Star Trek: TOS – S01E03/E04 “The Corbomite Maneuver” and “Mudd’s Women”

“The Corbomite Maneuver”

Season 1
Production Order #3
Airing Order #10
Directed by Joseph Sargent
Written by Jerry Sohl

After the duo of pilots, it’s time to dive into the series proper. Granted, we start things off with the 10th episode of the series but that’s just what happens in the era before rampant serialization though I guess Doctor Who has spoiled me with its episodes actually filmed in the proper order and a clear, logical order to watch things in. I can’t confirm that watching things in this order makes sense, but it’s what I’ve chosen. The episode itself aired so late in the season as it was delayed for the special effects work to be completed.
Starting the episode Spock in the Captain’s seat with no introduction as to why he was, certainly threw me off, but he slides into that role naturally. Sadly, we only get a taste of it for now as the Enterprise first encounters a spinning cube that traps the Enterprise in place and forces Captain Kirk back to the deck. It is destroyed only for the Enterprise to later stumble on a mile-wide planet looking ship captained by the mysterious Balok who threatens to destroy them

The episode features the debut of series mainstays Dr. McCoy and Lt. Uhura (a glorified extra here) along with Yeoman Rand with McCoy getting easily the biggest introduction, sliding right into the advisor/mentor-like positions the former captains served. Even beyond the typical lecturing and diet change over health, McCoy serves as a counterpart already to the Spock as a more human element and encouraging Kirk to remember that his crew is only human. Kirk’s pushing of his crew (which hardly seemed all that severe) in an attempt to achieve perfect execution, an effort which Spock approves of, leads to the temporary breakdown of one of his men (though to be fair to Kirk, the man had already freaked out once in battle and could have gotten everyone killed). It’s the stuff of plenty of naval movies beforehand where the captain is forced to either learn a lesson about relating to the crew or be overthrown by them (see Caine’s Mutiny) and while the execution isn’t perfect here, it serves to subtly indicate why Kirk with his humanity is the more suitable captain to Spock.

Kirk gets another chance to show off his aptitude for the job when he is able to think his way out of a problem Spock was unable to solve. While Spock takes everything logically and attempts to maneuver the pieces around to deal with an opponent (continuing the chess theme from “Where No Man Has Gone Before”), Kirk is able to get far more creative and look at the situation in terms of poker, able to successfully bluff his opponent with the titular maneuver. The poker theme is continued as the blurry original form that Balok takes is revealed to be merely a puppet with the ship actually being single handedly controlled by a small humanoid played by Clint Howard as a child who is testing the intentions of the Enterprise.

While the Balok twist was spoiled by the Wikipedia credits, I quite preferred the second twist of Balok being a peaceful (and seemingly adult) entity. It leaves the episode as being two peaceful civilizations in want of contact feigning military strength. Three episodes in and we already have two episodes where everyone lives which is still refreshing in a sci-fi series. Admittedly the end is almost 60’s sitcom like in its way everyone grows with the aforementioned navigator Bailey, the most prone to violence and person who lost it earlier, winding up being Earth’s ambassador to this alien race with the message that he isn’t perfect and that they will learn a lot from each other. Minus the sci-fi trappings, it could have been an episode of Leave it to Beaver with music to match. Still, it’s the strongest episode yet and does a great job establishing the mission, the crew dynamics, and the tone of the series after “Where No Man Has Gone Before’s” swerve to more traditional B sci-fi movie trappings.

Grade: B+

Stray Observations
– The newish uniforms with black collars are far superior though the turtleneck like collar some of them wear still looks pretty ridiculous.
– McCoy gets his first variation of his most famous line with “What am I, a doctor or a moon shuttle conductor?”
– Captain Kirk walking through the ship shirtless seems unprofessional but I think the more surprising thing is that no one stares at him as he does.
– Considering how many shots of the exterior and the spinning cube we get this episode, the CGI not only stands out here but it almost rubs our noses in it.
– Kirk’s objection to having a female yeoman, while fitting with Captain Pike from last week’s “The Cage”, is still annoying as she is immediately cast as (in that utterly cliché manner) the inevitable love interest.
– I love the microphone looking earpiece the navigator wears at one point.
– We already walk back that bit about Spock’s mother last episode by confirming she is human or is at least an Earth woman.
– Kirk is the one person who seems committed to the actual mission of meeting new civilizations. The rest of the crew is more concerned with their survival (understandably).

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“Mudd’s Women”

Season 1
Production Order #4
Airing Order #6
Directed by Harvey Hart
Written by Stephen Kandel

For our second story, it’s time for a nice uplifting story about human trafficking. The crew stumbles upon an unregistered ship fleeing through an asteroid belt. The ship is captained by one Harry Mudd (under the alias of Leo Walsh) who would apparently go on to have two more appearances. I guess he is going for the pirate look with his puffy shirt, silly moustache, giant belt, and stupid looking earring but he just succeeds in making me hate him on sight. He’s trying to be some loveably, quirky rogue but his camp behavior grows tiresome quick. Captain Mal he is not. He’s transporting three mail order brides who are allegedly so attractive that every man (save Spock) is so struck by their appearance they are rendered transfixed and practically speechless because they are men in the 60’s and for some hinted at second reason involving their eyes.

Mudd is hooked up to a lie detector which reveals his real name and criminal past though he is at least revealed to have been transporting the women consensually. Doesn’t make him not a dirtbag, but at least somewhat less so. It’s a distinction he starts to counter immediately by using the women to attempt to take over the ship, bartering them off, and using his access to pills to keep them in line. It’s also revealed that they are not actually as “beautiful” as they first appeared, requiring pills to prevent their bodies from physically decaying. Not that Mudd is the only dirtbag as the miners use their access to lithium crystals to force Kirk’s hand into letting them have the women.

The lithium crystals get a second (after “Where No Man Has Gone Before”) and more important appearance in the plot before they would be replaced by the fictitious dilithium. Chasing down Mudd and protecting him long enough to get him off the ship has rendered their ship in dangerously poor shape and forcing them to land at a nearby mining base which sets off scenes of tedious negotiation over the women and crystals. Where last episode proved they could get excitement out of two sides making threats and maneuvering around each other, this episode stalls on one side being a bunch of dense, horny idiots which severely lower the intellect of the conversation.

The attempts at humor this episode all fall incredibly flat as Mudd wants to be Zero Mostel but comes up so completely short. The reactions to the women are never completely explained and with no reveal that they have anything special about them besides being their perfect looking selves, all the transfixed men just look like a bunch of dolts. This would be a perfect episode to use some of those female support characters and their reactions to the idiots they are surrounded with but I think Uhura gets even less to do this episode and Rand is MIA. The episode has good intentions in its message of the beauty within but the road to hell is paved with good intentions and none of the women of the title are given anything resembling beauty within. It’s all tell, no show for an episode that is a relic of its time and not because of any special effects.

Grade: C-

Stray Observations
– I like the match cut comparing the women (in the form of the pill) and the lithium crystals complete with line from Spock about their beauty even damaged.
– The episode itself ends with another glurge-y message that beauty comes from within, but that is undercut majorly by the fact that the women is able to turn herself “beautiful” with a placebo. That’s not how placebos work. Stop with the magic shit Star Trek.
– I also question if the two visibly older women whose faces are
– Don’t forget that this episode ends with Kirk trading women for crystals.
– I was starting to get concerned that my ratings for these episodes were going to be too inflated compared to Doctor Who and give an impression I didn’t enjoy that show as much as I do. Thank you “Mudd’s Women” for disabusing that notion for now.
– A word about the fan film thing today. Paramount was in the complete right here and while I understand the impulse to want to pay tribute to your favorite show, the high budget of that film crossed a line and really it just makes me think that the series is calling out for some official Big Finish style productions (in addition to the new series) to fill out a bunch of these unexamined periods in lore even if they missed the boat a bit since much of the original cast has now passed on.

Next Up: Star Trek: TOS returns a week from today on Friday with “The Enemy Within” and the first aired episode “The Man Trap” but in the meantime, we have Doctor Who returning on Monday with the introduction of the Macra in the completely missing “The Macra Terror”.