Sometimes, I try to be clever and write up an intro paragraph that shows that I appreciate the medium of television and have a wide knowledge of different programs. This is not one of those paragraphs. And like this paragraph, there is nothing clever about “Mudd’s Women.”
That’s not quite right, there’s nothing redeeming about “Mudd’s Women.” Well, that’s not quite right either. “Mudd’s Women” is just fucked up. We’ll get into it, but for now, just kind of hold on.
Kirk and company spot a ship flying into an asteroid field and pursue it, burning out their lithium crystals in their attempt to cover the craft while they beam their crew aboard. What they get is a man who is soon revealed to be Harry Mudd, a con man who’s rap sheet seems to mostly consist of smuggling and driving without a space license, and a trio of beautiful women that knock McCoy and Scotty on their asses.
This is a good time to get into the first main problem of the episode, which leads to all of the problems of the episode. Here we go:
1) The Tone.
Mudd comes over with the most ridiculous accent and a moustache-twirling persona that was outdated and hoary in 1964. There’s a lot of odd back and forth banter early on and it is pretty clear that “Mudd’s Women” is supposed to be a little light hearted. We’re supposed to giggle when McCoy seizes up and just babbles or when the computer tells us at the trial that Scotty is sweating and sporting a chubby. It’s supposed to be funny when Mudd puts gays and Vulcans into the same camp. That’s supposed to be comedy. I guess.
I’m not trying to trot out an argument that this is offensive in any way (yet), but it plays really weird, and doesn’t really help that Shatner just sounds fucking drunk. Scotty and Kirk make comments about Mudd being a “jackass” and it is definitely supposed to be light hearted and funny, but it doesn’t feel right out of the all business Scotty and the paternalistic perpetually hammy Shatner. Some of it does work. Spock gets some really good reaction shots, but past that, it’s all really muddled.
2) The Plot
I have no idea what the driving plot of the episode is really supposed to be. It is probably Kirk retrieving the lithium crystals from Rigel XII, but Mudd is the one pushing the plot forward, but nothing he says makes any fucking sense. After the trial, he is sitting with the girls and the guards and he makes a vague comment about taking over the Enterprise. There’s not a lot of thought behind it, because it mostly seems like he’s going to use the girls to do it but that doesn’t make sense. Also, the Enterprise is going to crash without those crystals and Mudd wouldn’t have the girls or the money to get crystals then. He would just die.
So, Mudd gives up on that and then just decides to trade the girls to the miners in exchange for the crystals and him getting away for his crimes which seems reasonable enough except for him getting stuck on a desolate mining planet, but whatever, fuck it. So he trades off the girls, things go to shit, and he stays with the Enterprise and gets fucked over at the end, I guess. I don’t get the game plan, but whatever, fuck it.
3) The Characters
I know that it’s a pretty hoary television cliché that there will be an episode where all the characters are seduced and act oddly. It just happens, and if you’re not prepared for some forced awkward humor, then it’s going to be pretty painful. The problem is that the story doesn’t do McCoy or Scotty any favors as far as turning them both into insufferable horn-dogs.
I know that McCoy is a pretty humanistic guy. He is driven strongly by emotion and is used as a foil for the logical Spock. No part of being emotional though ended up with him shirking duty or just becoming an ignorant lout after coming in contact with a foxy lady. He just stumbles around the bridge mooning over the one in green and talking about how weird the machines are, but not really looking into it beyond “huh, that was strange.” He wonders, mostly correctly, if the women area actually any prettier than normal women, but it still seems weird out of the man who runs extensive tests on everything and proves to have enough will power that if he wanted to know the truth, he would just make one of the women take a medical test.
Much the same can be said for Scotty, although we don’t really know him as well, beyond the fact that he’s all business, but he also falls hard for the girls and becomes a totally different character, not a character changed by something new that he has encountered.
The problem with pulling the seduction device in an episode like this is that writers have to make sure that the characters actions are believable after they have been affected. This goes for all emotion-changers, but seduction is a big one. Think about the episode of “The X-Files” called “First Person Shooter.” Not a great one, but it features a scene where Mulder, Scully and the Lone Gunmen talk to a stripper whose likeness is killing people in a video game. Mulder is clearly entranced and he flirts a little, but he gets some answers and leaves. The Lone Gunmen are smitten, particularly the lovelorn Frohike. It’s perfect for the characters, because this is what we know they are going to do. They’re affected but they’re still themselves. In “Mudd’s Women,” it’s like they read the script and then just played totally different characters.
4) Sexual Politics, Gender Roles and Expectations
It’s all really fucked up in classic “Star Trek” fashion, but it feels even worse than normal due to the attempted theme of the episode (we’re getting to it). All of the girls seem really excited to be wed to a man, and they can’t wait to meet up with these lonely miners, or alternatively, Captain Kirk. All of the problems will go away, only they can meet up with a random guy they’ve never met, who has been independent for years and whose only interest in a woman is someone to have sex with. Yeah, it’s every girl’s dream.
Of course, the miners on Rigel XII are no better. It seems like they’ve all been taking lessons from Frank Reynolds and decided they need a bang-maid, just minus the maid part, or something (once again, we’re getting to it).
“Let’s dance,” coos one of the girls and the lusty dancing commences. Of course their only interest is sex, but they still treat the girl’s as just willing vessels rather than people. Even when one of the miners rescues Eve, he is still more likely to yell that he didn’t touch her and that she is a bitch for playing fancy space card games. Then, naturally, he’s going to claim that he didn’t touch her, because he totally wasn’t solely interested in sex earlier or ‘nothin, but this sort of rolls into my next problem with this episode which is…
5) What’s the fucking point?
So, the big “more you know” minute comes at the end of the episode as Kirk and Mudd descend to the cabin to confront the head miner and Eve about getting the crystals and exposing Eve for not actually being beautiful and that’s when I thought we would get the big reveal, that Rodenberry would pull away the curtain and say that women can do whatever they want. And it even looks like that’s what direction it’s going for. Eve claims that she doesn’t need to take the pill and that she can do whatever she wants and I’m so fucking proud for the show doing this. I’m ready to write about how “Star Trek” had redeemed itself and given women a role that wasn’t just damsel in distress or spurned lover or salt vampire, but no, fuck no. Eve takes the placebo and becomes beautiful, but she’s not actually beautiful? That part didn’t make sense. Apparently, if you think that you think you are beautiful, then you’re beautiful and a heartwarming lesson is learned by all.
I sighed a breath of dejection. It didn’t escape the cancerous gender politics, but it’s better than normal, but that wasn’t fucking enough and that’s when the whole thing really blows up. Eve plops into the miner’s lap and asks him if he wants a wife who would do everything he wants, not just the dirty sexy parts. She asks him if he wants the maid part of the bangmaid. She doesn’t want to be a partner, a companion or a friend. She wants to do his will, but not his sexual will. Yeah, ew gross. She’ll be his slave, but not like that. Of course, he begrudgingly accepts, Kirk and Mudd make a terrible joke and it’s over, with everyone learning another totally indecipherable real lesson or something. Never mind, fuck it.
So, is there anything redeeming about this? Yeah, I guess. Spock is in top form, and it’s nice to see him not transform into a mindless zombie as soon as the women beam in. Kirk is pretty subdued for most of it, but that’s partially because he looks pretty understated in front of the ham dinner that is Harry Mudd. Riley isn’t in this episode, so that’s a plus. Also, Uhura doesn’t sing and Rand isn’t put into danger by a big bad man.
The only thing I can say is that the episode is almost too weird to take at face value. Maybe they were experimenting in the first season while they still had room to find they’re face, but that really doesn’t excuse all the meandering and weirdness of the episode. Maybe I’m taking Mudd way too seriously and should just embrace the goofiness of the character. However, the main problems are still there. “Mudd’s Women” is the first truly resounding failure of the series, but the glimmers of promise in the show are still enough to bring me back again.
I spent an absurd amount of my notes trying to figure out if Mudd’s neck hair was in fact oddly groomed neck hair or just really, really oddly groomed chest hair.
Best line of the episode: “I don’t like you, and I’m not very happy with myself either.” Thanks, Eve for speaking your thoughts directly to the camera, being a weak woman and not standing up for yourself.
I had a variety of theories going as to what was going on with the women throwing off the scanner and seducing everyone, with the best theory being, and I quote “So, they’re devil women, with electric hair and radioactive nipples. Never mind, fuck this episode.”
Next Up: “What Are Little Girls Made Of” and if it’s about backwards gender politics, I’m probably going to fucking cry.