In the first episode of the first season of Star Trek, Bones and Kirk are basically married, I want to squeeze Sulu’s cheeks, and THIS WAS SUFFICIENTLY MORE DISTURBING THAN I EXPECTED. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to start his multi-year journey through ALL OF STAR TREK.
Oh my god, it’s here. Which means that there will inevitably be newbies, which means I should start this off with a brief bit about how Mark Watches works. DON’T SKIP THIS.
1) Do not spoil me. The premise of Mark Watches is based off of my unspoiled reaction to television shows. This means it is vital for you not to spoil me in any way. That means in comments, on Twitter or Tumblr, or anywhere or in any way. This page details my Spoiler Policy in full, but for the sake of brevity, think of it this way: If what you’re about to say is in any way from something I have not seen, don’t say it. I swear, you will survive if you do not tell me something. I promise!
2) Spoilers are allowed in rot13. You will inevitably see a ton of gibberish in the comments. This is rot13, a cyphering tool that can be used to discuss any and all spoilers with other members of the community who have seen whatever I’m writing about. Please make sure to warn what you’re spoiling for in case it’s for other Star Trek series.
3) I will be covering the entire Star Trek live action canon. I will watch The Original Series, followed by the four films, then begin The Next Generation. I will be following AIRING ORDER, not intended order or production order or any official timeline. As best as I can, that means that I’ll be watching this as if I were a fan who watched this all in real time. This means that yes, things will overlap in the future. I’ll watch the movies wherever they debuted in a show’s run. I will alternate between series when the two aired at the same time. (Or three or however many overlap, I don’t know.) I may do the animated series as a double feature at some point, but there is no guarantee.
4) Commission videos are $0.99 a piece to download, and these video commentaries can be commissioned for $20 an episode. You’ll find a link at the end of this review to a “video,” which is my live reaction to watching this episode for the first time. I will make the video for TOS 1×01 free until the end of my watch of season one; otherwise, they’re $0.99 each. This helps offset the massive cost of hosting videos for y’all. However, because I know some cannot afford this and because I’m not trying to restrict access, all files can be downloaded TEN TIMES per purchase. The lovely folks at Mark Spoils host a Black Market to trade/give away files, and you are welcome to use the comments here to ask for a copy or share your own. I encourage it!
5) I write a week ahead of my Master Schedule. This means that videos are available, generally speaking, anywhere from 6 to 10 days ahead of what my schedule has up. I will tweet from @MarkDoesStuff when new videos are ready for download!
7) If you link this project to other people in any way, please please PLEASE tell them not to spoil me. It’s important that other newbies understand not to spoil me, and I’ve had to deal with too many people linking to me with no warning about what I do.
8) Please read the Site Rules, and please listen to my moderators. We aim to have a safe community here, and that means that you might be warned about content that could potentially harm people. Please listen to warnings from my moderators, who are listed on my FAQ and who have a blue bar over their names. They are not trying to make you feel awful or embarrass you. They’re trying to do their jobs as volunteers, and it is stressful to them when you try to use them as your sounding board for my rules. The most common things we warn for are spoilers and use of slurs, so PLEASE be careful about what you post.
9) When I catch up to the end of Supernatural season 10, NOTHING will replace it on the schedule. If there’s an 11th season of SPN, it’ll get weekly posts. My main reviews will become all Star Trek so that this project is not going to take the 5.5 years someone calculated it would take if it alternated with another show. So we’ll have 5-posts-a-week once we get there!
10) Please welcome our two new moderators: Aurora_Belle and ScarlettMi. Both have been involved in this community for years, and they are both quite knowledgeable about Star Trek, so they’ll be helping with spoilers, as well as other community issues!
In an effort to be transparent about what I do know, here are a couple of things. First, a friend of mine had me write down my “predictions” for what will happen on Star Trek, and it’s super ridiculous because I know so little? So here’s that:
I swear I’m an adult.
In addition to this, here are the few other facts I knew about Star Trek before I watched “The Man Trap”:
- George Takei played Sulu.
- Patrick Stewart played Picard on Next Generation.
- Jonathan Frakes does a thing?
- So does Wil Wheaton, but I don’t know what.
- LeVar Burton is that one dude with the weird glasses thing?
- TRIBBLES ARE A THING but I don’t quite know what that thing is? They’re something.
- I saw the J.J. Abrams reboot film (the first one) at a party at someone’s house, and I vaguely remember things from it, but mostly, I didn’t understand it. All I remembered was John Cho and Zoe Saldana looking incredible, and then Spock/Kirk eyefucking the hell out of one another.
- I once saw the documentary Trekkies about a decade ago. I remember vague things from it, mainly a table of knives and some sort of apparatus that looked like a huge Dalek that made me laugh.
- I KNOW WHAT REDSHIRTS ARE.
I feel like I need to explain this. I grew up with only one space opera: Star Wars. And it was very meaningful to me and to my family, but aside from a couple of other exceptions (The X-Files and The Twilight Zone), I was never allowed to watch anything remotely considered subversive or evil. (And before you chime in to tell me, yes, I am already aware of how hypocritical this is, given what those two shows routinely did. It’s never made sense to me, and my upbringing was strange.) On top of that, I know my parents tolerated my brother’s and my own obsession with Star Wars, but never really thought we needed anything more. I don’t think they had any aversion to Star Trek, and I do recall my mom saying she watched some of it? But in the late 80s and early 90s, prior to the revival of the show, it wasn’t like you could get DVD boxsets for $20 a pop. We were poor, and getting all of the Star Trek episodes on VHS was simply impossible for us. So it never happened.
Like my experience with high fantasy, I simply never found a way to get into it. I grew up with a number of sci-fi and fantasy nerds, all of whom pretty much were on-the-nose stereotypes. I spoke about this when I first read The Hobbit / The Lord of the Rings, but these were the type of nerds who made their beloved series seem horrifically intimidating. They could rattle off facts, they had tons of action figures, they read all of the non-canon novelizations (or, as some would argue, better canon), and they never once made it easy for me to get into this stuff. I wanted to! I had a deep love of science fiction because of shows like The X-Files and The Twilight Zone. I was obsessed with the paranormal, and I knew that I’d come to love more of these genres if I could just find a way to consume it.
But as I got to high school and personal events sucked all the time out of my life, I found that it really did feel impossible to get into anything that wasn’t a trilogy of films or books or a single season of a television show. Not only did I not have the time, but I didn’t own a television or a VCR or a DVD player from age 16 through age 23. In short? I missed out. On everything.
It just became… well, daunting. I didn’t know where to start, so I skipped out on all of it. I vaguely remember trailers for some of the films in the 90s and 00s, but they held no interest to me because I felt like I couldn’t watch them without having watched the show. I knew they were important to people, I was aware of how popular and well-known the Star Trek universe was, but I had no means to truly give it a shot.
So it never happened. I picked up a few things through osmosis over the years, which I detailed above, and I had a lot of nerds of color who ADORED how diverse the shows were. I knew I should watch it and I wanted to watch it, but… good lord, HAVE YOU SEEN HOW MANY EPISODES THERE ARE? So when it was proposed to me years ago that I should journey into the great beyond that is Star Trek‘s canon, I knew that this would be the only way I could see all of it – from beginning to end – and to try and appreciate it for what it did and what it is. I don’t think that’s any different from the rest of what I do for Mark Does Stuff. I want to find out why people like a thing. That’s the motivation for Mark Reads Twilight, and that’s the motivation for this, too. (Hahaha LORD DO NOT GO READ THAT WITH AN EXPECTATION FOR WHAT YOU ARE GETTING HERE. Suffice to say I did not like that series at all, so… I yell a lot? And curse a lot? And it’s just a nine-month spiral into hatred, for real.)
This is definitely the oldest show I’ve watched for Mark Watches (if you don’t count the few Doctor Who serials I covered), but I’m not worried about being unable to appreciate it in the context of the time it was made. I grew up with The Twilight Zone. The Prisoner is one of my all-time favorite shows in the universe, and I recommend The Wages of Fear to anyone who will listen. So, as the opening of “The Man Trap” gave way to that rocky setting, I was charmed. I felt like I was stepping back into history to watch something that would soon be beloved by millions of people over the last (nearly) 50 years. And I never lost sight of that the whole episode! It helped that some of these people – Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, George Takei, and Nichelle Nichols – were UTTER BABIES, but even if you put aside my constant shrieking and clutching of my beard, this shit was awesome. I’m aware of the complications surrounding the airing of the first “episode,” so I knew going into this that this wasn’t a traditional pilot in any sense. But even if I won’t get to the “first” episode until next week, I thought this was actually an incredible way for me to meet this cast and to understand this world.
I don’t know what sort of idea about Star Trek I had in my head, but I was pleasantly surprised by the set-up: the Enterprise is on a five year mission to explore other worlds, and that’s it. They aren’t tasked invading them or colonizing them. They’re sent out in the world (by someone on Earth, I assume I DON’T KNOW) to categorize and catalogue the universe. This particular mission, though, was all based on a routine check-up of the Craters on planet M-113, who appear to have been sent to M-113 for archaeological purposes.
AND THEN EVERYTHING IS SUPER DISTURBING JUST FIVE MINUTES IN. There’s a surrealist angle to “The Man Trap” that relies on something that we know to be impossible, even in the Star Trek world. I don’t need to know this universe’s mythology to understand that Nancy’s altered appearance is wrong, and I didn’t need to see Crewman Darnell die to get that there was something deeply awful about Nancy. The set is painted in oddly bright colors, Nancy behaves bizarrely even when we’re not being presented with her alternate appearances, and the way that Captain Kirk and McCoy react to Nancy tells me everything I need to know.
But oh my god, there was nothing more important to me than the way that Bones and Kirk spoke to one another. With just a few minutes of dialogue, “The Man Trap” establishes that they are close friends, that they respect one another, and that they’re comfortable enough that they can openly poke fun at each other, too! Their rapport is unreal, and I had this super silly moment when Kirk and Bones were super close to one another, and I almost said, “NOW, KISS.” Because holy shit, their dynamic IS NOT OKAY AT ALL. But what we see of the other crew members who interact – Uhura and Spock, Kirk and Spock, Sulu and Rand – is that these people have to trust each other to do their job. And they do. We’ve got Uhura’s playful flirting with Spock, whose Vulcan culture makes him logical to the point of being metaphorically alien on top of being literally an alien. It’s a trope that… shit, could have started here? At least in popular science fiction canon, that is.
I brought that up in the video because more so than ever before, the historical context of Star Trek makes it a bit of a challenge to analyze, at least in any way that I normally do. I want to say that Spock fills a trope, but what if he is the trope’s beginning? The same goes for the unnerving body swap / body invasion aspects of “The Man Trap.” There are certainly old pulp stories with these ideas in them, but had there ever been an American show aside from The Twilight Zone that dealt with such horror so openly? As complicated as these answers probably are, there was one aspect to this show that utterly blew me away: THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST DIVERSE CASTS I HAVE EVER SEEN IN A SCIENCE FICTION SHOW. A black woman, a Japanese man, A TON OF SUPER DIVERSE BACKGROUND CHARACTERS ALL THE TIME, and like????? Mostly, it makes me sad that in one episode, this goddamn show is more diverse than sci-fi properties being made in 2014. It’s been nearly 48 years since this aired, what the hell are we doing with ourselves?
I know I’m going to have a lot of time to discuss the finer issues of representation over the course of the next eight months (CHECK THE MASTER SCHEDULE, IT’S ALL LAID OUT), so can we talk about the story??? Because HOLY SHIT, this is immensely disturbing! The idea of a creature that can take on the form of anyone is not new to me, though I acknowledge that “The Man Trap” pre-dates every single example I can think of. But the way in which George Clayton Johnson explores identity and its affects on Professor Robert Crater was intense. This guy lost his wife to his creature, and instead of killing it, he sympathized with its struggle to stay alive. SO HE ALLOWED IT TO STAY WITH HIM AS LONG AS IT LOOKED LIKE HIS WIFE. THIS IS SO FUCKED UP ON SO MANY LEVELS, and the episode just barely scratches the surface of this before moving on, leaving us to ponder all of the horrible ways in which Professor Carter has been suffering for the last year or two. It’s not that I needed to know those things, and I think the episode works best by leaving those details ambiguous. It’s so much more intense that way.
Through this, the show introduces our characters enough so that we understand why this is so hard to watch. I don’t need to know a whole lot about Bones to understand that that’s DeForest Kelley acting as if he is Nancy. And it’s these little things spread all throughout “The Man Trap” that make it so much fun to watch. Green instantly becomes this horrifying force after he stalks yeoman Rand all over the ship. Then the creature assumes the form of a man that Uhura might want to spend time with, hinting that the creature can read minds, too? THERE ARE SO MANY LEVELS HERE, Y’ALL. And it’s not lost on me that this being eventually tries to take the place of the Chief Medical Officer, either. THERE IS SO MUCH TENSION BECAUSE OF THIS.
Look, I didn’t expect to be bored by Star Trek. I admit that I’ve been looking forward to starting this show for a while now, so I was certainly in a mindset to enjoy it. But I didn’t expect this. I didn’t expect that adorable plant that’s clearly a hand inside a puppet. I didn’t expect Sulu’s face being SO CUTE. I didn’t expect to get a taste for how Kirk interacts with Bones and Spock, respectively, and how that’s different for each character. For an episode that isn’t the real pilot, this was such a blast to experience. And it’s just the first of MANY MORE TO COME. Oh my god, can I do this? I AM BOLDLY GOING WHERE THIS MAN HAS NOT GONE BEFORE. Shut up, it was perfect.
Mark Links Stuff
– If you would like to support this website and keep Mark Does Stuff running, I’ve put up a detailed post explaining how you can!
– Please check out the MarkDoesStuff.com. All Mark Watches videos for past shows/season are now archived there!
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Feature will be Farscape.
– I will be at quite a few conventions and will be hosting events throughout the US, Canada, and Europe in 2014, so check my Tour Dates / Appearances page often to see if I’m coming to your city!
– Inspired by last year’s impromptu event in London, I am taking Mark in the Park on the road! You can see all currently planned dates and pitch your own city here.