Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Episode Analyis: S1E01 The Man Trap

What was it Leonard Nimoy said? That they were trying to convince the press that this was a very cerebral and interesting show about exploration and culture, and then they started with The Man Trap and it was all monsters and blood? Something like that, anyway. That's how this episode can seem on the surface. But then there are things that bring this one up in the rankings, too. After all, it's the first aired episode and it gives us some lovely McCoy moments, some insight into his past, into his loves and losses. We see Kirk and the strain of having so many people under his command, the conflict between keeping those people safe and facing the unknown fascinations and dangers of space. We probably don't see enough about Spock to make this a truly wonderful episode, but he does have his moments. There's also a lot of screen time for Uhura and Janice Rand, being viable crew members on a working ship, which for 1966 is pretty awesome. (IMDB has this episode marked as 1969, but I'm not sure why.)

Overall, this is not a monster episode. It could be, if it weren't Star Trek. But through the monster we are shown a story about the tragedy of extinction. We are asked to understand the balance between a desperate urge for survival and the sanctity of other lives. We are shown that intelligence doesn't only reside in beautiful forms. We are shown that love can exist between vastly differing creatures, and that humans can attain forgiveness. Yes, there is a freaky alien and there is green blood, but there's a hell of a lot more than that to come away with at the end.

I am going to use the remastered versions for these screencappings. I like them. All purity aside, they probably brought it closer to what it would have been like at the time if these techniques were available. Star Trek was always hindered by budget and physical constraints. It's nice to see them getting beyond that a little. And this is gorgeous. The Enterprise in orbit of a beautiful globe. I love it.

*Note. I will take too many screenshots.

But look at this. There's an alien in the command chair. At the navigation post there is a black woman. Yes, Uhura was the communications officer, and that's a quite female role – but here she is in the first episode, navigating for the entire bloody ship!

I am going to take far too many screenshots. But look! Nineteen seconds in and we have Spock, alien, exotic, gorgeous.

You have to wonder if the set decorators had fun piling up these huge polystyrene(?) blocks like toddlers playing on the living room floor.

Doesn't that look a lot like the thing Spock has (or will have) in his quarters? The smoking bear thing? But we also get this snippet. This is a routine medical examination of the archaeologists Robert and Nancy Crater – except that Nancy is 'that one woman' (come on, I bet there were more) in McCoy's past. It's so routine it requires the captain to come along and mercilessly tease his good Chief Medical Officer.

There he goes, mocking him by suggesting he should present her with a bunch of dried grass in place of flowers. What a git. (Really, I do like Kirk. Honest.) But we get all the hints that McCoy is nervously awaiting this reunification. They came down ten minutes early at his insistence. He's twisting his hands together like a lad on his first date.

Mmm, homely. Someone loved the Artex there.

And there she is, homely but pretty. She's played by Jeanne Bal, also seen in Route 66.

Except this is how she looks to Kirk. Look how nervous Bones looks.

Except this is how she looks to Crewman Darnell, who would be wearing a red shirt like a shot if he weren't part of a medical team. Now, what does this say about Kirk? Does this uphold that 'stack of books with legs' image we're presented with in – is it in 'Where No Man Has Gone Before'? I mean, McCoy sees the woman he used to love. Darnell sees a sultry blonde. Kirk sees an ageing woman with little sexual appeal. Maybe we've all misjudged the man?

Darnell is – well – his mind is firmly on anatomy, it seems, which I suppose is suited to his position... He's seeing someone he met on 'Wrigley's Pleasure Planet,' which really tells us all we need to know about his past.

McCoy is not amused. Eyebrows galore.

I am taking too many screencaps. This is the moment when Jim finds out that Nancy's nickname for McCoy is 'Plum.' Oh, lucky Bones...

When 'Nancy' proclaims that it's quite warm and flings an item of clothing at Darnell, it's all he needs to remind him of the pleasure planet, and he's after her like a dog on heat as she walks off to find her husband. Oh dear. Silly boy.

Space, the final frontier... (It's okay. I won't do this every time. That would be tedious. But this is the first episode.)

Something to make your heart glad.

Yes, yes, we all know about him.

Ahh. Happy sigh.

I think it's worth doing a cap of the title screen.

I will try to take fewer caps than this. I'm sorry. But look at this. Look at the scope they make – the alien planet receding into the distance. They've turned something pretty restricted in the original into a place that feels like it has space. It still feels like Star Trek, but Star Trek with knobs on. I mean, it's awesome!

This is a big landscape. And we also have that wonderful, 'something wonky is going on' music. And Kirk is suspicious in his retrospective log, too...

So Robert Crater (also in four episodes of Mission: Impossible, also made by Desilu, and two of Route 66) strides in, immediately combative, rejecting their presence, protesting that all they need is more salt. (Ooh, now that has to be relevant. Hint. Hint.) This feels rather like a stage production in this moment. Perhaps it's something to do with the sound.

This is the moment Kirk chooses to teasingly tell McCoy, 'He's all yours, Plum.' Oh god, I got a terrible Kirk/McCoy flash then. (Is there a name for that? McKirk? KirCoy?) You don't get the feeling that Carter is happy about it being McCoy who is there.

McCoy seems to be trying to lightly massage Carter's shoulders with his scanner.

Jim has his best 'smug git' expression on as McCoy raves about how young Nancy still looks and Kirk argues she hardly looks twenty-five. McCoy is not happy about this.

Oh dear, it's started. While McCoy is trying to use a tongue depressor on Carter we hear the inevitable female screaming from outside, and they all rush out to find that Darnell has very artfully died on a kind of ledge, as if he were thinking of sunbathing and the moment overcame him.

Apparently he's been attacked by some kind of octopus with a pink marker pen. He should have been wearing a red shirt, really he should.

Luckily for Nancy she is Female, and so can take refuge in weepiness and shock in a way they would never accept from a man, as she tries to explain what happened. Darnell had been eating a Borgia plant, and the clue is right in the name. And look, she's chewing her fist too. Make sure you remember that for later. Kirk is no end of hacked off about this and orders a beam back to the ship. His day is not going well.

Meanwhile, on the ship, Uhura tries to chat up Spock and establish that a. she is a red-blooded woman and fancies the ears off him, and b. he is an emotionless alien who will have none of that, thank you very much.

Actually, Spock is affected by these things. That's why he starts sticking his finger in his collar when she feeds him with chat-up lines that he could use on her. But his planet is established to be so unromantic is doesn't even have a moon. Sigh. It's all doomed from the start.

Not only is Spock unmoved by love. He's also unmoved by death, and Uhura needs to berate him for not reacting when he hears one of the landing party is dead, even though it could be the captain, who is 'the closest thing you have to a friend.' What a lot of facts they're subtly establishing in this episode. But of course, Spock is moved. You know it, I know it. Everyone on this side of the camera knows it. You can tell that he's worried.

Uhura is pretty when she's angry – especially against that background.

Gratuitous picture of Spock, reporting on the Borgia plant. There's no need for this picture, but he has one of those receivers in his ear and looks cute.

McCoy is having one of those days. Kirk thinks he can tell him how to do his job. McCoy knows Darnell wasn't poisoned by the plant. Kirk probably wants to put a lid on it so he can get back to calling his friend Plum and teasing him about old girlfriends. But apparently there's nothing wrong with Darnell and he shouldn't be dead, and McCoy is starting to doubt his senses, poor thing, and then Kirk starts snapping at him, and everything goes to hell. Bad day.

Spock is almost slumped, for Spock, as he reports to the captain about the Borgia plant again. Before that we get a nice little interlude where Uhura repeats a message from Space Commander Dominguez, who's wondering why they haven't delivered his urgent supplies yet. Kirk tells her to 'Tell José he'll get his chilli peppers when we get there.' Racial stereotyping? Dominguez obviously prefers traditional Mexican cooking on his starship base.

I can't resist pictures of Spock with that thing in his ear.

I should be taking caps of Kirk and McCoy too, as they talk over Darnell's body in sick bay. They've finally realised he has no salt in his body, and are starting to put two and two together. But honestly Spock is too pretty here, and I need to show you this instead of a picture of Kirk and McCoy standing around having little tiffs and making up again. Kirk, to be honest, is being an arse as McCoy tries to apologise to him. It's classic Kirk. He gets upset because things are going wrong and takes it out on his friends. But poor Bones.

Still no redshirts down here as they beam down to question the Craters. The others are probably getting distinctly nervous. At least when the shirts are red they know who's going to go first!

People who want to say that William Shatner is a bad actor can go and tell it to someone else. I mean, he's not the best in the world, but here he is as Kirk on an alien planet. His men are in danger. He doesn't know what the threat is, and he needs to find out. He's unnerved and he's angry and he's feeling vulnerable, and Shatner portrays all of this beautifully. Just because Kirk often comes across as an arse doesn't mean that Shatner didn't mean him to. The tension between Kirk as the captain of his ship and Crater as the male leader on his planet is wonderful.

Oh bugger.

Fuck. Crewman Green has bought it too.

Here's another example of good acting, good script, good direction. Crater immediately starts calling for his 'wife.' She is hovering over this second guy with a definitely odd, alien look to her. Crater first calls, 'Nancy!' but then he calls, 'You! Salt!' instantly distancing her perceived humanity from him and throwing his wife into the cast of an other.

The way she stands, leaning in like this in such an alert pose, she looks like an animal.

The drawback of a sound stage, I suppose, is in the name. As Kirk and McCoy run in they sound stagey. Their voices are rounded up by the walls. You feel that Crater has exited stage left, and Kirk and McCoy have run on from the wings, stage right. (Or vice versa – not being an actor I don't know how this is oriented.) But this is one of the things I love about Star Trek. It is bounded by the stage and the way characters stand and move and speak are constrained by this. It feels theatrical. It feels as if we're watching something that is consciously art and trying to rise above its constraints.

Finally we see evidence of what 'Nancy' can do. As she stands there over the dead body of Crewman Green, she becomes Green. Still wary and predatory in his gait, still the 'creature,' but enough to fool Kirk and McCoy. (Green is played by Bruce Watson, who was also in one episode of Route 66 and two of Mission: Impossible, and unfortunately committed suicide in 2009.)

While human drama goes on between Kirk and McCoy – McCoy desperately worried about Nancy, Kirk snapping at him to stop thinking with his glands – there's another drama on 'Green's' face. This is the face of someone who desperately wants something...

Nice little private moment between Kirk and the transporter officer. 'There's a body down there. Sturgeon.' 'We'll bring him home, sir.' This is a family.

Our first view of Janice Rand, who is munching alien celery and peeved at 'Green' trying to take the salt off her tray. When he jumps into the lift with her and a couple of others you really get a feeling of menace.

We get to see Spock with that lovely blue light on his face. Yum. Spock is scanning the planet for the Craters, but he can only pick up Robert Crater. Uh-oh.

It may be the twenty-third century, but that doesn't stop men from ogling Janice Rand in the corridor and making insinuations about having her as your 'personal yeoman.'

We don't get to see things like this enough on Star Trek. Sulu's domain, the botany lab, I think, full of alien plants. You realise as she hands over the tray to him that she was more than a little cheeky since the celery she was eating was from Sulu's meal.

Janice is petting this lovely animate plant that Sulu says is called 'Gertrude.' She insists it's a boy plant – 'a girl can tell.' Hmm...

Sulu questions the long-held tradition of calling inanimate objects 'she,' in an early criticism of gender roles. Janice is unnerved by the plants in a lovely juxtaposition against the as yet unrecognised menace of the alien on board.

Green has come into the room, after the salt again. Does this look appetising? Actually, I'd always assumed these little squares of food were foam or something, but they look like melon and more appetising than I thought.

Gertrude really doesn't like Green...

Another moment of Enterprise sexual harassment. At least, Uhura looks awfully defensive as she comes out of the lift, as if she's used to being perved on in small spaces.

'Green' transforms himself into someone that Uhura was just thinking about. So presumably she was standing there in the lift wishing these men would leave her alone and her dream guy would walk in. There's only one drawback with this dream guy...

She's defensive, but when he starts speaking Swahili to her she's almost lured in.

No luck for our salt guy today. He's just got his fingers out when Rand and Sulu appear. Uhura is getting frightened, and she's being called to the bridge. Phew...

Now, here's a rare thing. We get to see McCoy in his quarters, no uniform shirt, lying on his bed. He can't sleep, worrying about Nancy, and is thinking of self-medicating with sleeping tablets... For the most 'human' of the Enterprise triumvirate, we don't see much of his personal space.

Everybody's eating those melon cubes. They're the Enterprise's favourite food. And Spock's top is too short. No wonder he spends the next few years nervously tugging it down... Kirk and Spock are about to beam down, not realising the menace is now on the ship...

So, Nancy appears outside McCoy's quarters and is invited in. She's reassured by him because he has such strong memories of her. Could it be that he makes her feel a little more 'human'? Because McCoy is honourable he doesn't want to let her seduce him. You can't help but feel that she's torn here, though, between the 'human' feelings and the creature need for salt.

Fuck. Another one bites the dust. But it's nice to see these different outfits in these early episodes.

There really is an interesting dynamic here. She could just kill him and take his salt as she does with everyone else. But she doesn't. She takes his form and leaves him sleeping in his quarters.

Meanwhile, Kirk and Spock are down on the planet, looking for Robert Crater, convinced that he holds all the answers...

Suddenly everything is kicking off. As the death on the ship is called down to Kirk, Spock discovers Green's body on the planet, and Robert Crater is lurking behind the rocks with a weapon...

Woman in trousers! That initiative didn't last long...

Apparently the Enterprise also employs bee keepers...

Really, I am trying to take fewer screencaps. But here all hell breaks loose. Crater blasts away the central pillar of one of those ancient structures. Kirk and Spock think there's nothing better than to crawl directly beneath the destabilised ruin. Spock is looking sinuous. (He can crawl sinuously both backwards and forwards.) It's all good. Spock gives a marvellous shuggy of dismissal and disgust as Kirk tells him Crater is doing a good job at frightening them. If only I had the years at my disposal to make a gif...

There's a certain irony in the feverish activity on the bridge to find the creature, when it's standing in the doorway in McCoy's form. Also, it seems to be that Uhura, Rand, and Sulu are single handedly responsible for running the ship today. McCoy is behaving oddly and makes them uneasy, but they don't twig.

Meanwhile, on the planet – peebo, Spock!

By playing a nifty game of hide and seek and crawling in the dust and making large blocks of stone wobble as if they were polystyrene, they find and stun Crater...

Slurring and groggy, Crater explains about Nancy, about how she is 'the last of its kind,' like the passenger pigeon or buffalo on Earth, hunted to extinction. Nancy was killed by the salt creature. Crater understands that it was just trying to survive. It's a tragic story, and in the proper Star Trek mould Crater has sympathy for the last remnant of a lost race, despite what it may have done.

McCoy is still asleep in his quarters. For a doctor, he's very careless with those pills there behind him.

But McCoy is also in the briefing, chewing on his hand... Oh dear... Do I need to mention again how cool it is that Uhura and Rand have such a prominent part in this episode and in the running of this ship?

Suddenly McCoy and Crater seem like a team in their defence of the creature... Crater is right to a point, though. He did beg them to just give them the salt and get off the planet. If only he could have been more honest, perhaps that would have worked. Kirk has a Captain Ahab complex now, though. He wants to get the creature that is killing his men. But Crater has a very human view on it. 'It needs love as much as it needs salt.' This is not just a ravaging, senseless alien. It is an intelligent being, vastly misunderstood. Kirk will not look at it from Crater's point of view, though. He is naturally suspicious and angry and can only see it as a kind of heaven for Crater. He discounts the personship of the creature entirely.

Spock is suspicious, but is he suspicious enough?

Obviously he was almost suspicious enough. 'McCoy' is cunning, agreeing to use truth serum on Crater, probably with the intention of giving him some harmless drug so that what he says is believed. But Spock goes with them and is struck, and curiously has a red cut that bleeds green... I think there must be some kind of pigment in Vulcan skin that produces the red effect.

Oops. The creature wasn't as fond of Crater as he thought... Spock was only saved due to his differing blood cells.

Nancy plays the woman card again, begging McCoy for help, acting as if she is terrified. Of course, she probably is terrified. She is in fear for her life.

But Kirk comes along with salt to tempt her. McCoy doesn't want to believe that this is not Nancy, but he's going to have to at some point.

The creature evidently has the power to hypnotise or paralyse its prey, and Kirk can do nothing. McCoy is frozen with horror and disbelief.

So Spock rushes in, with a nice little plaster on his cut, and sees what is happening. He's the only one who can act, but McCoy won't let go of the phaser.

Even repeatedly slapping her around the face with clenched fists won't convince McCoy.

Spock is hit so hard into the wall that his make up smears off on the paint... But it's finally enough to convince McCoy.

Nancy is not so pretty in real life. Is it the ugliness that finally gets McCoy to shoot, or the fact the captain is screaming in agony, or the fact that it's finally, finally obvious that this is not the woman he loved?

In final desperation, what could be seen as cruelty, she shows herself as Nancy once more, and McCoy has to shoot her in that guise, muttering 'Lord forgive me,' as he does. Poor Bones.

Does anyone understand me when I say this alien reminds me of a cactus flower when it's starting to die off? Like one of these, but more dead?

Poor Bones. He has not had a good day.

I defy anyone to look at this and still say they prefer the pre-remastered versions. (I know some people do, but hey...)

Everyone's on the bridge for the end of episode piece. Kirk is sombre and silent. Oh dear...

Spock still has his plaster on. It looks a little like velcro. Scratchy. Jim is thinking about the buffalo. Never mind that McCoy has had to kill a creature in the form of a woman he once loved. It's the buffalo that count. But in the great scheme of things it should be this way. The last of a dying race was killed. It makes everyone, even Spock, give a little regretful smile.

Little Kirk smile of regret.

Little McCoy smile of regret. He'll be all better next week.

So off they fly. Space is big... And that concludes our journey for today.