Star Trek: The Menagerie

[This is the only two-parter in the original series. I'm reviewing them together.]

Spock: "Don't stop me. Don't let him stop me. It's your career, and Captain Pike's life."

As I mentioned earlier, Star Trek had two pilots. The first rejected pilot, "The Cage," wasn't aired in the initial run of the series because it had a different cast. But Star Trek was so budget- and time-constricted that they couldn't just throw away a perfectly good hour of television. So they wrote a really good script around it, and aired it anyway.

"The Cage" is exceptionally good sci-fi, especially for 1965. It's a fascinating idea: the perfect virtual reality, the seduction of living a life of fantasy, and its cost: the end of civilization. Maybe that's why the suits thought "The Cage" was "too cerebral" — it was all about the mind. Or maybe they were turned off by the big heads on the Talosian "keepers." I always thought the keepers were done well, with tiny, weak bodies and huge throbbing heads. Maybe if they'd looked like sexpots and Pike had blasted them with phasers, the suits would have bought the first pilot, huh?

What would have happened if the suits had picked up Star Trek in 1965, with Captain Pike and Number One as the stars? Would it still have hit a nerve with fans, run three seasons, inspired the very first wave of fan fiction, returned as a hit series of movies, and inspired several spinoff series? I honestly don't know, but it seems unlikely -- and that's not just because Jeffrey Hunter died way too young in 1969. There was — and still is — something uniquely compelling about the character triumvirate of Kirk, Spock and McCoy that spoke to audiences almost immediately. The casting in "The Cage" just wasn't as strong.

Jeffrey Hunter never did much for me, but my feminist side mourns the loss of a female first officer wearing pants. I liked Number One, but I can see how studio execs in 1965 would have found her intimidating. I suppose it was just too soon for a woman as second in command. Fortunately, part of her lived on; her unemotional exterior, years of experience, and position as first officer was bequeathed to the character of Spock. In fact, "The Menagerie" is an exceptionally good story for Spock as a character. While retaining his cool, unemotional exterior, he showed that he was capable of extreme loyalty and compassion by risking his life not to save Pike's, but to rescue him from an intolerable existence imprisoned in a vegetative body. The present day story related well to "The Cage," because both stories were about technology taking us further than we truly ought to go.

It's also interesting that the Talosian mind games were supposedly so dangerous that going to Talos IV was the only death penalty offense in the Star Trek universe, but something similar — the Holodeck — becomes a form of recreation in Next Generation. Although the Holodeck actually was dangerous. It was always malfunctioning and killing people, wasn't it?

Ben says...

Four words: Green Orion Slave Girl. Now, not to get all guy on you, but that was a good idea. I know that for most boys my age it was Leia in the Brass Bikini from Return of the Jedi, but I was always more intellectual or something, and so: Green Orion Slave Girl... I'm sorry, what were we talking about?

Oh right, the Menagerie. What always struck me about this episode was that it's the tale of two Spocks. Both in terms of his characterization (basically: LOUD) in "The Cage" and in "The Menagerie" which establishes the depth of his loyalty to his friends. This is the episode that foreshadows Spock's sacrifice at the end of Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan and the actions of the whole crew in Star Trek 3: Save the Whales. The contrasts between Spock in the pilot and the framing story really suggest that the writers and actors realized that they had kind of written themselves into a non-emotional corner. What drives Spock if not emotion... well... basically lower key emotion like loyalty and connection with illogical humans. Along with "Amok Time" (cue: DA NA NA NANANANA NANANANA NAH… music), it establishes who both Spock and Kirk are and what's important to the characters for the whole of the Trek classic series and movies. Maybe not the best first season episode, but I think its the most important.

And did I mention the Green Orion Slave Girl?

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

-- Star date 3012.4 (part one) and 3013.1 (part two). Starbase Eleven and Talos IV. The shuttlecraft from Starbase Eleven was called "Picasso." The ship Vina was on that crashed on Talos IV eighteen years before the action in "The Cage" was the S.S. Columbia. Pike was forced to relive a battle for his life on Rigel 7. (I've always loved that castle.)

-- Starbase Eleven featured purple cave formations, and pink and orange walls. The conference room on the Enterprise had stark furniture and walls that were colored by special lights. And since I'm talking about color, green Orion slave girls?

-- Spock served under Christopher Pike for eleven years, four months, and five days before Pike was promoted to fleet captain. The action on Talos IV took place thirteen years ago.

-- The Talosian keepers were played by women; the voices were dubbed.

-- The Enterprise computer, a prominent character in this episode, was voiced by Majel Barrett (Roddenberry), who also played Number One. In Next Generation, Picard called Riker "Number One" in an homage to her. I remember Star Trek novelist Peter David connecting the dots and making Number One the actual source of the main computer's voice, which was just lovely. Is it canon? If not, it ought to be.

-- McCoy mentioned the obviously faulty belief that Vulcans are incapable of lying.

-- Note the paper printer on the older Enterprise's bridge, instead of a computer screen. Sort of an interstellar fax.

-- Commodore Mendez was never really there. Lieutenant Hanson was never seen again. The ship's doctor thirteen years ago was named Boyce; guess he found another job, too.

-- Uhura was back in red again. "The Cage" uniforms were gold, beige and blue, like they were in "Where No Man Has Gone Before." And the dress uniforms for the trial were nice. I especially liked the ribbons scattered in a sort of abstract pattern on the left breast.

Quotes:

McCoy: "Blast medicine, anyway."

McCoy: "Is confinement to quarters enough?" I loved this. As in, it's so improbable that you did something wrong, Spock, that I have no idea how to react. (I also think this was the first time we saw Spock's quarters.)

Pike: "I'm tired of being responsible for two hundred and three lives, and I'm tired of deciding which mission is too risky and which isn't. And who's going on the landing part and who doesn't. And who lives... and who dies."

Four out of four bubble-headed aliens,

Billie
---
Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

5 comments:

Mark Greig said...

Star Trek 3: Save the Whales? Think you’re getting your sequels mixed up there, Ben.

Trek 3 was The Second Coming of Spock wherein Kirk saves his fallen friend so that he may rise again by getting his stunt double to smack around Doc Brown.

GreenHornet said...

Billie, you so-o hit the nail right on the huge throbbing Talosian head about the cast differences between Pike-NumberOne-Spock and Kirk-Spock-Bones. "There was -- and still is -- something uniquely compelling about the character triumvirate of Kirk, Spock and McCoy that spoke to audiences almost immediately." That one sentence perfectly captures, encapsulates, shuttle-crafts the thing that was teasing the edge of my thoughts!

The pilot's cast and set designs etc are very much more along the lines of Forbidden Planet, and other SF movies of the 50's. Star Trek the series however is 1960's immediate, and however much still mired in times and mores, radically different than predecessors. Set layouts and props (small phasers versus arm-canons, 747 cocktail lounges versus tight little radio room-sized quarters on a submarine, etc), costumes: all different, all a (sorry for this) paradigm shift forward. And even the relationship structures reflect this, with the pilot's more rigid hierarchy, militaristic approach, wise old doc who's seen it all, being very common in flicks and series to this point: but a coeval civilianesque (yuh-hunh, that could be a word) triumvirate -- now that's something!

Great to have had Number One however -- and sorely missed in the series. Wonder if the character would have been there if it hadna been the producer's wife in the role? She's great (as we see in NG etc) and should have been used more: and not just as a pining blond medical secretary (jiminy, shoulda left her hair alone too! Or made it green...)

Ben Ben Ben -- Orion Slave Girl, you make me laugh! She was definitely a "Known Known" on the boy's side of the playground at school -- SAY-NO-MORE. And by the way, also seen in the ending credits, just to mess with us before (I think?) AlienFace from The Corbomite Maneuver. But all I can say in personal and all-too-revealing response is: Sherry Jackson!

And anyway, that green makeup gets all over everything, I hear.

Anonymous said...

So much love for the green slave girl, but not nearly enough for Andrea the android.

Carrie Luce said...

The series may not have worked with Pike, but the pilot would NEVER have worked with Kirk - he would have nailed all three women, killed the aliens and gotten all melodramatic about how tragic, but inevitable, it all was.

Carrie Luce said...

Oh, and startrek IV - "The Voyage Home" was the one with the whales. It helps to remember that this was actually a good Star Trek Movie and, in general, it's the even numbered Star Trek movies that don't suck.