#16: Mudd's Women
In case you forgot: The Enterprise saves Harvey Mudd and his cargo of lovely ladies, intended to be colonists' wives, from certain doom. Mudd and his mail-order brides decide they'll make more money marrying the miners on Rigel 2, Enterprise's new destination to replenish their cracked lithium crystals. After some drama—the women are apparently hideous without a "Venus drug"—or are they really?—the miners get wives and the Enterprise gets lithium crystals.
Harvey Mudd is the only non-Enterprise character to appear in more than one TOS episode, and it's easy to see why. Roger C. Carmel takes what would have been moderately entertaining, potentially irritating role as a sci-fi/swashbuckler crossover character and makes it great. It's nice to have someone else around to be sillier than Kirk and, really, more palatable and likable in the process. Contrarily, if you don't care for Mudd, this episode isn't going to be a whole lot of fun. The rest of the episode takes itself about as seriously as Carmel takes himself; the stripper-esque saxophone music that accompanies all of the women in Mudd's cargo is the perfect touch, and Spock's growing frustration with everyone's infatuation with them is great to watch. In a surprising twist, though, it's not the ultra-logical, ultra-objective Vulcan who questions the women's inexplicable magnetism, but my boy Leonard (with some help from his medical scanner).
Yet, as unabashedly silly as the episode starts, it still manages to talk about the relatively heavy issue of social expectations of beauty and the price women pay for not conforming...kind of. I wouldn't expect a series as chilly towards women to have a really nuanced "space sexism is bad" episode (contrast all the "space racism is bad" episodes), but whether or not Roddenberry wanted to talk about that, the topic comes up kind of out of necessity. Plus Eve and Childress exchange some really great lines that feel very natural and not at all as melodramatic as they could have been with other actors. The two of them interacting make for some very real, very human moments.
The Venus drug is such a frustrating plot point and, for me, is where this episode goes down the drain. Obviously the drugs do something—they set off McCoy's medical scanner—so the idea at the end that merely having a little confidence is just as effective falls pretty flat. If you pretend that the ugly make-up the women get when the drugs wear off is supposed to be a visual representation of how they feel (or how they feel like they look), it makes a little more sense, but that seems a bit of an artsy stretch.
Childress's refusal to hand over the lithium crystals in the middle of the little cocktail party mixer they have going on borders on incomprehensible and seems nothing more than a plot necessity to keep the Enterprise (and therefore us) there long enough for Eve's hit of the Venus drug to wear off. What's backassery doing in an episode as good as this?!
While above I mentioned I was happy to see an episode address feminism and gender issues at all (and I am), the fact that Eve still has to be pretty at the end (even if it's only due to her own confidence) is disappointing. But—it's TOS, I'll take what I can get.
Speaking of Eve: would the men of the Enterprise really be that taken by Mudd's women? The ship is a coed workplace, so it's not like they haven't seen a woman in years and years.