Sometimes, television makes no goddamn sense.
Case in point: Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek. As we discussed last week, the pilot episode (“The Cage”) was soundly rejected by the studios, so Roddenberry and co. created a new pilot: “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” One might assume that this episode would air first–you know, the way pilots do–but for Christ knows what reason, two entirely different episodes apparently aired before our new and improved pilot. So, I’ll have to get back to you on how “Where No Man Has Gone Before” goes.
In the meantime, let’s turn our attention to the first episode of Star Trek that actually aired: “The Man Trap.” This one, well. It has some echoes of “The Cage,” but not, like, positive echoes? On the upside, we get to meet most of our main cast–minus Scotty and Chekhov, the latter of whom I’m pretty sure doesn’t appear until Season Two–and, if nothing else, Captain Kirk is definitely an improvement over Captain Pike.
There will be SPOILERS for this episode and probably TOS in general. You’ve been warned.
WHAT GOES DOWN, BASICALLY
Kirk, Bones, and this total red shirt (who’s not actually wearing red) beam down to some planet, where Bones’s ex-girlfriend, Nancy, lives with her current husband, Professor Crater, doing archeological shit. It’s clear something’s up with Nancy: each member of the away party literally sees her as a different woman. Also, she totes murders the red shirt by leeching every bit of salt from his body. She does this to a few red shirts, actually, and then impersonates one of them to sneak onboard the Enterprise.
Crater eventually explains that Nancy’s been dead for a year or two. Faux Nancy is a shapeshifting alien who needs salt to survive. She’s also the last of her kind. Crater won’t help identify Faux Nancy, though; for this loyalty, Faux Nancy immediately kills him. She eventually attacks Kirk, while Bones stands by, incapable of shooting someone who looks like his ex. Spock proves that it’s not her by violently and repeatedly beating her across the face with both hands. Bones finally clues in when Faux Nancy easily knocks Spock across the room. She reveals her true form, and Bones eventually kills her to save Kirk.
“The Man Trap” isn’t exactly “The Cage, Take Two,” but there are some similarities: namely, both episodes focus on a male Enterprise crew member and his attraction to a beautiful woman who isn’t quite the person she claims to be, i.e., she has some nefarious intent, and also, she’s secretly ugly. (Both women are also sole survivors, albeit different types: Vina is the only person who survived her shuttle crush, while Faux Nancy is the last of her whole species.) Of course, Faux Nancy is also an alien who’s actively and ruthlessly murdering people to stay alive, while Vina is a prisoner/lab rat/arguable collaborator. So, there are differences.
Here’s what I’ll say about “The Man Trap”: it’s not Bones’s finest episode.
I adore Bones with every bit of my nerdy, grumpy cat heart, but he’s kind of the Asshat of the Week here. I could forgive him earlier, when he’s still sorta mooning over Faux Nancy, trying to figure out how she looked 25 one minute and 50 the next. After all, these aren’t inappropriate questions to have; they’re just rather low priority when there’s also a dead guy in the room. Kirk is kind of right to yell at him, even though my immediate reaction to this was all, “Kirk! You can’t yell at BONES!” (Honestly, it’s just sort of relieving to see that Kirk takes losing crew members seriously. I genuinely appreciated that.)
But that moment where Bones refuses to fire on Faux Nancy, even as she’s trying to murder Jim? Nope. That’s some bullshit, sir. An inability to kill her is one thing, but Bones doesn’t even try to help, just stands there as the thing that is clearly not his ex-girlfriend paralyzes Kirk and tries to feed on him. Like, I know “hesitating at the sight of your dead loved one suddenly walking around and/or trying to eat somebody” is a horror trope as old as time, but it takes WAY too long for Bones to get with the program. Kirk has the right to take his BFF bracelet back, that’s all I’m saying.
Also, I can’t stress enough just how cringe-inducing and hilariously awful it is to watch Spock, like, repeatedly hammer strike Faux Nancy in the face. I mean, I know she a) isn’t human, and b) isn’t remotely hurt, but still . . . is that really the only way Spock could think to prove that Faux Nancy isn’t Nancy? Admittedly, it’s dumb that Bones even needed proof, like, did Nancy literally hypnotize men just by looking at them while you were dating her, Bones? Then yeah, it’s probably not her. And even if it somehow was her, seriously, are you okay with your old flame straight up murdering your buddy and commanding officer? No? Then maybe you should do something about it.
The moral of this story, ultimately, is bros before ho’s, but man, some characters take a while to figure that out.
Young, Beautiful Nancy and Middle Aged Nancy look basically the same, except the latter has a lot more gray hair. Let’s just all be clear on that.
It’s hilarious just how obvious that–even without proper costuming choices–the first Red Shirt is such a red shirt. Kirk actually begins the episode by saying, “Ship’s surgeon McCoy and myself are beaming down to the planet’s surface,” even as three people clearly beam down. Gee, I wonder what’s going to happen to that other guy?
I legit can’t believe Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet is a real canon place in Star Trek. One assumes it’s the precursor to Risa?
Hm. I see that all the female Starfleet officers with speaking parts are now rocking the extreme mini. On the upside, I’m genuinely excited to see Uhura! Sulu, too, though I find I can’t work up much enthusiasm for Yeoman Rand yet. Perhaps she’ll grow on me.
I have to say, I’m pretty intrigued by the interaction between Spock and Uhura. Based on the pure amount of whining I heard about their couples status in the reboot, I assumed there was absolutely no canon basis for their relationship . . . but IDK, I think you could argue some possible UST here. Well, okay, maybe not so much on Spock’s side yet, but still. I’m curious to see if and how this develops going forward.
Some of the dialogue here, particularly from Kirk, has strange little hints of noir. Like that line: “I don’t like mysteries. They give me a bellyache.” I mean, Kirk just needs to pull on a fedora and trench coat, and he’s all set, right? (Not to mention, Nancy is totally a femme fatale, albeit with a big SF twist.)
“I recommend we use truth serum, Captain.” Wait . . . there’s TRUTH SERUM on board? Shit, I recommend we use it, too.
LINE OF THE EPISODE
It needs love as much as it needs salt.
6 thoughts on “The World’s Worst Trekkie: Carlie Takes On “The Man Trap””
Truth serum: Given to Bones – Look, Jim, I’m a horndog of a doctor. She can be anyone now, including the girl who didn’t blow you on prom night. You’d have hesitated, too.
This could be its own series: truth serum, given to one character per episode. 🙂
Don’t the phasers have a stun setting? Bones wouldn’t be even hurting her even if she really was Nancy.
I guess it’s possible that phasers in early TOS only had “kill, KILL!” settings, but it doesn’t seem very Starfleet-y, does it?
According to wikipedia, they use the stun setting in this very episode, which makes it especially weird for Bones not to use it on Nancy (http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/The_Man_Trap_(episode)). He’s a doctor; you would think he would be used to sedating people.
Huh, must have forgotten. I suppose we’ll have to chalk this one up to Plot Appropriate Phaser Settings. (Though of course, it would’ve worked better if Bones *had* immediately used stun, it had no effect, and then had his crisis of conscience about whether to use kill or not.)