Eruditorum Press

A magical ritual to pay my rent

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

12 Comments

  1. Adam Riggio
    August 21, 2013 @ 2:32 am

    Maybe this is just my own head being in on the joke, but I found this episode so ridiculous that it achieved its purpose with me: I laughed my arse off. Maybe it's just that I watched a lot of Marx Brothers when I was a kid, maybe I just found it hilarious how out of place and stupid everyone except Shatner and Koenig were.

    And I do think this is exactly the kind of episode Chekov is made for.

    I, Mudd is, for me, an example of the non-threat story. The cast gets roped into a situation that's entertaining for the audience to watch, but offers no real effort for the main characters to solve, and constitutes no serious threat to them. As a result, we get to watch our characters have a lark. Mrs Mudd was never really given a chance to be a character: her first android appearance Mudd designed so he could yell at her, and her closing appearance is designed as a comedy goodbye for Mudd as his own misogynist creation is turned back on him. The episode asked me to have some stupid fun, so I had some stupid fun.

    No, it's not nearly as good as The Trouble With Tribbles. But whether or not the show was in on the joke, I sure was.

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  2. Adam Riggio
    August 21, 2013 @ 2:36 am

    I should add, so I can either utterly invalidate or boost the prestige of my opinion, that in particular circumstances, I find Larry the Cable Guy hilarious. I'm thinking in particular of the documentary show he has where he travels to different odd places around America (a moonshiners' society, a mermaid show on the side of a highway) and acts like Larry. He's a kind of travelling idiot savant.

    In every venue where he isn't an idiot savant, he's insufferable.

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  3. tantalus1970
    August 21, 2013 @ 6:11 am

    Never really liked this episode; it does feel like 'give the actors a party to cheer them up/keep them quiet!' kind of story.

    With regard to Douglas Adams' comments, I think his comments were more about TV productions in general rather than specifically City of Death; as a writer / script editor in the 1970s he would have had very little say in the actors' performances (which was basically his point). Mind you, he was dead right!

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  4. Josh Marsfelder
    August 21, 2013 @ 11:43 am

    It is the perfect episode for Chekov, and it's not like the comedy routines are excruciatingly unwatchable. They're amusing and entertaining (except Stella, who is eyeroll-inducing). The problem comes, I feel, when, unlike a Marx Brothers movie, we're laughing at the show instead of with it. By and large the things I found funny were not what I think the script wanted me to find funny, except Shater, Koenig and Carmel.

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  5. K. Jones
    August 21, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

    Certainly "silly", whichever connotation that may draw upon. But Shatner really excels with the material he's given, and this episode is a textbook example of the citing you often get in retrospect about how Kirk being an emotional man; a citation we often hear from both Spock and Bones, but also from the later fandom as they compared him to preceding Captains.

    The way Shatner can go from stuffy to merry prankster, or even for a moment pausing to philosophize before evaluating his crew's concepts before announcing "no, no chance, we're escaping!" are pretty remarkable in that they never feel "un-Kirk-like" as actions.

    I've never been that fond of the episode, but I've always been quite fond of some of the odd character interactions in it – this is one of the earlier examples of an "ensemble episode" which broke away from the "Power Trio + Fourth Musketeer Scotty" dynamic and gave a handful more characters something to do, stilted or otherwise.

    And I'll admit I've always adored Nimoy's "I love you … but I hate you" paradox. A slight twitch of eyebrow, all the indication you get that maybe cold, logical Spock is enjoying the irony of being a merry prankster as a logical course of action.

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  6. Flex
    August 21, 2013 @ 5:13 pm

    I'll admit to more or less thoroughly enjoying this episode. The vaudeville connection is one I hadn't thought of, and does an admirable job making sense of this episode as anything else I've read so I'll happily accept it.

    Despite relatively little of the actual "jokes" working as such, I find it almost impossible not to simply sit back and enjoy watching all these actors clearly relish their time on this episode. As K. Jones says in the above comment, it's an early "ensemble episode" for the franchise, and every actor seems interested in taking advantage of the opportunity to shine.

    I think the reappearance of Mudd is worth more of a pause than you gave, too. This might be some of the most truly concrete worldbuilding yet. As your project has well illustrated, so many of the ideas we take for granted now were either simply non-existent or subject to drastic change at the whims of whatever writer of the week is interested in doing. Mudd is one of the first times the show has brought back something from its own past and left it basically unchanged in concept or execution (except, as you say, with some of the worst stereotyping toned down). That's worth something, I think. What, precisely, I couldn't hazard a guess…

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  7. Josh Marsfelder
    August 21, 2013 @ 6:42 pm

    I mean yes, I admit the actors are the best part of the episode and it's tough not to smile at Shatner, Carmel and Koenig having a ball. The ensemble connection both you and K pointed out is a good one, but it's hard for me to get too riled up about it when the next episode goes and does the same thing several times better. That's the thing for me: So much of what there is to like about "I, Mudd" is done so much more effortlessly and, well, actually functionally in "The Trouble with Tribbles".

    Perhaps I should have talked a bit more about the significance of the only reoccurring character in TOS outside the Enterprise crew, but, other than that fact, there's really not a whole lot to say about Harry Mudd IMO. He was a fan favourite and came back in TAS, but so did Cyrano Jones and Sarek and several other TOS characters (although they did get Carmel to reprise the role, which was actually kind of a rare thing for TAS). He's funny and enjoyable to watch (…well, here he is at least) and he probably would have made a fine reoccurring foil for Kirk if he came back more regularly, but aside from that I'm having a hard time coming up with extra material to dig in to.

    Maybe I'll have more to say about him in "Mudd's Passion" and/or if I decide to do "Mudd's Pets" for Malibu DS9 as a Myriad Universes. And, if it's any consolation, I'm currently in the middle of writing a rather lengthy post on the significance of world-building and character development to Star Trek and the particular way it manifests itself in the Original Series. It's for the episode you'd probably imagine it to be for.

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  8. Flex
    August 21, 2013 @ 7:37 pm

    Yeah, I didn't mean so much talking about Mudd much, more along the lines of what it sounds like you're preparing to discuss in a future post. So I'll be looking forward to that.

    From your comments here and in the blog post proper, one thing that I think helps this episode is viewing it in airdate rather than production order. Yeah, when followed by Tribbles it seems like the most charitable thing you could call this episode is a warmup. But when put between Catspaw and Metamorphosis, and with Tribbles seven episodes away from this, it stands on its own two legs a little more. It hadn't occurred to me until you started this project how these episodes change depending on the sequence you watch them in. A subtle thing, but definitely there. It's led to my reappraisal of several episodes (particularly the early Roddenberry produced ones, so not really reappraisals in favor of those episodes).

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  9. BadCatMan
    August 21, 2013 @ 9:11 pm

    Hi, I'm liking your blog. I followed it from TARDIS Eruditorum.

    I have to de-lurk and ask: how does the sexism in TOS compare to contemporary US television? I was surprised by the degree of sexism in TOS when I rewatched it all the other year, but assumed it was a product of its time and probably better in this area than other shows of the era, as per Trek's general reputation (if not actual practice).

    I mean, Bewitched seems much more frequently and obviously sexist, often saying women should stay at home and not practice magic/be independent. Darren commands, and Samantha obeys. I Dream of Jeannie has Jeannie devoted to her master (but it's been a long time since I've seen much of it, and I get the impression it was more subversive). In Trek, at least women get to travel in starships, help explore, and have somewhat equal roles, if not treatment. And hold command positions:
    http://boldlygold.tumblr.com/

    (It's been a long, long time since I've seen The Time Tunnel or Land of the Giants, which might compare more closely with TOS.)

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  10. Josh Marsfelder
    August 22, 2013 @ 8:12 am

    Welcome! Glad to have you!

    From my perspective TOS is better than its peers in some areas while being much worse than them in others others, but it's nowhere near as progressive and ahead of its time as fans like to think it is. Despite my misgivings, Uhura really is a big step forward, but the fact a character who is this extraneous for the majority of the show is still considered a step forward is discouraging.

    But that's about it, as far as I'm concerned. The Roddenberry era is unbelievably misogynistic and even Coon's tenure tossed out one or two stories that were absolutely irredeemable (though it must be stressed this really wasn't his fault or that of D.C. Fontana). Having female officers is nice, but not when they're all interchangeable and on the whole portrayed as being more childlike and less competent then their male colleagues. In a world where Raumpatrouiile Orion exists this just isn't going to fly with me.

    And that brings me to me big point: I really don't think TOS was ahead of the curve all that much. Raumpatrouille and The Prisoner run rings around it in feminist issues to a frankly embarrassing degree (the former even doing everything fans say TOS did, except better than Star Trek would for decades). Doctor Who is always more changeable about this sort of thing, but while no-one would call the late-60s incarnation of the show especially feminist (except for the 1969 season with Wendy Padbury as Zoe who is better than most people give her credit for being) the early-mid 60s era had its moments (typically involving Maureen O'Brien as Vicky).

    Even if we compare TOS only to other US shows of the time, we find that Lost in Space had female characters who were more then one note (…not much more, mind, but enough that it justifies comparison). I'm not all that familiar with Bewitched (but it sounds bad), though what I remember of I Dream of Jeannie (it's been awhile) I get the sense that it was subversive: I seem to recall most of those episodes revolving around a "be careful what you wish for" theme with the guy wishing for something and Jeannie complying, despite her confusion, and having it all blow up at him. Jeannie seemed to me to be the one typically depicted as wiser and more clever, and the lesson was not to abuse her powers.

    And then of course there's a show coming up in two seasons that makes just about everybody look bad, but that's for another time.

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  11. BadCatMan
    August 22, 2013 @ 2:26 pm

    Okay, thanks. It's weird trying to draw a line in-universe from Enterprise to The Original Series to The Next Generation with this weird backslide in attitudes towards women in the mid–23rd century.

    One other question while I'm here: will you be covering the RPGs? You've mentioned wanting to see the problems of the Federation, and FASA's The Orions (1987) did interesting things in this regard. It has the Federation act as a full colonial, imperialist power, placing colonies and displacing native peoples, and forcing treaties and borders on the Orion tribes" (the perfect sphere of Orion space reminds me of the straight line borders imposed by European colonials), and making heavy-handed efforts to change distasteful elements of Orion culture without regard for the consequences.

    Speaking of which, will you be discussing the ever-popular, ever-sexist Orion slave girls?

    I like Orions, they're fun and, as developed by FASA, a good way to discuss a lot of political and gender issues (the scars of colonialism, slavery, kamikaze/suicide bombing, financial greed, treatment of women and all), but sadly quite underused by the rest of Trek and FASA itself. Instead, we got the Ferengi.

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  12. Josh Marsfelder
    August 22, 2013 @ 5:00 pm

    "One other question while I'm here: will you be covering the RPGs?"

    Most probably: They do, after all, build significantly upon the political structures introduced in "Journey to Babel". Not to mention the fact I'm covering the Star Trek: Starfleet Command series of video games and they draw their lore primarily from the FASA RPGs.

    "Speaking of which, will you be discussing the ever-popular, ever-sexist Orion slave girls?"

    I think the Orion Animal Woman scene in "The Cage" sufficiently speaks for itself. I made an offhand comment about it in my post for that episode. I find it pretty much as horrible and offensive as you'd probably imagine I would.

    There is, of course, the minor issue of "Bound" on Enterprise, but I'll worry about that when the time comes.

    "I like Orions, they're fun and, as developed by FASA, a good way to discuss a lot of political and gender issues (the scars of colonialism, slavery, kamikaze/suicide bombing, financial greed, treatment of women and all), but sadly quite underused by the rest of Trek and FASA itself. Instead, we got the Ferengi."

    I find that the Ferengi become interesting in their own right (well, at least Quark does. At first.), but you make a good point. Now that you mention it, the FASA version of the Orion Syndicate would probably have made a better group of reoccurring adversaries for early TNG than either the Ferengi or the Borg.

    I guess the only problem might have been that Gene Roddenberry is alleged to have laid down a "No Space Pirates" rule for TNG writers (famously resulting in the rather excellent "Gambit" becoming unnecessarily controversial IMO), but Gene Roddenberry was also very rarely correct.

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