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by Jeff Bond
“Mudd’s Women” was one of three teleplays considered for Star Trek’s second pilot, after “The Cage” was deemed “too cerebral” by NBC network executives. The others were “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” which was filmed as the second pilot, and “The Omega Glory.” “Where No Man…” and “The Omega Glory” both featured strong action/adventure elements missing in “The Cage”—fistfights, heavy dramatic conflict, and space action. “Mudd” seemed an attempt to show that the apparent humorlessness of “The Cage” would not be the template for the series: it’s a comedy with serious overtones.
Guest star Roger C. Carmel makes a great impression as con man Harry Mudd, although his initial “Leo Walsh” persona, complete with an Australian-style hat, a thick accent and a buccaneer’s outfit makes him a bit too much of an obvious “space pirate,” the sort of character you might expect to run into on Lost in Space.
The story is pure western, with Mudd’s mission to “wive settlers” and his “cargo” of beautiful space babes seeming rather incongruous with the technological and social advances shown on the series. It doesn’t help that the women are thinly characterized, with only Karen Steele’s Eve showing any intelligence or independence. Male viewers tend to remember Carmel’s appealing scoundrel and enjoy the eye candy of the women, but this has to be a tough episode for a modern female audience to swallow.
Like other uneven or downright bad first season episodes like “The Alternative Factor,” the strong guest star and the often spellbinding first season production values help carry the episode, especially during its first few acts. Jerry Finnerman’s lighting is particularly evocative, with a number of interesting angles and compositions—he lights Mudd’s big bald head like a moon in eclipse, backlighting the actor in some extreme, dramatic angles. Finnerman is also instrumental in getting across the mysterious effect of Mudd’s women with his patented, gauzy-lensed glamour photography. Carmel is extremely funny, adding a lot of amusing business to his initial scenes, and Shatner’s give and take with the actor is fiery and entertaining—Carmel is particularly good as his false cover is blown during the briefing room interrogation scene.
The comic value of the women’s affect on the male crewmembers pays off in several scenes—I love McCoy’s line “Are you wearing some special perfume or something radioactive perhaps, my dear?” But the downside is the story has to completely sideline all of the Enterprise’s female crewmembers in order to focus on the three feminine intruders—what does Uhura or Chapel think of all this? It’s fun watching Scotty and Kirk deal with the deteriorating condition of the ship (“lithium” crystals being the power controlling, pre-dilithium McGuffins here), and there’s a nice, quiet conference between Kirk, Spock and Scotty on the bridge—when Scotty refers to Mudd as a “jackass” (rather strong language for the time), Kirk says “That’s one jackass that you’re going to see skinned.” Shatner is always good playing Kirk’s awkward reactions to events that don’t jibe with his ship command skills and his reactions to the women are more entertaining than the otherwise stunned and dizzy looks the other crewmembers have.
Unfortunately the story, already on thin ice, goes even further downhill once the Enterprise gets to the Rigel mining colony. Mudd largely disappears from the scene and while Gene Dynarski gives one of Trek’s more subtle and convincing performances as the mining chief, his interaction with Eve isn’t quite enough to hold interest during the story’s final act. Even as a kid the demonstration of the Venus Drug never made sense to me (“So the drug styles their hair, applies makeup and puts a foggy field of distortion around them?”)—showing a placebo do the same thing is even more unconvincing despite the fairly laudable little lesson about self-confidence and loving someone for their inner self on display during the denouement. But Spock probably says it best at the end: “An unfortunate, emotional episode.”
CBS Digital’s work on “Mudd’s Women” provides a new starship for Harry Mudd, an asteroid field and an additional long-distance view of the Rigel mining colony. Mudd’s ship is seen fleeing the Enterprise in the distance on the viewscreen and its layout almost suggests a small, early version of the Voyager design (although the original effects aren’t much to speak of, they’re relatively effective and ambitious, especially the meteor work). We get a far more detailed look at the asteroid collision that destroys Mudd’s ship, although the timing is a little off—when Sulu says “There he goes!” in the original episode we cut to see the ship already flaring into an explosion. In the Remastered version as the line is said we cut to see the fatal asteroid still out in front of the ship and then impacting the vessel. But instead of the optical flare shown in the original episode we’re treated to the disintegration of the ship with parts flying off, followed by a gaseous blue explosion.
The Rigel mining colony shot is an interesting overhead view that gives an idea of the facility’s layout—but this is not one of the digital mattes created for other episodes like “Devil in the Dark,” but more of a computer generated environment with heavy, wind-blown clouds and dust sweeping across it—as such it doesn’t have the painterly beauty and depth of the other matte environments CBS-D has created for the show.
REMASTERED v ORIGINAL
by Matt Wright
Seasons One and Two discounted at Amazon
The Season Two box set is now available at Amazon for pre-order, discounted to $63.99 (Amazon has a low price guarantee that if they drop the price before ship date of August 5th you will get that lower price). Amazon has also discounted the Season One DVD / HD DVD combo disk is to $96.95 (retail is $194.99).