Tuesday, December 8, 2009

TOS Rewind #35: "I, Mudd"

This time we take a look at I, Mudd (11/03/1967).

Eric, Rob, Andy, and I did a podcast.  Check it out.

I mentioned when talking about "Catspaw" that I felt that the creators weren't always sure whether they wanted to be serious or not.  Well, this time they had their tongues surely planted in cheek.  This episode has a load of goofy material in it and often goes from one gag to another.  A real problem for me is that they have this plot that's all too easy to poke holes in.  The whole thing isn't all that satisfying but does have its moments.  The first act, where the robot Norman takes control of the Enterprise, is too rushed for its amount of detail (they have to explain how he takes over the ship) and too long for a quick, if unimportant, "get them to the planet" plot point.  Kirk and the crew just seem to shrug and wait it out once they become aware of Norman's actions.  The whole thing just doesn't seem right for the characters.

Harry Mudd gets a proper introduction with the other robots and even introduces the replica of his ex-wife.  Otherwise, all the other robots (save for Norman) are hot women in skimpy outfits, causing Chekov to exclaim, "this is even better than Leningrad!"  After the plot is in full swing, it's time once again for those crafty humans to outwit the machines with a full-on Shatner speech:  I believe at this point in the series, the Kirk talking the machine to death thing has officially become a joke.  The head robot Norman is "smoked" by the humans' erratic behavior and a simple logic loop.  Wow, there's some high tech, there!  I really have trouble taking their plot to "serve" the galaxy very seriously and wonder why they didn't just go for something simpler.  The penultimate scene where they leave Mudd on the planet with 500 "unlocked" ex-wife robots does indeed seem like a suitable fate for Harry (but of course, the character returns in an episode of the Animated Series)

Roger Carmel is back playing Mudd and he's fun to watch as he embraces the part with gusto.  I usually resist using the word, "gusto" but it just seems apt in this cast.  The rest of the cast gets to do some pseudo-improv during the scenes where they're attempting to overload the robots.  Shatner goes between being cranky and whimsically sarcastic.  I still find some of that amusing and I believe the cast had fun doing the scenes.  Hell, it's a lot more than James Doohan usually got to do.

Interesting notes:

Norman is the only robot who talks, well, like a stereotypical robot.  All the female "models" talk normally.

Kirk and Spock are the only members of the landing party not to be at all tempted by something the robot population has to offer.  I'm surprised they didn't have some android babe try to go after Kirk.  This time, it's all-business for the Captain.  Also, I notice how Uhura is potentially "bought" with the offer of an immortal robot body.  Chekov is ready to settle down with all the chicks and McCoy and Scotty get tempted by work-related labs and stuff.  What does that tell you?  That Uhura, always thinking about her looks...

The doors on the planet set look awfully similar to the Krell doors of "Forbidden Planet."  Hmmm...

Of course I didn't really care about this stuff growing up.  I always liked watching the shenanigans of I, Mudd and found the last half very amusing.  The sight of those familiar characters acting like that for one episode was quite entertaining.

I watched the remastered version of this episode.  Besides the usual ship/space/planet shot replacements, I noticed that they spruced up the part where Norman reveals the little access panel on his stomach.  One of those times where it didn't really add nor detract from the episode.


Now let's turn it over to Eric:

This is going to be another short review, partly because of the holidays but mostly because there is nothing particularly profound about "I Mudd." It is essentially a satire, a lighthearted romp through silliness that often strays into surreal absurdity. The only themes that have any resonance are two that we've discussed before and are perhaps overused in original Trek: "Man vs. Machine" and "Man vs. Idyllic existence." (For more satisfying treatments, see "This Side of Paradise" and "Return of the Archons.") With both of these themes, Kirk fulfills the role he has in the past: advocate for the ascendancy of humanity over machines (in this case androids) and pleader for the human spirit's need for freedom and challenge.

The androids, by way of Norman, show the shortcomings of artificial intelligence--it lacks the human capacity to devise its own sense of purpose. (This is an interesting point, although many humans, despite being blessed with "organic intelligence," also suffer from that same difficulty.) In addition, the androids, with the possible exception of Norman, are incapable of original, independent thought. And even in Norman, this capacity is stunted at best. So naturally, it is human creativity, irrationality, and out-of-the-box thinking that wins the day.

Mudd, on the other hand, represents the "evils" of an idyllic existence (albeit one in captivity). Apparently it makes one fat, lazy, and pointless. The lesson is lost, however, when one refers back to the first season episode "Mudd's Women" and sees that Harry Mudd has always been fat, lazy, and pointless. In any case, Kirk and crew are able to escape only when they reject the "gilded cage" offered by the androids. And as a kicker, even Mudd (who clearly relishes having the androids to fulfill his every whim) is willing to join forces with Kirk to win his freedom.

So the themes in "I Mudd" are retreads from earlier episodes, and their treatment and resolution is notably unremarkable. This episode is hardly a gem, but if you watch it expecting nothing more than a light satire, it is still enjoyable.

Next time:  "Metamorphosis"

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