The Original Series, Season One
"The Man Trap"
Airdate: September 8, 1966
6 of 80 produced
1 of 80 aired
Click here to watch on CBS.com
McCoy takes "She'll suck the life out of you" completely the wrong way...
Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise visit an archaeologist and his wife (and Dr. McCoy's ex-girlfriend) living alone on a distant planet. Once there, they encounter a creature that attacks and kills by sucking all the salt out of its victims' bodies. Complicating matters is the fact that the creature can make people see it as whatever it wants.
Kevin: I'll admit when I first sat down to review this episode, I remembered it being somewhat crappy, and a poor choice to start the series. Watching it again, I have to say there is a fair amount to recommend it. The basic story of the Enterprise visiting a lonely, distant science outpost to find out that shenanigans are afoot is a really overused cliche in Star Trek, though I suppose it's possible it wasn't so hackneyed when Star Trek premiered. In the pro column is the way the creature's ability to affect its perception was established quickly and surprisingly cleanly. In the minus column was an immediate voiceover from the Captain in the form of his captain's log informing the audience he eventually figured it out. I think it would have made it more dramatic if Kirk didn't reveal his revelation in the first five minutes. Overall, it's a fairly standard monster of the week plot, but B-plots revolving around McCoy's relationship with Nancy Crater and Dr. Crater's handling of his wife's death and his ethics regarding the last of a species save it from being too pedantic.
Matthew: From a story perspective, some of the things I found interesting were the fact that McCoy and Crewman Darnell saw Mrs. Crater as a hot brunette and a hot blonde respectively, yet Kirk sees Mrs. Crater as an older woman approaching middle age. Why would this be? Does Kirk enjoy sweating to the oldies? Or, in fact, does his love for his friend McCoy compel him to see Mrs. Crater as the best thing for him - a woman who would not be an object of attraction to him?
One irritating aspect of the writing was Uhura's envisioning of the creature as a virile African male. It just rang a little weirdly in our current Politically Correct milieu. So, because she's black, she naturally fantasizes over black males?
Kevin: That actually didn't bother me. It's not off the wall that her reflexive idea of attractive would be someone who looks like her. Had it been a cheap African cariacature, that would have been another thing. (Looking at you, "Code of Honor")
Matthew: I liked the use of supporting cast in this episode. It really makes the Enterprise feel like a lived-in ship with a large crew when we see the kinds of scenes played by Sulu, Rand, and Uhura.
Kevin: The acting here is what actually pulls this episode up for me. Kirk's reaction to the death of his crew members is both credible and it establishes an important part of Kirk's character and command style for the rest of the series. I also really liked the conversation between Uhura and Spock on the bridge early in the episode. With a few lines, Spock's stoicism and Uhura's warmth are established. I thought the scene in the corridor between Uhura and the disguised creature was really well done. I can easily imagine Roddenberry having to go to the mat to make sure scenes showing an African American woman on the bridge of a Starship conversing with her crew mates as equals, and then a scene showing pretty intense attraction between two African American actors remained in the final cut. It's sad that the conversation about Vulcan's moon seems to be the most lines she ever got again, and I'm sure the studio deserves the lion's share of the responsibility for that. Still, for a first episode that didn't engage in really any exposition about the characters' past, the characters that we would come to know and love come through surprisingly clearly.
Matthew: Acting moments that stuck out for me were Kirk and McCoy's repartee on the planet, and their conflict on the ship. I really felt the bond between these guys, both in their ability to rib each other, Kirk's understanding attitude towards McCoy's rose-colored memories of Mrs. Crater, and the eventual tough choice in choosing Kirk over his lost love at the end.
As you mentioned, Kirk's reaction to crew deaths is really good. Shatner is really the star of this show, and he is a fine actor. In these earlier episodes, before Spock shared the limelight as much, Shatner really carries this show. I think peoples' perceptions of him are based on later acting - he really plays the captain par excellence very well in TOS thus far.
Spock displays some nice progress from his earlier portrayals. He is more cold, uses the word "logical," and displays befuddlement at he expectations of his crew mates insofar as emotion is concerned.
Kevin: As for the effects...oh...the effects. We clearly aren't working with the budget we were working with for The Cage, and it shows from the minute we beam down to M-113. Every planet for the rest of the Original Series would be an oval of gravel and six Styrofoam rocks painted different colors. The creature itself walked right out of a comic book. To be fair, the effects aren't distractingly bad, but they are not particularly good, either.
Matthew: The "special" effects weren't great, but I liked the set dressing on planet M-113. The interior set nicely called to mind a ruin that an archaeologist might be setting up camp in. And actually, the fake rocks on the planet were not by any means the worst fake rocks in TOS. An interesting redress of Sick Bay was used as the dining hall in this episode. I can't say I liked it, but it was interesting to watch.
On the other hand, the hand puppet flower is incredibly stupid.
Kevin: I still say this was a bad choice to start the series. The things that are ultimately central to the show are only hinted at and get bogged down by a hackneyed story. I know NBC forced them to air this first because they thought it was a more "science fiction" story, so its not their fault, but even as a second or third episode, I don't think it does a good a job as it could have of retaining viewers and netting new ones. Overall, I am going to give it a 3 out of 5. I came very close to giving it a 4 just for the look on Uhura's face when Spock tells her that Vulcan has no moon and she asks, "Why am I not surprised?"
Matthew: I think this is a solid 3. It's right in the sweet spot of the bell curve for me as far as quality. There is an interesting mystery, and as you say, an interesting debate over whether an antagonistic yet sentient creature should be destroyed for the benefit of the human crew. But it never become anything more than average Star Trek. It doesn't soar to the heights of imagination that some of the best TOS shows do, nor does it display any stunning emotional revelations for our characters. But it's a thoroughly decent early episode.
Kevin: This gives us a combined rating of 6/10. We need to make sure we don't consider that a bad rating - in a standard distribution, most Trek should be in the 5-6 range. 6 is a score that means this is an entertaining show, but not a transcendentally good one.