Season 1, Episode 12
Production episode: 1×16
Original air date: November 24, 1966
Star date: 3013.1
The episode begins with an unusually lengthy Captain’s Log entry, recapping the incredible events of the previous episode. Then we dive back into Spock’s court-martial, now in closed session with just Kirk, Spock, Commodore Mendez, and Captain Pike in attendance. Just like Heroes, there’s no way to block the Talosian images, and no one thinks to just turn off the monitor.
Onscreen, the younger Captain Pike awakens in an episode of The Twilight Zone, inside a glass cage with hypercephalic beings studying him. They speak about him telepathically, analyzing his thoughts and predicting his actions. They say he will throw himself against the “transparency” in a “display of physical prowess,” just before he does. Pike speaks to them, insisting he’ll find a way to escape, but they ignore him as though he were a dumb creature and begin planning some experiments on him.
Through the rather astute observations of Pike’s crew, we learn that the Talosians have the ability to make people see any illusion they wish, drawing on their dreams, memories, and desires. Pike’s captors then make him think he’s back on Rigel VII, with “something more interesting to protect” than just his own life: Vina in the role of a damsel in distress. Pike swiftly twigs to the fact that the battle at the castle isn’t real and refuses to perform like an animal, but fights the dentally-challenged Kaylars anyway when Vina seems to be in danger. Pike and the girl reappear in his cell, where she has slipped into something more comfortable.
The Talosians abruptly cut off the transmission when they realize Pike has been dozing off in the courtroom (he’s seen this episode before, of course), and Kirk realizes that they actually care about his well-being. When they finally continue the court proceedings, with the planet Talos IV now only an hour away, the images resume. Pike questions Vina:
PIKE: Why are you here?
VINA: To please you.
PIKE: Are you real?
VINA: As real as you wish.
Well, that doesn’t sound too bad. But Pike has his mind on other things at the moment: “Yes. Yes, you can please me. You can tell me about them. Is there any way I can keep them from probing my mind, from using my thoughts against me?” Vina is too frightened to tell him the obvious solution—to wrap his head in tinfoil. And where would he get the aluminum anyway, transparent or otherwise?
Up on the planet’s surface, Number One tries to blast through the door in the knoll with a phaser cannon, but it doesn’t have any effect. Dr. Boyce speculates that “(t)heir power of illusion is so great, we can’t be sure of anything we do, anything we see.”
While they chew on that, Vina reveals more about the Talosians, warning Pike that they can’t control him but they can punish him.
PIKE: So the Talosians who came underground found life limited here and they concentrated on developing their mental power.
VINA: But they found it’s a trap, like a narcotic, because when dreams become more important than reality, you give up travel, building, creating. You even forget how to repair the machines left behind by your ancestors. You just sit, living and reliving other lives left behind in the thought record.
PIKE: Or sit probing minds of zoo specimens like me.
VINA: You’re better than a theater to them. They create the illusion for you, they watch you react, feel your emotions. They have a whole collection of specimens, descendants of life brought back long ago from all over this part of the galaxy.
PIKE: Which means they had to have more than one of each animal.
Pike understands now that he’s meant to be the Adam to Vina’s Eve, breeding stock for Talosian slaves to rebuild their dead world. The Talosians take Vina off for punishment, leaving only her clothes behind, and try to feed Pike a delicious “protein complex” in a vial. He refuses and they torture him with images of hellfire, called up from some fable he heard as a child. (Parents, reading to your children is terrific, but don’t start with Dante’s Inferno.)
Pike and his Keeper engage in a mismatched conversation, with him questioning their abilities while the Keeper keeps trying to sell Vina; it even deigns to use its mouth to speak this time. He learns that Vina is the only survivor of the Columbia’s crash-landing, and that the Talosians repaired her severe injuries before searching for a suitable mate. Pike also finds he is able to surprise the Keeper when he lunges at the transparency, as though it couldn’t read his thoughts for a moment. Vina confirms this when she’s reunited with him in his dream of a picnic on Earth: they can’t read through “primitive emotions” like hate. This apparently doesn’t include lust, because the next stop on Pike’s magical mystery tour is an Orion slave house, where a green-skinned Vina dances sensuously for him.
Kirk perks up a bit and checks to make sure the computer is recording the images for later. Before things get too awkward in the courtroom, a landing party onscreen prepares to beam into the Talosians’ underground compound. But only Number One and Yeoman Colt are transported to Pike’s location, seriously pissing off Vina. The Talosians are offering Pike his choice of the three women: Vina, Number One with her superior intellect, or Colt with her “unusually strong female drives.” Pike resists, filling his mind with violent intentions toward the Keeper, and the Keeper calmly replies with the Orwellian statement: “Wrong thinking is punishable. Right thinking will be as quickly rewarded. You will find it an effective combination.”
Pike makes the only clear choice: he sleeps with all three of the women, or at least pretends to. While the Keeper thinks they’re unconscious, it sneaks in to steal their laser guns and Pike grabs it. It tries to shake him by transforming into a beast but he holds on and eventually subdues it. The Keeper threatens to destroy the Enterprise, but for some reason Pike decides it’s too smart to kill needlessly. Pike’s pretty smart too; he fires a laser gun at the transparency and assumes that it’s blasted a hole even though he can’t see it. He threatens the Keeper until it shows him that he’s right.
Perhaps embarrassed at revealing what is hardly their finest hour, the Talosians temporarily cease the transmission and in the courtroom, Kirk, Mendez, and Pike unanimously declare Spock is guilty as charged. The bridge informs them that the ship has arrived at Talos, and Spock says its now under the aliens’ control. The images continue, showing Pike and his harem on the surface of Talos IV. Number One threatens to blow them all up with an overloaded laser gun rather than submit to slavery. The Talosians check the Enterprise’s databanks and discover to their complete shock that humans don’t like to be imprisoned! If only they had, you know, actually listened to Pike when he repeatedly told them he would like to be set free, please.
KEEPER: We had not believed this possible. The customs and history of your race show a unique hatred of captivity. Even when it’s pleasant and benevolent, you prefer death. This makes you too violent and dangerous a species for our needs.
The Keeper’s really bummed because they liked Pike best of all their specimens and without him their own race is doomed, but they send Number One and Colt back to the ship. As a final parting gift, they show Pike what he’s giving up: Vina’s true, horribly misshapen form. She’s old, too.
VINA: They found me in the wreckage, dying, a lump of flesh. They rebuilt me. Everything works, but they had never seen a human. They had no guide for putting me back together.
Onscreen, Pike returns to the Enterprise and they get the hell out of there. In the courtroom, Commodore Mendez suddenly vanishes while Kirk is speaking to him. The Keeper appears on the monitor and explains everything:
What you now seem to hear, Captain Kirk, are my thought transmissions. The Commodore was never aboard your vessel. His presence there and in the shuttlecraft was an illusion. Mister Spock had related to us your strength of will. It was thought the fiction of a court-martial would divert you from too soon regaining control of your vessel. Captain Pike is welcome to spend the rest of his life with us, unfettered by his physical body. The decision is yours and his.
Kirk suggests that Spock should have talked to him before setting up this elaborate ruse, but Spock insists he didn’t want Kirk to risk the death penalty—the same death penalty that a moment later Mendez revokes via subspace transmission from Starbase 11.
Kirk asks Pike if he wants to go to Talos IV and he beeps yes. Kirk tells Spock to take Pike to the transporter room to begin his new life, adding that they’ll have to discuss the Vulcan’s “flagrant emotionalism.” Onscreen, Kirk immediately sees Pike—young again—walking hand-in-hand with Vina on the planet. The Keeper bids him farewell with a typically misguided comment: “Captain Pike has an illusion, and you have reality. May you find your way as pleasant.”
This is a fairly strong conclusion of the two-part episode, with quite a few surprises and some solid storytelling. That’s mainly because the bulk of this half lies in “The Cage,” which generally holds up as a good episode in its own right.
Pike’s reasoning ability and capable mind is impressive, especially under the conditions in which we see him. It’s the “adaptability” the Talosians admire in him that makes him an unsuitable zoo specimen/slave, not the violence of humanity (or at least, not “just” the danger humans pose to themselves and others). But what is it that drives him? It isn’t even his desire for freedom that lets him hold out so long against the Talosians’ temptations—his responsibility to his ship and crew overrides all. Before Number One pulls her clever but drastic stunt with the overloading laser gun, Pike offers to stay with Vina after all, as long as his crew is kept safe. After the Talosians dismiss him, he even suggests they trade and cooperate with each other, but the pessimistic Talosians say “Your race would learn our power of illusion and destroy itself, too.” This is unexpected compassion on both their parts, given the circumstances. Considering the care they later show to the injured Pike, their hearts are as soft as their big squishy heads.
The frame narrative, as limited as it is, is weaker in this episode than the last. But it is not without its merits. In addition to the surprise twists of Pike’s experience on Talos IV (especially the reveal of Vina’s actual appearance), we also have the surprise that the Mendez who accompanied Kirk was a long-distance Talosian illusion, meant only to delay him from stopping Spock before the ship could reach their planet. This is a fairly mind-blowing development, but it also seemed somewhat unnecessary. Kirk is right—Spock should have said something. He maintains that his actions were “completely logical,” but I still don’t buy it. I believe that last exchange with Kirk over not insulting him about his emotional response is only meant to show that their friendship is still intact, and there won’t be any official consequences for Spock’s mutiny. They can joke with each other again now that the troubling situation is behind them, but if Kirk does hold onto any lingering doubt over the trustworthiness of his first officer, he’d be perfectly in the right. He might also take some comfort in knowing that if he were ever in Pike’s chair, that Spock would do the same for him. And in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Kirk gets a chance to help his friend instead.
Most frustrating to me is the fact that Spock’s reason for not confiding in Kirk—the death penalty—is invalidated when the punishment is conveniently removed as soon as they regain contact with the starbase. Who knows what might have happened if the situation were explained from the beginning? Kirk and Mendez are not unreasonable men, after all. Even considering these issues with the resolution, it’s great that the episode could pull the rug out from under viewers, without relying on a twist completely out of left field. This is perhaps a matter of perspective though. What do you think of Spock’s approach?
Following up on the horror of Pike the elder’s condition, we see Vina as a kind of Frankenstein monster, the result of the Talosian’s attempts to heal her. If she were damaged enough that they had to physically put her back together, then I think they probably did a decent job given their lack of knowledge. Then again, how hard is it to assume that the bipedal creature they found might bear some similarity to the physiology of their own species? (As horrible as it is to admit, when I saw Vina’s malformed body, I thought “Oh good, now she and Pike are a perfect match for each other.” I know, I’m a bad person.) But since we’re on the topic… I imagine Pike has an easy choice: a miserable life trapped in a useless body, or a life that conforms to his every desire. But such a life would still be only an illusion. Under those conditions, which would you opt for?
On another note, it turns out that as awesome as Pike’s story about Rigel VII sounded, seeing it onscreen demonstrated that it wouldn’t make for a good episode after all.
As much as I like this episode, and especially the two parts of “The Menagerie” as a whole, the ending seemed a little too contrived and pat for my tastes, so I’ve deducted slightly from my rating.
Eugene’s Rating: Warp 5 (on a scale of 1-6)
Torie Atkinson: I, too, was a little disappointed with the reveals of this episode. I’m not clear about why visiting Talos IV has a death penalty: I can see why you shouldn’t go there (you could be captured and put in a cage), but why the death penalty? I guess I was hoping for something a bit more dramatic to actually merit such a harsh punishment. I also didn’t buy the disfigured Vina: they can get into her thoughts and memories but they don’t know what a human looks like? Skeptical Torie is skeptical!
That said, I really love the essence of this episode, which is the importance of freedom to the human spirit and the power of thought and imagination. Nothing is impossible for mankind because we can imagine. Even when it seems hopeless, Pike assures the Talosians: “There’s a way out of any cage, and I’ll find it.” His ingenuity and his ability to outthink the illusory puzzles utterly impressed me (as it must have impressed the Talosians). The Talosians seem to understand that about humans and keep attempting to cage him despite that knowledge. When Vina becomes an Orion slave-girl, one of the hedonists with Pike suggests that this life is “worth a man’s soul.” It’s not, of course, because our souls need to be free. Our imaginations demand more than simply pleasure: we need challenges, new experiences, and the unknown.
Finally: what did you guys think of the show within a show? I still prefer the series we got, but I don’t think I would’ve been disappointed with the alternative! Pike’s determined and he’s confident in his own abilities. That tenacity and enthusiasm are infectious and he makes a great leading man. I loved that neither of the two women were interested in Pike romantically—that would have been so easy and they didn’t go there. And can I just say that Majel Barret kicked ass? She’s smart, she’s confident, and she’s not afraid to die.
Torie’s Rating: Warp 5 (on a scale of 1-6)
Best Line: Pike: “I’m willing to bet you’ve created an illusion this laser is empty. I think it just blasted a hole in that window and you’re keep us from seeing it. You want me to test my theory out on your head?”
Syndication Edits: The first discussion between Pike and Vina in Pike’s cage; Pike’s crew setting up the laser cannon (let me repeat: LASER CANNON); a shot of Pike exploring his cell before the nutrient drink appears; chunks of the Vina-as-Orion-girl-dance; Vina jealously remarking on Number One and the other chick; and a second Pike speech on his primitive thoughts.
Trivia: Though the actors playing the Talosians are all female, male voices were dubbed in. Malachi Throne, who plays Commodore Mendez, provided the voice of the Keeper in the original version of “The Cage,” but his voice was replaced by Vic Perrin here.
In the original script, McCoy and Scott have a scene wherein they explain to Kirk how they figured out which computer bank Spock tampered with to lock the ship on course. They took perspiration readings on all banks, and since Spock’s sweat has copper in it, traces of copper were found.
Previous Episode: Season 1, Episode 11 – “The Menagerie” Part I.
This post originally appeared on Tor.com.