Monday, April 9, 2012

Mudd's Women

'THE WOMEN. Duplicating a page from the “old west”; hanky-panky aboard with a cargo of women destined for a far-off colony.' After Charlie X (and possibly Where No Man Has Gone Before) Mudd's Women becomes the next episode to have its roots in Gene Roddenberry's 1964 Star Trek proposal. The document known as Star Trek is... includes the first description of the series as a “Wagon Train” concept, or “Wagon Train to the stars” as Roddenberry later refined the phrase when pitching the series. Wagon Train being a series which ran from 1957 to 1965, and a good metaphor for the Enterprises' five year mission travelling from planet to planet without ever reaching a destination.

We'll never know whether thinking of Star Trek in terms of Wagon Train, and the history of the wild west more generally, was what gave Roddenberry the idea for The Women but that one sentence outline now sounds less like a plot for hijinks in space than this exchange from The Simpsons when the family visit a western ghost town.

GUIDE: Founded by prostitutes in 1849, and serviced by prostitute express riders who could bring in a fresh prostitute from Saint Joe in three days; Bloodbath Gulch quickly became known as a place where a trail hand could spend a month's pay in three minutes.
HOMER: Three minutes! [whistles]
MARGE: I never realized history was so filthy! 
GUIDE: First on our tour is the whore house; then we'll visit the cathouse, the brothel, the bordello, and finally the old mission.
MARGE: Oh, thank heaven!
GUIDE: Lots of prostitutes in there! 

Mudd's Women is at its most grating during act 1. Particularly when Eve, Magda, and Ruth slink through the halls of the Enterprise accompanied by sexy saxophone music, talking in breathy voices, and being ogled by the crew. The trio could be a batch of Austin Powers' Fembots; sadly without smoke coming out of their jubblies. We're only six episodes in but Star Trek has already treated its' female cast badly (go-go mini skirts, Yeoman Smith from Where No Man Has Gone Before and also Dr. Dehner brushing aside Gary Mitchell 's apology for calling her a “walking freezer unit” by telling him professional women can overcompensate, Rand's interrogation in The Enemy Within) and I don't trust the series to be doing anything except presenting these scenes at face value. 

Yet over acts two and three the script undercuts this disappointing start as Kirk, Spock, and McCoy begin speculating over exactly how these three women have got the crew of the Enterprise behaving like a bunch of horny frat boys. Well Kirk and McCoy at least. The script calls for Spock mostly to just react to events around him which Leonard Nimoy does very well, smirking and raising his eyebrows to demonstrate how these Earth emotions are far beneath him. The best moment comes when Kirk and McCoy hold an impromptu conference on the bridge and try to work out whether there could be a more sinister reason for the ladies being lovely; inter cut with shots of Spock eavesdropping and, once again, smirking and raising his eyebrows as if he's already got it all figured out and is waiting for everyone else to catch up. 

KIRK: What are they Bones?
MCCOY: You mean are they alien illusions that sort of thing?
KIRK: [as if realising what he's asked is ludicrous, but still wanting an answer] I asked you first.

Things fall apart a little in the last act when Eve realises she doesn't want a millionaire, just a man to care for her. The grumpy leader of the lithium miners discovers that he wants a wife not a clothes horse. And, Eve is tricked into finding out that believing in herself has the same effect as the performance enhancing Venus pills Mudd was giving her. Still, the scripts biggest weakness may be its insistence on constantly portraying Harry Mudd as a loveable rogue. He's not. He's a bastard who appears quite happy to let 430 people die when he tries to manoeuvre Kirk into choosing between the destruction of his ship or letting Mudd go free.

Enhancing the appearance of the episode is some stylish and unusual direction from Harvey Hart. From the opening moments of the teaser with it's low angles and use of a hand held camera it's obvious Hart is thinking about the end result and putting in more effort than other directors; later there's a striking match cut between Eve holding a Venus pill and Spock holding a burned out Lithum crystal. Hart seems fond of framing shots, and moving the camera, so lines come from actors positioned around the frame rather than the normal technique of cutting between close-ups and reaction shots. Sadly this seems to have resulted in a slower shooting pace than Star Trek could allow. Hart went one day over schedule and the producers also felt the resultant footage was difficult to edit. Hart wasn't invited back to Star Trek which is a shame, I'd love to have seen what he could have done with other scripts.

Enterprise crew deaths: None. Again. It's been a good couple of weeks for the Enterprise crew.
Running total: 17

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