Original Air Date: October 13, 1966
Stardate: 1329.8 (2266)
Writer: Stephen Kandel and Gene Roddenberry
Director: Harvey Hart
“But men will always be men no matter where they are.“
In “Mudd’s Women” we find the USS Enterprise chasing an unregistered Class J cargo ship which ventures into a dangerous asteroid belt (with a “three-five Shiller rating”) and the engines suddenly begin to overheat. A distress signal is received from the cargo ship so Kirk decides to extend the Enterprise’s deflector shields in order to beam aboard anyone from the cargo ship –a risky act which unfortunately expends several valuable Lithium crystals. Just moments before the rogue cargo ship collides with an asteroid and explodes, Scotty manages to beam aboard one man and three women.
This strange man is none other than a comical but shifty Irishman named “Leo Francis Walsh” and he arrives with three attractive women. The crewmen are immediately entranced by the women, even though Walsh is quite obviously a pirate-smuggler and a con-man (he calls the women “cargo” rather than crew). The women are named: Eve McHuron (Karen Steele) from a farm planet filled with automated machines, Magda Kovacs (Playboy model Susan Denberg) who comes from the “Halium experimental station,” and Ruth Bonaventure (Maggie Thrett) hailing from a pelagic planet full of sea ranches. Each of them is in search of a good husband.
Due to the blown out Lithium crystals the Enterprise heads for Rigel XII, a nearby mining colony to reload its supply. Meanwhile a trial is convened for “Leo Francis Walsh” at which point it is determined that each of the three women indeed voluntarily left their former lives in order to find husbands for themselves on Ophiucus III (though we were strongly led to believe they were intergalactic prostitutes, until “Walsh” claims his employment merely consists of securing wives for men on remote and lonely planets). The truth-telling computer reveals that “Leo Francis Walsh” is actually a notorious criminal named Harcourt “Harry” Fenton Mudd. He was once convicted of a number of crimes –smuggling, robbery, forgery and he was sentenced to psychiatric treatment but the results of the treatment were unclear. When Mudd learns that the Enterprise is headed toward Rigel XII, a remote outpost with three lonely miners, he devises a plot to scam the “lonely, isolated, overworked, rich lithium miners” and hopefully secure his own freedom.
To complicate matters, we soon learn that Mudd has also been drugging the women, making them appear younger and more attractive, however the elixir “Venus pill” only lasts a handful of hours before the women are quickly transformed back into old hags. To enact his plan, Mudd steals a communicator device and he contacts the miners on Rigel XII informing them of the women who are en route to their station. In doing so, Mudd orchestrates a barter: his own freedom in exchange for the women as well as Lithium crystals for Capt. Kirk –but Kirk refuses the deal.
“Oh! The sound of male ego. You travel halfway across the galaxy, and it’s still the same song.“
Kirk, Spock, Mudd, and the trio of women all beam down to Rigel XII while the Enterprise runs desperately low on fuel (it maintains orbit on auxiliary power but time is limited). Eve begins cooking for one of the miners and he finds her useful but her good looks soon fade without the Venus pills and so the new couple quarrels. In fury, she takes another “Venus pill” and is transformed back into a beautiful young woman, but Kirk and Mudd reveal this pill was merely a placebo. Her beauty is therefore true and without trickery she was able to appear healthy and beautiful. In response, Kirk is given the crystals he needs and Eve decides to remain on Rigel XII but Kirk denies Mudd’s request for freedom, instead he coyly offers to be a character witness at Mudd’s impending trial. Now wide-eyed and worried, Mudd replies: “They’ll throw away the key…” Kirk leads Mudd back to the Enterprise as the episode ends on a whimsical note. Spock aptly dubs it a “most annoying, emotional episode.”
“There’s only one kind of woman.“
“Or man, for that matter.“
“You either believe in yourself, or you don’t.“
This is not the last time we will see Harry Mudd in the Star Trek series. Channeling the pirate stories of old as well as “wagon train” westerns as coyotes matching wives for western settlers, Harry Mudd’s introduction in the series quite clearly reveals him to be a loathsome trafficker of ill-repute, even if the episode presents him as a silly, comical figure who is always frivolously skirting justice. This episode has justifiably drawn the ire of many fans as it plays on any number of tired stereotypes, even Kirk cannot maintain his elevation as a “paragon of virtue,” however thankfully the Enterprise has a crew member like Spock who is mostly immune to the siren’s song of beautiful women.
“Mudd’s Women” shows us that despite the optimistic project of seeking out new worlds and boldly going where no man has gone before, the future is still rife with seedy, contemptible men like Harry Mudd. Sometimes humanity is its own worst enemy and there will always be people ready exploit situations for their own private gain. Even in the sleazy corners of the cosmos, the Enterprise still serves as an arbiter of justice.
Writer Stephen Kandel (1927-Present) wrote for a number of popular television shows like MacGyver and Wonder Woman. As of the time of this writing Mr. Kandel is still alive.
Director Harvey Hart (1928-1989) was known for having a meticulous and artistic eye. He was loved by cinematographers, but despised by producers like Robert Justman. Because his production was late and over budget on this episode, he was not invited back to direct another Star Trek episode.
Star Trek Trivia:
- This is the first episode which lists the Enterprise’s power source: Lithium crystals, though in every later episode and all iterations of Star Trek, the power source will henceforth be identified as “dilithium crystals.”
- Susan Denberg appeared in this episode as “Magda Kovacs” two months after revealing herself as Miss August in the 1966 Playboy centerfold.
- In this episode we learn that Spock’s biological “internal arrangement” differs from human biology.
- This is the first of three appearances of Roger C. Carmel as Harry Mudd. Rainn Wilson later performed the role in Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Short Treks.
- The origins of this story can be found in Gene Roddenberry’s early 1964 series outline, Star Trek is…, as a proposed story entitled “The Women.” The synopsis reads, “Duplicating a page from the ‘Old West’; hanky-panky aboard with a cargo of women destined for a far-off colony.”
- Director Harvey Hart went a day over schedule and used a “camera cutting” technique making it difficult on the editors. For these reasons Hart was not invited back to direct another episode.
- Harlan Ellison visited the set during this episode while writing the teleplay for “The City on the Edge of Forever,” widely regarded as one of the greatest Star Trek episodes.