The Great Star Trek Rewatch: Mudd’s Women

Harry Mudd – galactic conman and one of TOS’ most memorable minor characters. He only actually appeared in two episodes of TOS, but he must have caught the imagination of writers and fans, because he showed up in The Animated Series, and various non-canon spin-offs. Personally, I find him somewhat annoying, but, love him or loathe him, this is where his story began.

This episode sees the Enterprise run into Harry whilst he is transporting three beautiful women out to a distant colony where they will become wives for the settlers there. Naturally, his behaviour is somewhat dubious – not only does he dive into an asteroid field and let his ship get destroyed rather than answer the Enterprise’s hail, he then gives a false name upon first coming aboard, and then secretly plots to take over the Enterprise. The women, meanwhile, are so beautiful and alluring that they turn the heads of all the male crewmembers, and all because they have been taking the illicit Venus drug, a narcotic that enhances masculinity in men and feminity in women. Apologies for all the heteronormative talk here, but this was the sixties – and even Mr Sulu had to pretend to be interested in the girls!

Naturally, this wouldn’t be Star Trek if the Enterprise didn’t end up in jeopardy somehow, and you can’t help wondering how shoddily built this ship is – I bet Starfleet just contracted their shipbuilding out to the lowest bidder without worrying about quality control. In this episode, the “lithium crystals” (still not upgraded to dilithium) get cracked and broken when the Enterprise tries to save Mudd’s ship by extending its deflector shields around it. I can’t remember when the tractor beam became a thing, but it clearly hasn’t been invented yet. You might recall that we had to go to a lithium cracking station a few episodes ago, but now the ship has to head for lithium mining colony – whose lonely male inhabitants will only trade their crystals for Mudd’s trio of women.

So yes, it’s all a bit Thai brides in space, and yet, despite the fact that this might seem a bit old-fashioned for the twenty-third century, I can well believe it would happen. I can imagine future men and women deciding to participate in arranged marriages, not to mention some sort of StarTindr that lets you know when eligible partners are passing your solar system. And whilst the conversations between the miners and the women are exceedingly dated, there’s still a valid moral at their core. As Eve, the spunkiest of the women, points out, the miners superficially wanted the artificial beauty of the Venus Drug, rather than accepting a woman who is perhaps not quite so flawless and alluring, but who is smart and capable, able to be a true partner on a harsh alien planet.

Since most of the crew spend the episode being dumbstruck by beautiful women, there are only a couple of character points this time around. Kirk being married to the Enterprise is brought up again, whilst at least McCoy has the presence of mind to question just why these women are so alluring – given all the alien beauties he and Kirk have likely encountered, are these three really so special? And whilst Spock is largely unaffected by these beauties, there is a moment which I feel ambivalent about liking so much – after being caught joining in on the general staring, he turns to camera and shrugs as if to say “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”. I guess I can allow him that amusing little lapse, since, after all, he is part human.

Summary – Mudd’s Women: Although a little uncomfortably adherent to old-fashioned gender roles, it has a solid Star Trek moral about the dangers of the superficial.

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