Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Star Trek--"The Man Trap"
It is generally unfair to compare subsequent attempts at a theme to the pioneering version, but I have little choice here. There have been many versions of the shape shifter story over the years from various science fiction shows. At best, “The Man Trap” serves as evidence of what not to do. There are so many plot holes, illogical elements, and downright unintentionally absurd elements, virtually all of which defy any rationalizing, it is pitiful. This was the very first episode aired, so what an auspicious start.

The Enterprise arrives on a long dead planet named M-113 where a Federation archeologist Dr. Robert Crater and his wife, Nancy, have been studying the ruins alone for five years. Despite their long isolation, Crater is not happy to see them. It is more than just the fact McCoy once had a fling with Nancy. Crater wants them to leave a large supply of salt, then leave. Unfortunately, a crewman is killed preventing that from happening. The crew now has a murder mystery to solve.

How awful they are at solving it. Bear in mind there are only two people on this planet. When the crewman dies, his body is discovered with Nancy hovering over him. She concocts some laughably implausible story of how he ate a poisonous plant. Two subsequent crewman arealso killed. Crater is in sight for both deaths. Nancy never is. The episode is three-fourths of the way done before anyone seriously suspects there might be something up with her.

Indeed there is. She is actually a salt vampire. It is the last of its kind because they all died out during a salt shortage. The vampire killed nancy some time ago, but the lonely Crater reached an agreement to supply it with salt as long as it would maintain the form of Nancy. You heard that right. Crater I madean arrangement with an alien monster who murdered his wife to literally replace her, presumably with all marital obligationsa in tact, if you catch my drift. That is just sick.

I will grant you there are indications the vampire has some hypnotic ability to fulfill its potential victims expectations. It is an allusion to the sex appeal vampirs have in Hollywood lore, even though vampires are considered to be ugly, miserable creatures in folklore. But its ability is displayed inconsistently. At first three different people see Nancy as a different woman, yet they do not get attached. Even womanizing kirk pays no mind. Later, when the vampire makes it to the ship, it assumes a form Uhura would find appealing, with Swahili sweet talking, to boot. How does the vampire keep its true nature secret when everyone sees it as something different, some are not hypnotized by it, while others are absolutely smitten? There is no explanation given. That is just the way it is.

In some ways, I can understand Crater. He is a lonely guy on a desolate world with nothing but his wife for companionship and now she is gone. I even catch the play on words--there is a crater in his life she used to fill emotionally. The man obviously went nuts. It is another example of how the Federation does not seem to care much for its people in the field. He has been out therefore five years alone, shacked up with his wife’s murderer and no one seems to really care. Is an archeological dig really worth all that?

McCoy is a bit harder to understand. The guy spends the entire episode gushing likr a lovesick schoolboy. At one point, Kirk has to yell at him to stop daydreaming and fulfill his duties as the chief medical officer. At the time, McCoy was standing over the corpse of a crewman who died mysteriously. I doubt a professional like McCoy would get so absorbed considering the circumstances.

The climax sets up an unintentionally hilarious moment. McCoy does not want to believe Nancy is really vampire. Spock asks, if she was really Nancy, could she takea serious beating, then begins pounding her with both fists. “The Man Trap” was filmed before “The Enemy Within” wherewe first saw the Vulcan nerve pinch. I can almost guarantee the nerve pinch was invented to avoid the emotionless, more or less pacifist Vulcan from acting in such a silly manner again. It is doubly worse considering that earlier in the episode, Uhura remarks how cold hely he responds to the first crewman’s death. Talk about a mood swing.Even after the vampire reveals himself, McCoy has a difficult time killing it even though it is in the process of sucking the salt out of Kirk. It is not his Hippocratic oath to preserve all life, but just because he cannot disconnect the vampire from the image of the long dead and not in love with him Nancy. Again, it just seemed uncharacteristically unprofessional for someone in McCoy’s position.

In spite of all the gripes, I give the episode some kudos. A salt vampire is a neat idea. The vampire had a really scary design, too. It is another one of those critters that scared the bejeebus out of me as a kid. But as I got older and understood thestory more, that becomes less of a factor in my evaluation of the episode. It could have been worse. The original, working title of the episode was “The Unreal McCoy.”

Rating: ** (out of 5)

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