Star Trek: Mudd’s Women

Star Trek Opening TitlesThe episode opens with the Enterprise in pursuit of a ship through an asteroid field.  It is not the Millennium Falcon!  I think this is the first time since we’ve had an episode that the crew was not already on a mission for Starfleet.  Other oddities: no one dies, not even a dog!  Also, Uhura is wearing a yellow uniform.  Presumably hers was in the ship’s laundry and she was covering for the other communications officer.  What other communications officer?  Oh, yeah!  You make a good point.  Because Uhura works 24/7, she sometimes has to borrow a uniform since, you know, when would she do laundry otherwise?  Also of merit, this is the first time McCoy admits to never having trusted transporters.  Red shirted guards are posted to confine Mudd to quarters.  They are as useful as posting cats.  Equally, when Mudd decides to take over the ship, two red shirts are in the room.  They don’t think to say anything to Kirk to let him know what’s going on.  (Wonder how Mudd bought their silence?!)  Also, I need to ask people if they are wearing “anything radioactive” because, clearly, that’s a thing.  Then there’s the use of the word “jackass”.  I’m not offended; Mudd is a jackass, but this was 1966 and I’m amazed they got away with it.

In an episode chock full of double entendres and the opportunity to poke fun at 60’s television, the radioactive comment barely scratches the surface. When Ruth is hanging out (ahem…) with Dr. McCoy, she asks if he plans to give her a physical.  He just won’t trust his…. Judgement.  (Mmmhhmm.  Remember, his nickname is Bones!)  Then, later, when Kirk asks about the medical, McCoy says “She refused!”  No she didn’t!  She actually suggested it!   I would have loved it if he, instead, mentioned the last episode and not wanting things to get out of hand, like how Kirk and Yeoman Rand ended up.  But no, he tells his good pal that she refused.  That’s classic!  And why keep these hypnotic women in the room when Mudd is being tried?  Obviously something good to look at.  (Is it fair that Kirk strikes something from the record when it incriminates his crew?)  And what about that camera shot focusing on the three women?  Specifically their bottoms?  And my personal favorite: right as Childress starts getting a bit physical with Eve, Kirk walks in.  “I didn’t touch her!”  Yeah, pal, actually you did.  Not terribly aggressively, but I think we might have been going there.   Ah, 1966…

Barring that, there’s only one good thing to say for this episode.  The punchline for the titular women (I can’t resist sometimes) is that they don’t need a drug to make themselves beautiful; they need confidence.  It’s a nice message.  If only confidence could give us all makeovers, makeup,  fix our hair, etc.  But as messages go, it’s a good one.  I imagine the real question the episode raises is what do men really want in their wives?  Stunningly beautiful women that we can’t take our eyes off of but who really want to get rich, or can we accept “homely” women who can cook and teach us how to live on the frontier?  Obviously, no man wants a beautiful wife who can cook too, do we?  And conversation?  What’s the point of that?  Let’s face it, Childress kicks a chair to let Eve know he’s awake.  Maybe grunt next time, Child.  Sorry… Childress!  It’s a bit embarrassing to be honest.  Clearly this dude had been on the planet for 3 years and hasn’t died of botulism, but he never learned how to live on the frontier!  Thank god Eve came along.  The oaf was one meal away from salmonellae!  Frontier life isn’t for everyone.

Speaking of, you know what?  How many ears does Captain Kirk have?  Three!  His left ear, his right ear, and his final frontier.  (Thanks Alexa… I love that one every time!)

Spock sums it all up succinctly: “I’m glad that’s over.  A most annoying, emotional episode!”  You said it, Spock!   ML

The view from across the pond:

“Kirk to transporter room, report.”

Silence. It’s like they’ve never seen women before. It soon turns out that Mudd’s “cargo” (yuck) of three women have a “mysterious magnetic effect” on the men… or something. I have to confess to not being entirely sure what was going on this episode as my mind was wandering all over the place. It was quite the most boring thing I’ve seen for a while.

The first five episodes of Star Trek have been great fun, so I suppose reaching an episode like this now doesn’t represent a bad hit rate at all, but I have to admit this one was a huge struggle to get through. My first attempt had me falling asleep and I gave up halfway, not wanting to sleep through the second half of the episode. I tried again the following evening and just about made it through the rest of the episode without dozing too much. Viewing shouldn’t be a chore, but this definitely was.

I think part of the problem was that this episode spoke to 1960s viewers in a way that it doesn’t speak to a contemporary viewer. It has something important to say about the treatment of women as objects which is very much of its time. I am all for using sci-fi to tackle contemporary issues, but this episode represents a lack of vision for what the future holds. At least, I hope it does.

“Why don’t you just run a raffle and the loser gets me.”

The problem with all this is the writer and director conspires with the character of Mudd to objectify the women, so the message is undermined. Every time Eve is shown in close up she is in soft focus, so we veer back and forth between crisp, manly shots of Kirk and soft, blurry shots of the delicate female. There is an attempt to make a point about women only being valued for their youth, and maybe the problem with it can be explained away by the budget only stretching to ageing make-up for one of the actresses, but two of them are defined as beautiful or ugly simply by whether they have make-up on or not.

Then we have the crew of the Enterprise, who come under the women’s spell, whatever that was about (zzzzz). If this series represented a view of the future that had truly managed to drag itself out of the mire of the 60s, then the crew would have some strong things to say about the value of women beyond their appearance, but the best we get is this, from Kirk:

“There’s only one kind of woman. You either believe in yourself or you don’t.”

Well there’s two for a start. Horrifyingly, it takes Mudd to interject with “or man”, making the point that Kirk’s statement is universal, not just applicable to women. Speaking of Mudd, he’s not a bad character, he’s not badly acted, and I get the impression we are supposed to warm to him as a likeable rogue, but look, the guy’s keeping women as pets, and that’s an insult to the reputation of a pet owner.

So there was nothing really for me to enjoy this episode, for the first time. Maybe I’m doing the episode a disservice because I happened to doze through the good bits. Whatever. I have no intention of ever re-watching this to find out. The 60s gender politics are just too much to stomach.   RP

About Roger Pocock

Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com Co-writer on junkyard.blog Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Science Fiction, Star Trek, Television and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Star Trek: Mudd’s Women

  1. scifimike70 says:

    For the first Star Trek story about drug addiction and the first recurring Star Trek villain, Harry Mudd played exquisitely by Roger C. Carmel, Mudd’s Women is a fond memory for Trekkers. It was also among the considerations for the classic Trek pilot (after The Cage’s failure), but was thought to be too comedic. I saw “I, Mudd” first which for me was the better intro for Harry Mudd. So seeing this one later on was interesting and in retrospect holds up for its message about authentic beauty from within. Because for obvious reasons, both women and men still need this essential message today.

    Thank you both for this Trek review.

    Liked by 1 person

    • scifimike70 says:

      Your point, ML, about how women are portrayed in this episode clarifies it enough for how it consequently affected how women, and men for that matter to quote Harry Mudd, would be envisioned throughout the classic Trek. Kirk may have often found it hard to resist any beautiful woman in his hopeless romances. But he treated them as equals for their share of intelligence and potential for being more than they appear. I look forward to reading all that you’ll both have to say about that as your Trek reviews progress on the Junkyard.

      Liked by 1 person

      • scifimike70 says:

        Your point too, RP, about how 60s’ portrayal for women, even in futuristic SF like Star Trek, is hard to stomach is even truer for me these days. Especially for how gender portrayal in TNG, DS9, Voyager and Enterprise was inevitably improved. Thankfully the classic Trek’s female characters could still be strong and charismatic to some degree. Uhura found her chance to command the Enterprise in an episode of the animated Trek. This is proof that even with the 60s’ constrictions for TV that Roddenberry had to accept, he could still find ways to get his messages about equality out to audiences and critics.

        Liked by 2 people

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