Star Trek Saturdays #3

And now, it’s time for Star Trek Saturdays #3!!!

This week, the episode is “Mudd’s Women.” This is the first example of the other side of the Trek story coin: small-scale human drama as opposed to big alien conflicts. Personally, I think it pulls it off rather well.

The plot starts out in media res, with the Enterprise pursuing an unregistered ship right into an asteroid belt. Even though it strains their power supply to the breaking point, leaving them with only one lithium crystal to run the entire ship on, they put their deflector shields around the ship and beam the crew off. Well, not crew exactly. It’s just one man and three women, who he says are “not so much crew as…cargo.

That man’s the guy in the picture and his name, he says, is Leo Francis Walsh, but it’s actually Mudd. Harry Mudd. Mudd is one creepy scuzzball and it’s evident from his first line. Kirk & everyone else immediately distrust him, but they–well, all except Spock– find himself enchanted by his “cargo,” three beautiful women named Eve, Magda & Ruth who he’s taking to be wives for settlers on the frontier planet of Ophiucus III.

(L to R: Eve, Ruth & Magda)

Interrogating him, the crew learns of his real name and his police record for things like counterfeiting and smuggling. After his interrogation, Kirk orders Mudd to be put under guard and confined to quarters, but when Mudd overhears him telling the navigator to set a course for the lithium mining planet of Rigel XII to obtain lithium crystals, he secretly obtains a communicator and tricks the miners there into agreeing to barter the crystals for the women as well as getting him set free and all his charges dropped.  But Eve (Karen Steele) isn’t 100% down with the plan and all three of the women aren’t what they seem…

With this episode, you can tell it was made in the ’60s and it stands up as both an interesting small-scale drama–albeit one with the entire Enterprise in the balance–and an interesting portrayal of femininity at the time. It’s also an incredibly sensual episode. The hypnotic effect the women all simultaneously have on the crewmen can come off as a bit silly at times, but it makes a bit of sense. Most of these men are, no doubt, rather young and without any attachment and, given that this Enterprise is only on a 5-year mission, probably aren’t trying to become too close to anyone. So when these beautiful women appear out of nowhere and stroll around like goddesses, it makes sense for them to be enraptured.

This episode has been called one of the most prominent examples of sexism in the show and yeah, it’s hard to argue that. This episode fails the Bechdel test, for sure, seeing as how all 3 women fail to reveal anything about themselves aside from how they feel/what they want in a man. But an interesting thing happens towards the end: we’re treated for about 10 minutes or so to a few domestic scenes between Eve and Ben Childress (Gene Dynarski) down on Rigel XII. The way Steele and Dynarski interact, and the way writer Stephen Kendel crafts their dialogue, it feels like you’ve just changed the channel from Trek to a powerful drama. It’s a neat little microcosm and it probably can be analyzed in all sorts of ways to say things about feminism, gender relations and so forth.

What largely drives this episode is the guest star/main antagonist, Harry Mudd, played by Roger C. Carmel. If the name Roger C. Carmel sounds familiar to you, it’s no surprise. Carmel, who died in 1986, popped up in everything during his career from All in the Family to as a voice actor on the original Transformers series as, among other characters, Cyclonus. This is, according to the Internet, his most famous live-action role and frankly, I’m not surprised. As Mudd, he’s just flat-out creepy and sleazy; he’s the sort of person you don’t know whether to laugh at or be repulsed by. Mostly, it’s both. He’s a fantastic villain and I’m excited that he pops up again in the second season.

At the end, Spock refers to the events of this story as “an annoying, emotional episode.” I can see where people would make that argument as there’s no big fight scenes. But all the same, this is both a fascinating story in its own right and an interesting time capsule of how television worked during the proto-women’s lib era. Also, quick side note: look at Ruth’s outfit up there. How the heck did something like that make it on network TV at the time?

Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant for hosting the show. We’ll see you next Saturday and until then, live long and prosper.

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