Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Star Trek: Mudd's Women

Episode: "Mudd's Women"
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 1, Episode 6
Original Air Date: October 13, 1966
via Memory Alpha

I think it's fair to say that sexual politics were complicated in the mid-to-late 1960s.  Contemporary pop cultural efforts to address the matter can feel quite awkward in 2013.  In "Mudd's Women," the crew encounters Harry Mudd, a career criminal, and his three glamorous female companions.  In time, it becomes apparent that Mudd is marketing the women as wives for lonely men in deep space outposts.  Naturally, all of the men aboard the Enterprise are enchanted by the women.  Eventually, the crew discover that the women are taking a drug which enhances their feminine charms.

Here's where things get tricky from the broader, cross-generational perspective.  Without the drug, the women aren't so much ugly as ordinary looking and it would seem the men around them can imagine nothing more horrible.  In the end, one of the women, Eve, is given a placebo but is able to project the same beauty by virtue of her own self-assurance.  That's a little better, I suppose, but the whole concept left me feeling icky.  So, not a big fan of this particular episode.
via Ribbonrain

Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura) was born Grace Dell Nichols on December 28, 1932 in Robbins, Illinois.  A triple threat - actor, singer and dancer, Nichols got her big break on Broadway, appearing in the 1961 musical Kicks and Co.  As a musician, she toured with both Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton.  Her film debut came as an uncredited extra in a 1959 production of Porgy and Bess.  Her first television appearance was on Gene Roddenberry's first series, The Lieutenant.  In her autobiography, Nichols admitted to a long affair with Roddenberry during the 1960s.

Nichols was a genuine television pioneer, one of the first African American women cast in a major television series as someone other than a servant.  Apparently, she was tempted to leave Trek during the first season in order to get back to her stage career.  None other than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., evidently a fan of the show, talked her into staying.  He convinced her of her importance as a role model.

One of my favorite Trek scenes from my current stroll was in "Charlie X," I believe.  In a high stress moment, Kirk snaps at Uhura and she snaps right back.  In the midst of the crisis, the two of them stare at each other for a beat, then both apologize, quite sincerely.  It is a wonderfully genuine, tender, human exchange - the sort of moment that provides yet another clue as to the enduring appeal of Star Trek.

22 comments:

  1. I have an autographed photo of Uhura. Nichelle Nichols is my secret pal!

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  2. This post was fascinating to me, who is largely ignorant of all things Trek. I would have felt incredibly icky after that first episode you mentioned, but it does sound like Nichelle Nichols was a great and important role model of her time - a bit of a groundbreaker too.

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    1. She definitely was. Her character, though, was generally underdeveloped in the original series. I am glad to see Uhura play a more significant role in the Abrams reboot.

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  3. I always loved the story Nichelle told about MLK convincing her to stay on the show. She was, and still is, this utterly gorgeous and glamorous woman, who for three years held the position as Communications Officer on the Deck of the Enterprise. Such a great role model.
    Mudd's Women - Ick. For every great Trek episode, there's one like this.

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    1. Gorgeous and glamorous - without a doubt!

      Yeah, Mudd's Women was a dud from my perspective.

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  4. Harry Mudd has kind of become one of those lost elements from the legacy of the original series. He does have a reference in the new movie, but I kind of wonder what it would have been like if Mudd had been the centerpiece villain of the whole thing. Most people who saw the movie probably didn't even register that he'd been referenced.

    Nichols as an actual presence in the series ended up having an echo in Anthony Montgomery's Mayweather in Enterprise. The scene you talk about in "Charlie X" is kind of like the material Montgomery received early on, but eventually both Nichols and Montgomery faded into the background. Neither deserved it. Nichols I assume based on network pressure (probably a similar story with fellow marginal player George Takei), and Montgomery because of the fans. Strange how that particular loop closed.

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    1. I like Enterprise. I know not all devotees do but I enjoy it. A woman I went to college with was actually in a couple of episodes - more on that some other time.

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  5. The two funniest words spoken in the original Star Trek were Uhura's:

    "Sorry, neither."

    (They're not much without the context, I'll admit...)

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    1. That's in "The Naked Time," right? If memory serves, it even goes by within context a little too quickly to appreciate. It is good, though.

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  6. I vaguely remember that episode. If I can ever free up the time, I'm going to watch the series again. It's been 30 years (more), so it's probably about time, and I want my kids to have some idea of the original series.

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    1. I hope you'll share your thoughts when you do!

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  7. 'Apparently, she was tempted to leave Trek during the first season in order to get back to her stage career. None other than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., evidently a fan of the show, talked her into staying. He convinced her of her importance as a role model.'

    Wow! I had never heard that before and quite like that detail. Yer posts are packin' quite the punch, Squidman. Girl likes. Special fan of the last sentence. Nice.

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    1. I've gotten through all of the core players (except Chekov, but he didn't join until Season 2). Must decide on a direction to take next...

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  8. I remember that episode, and as a 15 yr old, I wanted that elixir whatever. Then the ending made it all real.

    Nichols was truly a break-through actress.

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    1. It's a very interesting episode to watch after its era. The world still ain't perfect but things have changed. There's no way a script like that would fly now, except as a period piece a la Mad Men.

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  9. A fascinating and informative post to me!

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  10. One is not a Harry Mudd fan although I do enjoy watching those episodes again.

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    1. I know I've got one more TOS episode and one TAS episode out there waiting for me.

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