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

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Star Trek Review: TOS – The Enemy Within (1×05)

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We have here an unusual opportunity to appraise the human mind, or to examine, in Earth terms, the roles of good and evil in a man.

Someone described this as “Jungian” on IMDb, and while I’d never claim to have the best understanding of Jung’s works, it feels like a pretty simplistic reading of his philosophies to apply them to this episode.

Because this is a quite a simplistic episode. It’s a reasonably well structured, albeit quite basic, run around of an episode; it’d be largely forgettable and essentially forgivable were it not for one fundamental flaw, which I imagine would be rather easy to guess for those who have been following my blog for a while. More on that later, though. Typically, I like to at least start these reviews with something positive, because I think it’s nice to find something positive in everything, and I do think it’s worth questioning whether or not the episode is entirely irredeemable. If nothing else, to try and find the positive will help me to figure out just what my opinion is.

It’s a step in the right direction in terms of the pacing and structure; I mentioned yesterday that Star Trek episodes have been struggling with this, but I think that The Enemy Within does a rather decent job of making sure that the episode fills its runtime reasonably effectively. Thankfully, as soon as the other Kirk is revealed, he does start getting on and doing things; this isn’t another Charlie X situation where we reveal the threat and then kinda just do nothing for half an hour. Here, at least, things are happening. You’ve even got the secondary plot with Sulu on the ground, although admittedly it’s used more to add tension to the rest of the episode as opposed to being explored in its own right. Still, though – it starts out as reasonably effective television.

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You can perhaps make the argument, to an extent, that it’s a good episode for the characters. To an extent it perhaps is; I think we got a much fuller view of Sulu here than we have previously, which I certainly appreciated. I’m becoming increasingly fond of Sulu, actually – quite possibly I may have a new favourite here. It’s also interesting to see Spock and McCoy’s different command styles, and their different suggestions to Kirk for dealing with the problem.

(I can’t help but feel, admittedly, there was a much easier solution to any problem – Kirk should have been confined to quarters, with Spock temporarily assuming command. Presumably there would have been medical reasons for McCoy to relieve Kirk, and it would have been a lot easier to handle the other Kirk if they didn’t both keep getting in each other’s way.)

As for the plot itself? Well, it was alright. Again, rather unsubtle, but equally, it’s one of the first episodes we’ve had that is trying to do something that comes from within the concept. This sort of transporter malfunction idea isn’t really the sort of option they’d have on a traditional naval show, and perhaps plaudits are deserved for that.

Of course, it would have been better with Spock, obviously. To separate him into the human and Vulcan sides of his character would have been a far superior episode to this one; it would have allowed for a very interesting exploration of his character, for one thing, but also I think would have prompted a more nuanced examination of those aforementioned Jungian ideas. Although having said that, it’s possible that we would have ended up with something broadly similar, so perhaps it wouldn’t have been a huge improvement.

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The episode’s main problem, you see, is the rather reductive view of good and evil put forth, as well as the fact that, because they need to link Kirk back up at the end, The Enemy Within has to argue the necessity of evil.

Which would be all well and good if the other Kirk hadn’t tried to rape Janice Rand.

There’s no other way to put that, I’m afraid, because that’s exactly what it is. It’s quite horrific, frankly; other Kirk is trying to overpower her, she’s cowering, hiding behind furniture, all of that. It becomes worse later on in the… almost the interrogation scene, I suppose, where “good” Kirk, Spock and McCoy are talking to Janice about the incident. It’s deeply uncomfortable, really; Janice is quite shaken about the event, and you end up getting some quite disturbing moments. Hell, we’ve even got a line where Janice says she “wouldn’t even have reported it”, had it not been for the other crewmember seeing it too. Shatner really misjudges one of his lines, to be honest; the moment where he says “look at me” should have been gentle and reassuring, but rather he delivers it as being more stern and commanding. Had it been any other line of Captain-ly dialogue, that may well have worked, but it’s totally unsuited for the situation here. Not only is Janice Rand nearly raped, Kirk makes it all about himself, and his own confusion around the event – she even apologises to him at the end!

(It’s far worse to see this when you remember that Grace Lee Whitney, who played Janice Rand, would later be sexually assaulted by a Star Trek executive producer; possibly, although not necessarily, Gene Roddenberry himself. There’s an even more insidious tone to it – the distinct feeling that actually, this isn’t quite fictional.)

It is, to be honest, a rather disgusting thing to have come out of Star Trek, and it feeds into a general trend I’ve noticed with Janice Rand as a character; presumably by virtue of her being a pretty blonde, she’s on the receiving end of a lot of sexism and misogyny. It was bad enough in Charlie X, but this is on quite another level – it’s treated as such a normal thing, even something for Janice to just sort of get over; at the end, after all, it’s just brushed off. Not only brushed off, it’s played for a bloody laugh – Spock makes a joke about it! Spock! Christ.

For all that we tout Star Trek as being a glimpse into a utopian future, a series that was made by a group of visionaries, it’s at times quite blatantly not. Because this is an episode that posits that it’s okay for the lead character to try and rape another character (who was, let’s not forget, at this time considered the romantic lead of the show), being made by a group of people who presumably saw no issue with what they were doing.

You know what? It doesn’t matter if this is well made, or better structured that the prior episodes. Those minor positives do not outweigh the huge negatives. This is an episode that deserves to struck off the record – not just quietly forgotten, but actively disowned.

0/10

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Star Trek: Discovery reviews

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