Star Trek: The Man Trap

Spock: "Something wrong, Captain?"
Kirk: "I was thinking about the buffalo, Mister Spock."

Why, oh why didn't they run the pilot first?

This is not only a bad monster episode, it's a veritable cornucopia of negative female stereotypes. "Nancy" is the last of its kind, which is understandable if they were all man-eating vampires. She tricks, she seduces, she kills, but it's not her fault because she needs love as well as salt. Those silly females, victims of their own sexuality; they can't help being homicidal man traps.

I could probably whine about sexism in every episode. I promise I won't. This particular episode is such a primo example, though, because the negative stereotypes of women are the core of the plot. It isn't just "Nancy." Crewman Darnell sees "Nancy" as a prostitute he knew on Wrigley's Pleasure Planet. The two yeomen we see are pretty blondes who appear to be glorified waitresses, taking trays of food to male crew members. Uhura, the highest ranking woman on the ship, flirts like mad with an unresponsive Spock, and calls herself an illogical woman. Not a single true professional woman is to be seen; they're all low-level adjuncts of men and at the mercy of their glands.

One interesting thing that could have worked better and lessened the misogyny-fest was the salt vampire turning into males – first, as Green the dead crewman, then a handsome black man from Uhura's fantasies, and finally into McCoy himself. This could have been a way to make the salt vampire sexless, but no; she's still clearly a devious female, using her charms to manipulate. As she shifts from body to body, she bites her knuckle to show her confusion and distress. Odd, considering that she is eventually revealed to have tentacles. How does one bite one's tentacle?

Not too much to say about the cast yet. Captain Kirk is brusque and commanding, Spock is professional and expressionless (except when he's enthusiastically beating "Nancy" up), Doctor McCoy is so emotional that he's outright unprofessional about seeing his old girlfriend. Lieutenant Uhura digs Spock, and speaks Swahili. Lieutenant Sulu is into alien botany.

It's been many years since I've seen the series, and what jumped out at me were the bright colors: the railings and ceiling on the ship, the oddly multi-colored food. The planet's sky was bright orange. Sulu's conservatory or lab or whatever contained alien plants in wildly weird colors, including an electric pink fluffy moving frondy thing that was obviously a hand puppet. And the uniform tops are primary colors: gold for command, red for security, blue for science.

The very first "red shirt" is a blue shirt. And we got our very first "He's dead, Jim."

Ben says...

This episode should have been subtitled, "How to call a woman a buffalo and still come across as a sensitive guy." You know, it's really remarkable how much time we spend talking about Star Trek and how little time we spend talking about just how bad an attitude the first series had about women, and how it all started with the first episode (and ran right up until the final episode, but more on that later). This episode is like Don Draper's fevered nightmare: the woman you love is a body-draining protean monster. She can be whatever you want, but you darn well better remember that she has alien needs which come first and are absolutely overwhelming. Also, she's afraid of muppets (or whatever Sulu was raising), what's that about?

The whole episode exists in the context of the rising women's liberation movement. It is a wildly disgruntled metaphor for the sudden "discovery" that women were not altogether happy with the whole vacuuming in the suburbs lifestyle that the Mad Men had been selling America and (as it turned out) they had needs of their own. Sadly, even in the 23rd century, men will still gather to say, "Chicks, huh?"

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

— Stardate 1513.1. We visited planet M-113.

— Okay, I'll explain what a "red shirt" is, although most of you reading this probably know. Fans noticed early in the show's run that when a crew member you've never seen before beams down to a planet, they almost always die horribly. And they're usually wearing a red shirt.

— Gee. A crew member dies of salt depletion. Professor and Mrs. Crater both asked specifically for salt. No mystery there, just a coincidence, moving right along.

— Class M planets. I assume that means "Mmmm, good." Yes, I know that a Class M planet means one that is capable of supporting humanoid life.

— When Spock was attacked, there appeared to be a normal, red-blooded cut on his forehead with a smear of light green blood. Come on.

— It took McCoy way too long to shoot "Nancy." Maybe he was groggy from the sleeping pills. Who would take sleeping pills under circumstances like that? Bad plotting, no biscuit.

Quotes:

Spock: "Vulcan has no moon."
Uhura: "I'm not surprised, Mr. Spock."
As a "you have no romance in your soul" comment, this was a pretty good one.


Sulu: "May the Great Bird of the Galaxy bless your planet."
Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, was called the Great Bird of the Galaxy by the cast and crew. I don't know if it had commenced at this point or not, but just so you know.

It's pretty much consensus that a fair number of the original series episodes are pretty bad. This one is pretty bad, and I bet it turns off a lot of new viewers. One out of four salt vampires,

Billie
---
Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

15 comments:

Eldritch said...

"I could probably whine about sexism in every episode. I promise I won't."

It's probably good that you won't. Feminism as a political movement really didn't get national attention until about 1974, years after Star Trek went off the air.

Roddenberry was actually pretty feminist for his time. Don't forget that despite Uhura's stereotypic female traits, she was a bridge officer who had a responsible job. That was very progressive then. At that time, some television stations in the South refused to air the show because a black has such a prominent role.

And don't forget the famous kiss between Kirk and Uhura. It was the first interracial kiss on American television.

I'm sure you've heard the story about her considering resigning from the show after (I think) the second year. Martin Luther King talked her into staying on because she'd become an important role model for both blacks and women.

In his biograph, George Takei points out that there weren't other Asians in prominent roles on TV back then either, so he found himself an important role model for that community as well.

There's also the story that Roddenberry originally planned to have the second in command of the ship be a woman, but wasn't allowed to by the network....which resulted in his creating Spock. That female character, Number One, was to be played by his wife, who went on to play Nurse Chapel.

So, yeah, there's a lot of sexism in the original Star Trek. But it was a product of it's time. If you really want to see sexism, go to back to the '40's and '50's.

Eldritch said...

"...what jumped out at me were the bright colors: the railings and ceiling on the ship, the oddly multi-colored food."

It was the 60's. Bright colors were in. Also, paisley and psychedelia. But they sure seem bright today!

Billie Doux said...

Thanks for your comments, Eldritch, and you're absolutely right. I did know all of this stuff; I was a major league Trekker back in the day, and I know things were seen differently in the sixties. I just can't review the series today without seeing it through my 2010 eyes. I write what I'm thinking. It's what I do. And as you know very well, "The Man Trap" is a really awful episode. I had to write about *something.* :)

Mark Greig said...

A good large chunk of the original series is pretty bad but after enduring the later years of Trek, when it became a colourless land of rampant blandness, I’ve come to love and treasure even the lousiest adventures of Kirk, Spock and McCoy (yes, including ‘Spock’s Brain’).

Even at its absolute worst the original series was always fun and for all its faults I’ve always liked ‘The Man Trap’, mostly because of all its faults (all of which you both expertly cover in your review). One little thing I love most about it is that, while everyone else sees Nancy as their own personal fantasy figure, Kirk sees her as an old woman. What does that say about our favourite intergalactic Don Juan? Does the great James T. Kirk secretly have a granny fetish?

Really glad your doing these reviews, guys. I grew up with Star Trek, it’s what got me into sci-fi in the first place, and I love the original series to bits.

Billie Doux said...

I love it too, Mark. Star Trek was a huge part of my youth and I have the Star Fleet uniform in my closet it prove it. I loved TNG, but TOS is special.

Josie Kafka said...

"The two yeomen we see are pretty blondes who appear to be glorified waitresses, taking trays of food to male crew members."

This line reminds me of when I waitressed: every few weeks, a male customer would tell me that someday I'd make a great wife. That was five years ago.

So some things haven't changed.

Remco said...

Did they ever air the pilot? I started my TOS adventures with The Cage, and I was intrigued. Then came a couple of bad episodes, starting with the awful Man Trap. The sad thing about watching The Cage as the first episode, is that I was then completely bored with the Menagerie two-parter.

Billie Doux said...

Hi, Remco: Yes, they did air the second pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before." It's the third episode.

Josie, there were some good roles for women in the original series. And some really bad ones. It's a mixed bag. It's just too bad that the first episode they aired was a bad one.

Anonymous said...

Billie, could you give a quick recap of your opinions of each Star Trek series?

I'm curious because I've found that we both greatly enjoyed Angel (one of two sci-fi/fantasy shows that are among my all time favorites) and I wanted to know how you felt about my other genre favorite, ST: DS9.

Billie Doux said...

"Billie, could you give a quick recap of your opinions of each Star Trek series?"

Very briefly -- I was a huge fan of TNG and loved DS9. I became less enchanted as the franchises progressed; didn't care much for Voyager, and I thought Enterprise was one big wasted opportunity. I never saw the cartoon. I'm not much into animation.

My favorite movies in the franchise are First Contact and The Wrath of Khan.

Paul Kelly said...

Billie, your views mirror my own exactly. Loved TNG and DS9, before slowly becoming increasingly disillusioned with the franchise. I was hoping Enterprise would stop the rot. It didn't. After that I kind of lost interest. I haven't even seen the new movie. Shame on me. I know it's good. I'm just...meh.

J.D. Balthazar said...

Well, it looks like the Cage wasn't Roddenberry's first first draft. The original intro to the series went as follows;

“This is the story of the United Space Ship Enterprise. Assigned a five year patrol of our galaxy, the giant starship visits Earth colonies, regulates commerce, and explores strange new worlds and civilizations. These are its voyages … and its adventures.”

Kind of uninspiring when compared that to what we know and love;

"Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange, new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

JRS said...

I think my favorite version of Uhura is pictured in the novel Spock's World, by Diane Duane. It takes all the wonderful potentials of that character and heightens them into something almost unexpected. The contrast to how she's portrayed in this episode is vast. But Mark is right - compared to the pablum formulaic movies of today...

tinkapuss said...

Hi, just wanted to say thanks for these great little reviews. I am a 46 year-old woman and, whilst I was not born until after the series ended, I was raised on it and learned much about morality, ethics, science, and philosophy from the show. It's my favourite tv show of all time (Doctor Who is a close second but did not have that relationship between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy of which you mentioned).

Anyway, I am on winter vacation (in Australia) and have designed my first week around Star Trek TOS on Netflix and I am watching each episode and then reading your reviews. When I watched these as a young girl I did not see the sexism hardly at all as I always identified with the strong, male characters anyway. Now I can clearly see the quite astounding level of misogyny in the first series but I have to laugh affectionately as it is so blatantly ridiculous that this might still be happening in the 23rd century! It's lots of fun to re-watch and really feel like a kid again. Being critical of the stereotypes and luducrous representations, but still knowing what a breakthrough this show was for women, African-Americans, and Asians, is a real pleasure to experience.

Thanks for your funny and well-written commentaries.

Billie Doux said...

Thank *you*, tinkapuss -- I'm enjoying your comments!