STAR TREK (TOS): THE MENAGERIE: Captain Pike Has an Illusion and You Have Reality

****
“THE MANAGERIE”
Season 1, Episodes 11 & 12 (Production 16), Story 11 & 12
Written by Gene Roddenberry; Directed by Marc Daniels and Robert Butler
PLOT: Spock kidnaps Captain Pike, steals the Enterprise, and almost gets court-martialed.
SUBPLOT: Can Kirk figure out what Spock is doing?
KIRKISM: “A Vulcan can no sooner be disloyal than he can exist without breathing.”
HEADER QUOTE SPOKEN BY: A Talosian

THE MENAGERIE is a real cracker of a story that combines new footage with footage from THE CAGE, the original STAR TREK pilot. I like Part I enough that I’d say it’s the first episode of the series that I’d give a 5-star rating to, while Part II bogs down a bit as the court martial of Spock is largely spent watching TV. Apparently the decision was made to resurrect the failed pilot in order to save time and money and they make clever use of the footage, even if Part II loses much of the mystery and suspense of Part I in order to show a good bit of the pilot.

Part I gets started with an intriguing set-up. The Enterprise lands at Starbase 11 because they’ve received a message asking them to divert from their mission to the base, but the base has no record of ever sending that message, meaning either Spock lied about receiving the message or something sinister is going on at Starbase. This is the best part of the entire serial, as we see Kirk vigorously defending Spock to Commodore Mendez at the same time we’re seeing Spock acting all traitorous around the compound.

There’s a really silly bit with Spock feeding what sounds like wooden blocks into a computer in order to fake an order, but it’s easy enough to read past all the clicking and concentrate on Spock’s actions. It’s just such a fantastic sequence to see Spock rendering other Starfleet personnel unconscious as he sends the Enterprise on a mission of his own devising. He completely takes advantage of the trust the other members of the Enterprise have in him in order to get the Enterprise to Starbase, to smuggle Captain Pike away, and to leave Kirk behind in his quest to get to Talos 4. There’s a really unnecessary bit with Talos 4 being the one planet in the galaxy the Federation isn’t allowed to visit that’s just incredibly weak writing from Roddenberry.

I hate these artificial moments when a character has to tell you how serious everything is that’s happening. There’s really no need to make Talos 4 the “forbidden planet” that carries with it the death penalty for anyone traveling to the planet. Spock’s disobeying orders and facing a court-martial is enough, and it unnecessarily traps future writers.

The current Captain Pike (played in the present by Sean Kenney instead of Jeffrey Hunter) lives inside a machine, all Davros-like in appearance, but Pike can’t talk. He blinks. Through his chair. Awesome. (And yeah, I know Pike pre-dates Davros by almost a decade, but this is more of a DOCTOR WHO blog than a Star Trek blog, so deal. Remember, I’ve never seen any of these episodes before, so you’re getting my initial take on this stuff.)

So Spock smuggles Pike onto the Enterprise and takes off, stranding Kirk on Starbase. Kirk isn’t having this, of course, because as cute as Miss Piper might be, Kirk’s more into his ship. He takes Commodore Mendez (or does he …?) aboard a shuttle and goes after the Enterprise, leading to a silly chase between this massive ship and a little, rinky dink shuttle. I’m not sure why this works and the Enterprise isn’t so far ahead of the shuttle that it wouldn’t even notice it, but it doesn’t and by the time Spock realizes that the shuttle isn’t going to turn back and thus strand itself in the middle of space, condemning its occupants to death, he beams Kirk and Mendez aboard.

Now … I don’t know … I mean, are we really supposed to believe that the shuttles in Star Trek don’t have some kind of air recycling system? What the stupid is that?

The appearance of the shuttle forces Spock to turn himself in to McCoy and when Kirk and Mendez arrive they put him on trial. At his trial, in which Kirk, Mendez, and Pike serve as the tribunal, Spock tricks Mendez into letting him show footage, and that footage is THE CAGE.

I really like the idea that THE CAGE took place over a decade ago and that, minus Spock, it’s a completely different crew. The Doctor seems awesome, but the rest of the crew seems pretty tedious. Captain Pike is much more the 1950s sci-fi action hero than Kirk with his deep voice and big chin. He seems like a total lame-ass, to be honest, and he breaks one of my cardinal rules about watching superheroes. And, okay, this isn’t a superhero show, but the rule remains – I hate watching shows about people with cool jobs who don’t want that cool job.

Pike is all, “maybe I’ll retire and go back to the farm” or some crap and right there I start hoping he dies or goes away. These stories almost always suck (The Dark Knight is an obvious exception because The Dark Knight actually follows through on why someone wouldn’t want to be a superhero.) The Enterprise picks up a distress call, but Pike doesn’t want to be bothered tracking it down, but the crew finds evidence of survivors and he has to make a rescue attempt.

They find a bunch of survivors including a blonde hottie that all the men fawn over. (Roddenberry has some weird ideas of sexuality; he did the same, “men stare dumb-eyed” bit back in MUDD’S WOMEN, too. I’ve seen some amazingly beautiful women in my time, but none of them have rendered a room full of dudes stupid.) The Enterprise away team is being all helpful but the blonde, Vina, lures Pike away where the Talosians show up and kidnap Pike.

They turn Pike into a living exhibit, intending for him and Vina to breed them a bunch of slaves. The Talosians keep inserting different scenarios in Pike’s mind in an attempt to get him to bond with Vina. It’s a silly idea for a pilot episode, but it’s moderately fun to watch.

Of particular note is the famous sequence with Vina painted green, although it includes the idiotic line from Mendez about how these green-skinned women are Orion slave girls and irresistible: “They’re like animals, vicious, seductive. They say no human male can resist them.” More weird Roddenberry sexuality.

The show intercuts these bits with Spock and Kirk and Mendez arguing at the trial, and these sequences have no power to them at all. The energy that was present in Part I is nearly completely absent in Part II. The only real mystery left is why is Spock bringing Pike to Talos 4, and that’s answered with a semi-satisfying conclusion. The Talosians are allowing Pike to come back and live out his life as an illusion with Vina. See, Vina is actually all damaged-looking, too, so the two of them will get to be young and pretty inside an illusion forever and ever.

I wouldn’t mind seeing the implications of that teased out a bit, but other than a small protest from Kirk, everyone just accepts this as a better life for Pike than living as a vegetable in a chair. Pike’s mind is active and he agrees to it, so I’m not saying they shouldn’t have let him go, but that’s one hell of a pile of paperwork to fill out for Kirk when they get home. This is complicated by Mendez being revealed as a Talosian illusion, but what can you do? They weren’t really going to kick Spock off the show and episodic television largely demands the illusion and threat of change more than change itself, so the cosmic reset button is going to get hit quite often.

I really like THE MENAGERIE, PART I, but PART II wanes. Still, this two-parter is as good as any other episode I’ve seen through this point.

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2 thoughts on “STAR TREK (TOS): THE MENAGERIE: Captain Pike Has an Illusion and You Have Reality

  1. This is the episode I like to recommend to people who insist that Vulcans have no emotions. In point of fact, they do…they’ve just learned over hundreds of generations how to keep ‘em locked down. Spock, being half-human has a harder time of it than purebred Vulcans. But it’s as obvious as an Acme safe dropping on an unprotected coyote that Spock demonstrates loyalty, sympathy and downright affection toward his former commanding officer to risk everything to see that he can live out the rest of his life in happiness and comfort.

    I don’t like Mendes being a Talosian illusion. The first time I saw this I figured that Mendes would be the one to go back to Starfleet and smooth over everything for Spock.

    Weird Roddenberry sexuality or whatever…I think green women are amazingly hot.

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  2. Oh, no doubt about the green. I’m perfectly cool with that, but it’s the ongoing trope of women so beautiful they render men dumb that’s weird to me. The Orion slave girls might be irresistible, but we’ve already seen Vina here and the three ladies in MUDD’S WOMEN have the same kind of effect.

    And I agree on Spock, too. He’s got plenty of emotions so far in the series; it’s more a matter of how he controls and funnels those emotions much more than any kind of lack of emotion. It makes him a much more interesting character.

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