Star Trek Saturdays #41

It’s time for [at long last]…Star Trek Saturdays #41!!!


This week’s episode is “I, Mudd” and it is  absolutely hilarious in a way Trek usually isn’t. The return of Harry Mudd, the only other reoccurring TOS villain besides Khan, is most welcome and the whole episode is, even with the danger posed this time around, a romp from start to finish.

Before I go on, let me profusely apologize for not having done this since September. It’s not like I haven’t been writing–I’ve done a ton of news stories over on Another Castle, for instance, and had some other big stuff happen, which I’ll have up here shortly. But this blog and, most especially, this feature, have suffered drastically for all my increased productivity.  I am truly, truly sorry for that.

Also yes, I know posting this the day after the death of the iconic Leonard Nimoy. I’ll post my own tribute to the man shortly, but I hope the way I describe Spock here will articulate just how key Nimoy was, as Alan Sepinwall wrote, to making Trek the institution it is.

Now then.

We open with Spock & McCoy walking down the halls when a new crewman, Norman (Richard Tatro), passes them by and barely says hello. McCoy mentions how irritatingly unemotional he finds Norman; Spock replies that he hadn’t noticed. The whole exchange is golden, but the capper is when Spock, after McCoy mentions Norman still hasn’t shown up for his physical, responds “He’s probably terrified of your beads and rattles.” Spock is so wonderfully wry throughout this episode and it’s great.

Norman enters the auxiliary control deck, knocks out the crewman there and initiates an override. On the bridge, Sulu registers a course change but can’t correct it. Kirk orders security to auxiliary control. Norman heads to engineering, knocks out most of the crew there (including Scotty), and jams the controls.

Norman then makes his way to the bridge and exclaims that he’s in control, with the ship slated to reach its new destination in 4 days at Warp 7; he’s jammed the controls so that if anything deviates from this plan, the ship blows up. When asked why he did this,  he opens a panel in his stomach to reveal he’s an android.

File:Norman's circuits, remastered.jpg

4 days later (during which time Norman’s been asleep in front of the lift), the ship arrives at an uncharted planet. Norman awakes and tells Kirk that he, Spock, McCoy, Uhura and Chekov must beam down with him to the planet or he’ll destroy the engines. They do so and are ushered into the presence of Lord Mudd the First aka Harcourt Fenton “Harry” Mudd (Roger C. Carmel).

File:Mudd the First.jpg

Mudd, surrounded by androids who are mostly beautiful women–the two in the photo are both named Alice (played by twins Alyce and Rhae Andrece) and are part of a series of 500–explains that Kirk and the others have been brought here to spend the rest of their lives on the planet, which he’s named Mudd.

Even though he ended up in prison at the end of his last appearance, Mudd explains that he escaped and turned to illegally reselling patents. He was caught on the planet Deneb V and sentenced to death, but stole a ship and drifted through space until he found planet Mudd. Of course, he doesn’t outright say this; instead, the truth is revealed through a great bit of banter between Carmel and Shatner that is really funny.

Although he likes having a slew of robot women at his beck and call, and he even has an android replica of his nag of an ex-wife, Stella (Kay Elliot) to yell back at, Mudd says he’s so bored because the androids won’t let him leave. He told them to get a spaceship to find more humans to study and so he could leave; finding Kirk & co was just dumb luck.

The androids take the landing party to a recreation area with quarters, where they explain that every comfort will be provided to them. They reveal at Kirk’s prodding that they were made by a humanoid race in the Andromeda galaxy, meant to serve their masters’ every whim. Eventually, the civilization was destroyed by supernova, leaving just exploratory outposts into other galaxies–including planet Mudd–alive. Spock surmises when the androids leave that the sheer amount of them–over 200,000–and their actions mean they must be controlled by a central operator.

Spock discovers a central control room with Norman in it and asks him about it. Norman replies that he isn’t programmed “to respond in that area.” Meanwhile, Scotty and the rest of the crew are beamed down and replaced by androids on Mudd’s orders.

Kirk worries that the crew will grow to love their “gilded cage” and he appears to be right. Chekov is delighted when he finds out the Alices are programmed to act exactly like human females (“This place is even better than Leningrad!”); Scott is astonished by the engineering facilities; McCoy marvels at the research labs and Uhura seems taken with the idea of being transferred to an android body.

Can Kirk get his crew to snap out of it? Can he reclaim the Enterprise and stop Mudd leaving? And do the androids merely want just to serve man?

Like I said, this entire episode is pretty much one big laugh riot. Yeah, some of it is definitely dated–the nagging wife bit especially–but it all works thanks to the energy of the cast and the freewheeling attitude of the script.  Although still a scuzz, Mudd is less creepy here. Now, he’s just one big joke. The goofy outfit he’s derived for himself and his loquaciousness help reinforce this. Carmel gives a tremendous performance. His rapport is amazing and it’s a wonder Mudd was never brought back after this outside of The Animated Series (reportedly, there was a plan for Mudd to appear in TNG, but it was never followed through).

The rest of the cast is great too. Like I said, Spock gets a lot of great one-liners and Nimoy proves that one of the ways his unmistakable voice could work was as a dispenser of dry humor. Mild spoiler (but not really if you know how people usually trick robots in fiction), but the crew has to act completely irrationally and bonkers at one point. These scenes are about as funny and surreal as it gets. It’s very Batman ’66-ish in a lot of ways.

Writer Stephen Kandel, who created Mudd, is clearly having a lot of fun here and you get swept along with it. Director Marc Daniels, back after “Mirror Mirror,” doesn’t have a whole lot of flashy tricks here, but he does bring a campy ’60s humor vibe to the whole affair. A little cheesy, sure, but great stuff.

Thanks to Memory Alpha for the pics and episode info and Amazon Instant Video for hosting the series. We’ll see you next time and until then and always, live long and prosper.


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.