Thursday, February 19, 2015

Trek Thursday: The Cage/The Menagerie

#36: The Cage/The Menagerie

In case you forgot: In "The Cage," the Enterprise (captained by Christopher Pike) encounters the planet of Talos IV, inhabited by a race of powerful psychic aliens who have been collecting specimens for years in hopes of eventually repopulating the barren surface of their planet. They want humans there, too, and decide Pike will be good breeding stock with the woman they already captured 18 years ago, but ultimately he escapes.

By the time "The Menagerie" rolls around, Pike has been badly, horribly incapacitated by a fire (and perhaps suffering from the disease that killed all the "grups" in "Miri," from the looks of it): he is confined to a tiny zamboni and can't speak, only able to flash lights to yes or no questions. Somehow Spock (who served under him back in the day) finds out about this and decides to take Pike back to Talos IV, where he can live out the rest of his life unfettered by his broken, useless body. I'm lumping these episodes together as one unit, because I think to do otherwise would be redundant.

As I mentioned before with "No Man Has Gone Before," it's always fun to see the pilot of a show, to see what the original idea was and to think about what it might have been, and "The Cage" is no exception. I kind of wish we'd had Jeffrey Hunter's Christopher Pike for the series, instead of the Shat and Kirk, but in retrospect Hunter's death in 1969 would have made filming the movies impossible, and then we wouldn't have The Wrath of Khan, so it is what it is.

Aside from its novelty, "The Cage" is solid sci-fi fare, with a surprising amount of pathos. Pike and his crew only get away because the Talosians let them, and they (the Talosians) make it quite clear that without any humans, they are doomed. Vina's transformation at the end ("Now you see my true form!") is touching, too.

 As for "The Menagerie," it has everything "The Cage" has going for it, plus some great mystery set up (at least in Part I) with Spock hijacking the Enterprise. By the end, there's some nice bookending, too: in "The Cage," Pike had talked to his doctor about being tired of the responsibilities of a starship captain and wanting to settle down somewhere. In "The Menagerie," the Talosians allow him to do just that.

Most of the bad here comes in with "The Menagerie." If this is the enlightened future utopia, why does the Federation still have the death penalty at all? And why is Talos IV so off-limits? There's no other race of creatures with godlike psychic powers so expressly forbidden to Federation, but the Talosians don't seem that much more powerful. "The Menagerie" in particular drags, mostly because you know they're using footage from the pilot to pad out the two-parter to keep the shooting on schedule. It was probably exciting for audiences at the time, but in the age of the Internet, everyone's already seen the first pilot on its own and the episode suffers from redundancy. Much as Spock insists that his tale is too incredible to be believed otherwise, wouldn't everything about Talos IV be in the file that the Commodore shows to Kirk?

And if the Commodore on the Enterprise and shuttlecraft is an illusion, just how far do the Talosians' powers stretch? The implications of that are frightening. Not to mention that Vina and Pike's happiness are more or less dependent on the Talosians remaining eternally benevolent. What happens if one of them gets a bit cranky?

I'll also add the simple observation that all it takes for a woman to find Talos IV a suitable alternative to real life is a threshold level of ugliness; for a man, it's near total incapacitation. No commentary, just putting that out there.

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