If “Angel One” is “the sexist episode” of The Next Generation, then “Mudd’s Women” is one of the strongest contenders for that title in the original series. And that’s saying something.
The episode begins with the Enterprise chasing an unidentified ship. When the ship runs itself into an asteroid field and is about to be destroyed, the Enterprise beams off the crew.
The first one to materialize on the transporter pad is the captain, Leo Walsh, who looks like the star of an historically-inaccurate local theatre production of The Three Musketeers.
Next they beam aboard the remaining three travellers: three beautiful women in revealing sparkly dresses. The men in the room – even Spock – are at a literal loss for words.
Kirk orders the visitors to come see him and we get a classy shot of the women walking down the hall, in case we had failed to evaluate them piece-by-piece already:
Kirk also stops mid-sentence when he sees them, which raises the question: why bother even having phasers if one look from a sexy space woman can just as surely stun a man?
“Is this your crew, Captain?” Kirk asks, recovering.
“Well no, Captain, this is me cargo,” says Walsh in his Irish accent.
Kirk convenes a ship’s hearing and they bust out this awesome lie-detecting computer. It immediately catches out Walsh for lying about his name, which is really Harcourt Fenton Mudd (“Harry”). It also embarrasses the male Enterprise crew by calling out their physical reaction to the women. This is maybe why I don’t remember ever seeing this computer in later episodes (there is a lie detector in “Wolf in the Fold” but witnesses have to place their hand on it; it doesn’t just read the whole room).
Mudd says he recruits wives for settlers and the women are essentially mail-order brides: “Three lovely ladies destined for frontier planets to be the companions of lonely men, to supply that warmth of the human touch that’s so desperately needed. A wife, a home a family.”
One of the women, Eve, defends the group:
“It’s the same story for all of us, Captain, no men!…We’ve got men waiting to be our husbands for us, and you’re taking us in the opposite direction, staring at us like we’re Saturnius harem girls or something.”
The hearing gets cut short because the crew has another problem on their hands: they need more lithium crystals to power the ship. Mudd hears they’re heading to a lithium mining planet and schemes that he’ll marry the three women off there.
Soon we get the impression that there’s something wrong with the women, something potentially dangerous. One of the women, Ruth, accidentally sets off one of McCoy’s medical scanners, and Eve is behaving erratically.
Kirk comes back to his quarters to find her lying on his bed. She starts to try and kiss him but then breaks off, saying she “can’t go through with it” and “I hate this whole thing”.
On the bridge, all the guys are thinking about the women. McCoy and Kirk speculate what’s making them have such an hypnotic effect on the crew.
“Are they actually more lovely pound for pound, measurement for measurement, than any other woman you’ve known?” McCoy wonders.
In the next scene we discover the women’s terrible, frightening secret: they are secretly not that pretty.
As Mudd rifles around for pills to give them, the three women morph into…well really just themselves without makeup. They basically look like me in the bathroom mirror when I first get up.
But we’re meant to see them as hideous and they certainly see themselves that way:
“I’m going back to who I was: unclean,” says Ruth.
“I can’t stand myself like this,” agrees Magda.
In the nick of time before the women realize they actually look fairly average, Mudd finds the beautifying drugs and they grab them, shifting slowly back into their more glamourous look.
Meanwhile the ship has arrived at the mining planet and the miners say they want to trade the crystals for the women. Kirk initially says it’s a no-go but he has to give in when the ship comes dangerously close to losing all power.
Down on the mining planet things start off poorly. The leader, Ben Childress, doesn’t like Eve because she’s coughing (how DARE she?) and maybe a little because she’s pining or Kirk, so the three miners start fighting over the other two women. Eve gets hysterical and runs out into the sandstorm. Kirk and Childress follow but Kirk eventually goes back to the ship to search from there.
Childress finds Eve and brings her back to his house. The next morning, Childress wakes up to Eve cooking at the stove. Right away he starts reminding her he doesn’t want her and can take her back: “I’ve not laid a hand on you, remember that.”
Then he insults her cooking, saying: “I’ve tasted better, by my own hand”, but she shows even more wifely value by explaining to Childress a better way of cleaning his pots and pans.
When he comes back from hanging the pans to clean in the sandstorm, Eve is back to looking like this:
I know, horrible, right? Potential hubby certainly thinks so:
“You’re not only as plain as an old bucket, you’re not even good company. What the devil happened to your looks, anyway?” he rages
“I got tired of you. I slumped,” she replies.
“You heard what I said. You’re homely. I’ve got enough in crystals already to buy queens by the gross!”
Kirk and Mudd burst in and Kirk forces Mudd to explain how he gave the women “Venus drugs” to enhance their looks.
“Does that mean the others, they really look like she does?” Childress asks, disgustedly.
Kirk says the other miners married Magda and Ruth but they can get out of it because the fact that they were promised babes and got regular-looking women means “it was a fraud”.
Eve gets upset and calls out Childress, saying the miners don’t want wives, just the illusion the drugs created. She takes the drugs Kirk has brought and makes the transformation again.
She says: “Is this the kind of wife you want, Ben? Not someone to help you. Not a wife to cook and sew and cry and need. But this kind: selfish, vain, useless.”
Then Kirk drops a bomb on the room: Eve just took a placebo but she still looks prettier again.
“There’s only one kind of woman: you either believe in yourself or you don’t,” explains Kirk…sort-of.
Childress decides Eve can stay and so all the problems are solved!
What we learned from this episode:
- There is a type of feminine beauty that is universally desired by men
- It’s not about being young and beautiful: it’s about believing in. yourself, which makes you look young and beautiful, which is way better than being old and ugly.
- Being with a husband who openly and repeatedly demeans you and isn’t interested in you unless you’re amazingly beautiful is still better than having no husband at all.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: Fail. For some reason the women never seem to actually talk to each other.