Star Trek The Original Series Pilot: The Man Trap – Red Shirts and “The Thing”


“The Man Trap” is the first time we’re introduced to the Original series crew (though Chekov is missing) and the time we actually get to see Nimoy act. Spock was mostly doing action but not much characterization in “The Cage.”

The basic premise of “The Man Trap,” is along the lines of “The Thing,” (shape-shifting alien kills off people one by one in a mystery) The crew arrives on planet of Dr. McCoy former lover and crew members begin dying as an alien infiltrates the crew, it has a twist though since it introduces a moral dilemma which is classic Trek and one of the things I love about the series. Now for the assessment:

The Pros – The Crew – Every crew member has a chance to shine. Sulu and Yeoman Rand talk plants and notice the crewmember the creature is disguised as. Uhura survives the creature trying to lure her in with a pretty face (Uhura never gets enough credit from the fans and the writers…), Spock advises Kirk and helps calm the powerlessness Kirk feels at his crewmembers dying, McCoy does a great job as both himself and when he plays the creature and Kirk gives the reason he is so famous…he feels and acts while respecting those around him and always seeking more information. He’s curious and not bitter like Captain Pike.

The music – Is good at adding tension and adds more to the situation as the stakes grow throughout the episode.

The dilemma – The Salt Creature/Vampire is the last of it’s kind. It is a thinking creature just trying to survive that at one point even advocates for itself. It is still a murder and never deals with the crew honestly but it still presents a dilemma. It is a creature that ends up being a worthy adversary. Later Trek series will try different versions of this creature (via Shape-shifting aliens, possession and illusion) but most will fail to rise up to this one or have such a dilemma as the beast being the last of it’s kind.

Okay and Con – Red Shirts die like flies. For the first time we see Kirk he does not do a good job protecting his crew. It isn’t until it has already killed 3 or more people that his actions begin to mean anything to catch it. It was here that the meme and trope of the Red Shirt was first born. For those who don’t know. Red Shirts are expendables…crewmembers who are only in the episode and show to die. The meme exists outside of Star Trek at this point too…but it was here in the Original Series that it first originated. Under Pike’s first episode no one died…Kirk not so much. I rated it as a negative because it did nothing for developing minor characters (main crewmembers like Harry Kim would suffer this treatment later) but it was good at showing the consequences of exploration. Not all aliens are nice or benevolent and space and exploration are dangerous. That is why I give the okay.

This is an episode well worth watching. It shows that the writers may have had McCoy, Spock and Kirk as the main focus but that they did in fact develop the rest of the crew…something most of the Original Series Movies would later forget (and the abomination “Generations”). That development was part of what made Star Trek great. It was an ensemble show. Kirk maybe the most famous but it is about the crew of the Enterprise and their adventure exploring strange new worlds.

I would definitely recommend this episode and give it a 8 / 10. Not the greatest episode of the Original Series but a solid and good one.

3 thoughts on “Star Trek The Original Series Pilot: The Man Trap – Red Shirts and “The Thing”

  1. A few corrections on your article….It wasn’t the nurse that Sulu was talking to about crewman Green, it was yeoman Janice Rand….and the 3 people that died weren’t red shirts. The term red shirts only applied to those who died and wore red shirts. Usually the security team. It didn’t apply to just anybody that died.

    • Thanks for the correction on yeoman Rand, but I disagree on the term red shirts. I’ve heard it applied to any minor character or extra in uniform regardless of the color of the uniform. For example, DS9 and The Next Generation and Voyager, most extra detail didn’t always wear red shirts on missions though they are still considered red shirts as they are expendable crewmen in relation to the story.

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