This is an ongoing series entitled Stream Me Up where I will be reviewing all of the episodes of Star Trek starting with TOS and going on infinitum. I’ll be uploading a new review every Tuesday and Friday.
Despite this technically being the sixth that was produced by Gene Roddenberry and Co., “The Man Trap” serves as a fairly solid entry into the Star Trek universe.
It sets up and executes much of what would make Star Trek: The Original Series such an engaging and worthy series. On the more sci-fi side of things, you have a planet and antagonist that is very palpable. The episode can get away with some hand-waving in its depiction of the desolate environment that at the same time does some excellent shorthand for letting us know right off the bat this is, in essence, a dangerous place for an away team to be. At the same time, “The Man Trap” presents the audience with a threat that it isn’t difficult for them to decipher for themselves: an alien vampire of sorts that drains its victims of salt.
It’s the character and ship-wide part that the episode really gets right, though. One of the most essential things is that we understand how the crew operates and interacts with each other. Right off the bat, we get Kirk mocking Bones and it is one of those small things that the episode knows to get right. It allows the crew to have this lived-in feeling that there is actual history between all of them. The scene between Spock and Uhura is another great one, presenting us with a dynamic that gives off the impression that this is not the first time they’ve had a moment like this before.
You wouldn’t be able to say that this is one of TOS‘s best episodes but it is an excellent primer into what this world is and how it feels to inhabit. It’s very wisely put here as the first episode because it’s not hard to imagine that if someone was recommending the series to a friend, this might be one of the episodes they present to give a person a decent idea of what the show’s like. It’s witty dialogue and ethical quandaries with enough action and body counts to make it appear more exciting, both important staples of Star Trek.
Also, the episode does have a good bit of leering and male gaze to Janice Rand, which is gross and sexist as well as being very much a product of its time that you can’t be too hard on. It was the 60’s, after all.
On that note, there are things about this episode that don’t work very well. For instance, the episode really doesn’t want you to pay too much attention to the utter tragedy of McCoy’s ex-girlfriend, Nancy Crater, having been killed the creature. Part of this is the episode doesn’t have any time, to any significant extent, to dwell on this but also because doing so would far sadder than the episode is prepared to deal with.
To the same manner, Professor Robert Crater is too amorphous of an entity throughout “The Man Trap,” not really making it clear one way or another why he would be so on board with this alien killing and impersonating his wife. The implication seems to be that the creature has been using Nancy’s likeness virtually since her death and it’s never made explicitly clear why Robert would be okay with that beyond self preservation or the manipulative motivations that Kirk lays out at one point. There’s just not enough there to feel ultimately satisfied.
The creature itself is a really good design, though. It has the look of biohazard suit with a gas mask that’s gone horribly wrong and mutilated. It has a nightmarish quality to it that helps you believe how a species like this could have been come extinct. It’s helped by the small amount that we get of it so you can’t point anything wrong with the practical effect.
While not a perfect episode, “The Man Trap” makes for an excellent entry into the series and sets up a lot of what Star Trek: The Original Series does so well.
Check back in on Friday for Season 1 Episode 2, “Charlie X.”