The Man Trap
There are some really enjoyable levels of characterization in this story
as we see the series regulars going about their day-to-day routines,
characterizations which deserve to be highlighted and celebrated. This somewhat
spices up an otherwise decent and average mystery-thriller plot that divides
its action fairly evenly and unpredictably between the interior of the
U.S.S. Enterprise and the surface of planet M113.
All in all, a good and decent entry for the show's sixth episode.
But then enters the bizarre twist of the networks deciding that this should
be the episode that gets broadcast first on September 8, 1966 - the episode
that marks the debut of Star Trek to the world. Producers Herb Solow and
Robert H. Justman rationalize that there were only a small handful of episodes
that could have been made ready in time,
which I take to mean in part that production #3
"The Corbomite Maneuver" for example would remain tied up in post-production
getting all its model shots and optical effects completed.
But, this hardly excuses the makers of DVD and Blu-ray sets decades later
who have strangely opted to follow the crazy broadcast schedule on their
disc-by-disc layout, while at the same time taunting their audience with
the episode numbers of the much more satisfying production sequence on
their disc menus. Weird.
Indeed, putting this episode first adds a burden onto it that it was never designed
to bear. Unlike the two pilot episodes, we don't get a careful odyssey through
the environments of Star Trek to ease the audience into the new universe we are
seeing. Instead, it is assumed and tossed off as everyday - great for a sixth
episode but not for a first. The best that this story achieves is in its sequence
of Green coming back aboard ship, as we see all the bizarre activity here anew
through his eyes.
Some of the things that do work wonderfully well here are the scenes amongst the crew.
Lt. Uhura gets her first real scene in the entire series so far
showing some character from her, as she gets two
good exchanges with Mr. Spock right off the bat. This is also the first time that
the costume designers have got her in the correct colour of uniform. It really does
feel like she's arrived properly in this episode.
There's also an excellent rapport between her and Sulu and Janice Rand - these three
make a really nice trio, and it's easy to feel comfortable in their company,
as though it'd be great to work with them and have them as colleagues.
Our more prominent trio of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are all working well in this
episode, both separately and together. William Shatner's Captain Kirk in particular
really seems to be inhabiting this universe extremely well and making it his own.
Here we really get to see who he is naturally,
without any kind of soul dissecting stunt from a sci-fi plot device.
Of course, Dr. McCoy gets a bit of extra backstory from this adventure,
which is a nice touch, but not all that groundbreaking or relevant to
any arc outside of this episode. It works to humanize him, but with McCoy's
standard demeanour making him the most humanized castmember already,
it doesn't really change his game much at all.
The plot is good, but won't win any awards for triggering profound thought
or the advancement of any philosophy. It's just a decent story turned into
a decent episode.
The reveal of today's creature's true form is held back for the ending,
which is an okay call to make. Since the realization had to be a bit basic
on Star Trek's budget, perhaps it's best that the creature lives mostly
in the imaginations of the audience and the protagonists. However, the
final design has some merit in that the face goes on to be one of those
images of early Star Trek that burned itself into my memory and continued
to creep me out in my youth, and subsequently had me keenly looking for the episode
in later years to see how well my memory matched up to the fact, while I revelled
in nostalgia. The hands of the creature are also quite critical for the plot,
and work successfully. The rest of the body (and its "costume", which I assume
was quite hastily cobbled together) isn't that great to be honest.
One of the more irksome aspects of the creature's realization is in how badly
the creature's morphing effects are achieved. I won't hold it against the makers
of Star Trek that it was just a simple dissolve effect, but I do think they
could have done a much better job of locking the camera off in a steady position
when doing those dissolves.
It is really only the very last of the 8 or 9 morphing effects
that actually shows a background that holds still. And it's additionally bizarre
when you consider that shooting the footage for this effect correctly is pretty
much the same process as shooting footage for the transporter "beaming" effect,
where they never have any trouble at all locking the camera into a steady position,
either in this episode or any other. So a minor point lost for effects here.
The action at the end is somewhat interesting, and it is memorable, but it's
not really a great ending. Memorable imagery, yes, but nothing profound or
enlightening at all. And the ending is particularly downbeat and uninspiring.
The general mood one takes away from this episode as the credits roll is
kind of depressing. Not a great start for Star Trek's broadcast sequence.
It's much better to watch this episode as the sixth in the run, where your
enthusiasm for previous episodes can help get you past this one and
provide the momentum to continue further on.
Not too bad a standard action episode in the end, but far from great,
and not having the essential philosophical uplifting spirit that the franchise
often wants to lay claim to.
Read the next Star Trek review:
"The Naked Time"