Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Star Trek at 50: Mudd's Women


Season 1
Episode 3: Mudd's Women
Filmed: June 1966
First Air Date: October 11, 1966 (6th episode aired)

Karen: Sex and drugs in space? You better believe it. This episode always struck me as such an oddity. Reading about its genesis and production in Marc Cushman's These are The Voyages Volume 1, it only became stranger. This was essentially a story of prostitution, with three 'mail order brides' that seems better suited for a Western than for Star Trek. It also involves the use of a drug (the Venus drug) which makes a man or woman irresistible. How in the world did any of this get past the censors back in 1966? Cushman posits that part of the answer may lie in the addition of the lovable con man Harry Mudd to the script. As played by actor Roger C. Carmel, Mudd was a larger than life rogue whose comedic behavior distracted from the fact that he was basically a pimp.

Karen: Another thing that got past the censors: the incredibly daring outfits on the women. Trek's wardrobe designer, Bill Theiss, put together some 'barely-there' costumes for all three of the actresses. Apparetnyl this was at the direction of producer Gene Roddenberry. Cushman quotes the show's star, William Shatner, as saying, "Somehow Gene always showed up for the fittings to make his own design adjustments. He'd like to add his own two cents. 'A little less here,' he'd ask Bill, 'A little shorter there.'" Trek  Associate Producer  John D.F. Black said, "The basic problem we had with 'Mudd's Women' was not the script so much as the wardrobe, as designed, getting it past the censors. It was a very overtly sex-oriented piece."

Karen: That's probably the main reason I never cared for this episode as a kid, and even today, it isn't one of my favorites. I can appreciate some of the ideas but there's nothing about it that says "Star Trek" to me; with a few minor changes it seems like it could be a Western or a contemporary drama. It just goes out of its way to titillate without providing any really interesting plot. Although I will grant that Mudd himself is a well-drawn character, and I enjoyed him in his return, in the second season episode, "I, Mudd."





Karen: I think there is also something less than appealing about seeing the male crew turn into quivering adolescents when the women come aboard. Although looking at this clip below, I am again stunned that it got on TV in 1966. I guess you really could get away with almost anything if you called it science fiction!




23 comments:

Edo Bosnar said...

Agreed on your criticisms, esp. that it wasn't a very 'Trek' and could have just as easily been set in the old West. In fact, I recall that one of the women advising her prospective husband, a dilithium miner, to scrub dirty pans by leaving them out in a sandstorm - very much a bit of Wild West dialogue (even as a kid, I remember thinking it odd that they have transporters and replicators, but no technology to clean burned crud from pots and pans).
However, there are still some good points to this episode, the main one being the introduction of Mudd - whom I also loved in the excellent "I, Mudd." Also, I like Spock's reaction in that scene you linked, looking at Scotty and McCoy with that puzzled expression on his face.

Colin Jones said...

Today is my 50th birthday so it's not just Star Trek that's "at 50" :D I haven't seen this episode for many years and I'd completely forgotten about Mudd having that Irish accent - did that continue into his later appearances ?...I can't remember. And in both those clips Mudd is addressed as "Mr Walsh"...I can't remember the reason for that either.

Doug said...

Happy Birthday, Colin! I'll be joining you in the Big 5-0 club in four short months.

Have a great day!

Doug

Edo Bosnar said...

Happy b-day, Colin! Hope it's a good one.
As to Mudd, he was using the pseudonym Walsh because - as later revealed in that episode - he's a wanted criminal under this real name. As far as I recall, the accent was part of the ruse.

Humanbelly said...

I think this episode shows that Gene Roddenberry was a product of his era in almost exactly the same way that Stan Lee was--'cause their view of women seems to be just about identical. To me, at least, it seems to be an almost impossible combination of admiration, appreciation and (in the strangest way) respect mixed with plain old male objectification and an absurdly broad wash of the "unknowable, mystical powers" (as it were) of womanhood. And I think this is what kind of goofs up the story more than its tenuous connection to Star Trek elements. Honestly, I have no problem with good stories that transcend their setting-- and IIRC that was one of Gene's goals with this series, wasn't it? To tell socially relevant stories in a setting that could sneak them past the censors AND yet make them accessible? But this episode does seem clumsy in maintaining that connection-- the plot is laborious and forced. And the sappy "magic" resolution (where the artificial surface Beauty is maintained because. . . I dunno. . . it was there all along, inside?) seemed like a total cop-out to even my 5 or 6 year old sensibilities.

Well, and not to belabor the obvious, but when the three women reverted to being "plain" it was a laughable failure. . . because the three actresses are innately lovely women. At the crucial moment, they didn't come off as unattractive at all. Granted, it's an awfully tough casting challenge-- but it possibly should have relied on acting ability & charisma more than on the actor's full-bore beauty. (Although I do think Karen Steele, as Eve, was pretty darned good in this role. I found myself believing that she believed she was unattractive-- even when she obviously wasn't.)

Oh-- the Irish accent/Walsh identity? I believe it's revealed within the episode that that's all a sham, correct?

HB

Humanbelly said...

Ha! And once again, though continents apart, edo and I are on the same page. . .

Happy 50th, Colin! It's a proud and vigorous club we're all welcomin' ya to-!

HB

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday, Colin!

As for this episode... Ugh, except for Mudd. Also, the more I read about Roddenberry, the more skeeved out I get.

- Mike Loughlin

J.A. Morris said...

I agree, it's never been one of my favorite's either. But I like Mudd as a character. I thought he got a better story with the 'I, Mudd' episode.

"seems better suited for a Western than for Star Trek"-I agree, but then again, Roddenberry pitched this series as "Wagon Train to the stars," so it's not surprising.

Humanbelly said...

Hunh-- y'know, I wonder if this episode did in fact represent an intentional "Wagon Train to the Stars" aesthetic that Gene could use as an example to the producer-folk? "See, it's just what you guys were thinkin' of--!" Which would go a long way toward explaining the rather mundane, superficial aspects of the episode.

HB

Karen said...

Happy 5-0 Colin! Welcome to the club!

In retrospect, this episode might have been a good one to air early in the series run, as its similarity to a Western might have been easier for much of the audience to 'buy' than some of the other, more 'far out' episodes. I agree though with everyone's assessments of its failings.

As Mike mentions, I too find myself over the years to have lost some respect for Roddenberry -'skeeved out' is as good a term as any! While I am grateful, believe me, extremely grateful, that Roddenberry had the idea for what would become Star Trek, there's no getting past the many stories about his lack of professionalism in certain areas, such as the extensive rewrites of the scripts, or the womanizing. Everyone has failings though and while the seamier stuff (and the constant desire to inject sex into Star Trek) is disturbing, the rewrites have both their pros and cons. While on one hand Roddenberry might be accused of tampering with the work of better writers, just to get a credit, he also knew the characters and their voices better than the freelancers brought in to do the work. So it can be argued either way. The carousing though...yeah, I just don't know. When we get to the introduction of Nurse Chapel and Majel Barrett we can discuss how Roddenberry got his mistress on the show. Ugh.

Karen said...

Now it looks like HB and I were thinking along the same lines!

Edo Bosnar said...

Hmm, Karen, I'm not at all an expert on the behind-the-scenes stuff, but weren't Roddenberry and Barrett already married by the time she was cast as Nurse Chapel?

Karen said...

Edo: nope.

I don't want to disparage Roddenberry; everyone makes their choices in life, and I have no idea what his marriage was like, or why he may have been involved with women outside his marriage. It's all third-hand stories basically. But boy, there seem to be a lot of them. It's just one of those things, especially the 'casting couch' rumors, that make me feel a little queasy. But as I get older, I find the only real heroes I have any more are the ones in the pages of the comics. Everyone else is just human.

david_b said...

Much agreed on most comments.., yes Gene married Majel after the original series concluded. Either the lighting or the make-up, but I always felt everyone looked a bit 'greasy' in this episode.

As mentioned, it was the 'sign of the times', and this was a contender for it's premiere episode (specifically for the 'wagon train' feel..), but glad it lost out to 'The ManTrap'.

When there's 'so-so' or bad episodes, I always strive to look at the subplots of the stories, or other stuff of interest. For example, for 3rd Season episodes, when the planet-side story was dumb or silly, usually Nimoy and Doohan had great exchanges on the ship so I tend to focus more on that (ie, 'That Which Survives', and so on..). In these early ones, I look at Shatner and early glimpses at his humor as Kirk, which Gene Coon definitely brought more out in the 2nd year.

His exchange with Harry Mudd at the end here was well done, even a tad restrainted compared to the far lighter fare we'd see later in 'I Mudd'. Apparently Gene wasn't too happy with some of the outlandish humor Coon brought to the 2nd Season, but I found it really cemented the relationships and made for some very memorable episodes.

Happy Birthday Colin..!! I'm turning 53 this year myself.

pfgavigan said...

Hiya,

I'm really not certain about how what I'm going to post is going to look to everyone here. Please believe me when I state that while I'm about to disagree with some of the points that have been expressed, I do not hold them in disdain.

Mudd's Women was never a favorite episode of mine, I usually found something else to do when it was on the tellie. But I did get the basics of what has been discussed. But I also looked at this story as having a lot of commentary on gender roll models and the appreciation of reality over illusion.

Body shaming, anyone?

As for some of the commentary about the outfits of the trio involved, I really think they are more concealing than the standard mini-skirt uniform was. As for Roddenbery's apparent costume input I would like to put forth for consideration the edict that came down to him from the NBC higher ups following the screening of the first pilot "Where No Man Has Gone Before." One of the notes that he received was in regard to the non sexual nature of the uniforms with both males and females wearing a standard style. He was advised to make changes in this!

So if he came down to the costume shop and made some input, was he reflecting his choices or the network?

Television is a commercial art, just like comic books but with a lot more people with the ability to alter the final product, for good and for ill. And like Karen pointed out, Roddenberry was able to at least offer some form of commentary on image manipulation and gender roles decades before anyone else.

It sure wasn't going to happen on Bonanza, the number one rated show of the year.

Seeya,

pfgavigan

Garett said...

This episode doesn't stand out so much in my mind, but I will say I appreciated the beautiful women on Star Trek! I think Kirk and the other crewmembers' romances added spice to the show. I'll look forward to the I, Mudd review. Seems to me that one had quite a bit of humour to it.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, this episode is all right, but not brilliant. The guest stars (especially Karen Steele and Roger C. Carmel) play their roles to the hilt. I never thought the women looked all that bad, even when they were supposed to be "ugly", so I'm not sure what the miners were complaining about.

Garett mentioned the sequel, I Mudd; if I remember right, that one has some rather scantily clad women as well...I guess it was a theme.

Mike Wilson

Redartz said...

Can't really add anything today; it has been far too long since I last caught an episode of the show, let alone this specific one. Nonetheless, eveyone'comments have been entertaining and informative; hats off to you all. Also, Happy Birthday Colin! Welcome to the mid-century mark...

Karen said...

Like David, I can find something good in every classic Trek episode or movie, even Star Trek V -the campfire scene with the three main actors is always watchable for me. It has such a meta aspect -here are Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, three men who have spent so many years together, building shared experiences that no one else can truly understand, and the same goes for the three actors playing them. I'm sure they never thought, back in 1967, they'd be making films based on their 'little' TV show all those years later. Kirk's comment about knowing he'll die alone gets me too; it was a reminder of the essentially solitary nature of the character, required by the demands of command, which we saw very much in the first season, in such episodes as Balance of Terror and The Naked Time.

Anonymous said...

Happy 50th birthday Colin! Gosh, I got five more years to go ......

Well, now I am trying to rack my brains remembering this episode. As a young kid I thought Mudd was a hoot and his girls were gorgeous. Yeah, Mudd was basically a space pimp, albeit a lovable conniving one.

I guess the character of Mudd was created to bring in comic relief and a foil to the Enterprise crew, someone who would continuously be a thorn in Kirk's side. Personally, I would have liked to see a Mudd-like character in any new Trek movie rather than Khan!


- Mike 'I, muddled' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Anonymous said...

Karen, I'm with you on finding the good in the mediocre or just plain bad. Star Trek V was not good by any stretch of the imagination, but I was genuinely moved by DeFeorrest Kelly's performance when Sybok was mentally manipulating the main characters. Star Trek was my favorite thing when I was a kid, and I managed to enjoy almost all of them. The only one I didn't find an "in" for was "The Alternative Factor," which I found incomprehensible.

- Mike Loughlin

B Smith said...

This episode is an ideal example of the old truism that movies and TV shows set in the past or future reflect more of the time they were made than the time in which they are set. It may have been the 23rd century, but there's no way a story like that could or would be made today (although who's to say how people in 2066 will view anything made today?).

It looked like Leonard Nimoy was still feeling his way to portraying Spock - there's a shot when Spock is escorting the women from Kirk's quarters; he shrugs his shoulders and raises his eyebrows with an almost quizzical smirk - very unlike him! Also noticeable is that Susan Denberg, the blonde one has no lines. She was from Germany and would only have only just arrived in the US (she appeared as a centrefold in Playboy, I believe);if you pay attention, there's one scene where she's talking over somebody else, and it sounds like a thick European accent. Still, since Karen Steeele was carrying the bulk of the lines, it probably didn't matter.

As for Gene Roddenberry and his stories and scripts, one could almost guess how a lot of them might go based on the scripts he wrote for "Have Gun Will Travel" - there are an awful lot that go along the lines of "Paladin, forget that I'm a rich successful cattle rancher with a reputation for a heart of stone, and see me me as....a woman."

Kenn said...

I always thought that the only way the theme of the episode "worked" was in hiding the crewwomen of the Enterprise for the duration, as they were all depicted as just as visually appealing as the three Mudd brought aboard, which made the male crewmembers' overreactions a head scratcher. I had to believe the drug's affects were not just visual. Which is another reason why the script was probably reworked from a Western idea, where a wagon train or somesuch would be staffed by males alone.

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