This is an article in my ongoing series called Deconstructing Star Trek.
The Man Trap is the first episode in the first season of Star Trek: The Original Series. As I write these articles on viewing Star Trek through a Christian worldview, I will be providing an extremely brief overview of the episode before making my analysis. The intent of the overview is to refresh our memories for those of us who have seen the original series. If you have not watched the particular episode at hand, you might not grasp the heart of the story enough for my subsequent analysis to make much sense. Nevertheless, I cannot take the time to write a lengthy summary. However, I will link to the Wikipedia page if you prefer to read a more elaborate plot summary. You can find that here.
The Man Trap finds a team from the Enterprise beamed down to a planet in order to provide medical exams, administered by Dr. McCoy, to Professor Robert Crater and his wife Nancy. We soon learn that Dr. McCoy had romantic feelings for Nancy a decade prior to their arrival on the planet. When they arrive, the three men sent to the planet – McCoy, Captain Kirk, and a crewman named Darnell (who you know will be dying at some point) – all see Nancy differently. McCoy sees her exactly as he remembered her 10 year ago. Kirk sees her in a manner consistent with her age. Darnell sees her as a much younger, sexually attractive woman. We eventually learn how a creature had previously killed Nancy but is able to perfectly take on her form, and the form of anyone else. Since Professor Crater was able to still live and interact with his “wife”, he was desperate to protect her, despite her actually being a monstrous creature who kills humans. In the end, both the Professor and Nancy perish, but not before McCoy had to be convinced that his love from 10 years ago was actually a dangerous alien.
The dilemma created for the crew of the Enterprise ultimately finds its source from Professor Crater’s overwhelming grief and sorrow at the loss of his wife. The reality of death and separation is such a burden for Professor Crater that he becomes attached to a physical representation of his former wife; a representation who breathes and speaks, but is reduced to a visual shadow of whom he once loved. The Man Trap presents a glorified version of a good zombie movie. Although the creature, that is to say the source of resurrection for Nancy in this Star Trek planet, is much more advanced than a typical zombie from a horror film, the resulting tension between the souls of the living and the physicality of the dead are the same. One of the enduring entanglements for George A. Romero in the creation of his zombie world, which now has become well known through more accessible mediums such as “The Walking Dead” television series, is the struggle, and at times outright refusal, for the living to accept the death of their beloved. Although Crater is fully cognizant of what has happened – he is not delusional or crazy – he is nevertheless incapable of walking away from the temptation of living with a version of what once was. By the time we reach the fifth film in the Romero “Living Dead” saga, the war of the world is not between humanity and zombies, but is instead between a portion of humanity who sees the infected as nothing more than reanimated flesh and a portion of humanity who sees the infected as loved ones who still have a purpose. Placed in Romero’s world, Professor Crater would have been fighting in the army of the latter.
From a Christian worldview this episode points to the impact and import of human relationships, especially marriage, for contentment and fulfillment. Being created in God’s image carries with it a tremendous set of blessed responsibilities, not the least of which is our communion with one another. The Triune God exists in perfect community whereby the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit enjoy sweet communion with one another, a sweetness that is generously given to humanity. There is a reason for Adam’s exuberant response when first laying eyes on Eve – “At Last!” (Genesis 2:23). His solitary presence in the garden was counter to the core of his existence – long before Jerry Maguire uttered his famous, cheesy words to Dorothy, Adam could have been found speaking them first to Eve: “You complete me.” The garden encounter is not a romanticized treatment of completion, but is a filling of the very essence of Adam’s humanity created in the image of God. It is absolutely remarkable that God looked over his creation and declared one particular aspect “not good” – Adam’s loneliness. (Genesis 2:18).
The Man Trap offers a glimpse into both this essence of completion and the lengths to which humanity will go in order to preserve it. Humans are so averse to loneliness that our efforts to prevent it are at times shocking. The things we are willing to turn to, the people we are willing to let in, the relationships we pretend are healthy, are all the result of an inherit desire for completion coupled with unhealthy means to achieve it. The gift of God to humanity is our relational community with one another, but sin has created the potential for not just unhealthy relationships, but relationships that ultimately serve to counter the intent of their design – to mirror the perfect relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit and to proclaim the gospel. Professor Crater’s unthinkable action of remaining in a relationship with a shell of his former wife eventually brought other people in his web of deceit. And so it always will be – our actions in community, regardless of how personal we think they might be, will always have far reaching effects.
Finally, one element of storytelling that the science fiction and horror genres almost always get right is the horrific results accompanying resurrection attempts. “A man’s got to know his limitations” certainly applies to human suffering and some of the most creepy and uncomfortable films ever produced told the story of a grieving family attempting to bring back to life what was once most precious…almost always with disastrous results (see Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery). Gene Wilder said it correctly and humorously in the classic film Young Frankenstein, “Dead is dead!” Of course, taken out of the hands of mere mortals, death is not the final word. God alone provides the power for resurrection, a power that humanity will continue to search for but will never find. God has gifted humanity with remarkable power and intellect – the story of Babel illustrates this. But we are not God and the ethical questions must continue to be asked and answered before we too go where no person has gone before…and never come back.