Director: Marc Daniels
Writer: George Clayton Johnson
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Jeanne Bal, Alfred Ryder, DeForest Kelley, Grace Lee Whitney, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Bruce Watson, Michael Zaslow, Vince Howard, and Francine Pyne
Composer: Alexander Courage
Air Date: 9/8/1966
Production #: 6149-06
Upon arriving at the planet M-113, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) attempts to provide Professor Robert Crater (Alfred Ryder) and his wife Nancy (Jeanne Bal and Francine Pyne)—a former flame of Doctor McCoy (DeForest Kelley)—with supplies and medical examinations. Shortly thereafter, Crewman Darnell (Michael Zaslow) perishes when the sodium is inexplicably drained from his body. Despite having little evidence to support his inclinations, Kirk suspects that Nancy—or something impersonating her—may be responsible for Darnell’s death.
A formulaic but occasionally profound episode, “The Man Trap” provides a worthwhile introduction to Kirk, Spock, and other members of the Enterprise crew. Especially terrific are the interactions between Kirk and McCoy, which would become a defining aspect of Star Trek: The Original Series and its follow-up films.
Alexander Courage’s eerie composition can be heard as Kirk, McCoy, and Darnell beam down to the surface of M-113 for the first time, establishing a spooky atmosphere to accompany the ominous, perhaps even downright haunting, material in George Clayton Johnson’s narrative. A similar effect occurs when the salt vampire, now disguised as Crewman Green (Bruce Watson), sneaks aboard the Enterprise and stalks Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Sulu (George Takei), and Yeoman Janice Rand (Grace Lee Whitney); specifically, the slow-moving pace of the creature’s hunt is counterbalanced, at least somewhat, by the unnerving quality of Courage’s musical arrangement.
Kirk, Spock, and McCoy take an exceptionally long time to solve the mystery of Darnell’s murder, leaving little room to explore the ethical dilemma at the center of this offering. (It should be mentioned, however, that a “whodunit” format works perfectly for Johnson’s monster-of-the-week premise, similar to many episodes of The X-Files.)
“The Man Trap” contains a thought-provoking conflict that should appeal to viewers of an intellectual disposition. On one hand, Professor Crater makes a compelling argument for the creature’s right to continue existing, drawing parallels between the salt vampire (an endangered organism) and the now extinct buffalo and passenger pigeon. Kirk, in contrast, indicates that the M-113 entity must be destroyed before it can eliminate the entire crew; but later expresses a hint of regret over his decision. Though slightly underdeveloped, the above-described problem facing Kirk, McCoy, and the Enterprise crew set a precedent for many similar, deeply complex issues to be examined in later episodes of Star Trek.
The first Star Trek: The Original Series episode ever broadcast on television, this installment should be viewed by science fiction enthusiasts and monster movie buffs alike. Notably, Clayton’s horror-themed subject matter is complemented with penetrating analysis, sparing “The Man Trap” from a generic execution.
Overall Quality: 9/10
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