Editor’s note: Rental Rehab is pleased to welcome itself back from the dead with a witty new series by guest writer Joshua, who will view and review the Star Trek Original Series.
Episode: The Man Trap – Season 1, Episode 1 (1966)
Director: Marc Daniels
Writer: George Clayton Johnson
After the metaphysical conundrums and moral seriousness of the two pilots, the viewing public was confronted with “The Man Trap.” It is our first exposure to the O.G. bizarre love triangle: Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), first officer Spock (Leonard Nemoy), and crotchety Chief Medical Officer Doctor Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley).
The Enterprise is dispatched to planet M-113 to administer routine medical examinations to xeno-archeologist Robert Crater (Alfred Ryder) and his wife, Nancy (Jeanne Bal). All three members of the landing party all see someone materially different when they first catch sight of Nancy, and soon various members of the crew die mysteriously via having the salt sucked from their bodies (through their faces!). Professor Crater’s wife is some kind of shapeshifting predator native to the planet – “The Last of Her Kind” – that has taken on the original Nancy Crater’s identity. Eventually McCoy is tasked with destroying the monster, made nearly impossible by his romantic past with the Nancy whose form the creature has usurped.
This is the first regular season episode to depict what will become a common Star Trek theme: The Black Widow. Don’t worry if you slept through your last psych class: the feminine monster who can shape herself into your greatest desire; freeze you in a hypnotic trance; and then drain you of a vital white essence. When Crater claims the creature needs love as much as any other kind of sustenance, it really completes Gene Roddenberry’s thesis of women as hungry succubi.
I know you’re not convinced this episode is steeped in misogyny, so let me submit this bit of dialogue featuring Lieutenant Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and Spock:
Uhura: …I’m an illogical woman, who’s beginning to feel too much a part of that communications console. 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.
Spock: Vulcan has no moon, Miss Uhura.
Uhura: I’m not surprised, Mr. Spock.
That’s a bridge officer trying to score with the Second in Command in full view of a half-dozen subordinates. I’ve never been in the navy, but I’m pretty sure that sort of thing happens all the time.
“The Man Trap” gestures at the moral crisis of the creature’s destruction. Once “common like the American buffalo,” does Nancy’s status as a solitary, sentient being endow her with the right to survive at the expense of others? It seems that a commander of stature might have chosen a more imaginative solution than the original mistake of annihilating an species. Something along the lines of “Here’s a bunch of salt. Now go back down to the planet and sin no more.”
But then they would have had to call the episode “The Buffalo” instead, and we’d be out a vagina joke.