Writer: S. Bar-David
Director: Vincent McEveety
Producer: Gene Roddenberry
This is another episode that isn't really about anything in terms of a real theme, and fails to really say much about its topics. However, the characters and situations are engaging enough to make it an entertaining hour of television at least.
The Enterprise is dropping off cargo to a rehabilitative penal colony, when a dangerous inmate manages to sneak aboard. His violent ravings of misconduct at the facility prompt an investigation by the ship, so Kirk beams down with a ship's psychologist named Dr. Helen Noel, whom he had flirted with at the ship's Christmas party.
On the surface, the colony's administrator presents the Captain and doctor with the picture of a perfect facility, but of course this is a nuthouse in a fiction story, so we know it's gonna be up to no good and abusing patients and so on, because that's how stories work. Turns out the stowaway on ship is actually a staff member, driven insane by the application of a dangerous device which empties the victim's mind and leaves it susceptible to the suggestions of the operator. Spock learns of the dangerous experiments and the stowaway's past by the series' first use of the Vulcan Mind Meld, in one of the episode's many effective scenes.
Meanwhile, Kirk of course finds himself captured and under the machine, where he is tortured and the brief flirtation with Helen turned, in his mind, into a years long romance. Nearly broken by the machine, it's Helen who must sneak around the facility and knock out the power so Spock can beam down with a rescue team. And of course the administrator gets his just rewards -- left alone with the machine on full intensity, his mind emptied but with nothing given to fill it.
Other than an implicit denouncement of the temptation to "play God" in breaking down a patient's mind and then building it back up again, there's really not a lot going on in the episode. Clever literary references abound, from the facility's name (Tantalus) to the name of a patient turned therapist (Lethe) which seem more like showing off how clever the writer is than making a point.
Luckily, good performances from both our main cast and our guest stars hold the hour. Morgan Woodward as the mad victim Simon Van Gelder is instantly memorable and effective in his mind meld scene with Nimoy. And Marianna Hill as Dr. Helen Noel immediately pulls off a believeable sexual tension with Captain Kirk in one episode that somehow Janice Rand has utterly failed to do so far. Perhaps because Dr. Noel is depicted as a confident professional and thus despite being a junior officer to Kirk is writtten on a bit more equal intellectual level to him -- she can tease him and argue wth him and throw barbs and jokes in a way that Rand, as Kirk's explicit subordinate, can never do.
Ultimately, without a theme or deeper meaning, "Dagger of the Mind" is entertaining but forgettable, best remembered as the answer to the trivia question of the first appearance of the mind meld.
Rating: 2.5 out of 4