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Recap / Star Trek S1 E1 "The Man Trap"

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Bones and "Nancy".
"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 

Original air date: September 8, 1966

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.

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

The Man Tropes:

  • 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.
  • Affectionate Gesture to the Head: Subverted as Nancy is just rubbing the salty sweat off McCoy's face.
  • Adaptation Title Change: The title was changed to "The Unreal McCoy" (which may have been a working title from a draft script), when James Blish adapted it as a short story.
  • Alas, Poor Villain:
    Spock: Something wrong, Captain?
    Kirk: I was thinking about the buffalo, Mister Spock.
  • Alternate Character Interpretation: Kirk offers one In-Universe deconstructing Crater's motives for protecting the creature.
    Kirk: You bleed too much, Crater. You're too pure and noble. Are you saving the Last of Its Kind or has this become Crater's private heaven, here on this planet? This thing becomes wife, lover, best friend, wise man, fool, idol, slave. It isn't a bad life to have everyone in the universe at your beck and call, and you win all the arguments.
  • Always on Duty: Kirk is shown drinking coffee and eating on the bridge. As he's allowing Bones to get some rest at the same time, it's implied that Kirk is staying awake until he's tracked down what killed his men.
  • Appearance Is in the Eye of the Beholder: The salt monster projects false images into the people around it. This is made clear by the fact that it can simultaneously project different likenesses of "Nancy" to Kirk, McCoy, and Green in the opening scene.
  • Beehive Hairdo: Yeoman Rand's famous do, made by gluing two wigs together!
  • Bilingual Bonus: It was Gene Roddenberry's idea to have the creature, in its illusory form, speak Swahili to Uhura. Kellam de Forest supplied him with the translation. In English, the illusory crewman says "How are you, friend? I think of you, beautiful lady. You should never know loneliness."
  • 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.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Spock slapping the Salt Vampire numerous times when it has proven itself strong enough potentially to take him in a fight. 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 and hence didn't mind the risk.
  • …But He Sounds Handsome: While disguised as McCoy, the Salt Vampire tries to argue that "the creature" is an intelligent being who is only trying to survive, and if they just provided it with salt it wouldn't have to kill anyone. This makes Spock suspicious enough to accompany "McCoy" when he leads off Crater to be injected with truth serum.
  • 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:
    • 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).
  • Character Tics: The Salt Vampire has a habit of chewing on a knuckle when it's desperate for salt.
  • Characterization Marches On: They were apparently still working on Spock's character.
    • 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. To be fair, Uhura calls out Spock on his coldness early on in the episode, so perhaps Spock was compensating for that.
    • Sulu is the Ship's Botanist, not the Helmsman. Later Sulu's penchant for botany is explained away as a fleeting hobby.
    • 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. Then again, being an alien shapeshifter, it's questionable if it has nerve bundles susceptible to the pinch, or if Spock would have any idea where they might be.
    • Neither Kirk nor Spock shows any concern in destroying what is actually just a Obliviously Evil creature trying to survive, not to mention the last of its kind. While Kirk may be focused on his crewmen's deaths, the pacifistic scientist should really know better, especially considering his efforts in "The Devil in the Dark". That being said, they do still somberly reflect on the whole ordeal.
    • While the vampire is attacking Kirk, Spock tries to wrest the phaser from a befuddled McCoy's hands, and when that takes too long, throws himself between the creature and Jim. Considering Vulcan strength, and how he is in later episodes shown tossing around well trained humans like ragdolls in a hand-to-hand fight, it should have taken only minimal effort to get the weapon away from the doctor.
  • 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, the Enterprise has a "dispensary".
  • Eating the Eye Candy: A couple of crewman express envy that a lucky officer (in this case, Lt. Sulu) has Yeoman Rand bringing him lunch.
  • Embarrassing Nickname / Affectionate Nickname: Apparently McCoy's was "Plum" when he was with Nancy.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: In this case an alien plant; Beauregard, an animate plant in the botany lab, freaks out when the creature gets near.
  • Extinct in the Future: Bison are extinct in Star Trek's future.
  • Expy: The salt vampire is similar to the alien monster in Who Goes There?, with its ability to read minds, hypnotise prey and impersonate through shapeshifting. The Coeurl from The Voyage of the Space Beagle may be another influence, involving a creature that feeds on the potassium in its victims.
  • 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.)
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: Kirk snaps at Bones when he starts going on about Nancy when there's a dead crewman on the table and Kirk wants answers as to why. They apologise to each other later.
  • 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". However, with 432 crew members aboard, and Uhura as a bridge officer, the presence of a crewman, especially a black man that ALSO speaks Swahili, would likely be strange (" I KNOW you?"). You'd think Uhura, at least with the presence of mind to get away from the guy and join Sulu and Rand in the elevator, would tell THEM of this unknown crewman, who apparently resembles some man she was reminiscing about. THAT wouldn't see off a few alarms? Starfleet's security started off being for shit and never improved!
  • Green Aesop: The episode sounds like it was written to talk about extinction of species. Since this alien happened to be a bloodthirsty (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!
    • It is however also noted that, necessary or not, this episode does result in the final extinction of a species at the hands of Starfleet officers, and no one's precisely happy at the outcome.
  • Hollywood Old: The "real" Nancy Crater, depicted as settled into her middle age and clearly over-the-hill with her looks having faded, is (doing the math) as old as a positively geriatric 37. Jeanne Bal, the actress playing her, was only a year older than this. For reference, she was all of two years older than Grace Lee Whitney, and four years older than Nichelle Nichols, both of whom were consistently depicted as young women despite also being well into their thirties. Nancy appears to have been written as older than both her actress and her own logical age to make her more appropriate for the two men playing her love interests, DeForest Kelley (eight years her senior) and Alfred Ryder as Dr. Crater (twelve years her senior), both of whom looked older than they were.
  • Hotter and Sexier: Thanks to Executive Meddling, Starfleet women are no longer wearing pants as in the original pilot, and are instead wearing miniskirts constantly on the verge of revealing their underwear. In fairness it was Grace Lee Whitney who came up with the uniform, as she wanted to show off her legs.
  • 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.
  • Impersonation-Exclusive Character: Crewman Green.
  • Kick the Dog: Crater is killed by the creature, despite his refusal to aid the crew in tracking it down. One factor may have been hunger, as it had just failed to feed on Spock, but this is also after Crater told the Enterprise crew that he can see through the creature's shapeshifting. Whether or not this is true, and regardless of his initial refusal to help find the creature, it turns Crater from an ally to a potential threat in the creature's eyes. The creature probably figured out that Kirk wouldn't let Crater go back down to the planet, and that eventually he'd be found out ANYWAY; at that point, the Salt Vampire is DESPERATE.
  • Kill and Replace: The Salt Vampire kills Green down on the planet, then beams up to Enterprise in his form. Crater later reveals the real Nancy died a couple of years ago, and the salt vampire took her place.
  • 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.
  • Leave Me Alone!: Crater pretends to be a cantankerous old hermit who prefers his solitude, but he's actually trying to get rid of our heroes as quickly as possible so they won't find out the truth.
  • 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).
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: 'Nancy' puts a berry in the mouth of her first victim, to make it look like he died after carelessly eating a native plant that was poisonous. It doesn't work as the symptoms don't match.
  • 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 creature 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.
  • No-Sell: Spock, who can effortlessly dent steel with a single punch, gives the Salt Vampire multiple double-fisted haymakers to the face and it only looks mildly annoyed before backhanding him across the room.
  • Oh, My Gods!: Sulu thanks Yeoman Rand for serving him lunch with "May the Great Bird of the Galaxy favor your nest."
  • 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 Alert: Kirk orders "General Quarters, Security Condition 3" on realizing that the creature is on board his ship. He raises this to GQ Four on discovering that the creature can take any form, putting the Enterprise in Lock Down with teams of redshirts patrolling the corridors.
  • Red Shirt: Four crewmember deaths in one episode. None of whom were actually wearing red.
  • Screaming Woman: "Nancy" screams and is found covering her face with her hands, alerting the others to Crewman Darnell's death. Subverted, as the creature is only pretending to be horrified, in order to cover up her preying on Darnell.
  • 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. This tactic apparently worked on Crater given that the alien adopted the form of the wife it killed.
  • Shapeshifting Seducer: When we first meet "Nancy", McCoy sees her as the young beauty he fell in love with, Kirk sees the same woman but at middle-age, and the crewman that accompanied them sees a completely different young woman whom he met on a Pleasure Planet. Uhura later sees the alien as a handsome African male who can speak her native language. However, the blond girl that Darnell saw was played ALSO by Jeanne Bal; the wig and a LOT of makeup make her look like the young lady that Darnell recalls from "Wrigley's Pleasure Planet". We can only presume that the Wrigley Corporation branched out from the Chicago Cubs baseball club and chewing gum.
  • Ship Tease:
  • The Spock: Uhura can't get Spock to flirt with her. Then he shows no outward concern that a member of the landing party has been killed, to her irritation. Later when McCoy is overly emotional because he thinks Nancy is in danger, Kirk snaps that he could learn a lesson from Spock.
  • Stock Footage:
    • The first establishing shot of the bridge, with Spock in the command chair, Lt. Leslie at helm, and Uhura at navigation, is recycled from "The Naked Time".
    • The next shot, a closeup of Spock in the command chair, is taken from "What Are Little Girls Made Of?".
    • A closeup of Kirk, listening to McCoy in sickbay is again lifted from "The Naked Time".
    • A shot of crewmembers buzzing around on a corridor during red alert is recycled from the original pre-broadcast version of "Where No Man Has Gone Before". It's easily noticeable, as the people are wearing the turtleneck shirts seen in the pilots.
    • Another brief shot taken from "The Naked Time": Kirk running through a corridor during red alert.
  • Telepathy: The Salt Vampire creature can read the memories of human beings well enough that it can project the form of someone the human remembers and pretend to be that person. It also seems to be able to "speak" any language instantly through a similar mechanism.
  • The Worf Effect: The salt vampire smacking Spock against the wall might surprise the viewer (at least in hindsight). Granted, Spock hitting "Nancy" in the face with the patented Star Trek two-fisted punch instead of using the nerve pinch (which had been invented for "The Enemy Within", shot before "The Man Trap" though aired later) is also worth noting.
  • This Was His True Form: The alien reverts to its true form after it dies.
  • Tranquil Fury: Kirk does not take the situation coolly because it's a mystery (he hates them) and his crewmen are dropping dead. However, he shows that he can go one level higher than angry ham both when he orders McCoy to focus on the problem rather than his ex and when he tells Crater that he needs to help or Kirk will have his skin.
  • 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.
  • 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.


Video Example(s):


Is That Nancy, Doctor?

Dr. McCoy hesitates to shoot the salt vampire when it's taken on the form of his old flame.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / ShapeshifterGuiltTrip

Media sources: