Star Trek TOS: The Creature Spree Kills for Salt
Star Trek – The Original Series
Season 1, Episode 2
The Man Trap
Based on the chronological order of the series, a Black man makes a debut to the series — in a severely unflattering light. The crew member is not afforded a name but rather a persona intent on stalking and choking a Black woman named Uhura. This does not come to fruition as Unhura escapes the man’s would-be strangulation. Regardless, the introduction of a Black male is mired by his inherent hostility, proliferating an unfortunate stereotype of the 1960s and before.
Inhabiting the man was a creature disguised most often as a woman from planet M-113. She (later it) plays misdirection tricks on Captain Kirk, Doctor McCoy, and Darnell (the first murder victim) as the episode begins, posing as a variation of a woman familiar to each man’s past. All of the men see a woman to which he is attracted. Just like the Black man stereotype, the objectification of women as conduits for sex is on display. The aforementioned Black woman, Uhura, is even flirtatious during her introduction to the series.
Those are the grimmer aspects of The Man Trap — bad first impressions for Black people and women as merchants of physical attraction for men’s pleasure. The upside of the episode is derived from the crew’s general respect for the murderous creature. Ordinarily, in the late 1960s, the protagonist would immediately blast the antagonist — especially a ruthless alien spree-killer — into pieces. Captain Kirk and his confidants left the eventual destruction of the creature to the last resort. Whereas most screenwriters would snuff out the beast with no remorse, Kirk was sentimental in comparing the creature to a buffalo — an animal facing extinction back on earth. Spock asked Kirk at the conclusion of the episode what was wrong. Kirk replied, “I was thinking about the buffalo, Mister Spock.”
That pathos toward a killing machine in this era was foreign. Going along with the times, Kirk should have vanquished the murderer no matter its endangered-species status. Instead, he affirmed his acknowledgment of the buffalo analogy while feeling downtrodden about how the situation played out. Tidbits of remorse were on the menu.
Finally, The Man Trap announced Spock as a different species, immune to the salt-seeking creature’s murder tactics. Everyone else succumbed to its techniques, but Spock emerged from the death sentence unscathed. The seedlings of his Vulcan heritage proved beneficial, and it was not odd whatsoever that he isn’t quite human.
When the creature is exposed from its feminine shell — the thing is absolutely hideous — it is killed, ending the brief reign of terror orchestrated on M-113 and Enterprise. Yet, no lofty celebration occurs. If anything, relief is palpable as the beast is dead. Kirk laments the entire fiasco at a time when the crew should have been popping champagne bottles. Multiple friends were dead, and a misunderstood entity, the creature, died right along with them.
This early parable on extinction confirmed the show’s origins deviate from good guys versus bad guys as the hero was beset by melancholy and perhaps a little homesickness.
Themes: Extinction, Deconstruction of Good vs. Evil
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. His odyssey with Star Trek starts from the beginning, watching ‘The Original Series,’ all the way up to the present day. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).