One of the most celebrated aspects of Star Trek -- among its fans, certainly -- is the ethical nature of many of the inherent trappings of the show. Go to a Trek convention, and you won't be able to take a step without tripping over somebody giving the show an attaboy for its diversity, its forward-looking optimism, and so forth.
I'm not always convinced that these sentiments are entirely earned by the series. As expressed by Trekkies, these sentiments often feel smug and self-congratulatory. I should know; I've found myself taking pride in them on occasion, too. Regardless of whether the fandom could be convicted on charges of smugness, the fact is that the bulk of TOS -- and, for the most part, the series which followed it -- do indeed express an inherent sense of optimism and progressivity. Here in 2017, we're in a weird place where it's somehow verboten to punch a god damned Nazi in his fucking face: an odd, disconcerting turn of events, and one which gives me pause when I'm considering doing things like criticizing Trekkies for being smug.
But I have the thoughts that I have, and the reason why I'm here is to explore them for myself. And that being the case, I couldn't help but be a wee bit troubled by "The Man Trap," which in some ways is less an example of the optimistic and ethically-advanced Star Trek Trekkies declaim than it is a simpler thing: a monster-movie done for television.
Or is it?
In a way, it makes sense that the first episode of Star Trek to air was one which is not entirely typical of its philosophies. Something like "The Man Trap" sits somewhat uneasily beside later episodes like "Devil in the Dark" and "Metamorphosis," or even "The Corbomite Maneuver." But then there are other episodes like "Obsession" and "The Doomsday Machine" that are more akin to this one than to those.
The fact is, Trek has never been quite as consistent in its philosophies as its fans might have you believe. It's almost as if the show was a raft of optimism that was afloat on a sea of pessimism, one that on occasion got a bit waterlogged and didn't float so much as tread water. So while we might get something like The Motion Picture or The Voyage Home on occasion, we were just as apt to get something like The Undiscovered Country or "Q Who?" In the latter, the Federation is confronted by an unstoppable force (The Borg) bent on subjugating and replacing everything in its path. "The Best of Both Worlds" intensifies that conflict.
But then, lo and behold, the sequel to that episode turns it on its head somewhat, with the unstoppable enemy stopped not by force, but by ingenuity and trickery (Data giving their hive mind an order to go into a looped diagnostic mode, i.e., putting them into a sort of coma). It's not diplomacy, but neither is it genocide; so that's kind of Trek-ish in its philosophy.
The franchise would not be able to maintain that stance on the Borg, however, and later episodes would revert somewhat. Eventually they appeared in a movie (First Contact), where they are no more than monsters to be defeated. Good movie; bad philosophy (at least within a Trek-ian context, or perhaps just within a Roddenberrian context).