STAR TREK (TOS): DAGGER OF THE MIND: A Cage is a Cage

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“DAGGER OF THE MIND”
Season 1, Episode 9 (Production 11), Story 9
Written by S. Bar-David; Directed by Vincent McEveety
PLOT: A penal colony scientist is brainwashing his patients.
SUBPLOT: Did Kirk hook up with a junior officer at last year’s Christmas party? Wait, the Enterprise has Christmas parties? Please tell me we get to see that in an episode.
KIRKISM: “One of the advantages of being a captain, doctor, is being able to ask for advice without necessarily having to take it.”
HEADER QUOTE SPOKEN BY: McCoy

DAGGER OF THE MIND is like listening to a Greatest Hits album of a band that really shouldn’t be putting out a Greatest Hits album.

Like Warrant. Now, listen, before you die hard Warrant fans write and tell me how much I suck and how Dog Eat Dog is an underrated gem, I’m not saying Warrant doesn’t deserve to put out a Greatest Hits album because they’re lame or derivative or any of that.

I just mean they don’t have all that many hits. And they don’t. Seriously, name me five Warrant songs. 1. “Heaven.” 2. “Cherry Pie.” 3. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” 4. “I Saw Red.” 5 … “Down Boys?”

What’s a hit? “Heaven,” “Cherry Pie,” and “I Saw Red” made the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 and those are the only top 10 hits they had. “Sometimes She Cries” hit #20. “Down Boys” peaked at #27. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” hit #78. Even if you look at just the Mainstream Rock Charts, “Heaven” is the only track to get into the single digits.

Now, I’ll give it up to whoever at Sony decided to call the album The Best of Warrant, which doesn’t outright advertise the comp album as a collection of “hits,” but I’m not talking semantics here. I’m talking about being at a party and someone throws this gem into the playlist. Unless you’re a fan of the band, you’re gonna listen to this album and recognize about 1/3 of the songs (you know, as long as you’re not under the age of 33, in which case you’ll be wondering not only who the hell is Warrant, but what the hell is hair metal*), and when you’re at a party, you want to hear songs you know, not be educated on the finer and darker aspects of Jani Lane’s writing.

*Speaking of being out of touch, here’s an actual quote from today’s Peter King column:

“There is this strange custom called a “Keg Stand” that all kids evidently do now. You stand next to the keg, put both hands on the side of the keg, have two others lift your legs so that you’re upside down, and, at that point, a third person takes the beer nozzle from the keg and puts it in your mouth while you drink it. A fourth person pumps the keg. And everyone counts the seconds you can last. (Dumb me, I didn’t even know what this thing was, and it’s apparently the most common of drinking games.) I didn’t do it, thankfully.”

I love it. Peter King (whatever one thinks of his writing abilities) is the most connected football writer in the country, and he’s never heard of a “keg stand.” Seriously. It’s such a strange and mysterious “custom” that he puts it in quotes. I’m not bagging on King (much), I’m just saying sometimes things slip through the cracks of your existence. King’s a smart guy. He’s knowledgeable. And yet in all of the football games he’s been to, in all of the movies he’s seen, in all of the conversations he’s had, he’s never seen or heard of a keg stand.

So, kids, today’s lesson: a party is a fine place to educate someone about keg stands, but not about Warrant’s lesser known tracks.

Somewhere out there on the reality side of Internet Land, someone is new to this blog and reading this post and wondering where the Star Trek review is. We’ll get there. Sometimes I get bored, and that sometime is usually when I watch a mediocre episode.

Oh, oh, did you see that? That was a transition.

DAGGER OF THE MIND has a few big hits sprinkled throughout a whole lot of filler. It lives on the upper side of the mediocre zone, but it’s much more memorable for its pieces than the whole. On the plus side, we’ve got the first Vulcan mind meld (a really solid sequence that delivers the best tension of the episode), some great (but brief) chemistry between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, ship shrink Helen Noel making Kirk uncomfortable with allusions to a shared moment at last year’s Christmas party, and Kirk writhing around in a big dentist’s chair as he’s being brainwashed.

What comes between those moments, however, are largely tedious infodumps and speculation.

The episode starts off with a bang, as crazy old dude Simon Van Gelder (played by legendary character actor Morgan Woodward) sneaks aboard the Enterprise inside a big box that’s beamed up from a rehab colony on Tantalus. What’s great is that this opening sequence plays with your expectations a bit. You expect Van Gelder is going to be some masterful escaped criminal that’s going to terrorize the ship, but he’s not. He’s actually captured relatively quickly after seeking asylum, and the crew figures out he’s a Federation doctor who’d been assigned to Tantalus and is now batpoop insane.

McCoy thinks something is wrong and wants Kirk to investigate. Kirk doesn’t really want to, but McCoy procedures him into it by stating he’s going to put it in his report. It’s a great sequence of push and pull between the two men, which Kirk follows up on later when he tells Dr. Tristan Adams (the head of Tantalus), “One of the advantages of being a captain, doctor, is being able to ask for advice without necessarily having to take it.”

McCoy wasn’t giving advice so much as playing things strictly by the book to force Kirk to investigate, and here’s Kirk re-establishing the privileges of captaincy.

McCoy gets Kirk a second time when he sends psychiatrist Dr. Helen Noel down to the planet with Kirk to serve as an expert witness. Noel is a total cutie and she infers that her and Kirk shared some kind of experience at last year’s Christmas party. Kirk’s reaction to her is uncomfortable at best, and he gives the impression that something happened he regrets. The show clearly wants you think they hooked up, but later we learn they didn’t. They just talked but Noel wanted something to happen.

She’s an interesting character in that when it comes to her job, she’s quick to defend Dr. Adams and his methods, standing up resolutely to Kirk’s questioning, but when they’re not doing business she gets a bit smirky and doey-eyes around Kirk. She’s clearly got a thing for him, but she’s not letting it stand in the way of her duties. What’s great about her is that she also clearly enjoys making Kirk squirm and it’s nice to see him nudged out of his command comfort zone.

She even gets to play the action hero. While Kirk keeps undergoing Adams’ brainwiping in the world’s most evil dental chair, Noel goes crawling through the ventilation shafts to turn off Tantalus’ power, which will allow the Enterprise to beam down and save them.

Adams is a total lame-ass as a bad guy. He’s another of these “world famous” scientists that Star Trek keeps tossing at us but he’s like this petty little emperor of a brainwashed city. For what? It’s not like he’s building an army. He’s just a creepy doctor and yeah, absolutely, he should be stopped, but he just seems to get off on building these brainwashed zombies who just wander around.

He catches Kirk in the chair (where Noel was implanting the suggestion that their Christmas night connection saw them taking their night into a bedroom, thus revealing that they hadn’t crossed any lines during the actual event) and starts brainwashing him because … I don’t know. He’s so malicious about it that it’s like he’s forgotten there’s a freaking starship in orbit around his planet who might not take too kindly to their captain coming back as a drooling zombie.

DAGGER is hurt a bit in that it shares more than a few elements with WHAT ARE LITTLE GIRLS MADE OF? from two episodes back, but it’s hurt more by its mystery not having any real teeth and just a generally pedestrian presentation.

Fun fact #1 courtesy of the Memory Alpha Site: Marianna Hill, the actress who played Helen Noel, is cousin to former U.S. General, H. Norman Schwarzkopf.

Fun fact #2 courtesy of the Never Wrong: DAGGER OF THE MIND was parodied by the South Park episode ROGER EBERT SHOULD LAY OFF THE FATTY FOODS.

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One thought on “STAR TREK (TOS): DAGGER OF THE MIND: A Cage is a Cage

  1. I don’t really know what that digression about Warrant was all about, but it was pretty amusing. I prefer the German speed metal Warrant, who never had any hits, but have got balls aplenty.

    Like

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