Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 1 (The Man Trap)

WARNING:  I’m going to give away details, including the ending.

When Gene Roddenberry first made a pilot for Star Trek, it was rejected as being too cerebral.  When he made a second pilot, the series was picked up.  However, NBC chose not to air Where No Man Has Gone Before first.  Instead, the second pilot aired as the third episode.  The first aired episode was The Man Trap, having aired on September 8th, 1966.  Thus, the first few episodes produced were aired out of order.  (For the sake of simplicity, I’ll be going with the order in which they aired.)

The episode has the crew of the Enterprise checking in on Professor Robert Crater and his wife, Nancy.  What’s interesting is that Nancy once dated the ship’s chief medical officer, Dr. Leonard McCoy.  When Kirk and McCoy beam down with Crewman Darnell, each see her differently.  Kirk sees her as she should be: a woman about the same age as McCoy.  McCoy sees her as he once knew her.  As for Darnell, he could swear he met her on a pleasure planet.  He sees a beautiful woman who differs in appearance from either Kirk or McCoy’s version.

At any rate, McCoy conducts his evaluation while Kirk and the professor talk a little.  Darnell manages to wander off to look around the ruins that Professor Crater is studying.  When Nancy finds Darnell, he’s dead.  She claims that it’s from eating a poisonous plant, but Kirk and McCoy aren’t buying it.  The poisonous properties of the plant wouldn’t explain the red circles on his face.  Oh, and both Mr. and Mrs. Crater insist on salt tablets.  Something seems a little off.

Back on the Enterprise, McCoy discovers that Darnell’s body is missing salt.  He and Kirk can’t imagine how someone could miss something so basic.  Besides, what does it mean?  Why is he lacking the one thing that the Craters were asking for.  (What I want to know is what Darnell was doing on the planet in the first place.  He was a science officer.  There’s a reason newly deceased crewmembers wear red.)

Well, it turns out that Nancy has a secret:  She’s not Nancy.  She’s actually a salt vampire that Robert was hiding.  She’s the last of her kind.  It’s not clear how they were killed.  I would assume from lack of food, although the planet seems like it’s been dead for a while.  I’m not sure how long the extinction took.  It’s also not mentioned what Robert was doing with the salt vampire for the years they were living together.   (I suppose some things are better left to the imagination.)

The mission of the Enterprise was to seek out new life and in the first episode to air, the first new form of life we see is killed by Dr. McCoy.  Granted, the salt vampire was a threat, although it was more from being desperate to survive than from wanting to do harm.  As I said, we’re not given an exact timeline of how the species died off.  We don’t know if the one impersonating Nancy was there alone for months or decades.  There is a certain shame in not being able to learn more about it.

One issue I had with the original series was a lack of continuity.  You could almost watch the series out of order and not be confused much.  In some respects, this is good.  With this episode, you don’t lose much by not having much of a history to work with.  You get all the basic ideas.  McCoy has to meet the one that got away.  The Federation and Starfleet tend towards exploration and research rather than battle.  Sometimes, tough decisions have to be made.  It’s not desirable to kill the last of a species, but it was necessary.  This was a new show, and one that would become iconic.  Some things can be forgiven.

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