reprieve after this emotionally-taxing role.
  • Gilded Cage: Kirk points out to Bones that modern mental institutions may as well be vacation resorts. Bones replies "A cage is a cage, Jim."
  • Girl of the Week: Dr. Helen Noel. She was one In-Universe too, as the captain had an after-party fling with her that he hasn't followed up on.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: The fate of Dr. Adams, who is alone in the brainwashing room when the power is suddenly turned on again. The lack of any mental stimulation at all—because there's no-one manning the console—makes his brain shut down completely.
  • Heroic Willpower: Kirk apparently has this or something similar, judging by Adams' comment about the strength used on him without effect having broken down Van Gelder.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Adams has his mind emptied by his Neural Neutralizer when it comes back on at full intensity without anyone at the controls to give him instructions.
  • Human Mail: Van Gelder, though he's wearing a breathing mask while in the crate.
  • I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder: Dr Noel knows nothing about hyper-voltage power circuits as she's not an engineer. Though the line is not delivered straight as the Trope Namer is not present.
  • It's the Only Way
    • Van Gelder urges Spock to proceed with the mind meld, despite being warned that it could be dangerous for a human. He knows it's the only way to reveal the truth, since every time he tries to just say what happened, he experiences terrible pain.
    • Realising that Dr Adams is hardly going to tell him the truth if there is something wrong with the neutralizer, Kirk decides to try it out on himself.
    • Kirk sends Helen down the air shaft to Cut the Juice even though she knows nothing about megavoltage power systems and could get killed short-circuiting the wrong wire. She decides that anything is better than waiting to be treated by Dr Adams.
  • Karmic Death: Adams dies by having his mind completely wiped by the same machine that he used on Van Gelder and Kirk.
  • Kissing Under the Influence: While something happened in the past with Dr. Noel, Kirk only kisses her now because the suggestion was planted within his mind by the device.
  • Literary Allusion Title: From Macbeth: "Or art thou but a dagger of the mind, a false creation proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?"
  • The Ludovico Technique: The moment Kirk leaves the room after discussing the neural neutralizer, the operator cranks up the intensity and tells the inmate inside that he must forget everything that he's heard, or he will experience intense pain the more he tries to remember it. This technique was used on Van Gelder, as we see him cringing in agony every time he tries to remember his name or what was done to him.
  • Mad Doctor: Dr. Tristan Adams went a little too happy with his machine for rehabilitating mental patients.
    • Van Gelder at first, who is trying to battle his own psychological damage to warn Kirk and the crew of what's going on down on the planet below.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: Dr. Helen Noel is one of the Enterprise's psychiatrists. So, why isn't Bones assisted by any of them for the puzzling case of Van Gelder?
  • Male Gaze: The audience gets a nice look at Helen's cleavage as she's crawling down the air vent.
  • The McCoy: Helen takes on this role while down on the colony, while Kirk takes on a more detached, questioning persona in response.
  • Meaningful Name: Lethe is the name of the river of forgetfulness in Greek myth. Tantalus was sent to Tartarus for murdering his son and punished by being never allowed to eat or drink. And isn't it funny that the girl Kirk met at a Christmas party was named "Noel"?
  • Mental Fusion: Spock mind-melds with Van Gelder to pick information from his troubled mind.
  • Mind-Control Device: A "hospital" basically zombifies people with a hypno-spinny-thingy. Trying to remember what happened to you, let alone tell others, causes increasing pain and eventually death.
  • Mind Meld: Bones insists that Spock use "an ancient Vulcan technique" to look into Van Gelder's mind and get to the truth. Spock is reluctant to try a meld because it's a very private matter to the Vulcan race. Furthermore he has never used it on a human before and it could be dangerous — ironic when considering its casual use in later years.
  • More Hypnotizable Than He Thinks:
    • When Kirk tries out the Neural Neutralizer, he has no idea he blanked out for a second when it was turned on until Noel tells him.
    • When Spock is about to start the mind meld, he assures Bones that it's not hypnotism and he won't be affected just by observing.
  • Mugged for Disguise: Dr. Van Gelder knocks out a Red Shirt and steals his jumpsuit in an attempt to fit in. It doesn't work for long because he's wearing an Engineering uniform in the wrong area of the ship, and so is spotted during the security alert when everyone else has gone to their stations.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Kirk decides to secretly try out the neutraliser himself. This turns out to be a mistake as Dr Adams catches him there and decides to use it for real.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Spock rushes to Kirk's rescue without even waiting for a security team, and is not impressed to find him smooching one of his own officers.
  • Pen Name: Writer S. Bar-David is a pen name for Shimon Wincelberg. He incorporated several references to Jewish parables into the screenplay.
  • Pressure Point:
    • Dr. Van Gelder is felled by Spock applying the Vulcan neck pinch. Averted earlier when Gelder karate-chops the transporter crewman, and Kirk later chops a mook.
    • Rather than a purely-telepathic act as portrayed in later years, the Vulcan mind-meld seems a lot more complex. It initially involves Spock manipulating pressure points on Gelder's face to affect his nerves and blood vessels, to induce a relaxed state susceptible to a Mental Fusion. He tells Van Gelder he should feel a strange euphoria and a floating sensation.
  • Professor Guinea Pig: Invoked to explain Van Gelder's condition; however Bones refuses to believe this explanation and demands that Kirk investigates the matter.
  • Psycho Psychologist: Dr. Tristan Adams
  • Red Shirts: They get off easy in this ep. Two get karate chopped, one gets put in a chokehold until he passes out. It's possible that Dr. Van Gelder wasn't far gone enough to murder and just knocked them out for a while.
  • Shmuck Bait: Dr Adams adopts a concerned, friendly persona to allay Kirk's suspicions, even letting him keep his phaser when Kirk was about to hand it over as per regulations.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: The title comes from the soliloquy of Macbeth ("A dagger of the mind, a false creation").
  • Silent Snarker: The face Spock makes when Noel and Kirk say hello and he realizes he's meeting yet another of his Captain's exes. Which is nothing to his reaction when he bursts into the asylum, phaser at the ready, only to find Kirk planting a kiss on her (although that last wasn't exactly Kirk's fault).
  • Stab the Scorpion: Helen backs off in alarm as a Brainwashed and Crazy Kirk advances towards her. Turns out he's actually spotted the air vent she's standing in front of.
  • Suggestive Collision: When the elevator drops faster than expected, Kirk and Helen Security Cling.
  • Teleport Interdiction: The Tantalus penal colony has a security force field which must be deactivated to allow beaming up or down. The Red Shirt gets teased for forgetting that.
  • Tested on Humans: Dr Adams is delighted at having had two 'normal' subjects (Kirk and Van Gelder) to test his machine on.
  • That Woman Is Dead: Lethe's response when asked What Are You in For? The real reason would be she could not recall her original life thanks to being brainwashed.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Spock gets a rare heroic example when he turns on the power, with no way of knowing that it would also turn on the mind control machine with the villain of the week still inside.
  • What Did You Expect When You Named It ____?: Tantalus Penal Colony, because why wouldn't you name your mental hospital after a Classical Mythology figure who's most famous for being subjected to everlasting torment. To be fair, it's the name of the planet, but why did they call the planet that in the first place?
  • What the Hell, Hero?: With Van Gelder safely Strapped to an Operating Table, Kirk just wants to dump him back on the penal colony while Bones wants to study his medical condition. Van Gelder tells them both off for their attitude.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: After being pulled away from the high-voltage power control, Noel mimes the classic "swooning damsel" pose. When the orderly moves to apprehend her, she kicks him into the live wires with both feet.
  • The X of Y: The "Dagger of the Mind".