“The Man Trap” was actually the first episode of Star Trek to air on television, even though it was actually the sixth episode in production, it never the less serves as a great starting point to meet the crew of this new vessel.
The crew of the Enterprise arrive at a mostly deserted planet to give medical exams to the two Federation scientists who study the ruins. In fact only the husband, Professor Crater, is still alive. Nancy Crater is in fact a shape shifting alien creature with a deadly need for salt. After a crewman dies the crew begin to suspect the professor is hiding something (because he and his wife insisted on receiving salt, the only thing missing from the dead crewman). After two more crewmen die, the alien transforms into one of them and a cat and mouse game ensues on board to find out where, and who, the killer is.
The plot is solid, but the pacing is awful. Between the time the monster infiltrates the Enterprise to the time it takes Dr. McCoy’s form about twenty minutes have passed of just it roaming the halls looking for salt. Basically in a fifty minute episode there’s only about thirty minutes of material and it shows during those scene. In addition, it feels like they still don’t quite understand how to create suspense in this who episode. Even the final fight between Kirk, Spock, and the monster while McCoy debates on taking a life, is rather stilted and fairly unbelievable.
There is a marked difference between this episode and the pilot that came before. Almost every show is awash in various colors from the way the sets are lit to the actual detail paint on them. In particular the bridge is filled with more color than there was in the pilot. That being said, the camera work in this episode is rather conventional, and the fade in/fade out on the monster as it changes shape shows it’s age.
This episode showcases the cast
What turns out to make or break this episode is the cast. In fact, the only part of the episode to lag is when the main cast isn’t on the screen. Shatner does use some of his classic dramatic cadence in this episode, but none of it feels forced, and in particular his delivery of dialogue in the final scene between the principle cast and the monster is the only thing that really ratchets up the tension. The chemistry between Kirk and McCoy helps us care not just about them, but the ship and the situation they’re in.
Deforest Kelley in particular shines in this episode and gets to bust out his acting chops. It’s somewhat strange when you think about it, but McCoy doesn’t really get much else in the series to build up his background except what comes in this episode. Nancy (the person whose form the monster is assuming) is a former lover of McCoy’s and it’s his strong emotional bond with her memory that keeps the monster coming back to him, and what also affords him protection. The moment he has to pull the trigger to kill her is sold strictly by his performance. It’s not just that he is a doctor and has an oath to uphold, but it’s because it’s her.
Unlike “The Cage,” we actually get to spend time with some of the supporting cast as well, particularly Yeoman Rand, Sulu, and Uhura. And for NuTrek haters of Spock and Uhura’s relationship, you can see the seeds planted in this episode for how they could pair those two together.
It still doesn’t feel like Star Trek
So much of what differentiates Star Trek from most other scifi is the characters, and in that regard it now feels like Star Trek. That being said, this is essentially a monster of the week episode that would be perfect for an episode of Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, The X-Files, etc. Nothing about it feels unique. In fact, the episode was written by a Twilight Zone writer, so there’s a reason for the familiar feel.
Red Shirt Kill Count: 0
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