The Original Series‘ “Mudd’s Women” in Review
The Enterprise pursues a non-responsive cargo ship into an asteroid field, burning out its engines. To protect the cargo ship, the Enterprise extends its deflector screen, at the risk of overloading its own engines.
Struggling with power shortages, the starship beams aboard the cargo vessel’s commander. He introduces himself as Captain Leo Walsh.
At Walsh’s instruction, the Enterprise crew strives to rescue three others from his ship. Failing lithium-crystal circuits hamper the beam-in and the cargo ship explodes. Fortunately, the survivors are finally beamed aboard — a trio of beautiful women who entrance McCoy and Scotty in the transporter room.
As the Enterprise clears the asteroid field, Kirk demands to speak with Captain Walsh. En route to visit Kirk, Walsh explains to the women that the half-alien Spock is immune to their charms. Kirk, however, is awestruck by the women, whom Walsh objectifies as his “cargo.”
Captain Walsh blames Kirk for his ship’s destruction. Kirk arranges a shipboard hearing against him. As power difficulties persist on the Enterprise, the three females and their captain struggle to maintain a particular pretense. The starship’s only hope appears to be a lithium-mining operation on Rigel XII.
At the hearing, the ship’s computer identifies “Walsh” as conman and fugitive Harcourt Fenton Mudd. Claiming innocence, he reveals that the actual Leo Walsh passed away, leaving his ship to Mudd. He explains that the women are prospective wives for settlers. They have been recruited from backgrounds that were devoid of men. Mudd secretly intends to marry the women off to the Rigel XII miners and commandeer the Enterprise.
With their effect on the Enterprise crew still baffling Kirk and his staff, the three women befriend three of the crewmen. Mudd then contacts Rigel XII just before the ship arrives at the planet. The story takes a turn when the women start losing their physical attractiveness, until Mudd finds some pills for them — apparently, it’s the pills that make them attractive. One of the women, Eve McHuron, refuses to take hers.
Whereas Spock is unaffected by the women, he does find the lithium crystals “beautiful.” The miners arrive and demand the release of the women and Mudd in exchange for providing the crystals. The Enterprise captain rejects the deal but, since his ship needs the crystals, Mudd says he has no choice.
Kirk relents and beams to the planet’s surface with Spock and Mudd. The miners are preoccupied with their newfound paramours. Their encampment is in a perpetual sandstorm.
When Eve runs away — feeling unwanted — a large-scale search for her further strains the Enterprise‘s power. One of the miners, Ben Childress, eventually recovers the staunchly independent Eve. They are mid-argument when Kirk and Mudd show up.
By now, the two other women have been wedded to other miners. Tricking Eve with a placebo, Kirk reveals that the women’s improved appearance resulted from self-confidence and not the pills, which Mudd refers to as Venus drugs. Ben agrees to provide the lithium crystals, enabling the starship to depart with Mudd and the pills securely aboard.
While obviously relevant when it was written, is this episode as resonant in our more socially conscious era? Employing Western and sci-fi tropes, it addresses age-old themes of female beauty, drug addiction and prostitution. The theme of seductive women is also a timeless one. It harkens back to the likes of Vina in “The Cage” and the sirens in Homer‘s The Odyssey while foreshadowing episodes such as TNG’s “The Perfect Mate” and Enterprise‘s “Bound”. Despite the enduring themes of this tale, I would’ve appreciated more insight into how the female crew members of the Enterprise reacted to the visiting women.
At least Eve McHuron provides a feminist perspective, complaining about male egotism. However, criticism remains about the episode’s handling of sexism. Even with Eve’s character, her aspirations are centered around finding a good man, which some critics view as too limited in scope. For example, writer Paula M. Block commented about this in the book Star Trek: The Original Series 365, remarking about Eve, “The thought of serving aboard a starship never occurs to her — except perhaps as the captain’s wife.” When I asked Paula about this personally, she replied, “That little essay was about as deeply as I considered it. Perhaps the episode wasn’t so much sexist as a product of its times (the 1960s, not the 23rd century). I liked it as an episode but I felt sorry for Eve.”
Penned early in Star Trek‘s run, the script initially featured Captain April, yet to be renamed Captain Kirk. McCoy’s defining character trait of distrusting transporters debuts here. “Vulcanian” and “lithium crystals” were later altered to “Vulcan” and “dilithium crystals”. Meanwhile, this is the second of two appearances (after “The Corbomite Maneuver”) of Uhura’s brown rather than red uniform.
Kudos to the wardrobe team for the exquisite and unique costumes worn by the three women. The look of Rigel XII is small-scale but nonetheless effective, as are the changes in makeup and hairstyling for the women. In general, directing by Harvey Hart looks magnificent but was apparently difficult to edit, explaining why he was never rehired.
Roger C. Carmel’s performance as Mudd is incredibly charismatic. He subtly changes his accent from an Irish brogue to an American accent, as his Leo Walsh persona gives way to reveal the real Harry Mudd identity. His repartee with William Shatner’s Kirk is fantastically amusing.
The music is mostly enjoyable to listen to, suitably quirky in Mudd’s first and last scenes, and ethereal when the women consume their pills. However, it’s momentarily too dramatic during the frantic search for Eve on Rigel XII.
Overall, this is a solid entry, albeit with some outdated elements and production errors. It clearly established a strong foundation for later stories involving Harry Mudd.
Webmaster of WarpFactorTrek, Dan is an avid Star Trek fan who lives in Aberdeen, Scotland. Dan has loved Star Trek ever since discovering it in his childhood. He worked as an administrator, for six years, on the encyclopedic Star Trek website Memory Alpha, which involved studying the making of the various series and films. He has been mentioned in the official Star Trek Magazine, has qualified from a Star Trek course taught at Glasgow Clyde College, and coordinated the SubSpace Chatter (formerly The Scotch Trekker) YouTube channel, which regularly featured live interviews with the cast and crew of Star Trek.