Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Star Trek 50th Anniversary Blogging: "Mudd's Women" (October 13, 1966)

Stardate: 1329.1

The U.S.S. Enterprise pursues a “hazard to navigation,” a J-class cargo ship with no navigation beam.  

the small ship attempts to evade capture, and darts into a nearby asteroid belt.

Captain Kirk (William Shatner) extends the Enterprise’s shields to protect the endangered ship -- over Scotty’s (James Doohan) objections -- burning out the starship’s lithium crystals, but managing to save the crew of the vessel.

Captain Leo Walsh (Roger C Carmel) and three unnaturally attractive human women -- Eve (Karen Steele), Magda (Susan Denberg) and Ruth (Maggie Thrett) -- beam aboard. 

Almost immediately, the presence of the gorgeous women aboard ship causes “a mysterious magnetic effect” on the male crew-members of the Enterprise.

claims that the women are the equivalent of mail-order brides, bound for Ophiuchus 3 and new husbands, but Kirk is more interested in holding Walsh for trial.

The Enterprise limps to Rigel XII, a mining planet, to acquire the much-needed and rare lithium crystals, but Leo Walsh -- really a scoundrel and lawbreaker named Harcourt Fenton Mudd -- negotiates secretly by communicator with the leader of the humans there, Childress (Gene Dynarski).
Childress will only give Kirk the much-needed crystals if he drops all charges against Mudd, and allows the women to marry the miners. 

As Captain Kirk negotiates, he learns the truth. The three women have taken an illegal medicine, the Venus Drug that creates the impression of incredible beauty.

Would I have to turn in my Star Trek fan cred if noted that I am not the world’s biggest fan of Harry Mudd, or the episodes that involve this particular character?

It’s nothing against Roger C. Carmel or his performances. I just find the character, his costume, and his flamboyant behavior a bit too reminiscent of Lost in Space-Season 2. 

He's the visitor to the ship/planet of different dress and different attitude, representing some aspect of old Earth (the pirate, or con-man).

A space-going con-man, scoundrel, of course is a popular character in science fiction productions. With names like Han Solo and Captain Mal Reynolds, the trope is well-represented in the genre. But Mudd -- with his big-sleeved blouse, large hat and twirly mustache -- seems more like a colorful cliché than a real person, let alone a real person that would be encountered by the starship Enterprise.

Especially the starship Enterprise as it is depicted in these early Trek episodes. 

These stories feature the amazing “lower deck” component I've talked about before, exploring the personalities of non-bridge crew members. These stories are a bit more humorless, and sometimes even grim. So Mudd feels piped in from another universe all-together.

Also, without treading too deeply into sexual politics and the way that they have changed in fifty years, I find it impossible to disregard the underpinnings of this story which state essentially that Mudd is both a pimp and a drug pusher.  

He’s a “man used to buying and selling people.”

I don’t mind Star Trek featuring a pimp and a drug pusher. Or prostitutes. I believe all those elements can absolutely exist in a gritty, grim (and often kinky) series. 

But I do object to the depiction of a criminal of that stature as a harmless buffoon, and charming rogue.  Mudd is trafficking in women. He's pushing illegal drugs. Those aren't funny quirks. Those aren't victim-less crimes.

I suppose my disdain for Mudd puts me in the same camp with Captain Kirk, who seems largely non-amused by the character, at least here. 

I also feel that "Mudd's Women" is terminally-conflicted between two aspects. On the "gritty" side we have miners living in a perpetual dust-bowls, desperate women willing to sell themselves to men they've never met, and a drug that, while being a "cheat," promises a temporary increase sexual attraction.

Then, on the other side, we've got big, cartoony Harry Mudd.

Also, “Mudd’s Women” feels over-the-top in the scenes involving the male crew-members lusting after Eve, Magda and Ruth. The soundtrack doesn't help.

To explain: these are men who serve with beautiful women every single day; women such as Lt. Uhura, Yeoman Rand, Nurse Christine Chapel, and Dr. Helen Noel.  

There is no reason to portray the crew as sex-starved sailors who haven’t been to port, or seen a woman, in months. It’s just silly. 

I realize the women are using the Venus Drug to seem more attractive, but even then, it's all a little nutty, especially given the stripper-styled sound-track accompanying the women everywhere they walk.

Still, some elements of "Mudd's Women" do work quite well, and add considerably to the the Trek universe. I enjoy very much the dialogue and the relationship between Kirk and Eve. She is a smart, resourceful person, but an essentially lonely one. She shares that quality in common, I believe, with Kirk. In a way they are kindred spirits: both head-strong, both determined, and both alone. Also, they are both people of real integrity.

I also admire the episode's final act set on the windswept planet, Rigel XII. The miners there live in modest buildings...or hovels. The wind never stops blowing sand against...everything. Survival is difficult, and companionship the greatest treasure of all. 

This is the real final frontier on the series, an inhospitable world being conquered, a hunk of dirt at a time, by pioneers and dreamers.  

So often -- in all iterations of Star Trek -- the captains contend with Heads of State, Ambassadors and other “formal” personalities. In “Mudd’s Women” Kirk deals with Childress, a miner who wants what he wants and isn’t intimidated by the might of a starship. That's a really nice aspect of this program, I feel.

This episode also features some great Kirk/Star Trek wisdom (with a modifier from Mudd, so as to make it less sexist.):

 “There are only two kinds of women in this universe -- or men for that matter.  Either you believe in yourself. Or you don’t.”

Wonderful frontier philosophy… and words almost on a par with Kirks advice to Charlie in “Charlie X.”

Alas, while I believe wholeheartedly in this philosophy, I don’t believe that “being high on yourself” can actually change a person’s hair-do, or add make-up to their facial features  Eve thinks she takes the Venus Drug, but she's been tricked. It’s a placebo. 

Still, she goes from un-made-up to made-up, from un-coiffed, to completely coiffed.  Silly, but I guess her self-esteem transformation gets the point across.

In terms of Star Trek's on-going growing pains, this week we get a description of Spock as part "Vulcanian" (rather than Vulcan), "lithium" (rather than Dilithium) and Uhura in a gold uniform instead of her trademark red one.

Next Week: “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”


  1. Splendid filmmaking for television.

    I don't disagree with you on the sexist elements, but, in spite of them, this episode to me packs a fairly powerful punch. In addition, "Mudd's Women" switches, or rather, blends, effortlessly and seamlessly from comedy to drama/tragedy over its fifty minutes -- this quality is one of the hardest things to pull off in film/television. It almost never works when attempted.

    The scene between Kirk and Eve in the captain's quarters provides an intimacy in the circus-like aspect of the story (to that point in the episode). There is an affection between two people from two different worlds; and they are lonely, as you state, John. The staging/blocking is perfect here.

    What is interesting about Harry Mudd's characterization, and I do not have any problem with your negative points about the man, "his kind" is par-for-the-course in filmed drama today; a not entirely likeable, but not entirely dislikeable person, especially given their trade.

    As you suggest, the scenes on Rigel XII are terrific. The depiction of the planet environment, including the dwellings, is impressive. It's a believable world.

    Fred Steiner's score is a favourite of mine for the series. Note: The David Rose-like piece that accompanies the three women as they walk down the corridor was not written by Steiner. As the episodes were getting backed up in post production Alexander Courage was asked to write a little ditty for the "Mudd's Women" trailer. Since the piece worked so well, it was mixed into the actual episode.

    I will not forget to mention Canadian director Harvey Hart's work on the episode. It's appropriately "cinematic" (and not for the sake of being so).

    "Mudd's Women" won its time slot, on average, when it first aired. And did so again -- with a large margin in its second half -- when it was repeated seven months later.

  2. Knowing what we know now, Sulu's "hubba-hubba" reaction to Mudd's ladies is a little comical...

  3. Hated this episode and the character of Mudd even more.

  4. Excellent critical write-up of this episode. I am a huge Trek fan but this episode is somewhat painful to watch. I have nothing to add to your analysis.

  5. John,

    It's clear upon viewing this episode that it's one of the earliest filmed (third in production order, excluding the original pilot film "The Cage). It's a perfect example of unadulterated, raw Star Trek. The frontier spirit imbued here is suggestive of television Westerns which were so prevalent at the time of its airing.

    There's a certain joy to seeing Spock, and Leonard Nimoy's performance, when so much of the character was undefined. He vacillates from confusion at the reactions of the crewmen to the women, to a sort of melancholy when he is in close quarters with them, quiet amusement and a Saturnine grin and shrug at Kirk, delight at observing the reactions of the bridge crew, and obvious irritation during Mudd's trial. It's fascinating to watch (and yes, I just boldly went there).

    Barry Smight is correct: this is one of Star Trek's best and most memorable music scores, and sets the tone (literally) for what was to follow.

    This episode looks absolutely tremendous, and I'm not talking about the women (although I certainly wouldn't exclude them, either). Since the series was featured prominently in ads for RCA's color televisions, cinematographer Jerry Finnerman devised a scheme of using neutral backgrounds coupled with colored light gels, and the results are really wonderful in this particular show, both on the ship and on Rigel XII.

    Note how striking (even jarring) is the cut between the surface of the planet and the Enterprise orbiting in space...the contrast is truly captivating. This juxtaposition was lost on the visual effects artists who changed Rigel XII from deep blue to red for the updated "special editions." Clearly they were trying to align the surface colors with the image of the planet when seen from space, but something was lost. I always watch this episode with the original effects footage whenever I fire up the blu ray.

    It's a little known fact that Harcourt Fenton Mudd was intentionally depicted as a buffoonish cartoon character to allay NBC's fears that he was nothing more than a pusher and a pimp in space. It was NBC who wanted these aspects of the character dialed up to eleven, a compromise for his activities which Roddenberry argued was integral to the plot.

    I'm not even gonna try to sugar coat it; "Mudd's Women" is one of my favorite episodes of Star Trek. I won't argue with any of the finer points that detract from this one, from Mudd to sexism to silliness. It's entertaining as hell. As Mr. Spock would say, my love for this one is "highly illogical." Kirk and McCoy would counter, "That's what makes us human."


    1. Well said. You are right about "Mudd's Women" being just the second episode shot as part of regular series production; the big "planet stage" was used for the first time on this one. Desilu's Stage 10 (now Paramount Stage 32) was the show's "swing stage", used for planets and episode sets. By the way, this stage (and Stage 9, Trek's "ship" stage) is reportedly haunted. It originally was built for RKO, and features an interior vertical measurement of almost fifty feet -- which is why it would have been chosen to house the planet exteriors.

      As you suggest, "Mudd's Women" has that unique early-in-production vibe. I know someone who picks the first dozen or so episodes as his favourite, because they have a special feeling and look.

      What "Mudd's Women" also demonstrates is how versatile Star Trek was right out of the gate. It possessed a daring self assurance, a confidence, the moment it stepped out of the incubator.

      I want to see this episode again. Thanks, John.

    2. Barry,

      You bring much excellent information to the discussion! I've never heard the set was supposedly haunted, but that's a detail that is really cool!

      I concur with your friend about the first several episodes. They just feel different, isolated, almost like we're watching actual footage of life on a ship, visiting planets in the 23rd Century.

      Thanks for the info, and hope to see more!


  6. Anonymous10:38 AM

    Sure, it's ham-handed.

    But for me the telling part is that both the miners and the women finally shed their silliness and act like adults.

    The miners figure out that what they need are women who are not dolls. And the woman figure out that they don't need to be dolls.

    Once the miners and women can meet as equals without pretense, then they can actually get to know each other. And it turns out they like it better that way.

  7. I could never tell whether I disliked Harry Mudd as a character or I simply didn't like Roger C. Carmel playing him. Never liked Carmel in anything he did (and he did quite a lot in the 60s), so perhaps I would be more open to the character had it been played by a more likable actor. I do agree that the story gets better once they reach the mining planet and the drama actually takes hold. That never happens with I, Mudd.

  8. Once again you have nailed it! Thank you for saying aloud what I have always thought. For me "Mudd'a Women" feels like a leftover second season "Lost in Space" episode. I remember when TBS would play all 79 episodes in broadcast order 5 nights a week, I'd often bail on this one and go to bed early at 11 PM. (I was 12 at the time lol).

    The other issue (besides the camp) I had with this were Mudd's actual women themselves. Although this is highly subjective and just my personal tastes, I simply did find them to as over-the-top super attractive as they are supposed to be. Especially in a show that featured A LOT of really super attractive, sexy, beautiful women.