***What happens when I, a 30-something-year-old fanboy, decide to look at the Star Trek franchise for the first time with an open heart? You get “Rob Watches Star Trek.”***
SERIES: Star Trek
EPISODE: S1.E1, “The Man Trap”
STARRING: William Shatner, Deforest Kelley, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nicols, George Takei
GUEST-STARRING: Jeanne Bal, Alfred Ryder
WRITER: George Clayton Johnson
DIRECTOR: Marc Daniels
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: September 6, 1966
SYNOPSIS: A shape-shifter gets on to the ship under the guise of Nancy Crater, one of McCoy’s former loves.
By Rob Siebert
May or May Not Be Thirsty
During the climax of “The Man Trap,” there’s a fight sequence involving the villain, a shape-shifter played by Jeanne Bal. In an attempt to prove she’s not who she says she is, Spock clasps his hands together and axe handles her across the face. Bal’s character counters with a backhand straight out of the community theater handbook. Spock goes flying.
Moments later, we learn she is in fact a hairy scary monster (shown below) capable of killing human beings by draining the salt from their bodies. Kirk is nearly successful in luring her into defeat with a handful of salt pellets.
This show is weird and random as f#$%, and I love it.
There’s a lot to unpack here, outside of this being the first episode of Star Trek to make air. (Oddly enough it was broadcast in Canada two days before it’s American premiere.) Having watched the unaired pilot, followed by the actual pilot, and now the premiere episode, this is my first exposure to DeForest Kelley playing McCoy. And here he is, the focus of the very first show. I must say, I was impressed. He had quite the presence about him. Very “old Hollywood.” I’m excited to see more from him.
Then we’ve got Nichelle Nichols as Nyota Uhura. The kids (Read: Early twenties) I work with have recently taught me what “thirsty” means in modern slang. So all I could think of when I watched her scenes was, “Damn, Uhura is THIRSTY!”
When I watched “The Cage,” I talked about sexism and certain scenes that didn’t age well. I would suggest that none of Uhura’s scenes in this first episode age well. Along those same lines, some of the dialogue in general doesn’t age well. But they’re a little better when placed in proper context.
A little over 10 minutes into the episode we get a scene between Spock and Uhura. It serves two purposes: To put over Spock’s logical thought process, and more importantly to introduce us to this new character. When Uhura tries to have a conversation with Spock and he fails, she says among other things…
“Why don’t you tell me I’m an attractive young lady, or ask me if I’ve ever been in love? Tell me how your planet, Vulcan, looks on a lazy evening when the moon is full.”
Later on, when the shape-shifter is on board the Enterprise, it disguises itself as a handsome crew member. He makes a pass at Uhura, giving her a smoldering look and saying she seems a little lonely. She’s then charmed beyond belief when he speaks to her in Swahili. Stunned and enamored, Uhura is seemingly unable to hear a call to the bridge.
Is there anything wrong with wanting to be attractive or being attracted to someone? Of course not. But it’s when you put these scenes in the context of where we were in American History at the time that you really cringe.
It’s not so much what she’s saying as why these lines were written for her. How the writer, and the world at large, viewed women and their role in society. In this episode, Uhura is seemingly only there to titillate male viewers as a lonely hopeless romantic who’s somehow incomplete without a man in her life. You’d never be able to get away with something like this today.
But it wasn’t just Uhura. Nancy Crater, or at least the shape-shifter disguised as Nancy, gets it too. Only it’s from comments made by the other characters, which may actually be worse.
When Robert Crater, Nancy’s husband, talks to Kirk about them being alone on the planet for so long, he says…
“It’s different for me, I enjoy solitude. But for a woman, you understand, of course.”
When Kirk and McCoy arrive on the planet, they both see different versions of Nancy. Kirk sees her as the age she should be, and McCoy sees the same Nancy he remembers from years ago. When they discuss this, Kirk says…
“She’s a handsome woman, yes. But hardly 25.”
*shudders* Those lines aged like milk.
“The Man Trap” is entertaining. But in 2020, it’s unintentionally thought-provoking as a cultural time capsule.
On a side note, during this episode, a place called “Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet” is mentioned. I’m guessing that’s a planet that’s just one big strip club, which also has a baseball team that only wins the World Series every 100 years or so.
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