In the sixth episode of the first season of Star Trek, the Enterprise captures the captain of a fleeing ship as well as his cargo: three women who are not what they seem. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of sexism
This episode alternates between charming us, disturbing us, and then… a lot of head scratching? I think it’s one of those stories made with the best of intentions, since it wants to upend the tropes surrounding a siren, both in context of the traditional mythology and how sirens appear in fantasy and science fiction. It’s also a chance for Roger Carmel to be completely ridiculous for nearly fifty minutes, as well as the first time I realized that the Enterprise is constantly breaking down. RIGHT? LIKE, CONSISTENTLY THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH IT.
Anyway, I got the sense that this story was supposed to be about choice and objectification, but I don’t know that it actually achieves that goal. From the moment that Eve, Ruth, and Magda board the Enterprise until Eve’s final scene, these three women are constantly sexualized. And yes, that’s sort of the point. Mudd is running a con on the crew and the miners down on Rigel XII, and it involves tricking everyone into believing that these women are more physically beautiful than they actually are. But virtually nothing about the way “Mudd’s Women” is made or executed suggests that this was written for women. The camera suggestively follows all of the women, framing only certain parts of their bodies. Their outfits are absurd. The way that the men’s behavior is framed is so unreal because it’s not like there are no women aboard the Enterprise! Though I do find it suspicious that in an episode about women, practically every woman on the ship is non-existent. Why didn’t Uhura have a bigger role here? Where’s Rand? Not one woman had anything to say about this?
Anyway, the show takes the whole “boys will be boys” mentality and sprints off into another galaxy with it. Everyone is tricked by Mudd’s plan because men cannot resist pretty women. Except Mudd? He’s totally immune to them, which suggested that there was some other factor at work. And the use of the Venus drug initially helped explain this! Perhaps he’d developed a resistance to whatever affect it had on everyone else. I’d buy that. But in introducing this drug, the writers then completely fumble the execution of it with Eve’s final scene. It’s disappointing because her character is SO GREAT. (And holy shit, Karen Steele is INCREDIBLE, too!) She’s written as someone who is furious with how she’s constantly objectified. It’s why she so recklessly leaves Childress’s home and flees in the midst of a sandstorm. She values her own life and choice more than being a pawn in someone’s con. Plus, she’s furious that she’s grown up in such isolation. She’s lonely. That scene between her and Kirk in his quarters was so thrilling to watch because it’s when you realize that she’s being sincere. She wants the sort of companionship that makes her feel less alone, and objectifying her sexually doesn’t help.
I admit that I may not have understood this, but the whole placebo twist? I DON’T GET IT. How can a placebo have such a distinct physical affect on a person? How can a placebo affect other people not taking said placebo? There’s a rad message in the idea of self-perception of one’s own beauty, but how does that work if Eve looks like the drug-induced beauty and not her “homely” beauty? Even more perplexing, though, is how the siren-like effect these women exhibited on the men of the Enterprise is totally abandoned. What made Bones’s medical panel distrupt like it did? Why did the men feel like it was impossible for them to turn away or make decisions when these women looked at them? Is this some really bizarre commentary on how pretty women are… powerful? Distracting? Fake? I was so lost.
I just don’t know how comfortable I feel with the decision to have all of Mudd’s women marry the miners regardless of what they were put through. The whole thing operates under the assumption that the the best option for these women was for them to become wives to complete strangers, that their beauty was ultimately a bad thing because that’s not the kind of wife men deserve. Because pretty women are vain and selfish??? This was kind of all over the place, wasn’t it?
But holy shit, Harcourt Fenton Mudd. WHAT AN ANTAGONIST. He’s a pastiche of flamboyant smuggler tropes, and Roger Carmel’s acting is so fun to watch. Actually, even if I had some issues understanding the story, the whole cast played up the comic elements of “Mudd’s Women.” In particular, Leonard Nimoy does a beautiful thing here, having Spock act as a detached element to the story. He’s annoyed, he’s amused, and he’s disgusted, all at once, and it’s quickly becoming my favorite part of him??? He has no qualms about vocally stating that he prefers his Vulcan side, and I got the sense that it’s a source of humor between him and Bones. Bless. These little moments bring me so much joy not just because they’re entertaining, but because I’m getting a chance to understand why so many people love these characters. I can’t escape that feeling as I watch Star Trek, and it’s why I do this over and over again. I want to understand why things are beloved. I want to understand why certain books or shows have the fandom they do. And I hope this sensation is sustained, because even when I’m not totally into the story, I’m still having a good time.
The video for “Mudd’s Women” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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