The episode opens up with Kirk dictating a “Captain’s Log” stating that Spock is in temporary command of the Enterprise while Kirk, McCoy and a crewman are beaming down to the surface of some planet to perform routine physical examinations on a scientist, Professor Robert Crater and his wife, Nancy. The only unusual circumstance is that Nancy is McCoy’s old girlfriend. Alright, let’s stop right there. The commanding officer of a large, powerful, highly strategic military vessel is leaving his ship to keep his chief medical officer company while he gives routine physical exams to apparent nobodies in the middle of nowhere? Who runs Star Fleet anyway, the Keystone Cops? Alright, onward.
In the next scene, back on the Enterprise, we are forced to witness an exchange between Communications Officer Uhura and First Officer Spock. Uhura is bantering with Spock trying to get him to engage in small talk. He vulcans out and Uhura asks him if he can complement her on her beauty or tell her about how beautiful the moon is on Vulcan. When Spock tells her that Vulcan has no moon, she replies that she is not surprised at all. Gack!
While walking toward the Craters’ home, Bones and Kirk trade banter about the awkwardness of Bones meeting up with his former lover in the presence of her husband. The exchange is truly awful and appears to have been written by a fifteen-year-old at best. I was waiting for one of them to say, “I know you are but what am I?”
When we meet Nancy, she appears to McCoy to be in her twenties as he remembers her. To Kirk she appears to be a middle-aged woman. To the crewman she appears to be a very attractive and flirtatious girl who lures him into a secluded location away from the others. Suddenly the three men hear Nancy’s screams and run to find out the emergency. They find her with the body of the crewman dead on the ground. He has a fragment of a poison fruit in his mouth. He also has strange round blotches on his face. The woman claims that the crewman ate the fruit before she could warn him of its deadly character. The captain reprimands the doctor for being more concerned with the woman’s emotional state than with ascertaining the cause of death of the crewman. The two live and one dead crewman are beamed back aboard the Enterprise.
Back on the ship Bones completes a medical examination of the dead crewman and discovers that he did not eat the poison fruit. After further testing he discovers that the dead man’s body has somehow been drained of all sodium chloride, salt. The captain remembers that Crater had stated that they needed their stock of salt replenished. Sensing that something was wrong, the captain and doctor return to the planet with an escort of two crewman to help investigate the strange death. Kirk tells Crater that something on the planet is killing humans and that the Enterprise will evacuate the Craters until the danger is past. Crater becomes angry and runs away. While searching for him both crewmen are killed by Nancy but we see her turn into one of the crewmen and return to the ship with the rest of the landing party. Okay, let’s stop here. “Nancy” has now killed three crewmen without breaking a sweat and Kirk is still aimlessly beaming up and down from the planet and seems almost nonchalant about it. Resume.
Fake crewman now stalks victims on the Enterprise. His first target is Yeoman Janice Rand, a hot blonde babe who is carrying a tray of food to Lieutenant Sulu, but she also has a salt shaker on the tray and the creature wants to take it. But she escapes into a crowd. Finally, something to praise in this episode, a pretty girl in a tight-fitting dress.
The creature kills a few more crewmen on the ship so Kirk and Spock go down to the planet to capture Crater. Crater stands them off with a phaser and Kirk and Spock decide to split up to encircle him. And here we get the first example of William Shatner displaying his physical prowess. While sneaking up behind Crater, Kirk dives into a pile of sand. Instead of a special forces warrior he looked more like an otter. It isn’t pretty.
Kirk and Spock capture Crater and he confesses that Nancy is not really his wife but a shape-shifting creature that needs salt to live. The creature killed the real Nancy more than a year ago but he had spared it because it was the last of its kind like the American bison.
Kirk and Spock head back to the ship and now the search is on for the creature. It has assumed the shape of Dr. McCoy and when it gets the chance it kills Crater and attempts to kill Spock but his Vulcan blood apparently doesn’t taste good to the creature.
In the finale the creature turns back into Nancy and goes to Dr. McCoy for protection. Kirk comes to them with a phaser in one hand and salt tablets in the other to lure the creature into revealing itself to McCoy as a monster and not his old love. But McCoy disarms the Captain and won’t shoot her even when she begins desalinating Kirk. Now Shatner really gets to show his stuff. The creature places it’s suction cup fingers on his face and Kirk emotes the crap out of his pain. He gives of his best.
Luckily for Kirk, Spock shows up and proves to McCoy that the creature isn’t Nancy. He interlaces his fingers and hammers Nancy in the face several times. But instead of having her skull fractured by this Vulcan knuckle sandwich she grabs Spock and throws him across the room like a rag doll. This finally registers with McCoy and he shoots the creature. She then pretends to be Nancy again and McCoy after begging heaven’s forgiveness terminates the creature with a lethal phaser shot. Once dead she resumes her actual shape, a sort of short, stocky, hairy creature with a sucker shaped mouth and suction cups for fingertips.
“The Man Trap” wouldn’t have been my choice as the introductory Star Trek episode. It’s kind of odd. But it’s interesting to see that certain roles and behaviors that we come to expect are already in place. After the first crewman is killed Bones gets to make the inaugural, the primordial, “He’s dead Jim!” Equally important, Uhura demonstrated just how annoying she can be. We saw the importance of short tight dresses on Yeoman Janice Rand to add some interest for the adult male portion of the audience. And finally, we got to see several of Jim Kirk’s signature moves. His obliviousness in the face of obvious threats all around him. His delight in rolling and frisking around in sand. His embarrassing facial expressions when emoting pain or fear. His jackassery when taunting his friends among the crew.
Even though this is the very first episode aired it actually is a fairly average example. It is not particularly awful nor is it so bad that it comes off as hilarious, it’s just average. I still haven’t figured out the details of my scoring for the various components of a Star Trek episode but this one will cleave pretty close to the middle. I’ll add those in later but for now call it average.