Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Original Series

"The Man Trap"


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

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13 comments on this review

Alexander - Fri, Mar 7, 2008 - 7:21pm (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
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 (USA Central)
"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 (USA Central)
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.

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