Monday, July 30, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 9 (Dagger of the Mind)

Simon van Gelder is very eager to leave the Tantalus penal colony.  He pulls what amounts to hiding in the laundry cart and winds up in the Enterprise transporter room, but is eventually captured.  When the ship contacts the colony, Dr. Tristan Adams informs Captain Kirk that van Gelder isn’t an inmate; he’s a doctor there.

As you might imagine, it’s all very suspicious, which leads Kirk to beam down with Helen Noel, who has a background in psychiatry.  (The two had met during the ship’s Christmas party, of all places.  Go figure.)   It’s all very easily explained by Dr. Adams.  Tantalus has a mind-altering device.  If one simply sits back in the chair, the machine makes the person very susceptible to suggestion.  Adams implants in Kirk unyielding desire for Noel.

We get a very interesting plot twist in that Dr. van Gelder, who would seem to be the antagonist, is actually the protagonist.  Dr. Adams, who would seem to be the good guy, is actually running less-than-ethical experiments on the patients.  Leave it to Kirk and the Enterprise to save the day.

The episode’s strong suit here is the acting.  The way Morgan Woodward portrays van Gelder, you’d think he had really gone off the deep end.  Many of the other people at the colony do seem just off enough that you know something is wrong, but it’s not overdone.  (Well, maybe a little.  This is the original series.)

I thought that the plot was a little lacking.  The episode shows a doctor running experiments that he shouldn’t.  I felt like the episode was a little weak on trying to make it a teachable moment.  It’s almost like it’s just saying, “Here’s someone doing something bad.  What a shame.”  Yes, we know that altering someone’s mind is bad.  I didn’t feel like there was any attempt to mitigate or expound upon that.  You could argue that people are being made better members of society, but that it’s still making someone act against their will.

I suppose that may be the reason the colony was named Tantalus.  In Greek myth, Tantalus was punished by having food and water always out of reach.  I suppose that it would have been too obvious to name one of the doctors Tantalus.  Maybe the moral is that a true cure for psychological problems will always be just beyond our grasp.

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