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Star Trek: The Unfolding Text

As the opening credits of the first episode ever aired of Star Trek came to a close, they faded to commercials.

In these days of DVDs we sometimes forget that the flow of the episodes was structured, like shows on episodic television today, in a series of tiny climaxes. In 1966 an hour long episode would pack in about ten minutes of commercials. Today, a show on a major network will pack in over fifteen. Unlike today, one of the major advertisers on television were cigarette manufacturers.  Such commercials were officially banned in 1971 under the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act.

One thing you never see on Star Trek is a member of the Federation smoking.

During the production of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Gene Roddenberry insisted that the “No Smoking” signs be removed from the sets. Roddenberry felt that in the future, human would be well past such disgusting addictions. You can still see the sign during the Kobayashi Maru scene, though I’ve never noticed it.

I’m sure that cigarette manufacturers would have loved to get their product onto the Enterprise, and show a future full of people enjoying the smooth, mellow taste and health benefits of smoking, but Roddenberry held the line there as well, perhaps sacrificing important advertising support in the process.

After the commercials we are treated to a shot of the Enterprise in orbit around Planet M-113, and the title of the episode is revealed to us, “THE MAN TRAP” in all caps and quotes.

Kirk’s narration begins, “Captain’s Log, additional entry…” The idea of framing the narration as the Captain’s Log was brilliant. Not only did it allow for an the narration to unfold in a natural, almost historical way, it also linked the starship we see in space to our knowledge of seafaring vessels of the past and present. the audience already understands that a ship’s log is a record of it’s travels and adventures. 
The Captain’s log point of view added a layer of verisimilitude to the series, a matter of fact-ness that helped to anchor the astounding sights and stories we were to bear witness to over the course of the episodes. Kirk finishes the narration recapping the events of the teaser, from a point in time in the future when the events in the episode are already over. Kirk now realizes that each man in the landing party had seen “…a different woman, a different Nancy Crater.”
As McCoy and Kirk meet Professor Crater for the first time, we are presented with what I regard as one of Star Trek’s core ironies. Crater is an acerbic and confrontational man, with little patience for “the heroic captain and the intrepid doctor” as he first calls them. He resents the imposition of the law here at the fringes of space where he and his wife have presumably been for years. Kirk’s mission is just a routine medical checkup for Robert and Nancy Crater, but Crater wants none of it.
“Your sense of duty is overwhelming,” says Crater, “Now will you please go back where you came from and tell whoever issues your orders to leave me and my wife alone.”
McCoy is doubly annoyed. First, that Crater is being dismissive of his services, and secondly because Crater is coming off as an ass. McCoy would have hoped that Nancy Crater, a woman he still pines for, might have made a better choice in life partners. McCoy responds, “What you want is unimportant right now. What you will get is required by the book.” Kirk picks up that theme and adds, “Quote. All research personnel on alien planets are required to have their health certified by a starship surgeon at one year intervals. Like it or not, Professor, as commander of the starship, I’m required…”
Even as a kid I wondered at the apparent dichotomy here.

The future is egalitarian, race neutral, free (in a way) of sexism, but it still maintains a military structure straight out of World War II. Kirk is the Captain of a ship, and also in some sense a frontier sheriff, enforcing the law and checking up on the health of research personnel whether they like it or not, and he’s prepared to quote the book at them if they don’t like it.Whatever kind of freedom the future allows for, it’s not strictly libertarian, is it? Still, despite his cantankerous manner, Professor Crater sits for an examination. If the future does exact some tolls on its citizens in the form of rules, laws and regulations, they are not overly taxing.

This theme of freedom versus government is one that Star Trek handles very well, not by laying out a philosophy of governance, but by demonstrating the philosophy in practice.When the episodes do this well, we are treated to a vision of the future that is at once tolerant and secure.
We learn a few things about McCoy in this scene, as well.

After a quick scan with his medical tricorder, McCoy checks out Crater’s tonsils. “The machine is capable of almost anything but I’ll still put my trust in a healthy set of tonsils. Now, open your mouth.” Interesting that despite the amazing technology of the future, McCoy still feels the need to perform an old fashioned examination. McCoy is a country doctor and scientist, despite the bells and whistles of technology. 

I like to think of this as a reaction to the detached, impersonal medicine that was beginning to become the norm in the 1960s.

Today we have learned that patients do better when physicians spend time with them, if for no other reason than that the interaction with a knowledgable, compassionate doctor acts as a placebo. The character of McCoy is an early response to that trend in medicine that even today shows little sign of reversing. Just as the future is portrayed to be deeply humanist and tolerant, so is the practice of medicine shown to be both scientific and compassionate.

McCoy’s examination is interrupted by a woman’s scream.

Kirk draws his phaser and bolts from the room. They find Nancy Crater, screaming over the body of Crewman Darnell, his face mottled by red circles. Kirk pulls a plant leaf from Darnell’s mouth. McCoy examines the body and for the first of many times, declares someone dead. McCoy also now sees Nancy the way Kirk sees her, older, with some gray hair. Nancy claims that Darnell poisoned himself with a “borgia plant.” Kirk uses the communicator for the first time, and alo for the first time we hear the Scottish accent of Mr. Scott.

“Locked onto you, Captain.”
The next scene is our first introduction to Mr. Spock and Lt. Uhura on board the Enterprise. All I said in previous posts about the post racial post feminist future goes out the window in this scene. It starts with Spock pointing out that Uhura made an error in a sub-space log in the frequencies column. 
Uhura responds, “Mister Spock, sometimes I think if I hear that word frequency once more, I’ll cry.” Spock is confused by this, so Uhura adds, “I was just trying to start a conversation.”
“Well,” answers Spock, “since it is illogical for a communications officer to resent the word frequency, I have no answer.”
“No,” counters Uhura, “you have an answer. I’m an illogical woman who’s beginning to feel too much a part of that communications console. Why don’t you tell me I’m an attractive young lady, or ask me if I’ve ever been in love? Tell me how your planet Vulcan looks on a lazy evening when the moon is full.”

“Vulcan has no moon, Miss Uhura.” (Of course, this statement seems even odder when we visit Vulcan for the second time in the animated episode “Yesteryear” and there’s a large moon seen on the horizon.)

“I’m not surprised, Mister Spock,” answers Uhura, teasing him with her eyes.
There is so much odd about this conversation that it’s easy to see why the creators of the latest Star Trek movie established Spock and Uhura as lovers.

As two people in a relationship simply flirting during some downtime on the bridge, the encounter makes a little bit of sense. But as a Communications officer talking to the ship’s second-in-command, it seems impossible. The scene is done mostly to show the alien-ness of Spock. He doesn’t understand human flirting, or humor. Or at least that is what he wants those around him to believe.

Uhura and Spock are interrupted with the terrible news that the landing party is returning, with one reported death. Nimoy’s acting in this scene is terrific, even if the scene itself, and Uhura’s reaction, are unbelievable. With no emotion, Spock answers the news with a simple, “Bridge acknowledging.”
Uhura turns in shock, even as Spock turns his head to hide his face from hers. You can see the subtle play of worry and emotion on his face, emotions he fights to suppress.
“I don’t believe it,” says Uhura, with undeserved indignation.
As if he’s endured such slights a thousand times, Spock says simply, “Explain.”
Uhura replies, “You explain. That means that somebody is dead and you just sit there. It could be Captain Kirk. He’s the closest thing you have to a friend.”
Does Uhura know nothing about Vulcans, or about the different ways people react to shock and grief?

Her judgement of Spock is a false and hollow note, unworthy of the aspirations of this series. Once again, all this scene does is demonstrate to the audience how supposedly alien Spock is, as if  a commander on board a contemporary naval battleship would react any differently to similar news.

Spock answers the charge of his being an unfeeling monster the way he often will in this series, with logic and stoicism. “Lieutenant, my demonstration of concern will not change what happened. The transporter room is very well-manned and they will call if they need my assistance.”
The next scene is in sickbay. We learn that the borgia plant (named for the famous family of earth poisoners?) that supposedly killed Darnell would not have produced the strange mottling on his skin. Spock makes reference to “class M planets.” Later we will learn that Class M planets are Earth-like, and habitable. The majority of planets visited in Star Trek are class M. Spock also mentions “library record tapes.” In our modern time of Google and Wikipedia, library record tapes seem quite quaint.
It’s hard to reconcile McCoy’s behavior in this scene with what we later come to learn about him. he has a dead crew member in his sickbay, and no answer as to his cause of death, yet all he can o is think about Nancy Crater and his feelings for her. Of course, since it’s ultimately revealed that Nancy Crater has been replaced by a monster with ill-defined psychic abilities, perhaps McCoy’s judgement has been messed with, his confusion and lack of focus therefore excusable.
Either way, Kirk takes control of the issue, and tells McCoy to shape up. “How your lost love affects your vision, Doctor, doesn’t interest me. I’ve lost a man. I want to know what killed him.”
McCoy, chastised, says simply, “Yes, sir,” and the first act ends, bringing us more commercials.

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