Written by Stephen Kandel and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Harvey Hart
There are few guest stars in the original Star Trek series that were memorable after all the years of not seeing them. The Klingon, Kor, comes to mind, but even his character has been built upon in subsequent years in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. One of the few others who would pop into my head when asked to name them is Harry Mudd, as portrayed by Roger C. Carmel. If you’ve never seen an episode of the original Star Trek series, for all its faults, Mudd’s Women is an excellent one to view.
The Enterprise is in pursuit of a ship about to break up in space in an effort to save its crew. One beams over and introduces himself as “Captain Leo Walsh”. Just as his ship is destroyed by an asteroid, the other three members of his crew are beamed over. They are three extraordinarily beautiful women (portrayed by Karen Steele, Susan Denberg, and Maggie Thrett). Chief Engineer Mr. Scott (portrayed by James Doohan) and Dr. McCoy (portrayed by DeForrest Kelley) are instantly smitten.
Captain Kirk (portrayed by William Shatner) has the entire party brought to his quarters. Upon viewing his newest guests, Kirk is at a loss for words. He soon learns the real identity of “Captain Walsh” – Harry Mudd. He’s got a long criminal record. Mudd faces charges of illegally operating a vessel and Kirk announces that he will be handed over to the authorities.
However, all is not as it seems with “Mudd’s Women”. When one of the women walks by Dr. McCoy’s medical scanner, he begins to get a clue that there’s more than meets the eye as well, although exactly what he can’t figure out.
In the meantime, Captain Kirk is dealing with burned-out lithium crystals (no, that’s not a typo – “lithium”, not “dilithium”). Mudd manages to contact the head miner of a lithium crystal mine on the planet Rigel XII and cuts a deal to get lithium crystals and help in escaping from Kirk, in exchange for the three beautiful women.
The women do harbor a secret, however. They are also beginning to stretch their wings to try and get out from the domineering Mudd. He was treating them as nothing more than goods to be sold to the highest bidder, but they don’t necessarily want to go along with his plans any longer.
These early episodes demonstrate how the show was still trying to find its footing. Unlike many shows today, there was no “bible” hashed out beforehand and the writing tended to be haphazard. Mr. Spock (portrayed by Leonard Nimoy) is referred to at one point as a “Vulcanian” rather than just “Vulcan”. He also demonstrates some emotions during the course of this episode, mostly as if the effects the women have on the rest of the ship’s crew amuses him. The ladies do not have an effect on him, however.
Then there’s the issue of the “lithium crystals”. Why would the Enterprise embark on a five-year mission without any spare material around? Later in the series, it probably would have been explained with a line or two about them being used up in some of the extensive fleeing and pursuing the ship does, but here it is a glaring error. And “lithium crystals” sounds like a drug of some sort, not something that would power a starship.
The effects at the beginning of Mudd’s Women as the Enterprise is traveling through space show their age. They are horrible, pure and simple. I can’t even say they are kitschy or have that inexpensive charm the effects in old episodes of Doctor Who had. They are cheap, pure and simple. I am sure for their time they might have been pretty good, but with the digital remastering, they show their weakness when compared to more modern effects all too much.
What’s interesting in Mudd’s Women is the use of a soft focus on the women to create a magical look to them as they are walking around. I was quite interested to learn that the Director of Photography, Jerry Finnerman, would use the same effect on Cybill Shepherd in the series Moonlighting almost two decades later.
The acting is pretty good in Mudd’s Women. Carmel pretty much steals the show as the pirate-like Mudd, but the regular cast seems to be developing something of a rapport by this point of the series. Shatner is still somewhat subdued as Kirk, although he doesn’t seem to succumb to the women’s magical allure. It doesn’t seem like the same Kirk who will pretty much be boffing the galaxy in later episodes, but he seems more mature and Captain-like. I found it easy to believe Doohan’s Scotty attraction to the women. Kelley also did a terrific job, although you would think a seasoned officer such as he would act a bit more professional. Nimoy is great as Spock, although he is given some inconsistent material to work with.
That is one of the biggest problems with Mudd’s Women. The writing isn’t as sound as it could be. A lot of it can be excused due to the time period and the way shows were handled. I sure don’t remember noticing these items when I first watched these shows as re-runs when I was a kid, but the standards have been raised by the many high-quality science fiction shows out there, including the different Star Trek series.
The other issue is the story doesn’t age well, especially in these days of women being seen as more than sex objects. Even for the 1960s, a lot of what’s shown here comes off as misogynistic. I know Gene Roddenberry tried to be progressive with a female First Officer in the original pilot and had Nichelle Nichols in a prominent role on the bridge of the Enterprise, but Mudd’s Women seems to take a few steps backward in that arena. These women are being transported strictly to “find husbands” and don’t seem to care who they are, they just want to cook and clean for someone and the men just want a sex partner. it could almost be called “the story of the first incels.”
Mudd’s Women is a lot of fun if you can put aside those feelings. There’s no need for earlier knowledge of the characters or the setting, it’s just a fun episode to watch. The plot holes are excusable for all but the pickiest fan.
Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – The Enemy Within
Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – What Are Little Girls Made Of
Harry Mudd is such a memorable “guest character” that he was mentioned by name in one of the three Kelvin Timeline films, and Rainn Wilson played a slightly younger (and more menacing) version in Star Trek: Discovery’s first season.
Yes, I’ve seen it. Great guest star but the story is dripping with misogyny. It’s as if all the incels got together in one place and created their dream story. I think his second appearance in the Original Series is really better than this one.
“Mudd’s Women” is not one of my favorite episodes, pretty much because of the weak points you highlighted in your review.
Well, I saw Cybill Shepherd in a resturant in Soho about a decade ago, and she still looked pretty magical, so it can’t all be done in camera!