I was thinking about the buffalo, Mr. Spock.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek – half a century since the premiere of a little television show that gradually proved to be a global phenomenon. Across that time, it’s spawned seven hundred and twenty-six episodes, thirty seasons, five television shows and an upcoming sixth, and thirteen movies, as well as countless novels, comics, and other ephemera. Star Trek and all its hallmarks are quite firmly lodged in the cultural zeitgeist in a way quite unlike any other.
It seemed apt, then, to try and do something to commemorate today. My hope, then, is to review the entirety of the first year of The Original Series over the course of the coming weeks; each review will post on the 50th anniversary of the episode itself. Beyond that, I’ve not entirely decided on my plans. I might continue on in order, tackling subsequent seasons and then The Animated Series, the movies with the original crew, and then move on to The Next Generation, and so on and so forth. We’ll see, I suppose.
I’m quite looking forward to this project, I have to say. While I would I consider myself to be a Star Trek fan, the amount of actual content I’ve seen – particularly of the original show – is rather small. Sporadic episodes here and there (I searched out the highlights) and a few of the movies (The Motion Picture and The Voyage Home, obviously) essentially comprise the sum total of my viewing experience; while my familiarity with subsequent spinoff shows is far more extensive, it’s still lacking.
So my hope, then, is to spend the next few weeks immersing myself in the show, and then really getting to grips with it. Even though, broadly speaking, I like it a lot and I consider myself to be quite knowledgeable about it, I’m hoping to be able to get a deeper understanding of just why Star Trek is so loved, and perhaps why it grew to be the force it is today.
Let’s get started then, shall we? Where I have never gone before…
What immediately stood out to me, actually, is that this doesn’t really feel like a pilot episode. Certainly, had you approached me to write a Star Trek pilot I wouldn’t have produced anything even close to resembling this; this could easily be the seventh episode, or the middle of the second season, or near the end of the third. There’s nothing that really sets it apart from just a normal week on the Enterprise; when you consider this alongside Encounter at Farpoint or Emissary, and indeed The Caretaker or Broken Bow, The Man Trap is very much the anomaly in that this isn’t the start of the mission for the crew. It seems to be to be quite early on; the interaction between Uhura and Spock regarding the death of Darnell seems to betray a lack of familiarity between the pair, for example. Was this the right way to handle it? I’m not sure, really; I feel in some regards I would have preferred had the episode been approached differently.
Equally, though, it’s not fair to say that we weren’t introduced to the characters well. It’s very much an episode for Kirk and Dr. McCoy, with a fair amount of time dedicated to fleshing out their friendship. There’s a good basis to build up established here; you can tell the pair of them are old friends, and that they get along well, but equally you can see the points at which the chain of command takes over and Kirk is quite firmly a Captain. I’d say Kirk comes across quite well here too, actually; he’s charismatic and reasonably charming, and manages to walk the delicate line between friend and commanding officer quite well. The potential for the character is clear to see, in any case.
What was interesting to see as well, I think, was the manner in which the episode feels… partially formed, in a way. There are a lot of recognisable elements – Kirk and Bones, Spock, Uhura and Sulu – but at the same time, there’s also a lot missing, or things that didn’t quite make it into public perception of the show. Quite entertainingly, the first throwaway crewmember to die is a blueshirt, and the one following that a yellow; I’m not actually certain if a redshirt died at all during the episode. A lot of the bridge crew, as we know them, aren’t here; there’s no appearance from Scotty, for example, and obviously Chekov isn’t going to be introduced for another series anyway. You’ve also got a relatively significant role for Yeoman Rand, who I believe was initially billed as the show’s female lead, but was ultimately gradually phased out. (The behind the scenes stuff for that is quite interesting, actually; I was reading about it earlier today.)
Despite that, though, there’s quite clearly a firm outline for what Star Trek is going to become; while this isn’t really a particularly philosophical or high concept episode, it does end on a bit more of a contemplative note, which was nice.
In a lot of regards, though, the episode is quite dated – most notably in terms of how it depicts women. It’s very 60s; as much as we would like to hold Star Trek up as always having been this paragon of progressive virtue (look, a woman wearing trousers walked past!) that’s not necessarily always the case.
Each of the three female characters – Nancy, Uhura, and Janice Rand – all get their ditzy airhead moments, and they’re all objectified to some extent as romantic conquests to pursue. There’s a particularly strange moment where three male crewmen are leering at Janice Rand, and say they wouldn’t mind her being their personal Yeoman, which is just a tad creepy. You can understand where it comes from, of course; this Star Trek is being pitched as not so different from a naval vessel, and this kind of joke-y banter between a group of male crewmen probably wouldn’t feel so out of place. It’s definitely the sort of thing that would engender a laugh from the audience, in any case. Now, while this obviously doesn’t spoil the episode or anything like that, it does feel a little bit of a letdown; for a show that has a reputation for being quite so forward thinking, it’s perhaps a little disappointing to be confronted with certain realities we tend to ignore.
Nonetheless! The Man Trap is a pretty decent episode. It’s got a nice little mystery going on, it’s quite well paced, and at times it’s actually rather tense – I’m not sure I’d necessarily call it exciting, but it was certainly very engaging, and I enjoyed it a lot. It’s a strong episode, and while it doesn’t speak of fifty years’ worth of potential, it would absolutely get me to watch the next episode.