The Good: Effective "hunt" show, Competent acting, good character development
The Bad: Narrative technique is awkward, General 60s camp
The Basics: A memorable start to the series, as it appeared first! Much for all audiences to enjoy when viewed with an open mind.
When reviewing something that has become a cultural icon like Star Wars or Star Trek, it's hard to be dispassionate and hard to expect your readers not to come in with a view already. "The Man Trap," being the first episode of Star Trek that was aired on network television, it seems like the best place to begin reviews of the series.
It's amazing how many aspects of Star Trek that have become associated with popular culture are not present in the debut episode. I'd list that in the "strength" category. If you're expecting "Live long and prosper" and "Beam me up Scotty," you've come to the wrong place. Given that, let's see what we have!
"The Man Trap" is a strong beginning to Star Trek and one of the overall better episodes of the series. The Starship Enterprise arrives at a mostly deserted planet (M-113, for those keeping track of such things) to check up on the planet's resident archaeologist and his wife.
Things in the universe never being so simple, it turns out Dr. Crater's wife is one of Dr. McCoy's former flames and each of the three people who encounter her see her differently. It's a smart way to begin the show: not with an episode focusing on the intrepid Captain Kirk, but see him dealing with a situation around him, happening primarily to someone very close to him.
What succeeds in the episode is the use of the ensemble cast, something Star Trek failed to do often enough in its later episodes. The episode contains wonderful character -building dialogue between Uhura and Spock, sets excellent definition in the relationship of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock and gives Sulu more dialogue than he would see in almost any episode of the original series.
Moreover, even after 40 years, the episode is interesting and engaging. While some of the special effects are 60s campy, most hold up today. In addition, the plot is well paced and the acting is surprisingly good. More than that, the characters are interesting. Most are acting, instead of simply reacting to the situation they find themselves in. Considering the body count in this episode is raised on average 1 body each act (some have more!), there's a lot for the characters to become emotive about.
One of the two failures in the episode is the narrative technique. Kirk's Captain's Logs use the past tense during the episode, giving it a schizophrenic feeling, as if the captain either knows things before they happen or that he did them later. If the latter, it seems silly and misplaced and it works against an episode that so effectively shows what it needs to. It seems silly after pulling off effective shows that it bothers to tell.
Which leads to the second problem; the episode, which is intelligent in plot and character and wrestles with issues that are important including what amounts to genocide, takes a moment and panders to a lower denominator. That is, there are moments when it assumes the viewer is either a complete idiot or not paying attention and it overemphasizes what is obvious. This defect may be played off by the newness of the work. Whenever one creates a new universe, one needs to establish it for the viewer/reader/etc. This time it just seems a little clunky in parts.
Otherwise, "The Man Trap" succeeds; it effectively balances character and plot, uses its cast effectively and creates something that is interesting. It's easy to suspend disbelief when entering this universe and this episode is a perfect example of why so many people have devoted so much to this series for so long. Quite simply, it's worth the time and effort. The prejudice in our culture against "Trekkies" is one that seems silly when one bothers to look deeper and that's what "The Man Trap" is about, looking past expectations and seeing what is there.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek - The Complete First Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the premiere season by clicking here!
For other reviews of episodes of Star Trek, please check out my index page!
© 2010, 2007, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.