So, once again, we encounter a major problem with the operating procedures of the Enterprise NCC-1701, namely Basic Security Precautions. e.g. When you are beaming up cargo from a penal colony, you should probably scan said cargo for escaping prisoners.
Of course, if the Enterprise crew were that well-endowed with common sense we wouldn’t have this episode, which is a common feature of early TOS – both a semi-successful narrative device and a writing problem. At least, the consensus at the NSMTNZ table was this: when your plot depends on all of your characters failing to display basic common sense, it’s a bad plot.
This episode takes the Enterprise to the famous and well-respected penal colony Tantalus V, and as you can imagine, everything goes to hell almost immediately.
For us, Dagger of the Mind represents a turning point for Star Trek: the point at which the Federation and human culture starts being painted as progressive, or at least, more-progressive-than-the-world-of-the-viewer; where the typical Starfleet officer begins to be defined as smart and competent rather than a reckless space cowboy; and where the show starts to take shape as more of an ensemble cast, something that would underlie every Star Trek to follow. It’s also where the heavy Shakespeare and ancient mythology references start noticeably rolling in, and features Star Trek’s first Vulcan mind meld. Because this is an early TOS episode and the worldbuilding hasn’t quite gotten off the ground, the almost-interesting commentary on the justice system of the 22nd century is a little confused and fragmented, but it still gets points for explicitly endorsing rehabilitative methods over punitive ones. Then again, since the penal facility in question seems to have brought about this revolution via brain erasure, it’s a qualified pass.
If you have issues with the rather blase treatment of mental illness common to TV, especially early TV, this one is probably not for you – there are some extremely shady mental health practices employed on this particular penal colony, and some pretty ableist language tossed around with typical 1960s nonchalance. But if you like to see ladies in unfeasibly short skirts kicking evil henchmen in the balls, mad scientists getting what’s coming to them, and seeing how many times the word “penal” makes us giggle like 12-year-olds, this is definitely worth the watch.
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[From The Not So Much The Neutral Zone Podcast]
I have to admit, I give this episode a pass mostly because of how unrepentantly brutal and Peggy-like Helen Noel’s fight scene is at the end. She kicks a guy in the balls, and then shoves him into an electrical grid. Good show, Helen. Good show.
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