Star Trek Review: TOS – Dagger of the Mind (1×09)

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Where there is no emotion, there is no motive for violence.

By my reckoning, this may well be the first episode we’ve got that actually is something approaching utopian. Or, sort of, anyway.

The idea of how prisons would work in a utopia like the federation is actually quite an interesting one, when you think about it; presumably the focus would very much be on rehabilitation, rather than punishment. (The three main potential aims of a prison being rehabilitation, retribution, and restraint.) Equally, of course, one might argue that you wouldn’t really commit crimes in a utopia, surely, so why do they even have prisons? It’s such an interesting question because prisons are, I suppose, actually sort of an important facet of society, so when you’re talking about a new society, that throws up lots of intriguing points and questions. Moreso, really, when it’s a perfect society – what is the perfect prison like?

Admittedly, the way we handle this isn’t quite dedicated to answering those questions. It’s becoming a bit of a theme with Star Trek, I realise, where interesting questions are being thrown up essentially as a backdrop to normal television stories. This episode here is basically a thriller; the questions of how prisons should and do work are more or less left largely unanswered. Thinking about it, then, I suppose I may well have stumbled upon another of the reasons why Star Trek ended up so popular – it posed all of these questions which would capture one’s imagination, but largely left the answers up to the viewer. To be presented with a world that is, essentially, very much your own is quite powerful, and that’s going to lead it to resonate with a fairly large number of individuals; in many ways that’s perhaps going to help people skip over the less desirable parts, because they can more easily focus on the aspects that are their own.

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Helen Noel I think is worth commenting on. I actually counted this, interestingly, and the moment she’s introduced with the “da-dah” music and the camera zoom is about 20 minutes in; this is the same time Miri yesterday, and while I’m not certain, I wouldn’t be surprised if the same was true of Andrea and Mudd’s eponymous Women. So it seems that the sex appeal aspect is quite cynically positioned in these episodes (or I’m drawing more of a connection than actually exists).

Still, what I have realised is that I can’t make a point of it every time I see something I consider somewhat sexist or male gaze-y in these episodes, because otherwise I would be writing about it every single time. And there’s a value in that, don’t get me wrong; a deconstruction of the male gaze in Star Trek would probably be a really fascinating thing to read, if you’ve got suitably niche interests as myself. But it’s also not something that I would feel comfortable writing, or indeed competent enough to write; for now, these vaguely meandering and infrequently insightful little commentaries are probably the best I can manage. For now, though, I think I’m going to have to gradually begin to ignore that sort of thing; sadly, it’s just part of the fabric of the episodes. Short of outright rape apologia (again), I’ll likely just let it go. Unless it particularly aggravates me, I suppose.

So, even though she’s introduced in a very male gaze-y way, is Helen Noel a sexist caricature? As written, you could perhaps make the case that she is; there’s all the science Christmas party stuff (which I admittedly found hilarious) and the fact that she uses the neuralyzer to brainwash Kirk into loving her. However, I think they just about get away with it because Marianne Hill plays the role with a sort of… knowing sarcasm, I suppose. It comes across as quite self-aware, and often her comments to Kirk read as more playful and teasing than wistful and desperate; I think you can reasonably justify reading her as a character, rather than a caricature. It’s also quite important to note that, in the end, she plays quite an important part in saving the day – complete with ventilation shaft crawl! I must admit, I love ventilation shaft sequences. They’re classics. So, you know. That’ll do.

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Something I appreciated about this episode was the dual focus on Spock and Bones, as well as Kirk and Dr Noel. I’ve spoken in the past about how I think these episodes need a B plot of sorts to try and fill the runtime, and I reckon this episode is a very good example of that; while Kirk and Dr Noel are working to solve the mystery on the surface, you’ve got Spock and Bones working to solve the same mystery from the Enterprise.

It was nice to see the pair of the working together, actually, because thus far I think that’s been a little rare; with this episode you can begin to see the development of that aspect of the Kirk/Spock/Bones trio which is so well known. It doesn’t really work unless it is a trio, to my mind; you need to be able to see that Spock and Bones are friends, just as much as Kirk and Spock or Kirk and Bones. (You can sort of see how they struggled with that in Star Trek (2009) and Into Darkness, only getting it right with Star Trek Beyond.)

Notably, we’ve also got the first appearance of the Vulcan mind meld, which will obviously go on to be a staple of Star Trek for years to come; it’s interesting, I think, to see that we’re already getting that sort of “Spock is special” vibe, which obviously develops further as he increasingly becomes a fan favourite character, ahead of all others.

In the end, then, Dagger of the Mind is a decent episode. Another one which is quite entertaining, and though nothing special, it still stands up reasonably well even now.

7/10

Related:

Star Trek: The Original Series reviews

Star Trek: Discovery reviews

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