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Recap / Star Trek S1 E1 "The Man Trap"

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Captain's Log, Stardate 1513.1. Our position: orbiting planet M-113. Onboard the Enterprise: Mr. Spock, temporarily in command. On the planet: the ruins of an ancient and long-dead civilization. Ship's Surgeon McCoy and myself are now beaming down to the planet's surface. Our mission: routine medical examination... of archaeologist Robert Crater and his wife Nancy. Routine but for the fact that Nancy Crater is that one woman in Dr. McCoy's past...

Captain James T. Kirk, delivering the opening lines of the first broadcast episode, first heard on September 8, 1966note 
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Bones and "Nancy."
Kirk, McCoy and a random crewman beam down to medically examine two scientists, living alone on an archaeology planet. One of these scientists (the lady, Nancy) was apparently previously romantically involved with McCoy. She shows an ability to disguise her appearance, seeming different to each person. She and the random crewman leave and he is killed off screen. Nancy says he ate some of the local vegetation and thus poisoned himself, but any reasonable viewer would doubt that.

McCoy and Spock determine that the unfortunate fellow didn’t die of poisoning and Kirk beams back down to investigate with McCoy and two more random crewmen. Both crewmen are killed, but Nancy disguises herself as one of the dead and beams aboard the ship. Here she proceeds to creep people out as she hunts for salt. It is determined Nancy isn’t on the planet and now Spock and Kirk beam down to question her husband.

Nancy takes McCoy’s form as an alarm sounds for the man she killed on board. Her husband willingly tells them that she’s actually a shapeshifting alien that killed his wife. She’s also the last of her kind – which Kirk finds unimpressive as she is killing his people. They report back to the ship where Nancy continues to impersonate McCoy. They plan to administer a truth serum on her husband so he will reveal where she is... at which point she kills her husband and attacks Spock. She goes to McCoy’s room and tries to convince him not to let them kill her. He is eventually forced to when she tries to kill the captain.

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The Fan Nickname for this episode is "The One with... The Salt Vampire".

Tropes

  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Spock, obviously. Since Vulcan's oceans do not contain the same types of salts that Earth's oceans do, the Salt Vampire found him very unappetizing.
  • Bluff the Imposter: Spock was starting to get suspicious of Vampire!McCoy, and was attacked just before he was about to confront her.
  • Book-Ends: Sulu and Rand share a rare extended scene together in this episode. So rare, that the only other time they have one is in the sixth and last movie.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Spock slapping the Salt Vampire numerous times counts as this. The only thing that saves it from being Too Dumb to Live is that Spock was trying to prove that the Salt Vampire wasn't Nancy in order to get McCoy to shoot her.
  • Call-Back: Dr. Crater gets into a gunfight with Kirk and Spock on the planet. Notable he's using a laser while Kirk and Spock are armed with phasers. Crater's laser uses the same model as the laser pistols from "The Cage."
  • Central Theme: There's a constant string of Motifs regarding eating and food throughout the episode, highlighting "Nancy's" hunger which drives the plot. Among others:
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    • The Enterprise is held up from delivering a shipment of food to the Corinth IV starbase by the Salt Vampire's antics. The starbase commander describes the cargo (prime Mexican red chili peppers) as "urgently needed", not unlike how the Salt Vampire urgently needs salt.
    • Yeoman Rand delivers food to Sulu (which she can't help sampling en route) in the ship's conservatory. When she arrives, he is feeding the plants.
    • When Kirk tells Bones to take some sleeping pills, he is eating a snack.
    • The Salt Vampire attempts to mask Crewman Darnell's cause of death by making it appear as though he was eating Borgia plants (described as similar to the Terran "nightshade family" - which includes potatoes and tomatoes - many of which are toxic to humans).
  • Characterization Marches On:
    • Spock being so open in his fear for Kirk could count as this. In fact, he has numerous emotional outbursts in this episode which is radically different to his cold, logical personality later in the series.
    • Spock attempting to knock out the Salt Vampire by repeatedly punching it in the face is jarring when, in any other episode, he would simply use the Vulcan nerve pinch.
  • Doppelgänger Replacement Love Interest: Dr Crater's wife Nancy actually died a year or two ago, and the alien has taken her form and lives with him.
  • Early Installment Weirdness:
    • There is a unique Lower-Deck Episode emphasis here not seen elsewhere in TOS, with several scenes prominently featuring crewmen and several of the lower-ranked officers (particularly Sulu and Uhura) getting significant character moments.
    • A couple of Kirk's captain's log entries are given as though Kirk were discussing the story retrospectively. Nearly every other captain's log in the franchise would be narrated in the present tense.
    • Instead of sickbay, they have the "dispensary."
  • Embarrassing Nickname / Affectionate Nickname: Apparently McCoy's was "Plum" when he was with Nancy.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Beauregard/Gertrude freaks out when the creature gets near.
  • Extinct in the Future: Bison are extinct in Star Trek's future.
  • Gaussian Girl: Played straight with Nancy, as seen (as Dr. Crater puts it) through the eyes of Dr. McCoy's past attachment. But generally averted: unusually for a woman on Star Trek, when Nancy is seen at her "appropriate" age, close-ups of her are clear and not blurry. (Doing the math, Nancy is not yet 40, but is described as middle-aged and even shown to have graying hair. Jeanne Bal, who played Nancy, was 38 years old at the time of filming.)
  • Girl of the Week: And for once, the girl is McCoy’s. And she’s been killed by an alien. Typical.
  • Go Through Me: Spock positions himself directly between the salt vampire and Kirk.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: The Salt Vampire, taking on the guise of Uhura's "ideal man", speaks Swahili to her, and she replies to him in kind. The context is obvious that Swahili is her mother tongue and that she "thinks" in Swahili as opposed to English, which is confirmed in the later episode "The Changeling". Shockingly, over 50 years of Trekkie geekdom still has yet to provide a definitive transcript of their dialogue, but it appears that they're saying in Swahili roughly what they then say in English immediately afterwards.
  • Green Aesop: The episode sounds like it was written to talk about extinction of species. Since this alien happened to be a blood (okay, salt) thirsty alien who was well on their way to mass murder, it was a somewhat Broken Aesop.
    • The broken nature of the Aesop is actually Lampshaded:
    Prof. Crater: It's the last one. The buffalo. There is no difference.
    Kirk: There's one, Professor. Your creature is killing my people!
  • Hypocritical Humor: Rand chides "Green" (actually the Salt Vampire) for trying to take the salt shaker from a dinner tray that she's eating some celery off of. It then turns out that the dinner tray actually belongs to Sulu.
  • Kiss Me, I'm Virtual: McCoy is seduced by his old flame "Nancy Crater", who is actually a hideous salt monster impersonating her.
  • Last of His Kind: The Salt Vampire is the remnant of a once-large number of the same variety. Dr. Crater even uses this when arguing against killing the creature, comparing it to destroying animals on Earth in the past.
  • Let's Split Up, Gang: Every victim of the salt monster was singled out after the party split up for some reason, with the exception of Crater, who was with Spock (who was taken by surprise and overpowered first) and Kirk (who was attacked in McCoy's quarters while trying to kill the alien).
  • Mind Manipulation: The salt vampire is able to mentally paralyze human beings at close range. This keeps the victim from fighting back and prevents any interference with the creature's feeding.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Dr. Crater is more concerned with protecting the creature than with the fact that the creature is killing people. When Kirk and Spock go to confront him over what he knows, he pulls out a laser pistol and starts shooting at them.
  • Never Give the Captain a Straight Answer: McCoy calls Kirk on the bridge with news that he's found something about Darnell's death, but he doesn't want to put it on the speaker. Probably justified since complete salt depletion is pretty weird.
  • Nonindicative Name: The Salt Vampire wasn't picky about gender and would've preyed on a woman as easily as a man. If by "Man" the concept of "human" was meant, the Salt Vampire went after Spock, only to find Vulcans didn't have the right kind of salt.
  • Only Friend: After Spock reacts with his standard stoicism to the landing party reporting a casualty, Uhura chastises him for his lack of concern about a man dying. She points out that the casualty could have been Kirk, who she describes as the closest thing to a friend Spock has. Spock answers that getting emotional wouldn't change anything. However, Uhura's description of Kirk is vindicated later in the episode when the salt monster moves in on Kirk as its next meal and Spock suddenly decides emotion is in order.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Ever notice that Spock gets at his most emotional whenever Kirk is in danger? (Despite what he tells Uhura about his not showing concern since he has confidence in the transporter staff.)
  • Our Vampires Are Different: The "salt vampire" (a Fan Nickname for what was officially called "the M-113 Creature") can look like its victim's ideal love/sex object. This allows it to find victims when straight salt isn't available.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: The Salt Vampire tends to give herself away a bit because of this, especially when posing as Doctor McCoy.
  • Out-of-Character Moment: Spock violently striking a monster-disguised-as-a-woman to prove that she really wasn't Nancy. The "woman" in question showing no ill effects and casually throwing Spock across the room in retaliation.
  • Punched Across the Room: Spock, by the Salt Vampire.
  • Red Shirt: Four crewmember deaths in one episode. None of whom were actually wearing red.
  • Shapeshifter Default Form: Though we see the alien’s actual appearance - it looks something like a swamp monster with a fish face and big teeth - it takes this form only when it has been stunned or weakened (and upon its death); it seems to be most comfortable in the form of Nancy, because it is implied that it "feeds" on positive emotions, and both Crater and McCoy are very fond of her.
  • Shape Shifter Guilt Trip: McCoy hesitates to shoot the alien because it has taken the form of his old flame.
  • Shapeshifting: With a side order of affecting individual's perceptions. When we first meet "Nancy", McCoy sees her as a young woman, Kirk sees the same woman but at middle-age, and the crewman that accompanied them sees a completely different young woman.
  • Ship Tease:
  • Telepathy: The Salt Vampire creature can read the memories of human beings well enough that it can shapechange into the form of someone the human remembers and pretend to be that person.
  • The Worf Effect: The salt vampire smacking Spock against the wall might surprise the viewer (at least in hindsight).
  • This Was His True Form: The alien reverts to its true form after it dies.
  • Truth Serum: Apparently this exists in the future. It will never be brought up again in any episode, with the Enterprise computer functioning as a Lie Detector in future episodes. Alternatively, it could very well be little more than "truth serum" as it is today - a drug that makes the user highly susceptible to suggestion. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The population of the American buffalo increased by a factor of fifteen between 1951 and 2000. A half-million buffalo roam North America (still a much smaller number than their pre-1800 population over 60 million), and they are no longer considered endangered or threatened.
  • Vampiric Draining: The creature on planet M-113 lives by draining all of the salt from other living creatures and thus killing them.
  • A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: Once the creature takes Crewman Green's appearance to get aboard the Enterprise.
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