The show opens with the Enterprise orbiting Tantalus 5, Saturn-like planet. We then see a giant pharmaceutical bottle with the label: Tantalus Penal Colony; Infra Sensory Drugs; Attention: Dr. Tristan Adams. The capsule, along with some other items, is loaded into the transporter pad by an engineering crewmember. The crew attempted to beam the items over, and as Captain James T. Kirk enters, they are not successful. He reminds them that they cannot transmit something into a penal colony due to the restrictions of their shielding.
Kirk calls to the colony, who opened the force field, and the transport is successful. One item is beamed back to the Enterprise, which was research material bound for the Central Bureau of Penology in Stockholm. Kirk ordered that Mr. Berkeley, who was in charge of the transporter operation, to refresh himself on penal colony procedures. He also is ordered to lock up the research materials.
As Berkeley and the other crewman get back to work, the case that was just beamed over, opens and a man wearing an oxygen mask creeps out. He attacks the crewman (apparently knocking him out) and begins to look for an escape route.
On the bridge, Kirk laments that he missed the opportunity to meet Dr. Tristan Adams. Dr. McCoy responds that a “cage is a cage” and that he saw no point in going to the colony. Lt. Uhura announced that the settlement had a message for the Enterprise — that a prisoner had escaped. They thought that this prisoner had hidden in the box that was beamed over. Kirk ordered a Security Alert 3.
Back in the transporter room, the escapee switched clothing with the engineering crewman and started running through the corridors. When the alarm sounded, another Enterprise crewman saw the prisoner and messaged the bridge of his location on Deck 14. As Uhura announced to the crew where he was and his description, the prisoner attacked another crewmember, this time taking his phaser.
Kirk messaged the colony, and Dr. Adams responded. Kirk said that the Enterprise had a prisoner aboard. Adams apologized and reminded Kirk that this guy was intelligent and extremely violent.
Spock mused to McCoy on how humanity glorified violence for 40 generations and imprisoned those who employed it. McCoy turned at Spock and in a mocking voice, asked him how the Vulcans solved their “violence problem.” Spock told the doctor that they eliminated all emotion, and where there is no emotion, there is no motive for violence.
As soon as Spock uttered those words, the turbolift doors opened, and the prisoner burst out and attacked the crewman assigned to security. He then turned and asked who the captain was. Kirk responded that he was and the man slowly approached him.
He started to say what his name was and then stopped. He buckled over from an apparent pain. He struggled and said that his name was Van Gelder and he asked for asylum.
“At gunpoint?” Kirk asked.
Van Gelder refused to hand over the gun and threatened to destroy the navigation controls to the Enterprise. Before he could, Kirk kicked the phaser out of his hand, and Spock performed the Vulcan neck pinch.
Van Gelder said he wanted Kirk’s assurance first that he would not be returned to the prison. Kirk said “no promises” and demanded the weapon. Van Gelder refused to hand over the gun and threatened to destroy the navigation controls to the Enterprise. Before he could, Kirk kicked the phaser out of his hand, and Spock performed the Vulcan neck pinch. Van Gelder went down, and Kirk ordered that he be taken to the sickbay. He also asked that the ship reverse course and head back to Tantalus 5.
Van Gelder was under examination by Dr. McCoy, who said that his readings were abnormally high and that it took a triple dose of sedative to calm him down. The doctor reported that Van Gelder started talking about certain things and would abruptly stop and change subjects.
As Kirk began to walk out the sickbay door, Van Gelder came to and accused them both of taking him back to Tantalus 5, so they could “wash their hands of him.”
Kirk asked him to tell them his name again. He tried to respond, and again when he did, he stopped by some obvious pain. On second try, he eked out “Simon… Van Gelder.”
He explained that he was the director of the Tantalus Colony and a graduate of … and an assistant to … but was unable to complete his thoughts. He then to Kirk and McCoy that his memories had been partially erased. He screamed at them, saying that he refused to go back and that he would not let them. McCoy sedated him again.
Kirk returned to the bridge and observed Spock studying something. The Vulcan was looking into “Dr. Simon Van Gelder,” who had been assigned to the Tantalus colony six months back, as Dr. Adams associate. Kirk then contacted Adams, to confirm that the prisoner was Dr. Simon Van Gelder. Adams confirmed that it was, and asked if he was alright, stating that the Tantalus staff were worried about him.
Adams said that Van Gelder had been experimenting with a beam that would be used on “incorrigible” patients. According to Adams, Van Gelder felt that he could not test the beam on another man without testing it on himself first. McCoy stepped in to tell the captain, to say that this story from Adams did not quite add up. Kirk asked McCoy to explain, but the doctor could not. Kirk said that Adams had revolutionized the care of prisoners everywhere. Spock suggested that they ask Adams if he wanted Van Gelder returned. Kirk did, and Adams said that they’d like Van Gelder dropped off at a superior facility for the very best care. Kirk then turned to McCoy who said that there were no “superior facilities.” McCoy wanted an official inquiry.
Kirk told Adams that he needed to conduct an investigation, and Adams agreed, asking that he visit himself with minimal staff. Kirk said McCoy to send a member of his team as well.
As the ship turned around to head back to the colony, and McCoy reported that Van Gelder was still agitated and that he’d prefer to keep him on board until the captain’s investigation was complete.
He also said that he did have a qualified member of his staff that he’d like to send to the penal colony with Kirk, Dr. Helen Noel. This particular crewmember was sultry and shockingly beautiful to the captain when he met her at the transporter pad. She reminded him that they met during a Christmas party with the medical staff. Kirk appeared uptight when she spoke to him, especially when Spock began to pay close attention.
Just as the Kirk and Noel materialized at the colony, they stepped into a turbolift, which immediately descended at an extreme speed. Kirk embraced Noel firmly as they traveled. When the doors opened, Dr. Adams greeted them both, and welcomed them to “Devil’s Island.”
Kirk offered his phaser to Adams as per regulation, but Adams said that he could keep it, so long as it wasn’t visible. As Adams poured drinks, the captain attempted to call back to the Enterprise with no avail. Adams explained that the security screen was blocking the signals. At that moment, a woman entered the room, and Adams introduced her as “Lethe.” She, according to Adams, came to the colony for some rehabilitation and stayed on as a therapist.
“I love my work,” said Lethe, with an almost robotic rhythm of speech. Kirk asked her what crime she committed to be sent to this place. She told Kirk that the crime did not matter now, because the person who committed the crimes no longer exists.
Adams said that there was no reason for Lethe or anyone else to have to live with their past. He turned to Noel who agreed that this is a primary tenant of psychotherapy.
After the toast, Adams took Kirk and Noel on a tour of the compound. As they walked, Kirk stopped and observed an experiment gone wrong. He asked to see it more closely. Dr. Noel said there was no need to examine a mistake, but Adams laughed and allowed the captain to see.
Meanwhile, Van Gelder began to give Spock additional clues as to what happened to him at the colony. He told Spock of a “neural neutralizer,” and then gave a few garbled words and screamed. McCoy sedated him again.
At the same time, Adams showed Kirk and Noel the neural neutralizer in action. Adams told them that it was experimental and that it neutralized brain waves. It also relaxes the patient, and the effects were only temporary. Noel seemed to like the device, saying that it was an alternative to pumping a patient full of chemicals.
As Noel and Adams left the room, Kirk stayed behind and asked the operator how it worked. Adams returned and told the captain that Kirk reminded him of an ancient skeptic. Noel again vouched for Adams’ technology. Adams then told Kirk that it was with this device that Van Gelder suffered his injury. Adams said that Van Gelder tried the tool on “full volume” by himself, which resulted in his problems.
Kirk thanked the operator of the neural neutralizer, who said nothing in return. After the captain left, the operator began to speak to the patient who was undergoing treatment in the neural neutralizer. “You will forget all that you’ve learned,” he told the patient. The operator turned up the power of the device, and the patient appeared to be in distress.
The scene cut to Spock speaking to Kirk over his communicator from within sickbay. Spock told Kirk how Van Gelder mentioned the neural neutralizer. Kirk said that he knew that this was the device that injured Van Gelder. Adams left the room so that Kirk and Spock could speak freely.
Spock said that Van Gelder warned that the captain was in danger. Noel said that was nonsense and said that Van Gelder essentially short-circuited his brain. Kirk said that he planned to stay the night at the colony — and Van Gelder struggled out a “NO!” from the sickbay bed he was strapped into. Van Gelder told Spock and McCoy not to let them stay at the colony.
Spock and McCoy began to debate the merits of trying a Vulcan mind-meld, which Spock said was a very personal thing for his people. McCoy said that if there was any chance to see what was in Van Gelder’s mind — to learn if what he said was true — then they must chance it.
Spock grabbed Van Gelder from the temple and below the chin, then he switched to holding Van Gelder’s head on both sides. Spock spoke quietly to Van Gelder, saying that they were now sharing the same thoughts. McCoy looked on in awe.
On the planet, Kirk entered Noel’s room and asked her what she thought of the inmates. She said that she thought they looked happy and well adjusted. Kirk said they looked “a bit blank.”
Kirk said that he wanted to get a better look at the neural neutralizer, and asked if she was familiar with its technology and the theories behind it. She agreed, and they left her room.
Spock’s mind meld made progress with Van Gelder, and they learned that the neural neutralizer was used to erase memories and replace those memories with thoughts designed by Adams.
Kirk ordered Noel to test the neural neutralizer on him. She tried minimum intensity for just a second. After the test completed, Kirk said that he had no memory of the test. Noel said that his face was utterly blank. Kirk then asked her to make a suggestion to him while the beam was on. She told him that he was hungry, and when the beam turned off, he said that he’d like to get something to eat. Kirk noted how effective the device was, especially for one that Adams was going to abandon.
They tested it again, and this time she brought up the Christmas party, which was mainly small talk between the captain and a member of the crew. Noel suggested that he change the story. Instead, she wanted Kirk to believe that he swept Noel off her feet (literally) and carried her to his cabin.
But while Noel was planting ideas in Kirk’s head, Adams and a henchman came into the control booth. Adams said that he wanted a “complete demonstration” of what could be done so that there would be no doubt in the captain’s mind…
Adams turned up the intensity of the neural neutralizer to a much higher level and began suggesting to Kirk that he loved Dr. Noel very much. Adams said that Kirk would lie and cheat for her. Noel struggled to with her captors but was unable to stop the neural neutralizer or Adams. Kirk repeated what Adams said while under the beam’s control.
Adams then ordered Kirk to drop his phaser; which he did. Then he ordered the communicator as well. But Kirk resisted and attempted to contact the Enterprise. He writhed in pain due to the powers of the beam.
Later, we join Kirk and Noel in a dark room. When he came to, Kirk began to reach for Noel and told her repeatedly that he loved her. She tried to remind him of what happened. He said that he did remember. Kirk then walked to the wall of the room, where there was a duct. Kirk hoisted Noel into the ducts where she began to wriggle through as she looked for the power supply for the device.
Adams’s men returned and took Kirk back to the neural neutralizer chamber. While inside, Adams began to brainwash Kirk at the device’s maximum power when they learned that Noel had disappeared. Kirk eventually found his way out of the examination chair and onto the floor.
On the Enterprise, Spock tried desperately to raise the captain on the communicator.
Meanwhile, Noel found an electrical room and got to work. She must have done something because Adams’ men came looking for here. Noel evaded them and found a master power switch and turned off the main power. In the neural neutralizer chamber, the power too went out, and Kirk was able to take charge.
One of Adams’ men turned the power back on and went back to take care of Noel. Instead, she kicked him into the equipment, and he was electrocuted. Noel picked up his phaser and went back into the ducts.
Noel’s accident turned off the station’s force field, and Mr. Spock was able to beam down into the same room where the power was controlled. When he arrived, he turned off the force field for the colony but turned on the power for the station. Adams was still on the floor in the neural neutralizer room when the power came back on — and fell victim to his device.
Kirk caught up with Noel and immediately started kissing her. She pushed him back, saying that Dr. Adams made him feel this way. Spock then arrived, and the two went back to apprehend Adams. The rest of the Enterprise crew came as well, and when they found Adams, they discovered that he had died.
The captain supposed that without anyone in the room to give him suggestions, the neural neutralizer emptied Adams’ mind.
Later, when Kirk arrived on the bridge, Uhura told him that he had a message from the colony. Van Gelder wanted the captain to know that the neural neutralizer would be dismantled and destroyed.
McCoy walked up to Kirk as he sat in the chair and wondered what it would be like to die of loneliness. Kirk felt no pity for Adams.
TREK REPORT SUPPLEMENTAL:
This was a good episode. I wondered as I watched it if Adams and his brainwashing tool inspired Disney when they created the villainous Dr. Reinhardt for 1979’s “The Black Hole.” Reinhardt did similar things into the crew of the ship in the film.
In a way, it was a shame that nothing came of Noel and Kirk. They would have made a handsome couple. But it was not to be, as this would be the only episode of Trek that actress Mariana Hill would appear on.
While it was entertaining, there was no “moral message” from this one. After Adams died, that was it. Kirk escaped with his mind intact, and they left the planet. I guess it might be too much for all episodes to end with something that resonates, or has relevance in the real world.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5