Captain's Blog pt. 81: Dagger of the Mind

November 3rd, 1966.
Title: (2) From Macbeth: "...art thou but a dagger of the mind, a false creation proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?" Great line, and I love the expression itself. Is it the best fit for the story we get? Probably not. But it's a great title.

Script: (4.5) It's not that the script is bad. There are some fun mythological references (ex: the river Lethe, which causes forgetfulness) and some fun lines (ex: "It's hard to believe a man could die of loneliness." "Not when you've sat in that room." Is that over the top? Wonderfully so.) And even some fun wordplay such as Helen's surname "Noel" recalling her tryst with the Captain at the previous year's Christmas Party.

What sinks this one, mainly, is that it turns on the relationship between Kirk and Helen. Which doesn't quite work, because do we really believe Helen is the dagger of Kirk's mind, the splinter in his mind's eye? If the episode is meant to warn us of the dangers of repressed desire, it misses its mark.

"It's no wonder he's having delusions."
It was originally written for Yeoman Rand, which makes much more sense. If you swap in Rand for Helen, the whole thing goes from a 4.5 to a 7 or a 8, because then it's a character-dynamics-of-the-lead worldbuilding sort of deal.

Without it, though,or more to the point without ever hearing anything about Helen Noel before or after, meh.
 It's difficult to believe this suppressed memory has had the effect on Kirk it must for the story/ consequences to have any power.
Such a neither before nor since thing is not impossible. "City on the Edge of Forever" or even "The Paradise Syndrome" demonstrates that pretty well, I think.

The themes (6) are a bit more compelling, but mainly for the things they bring to mind rather than anything comprehensively explored.

Plenty of 60s anxiety throughout the episode, not just in regard to new treatments we might not understand,
but for things like Scientology, Moonies or LSD cults.
It's an anxiety common to much of the sci-fi (non-sci-fi, too) of the period. Enter: The Neural Neutralizer.

"Such agony to be empty."
I'm kind of a sucker for anything that features a brainwashing chair.

It's worth remembering the first whispers of MK-ULTRA and other nefarious mind control projects were beginning to appear in the mid-60s. Dr. Adams is probably based on Dr. Ewen Cameron. Or a mix of him and L. Ron Hubbard. Either/or.

 Visual Design: (2.25) The lighting and use of shadow in this episode is particularly cool.

Guest: (3) First up:

She's primarily known for her role as Fredo Corleone's wife (the one flipping out at the beginning of The Godfather 2)

but she appears throughout 60s and 70s tv.
Such as Batman. I had no idea of the overlap between Trek and Batman until I started doing these.

There are more than a few shots of Dr. Noel where it's tough to tell if they're just gratuitous or if the Starfleet ladies' uniform is just not meant for certain angles. (Designed especially for certain angles, which is probably more accurate.) Maybe a little from column A, a little from column B.

Morgan Woodward plays Simon Van Geller aka

"My name is... UCCKK!"
There are a couple of pockmarked flipping-out guest-star performances I really can't stand in TOS. (Mainly Richard Webber's as Finney and William Windom's as Matt Decker) and this probably should be one of them. But I'll give Freeman props for throwing himself into the role with Shatner-level exertion.

The role so physically and emotionally exhausted him that he had to rest for four days after filming.
He's probably better known for playing The Man with No Eyes in Cool Hand Luke or The Boss in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.
Great, great movie.
James Gregory plays the villainous Dr. Tristan Adams. Interesting brainwash connection here to The Manchurian Candidate, where he played Senator Iselin:

Yet another propaganda hit piece on Joe McCarthy.
Internal Logistics: (.5) Okay, so this has to be one of the flimsiest things they ever tried to put by me:

I don't even know where to begin. From the info stamped on the outside to the unsecured flip-top to the lack of scanning / realization they were beaming up a human... much less an escaped inmate from a lunatic asylum. the beginning of Halloween would have been much more effective, I think.
Which I can't find a picture of, so here's a different one. But you know what I mean: the whole Do they just let them walk around? bit, before Michael Myers' escape. That would've made a way better (not to mention much, much more logical) pre-credits sequence for this episode.
Does it strike anyone else as weird that the Enterprise would have a Christmas party?

Moreso than many, this episode just does not feel like the 23rd century.

Kirk and the Gang: (20) Shatner's antics in the brainwash chair are of course a highlight. How could they not be?

His strained "Kirk... to Enterprise..." before he breaks down into sobs should be in the Smithosnian.
You should all be well familiar with this one-two move by now.

There are some cool shots of Bones and Spock.

First appearance of the mind-meld in this episode, though how it's conveyed and described in this episode is different than anywhere else in the series and beyond. Why isn't this in Internal Logistics? Because I don't really care.
Memorability: (3) Writes Torie Atkinson: "Lethe has not chosen to abandon her violent past, she has been forced to, and in the process forced to abandon herself. Eliminating that moral choice amounts to dehumanization, not reformation—one must choose to change, and not simply be forced to behave differently. Both treatments leave the victim with a powerlessness that’s darkly monstrous, and criminal in and of itself. Creepy stuff. Love it."

Total Points Awarded: 41.25


  1. I'd have to agree on the subject of the Christmas party. Although...given the extent to which it remains a hugely popular holiday even in secular quarters, I can wrap my head around the idea of the holiday still being a thing in the 23rd century. I'm also tempted to suggest that it's an act of subterfuge by Roddenberry and company: they toss in a reference to a Christmas party so that when some executive gets hot and bothered about anti-religious sentiment in some future episode, all Gene has to do is point to "Dagger of the Mind" and say, "But, Christmas...!" (I've got my suspicions that that is also why Christmas is mentioned so frequently in the Harry Potter books.)

    Marianna Hill is really good here, but damn it, I wish Grace Lee Whitney had been able to stay on the show. Ever since it got pointed out to me that a great many first-season episodes were obviously written with Rand in mind, I've been sort of obsessed by that dead-too-soon version of the series. Somebody needs to put me in charge of the next reboot; I'll rectify this Rand situation, and right quick, too.

    I find the various Van Geller scenes difficult to watch. I don't mind seeing a dude turn himself into a sweaty, bug-eyed mess for a movie -- for example, the screencap of Arnold from "Total Recall" is delightful -- but that CAN be taken too far, and for me, this one goes a little too far. It's convincing. A little TOO convincing, you know?

    It's a good episode, but it's kind of obvious that it was written during a time when they were still figuring the series out. Not that that bothers me all that much; it kind of makes it all the more interesting, in a way.

    1. That's a fine suggestion about Christmas. I'll take it! Makes a lot of sense for the Harry Potter books, especially.