Star Trek: The Man Trap   Rewatch 
July 26, 2014 6:56 PM - Season 1, Episode 2 - Subscribe

The starship Enterprise arrives at planet M-113 for routine medical exams of archaeologist Professor Robert Crater and his wife Nancy.

This "first" episode introduces us to Kirk, Spock, Ohura, Sulu, and the rest of the Star Trek cannon. The Man Trap has an interesting take on social values of the late 60's.

I had never seen this episode, and it struck me how science fiction writers were focusing on the idea of perception. It is a good episode though, full of...well salt monster.
posted by Benway (14 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is actually one of my favourite episodes. It's not particularly great, but it's such a great introduction to what Star Trek is going to be, it makes perfect sense to have this introduce the series to the world.

Bright colours, fuzzy lenses on Nancy Crater when Bones is looking at her, Uhura speaking in Swahili, a weird alien, Bones having to make a choice between his friends and his ex-girlfriend, inter-species co-dependent love (or something like it)... It has all the elements you need to jump straight into this wonderful world, and that's why I love it.
posted by Katemonkey at 10:37 AM on July 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I watched the first half Friday night. I've seen all the TOS episodes so many times over my life, even though I love the show I have a limited amount of patience for rewatching these days.

The sexism, of course, made an impression on me. I know it's there, but it's still annoying seeing it. What's sort of interesting, though, is that in this episode they made Uhura look a bit ditsy, which is really not how she mostly was portrayed through the rest of the show. It's like, well, we have a female officer on the bridge and, aside from the famous complaint that she never has much to do, you can sort of see that they had trouble thinking of her, being female, as anything other than a 60s sexy secretary in space. Or, rather, someone thought that was what the audiences wanted.

I googled the actor who played Robert Crater. That guy was only 50 years old when that was filmed. I'm fifty (well, in a few months) and I don't look as old as he did. I guessed he was at least 58.

I'm amazed at the quality of picture. In HD on Netflix the regular scenes they didn't CGI, just the actors on the sets, it looked very, very good. I guess they had the film in pretty good condition and then have done a lot of analog and digital restoration on it? Arguably more interesting is the CGI for the space/orbiting shots. They look good but, more importantly, they don't look like they are out-of-place. That must have been very tricky to do, mixing the look of the models with rendered planets and such.

I've always thought that the interaction between Kirk and McCoy was a little odd in this episode. They really hadn't quite figured out what their friendship was really going to look like. Yeah, they were friends and had known each other for a while, but the writers and the actors hadn't quite figured out how traverse that territory between command persona superior/inferior interaction and casual, friendly interaction.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:38 PM on July 27, 2014

I concur that the sexism was pretty blatant in this episode, and from memory (which isn't good), I want to say its one of the worse examples of it in the series. The chitchat between the three crewmen about the yeoman and the brain hurting conversation that Uhura has with Spock, "Why don't you tell me I'm pretty?" Blegh. Likewise, the writers figured they would contrast the emotionless Spock with the person with the most emotion on the bridge, naturally a woman. Nice.

Drinking game - Every time Bones says "Nancy" and every time Crater says, "She's the last of her kind!"

I enjoyed the episode, more than The Cage, but it may just be the bias toward the fact that we finally have the crew that we come to expect. In the first season, there's a lot of interesting character developments that simply never really come up again. I don't think we really delve into McCoy's love life again, we don't really touch on Sulu's flower collection, and for the sake of not spoiling the surprise to new viewers, I'll stop at that. Incidentally, I think that might have been the worse display of McCoy at his job in the entire series. The scene where Kirk razzes McCoy about the flowers for an ex-girlfriend was different, but fun. I enjoyed how they handled the moment when three different men saw three different people (versions of Nancy).

The creature, itself, was at times kind of puzzling. How intelligent was it? It had to have a modicum of intelligence to successfully, if barely, portray the individuals it did, but it didn't have the intelligence to simply say, "Hey, just gimme some salts and I won't be sucking it out of your crew's faces!" I did like the character design, which should be noted, was wearing some kind of garment. Another indication of the level of its intelligence.
posted by Atreides at 2:01 PM on July 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ivan F in those days TV shows were recorded and edited on 35mm film, and it is from that filmstock that the new restored edition was created. Film of that age degrades some but is still much better quality than a NTSC broadcast or videotape.
posted by localroger at 4:26 PM on July 27, 2014

This episode, of course, was the one where Nimoy was humiliated by first trying to talk up the show (to TV Guide or whatnot) as serious science fiction, only to have reporters allowed on set to watch him cry out, "Captain, the creature attacked me!"

One of the things that bugs me about the early run of episodes, as they turned out, is an over-reliance on the concept of illusion (which drags things away from hard sf and more into the realm of fantasy and magic, Clarke's quote notwithstanding). Between The Cage (yes, I know it did not air), this, and Charlie X, and a lesser extent WNMHGB, you had a problematic relationship with reality. The Corbomite Maneuver is, I would say, one of my favorites from this run because it is all about Scooby-Doo-ing an illusion -- i.e. we're smarter than that. I think as in the previous discussion there are some troubling, or perhaps just dated, social and moral judgements associated with the issue of illusion.

There was, at least, a very modern concept of sympathy for the Other, but it also comes across as a very animalistic treatment of the alien nonetheless (it can't help it, it isn't civilized like us).

The other great anecdote about this episode was the need for a tray of salt shakers. Somebody, perhaps Gene Coon, went and scoured the second-hand shops of LA for futuristic looking shakers. Most of them were rejected, but a number became Dr. McCoy's surgical tools (no moving parts but a sound effect!).

As for the CGI, I hate it. If I'm going to rewatch Star Trek I want to see the fricking wires holding the fricking models. For me, that's more fun than looking at a sterile render.
posted by dhartung at 5:29 PM on July 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

The makeup and lighting effects to create the different views of Nancy are really, really quite good, particularly for 1966. Likewise, in The Cage they did an incredible job at the end slowly revealing the looks of Vina as she "really" appears. Seeing a pattern here: Attractive female encountered on some far flung planet is not as she seems. As others here have already said - sexism much?

@Atreides - Yes, the poor creature should have just asked them to pass the damn salt already. Amen!
posted by hush at 10:25 PM on July 28, 2014

Apparently even in the far flung future bluetooth headsets make you look like an idiot. Those things looked like metal honey dippers. Also, the Star Trekkers are apparently total rubes. They got duped by illusions in both the pilot and the first episode. You would think that with these kinds of dangerous aliens around that they would be less gullible. Oh, and I shouldnt remark on half century old special effects, but that pink puppet flower had five petals on it and looked suspiciously like a hand.

Actually, even though it is an unpopular opinion, I think I liked The Cage more than this one.
posted by Literaryhero at 2:44 AM on July 29, 2014

"You would think that with these kinds of dangerous aliens around that they would be less gullible."

One thing we'll see as we watch these TOS shows is that compared to TNG and later Trek, the aliens of TOS were greatly varied and often absurdly powerful. Well, there were few that were many thousands of star systems powerful like the Borg were. But there were quite a few that were like the Q in TNG.

And even though the costumes were often kind of silly, I suppose that because there was no CGI and the makeup effects weren't quite as good (or they weren't willing to spend as much time and money on makeup effects the way later shows were) then all attempts were kind of weak and so you might as well make an alien costume that really looks alien. In contrast, all the later shows pretty much had the forehead bumps variations; everyone in TNG onward is pretty aggressively humanoid.

So, for me, one big virtue of TOS versus the later shows and films is that the galaxy portrayed was much more strange and dangerous. Aliens were often more alien (although sometimes the opposite was true, too).

And how they approached the unknown was very much of its time and contrasting with later decades. It was very American having a kind of swaggering, optimistic confidence that whatever comes, they'll be able to handle it but, at the same time, the whole idea of space exploration was relatively much newer than it is to us (and only recently a real thing) and so there was a greater sense of the galaxy being the unknown.

In contrast, TNG and other science-fiction TV of later eras to the present tend to combine the opposite viewpoints to those: the galaxy is much better known, fewer really weird stuff happens, but even so there's more pessimism and more caution. No one really has boldly gone into the unknown since TOS.

And the exploration theme is something that no later Trek show ever managed again, even when they attempted it (and they only really attempted it twice). I've always felt there's a pent-up audience desire for truly exploratory space science fiction television shows.

So the gullibility you mention is really in keeping with how TOS goes, and itself is in keeping with the cultural milieu from which it came. It was a wide-eyed enthusiastic naivete.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:14 AM on July 29, 2014 [15 favorites]

That is an amazing breakdown. Thanks, Ivan Fyodorovich.
posted by Literaryhero at 3:28 AM on July 29, 2014

And the exploration theme is something that no later Trek show ever managed again, even when they attempted it (and they only really attempted it twice).

Zing. (But an honest zing)
posted by Atreides at 6:52 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

And the exploration theme is something that no later Trek show ever managed again, even when they attempted it (and they only really attempted it twice).

Just curious, which two shows are you referring? I could only come up with ST: Voyager and maybe DS:9. Although in DS:9 all of the exploring came to the station in various forms, but since was on the edge of the quadrant, so they were exploring in a sense.

Ivan I really liked yours assessment though. It makes me excited for the rest of the series.
posted by Benway at 10:47 AM on July 29, 2014

I'm assuming he's referencing Enterprise. It literally has a scene where the ship boldly goes where no one has gone before, which kicks off an entire season.
posted by Atreides at 10:51 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, that was one of the rationales for Enterprise. It was very much a central aim of Voyager but I think there was a feeling that it still hadn't managed that TOS sense of exploring the unknown (even though they were literally in uncharted territory) and so there was a lot of talk that Enterprise would necessarily be quite exploratory because it was the very beginning of human interstellar exploration. But neither show managed that sense of weekly discovery that TOS had and I think there are some discernible reasons for this.

"Ivan I really liked yours assessment though. It makes me excited for the rest of the series."

Temper your expectations with the awareness that it can also be very hokey/campy in the way that is reminiscent of the 50s science fiction film and television. That may be a virtue for you, I don't know. But the two things are related. Forbidden Planet is archetypical for everything that was best about mid-century American science-fiction (including prose): a characteristically American sense of adventuristic, can-do spirit, camp and space opera hyperbole, coupled to a willingness to examine serious psychological, social, and moral issues. ST:TOS is very much in keeping with this.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:16 PM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

I watched TOS it seems like hundreds of times in my teen years, so it was a shock, as I started reading these re-watches, to realize I barely recognized the episodes. So I bought some DVDs to join you.
1) This particular episode is bad science fiction. I don't understand, if the creature is a shape-shifter, how it appeared differently to the three crewmembers who first met it. It killed Nancy, so it knows what she looks like, but how did it know how to portray the pretty woman the crewman remembered? That would seem to be mind-reading, and if the creature could read minds it would have had an easier time killing everyone. Second, it appeared to be projecting three different images simultaneously, which, again, is not shape-shifting, but mind-control. Then I have to wonder if the transporter hadn't been fully thought out at this stage? Because when the Captain said "beam up", I'd imagine the transporter would have beamed up the hidden dead crewman, not the imposter, or else it would have beeped a warning that two identical people were now choices to beam up. And once the creature was on board, shouldn't the ship's sensors been able to pinpoint its location without all the drama? Also, salt? If the creature lived on this planet, where exactly did it used to get salt?
2) I haven't seen the Enterprise in, what, 40 years? My memory of it is a little staticky, since I was watching on UHF, but the corridors seemed quite futuristic. Now, I work on an army base in a building built in 1952, and the corridors of the Enterprise look exactly like mine: cheap and covered in crappy signage. I really like it.
posted by acrasis at 5:12 PM on October 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

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