A memorable episode, but unlike many other series, Star Trek’s debut on television in 1966 was not its pilot. That episode, The Cage, would be effectively repackaged later into The Menagerie (Part 1 and 2). What would turn out to be the second pilot ordered by NBC was titled Where No Man Has Gone Before and was saved for the third episode of the first season of Star Trek.
“The Man Trap features the story of men and women who are fooled by a shape-shifting alien, who was the last remaining creature of its race.”
The Man Trap features the story of men and women who are fooled by a shape-shifting alien, who was the last remaining creature of its race. Ordinarily, as done by countless humans in the past, this “last of its kind” would be annihilated (see dodo, woolly mammoth, etc.), but it seems that by the 23rd Century, we have evolved a little because there was at least a little talk of not destroying the creature. Just a little.
The episode begins as the Enterprise is in orbit around the planet M-113. Kirk and “the ship’s surgeon McCoy” beam to the planet’s surface to medically examine Archeologist Robert Crater and his wife, Nancy. The Craters were on the world exploring the ruins of a long dead society — which looked it was inspired by Mesoamerican architecture.
It turns out that Mrs. Crater had a relationship with McCoy ten years before. When Nancy greets the captain and McCoy, she appears not to have aged in years to McCoy. But to Kirk, she looked very aged. Crewman Darnell saw a blonde woman who he swore he left behind on “Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet.” In a few moments, she would lure Darnell out of the main building … and …
When Prof. Crater appears, he demands that Kirk and McCoy leave the planet immediately, and to refurbish their salty supply. As McCoy examined Crater, the group heard screaming in the distance. As Kirk and company went out to investigate, they found Darnell dead with some red “mottling” on his face. Nancy was standing over him screaming and crying.
Kirk questioned her, and she said that she saw him with a Borgia plant in his hand. Before they beamed back to the ship, Mrs. Crater pressed again about the salt.
Meanwhile, back on the ship, there was a little flirty-flirty going on between Spock and Uhura. This may have inspired the relationship which was fleshed out in the Kelvin-timeline Star Trek (2009) film. Spock also noted that Vulcan had no moons.
After examination, McCoy told the captain that Darnell should not be dead, but it wasn’t poisoning from the Borgia plant. Later, in his captain’s log, Kirk would say that Darnell was “dead by violence” and was not poisoned.
McCoy finally checked the one thing that he almost did not check — the sodium levels of Darnell. He had none. Kirk then noted that Crater and Nancy both wanted salt beamed down.
Kirk returned to the planet with an away team to do a more thorough investigation. Crater showed Kirk and McCoy the depleted salt stores that they had. Spock then reported that the Borgia plant that was of the standard variety found on Earth and would not have caused Darnell to die. Kirk told Crater that he and Nancy would have to come back aboard the Enterprise until the cause of the death had been determined. Upon hearing this, Crater disappeared.
Crater left the main building and ran off to find another dead Starfleet crewman; while Nancy was hovering over a third. Kirk and McCoy caught up and found Crewman Sturgeon dead with the same marks on his face. Kirk immediately started looking for Crewman Green, who was also dead. Nancy then shifted into the shape of Green.
McCoy started to lose control of his emotions, thinking that Nancy herself could be a victim of … whatever was attacking the men. The three beamed back aboard the ship. As “Green” got off the transporter pad, he began to wander around the ship looking for salt. The first person he encountered was Yeoman Janice Rand, who happened to be carrying a tray of food, complete with a salt shaker.
Janice brought Mr. Sulu the tray in the Botany Section of the Life Sciences Department. This scene was enjoyable thanks to a plant, which responded to the humans around it. When Green entered the room, this particular plant reacted violently.
Green wandered again and shifted into a crewman who was not based on anyone on the ship… but instead based on someone Lt. Uhura was thinking about. He spoke with Uhura for a few moments, and attempted to touch her face or throat, but was interrupted. Uhura then escaped.
The new crewman wandered again, eventually finding Dr. McCoy’s quarters. He shifted into the form of Nancy and encouraged McCoy to rest and relax.
Meanwhile, Sulu and Janice found another dead crewman… with red “mottling” on his face.
McCoy fell asleep, and Nancy took his shape and reported to the bridge. Kirk and Spock returned to the surface to interrogate Crater, but instead, they found the dead body of Crewman Green. Crater then attacked Kirk and Spock (with an older generation phaser pistol prop, which was seen on The Cage). Kirk eventually stunned Crater, who admitted that his wife Nancy was a creature, not a human. She was “the last of its kind,” as the passenger pigeon.
Crater then compared her to the buffalo, which were “gone,” according to Spock. But luckily, there are still 31,000 bison living in refuges as of this writing.
“McCoy” spoke with Sulu and Uhura on the bridge, and eventually infiltrated a meeting of the senior staff as they were trying to determine who the creature could be pretending to be now. McCoy then suggests that the crew ought to not hunt the beast, but instead offer it salt without tricks.
When Crater refuses to help Kirk find the creature, Kirk orders McCoy to administer truth serum. But when Crater, McCoy, and Spock leave the ready room, “McCoy” assaults Spock, who bleeds green for all to see. Crater was then victim to the salt lust of the creature… though she was not able to attack Spock in the same way. Spock told Kirk that the ancestors of Vulcans spawned in a different ocean than humans and that Vulcans have no salt in their system.
Kirk eventually tracked the creature to McCoy’s suite (who was now in the form of Nancy Crater again) and then demanded that McCoy stand aside. McCoy refused and tried to disarm his captain. But as this happened, Kirk lost his phaser to the doctor, and the creature began to absorb the salt from Kirk’s body. Spock burst in and started attacking Nancy, who easily defeated the Vulcan. Eventually, Nancy dropped her guise and showed her pure form. McCoy shot her with the phaser twice.
TREK REPORT SUPPLEMENTAL:
This episode is remembered by many as the “space vampire” episode, but it was more than just that. It was also a whodunit, and right from the start, the show was not ashamed of showing off its diverse cast with major speaking roles (Sulu, Uhura). While there was no mention of the Prime Directive, there was a hint of what was to come later in the series. Much like the Cub Scouts, Starfleet officers would be ordered to “leave no trace” to planets they visit in future episodes. While that did not stop McCoy from ultimately killing the creature, Kirk did lament its loss before credits ran. I enjoyed this one, but am puzzled as to why the network or producers decided that this would be the first show to appear on TV. Perhaps the space vampire theme was easy for an audience to jump into this new space adventure quickly.
RATING: 3 out of 5