Star Trek Re-Watch: “The Menagerie” Part I

“The Menagerie” Part I
Written by Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Marc Daniels

Season 1, Episode 11
Production episode: 1×15
Original air date: November 17, 1966
Star date: 3012.4

Mission summary
The Enterprise is diverted to Starbase 11 after supposedly receiving a request from Fleet Captain Christopher Pike, the previous captain of the Enterprise and Spock’s former commander. But when Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down, Commodore Mendez informs them that such a transmission was never sent. In fact, it’s impossible for Captain Pike to send any messages, as he was recently the victim of a terrible accident that exposed him to dangerous delta rays. Instead of gaining amazing new superpowers, he was paralyzed and deformed. Pike is now restricted to a wheelchair, his communication limited to blinking lights that signal “yes” and “no.”

Spock talks to Pike alone and indicates that he’s planning something that is tantamount to treachery and mutiny, against Pike’s orders. While Spock puts his plan in motion and nerve pinches a computer technician on the Starbase, Kirk tries to get to the bottom of the mystery. Unwilling to believe Spock capable of deception, he insists that the record tapes must have been forged. As it happens, this is exactly what Spock is working on: manipulating computer tapes to issue false orders to the Enterprise and provide them with a computer program to autopilot the ship to unknown coordinates.

Kirk is beginning to suspect Spock is up to something, but McCoy talks him out of it, claiming that Vulcans are incapable of lying. After McCoy is recalled back to the ship for an unspecified medical emergency, Commodore Mendez releases top secret information to Kirk concerning the planet Talos IV, a location that is completely quarantined under threat of the death penalty. Coincidentally enough, the only ship that has ever visited Talos IV is the Enterprise under command of Captain Pike thirteen years before, with Spock serving as science officer. Just as the pieces of the puzzle click into place, the wheelchair-bound Pike disappears and the Enterprise warps away shortly thereafter.

On the ship, Spock informs the crew that he has been placed in command, demands they maintain radio silence, then takes McCoy to see Captain Pike. McCoy is suspicious of Spock’s actions, but fortunately the Vulcan has a tape for every situation; he plays a recording of Kirk’s voice, instructing the doctor to take care of Pike without questioning him.

Kirk and Mendez follow the Enterprise in a shuttlecraft, certain that Spock is heading for Talos IV. When their shuttle finally runs out of fuel, Spock relents and locks onto the shuttle with the Enterprise’s tractor beam. He turns himself in to McCoy for mutiny and is confined to quarters as Kirk and Mendez beam aboard. Though Spock is no longer in command, the ship is still locked into computer control, unable to change course, which causes Scotty to grumble and rush out of the transporter room.

Facing a preliminary hearing, Spock requests an immediate court-martial and pleads guilty to the charge of mutiny. But much more than his career is at stake; if the ship reaches the Talos stargroup, Spock faces death. A court-martial proceeds with Kirk, Mendez, and Pike (still on active duty out of the pity of Fleet Command) presiding. Mendez asks Spock the reason for his actions, and Spock requests permission to use the monitor to present his evidence: a series of images of unknown origin which accurately recreate Pike’s mission to Talos IV years ago, more perfectly than any ship’s recorder. Indeed, they look so good, they could easily be clips from an unaired pilot for a science fiction series.

Onscreen, we see that Pike is beginning to question his career decision, tired of being responsible for the lives of his crew. When the ship detects a distress signal from Talos IV, he joins a landing party to recover what they believe to be survivors of the S.S. Columbia, a science vessel that crashed there. Among the old men from the original crew, there is one beautiful young woman (isn’t there always?) named Vina, who takes an unusual interest in Pike: “You appear to be healthy and intelligent, Captain. A prime specimen.” She then takes him off alone to show him their “secret”. In a flash, Vina vanishes along with the supposed survivors and their camp, and a hidden door opens in the side of a hill. A group of cerebral-looking Talosians, with enlarged pulsating heads, emerge from the opening and subdue Pike, dragging him back through the door which disappears. The rest of the landing party attempt to gain entry to the door, but their phasers have no effect.

Back in the conference room at Spock’s court-martial, Starfleet Command informs the Enterprise that the images they’re seeing are transmissions from Talos IV, a big no-no according to General Order 7. Kirk is relieved of command and Mendez is placed in charge. With Kirk’s life now on the line as well, Spock still refuses to return manual control of the ship until they have seen all of the images. The court goes to recess and Kirk asks Spock if he’s lost his mind. Spock pleads with him: “Captain, Jim, please don’t stop me. Don’t let him stop me. It’s your career and Captain Pike’s life. You must see the rest of the transmission.” But Kirk is done being a patsy and he has Spock locked up.

This Hugo Award-winning episode is so good, it couldn’t fit in a normal hour. The “Menagerie” is the only two-part episode of Star Trek, which is natural because it really is two episodes in one. As many are probably aware, these episodes are a reworked version of the unused series pilot, “The Cage,” which featured a different crew under the command of Captain Christopher Pike, originally portrayed by Jeffrey Hunter. The old footage is cleverly framed by the story of Spock’s mutiny, allowing Captain Kirk to essentially watch an episode of his own show. It gets a little wacky when in some scenes we’re actually watching Kirk watching the Talosians watching Pike. It’s viewscreens all the way down.

For a cost-saving measure, this is a very successful episode, largely due to the quality of the 1964 pilot episode that makes up the bulk of the two episodes. I saw the high-definition remastered version with new CGI effects in a special theater screening in 2007, and it held up pretty well as a Star Trek film in its own right, largely due to Roddenberry’s script. As with most episodes, the enhanced effects were largely wasted because regardless of the impressive visuals for the time, this is a character piece with some sobering moral and philosophical implications. But we’ll get to those next time.

Though most of “The Cage” appears in the second part of “The Menagerie,” in this installment we’re introduced to Captain Pike and witness a touching scene with his bartender/doctor, Philip Boyce, which is similar to the relationship Kirk shares with Bones. There’s also mention of an odd adventure that led to some crew casualties, for which Pike blames himself: “Oh, I should have smelled trouble when I saw the swords and the armor. Instead of that, I let myself get trapped in that deserted fortress and attacked by one of their warriors.” Raise your hand if you want to see that episode! Fans of TNG may also be delighted when Pike issues a command with a simple “Engage,” and addresses his female first officer as “Number One.”

This episode concerns a lot of themes that recur in the show and films: mainly sacrifice and loyalty. Pike is injured on an inspection tour while trying to save cadets on their training vessel, a decision that left him with an active mind in a useless body. Spock is willing to sacrifice his own life to save his former captain’s, not an easy decision for the loyal first officer who is torn between his equal devotion to Pike and Kirk. Kirk himself is just as committed to Spock, completely blinded by his trust to the point that he defends him unreasonably in the face of the evidence against him. One of the worst things Kirk can face is the betrayal of his best friend.

The question is: are Spock’s actions justified? Without knowing what his ultimate goal is—so far, he simply wants to bring Pike to Talos IV because he thinks there is help for him there—we should examine why Spock will go to such lengths for his old captain. Aside from the loyalty engendered in serving with someone for over eleven years, perhaps it’s Pike’s specific plight that hits the Vulcan so hard. The radiation-scarred Pike’s appearance is far more terrifying than any creature in Star Trek, simply because he is a person like us, trapped in a crippled shell. This is the flip side of the mind wipe in “Dagger of the Mind”: having your thoughts silenced by an uncooperative body, just as happens with stroke victims. What good is intelligence without the ability to communicate? Yet Vulcans value their minds above all else, transcending even their relatively long-lived bodies, so it seems that Spock is driven by sheer compassion for a suffering friend and mentor. Though he executes his plan meticulously, it’s in the big picture that his logic fails him, overridden by his human emotion. As Kirk reminds him many years later, “Sometimes the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.” (Incidentally, Spock’s takeover of the Enterprise is echoed later in the TNG episode “Brothers,” when Data uses some of the same tricks to get himself to his Dr. Soong’s planet, albeit under the influence of a hidden subroutine. It’s lucky these guys are usually on the good side.)

I also found the technology employed to keep Pike alive very interesting from a modern perspective:

MENDEZ: And totally unable to move, Jim. His wheelchair is constructed to respond to his brain waves. Oh, he can turn it, move it forwards, or backwards slightly.
PIPER: With the flashing light, he can say yes or no.
MENDEZ: But that’s it, Jim. That’s as much as that poor devil can do. His mind is as active as yours and mine, but it’s trapped inside a useless vegetating body. He’s kept alive mechanically, a battery-driven heart.

Much of this is the object of cutting-edge research today, and we could probably manage to accomplish most of this at great expense with our existing knowledge.

Interestingly, it’s Dr. McCoy, an old-fashioned medical man who often abhors technology, who is frustrated by even that much, which is nothing short of miraculous: “Blast medicine anyway. We’ve learned to tie into every human organ in the body except one. The brain. The brain is what life is all about.”

You want to learn about the brain, Bones? Be careful what you wish for. As hard as it is to believe, in season three you’ll have Spock’s brain wired to a remote control. Better stock up on fresh batteries.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 6 (on a scale of 1-6)

Torie Atkinson: What a fantastic episode. I’ve never seen this one before, so I genuinely don’t know what’s going to happen and it took so much strength of will to not immediately play the second half (I want to evaluate Part I on its own, without knowing how it’s going to end).

This is very much a Spock piece, and I think that Eugene really nails it when he touches on the themes of loyalty and the incredible value that Spock, as a Vulcan, would place on the mind. Spock’s blind loyalty to Pike and his desperation to save him are, to me, such a very human side of him. McCoy claims that Spock’s human side is “completely submerged,” but I think his actions speak very clearly to how untrue that is.

Pike is such a reminder of how fragile we all are. I loved McCoy’s speech on the subject:

The brain is what life is all about. Now, that man can think any thought that we can, and love, hope, dream as much as we can, but he can’t reach out, and no one can reach in.

Technology in the future can heal us, make us stronger, replace bone and skin and sinew: but it can’t reach the one place that makes us who we are. We’ve seen Kirk and the others struggle with loneliness, but not like this.  It’s a powerful reality to face, moreso for Kirk than anyone else: captains are not invincible. In saving cadets, Pike lost his ability to communicate, ostensibly forever. There was no war, no great battle, only the charge of being responsible for others. It’s a sacrifice that Kirk himself may have to make during the course of his career.

In flashbacks, we see that Pike had become deeply uncomfortable with the burden of responsibility. The previous mission meant the loss of lives, and he’s not sure he has the confidence or the willpower to continue being a leader:

PIKE: You bet I’m tired. You bet. I’m tired of being responsible for two hundred and three lives. I’m tired of deciding which mission is too risky and which isn’t, and who’s going on the landing party and who doesn’t, and who lives and who dies. Boy, I’ve had it, Phil.
BOYCE: To the point of finally taking my advice, a rest leave?
PIKE: To the point of considering resigning.

But there’s a sense of inevitability here—that a captain will always be a captain, whether he wants that burden or not:

PIKE: The point is this isn’t the only life available. There’s a whole galaxy of things to choose from.
BOYCE: Not for you. A man either lives life as it happens to him, meets it head-on, and licks it, or he turns his back on it and starts to wither away.

This theme of responsibility comes full circle at the end, when Mendez makes it clear that Kirk could also be subject to court martial and even the death penalty. As captain he is responsible for everything that happens aboard his ship. But because this is great television, it is not fear of court martial or even death that upsets Kirk: it is the seeming betrayal of his best friend. “In all the years of my service,” he says, “this is the most painful moment I’ve ever faced.”

He’s not alone. Is it just me, or did Spock have tears in his eyes in that final scene?

Torie’s Rating: Warp 6 (on a scale of 1-6)

Best Line: MCCOY: Probably somebody discovered a hangnail. I’ll beam up and let you know, Jim.

Syndication Edits: Lots here: Kirk and Mendez at the shuttlecraft controls, followed by Kirk shutting down the computers; Kirk instructing the Enterprise crewmember to store the shuttlecraft; Kirk repeating to the computer (more slowly this time, to make sure it understands!) that he has voice command to disengage; a scene in the flashback in which Pike’s crew discuss the radio signal; Spock reiterating that the viewscreen events are the actual events (after Pike verifies this); and Kirk walking from table to table at the very end of the episode.

Trivia: In case you were wondering why Spock is limping in the scenes on Talos IV, the original script for “The Cage” indicated that he’d been injured on Rigel VII, in the fight that Pike briefly discusses with Dr. Boyce.

Previous Episode: Season 1, Episode 10 –  “The Corbomite Maneuver.”

Next Episode: Season 1, Episode 12 – “The Menagerie – Part II” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

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About Eugene Myers & Torie Atkinson

EUGENE MYERS has published short fiction in a variety of print and online zines as E.C. Myers. He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. When he isn’t watching Star Trek, he reads and writes young fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is forthcoming from Pyr. TORIE ATKINSON is a NYC-based law student (with a focus on civil rights and economic justice), proofreader, sometime lighting designer, and former blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books.