You don’t need me to tell you that the 60s were a decade of political and social upheaval, a rejection of society’s norms that saw a radical change to daily life for many Americans. One of those areas of change was in women’s rights, going from a place of subservience to independence. Part of Star Trek’s enduring appeal is in its ability to mine stories based on the events of the day and place them in a sci-fi context, and this week’s episodes contain the most overt examples of this phenomenon.
Once again, both Mudd’s Women and What Are Little Girls Made Of? deal with similar themes of women’s autonomy, and women’s place amongst society. But both episodes take different paths to get their points across. Mudd’s Women is easily the most comedic episode of the show so far, and I can’t imagine it was received any differently when it first premiered.
I was actually reminded of several storylines in Mad Men, specifically when the advertising firm had to scramble to rearrange TV programming when a particular episode of a show aired something controversial, thus damaging the marketability of their products. Mudd’s Women isn’t exactly pushing the envelope when it comes to sexuality, but in some regards, it’s kind of remarkable that it aired on network TV during prime time.
The episode introduces a rogue vessel that the Enterprise reels in during an asteroid storm, and its crew consists of its captain, Harry Mudd (Roger C. Carmel), and three beautiful women. The comedy comes early and often, as each of the crew’s men (save Spock, of course) is instantly smitten at the mere sight of women. Gene Roddenberry, who has story credit here, and writer Stephen Kandel heavily imply that Mudd is their pimp, without explicitly stating so. Rather, he seeks to sell them to men to be their lifelong companions, and the episode introduces the idea of a “Venus drug”, which gives the women their beautiful appearances; without it, they’re essentially hideous shrews who don’t deem themselves worthy of affection.
Roddenberry and Kandel also tie their fates to that of the ship, as the Enterprise runs out of fuel and has to trade for more lithium crystals with a nearby planet, populated by three lonely miners. In the end, the women get the autonomy they deserve from the beginning, a great reminder of Star Trek’s already impeccable track record with racial and gendered roles.
What Are Little Girls Made Of? tackles similar issues but is less specifically interested in gender roles, leaning more heavily into the sci-fi implications at hand. The impetus for the episode is actually Nurse Chapel (Majel Barrett), as the ship swoops in to assist Dr. Korby (Michael Strong), who was once her fiancé. Kirk and Chapel beam down to the barren planet (there seem to be a lot of those in this series so far), only to find that Korby has found a way to manufacture androids.
The episode marks one of the few appearances of non-human creatures, in the form of Ruk (Ted Cassidy), a hulking android who is the last of his kind. Episode writer Robert Bloch trafficks in the very idea of free will, as Kirk challenges each of the androids – including Andrea (Sherry Jackson), the requisite sexpot – to question their programming. It’s handled remarkably well, and each of the planet’s “natives”, for lack of a better term, deal with the question in uniquely complex ways. At one point, Kirk becomes replicated, and I was worried we’d get another retread of The Enemy Within, but the android Kirk is dispatched rather easily.
Neither episode features much action or danger, when compared to some of the other episodes we’ve already seen, but where they’re lacking in those departments, the show makes up for elsewhere. And while I have no doubt that future episodes will deal more explicitly with the socio-political issues of its time, it’s encouraging that, so early in its run, it was willing to do so in the first place.
Mudd’s Women Grade: B+
What Are Little Girls Made Of? Grade: B+
One thought on “Seasons of Seasons: Star Trek Season 1, “Mudd’s Women” & “What Are Little Girls Made Of?””