Sunday, April 1, 2018

It Would Be Different If You Cared For Me: Star Trek, Episode 10: "Dagger of the Mind"


It's always a good idea to consider what an episode's title means.  In the case of "dagger of the mind," I don't know that I'd ever given the matter much thought until 2013, when Dog Star Omnibus explained its derivation.  It's from Macbeth, as it turns out; Act II Scene 1, to be specific.  Macbeth sees before him the vision of a dagger:

Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle before my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?
I see thee yet in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.

It's been a long while since I read Macbeth (or, indeed, any Shakespeare; I'm grossly overdue for a reread -- hooray, a new idea for a blog I'll probably never live to write!; but one which would be well worth the doing), so I won't hazard much in the way of interpretation.  I'm content with McMolo's interpretation: that this phrase makes for a great title but is perhaps not really all that useful for the episode to which it has been appended.  He feels that it's Helen Noel who is intended to be the metaphorical dagger of the title; the false love for her engendered in Kirk by the Tantalus device (i.e., the neural neutralizer).

I would add that it could just as easily refer to Helen's misguided feeling that she has a shot with Kirk, or that it also perhaps refers to the general idea that the contents of the mind are a negotiable -- and malleable -- quantity.  (I can't help but think of Poe's exhortation that "All that we see or seem / Is but a dream within a dream.  I'd mistakenly remembered this as also being Shakespeare!)

But what of it?  In the end, I agree with McMolo's stance, which is that the episode is too slight for such a weighty title.  And as such, I don't have a whole heck of a lot to say about it.  I find myself not particularly engaged by this one, so why bother staggering around in the hopes of stumbling over something useful to say?  Seems a waste of time.

That said, I do want to hit two topics.

The first: Dr. Helen Noel herself.

I'm much less interested in writing about the episode than I am in writing about the behind the scenes for the episode, in the hopes that I can find a meaty explanation for how and why the role -- clearly intended at some point to be filled by Grace Lee Whitney's Janice Rand -- ended up being assigned to a guest star.  And I'm perhaps less interested in that than I am in finding out how James Blish dealt with the episode.

That said, I am intrigued by the Kirk / Noel story as presented here.  There's not a huge amount of it, but it's arguably the most memorable aspect of the episode.  Whether that is due to the storytelling or to the admirable bosom of guest star Marianne Hill, I cannot immediately say.  That's why I'm writing this, ya kennit?  To figure that out.

And I think it took me only asking myself to question to realize the answer: it's the bosom.  Not merely the bosom, of course, but the physical beauty of Marianne Hill overall.  I hope I'll not be viewed as a victimizer of some sort in admitting that.  My feeling on the subject is this: nature produces relatively few women who are as stunningly gorgeous as Marianne Hill.  It's a sin not to sing their praises.  One hopes one can manage to not come off like a complete skeeveoid in thus singing, of course; and I think I'm able to stay on the correct side of that equation.

As for the character herself, she's okay.  Hill's performance is nothing special, but she's competent; and since the screenplay gives her little of actual note to play, I'd say she elevates the material to some degree.

What interested me on this viewing is the backstory of her prior relationship with Kirk.  hat do we think actually happened between the two of them?  All we know for a fact is what one mentions and the other agrees to on camera.  So we know the following:

  • They met -- seemingly for the first time -- at a "science-lab Christmas party."  (Helen says so, and Kirk does not correct her.)
  • They danced.  (Ditto, although to be fair, she says this while Kirk is under the influence of the Tantalus device and unable to respond.)
  • Kirk talked about the stars.  (Ditto.)
  • Kirk did NOT (in a literal sense) sweep her off her feet and carry her to his cabin.  (She implants in his mind the delusion that this did happen, so therefore it cannot actually have happened.)

We also know that Kirk is very attracted to her, but determined not to act upon it; and also that she is very attracted to him, but considerably less determined not to act upon it.  Practically the moment the two of them are alone (after being beamed to the surface of Tantalus), she suggests that he merely call her Helen.  This implies a desired familiarity that Kirk does not wish to share; it also implies that Helen believes all she has to do is fight past Kirk's instinct to honor his rank above his feelings.  She believes -- probably correctly, to some extent -- that the feelings are positive toward her; but she is not canny enough to realize that the drive toward duty is stronger by far.

In other words, it feels to me very much as if Helen is the instigator here; it is she who is pursuing Kirk, not the opposite.

This, I think, casts the entire episode in a different light than the one I'd remembered.

What I wonder is, how did the initial flirtation happen?

There are two scenarios that I can imagine being the case.  In both of them, Helen was an unknown quantity to Kirk, who had no idea she was a member of his crew.  So perhaps she had just been assigned or had not yet actually reported for duty.

Scenario #1: Dr. Noel had just come onboard at some crew transfer.  Kirk had been involved in some sort of big to-do and was somewhat distracted and had not yet bothered to read through the files on the new crew members, nor had he had an opportunity to meet them in an official capacity.  Perhaps he was recovering from the events of "The Enemy Within," for example, and Spock had actually been filling in for him during a brief convalescence.  You know; something like that.  So he attends a Christmas party hosted in and by the science lab, which is attended by a group of civilians who are also onboard for some reason.  (A mild stretch, but not much of one, really.)  He does not recognize Dr. Noel, approaches her, dances with her, talks "about the stars" with her, and then somehow discovers she is a brand-new crew-member.  Maybe Dr. McCoy walks in and introduces them properly.  (This would explain the gleefully troublemaking gleam that comes into Bones' eyes when Kirk requests that he find him an assistant with a background in both psychology and penology.)  Kirk removes himself from the situation, and has minimal contact with Helen from that point forward; quite successfully, it seems, given that they apparently have not met since.  But Helen knows the truth: he wants her, he briefly wanted her to know that he wanted her, and (as she sees it) if she presses a bit she can probably have him.

Scenario #2:  More or less the same, except the science lab in question is perhaps not onboard the Enterprise.  If it were at a space station or on a colony or something, it might have been concurrent with the ship stopping to take on new crewmembers.  So perhaps Kirk had not had time to review their files yet, or perhaps it was still due to his having been temporarily out of commission.

My guess is scenario #1.  Which is another way of saying "In my headcanon, it's scenario #1," since the episode does not answer the matter in any way.

Regardless, I think something like this has got to be what's going on.  It's consistent with the early-first-season depiction of Kirk as something less than the Lothario he is sometimes made out to be.  As in the episodes which have come before this one, I find that version of Kirk to be a very interesting fellow.  At the end of this episode, we hammer once again on the nail that is the depiction of this Captain's life as a very lonely one.  Speaking of Dr. Adams (who has died as a result of unmoderated use of the Tantalus device), McCoy says that he find it hard to believe anyone could actually die of loneliness.  This is an odd way for McCoy to think about it; being a medical professional and all, you'd expect him to insist on thinking that Dr. Adams had died due to the loss of normal bodily function resultant from a depletion of the mind's reflexive ability.  But sure, let's call it loneliness; perhaps Bones was feeling poetic.

Either way, Kirk is obviously still in a bit of a poetic mood himself.  "Not when you've sat in that room," he replies.  But Kirk already knows all about loneliness; the previous episode ("What Are Little Girls Made Of?") ended on a similar note, and both "The Naked Time" and "The Enemy Within" dealt with the issue, as well.

In any case, Kirk behaves inappropriately toward Helen only once during this episode when he is in his right mind: after they've just arrived and the elevator begins its surprising and rapid descent.  He instinctively puts his arms around her in protective fashion.  There's nothing lecherous about it; from a 2018 standpoint, you might call it opportunistic and inappropriate, but from a 1966 (especially a 1966 television) standpoint, it's simply a man behaving with reflexive protection instincts when a woman nearby him is threatened.  Not exactly a #MeToo moment, that.

No, instead, it's Helen who keeps trying to make a square peg fit a round, uh, hole.  There's a great little scene in which Kirk comes to her room at Tantalus during the night.  She assumes what many people would assume would be the case: he's making a booty call.  (Do people still say "booty call"?  Beats me.)  She goes into vamp mode almost immediately.  He asks her how the inmates they saw that afternoon struck her, and she assumes that this is merely a pretext for his visit.  In other words, she assumes he thinks what is going to happen is that he's going to ask that, she's going to answer, he's going to say "Oh cool, let's fuck," and then they are going to fuck.  She's seen a lot of movies; this is how things happen with somebody who doesn't seem to have the ability to just fess up to their feelings and their drives.

It's by no means an unreasonable assumption.  It IS, however, an incredibly unprofessional assumption.  And, as it turns out, an incorrect one.  She decides immediately to push things forward, so when Kirk asks his "ruse" of a question, she calls him out for it, playfully.  She says that he could have waited for the morning to ask it.

"I didn't," he says bluntly; he is there on business, and wants only to pursue his investigation.

What happens after that is that Helen becomes a little pouty.  Is this because she is still unconvinced that Kirk is there only for job-related purposes?  I think maybe she thinks that what will happen now is that she will accompany Kirk to the neural-neutralizer room, conduct the experiments he wishes to conduct, and THEN the sweet, sweet intercourse will take place.  The investigation can be a sort of foreplay; so she, uh, plays along.

There are a couple of different ways of looking at this.  One way is to consider Helen as something of a model of sexual liberation.  This is a woman who knows what she wants, knows what other people want even if they can't admit to themselves, and feels free to pursue it.  You can do a lot worse in life than to meet a woman like that; or a man like that, for that matter.  Thing is, that sort of thing can be problematic in the workplace.

This leads to the second way of looking at it, which is to consider Helen as a bit of a dig against sexual liberation.  I don't feel at all confident that "Dagger of the Mind" has not been filmed, acted, and edited in such a manner as to issue a sort of judgment against Helen's forwardness.  Let's remember that the title comes from Macbeth, whose most famous character is arguably Lady Macbeth herself; an ambitious, ruthless woman who is both admirable and despicable.  I rather doubt that this is an intentional connection; but I wouldn't rule it out.

Either way, it does feel to me a bit as if the filmmakers want us to look down upon Helen.  We are obviously expected to find her attractive; but I think we are also supposed to find her to be annoying and inefficient.  She is, quite frankly, terrible at her job.  Consider the scene in which she, Kirk, and Dr. Adams are walking past the neural-neutralizer room.  Kirk sees it, stops in his tracks, and asks Adams what it is.  Adams refers to it as a "personal failure," and more or less says "nothing to see here, ha ha, let's move on."  This could not possibly be more obvious of an attempt to steer Kirk away from finding out the truth, and Kirk sees through it immediately.  He asks to see the room.  Helen, weirdly, objects on the behalf of Adams, then gets frustrated when Kirk doesn't take her advice.  Kirk points out that one of the benefits of being Captain is that one is not obliged to actually take the advice one has requested from subordinates.  Adams takes Kirk's side; even when covering up evidence of a crime, it's bros before hoes, I guess.  "You're fighting over your weight," Adams says to her in demeaning fashion; he and Kirk have a good laugh over that, and she sulks.

But why on Earth would she have supported Adams over her Captain in the first place here?

I think it's because the episode is functioning to cast doubt upon the entire realm of psychiatry.  I think this is where the real beating heart of the episode lies.  We do not trust this neural-neutralizer technique; it seems alien and wrong and gross, like a violation, like a rape, like a murder, like a possession.  Our minds are being scooped out like the inside of a cantaloupe, and replaced with ... what?  Well, does it matter what with?  Whatever is put in there cannot be trusted, because it is unnatural.  Which is actually what all psychiatry is, isn't that right?  It's such an icky thing, after all; so invasive and personal, and always, always, always obsessed with sex.  Just like...

Well, just like Helen Noel is, right?  Her philosophies and those of Dr. Adams are in complete alignment, which is why she takes up for him at ever turn.  Not only does she try to talk Kirk out of investigating the neural neutralizer, she later insists than what Dr. van Gelder has said about them being in danger while on Tantalus is nonsense.

People like her cannot and should not be trusted, you see.

And look...!  As soon as the far-too-trusting Captain Kirk has given her the keys to his brain, what does she do with them?  She implants a suggestion that the two of them actually made love following the Christmas party.  And even in the fantasy version of it, she has to push it farther than it ought to be pushed.  "But my reputation," she protests while in fantasy-Kirk's arms; "I mean ... just having met like this.  Of course, it would be different if you cared for me."

One feels that perhaps she is leading up to planting precisely that idea in Jim's mind: that he does care for her, that he loves her.

So in walks Dr. Adams, who commandeers the situation and proceeds to do precisely that.  See?  He and Helen are on the same page.

I think some of this is perhaps less than deliberate on the episode's part.  But for me, all of this is the cumulative implication: pushy, forward women cannot be trusted, and neither can the quacks who gave them the idea that that was how they should behave in the first place.  It's a very conservative pill wrapped inside a very progressive piece of cheese; the audience, of course, is the metaphorical dog, swallowing it right down.

It's not actually all that unusual a thing for Trek, and I look forward to seeing if the behind the scenes material I review sheds any light on it.

A few more things before we turn to that section:

  • "A cage is a cage, Jim," says McCoy in reference to the enlightened penal practices of Dr. Tristan Adams.  A certain Captain Pike would give this sentiment a big thumbs-up.
  • Spock has a super judgmental take on things.  "You Earth people glorify organized violence for forty centuries, but you imprison those who employ it privately."  I mean, yeah?  And?
  • I've felt in the past that Morgan Woodward's sweaty-as-fuck portrayal of Dr. van Gelder was a bit much.  I didn't feel that way this time.  He's not crazy; he's just in an incredible amount of pain, and is fighting through it as best he knows how.  And Woodward does what amounts to amazing work in that capacity; he is bug-eyed, delirious, and totally determined.  He's pretty damn great, is what he is.  Check out this insane laugh, which has got to rank up there with the insanest insane laughs in all of cinema:

  • Shatner is great in this episode, especially in some of the smaller moments.  Here, for example:

Consider the impact of the places in that little monologue where he places pauses and emphasis.  He is sheer dynamite here, but in a subtle way.

  • You'd think Spock and McCoy would be best friends based on the amount of enjoyment they each derive from seeing Kirk uncomfortable or embarrassed.  Spock, for example, is clearly delighted when he notices Kirk's distress at Helen being in the transporter room; and again later, when he finds the two of them kissing.  Nimoy, too, is pretty great in this episode; I mean, duh.  So, for that matter, is Deforest Kelley.
  • What is the deal with Lethe?   Are we supposed to be creeped out by her?  I assume yes.  Here's my headcanon backstory for her: she's actually responsible for much of this, albeit through no fault of her own.  Dr. Adams fell in love with her while treating her, so he scooped out her mind and turned her into a docile creature who would let him fuck on her.  Gross.  And then, he couldn't stop, he had to scoop out the minds of everyone who knew about it, up to and including Dr. van Gelder.  So basically, he's gone pussy mad and has embarked upon a life of crime to cover it up.
  • This episode features the first appearance of the Vulcan mind meld.  It is presented differently here than it would be in later episodes.
  • Lest I forget it when we get to the episode (sometime around the year 2025, at this rate), Star Trek shows a rare instance of continuity in the second season during "Mirror, Mirror," where a "Tantalus device" is used to remotely eliminate people.  The implication, clearly, is that it was developed by the mirror-universe Tristan Adams.  Cool!
  • Kirk, after the first round of neural-neutralizer "treatment," regains consciousness and finds Helen there.  The way he behaves is very similar to -- but (and this is crucial) subtly different from -- the way Aggro Kirk behaves in "The Enemy Within."  If you didn't know the episode, you'd be afraid that he was about to go into full-on rapey mode.  Helen certainly assumes that to be the case.  But no, the manic glee on his face is actually due (as I interpret it) to his realization that he does still remember what happened to him, and that he is still himself despite the manipulation.  He can be made to love Helen by the suggestion that he do so; but this does not turn him into a slavering, sex-mad monster, nor does it blunt his actual primary impulses, which are still toward duty.  Great moments from Shatner in that scene.
  • Hey, what's with the image on the uniforms of the Tantalus staff members?  A dove is flying toward the sun, and a hand is either guiding it or holding it back.  Is this a reference to something of which I am unaware?

  • I want to make sure we're all on the same page: is the idea that what happens to Adams is, if a person is placed beneath the neural neutralizer and there is no operator to direct the intent of the beam, it simply erases the mind willy-nilly?  An operator's suggestion directs it, but left unchecked, it simply erases in an indiscriminate manner?  So that, therefore, what happens to Adams is essentially a rapidly-sped-up version of Alzheimer's, in which the mind degrades so much that the brain is eventually unable to direct the body's natural reflexes such as breathing?  So Adams dies because his body forgets how to stay alive?
  • We are told at the end of the episode that Dr. van Gelder -- who is now seemingly in charge of Tantalus -- has dismantled the neural neutralizer.  This brings to mind a question: how was van Gelder cured?  Obviously, it was via the neural neutralizer, right?  This brings another question to mind: was Kirk's mind, as it relates to his implanted love for Dr. Noel, corrected?  Presumably so.  If those are the correct answers, then clearly, the neural neutralizer works like a fucking charm.  So really, should it be dismantled?  Clearly you don't want it to be in the wrong hands, but used sparingly and conscientiously, that sucker is a miracle device.  
  • In the end credits, both DeForest Kelley and Marianna Hill appear in still images while their credits are onscreen:

And that is all I have to say about this episode in and of itself, at least for the moment.

So let's move on to...

...wait!  I almost forgot!  Here are some screencaps of new effects from the Remastered version of the episode:

I like the rings around the planet.

This is the surface of Tantalus.  The episode itself uses the same matte painting from "Where No Man Has Gone Before."  This, then, is a completely new thing.  And I like it!  The facility is clearly located in such a manner as to make physical escape from it damn near impossible.  And it looks sufficiently like a model that it could plausibly have been an effects shot from the mid sixties.

I'm still not a big proponent of the Remastered versions of the episodes, but this one is okay.  Still looks like dated CGI to me, which renders it a bit pointless as an update; but it's alright.

So NOW let's move on to:

As has been the case for most of the episodes, the chapter of Cushman's book devoted to "Dagger of the Mind" has some great info.  Let's check some of it out:

  • The episode was written by Shimon Wincelberg, who -- after extensive rewrites by Gene Roddenberry -- eventually asked that his credit be attributed to a pen name, "S. Bar-David."  (The initial is his own; "Bar-David" means "son of David," which was his father's name.)  Roddenberry was furious with Wincelberg's decision to use a pseudonym, and scrawled the words "Fuck him!" across the top of a memo the writer sent.
  • Dr. Adams was originally known as "Dr. Asgard."  This was changed at the behest of Bob Justman, who fretted that it sounded too much like "ass-guard."
  • Cushman reminded me of something that I really ought to have remembered on my own: that the name "Tantalus" derives from Green mythology.  As he puts it, "Tantalus was the son of Zeus who, condemned for his crimes, was made to rule in the deepest part of the underworld, a place reserved for evildoers."
  • I remembered this, but it's worth pointing out anyways: the name "Lethe" refers (again) to Greek mythology, where it is the name of a river running through the underworld that causes forgetfulness.
  • It was Gene Roddenberry who, in one of his revisions, removed Janice Rand and replaced her with Helen Noel.  The name was his idea of maintaining the spirit of Wincelberg using allusions in his character names; "Noel," obviously, hearkens back to the Christmas party.  (Cushman does not give any info on whether the Christmas party itself was the work of Roddenberry or Wincelberg.  It's got to be Roddenberry, right?  Rand and Kirk already served together for at least a few episodes, so the Christmas party angle couldn't really work with them, I'd think.)
  • Cushman: "As for the removal of Yeoman Rand, the official reason was that the producers wanted to avoid showing Kirk becoming romantically and physically involved with her, thereby allowing the understated sexual tension between the characters to continue.  There were rumors on the set that suggested other reasons."  He goes on to quote Shatner (from Star Trek Memories, I think) as saying that "Grace had become noticeably distracted, visibly ill and as a result her performances suffered terribly."  Cushman then quotes Whitney, who disputes this by saying that Bob Justman had told her to her face that it was for creative reasons.  Cushman interviewed Justman directly for this book, and indicates that he seems to take Whitney's side moreso than Shatner's; but he adds that the producer in "somewhat guarded on the subject."
  • What I'll say is that during the episodes we've seen, I've seen ZERO evidence of Whitney's performance suffering.  Perhaps that is the result of good editing, I don't know.  Personally, I tend to be on the side of both Whitney and Shatner; we're coming (not in this post, but in the next, on "Miri") to a major segment about Whitney, and it might be worth trying to bear some of these thoughts in mind for when we get there.  It's entirely possible that Shatner was told these things about Whitney, and had his perceptions colored by it; and, consequently, has remembered things that way.  The truth is a shaky proposition at times.
  • In any case, evidence does indicate that Justman may have been a factor in having Rand written out of this specific episode, and that it was indeed for creative reasons.  Cushman quotes a memo Justman sent to Roddenberry as pointing out that "Kirk is an essentially stupid man for attempting to fool around with a machine that he knows nothing about. " Cushman goes on to point out that by this is foolish indeed for Kirk to do with a "mere Yeoman" at the controls ... but that with a trained doctor of psychiatry in that role instead, the entire dynamic changes.  This is a great point, and makes me reconsider some of my feelings about missing Janice Rand in this episode.  I still think I'd prefer her overall; but it's hard to argue with cushman's logic here.
  • Morgan Woodward on the physical demands of his role: "Afterwards, I came home and went to bed for a week.  It took me a long time to get over all of that screaming and straining against the restraints.  It was the most difficult part I ever did."
  • Cushman points out that this was the first episode of the series not to feature an original score.  Instead, it has a tracked score consisting of bits from the various composers who'd worked on the series to date.  However, in the end, Alexander Courage received an on-screen credit because 51% of the music was his.

Up next:

I wanted to dive into Asherman's thoughts on the Rand/Noel situation:

As late as the final-draft script, it was Janice Rand, not Dr. Helen Noel, who accompanied Captain Kirk to Tantalus Five.  It is interesting that although Rand would enjoy two other appearances in Star Trek, she was not permitted to appear in this episode as a woman the captain falls (however artificially) madly in love with.  This may be the clearest indication of why Rand was soon to be written out of the Trek format.  After backing Kirk into a corner by creating the possibility of a relationship between the two (the attempted rape in "Enemy Within; Janice wanting to show Kirk her legs in "Miri"), someone probably decided that such a relationship would not only limit the series but the range of Kirk's entanglements as well.

It's kind of interesting for me to think back on the days when reading a book like this could serve as a genuine revelation when it came to a plot point like that.  I'd be a liar if I said that I remember reading this and having my mind blown, but I betcha that's exactly what happened.

I'm less sure that Asherman's account of Rand's being written out is exactly what happened.  But it's a logical assumption for Asherman to have made, and likely was a factor.

Shatner has some great thoughts from Leonard Nimoy in the chapter of this book which I read for this episode:

If you think about it, the mind meld, the splayed fingers in the Vulcan greeting, and the neck pinch are all hand-oriented, finger-oriented characteristics.  And that's because it came to me at some point that the Vulcans, and particularly Spock, were all part of a very tactile culture.  And I thought, "Wouldn't it be interesting if many of their customs are formulated around how they use their hands?"  Y'know, I had decided that the Vulcans were a peculiar race, with peculiar powers, and that much of that emanated from their hands.  (p. 131-2)

Nimoy also relates to Shatner the story of creating the neck pinch (in "The Enemy Within"), shooting "Amok Time," and imparting his theory of Vulcan digit-orientation to Mark Lenard when he played Spock's father in "Journey to Babel."  There's also an extended sequence from Nimoy in which he relates the filming of the breakdown scene in "The Naked Time," and how his efforts on behalf of the character salvaged the episode from being written and filmed in a manner that might not have taken as much advantage of Spock's unique qualities.

Some of this, if you choose to read it this way, can kind of come off as making Nimoy sound like a stereotypically vain and self-important actor.  The way I see it, the proof is in the pudding; and without Nimoy stepping up to the plate and saying what was on his mind, I think that not only would Spock have suffered for it, but Star Trek would have suffered for it, and maybe all of filmed science fiction, television in general, American culture at large, and, quite frankly, the entire universe.

So you'll get no criticism from me!

Shatner also tells, in highly amusing fashion, the story of his experience of George Takei playing swordsman during the filming of "The Naked Time."  The way Shatner writes it is perhaps not entirely complimentary toward Takei, but it also makes him seem completely adorable.

A couple of good passages from Nimoy I wanted to offer up, beginning with:

Six years after having completed the role, I am still affected by the character of Spock, the Vulcan First Officer and Science Officer of the Starship Enterprise.  Of course, the role changed my career.  Or rather, gave me one.  It made me wealthy by most standards and opened up vast opportunities.  It also affected me very deeply and personally, socially, psychologically, emotionally.  To this day I sense Vulcan speech patterns, Vulcan social attitudes and even Vulcan patterns of logic and emotional suppression in my behavior.  What started out as a welcome job to a hungry actor, has become a constant and ongoing influence in my thinking and lifestyle.  (p. 22-3)

The thesis of this book is perhaps that while Nimoy is not Spock, there is certainly a fair amount of relation between the two.  As I was reading this, I had the thought that perhaps one way to describe what this must be like -- and yes, I just made an assumption within an assumption, so I'm (potentially) doubly full of shit! -- is like how one is not one's father.  But in many cases, there's almost certainly a strong degree of the father within the son, so the relationship probably cannot be written off.

Funnily enough, Nimoy writes later in this chapter (p. 29-30) about how he began to develop paternal attitudes of a sort "toward the humans" around him.  "In some respects," he says, "I assumed the position of teacher, or role model.  My hope was that we could reduce inefficiency and silly emotionalism if I set examples through my higher standards of discipline and precision."

In a sense, this is like the "fake it until you make it" idea.  You put enough effort forth pretending to be something, the odds are good that eventually people begin perceiving you as that thing, at which point you begin perceiving yourself as that thing, at which point you arguably become that thing.

This has some resonance for me when considering the themes of "Dagger of the Mind," which is all about the mind being conditioned by mere suggestion to do one thing or the other.  The question must be asked: once Kirk has been mentally convinced that he is in love with Helen, does that make his love for her from that point forward any less real?  If he remembers having swept her off her feet and into his bed after the Christmas party, then as far as he is concerned, might it just well not have "actually" happened?

I think most humans -- certainly most humans who have been conditioned by the science fiction film and television of, say, the 1960s through the 2010s -- would jump right up and say, "Nope, that's not real love, and if a thing never happened then it never happened and it doesn't matter what a person remembers."  I'd say that; I'm saying it right now.

What I'm asking is, if a guy came along with a portable neural-neutralizer device and suggested to me that my favorite food was squash, would it matter to me that I've spent the first 43 years of my life avoiding squash?  I'm sitting there scarfing up a plate full of the stuff, making om-nom-nom noises; at that point, what do I care if I never liked the stuff before?

We now shift gears somewhat:

As of the moment I am writing this, I still have no earthly idea whether Blish's version of "Dagger of the Mind" features Janice Rand or Helen Noel.

Allow me to go find out!  I will do so in the pages of:

It's Helen.  Doggone it, I was hoping for a peek at what this might have been like with Janice instead!

Ah, well.

Things of interest from this short story:

  • Blish renders van Gelder's infiltration of the Enterprise and Kirk's initial communication with Dr. Adams as mere setup, and dispenses with it all in the span of three paragraphs.  It works surprisingly well that way, and the story proper begins with Kirk visiting McCoy and van Gelder in sickbay.
  • Van Gelder seems a lot less crazy without the exertions of Morgan Woodward.  
  • During the scene in which McCoy tells Kirk that Adams' explanation doesn't "ring true" for him, Blish writes Kirk as being "irritated in spite of himself."  This is a change from the episode, during which Shatner and Kelley make it clear that while this situation is bringing up some interpersonal conflict between them, they nevertheless are on each others' side.  "I'm not about to start throwing unsubstantiated charges against a man like that," says Kirk in Blig's story.
  • When Kirk requests McCoy find somebody to go to the surface with him, the doctor mentioned Helen Noel by name right then and there.  Kirk does not seemingly recognize the name.
  • Oh, here we go with the good stuff: in Blish's version, it is indeed specified that while Kirk had seen Helen before, "he had not then realized that she was part of the ship's complement."  "He had had the impression then that she was simply a passenger," Blish continues.  (One thing I wish I knew was how long ago, in relation to the episode, this Christmas party in the science lab was supposed to have been.  A few weeks?  A couple of months?  A year and a half ago?  It makes a big difference.  But on this subject, Blish is silent.)
  • Spock is not present in the transporter room when Kirk "meets" Noel.
  • When questioned by Kirk as to what her crimes had been, Lethe tells him that she does not know.  This makes sense, of course; but the episode does not spell that out.
  • It doesn't seem as if the penal colony has a security forcefield in this version of the story.
  • Kirk does not stumble across the neural-neutralizer room here; he asks Adams to take him to the room where van Gelder's injury occurred, and Adams does so.  This kind of makes more sense.
  • The device here is referred to as a "neural potentiator, or dampener," depending on what it is used for.
  • This sentence is stated within an entirely different context than the one in which I am about to place it, but I couldn't help relating it to concerns related to social media: "At a certain point, as we predicted from information theory, increased connectivity actually results in the disappearance of information."
  • Of van Gelder's use of the neural device, Adams says, "Even water can poison a man, in sufficient volume."
  • When Kirk visits Noel's room, she greets him by saying, "What's this, Captain?  Do you think it's Christmas again?"  It is unclear whether she means this in a flirtatious manner; Blish seems to have removed most of this aspect.  For example, the scene of her telling Kirk to call her Helen, as well as the rapid-descent elevator bit, is missing.
  • Kirk orders her to let him in her room; "ship's business," he explains.  The flirtation is completely missing from the rest of the scene, too, which likely means that it was missing from the draft of the screenplay from which Blish worked.  This MAY mean that much of the flirtation was not present during the drafts in which Rand was in this role.  In other words, it might be that the only real romantic material between the two would have been Janice's suggestions via the neutralizer; we'll see how that plays out with Helen, I guess.
  • Blish does something interesting when it gets to the part where Kirk first suggests that Helen make a harmless suggestion.  Here's how his dialogue reads: "The technician mentioned that suggestion was involved.  Try one -- something harmless, please.  You know, when we finally get through this, I hope we can raid a kitchen somewhere."  Blish has presented this moment strictly from Kirk's point of view.  Helen then tells him that his hunger was her suggestion.  I really like this; it's creepy.
  • Helen makes ZERO mention of the Christmas party before Adams comes in.  Blish cuts away before we find out what he is going to do with Kirk in the chair.  When we come back, we find out that Adams has apparently convinced Kirk he is violently in love with her, and that he cannot bear to be away from her.  He has sent her away so as to distress the captain.
  • We stay in Kirk's POV throughout, so while Helen goes on her air-duct adventure, we are not privy to it.  Similarly, Spock's big mind-meld scene is not depicted here.
  • When Kirk kisses Helen after the conflict has been more or less resolved, Blish writes that "She yielded, but without any real enthusiasm."  Helen is essentially an entirely different person in this version of the story.  One suspects that it was Roddenberry who eventually sexed the role up a bit more.  And frankly, I don't blame him.
  • It's Lethe who says that Adams died of loneliness.  "It's quite enough," she says to McCoy.  "I know."
  • Spock asks Kirk what they do now, and Kirk says, "I don't know . . . let me see . . . get van Gelder down here and repair him, I guess.  He'll have to take charge.  And then . . . he'll have to decondition me."  
  • Kirk goes on to explain to Helen that he wants nothing less in the world; she says she doesn't want that, either, but they will have to go through it together.  "It was nice while it lasted, Jim -- awful, but nice," she says.

So, as (almost) always with these Blishful Thinking segments, what we get here is a similar but very, very different take on the material.  Blish's version is entirely without humor, which kind of fits the material.  It's less sexually charged, although there is plenty of evidence that what the screenplay -- at this point in its history, at least -- really wanted was to drive home the idea that Kirk is lonely.

We'll conclude with leftover screencaps, enhanced by James Blish's prose.

"Simon van Gelder came aboard the Enterprise from the Tantalus Penal Colony via transporter, inside a box addressed to the Bureau of Penology in Stockholm--

a desperate measure, but not a particularly intelligent one, as was inevitable under the circumstances.

He had hardly been aboard three minutes before Tristan Adams, the colony's director and chief medic, had alerted Captain Kirk to the escape ('a potentially violent case') and the search was on.

Nevertheless, in this short time van Gelder, van Gelder, who was six feet four and only in his early forties, was able to ambush a crewman, knock him out, and change clothes with him, acquiring a phaser pistol in the process.

Thus disguised, he was able to make his way to the bridge,

where he demanded asylum and managed to paralyze operations for three more minutes before being dropped from behind by one of Mr. Spock's famous nerve-squeezes.

He was then hauled off to be confined in sick bay, and that was that."

"He had suddenly gone wild again, straining and shouting, his face a mask of unseeing passion."

"Though there were plenty of women among the Enterprise's officers and crew, Helen Noel was a surprise to Kirk.  She was young and almost uncomfortably pretty -- and furthermore, though Kirk had seen her before, he had not then realized that she was part of the ship's complement.  That had been back at the medical lab's Christmas party.

He had had the impression then that she was simply a passenger, impressed as female passengers often were to be singled out for conversation by the Captain; and in fact, in the general atmosphere of Holiday he had taken certain small advantages of her impressionability...

It turned out now that she was, and had then been, the newest addition to the ship's medical staff.

Her expression as they met in the transporter room was demure, but he had the distinct impression that she was enjoying his discomfiture."

"Tantalus was an eerie world, lifeless, ravaged, and torn by a bitter and blustery climate, its atmosphere mostly nitrogen slightly diluted by some of the noble gasses -- a very bad place to try to stage an escape.  In this it closely resembled all other penal colonies, enlightened or otherwise.  Also as usual, the colony proper was all underground, its location marked on the surface only by a small superstructure containing a transporter room, an elevator head, and a few other service modules.

Dr. Tristan Adams met them in his office: a man in his mid-forties, with broad warm features, a suspicion of old freckles at the nose, and an almost aggressively friendly manner which seemed to promise firm handshakes, humor, an ounce of brandy at the right hour, and complete candor at all times.

He hardly seemed to be old enough to have accumulated his massive reputation.

The office reflected the man; it was personal, untidy without being littered, furnished with an eye to comfort and the satisfaction of someone perhaps as interested in primitive sculpture as in social medicine.

With him was a young woman, tall and handsome though slightly cadaverous, whom he introduced as 'Lethe.'

There was something odd about her which Kirk could not quite fathom: perhaps a slight lack of normal human spontaneity in both manner and voice."

" 'I was another person,' Lethe said.  'Malignant, hateful.' "

" 'I don't know,' Lethe said.  'It doesn't matter.  That person no longer exists.' "

" 'One doesn't enjoy talking about failures, but still, negative evidence is also important.' "

" 'He insists that Adams is malignant, the machine is dangerous.  No details.' "

"The chamber in which van Gelder wad allegedly undergone his mysterious and shattering conversion looked to Kirk's unsophisticated eye exactly like any other treatment room, perhaps most closely resembling a radiology theater.

There was a patient on the table as Kirk, Adams, and Helen entered, seemingly unconscious; and from a small, complex device hanging from the ceiling, a narrow, monochromatic beam of light like a laser beam was fixed on the patient's forehead.

Near the door, a uniformed therapist stood at a small control panel, unshielded; evidently, the radiation, whatever it was, was not dangerous at even this moderate distance.

It all looked quite unalarming."

" 'This is the device,' Adams said softly.  'A neural potentiator, or damper.

The two terms sound opposite to each other but actually both describe the same effect: an induced increase in neural conductivity, which greatly increases the number of cross-connections in the brain.

At a certain point, as we predicted from information theory, increased connectivity actually results in the disappearance of information.

We thought it would help the patient to cope better with his most troublesome thoughts and desires.

But the effects are only temporary; so, I doubt that it'll be anything like as useful as we'd hoped it would be.' "

" 'Well!' she said, at the door.  'What's this, Captain?

Do you think it's Christmas again?'

'Ship's business,' Kirk said.

'Let me in before somebody spots me.

Orders.' "

" 'The only way I can be sure is to see the machine work.

I'll need an operator;

you're the only choice.' "

" 'It looks as though your mind goes so completely blank that you don't even feel the passage of time.' "

" 'The technician mentioned that suggestion was involved.

Try one -- something harmless, please.' "

" 'So I'm able to satisfy your curiosity, Captain.

We'll give you a proper demonstration.' "

"As before, there was no time lapse at all; he only found himself on his feet, handing his phaser to Adams.  At the same time, he knew what the pain was: it was love for Helen, and the pain of loneliness, of being without her.

She was gone; all he had was the memory of having carried her to her cabin that Christmas, of her protests, of his lies that had turned into truth.  curiously, the memories seemed somewhat colorless, one-dimensional, the voices in them, monotonous; but the longing and the loneliness were real.

To assuage it, he would lie, cheat, steal, give up his ship, his reputation...  He cried out."

"He awoke to the murmur of a feminine voice, and the feeling of a damp cloth being smoothed across his forehead.  He was on his bed in the quarters on Tantalus; he felt as though he had been thrown there."

"As she moved away, Kirk forced himself to his feet, stood dizzily for a moment, and then lurched forward to try the door.

Locked, of course.

In here, he and Helen were supposed to consolidate the impressed love, make it real . . . and forget the Enterprise.

Not bloody likely!  Looking around, he spotted an air-conditioning grille.

"The tunnel beyond was not only a duct; it was a crawl-space, intended also for servicing power lines.

It could be crawled through easily, at least, as far as he could see down it."

"Setting the phaser to 'stun,' he pulled the trigger.  Then he was out in the corridor, a solid mass of desire, loneliness, and fright.

He had to get to Helen; there was nothing else in his mind at all, except a white line of pain at having betrayed someone he had been told to trust.  Dull-eyed, frightened patients milled about him as he pushed toward the center of the complex, searching for the power room.  He shoved them out of the way.  The search was like an endless nightmare.

Then, somehow, he was with Helen, and they were kissing.

It did not seem to help.

He pulled her closer.  She yielded, but without any real enthusiasm."

" 'It's still hard to believe,' McCoy said, much later, 'that a man could die of loneliness.'

'No,' Kirk said.  He was quite all right now; quite all right.  Helen was nothing to him but another female doctor.  But--

'No,' he said, 'it's not hard to believe at all.' "

One more thing before we leave orbit:



Toward the beginning, when van Gelder comes storming onto the bridge and knock out the hapless redshirt stationed there as security, the redshirt collapses to the floor like a sack of rice.  Then, Kirk and Spock combine to knock van Gelder right the fuck out, and McCoy rushes over to him to check his condition.

Meanwhile, nobody -- including Uhura, who is standing right next to him -- give a FUCK about this poor redshirt, who is lying there on the floor potentially dying of a broken neck.

No respect whatsoever, I tell you.  Speaking of which...

Next episode: "Miri."


  1. (1) It is interesting how Bones and Spock take such delight in Kirk's discomfort, or the troublemaking gleam in Bones' eye when he first thinks of volunteering Helen Noel for the job.

    (2) Kirk is always poetic-aside-ing about loneliness or laurel leaves or somedamnsuch. God bless him. Someone really needs to publish the collected and expanded Captain's Logs of TOS, where he reads from the work of Sufi and Vulcan mystics - all the stuff they cut out of episodes like "Dagger of the Mind." (In MY headcanon, anyway!)

    (3) I'm not sure I wholly agree about the conservative pill wrapped in progressive cheese for the scenario you describe, though I very much agree TOS was like that an awful lot. But, I'm not sure there's continuity of message between the two Captain-in-the-chair moments. If anything, I see Helen's as playful - and really I don't get the pushy-women-can't-be-trusted message at all, myself, from this - and then the doctor/ dark side swoops in. It's the classic Pinnochio thing, which, while conservative I guess (so perhaps I do agree with you after all) is not pushy-woman specific but "see what happens when you mess around? You get turned into a goddamn donkey - eat your greens!" Metaphorically. It's very worthwhile to reflect on, though, and I get so caught up in the Shatner hysteria after that that I might gloss over it more than I should. Perhaps there IS continuity of message or one reflecting the other.

    (4) "Kirk... to Enterprise..." Top 5 Shatner moment here, falling out of the chair. (And probably 3 of the other top 10 are just his various screams and cries.)

    (5) Good ol' judge-y Spock. I like it. People in close quarters don't have time to hide their bullshit; it just all comes out. "You green blooded hypocritical ass!"

    (6) In all my goddamn years of watching this, I NEVER put the Tantalus Field from "Mirror, Mirror" together with this. Man! Wtf else am I missing... But it goes to show you why people who only watch stuff once and give you grief about "TOS? AGAIN?" are misguided.

    (7) The Tantalus staff logo reminds me of Scientology and of getting a nipple pinch. There has to be something there, I don't know.

    (8) The neural neutralizer really makes very little sense. The amount of mind-wipes in TOS (Trek in general) altogether, really - very little sense indeed.

    (9) Can't Spock/ Vulcans just neural-neutralize anyway? Doesn't Spock do that to Kirk so he gets over the unbearable pain of losing what's her face at the end of "Requiem for Methusaleh"? Not that that has to necessarily be the Supreme Court case anyone rests the issue on. TOS does that a lot, though - one episode (say "Return to Tomorrow") will be structured around an idea that works for that episode but makes little sense when compared to the implications of other episodes (say "I, Mudd" or "What Are Little Girls Made Of.")

    (10) "Dr. Asgard" is a cool name!

    (11) "The truth is a shaky proposition at times." In my best Egg Shen voice, "We take what we need and leave the rest, just like your salad bar."

    (12) "I Am Not Spock" is worth reading for sure, but "I Am Spock" was, for me, one of several Trek epiphanies in my life. And, along with Shatner's book what I thought of re: the phenomenon you mention re: mind-blowing factoids that illuminate the series in heretofore-unknowable ways)

    1. (1) TOS gets ding for not being subtle sometimes, but I think that moment of McCoy's first getting the Helen idea is pretty subtle. It's probably been missed by a lot of people over the years.

      (2) "And now, 'Meditations on the Void,' with James Kirk..."

      (3) I'm not sure I agree with myself, to be honest! If I do, I think it's probably less clear-cut and hardlined than I made it sound above. But I do think -- and I refer here to both politics and a more general application of the word -- there is a much more conservative streak running through Trek than many people would be inclined to admit. Possibly even more than its creators intended. But, unsurprisingly, that's what gives the series some of its vitality; like many real people, it's kind of messy and inconsistent and difficult to categorize.

      (4) Shatner is in fine form here, no doubt. I probably should have given him more attention; but your post on this episode did that so well that I saw no point in going there.

      (6) I did not think of this myself; I got this from Mission Log, I believe. Or maybe from some other podcast. but I had the same holy-crap reaction.

      (7) Speaking of Mission Log again, they mentioned that the design reminded them of The Living Bible, which I guess was a hippiesh update of the Bible. I could see that.

      (9) I kind of love "Requiem For Methuselah" because of how much I loved it as a kid, but the older I get the falser and more of a cheat that scene with Kirk and Spock seems. Or maybe it seems heavier but the episode simply doesn't support it. Yeah, I think it may be that; you put that at the end of "The city on the Edge of Forever," and then you're cooking with gas.

      (11) What the hell is Gracie Law doing here?!? (Sorry, only one I could think of!)

      (12) I look forward to that one. I will probably roll right into it when I finish "I Am Spock."

    2. (9) Oh God I'm so glad they didn't do that. I think this would be awful, myself, if Spock did that at the end of "City."

    3. I agree, although part of me wonders: if it HAD been in that episode, what would the impact have been? It might have made it even more impactful.

      But I prefer the episode the way it is, for sure.


  2. (13) Ahh, Blishful Thinking! I love this part. Kirk thought she was just a passenger. Oh! Not that this absolves him completely, but it's funny. "Do you think a Starfleet Captain doesn't know every bolt, every screw of his ship??!" "Uhhh, sir..."

    (14) "Neural Potentiator." Well that's interesting. It kind of has an evocative effect of its own, but I can totally see why they got rid of that one.

    (15) A pity - even in print - to lose Helen's airduct adventure, but you blended it in well with the prose. (Roddenberry sexed up the role?! If I had pearls to clutch!)

    (16) That one shot of Kirk. Bones and two redshirts on the bridge (one of whom is the guy who had a line in, I believe, "This Side of Paradise" possibly another episode as well) looks like a catalog shot for TOS-ware. If someone told me they were wax figures, I'd believe it.

    (17) Jesus that first screencap of Van Gelder coming out of the turbolift is terrifying.

    (18) I'm not sure what "unseeing passion" is, exactly, but those 3 screencaps are well-chosen for it.

    (19) "nobody -- including Uhura, who is standing right next to him -- give a FUCK about this poor redshirt, who is lying there on the floor potentially dying of a broken neck." Oh they'll just patch him up in Sick Bay, good as new! (Unless he has Captain Pike's insurance plan.)

    (20) "Next episode: "Miri."" Oh man! Those screencaps are going to be gross AF. "NO BLAH BLAH BLAH!!" Excellent job here with "Dagger of the Mind" - thank you.

    1. (13) It's my favorite part of writing these. I was hoping it would be fun, and it's been more fun than I'd even hoped.

      (15) I have to say, this post had a lot of accidental felicity in the prose-with-screencaps section. I never tailor the screencaps to the prose; I just take what I take, and then apply the Blish prose however seems to make sense at the time. But this time, little echoes seemed to keep popping up at times they didn't seem like they would. It was pretty cool. I love stuff like that.

      (16) I really wish there was an enormous Star Trek theme park where you could walk around and tour various scenes from episodes, with either wax figures or audioanimatronic figures standing in for the actors. I'd try to go there about once a year, man.

      (17) Complete accident, as happens with these screencaps from time to time. (As you know from your own process!) But yes, that one was startling. There's another one -- can't remember if I called it out or not -- where Shatner is looking straight at you, almost as if he's about to step out of the frame and begin romancing you, or lecturing you on the need for stronger ethics in your day to day life. Or both.

      (18) I was a little baffled by that phrase, too. Thinking about it now, I guess I'd say it means that he's so intensely emotive that he may as well be blind to everything other than whatever he's passionate about. But he's focused on that thing like a laser. I guess...?

      (19) If I were him, I'd sue.

      (20) "Miri" is gonna be gross for all manner of reasons. I'm going to cover the assault chapter of Whitney's memoir; still gotta figure out the right approach to that. In any case, it probably won't happen until mid-summer. I've got one more thing I want to do for this blog, and then it's back to Stephen King land for a while.

      But I appreciate the compliment! This one was more fun than I expected, given that it's not a favorite episode by any means.

  3. Hiya, just wanted to pipe up to let you know I'm still reading along and enjoying the posts! You mention "Requiem For Methuselah" and it got me thinking about TOS episodes that are iconic to me personally but aren't necessarily that great objectively. But even though I can now see the problems with said episodes they are still my favorites. The main one that comes to mind is "Spock's Brain"... that episode freaked me the fuck out when I was a kid, and I loved being freaked out. Also, "The Galileo Seven" which, until very recently I thought referred to the number "7" on the shuttle and only recently discovered it referred to the seven people on the shuttle. Stuff like that always blows me away.

    1. "Spock's Brain" rules! I'm with you.

    2. There are probably a lot of season-three episodes that fit that bill. I'm a big fan of "The Empath," for example, which a lot of people hate. (McMolo is not one of them, if I recall correctly.) I think the season in general is underrated. Looking forward to getting to it! Coming in 2036...

  4. Love "The Empath", very minimalistic episode but when I was a kid that just made the whole location seem that much more weird

    1. Absolutely! That and the performance by the woman playing Gem -- especially when combined -- were what made that one a standout for me as a kid. And I still like the episode as an adult, too.