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Thursday, May 31, 2012
Star Trek: "Mudd's Women"
It's been a while since I delved into the world of classic Star Trek.  But now with most of the shows I keep up with winding down their seasons and a bit of a lull before the summer series really kick it into high gear, I thought it'd be a good time to revisit one of my favorite TV shows and it's first season.  And next on the list is "Mudd's Women."

Classic Star Trek has often been described as "Wagon Train to the stars" and no where is that more evident than in "Mudd's Women."  Originally conceived as one of the three scripts for the second Trek pilot, "Mudd's Women" is extremely close to an episode of Bonanza in outer space.  Just substitute the Enterprise for a caravan headed into the frontier.

In this case, it's the story of Leo Walsh, aka Harry Mudd.  A wanted criminal, Mudd's a con-man who has a cargo of three beautiful women* that he's arranged to be wives for colonists on an outlying colony.  But when the Enterprise burns out some of its lithium crystals in their pursuit and capture of Mudd, the ship is forced to head for an outlying mining colony with (coincidentally enough) three lonely miners.  Exposed as a wanted fugitive, Mudd schemes on how he can elude justice and possibly make a tidy profit for himself.  Of course, this involves negotiating with the miners to trade the crystals for the three brides-to-be.

* A bit of research (how did we live before Wikipedia?!?) tells me one of the women was played by a former Playmate.  Of the three, only one of the women is given any significant lines and for a good reason.  The other two were clearly cast for their other attributes besides acting ability 

Oh but the brides to be hold a secret.  It's here that the episode tries to give a sci-fi twist to the Western in space tale, though whether it success or not is up for debate.  Seems the ladies in questions aren't really as lovely as advertising.  Instead, they're dependent on a drug that helps them become more beautiful and more desirable to men.   Of course, this leads to all kinds of gawking on the ship (apparently despite the fact that there are women on board the ship, every male on the Enterprise can't pick his jaw up off the floor fast enough every time one of the women goes by.  Their beauty is even enough to blind the normally professional crew from doing their jobs correctly, as we see when McCoy is willing to overlook some strange readings on his medical instruments just because Magda is so darn hot).  

In the end, Kirk is caught between his attraction to one of the women and his devotion to the ship.  Oddly enough, it's Kirk who acts the least like a horn-dog in the episode, able to put aside his attraction in order to negotiate for the crystals and uncovering Mudd's secret drug.  Turns out the women don't need it after all--they can just will themselves beautiful **

**The script doesn't really bother to try and delve deeply into this.  It could be the residual drug in the system or it could just be that, doggone, if only women would think themselves beautiful, they would be!   This is not classic Trek at it's most progressive by a long shot.

There is a lot that just doesn't work in this story and it's probably a good thing that it wasn't the second pilot for the show or we'd not have Trek as we know it today.   This one is cited as one of the most misogynistic episodes not only of classic Trek but of the entire Trek canon--and it's easy to see why.  It's an enormously flawed episode, though it's one where you can see the series figuring itself out and getting its footing.***

***As I've said before and will say again and again, Gene Roddenberry was great at creating shows, but not so good at the day to day running or writing of shows.  This one just screams out for Gene Coon to take another pass and do something more with it.  Thankfully, he'll arrive on the scene soon.

Beyond the "think yourself beautiful" element, there's a lot of other things about the episode that don't add up.  For example, when Mudd conspires against Kirk and the crew thanks to a stolen communicator, he does this openly within three feet of two redshirts, who unless they're deaf must hear every word he's speaking.  And yet, at no point do they apparently report to Kirk or anyone above them that, oh by the way, this guy is plotting to take over the ship.  Mudd even thinks that somehow he can leverage his position into not only getting paid for delivering the three brides, but that he will also be captain of the ship.  Again, one of the recurring themes of classic Trek is someone trying to wrestle away control of the ship from Kirk and how successful he or she is.  But this one really should have been shut down long before the Enterprise warps into orbit of the mining colony! 

And yet for all these flaws, I still have a soft spot in my heart for "Mudd's Women."  Part of this is the performance of Roger C. Carmel, who despite the script's flaws makes Mudd a memorable rogue and one who could be menacing or a danger in the right circumstances.  It's no wonder he comes back a season later in the far better, "I, Mudd."   

This episode was part of the reason I got into classic Trek.  For a cross-country move, my parents bought a copy of "Mudd's Angels," which featured a novelization of the two Mudd episodes and an original Mudd adventures.  These were the only episodes not adapted by James Blish, but instead by his widow based on notes he left.  I recall reading the adaptation of "Mudd's Women" and remarking to my dad as we drove along that it sure did seem like a lot of people tried to take control of the Enterprise in classic Star Trek.  And while I'd only seen a handful of episodes that I could recall titles for, I was fairly sure I'd not seen either of the Mudd installments.  After reading the novel, I was eager to do so and once we got moved into our new home, I sought out nightly Trek repeats and the rest is, as they say, history.

So for all it's flaws, I still find enough to enjoy about this one.  I don't recommend it as an example of why I love classic Trek so much.  But it still holds a lot of nostalgic value for me. 

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 5/31/2012 04:00:00 PM | |
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