No one is more surprised than Harry Mudd when the love potion he’s been selling causes Spock to fall in love with Christine Chapel.
Plot Summary: The Enterprise arrives at the mining planet Motherlode to arrest Harry Mudd for fraud, swindling, and various other charges. They find Mudd peddling a love potion to lonely miners, who attack him after learning from Spock that Mudd is using a hypnotic lizard to pose as a willing female. Mudd surrenders to Kirk. When Nurse Chapel comes to examine him in the brig, he notes her interest in Spock and offers her a free dose of his love potion to distract her while stealing her Starfleet credentials. Rationalizing that she is conducting a scientific test, Chapel tries the love potion, which does not appear to work. She confronts Mudd, blowing up his potion capsules, which release their contents into the ship’s air ducts. He takes her hostage aboard a shuttle just as Spock becomes obsessed with her. Kirk follows him to a desert planet with Spock and must fight off rock monsters while the rest of the crew falls under the influence of the love potion. The landing party uses Mudd’s remaining potion to make the rock monsters fall in love with each other. Back on the ship, the potion wears off with the effect of inspiring hatred in those who previously felt attraction, leaving an irate Chapel to take Mudd’s confession when he winds up in the brig once more.
Analysis: Let me say from the outset that there’s really no defense for the Mudd episodes – neither “Mudd’s Passion” nor its two original series predecessors, “Mudd’s Women” and “I, Mudd.” The sexist attitudes of the previous two stories are repeated here, this time by taking a regular character and showing her to be so desperate for a man that she’ll try to force him to find her attractive against his will and quite possibly against his biology. Moreover, the implicit heterosexism of “Mudd’s Women” is made explicit here: the love potion inspires friendship between two men or two women, and only generates erotic feelings between members of the opposite sex. According to Harry Mudd, all men just want sex with attractive women, while all women want love from men even if the men don’t appreciate them for themselves…and the rest of the characters go right along with these beliefs.
That said, I have a very shameful love for this episode. It’s partly because, even with the heterosexual disclaimers, there are lovely intimate moments between Kirk and Spock – first when Kirk refuses to let Spock go off to rescue Christine without accompanying him so he can protect him, and later on the planet, when a love potion-addled Spock snuggles up and declares undying friendship to Kirk, who replies just as he does in the later movies, “That’s the way I feel about you, too, my dear friend, Spock.” And it’s partly because, as in “The Naked Time,” it’s just fun to watch crewmembers have inappropriate romances, particularly since Scotty’s is with M’Ress the cat woman (voiced by Majel Barrett, as are Chapel and the lizard-woman on Motherlode, thus implying that her voice is the sexiest thing in the universe). I start giggling whenever M’Ress starts purr-talking, and her dorky flirting with Mr. Scott is particularly amusing.
Rewatching “Mudd’s Passion” now, it’s clear that the episode was a big influence on the producers of the brilliant Star Trek parody Galaxy Quest: not only does it have the human-alien romance, the brotherly bonding, and the visit to a desert planet, but it has the epic battle with a rock monster complete with the captain doing gratuitous barrel rolls to get away. If you can overlook the vileness of Chapel testing a mind-control drug on Spock for the purpose of taking intimate advantage of him, there’s a lot to giggle about in this episode, and some of the dialogue is delightful: McCoy picking on a deadpan Spock about always quoting odds, Mudd and Spock repeating dialogue from “I, Mudd” about how Mudd says borrowed when Spock hears stole, Chapel announcing that it would be stupid of her to keep trying to hold Spock’s attention when he doesn’t respond to having her in his lap.
Then there are all of Spock’s declarations about dear, lovely Christine, and shouting that his love is in danger, and telling Kirk that his plan to distract the rock monsters is an outstandingly stupid idea. When Spock eventually regains his senses, he seems little affected by the potion’s after-effects – he neither dislikes Chapel nor avoids Kirk – though he tells Mudd that by providing a few moments of love paid for by hours of hatred, the potion is scarcely a bargain. Mudd retorts that few things in universe are perfect, which is a good motto for this episode. It’s bad, but it’s going to remain a guilty pleasure for me.