Mr. Spock, you tell McCoy that she had better check out as the best assistant I ever had.
“Dagger of the Mind” has several solid, effective scenes that, unfortunately, don’t add up to an entirely great episode.
Some of this can be chalked up to the episodic nature of the script. While there is a connective thread that leads from VanGelder stowing away aboard the ship that gets Kirk down on the surface at the colony to see what’s really going on, it doesn’t feel like the stakes are quite as high as usual. What exactly Dr. Tristan Adams is up to on the surface with the Tantalus machine doesn’t seem to have the same immediate threat as we saw with the creation of android duplicates in “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”
The other part of what makes the episode feel a bit awkward is that it’s at a production crossroads for the original series. Original story editor John D.F. Black’s tenure is coming to a close and the series is in the midst of beaming Grace Lee Whitney as Rand off the ship. The elimination of Rand seems a bit more obvious in this episode since it feels like all of Helen Noel’s storyline could work and might have been originally intended for Rand.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a Kirk-defender and while I know the character isn’t “perfect” I still don’t necessarily find the backstory about he and Noel all that credible. According to the script, the two met at the science department holiday party and danced. It never went further than that, though apparently we can infer there was some flirting and some potential feelings for both parties. However, I’m going to assume that Kirk and Noel being professionals they didn’t act on them or take it farther than what we’re told.
So, why the initial awkwardness and reaction in the transporter room?
I think a large part of it is to set up Kirk’s treatment in the field later in the episode. Noel implants the “harmless” suggestion that he’s hungry and then goes on to make it something more that so they’ll know it’s a result of the machine and not just a coincidence. At which point Adams comes in and ratchets things up a degree or two.
Again, what Adams motivation is beyond covering his tracks isn’t necessarily that well spelled out. Why did he test the device on VanGelder in the first place? Kirk clearly has an admiration for the work Adams has done in the past (though why Kirk would be the one to have this and not McCoy doesn’t exactly make sense). I find myself wondering if Adams made some gains in the field of mental health early in his career and was competing with his perceived potential for the rest of his life. I can’t help but think that Adams could have had a better character arc if the story unfolded a bit more like Richard Daystrom’s does in “The Ultimate Computer.”
The tragedy of Adams’ death is one that shouldn’t be overlooked, nor should the irony of it.
The series has attempted to show us what exactly Kirk gives up in order to be in command of his ship several times before now. But I am not sure that implanting the idea of him be willing to throw it all away for someone the audience has just met necessarily works.
Nor am I sure exactly if and how the procedure Adams did was reversed. Since we don’t see Noel again, we can assume that she’s either still doing her job and that she doesn’t cross paths with Kirk that often or that she transferred off the ship soon after this. We’ve seen that the Enterprise is the best cure for Kirk’s “broken heart” and will see it again. I guess we can assume that’s the case here.
I would be remiss is if I didn’t point out the one big bit of Trek lore introduced in this episode, the Vulcan Mind Meld. Watching Leonard Nimoy as Spock melds with VanGelder is a great scene and just a preview of things to come. I also find it ironic that the meld is introduced as an intensely personal thing for Vulcans based on how often we’ll see it used going forward.