Star Trek Pilot- “The Cage”

The Watching Commences!

Alright! I got this watch-through started tonight and I am actually a little embarrassed to admit that I didn’t really know exactly how I was going to do this. I think it is one thing to say “I am going to watch all of Star Trek!”- it’s definitely something completely different to blog about each episode. I am up for the challenge, but tonight was when I realized that I actually had to figure out what this is going to look like.

I started off with the notes app on my phone open and paused to take notes whenever I thought that something was important or if I had thoughts or feelings. There was a lot of pausing involved. My fiance was out cleaning her car and by the time that she came back inside, I am pretty sure I was only about half way through the episode and over an hour had passed. We did some brainstorming and decided that this system was not going to work if I am going to get through all of Star Trek. So, I decided to just watch the episode and see what happened.

So here I am! I watched the episode and I definitely have things to talk about!

Brief Summary

This episode was the first pilot created for Star Trek in 1965 that was rejected by NBC. While it was initially rejected, a lot of the footage from it was later incorporated into a two-part story arc “The Menagerie” in the first season of The Original Series. The story takes place 13 years before the adventures of Kirk’s Enterprise crew in The Original Series.

In this story, Captain Christopher Pike and his crew pick up an 18 year old distress signal from the S.S. Columbia in the Talos solar system indicating that the ship had crashed. Captain Pike and a landing party beam down to the fourth plant, dubbed Talos IV, to investigate. There they find a group of surviving scientists in a camp of tattered clothes and ship remnants. The only female survivor, Vina, lures Captain Pike away where he is knocked out and captured by aliens known as the Talosians. When he awakens, he finds himself in a kind of zoo and discovers that the Talosians can not only read his mind, but can create illusions that look and feel real to the person perceiving them. This is discovered by the crew when the crash site and survivors suddenly disappear.

Captain Pike is less than thrilled about being kept in a cage, but gets even more upset and confused when the Talosians start conducting experiments with him by immersing him in hyper-realistic scenes where he interacts with the illusion. One thing he discovers to be consistent in each illusion is Vina. He discovers that Vina is not an illusion, but the only survivor from the crash. He has a lot of questions for Vina about the Talosians, which she is hesitant to answer, fearing that the Talosians will punish her. Captain Pike eventually uncovers that the Talosians intend for him to fall in love with Vina so that they can reproduce and create a community of humans, bred to serve the Talosians. Captain Pike is having none of that so the Talosians try to sweeten the deal by beaming down two women from the Enterprise to give him some “options”.

In the end, Captain Pike escapes the cage with his entourage of ladies and a Talosian captive. The Talosian tries to be all like “teehee we meant for that to happen, we have huge brains and are super smart and now you can create a whole human colony for us on this planet”, but then one of the ladies sets a phaser to blow up and destroy them all! The Talosian is shook and after assimilating all of the knowledge of the Enterprise memory banks, realizes that humans hate captivity too much to be useful. He decides to let them go.

Captain Pike urges Vina to come with them, but the Talosians reveal that Vina is horribly disfigured and that her beautiful appearance had been an illusion. She had survived the crash of her ship, but the Talosians didn’t know what a human looked like and didn’t put her back together correctly. Captain Pike understands Vina’s need to stay, but as he is getting ready to leave, he sees that the Talosians gave Vina an illusion Captain Pike of her own and they run off into the sunset together (actually its more like an elevator, but still cute).

Star Trek…kinda

For an episode that was created 55 years ago, it has held up surprisingly well against the test of time. It is still very watchable and it really has a classic Science Fiction feel to it. The Talosions look like very archetypal aliens (big heads, metallic outfits).

While this episode definitely has a lot of similarities to Star Trek (or at least the Star Trek that I have seen, which would be The Original Series), I really perceived that it creates a different vibe and feeling and I think that there are a lot of things that contributed to that.

For starters, although this is the first episode with Captain Pike, he discusses being exhausted from his captain’s duties and is considering resigning. I think this is a really odd tone to start out with and for me he really just doesn’t compare to Captain Kirk who is lively and motivated.

I think that the crew of the pilot, as a whole are a lot more of a serious crew and there isn’t really that quirky element of fun that I have come to expect from Star Trek. Captain Pike himself rarely smiles and in tense moments he dons a straight face instead of a look of concentration, or thought, or any sort of personality. Number One, the female first lieutenant is also a pretty emotionless person and is pretty flat in all of her parts. Spock, who is normally a pretty serious character in The Original Series was honestly one of the most lively characters in this episode and while he wasn’t the Spock that we were used to (with his shaggy hair and his SMILES), he really added some life to this version of the Enterprise crew.

In comparison to a lot of episodes of Star Trek that I have seen, this is a pretty slow episode. There are a lot of shots of Captain Pike brooding and being agitated and a lot of shots of the Talosians just watching him and being like “ahh yes hmmm the specimen”.

My last criticism that I think made this feel different to me was the crew’s connection to the captain. There are a LOT of episodes of The Original Series where Kirk is captured, and while those parts always stress me out, I know that his crew is going to rescue him. Even when the aliens try to trick the crew, they are smart enough, and know their captain well enough to see through the tricks. This episode didn’t give me the same sense about Captain Pike and his crew. I think the stakes felt lower for the crew and there is even a part where they are going to leave him behind.

Things I Am Glad They Changed

Spock. His character is so much more intentional and consistent in The Original Series. I feel like his character was a little all over the place in this episode.

The Uniforms. Oh my goodness the ones in this episode are god awful.

The phasers and communicators. The series is intended to take place in the far future, and the gadgets they use in this episode are a little tacky, whereas the ones they change them to look cool and futuristic.

The Bridge. The bridge in this episode is grey and monotone with such a lack of color (paired with the very dull uniforms it is a whole mood that I am not about).

The hallways of the Enterprise. They opened up the hallways a lot more in The Original Series and it makes it a lot more of a use-able and aesthetically pleasing space.

The Captain. Sorry Pike, I am definitely a Kirk fan.

The Crew. This crew, as I mentioned was way too serious as a whole. In The Original Series, the crew add so much more life and personality to each episode.

The Beginning Credits. While the beginning credits of the pilot are similar, it just isn’t as good. The graphics are a little tacky and even just the way that they capture the Enterprise’s flight pattern and the way that space looks is immensely improved in future versions.

Overall Thoughts

Star Trek: How The Show Would Be Different With The Pilot's ...

Now I know it sounds like I have a lot of criticism for the episode, which I think is fair, as it did not move forward to become Star Trek, but I don’t mean these criticisms to say that the episode isn’t good or that I don’t like it. This is actually probably the Star Trek episode that I have seen the most, since I have watched it a few times when I thought I was going to re-watch Star Trek (I always start at the beginning), and it is also in “The Menagerie”.

I am glad that this episode isn’t the actual pilot, because I feel like it would have been a weird tone to begin the series on, but I can appreciate it because it paved the way for Star Trek to become what it is. *Insert “this bitch walked so that peppa could run” sound bite.*

I also think that like most episodes of Star Trek, this episode had some positive messages. Vina explains to Pike that to the Talosians, illusions function as a kind of narcotic and have caused them to lose their creativity, their ambition, and ultimately their reality. This definitely warns us that if we focus solely on dreams, we will fail to confront the reality around us and will ultimately remain stagnant. Pike also learns throughout the episode that living involves some hardships, but you can either choose to confront those hardships and make the most of them, or turn your back on them and begin dying.

I think overall, despite its pitfalls, this is such a classic and while it definitely isn’t my favorite episode of Star Trek by any means, it definitely makes for a solid re-watch.

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