Monday, 19 August 2013

Muddy Waters - My Trek Through Trek (Part IV)

What we’re watching: Mudd’s Women Episode 6 of Season 1 TOS (October. 13, 1966)

My Rating Out of 5 Tribbles: 1 Tribble which thinks that a miner’s kitchen is liberation. 

My After Episode Thoughts: “Original Series Sexism at it’s best with a space pedophile to boot.”

Pros: Wonderful cinematography, The Venus Drug

Cons: Harry Mudd, The Space whores, soliloquizing for no reason, just about everything.

Today my trek takes me to Mudd’s Women, the fourth produced TOS episode and, dear god, what a mess!

The Space Whores!
Star Trek is famous for its strides in feminism with the inclusion of women in places of power yet judging by this episode you would never know it. The plot concerns a space pimp and his three whores. I use the word whore because that is what these women are. They do not even resemble real women. Somehow these space whores don’t even seem to breathe and what really grinds my gears is that they walk the same halls with Uhura and the liberated women of the Federation. It is strange to note that Uhura appears in the cold open yet disappears from the bridge entirely for the rest of the episode. Are we to believe that she was not needed for the four or so days in which this story takes place? Has she been given an extended vacation because there are now other women on board? I think not. Perhaps Stephen Kandel and Gene Roddenberry (the writers of this one) were somehow embarrassed to have her on the same ship with these gross over sexualized caricatures. Perhaps, and probably more accurately, they just plain forgot about her. 

Blatant sexism aside there are plenty more faults in this one. The episode veers wildly from tragedy to comedy: one moment I’m (meant) to laugh at a humorous quip from McCoy and the next moment I am (meant) to feel the turmoil of three lost women who are used as a commodity in a transaction for Lithium crystals. Excuse me? One must first be presented humans to feel for not gratuitous ‘butt-shots’ with a semblance of emotions. I am not even sure what Shatner is doing with his performance in this one. I am sure he didn’t even know. At a particularly tense moment of the story Kirk tears Scotty to bits over the Scotsmen’s need to present the facts about orbital time and how long the core has power. Two lines later Kirk inexplicably and easily apologizes. Why was this written into the episode?  Scotty is the ship’s engineer for Christ’s sake! It is his job to look out for the ship and therefore the crew inside of it. The majority of Kirk’s motives in this episode are bipolar. One minute he is as cold as a Klingon prison moon the next he is as warm as a supernova. 

Sidebar... I have noticed when the writing becomes particularly bad, like the aforementioned Scotty dress down, Shatner’s iconic choppy melodramatic rhythm becomes prevalent. This must be how he muscles through the writing abortions that sometimes are present in Star Trek. Shatner is not a terrible actor as so many believe, on the contrary, he is one of the very best. He knows how to make terrible writing interesting and bold. The dress down, though it makes no sense, is a piece of damn interesting interaction. Kudos, Shatner, you magnificent bastard!

Lest this post become a bitch fest I’ll talk about the pros of the episode and there are some. While this episode may be a mess thematically it is shot fantastically. In the cold open there is a brilliant tracking shot that sinks from the science station to Sulu at helm. Magnificent. Worthy of the cinematography of Michael Ballhaus. There are some equally interesting shots throughout the halls and in the prison even though it is capturing an odd soliloquy where Harry expounds his dastardly plans to dupe the Captain. Not to mention this all happens within ear shot of two security guards. 

Uh... Harry they can hear you. You may not wish to share your half baked plan in front of two guys that can walk over to the Captain and say “Sir, that space pirate dressed like a Quentin Crisp Australian cowboy fantasy is trying to con you.” 

Let us look at this Harry Mudd. On paper he is interesting. A space pirate who is wanted for fraud that inexplicably gets
The Space Pedophile!
caught in an asteroid field (wait a minute... Han Solo? Is this your fabulous alter ego?) Alas, interpreted by Roger C. Carmel, this space rogue becomes a jolly joke with a huge Santa Clause belt buckle that evokes more space pedophile then dangerous fraudster. He talks literally like a pirate. No kidding. Carmel borrowed the West Country dialect of Robert Newton to form Mudd’s annoying cadence. Someone should have seen that this episode is all too hokey and Carmel is at least 50% to blame.

I should also note the fascinating idea of the Venus Drug: a drug that makes you grow younger or appear younger or uh... act younger (this is confusing as different characters say different things about it.) The way the Venus Drug is used reminds me of the actual way pimps and sex traders use heroin and other drugs to placate their victims into staying in the trade. This is a marvelous observation about the sex trade and were this episode shot in 1996, instead of 66, something would have been made of it. Though they get close. One of the only enrapturing moments occurs when the women first go into withdrawal and realize the hold Mudd has over them. This is a startling moment and shows that this jolly Mudd is not all he is cracked up to be. 

I could go on for pages about what is wrong with this episode. It is certainly bottom of the barrel. I wont. Instead I leave you with a summation that Paula M. Block presents in her and Terry J. Erdman’s massive reference book Star Trek: The Original Series 365 when she addresses the disgusting anti-feminist theme of “How to marry a millionaire” which is prevalent through out the original series:

“Take Eve, the most rational of the three women. After spending most of her life cleaning up after a bunch of unappreciative male siblings, all she wants is the opportunity to connect with a good man. Even after learning that she doesn't need the Venus drug to appear desirable, Eve can't foresee a future that doesn't involve snaring a man. The thought of serving aboard a starship never occurs to her – except perhaps as the captain's wife. So she consigns herself to life on barren Rigel XII, cleaning up for another unappreciative male (miner Ben Childress) and listening to the winds blow day and night.”

It is hard to believe that this is the same world that would later give us Captain Janeway.