Horror Tropes and Salt Puns


A look back on the Star Trek episode “The Man Trap” and how not all monsters are salt-craving aliens. Looks can be deceiving.

Once again, I’m writing about an episode of Star Trek in which no redshirts die. I’m starting to think this website is a lie.

Today, we’ll be looking into Star Trek’s second episode, “The Man Trap”. Or first, if you consider the pilot episode didn’t finally air until 1988. And that this is the episode we first meet Kirk, McCoy, Uhura, and Sulu.

Basically, it’s the first episode of Star Trek.

In the episode, our beloved crew of the USS Enterprise visits planet M-113 in order to conduct routine medical checkups of Professor Robert Carter and his wife Nancy Carter, who were stationed on the outpost for an archaeological survey of the planet’s ruins.

Nancy Carter just so happens to be Doctor McCoy’s ex-girlfriend. She’s also a shape-shifting alien who requires salt to survive. Naturally, all hell breaks loose and some crewman die (no redshirts, though).

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So let’s start by getting this out of the way: young William Shatner was a total babe.

Now that I’ve made you all uncomfortable, let’s move right along to what I loved so much about this episode: “Nancy’s” shape-shifting abilities.

It falls in line with one of my all-time favorite horror tropes: that the monster can take the form of anyone, and therefore someone you trust could in fact be the villain. It’s a trope that’s ever present in the horror and sci-fi genres, seen in such notable titles as 1982’s The Thing and 2011’s The Thing.

(That was meant to be funny. You didn’t laugh? Okay.)

More recently, this concept appeared in an episode of Supergirl titled “The Martian Chronicles”. In this episode, our heroes are trapped in the DEO with a shape-shifting White Martian, putting everyone on edge as they try to discern who amongst their company is an enemy in disguise.

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It’s a frightening concept, the inability to tell friend from foe, and usually results in an emotionally charged conclusion in which the protagonist must face off against someone they hold dear. In “The Man Trap”, McCoy is forced to shoot and kill what appears to be his ex-girlfriend Nancy, while Kara in “The Martian Chronicles” must fight her sister Alex.

But what’s truly frightening is that this isn’t just relegated to monsters. Sometimes people we love and trust aren’t who they appear to be. In the real world, evil doesn’t take an obvious or clearly identifiable form. There are no salt-craving aliens, no grotesque green witches, no monsters of the week.

There’s just people.

People lie, deceive, cheat, and steal. People manipulate and abuse and harm. People can be cruel, deliberately cruel.

You never really know where evil or malicious intent will come from. It could be a neighbor or coworker, a friend or family member or significant other. It could even be a much-loved and seemingly benign celebrity like Bill Cosby.

Of course, I’m not just talking about extremes like criminal offenses. But I’m sure we’ve all felt the sting of betrayal at the hands of a loved one. And maybe at one point even been the ones to betray. I know I’m guilty.

But what can we do? We can’t exactly close ourselves off from the world, or distrust any and every one we meet. I suppose our best course of action is to simply recognize when a relationship is toxic and know when to walk away.

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Perhaps the real salt is the friends we lost along the way.