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Thursday, May 31, 2012
Star Trek: "Mudd's Women"
It's been a while since I delved into the world of classic Star Trek.  But now with most of the shows I keep up with winding down their seasons and a bit of a lull before the summer series really kick it into high gear, I thought it'd be a good time to revisit one of my favorite TV shows and it's first season.  And next on the list is "Mudd's Women."

Classic Star Trek has often been described as "Wagon Train to the stars" and no where is that more evident than in "Mudd's Women."  Originally conceived as one of the three scripts for the second Trek pilot, "Mudd's Women" is extremely close to an episode of Bonanza in outer space.  Just substitute the Enterprise for a caravan headed into the frontier.

In this case, it's the story of Leo Walsh, aka Harry Mudd.  A wanted criminal, Mudd's a con-man who has a cargo of three beautiful women* that he's arranged to be wives for colonists on an outlying colony.  But when the Enterprise burns out some of its lithium crystals in their pursuit and capture of Mudd, the ship is forced to head for an outlying mining colony with (coincidentally enough) three lonely miners.  Exposed as a wanted fugitive, Mudd schemes on how he can elude justice and possibly make a tidy profit for himself.  Of course, this involves negotiating with the miners to trade the crystals for the three brides-to-be.

* A bit of research (how did we live before Wikipedia?!?) tells me one of the women was played by a former Playmate.  Of the three, only one of the women is given any significant lines and for a good reason.  The other two were clearly cast for their other attributes besides acting ability 

Oh but the brides to be hold a secret.  It's here that the episode tries to give a sci-fi twist to the Western in space tale, though whether it success or not is up for debate.  Seems the ladies in questions aren't really as lovely as advertising.  Instead, they're dependent on a drug that helps them become more beautiful and more desirable to men.   Of course, this leads to all kinds of gawking on the ship (apparently despite the fact that there are women on board the ship, every male on the Enterprise can't pick his jaw up off the floor fast enough every time one of the women goes by.  Their beauty is even enough to blind the normally professional crew from doing their jobs correctly, as we see when McCoy is willing to overlook some strange readings on his medical instruments just because Magda is so darn hot).  

In the end, Kirk is caught between his attraction to one of the women and his devotion to the ship.  Oddly enough, it's Kirk who acts the least like a horn-dog in the episode, able to put aside his attraction in order to negotiate for the crystals and uncovering Mudd's secret drug.  Turns out the women don't need it after all--they can just will themselves beautiful **

**The script doesn't really bother to try and delve deeply into this.  It could be the residual drug in the system or it could just be that, doggone, if only women would think themselves beautiful, they would be!   This is not classic Trek at it's most progressive by a long shot.

There is a lot that just doesn't work in this story and it's probably a good thing that it wasn't the second pilot for the show or we'd not have Trek as we know it today.   This one is cited as one of the most misogynistic episodes not only of classic Trek but of the entire Trek canon--and it's easy to see why.  It's an enormously flawed episode, though it's one where you can see the series figuring itself out and getting its footing.***

***As I've said before and will say again and again, Gene Roddenberry was great at creating shows, but not so good at the day to day running or writing of shows.  This one just screams out for Gene Coon to take another pass and do something more with it.  Thankfully, he'll arrive on the scene soon.

Beyond the "think yourself beautiful" element, there's a lot of other things about the episode that don't add up.  For example, when Mudd conspires against Kirk and the crew thanks to a stolen communicator, he does this openly within three feet of two redshirts, who unless they're deaf must hear every word he's speaking.  And yet, at no point do they apparently report to Kirk or anyone above them that, oh by the way, this guy is plotting to take over the ship.  Mudd even thinks that somehow he can leverage his position into not only getting paid for delivering the three brides, but that he will also be captain of the ship.  Again, one of the recurring themes of classic Trek is someone trying to wrestle away control of the ship from Kirk and how successful he or she is.  But this one really should have been shut down long before the Enterprise warps into orbit of the mining colony! 

And yet for all these flaws, I still have a soft spot in my heart for "Mudd's Women."  Part of this is the performance of Roger C. Carmel, who despite the script's flaws makes Mudd a memorable rogue and one who could be menacing or a danger in the right circumstances.  It's no wonder he comes back a season later in the far better, "I, Mudd."   

This episode was part of the reason I got into classic Trek.  For a cross-country move, my parents bought a copy of "Mudd's Angels," which featured a novelization of the two Mudd episodes and an original Mudd adventures.  These were the only episodes not adapted by James Blish, but instead by his widow based on notes he left.  I recall reading the adaptation of "Mudd's Women" and remarking to my dad as we drove along that it sure did seem like a lot of people tried to take control of the Enterprise in classic Star Trek.  And while I'd only seen a handful of episodes that I could recall titles for, I was fairly sure I'd not seen either of the Mudd installments.  After reading the novel, I was eager to do so and once we got moved into our new home, I sought out nightly Trek repeats and the rest is, as they say, history.

So for all it's flaws, I still find enough to enjoy about this one.  I don't recommend it as an example of why I love classic Trek so much.  But it still holds a lot of nostalgic value for me. 

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 5/31/2012 04:00:00 PM | |
Monday, May 07, 2012
Movie Thought: The Avengers

From the moment Marvel announced that Joss Whedon would write and direct the big-screen version of The Avengers, I knew I'd be there opening weekend.   I've been a fan of all things Whedon since the early days of Buffy, season two* and have eagerly given anything he's involved with a chance.

*I still take pride that I jumped on board early and pushed so many friends to watch it.  I loved it every time someone would say, "You're right about Buffy."

And while I know that Whedon has been involved with some big-screen projects in the past, I couldn't help but salivate at the idea of Joss finally having a virtually unlimited budget to bring his words to life on the silver screen . Needless to say, The Avengers finally gave me an idea of just what Joss could do and it didn't disappoint me in the least.

And while Whedon isn't re-inventing the comic book movie like Christopher Nolan has done with the Batman franchise, The Avengers is a solid entry into genre.   The movie could easily have collapsed under the burden of the number of characters in the film or the fact that we've had five movies building up to this tentpole event.   But instead of buckling to the pressure, Whedon uses it as a chance to shine.

In many ways, The Avengers isn't much more than your average season of Buffy compressed into two and a half hours.  There's a big bad (Loki), who the group has to band together to fight, but before they can do that, there's a lot of group conflict and self-interest to overcome.   There's a moment that inspires the group to set aside their personal agendas and grievances and to work together for the greater good.   But that doesn't mean said big bad doesn't go down without a huge fight and some potential consequences for the group.

While the first twenty or so minutes are given the heavy-lifting of establishing the threat facing the world, it's the last hundred and twenty minutes that simply fly by.  Once the work of assembling the Avengers begins, the movie hits a higher gear and never really looks back.  Whedon juggles the entire cast of this film with deft ease, giving each character his or her moment to shine and bounce off other cast members.  And yet it never feels like the movie is stopping for an obligatory "gee, isn't it fun to see Captain America and Iron Man argue" scene.   A lot of the best lines go to Robert Downey, Jr as Tony Stark aka Iron Man, but the biggest laugh comes at the hands of the Hulk and his reaction to Loki's pontificating.

From this point onward, I'm going to get fairly specific about things in the film, so if you haven't seen it and don't want to know, I'd recommend turning back now...

All of the trademarks of Whedon are present.  Good dialogue, solid characters and the death of a major player.  Fair or not, Whedon has a reputation for killing off characters who have become audience favorites.  But as with most other Whedon deaths, it's not an arbitrary one.   The death of Agent Colson, the thread in all the Marvel Studios movies leading up to this one, serves not only as an emotional punch to the characters and audience, but as the catalyst for our heroes finally becoming the team they need to be in order to defeat Loki and the coming invasion.

And while the film is full of great performances, there are a couple of stand-outs.  Tom Huddleston as Loki nearly steals the show.   And then there's Mark Ruffalo who make the perfect Bruce Banner for the film.   While  I enjoyed the first Hulk and really liked the reboot, the idea of another Hulk film with Ruffalo in the lead role is something I'd be interested in, if done right.  I love the idea that the way Banner controls the Hulk is he stays mad all the time.  And the sheer joy that comes when he finally has a good use for the green goliath lurking inside him is among the highlights of the film's final act.**

**To go all geeky, seeing Ruffalo as the Hulk/Banner in a movie based on Peter David's take on the character would be AWESOME.

The Avengers is easily the most confident Marvel movie since the original Iron Man and it may be among the best super hero movies of all time.***  I'm eager for it to come home on Blu-Ray so I can watch it a couple of more times and let it all sink in.

*** Also on that list, Spider-Man 2, The Dark Knight and the Donner cut of Superman II


posted by Michael Hickerson at 5/07/2012 12:59:00 PM | |
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