Star Trek: The Original Series

"The Man Trap"

**1/2

Air date: 9/8/1966
Written by George Clayton Johnson
Directed by Marc Daniels

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

A salt-dependent alien lifeform that can assume any identity begins killing members of the crew in its need to appease its appetite for salt, which it completely drains from each of its victim's bodies. The alien initially poses as an old love from McCoy's past, who is a scientist at an archaeological dig on the planet the Enterprise is orbiting. Inevitably, the alien is unknowingly beamed aboard the ship.

Why NBC chose to air "The Man Trap" as the first episode of Trek instead of launching the series with its actual pilot, the better-paced and more textured "Where No Man Has Gone Before," is something of a mystery. "Man Trap" features a relatively nondescript plot that moves along slowly and features one particularly lackluster action sequence that begs for the bold, renowned Alexander Courage underscore but doesn't have it.

Much of the story follows the alien around the decks of the Enterprise as it takes the form of other people in preparation for luring more victims—scenes that don't benefit from nearly enough tension or suspense. Saving the episode is the respectable torment brought to Bones in the final showdown, which benefits from good portrayal of confusion on the part of DeForest Kelley; and good use of the cast as an ensemble overall.

Next episode: Charlie X

◄ Season Index

24 comments on this review

Alexander
Fri, Mar 7, 2008, 7:21pm (UTC -5)
Jammer, I love your reviews. I would love, though, if you could review TAS, for completion's sake. What do you think?
Strider
Tue, Aug 28, 2012, 11:04pm (UTC -5)
I wish they hadn't aired this one first, too. The episodes in order show a marked and progressive development in both character and the relationship between characters. These cast members shouldn't be this tight and complementary until the time when this should have been aired--the 6th episode.
Moonie
Sun, Sep 15, 2013, 6:13am (UTC -5)
You'd think they'd pick something better and more memorable as the first episode. However the ending was good (Kirk's unhappiness at having to kill the last of a species).
William B
Mon, Dec 30, 2013, 10:20am (UTC -5)
OK, well, starting TOS now! Some of these I've "only" seen once before.

Movie/television blogger Chris Stangl summed up this episode by saying it is “about how McCoy has to metaphorically shoot his ex-girlfriend because she turned into a succubus.” What we have, I think, are two separate, not fully compatible stories spliced together: “the last of the buffalo” and the, well, succubus ex. The two stories do blend together to a degree, because exes who might want to pull you back into their orbit certainly have their reasons for doing so. But, uh, that’s kind of thin.

The episode makes some effort to depict this saltsucking fiend as a problem across genders, where it appears as a Space Prostitute (presumably) from “Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet” to Crewman Darnell and an attractive black guy to Uhura. (The episode counterbalances this latter moment by having Uhura coming onto Spock earlier in the episode, which I had forgotten about and makes the Uhura/Spock thing in the reboot franchise a little more consistent with the series than I had remembered.) The central story with McCoy himself is that he has to “get over” his lost lover, somehow, and not have his life (and later identity) taken over by her as he pines away for her. I guess. It’s a little vague. He eventually shoots her, and thus gets over her and moves on with his life; because this the first (aired) episode, we can, if we like, imagine a version of McCoy who spent all the intervening years since he left Nancy behind somewhat sad and moody, staring at her picture and not moving on, and here he does. That the real Nancy is dead represents corresponds to the recognition that the person people pine for, when they pine over their ex, is actually gone; the real person has aged and changed over time, and is not really the same person anyway, especially if they’ve married someone else. The episode introduces to the audience very early the McCoy-Kirk-Spock spectrum from emotionalism to rationality, where Kirk tells McCoy to stop thinking with his glands and that he could learn a thing or two from Spock; making this a McCoy show was a good move.

That we are told that the buffalo are extinct by the 23rd century, incidentally, is an early clue that the Star Trek future is one in which things are going to get a lot worse before they get better, eventually cemented with the introduction of the Eugenics Wars and the horrors of World War III before the rebirth represented by the discovery of warp drive and first contact with alien life. I like that Kirk is saddened by ending a species, but is not really going to let his crew be killed by it. It is sad that there is no real effort to reach a peaceful solution. I mean, this creature obviously survived for years on the salt that Crater got there, without saltsucking Carter. Is salt in such short supply that the creature must be killed? I guess the creature itself is what forces this—but I feel like someone should have offered more than a handful of salt tablets. Most likely, the problem is that the creature actually craves not eating salt in rock form, but actually consuming salt from other living beings, for some reason, and so wouldn’t be satisfied for very long with actual salt. Or, it’s just a problem with scripting.

I like the scene late in the episode with Crater, in which he talks about his wanting to save the creature for noble reasons—it’s the last of its species and deserves a right to live!—and Kirk quickly identifies the less noble motives behind it: Carter is using the creature as his own personal wife, lover, friend, parent, child.... The themes here, of fantasy/reality and objectification, of complex symbiotic relationships in which it’s not clear who is exploiting whom, are ones the show will revisit again and again (and already started to in “The Cage”). There is also good setup for the personalities of the supporting cast, especially Uhura but Sulu and Rand as well.

I think 2-2.5 stars is probably fair.
K'Elvis
Mon, Jan 6, 2014, 4:32pm (UTC -5)
The creature is smart enough to imitate not just the appearance of humans, but to imitate behavior, and that takes some mental capacity. But it isn't smart enough to realize it could have had all the salt it wanted just for the asking? Perhaps salt is so rare on its planet that it can't imagine it is common elsewhere.

Why didn't Crater simply tell Starfleet "My team was killed by an alien that lives on salt. Please send a shipload of salt." Problem solved. He probably thought they would come and kill it, but it's the alien's planet, and the creature is harmless if left alone. The alien obviously survived before he arrived, but it may have been just barely surviving.
Caine
Wed, Jan 29, 2014, 3:41pm (UTC -5)
I watched these episodes as a kid, and now -36 years of age - I'm revisiting them on DVD (restored version with new visual effects).

I'm really disappointed. After watching this "first" episode I'm completely disillusioned. It's really bad.

Look, I know that things were different in the late sixties. TV shows was a while different ballgame altogether, with low budgets and a primitive way of telling a story than we're used to today.

But .... man, it's just so incredibly boring. The dialog itself is horrible and the bad timing just makes it even worse.

I was expecting to experience a sense of fun, kitchy nostalgia. Instead I'm just bored to tears.

Based on what this episode has to offer, I'm sorry to say that TOS has aged badly (even with new, improved visuals, which I applaud).

I can't see how anyone today would be able to genuinely enjoy this show - exept, of course, through a very strong sense of nostalgia alone.

I really wanted to love this, but I'm afraid that I just find it plain bad (not even "fun-bad").
redshirt28
Wed, Apr 2, 2014, 7:59am (UTC -5)
Nostalgia yes...the saltmonster reminds me of my ex wife. She craved money instead of salt, attached herself to other men, and sucked the life out of you. 3 stars.
tlb
Sat, Jun 21, 2014, 10:40am (UTC -5)
This episode was more enjoyable than watching "Enterprise." I'm seeing the heart and intentions of the episode and not the bad special effects.
Sean
Fri, Sep 26, 2014, 5:27pm (UTC -5)
Actually TOS had a much larger budget then a lot of shows in the 60s. If you really want to see a show string budget, check out Doctor Who's 60s period.
Sean
Fri, Sep 26, 2014, 5:29pm (UTC -5)
When the salt monster was in the form of Green and went into where Sulu was working, I couldn't help thinking he was there to tempt Sulu. Since Green was quite attractive. I know I know, Sulu's not actually gay, but still... :P
Lal
Sun, Oct 5, 2014, 9:49pm (UTC -5)
Caine, maybe you should just keep watching TOS a bit. The episodes, by and large, DO get better, especially as the relationship between the 3 core characters develops. It's not a great idea to condemn the whole series just because you saw one episode you didn't like. (And "The Man Trap" isn't super-great to begin with. Even the real pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before" is more interesting to watch than this one).
Dusty
Wed, Jan 7, 2015, 1:06am (UTC -5)
"Captain's Log, Stardate 1513.4. In orbit around Planet M-113. One crewman--member of the landing party--dead by violence. Cause unknown." So how do you know he's dead by violence?? That archaeologist and his wife sure were bad at keeping a secret, too. They both mention they need more salt at the dig site and on the very same visit Darnell turns up dead with all the salt extracted from his body? 2 + 2 still equals 4 in the future.

They should have just waited for the tablets, but the woman/creature is bereft of self-control and does the worst job ever of impersonating a crewman. And how did it know Swahili? This one's going to hurt my head if I keep thinking about it. And it's so SLOW. They had an idea for a 25-minute episode and stretched it out into 50. An awkward introduction to a epic program, but it could have been worse.
Carl
Wed, Jan 14, 2015, 8:33am (UTC -5)
I've decided to start watching TOS on Netflix and this was my first episode. I'm primarily a DS9 fan with a guilty love of Voyager. I wasn't expecting too much from this early episode as I'm sure that it gets a lot better like most series do and so I was very happy with 'The Man Trap'.

I was really impressed with the dialogue, especially the sizzling scene between Spock and Uhuru near the start. It's a lot better than most of the dialogue on Voyager or TNG.
Eli
Thu, Aug 20, 2015, 3:16pm (UTC -5)
@William B: Great analysis.

@Caine: Watch more old episodes first, as others have said.

@K'Elvis: Completely agree.

Episode contains some positive character interplay and one could generously read into the themes in the background of the episode. However, in my view, this is a bleak episode because of the one sided nature of the monster.

Main problem: the creature is too fanatically obsessed with salt. The fact that the creature kills so frequently and without hesitation mars what could have been an interesting, morally ambiguous episode. Further, this extreme salt dependency creates a number of serious logical problems with the entire episode. As has been pointed out, the creature's unthinking monstrous urges would seem to conflict with its purported intelligence, its supposed ability to coexist peacefully with Crater, and its apparent survival on the planet for years. Obviously the creature could have received salt from the Enterprise simply by asking. Also, if the creature needed salt so badly it needed to go on a killing rampage, it wouldn't have been able to live peacefully with Crater (for a year or two). Moreover, if the creature is so dependent on salt, and there is little salt (or none?) on the planet, it seems extremely improbable the creature could have survived before Crater arrived. In any case, as I alluded to before, by creating a creature that was so obsessed with salt at all costs, the writer loses the opportunity for a more complex and challenging conflict. As it is, the creature has insufficient moral ambiguity for us to care about it.

Another problem I have with this episode is the thoughtlessness demonstrated by the Enterprise crew. Frequently, characters are given sufficient information to anticipate the actions of the monster, but fail to act. I was hoping that the "truth serum" was a clever ploy by Kirk to test McCoy, knowing that he and Spock knew there was no such thing. But, alas apparently there was a truth serum. I can't remember whether this serum was ever referred to by the Federation again. I know some villains had used a truth serum, but I don't remember the Federation using it. Anyway, very disappointing episode.
Eli
Thu, Aug 20, 2015, 3:30pm (UTC -5)
One last thing: why bother giving the creature a line in the script at the beginning where it asks for salt?

Even on the initial away team (not long after it asks for salt), the creature promptly kills for salt.

I guess its fatal flaw was impatience?
Eli
Thu, Aug 20, 2015, 3:33pm (UTC -5)
Edit: In the post above, I meant even "during the visit of the initial away team," not "on the initial away team."
Greg
Sun, Aug 23, 2015, 5:11pm (UTC -5)
I rather liked this episode due to the creepy story premise. But I have to agree with Eli that having the creature so salt obsessed was a bit of a plot hole. Another problem with the plot is when the three team members first beam down McCoy goes on at great length as to how he and Nancy broke up over 10 years ago. Then when the creature is introduced to the sacrificial red shirt he sees her as a young blonde woman of about 25 or so. Could this poor guy be so dumb as to not do the math? That would mean that McCoy must have broken up with her when she was in her mid teens. So unless the federation has lower the legal age of consent to 12 the redshirt should see the numbers don't add up. But no, when she exits the structure and gives him the "come hither" look he immediately follows her confident he is about to get a knob job from McCoy's ex. Despite obvious plot holes I thought the general concept and moodiness carried the episode. And I rather liked the humorous exchange between Spock and Uhura. Spock: "Vulcan has no moon Miss Uhura." Uhura: "I'm not surprised Mr.Spock." Classic.
Bill
Sat, Aug 29, 2015, 3:49pm (UTC -5)
"He's dead, Jim."

Classic line, first reel before the first commercial of the first episode. Other than that... :-D
John
Thu, Feb 18, 2016, 9:08am (UTC -5)
Good:
Interplay between the characters is already strong.
Trying to raise ethical questions right away (though muddily)
Reassuring to see so many Trek cliches in place right away (so many dead away-team members!)

Bad:
Rand and Uhura act like morons when confronted by the creature
Letting us in on the secret of the episode in the first scene makes the pacing drag to a crawl
Spock wanting to kill the creature is out of character

Ugly:
The final action sequence. Just terrible.

Final rating: A slow episode with a laughably bad fight scene, mostly buoyed by the building blocks that will eventually lead to great episodes. Two out of four.
Skeptical
Thu, May 26, 2016, 9:34pm (UTC -5)
I'm not complaining about the fact that this is the first episode. It honestly felt a bit like an introductory episode, what with the introductory captain's log that mentioned Spock, and McCoy's names, Uhura's chat with Spock on the bridge, Sulu and Rand conversing in the botany lab, it's all meant to slowly get to know these people. I see no difference in those scenes than I see in Farpoint, Emissary, or Caretaker. So putting this episode first made sense to me. Maybe they knew they didn't have enough of a plot to fill a full episode, and thus added these scenes to fill it out and introduce us to everyone. Makes sense to me.

Meanwhile, the conference scene was probably the best part of the episode. With the creature in the guise of McCoy, it tries desperately to plead for its own life while his one supporter also tries to support it without giving away that McCoy was not actually McCoy. The episode did a good job of making us feel sympathy for the creature as well, even though we know the danger it presents. Even with Kirk telling Carter that his crusade may not be entirely unselfish, we still have sympathy for it. But unfortunately, if there is no way to stop it peacefully, the crew has to protect itself. The tension in that room was palpable, and was an enjoyable scene.

Unfortunately, while the show tried to give the creature sympathy, they didn't do a good job of making sure that it must die. Kirk said so, and so it must be. Clearly, there's enough salt to satisfy the creatures hunger, but unfortunately it tries to kill instead. Yes, the tablets Kirk held was far less than what he held in his body, but surely she could see that attacking Kirk in full view of McCoy would not go well for her. And after Spock started attacking it, it never pleads for its life. Why not? It was trying to plead for its life in the meeting, why not when it was trapped and cornered? Because, well, they needed to have McCoy shoot it to complete the story, but didn't have a good reason for why it had to stop it. Bad plotting on their part.

So, in general, not that great a start to the series, but I suppose it could have been worse.

As an aside, what's with the Captain's Log? It seemed rather... dramatic, don't you think? Not very professional sounding. I think Kirk took a creative writing correspondence course the week before this episode occurred...
navamske
Sun, May 29, 2016, 11:28am (UTC -5)
@K'Elvis

"The creature is smart enough to imitate not just the appearance of humans, but to imitate behavior, and that takes some mental capacity. But it isn't smart enough to realize it could have had all the salt it wanted just for the asking?"

Any creature worth its salt would have done that.

But yeah, you're right -- except that without the creature's evident need to create mayhem in its quest for NaCl, there wouldn't be a story. It's kind of like the episode in which Sulu and some others were freezing on a planet and the crew couldn't use the transporter to bring them up because it was creating evil duplicates -- why didn't they just send down a shuttlecraft? In both instances one line of dialogue could have addressed these concerns:
-- "The creature not only wants salt, it wants to kick ass too."
-- "The shuttlecrafts won't be here until Tuesday."
Mnolan
Mon, Jun 13, 2016, 3:47am (UTC -5)
Hmm, as I sit here on the precipice of rewatching TOS, having finished Enterprise, it occures to me that Jammer has not yet reviewed 'The Cage'. Lots to discuss. Or does 'The Menagerie' make a review redundant?
Peter
Sat, Jun 25, 2016, 7:00am (UTC -5)
All right! Been a long-time lurker on this site and am impressed with your reviews on Trek, of which I am perhaps one of the biggest fans. You should expect many of my comments on some reviews if only to voice how much I enjoy it.
As for The Man Trap, this review is spot-on. I admit I overrate it a bit but 2.5 is about right.
All the best- Peter.
Jim
Thu, Aug 18, 2016, 3:34pm (UTC -5)
The plot hole that bothered me the most was the fact that the salt vampire was not a shapeshifter; it got into people's heads and made them see what they wanted to see. That's why it could appear to Kirk, McCoy, and the crewman as three different women at the same time (old Nancy, young Nancy and the "pleasure planet" woman).

Since it was not a shapeshifter, ship's sensors or a tricorder would have read it as an alien, not a human, so they should have noticed when they beamed it up. Also, if anyone was looking through the ship via viewscreen, the creature would have appeared as itself. I guess this early in the series they hadn't thought it through or established what the technology could and couldn't do.

Submit a comment





Notify me about new comments on this page
Hide my e-mail on my post

◄ Season Index

▲Top of Page | Menu | Copyright © 1994-2016 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication or distribution of any content is prohibited. This site is an independent publication and is not affiliated with or authorized by any entity or company referenced herein. See site policies.