Star Trek,The Original Series “The Menagerie”

Star Trek- The Menagerie , “Return to Talos IV”
youtu.be/v5XBfgPy43A?t=2s The full feature.

The Menagerie Review: February 8, 2014 by neoethereal
As the only two-part episode in The Original Series, “The Menagerie” also cleverly serves as a re-telling of the very first Star Trek story ever filmed, “The Cage.” This week on The Uncommon Geek, I examine all of these episodes in full detail, highlighting their connections to other aspects of the Trek mythos. As well, I take a look at the ground broken by Gene Roddenberry concerning the nature of reality, decades before movies like “The Matrix” challenged the perception of our everyday world.

Equipped with little more than a shoestring budget and massive constraints on time with which to work, Gene Roddenberry and his Star Trek production team had to get extremely creative in order to make the show work. Nowhere, in my opinion, is that more evident than here in “The Menagerie,” an entry that served the purpose of buying the production team time to properly finish subsequent episodes, and as well, afforded Gene Roddenberry a unique opportunity to re-tell the story he had wanted to get on the air all along, “The Cage.”

This episode begins with the Enterprise having been called out of its way, to Starbase 11. Confusion arises when the starbase’s commanding officer, Commodore Mendez, reveals to Captain Kirk that the base never sent any message to the Enterprise. Spock claims to have received that message, which puts Kirk into the difficult position of whether to trust the starbase computers, or the word of his first officer and friend.

It turns out that Captain Christopher Pike, the former commander of the Enterprise, who was recently crippled and disfigured in a terrible accident, is on Starbase 11, and suspicion arises that perhaps he relayed a message to Spock. When Kirk finally gets to see Pike, however, he realizes that it would have been impossible for Spock’s former commanding officer to have done this, for Pike is now wheelchair bound, and his communication with others is limited to electronic beeps that fill in for “yes” and “no.

While Kirk and Mendez wrestle over the truth, Spock executes a daring and clever plan to hijack the Enterprise, taking Captain Pike with him. It goes to show just how dangerous an opponent someone as smart and calculating as Spock can be when he puts his mind to it. Spock sets the Enterprise on a locked course for Talos IV, a planet which the ship visited on a past mission under Christopher Pike, and a planet that invites the death penalty upon any Starfleet officer who goes there

The secret file on Talos IV, and the article of General Order 7
I personally find the idea of a death penalty being associated with Talos IV to be somewhat dubious; although there is a very good reason why Starfleet wants the existence of the Talosians kept secret, I find it hard to believe that if the Federation is capable of having a death penalty, that it only applies to one law. It may just be a grand bluff, and indeed, there is some evidence to that effect later in the episode. Regardless, breaking General Order 7 is a serious offense, and Spock is if nothing else, putting his career and livelihood on the line.

Kirk, of course, isn’t going to sit by while his ship is abducted. He and Mendez make a daring attempt to chase the Enterprise in the Shuttlecraft Picasso, knowing full well that while they would never catch up, they would appear on the Enterprise sensors. Kirk gambles his life on the fact that his friend Spock would not leave him to die in the void of space, as the shuttle runs out of fuel. Kirk’s illogical gambit causes Spock’s plan to unravel, and he surrenders himself to custody, pleading guilty to every charge leveled against him. However, Spock has locked the Enterprise into a course for Talos IV that cannot be broken, which will potentially extend the death sentence that is on himself, to Kirk as well.

The court martial that proceeds against Spock is highly unusual; as mentioned, Spock pleads guilty without defense, but through some legal technicality, manages to arrange for the court to hear out his evidence as to why he went through with his illegal actions. Given that Kirk is presiding over the hearing, and that the crew has little else to do but wait until they reach Talos IV, I get the lenience, but I am not sure what real court would remain in session to examine evidence for someone who just admitted their guilt. Or admittedly, maybe I just don’t know enough about legal proceedings.

Spock’s evidence, as it turns out, is a transmission from Talos IV, beamed directly to the Enterprise, which details the vessel’s first trip there under the command of Captain Pike. Of course, this transmission is the original Star Trek pilot, “The Cage,” and from this point on, “The Menagerie” consists almost entirely of footage from that episode.

Aside from some really goofy tech dialogue, and incomplete characterizations, “The Cage” holds up surprisingly well. We get to see that Jeffrey Hunter’s Captain Pike is a darker, colder man than James Kirk; he is someone whose decisions and responsibilities as a commander are weighing on him heavily, and he is nearing the point of considering resignation. Pike’s first officer is only referred to as Number One (played by Majel Barrett), who is an amazing example of a strong female role for 1960’s television, but unfortunately her character had to be discarded by Roddenberry when the studio forced him to choose between keeping his strong, logical female, or his alien Spock. Roddenberry ended up giving Spock Number One’s cold, emotionless, logical persona, and thus the Spock we know and love was born.

It really is a shame that NBC put so much pressure on Roddenberry to alter his concept of women in the 23rd Century; aside from Number One, the other female crew members of the Cage-era Enterprise also seem to be on equal footing with the men, and there isn’t a mini-skirt in sight. Of course, this reviewer by no means, from an aesthetic point view, objects to how the women of the Enterprise look in said mini-skirts, but cheekiness and my own red-blooded male impulses aside, the female officers in Starfleet should have been offered the same, more professional uniform as the males. Unfortunately we would have to wait until The Motion Picture to see more fairness in the way men and women are presented in Star Trek.

When Enterprise finds evidence of human survivors on Talos IV, from a doomed expedition many years ago, Pike, Spock, and an away team beam down to investigate. What at first seems like a wonderful discovery of lost, homesick men, turns out to be just an elaborate, life like illusion created by the Talosians. Pike is abducted when he is lured in by the only true human survivor from the crash, Vina, whom he is extremely attracted to.

Pike is subjected to a variety of illusions crafted by the Talosians, in order to foster cooperation, as well as to strengthen his attraction toward Vina. Vina is presented to Pike in a variety of forms; as a damsel in distress on Rigel VII, as a wife in the countryside on Earth, and as a primal, animalistic Orion slave woman, all in an attempt to make him submit to his situation.

However, Pike is every bit as stubborn as Captain Kirk, and certainly has a darker, more furious edge to him. When he discovers that primitive, base human emotions such as hatred, and anger, block out the Talosian’s illusions and their telepathic abilities, he mines that weakness long enough to take one of them captive. Once the illusion is broken, the Enterprise crew find out that their attempts to break Pike out from his underground cage with phaser fire were actually working, but all along they weren’t able to see it.

The Talosians had, thousands of centuries ago, devastated their planet and their civilization with war. They retreated underground, where their telepathic abilities flourished, but their physical bodies and their technology atrophied. They had apparently been testing various species for many years, looking for a suitable slave race to use for rebuilding their world, but none had shown as much promise as humanity.

However, when the away team threatens to kill themselves with an overloaded phaser, and as well when the Talosians finish screening the Enterprise‘s records, they realize that humans would rather die than be enslaved, and would be too violent to keep in captivity. With of course, the sad exception of Vina, who in reality is too badly disfigured to live a normal life outside of Talos IV.

(I once heard a suggestion that Vina could be repaired using the transporter. I don’t think 23rd century transporters were sophisticated enough for that, plus, there wouldn’t be an original, unaltered version of her pattern to reference.)

The ending of “The Cage” leads us to the final moments of “The Menagerie,” where it is revealed that not only have the Talosians been transmitting a signal to the Enterprise, but even Commodore Mendez himself has been one of their illusions all along!

It is also revealed that Spock’s only intention was to take Captain Pike to Talos IV, so that the crippled starship commander could live out the rest of his life as a healthy, happy man with Vina. Even Kirk seems to relent that it is better to live with an illusion of health and happiness, than a reality of living as a useless vegetable. That Commodore Mendez was an illusion, and that Starfleet sends a signal to the Enterprise, apparently excusing their violation of Talos space, seems to let Spock off the hook. Perhaps too easily in fact; despite acting out of nothing but loyalty to his former Captain, and despite that the way he enacted his plan was done in such a manner as to put the blame only on himself, Spock seems to get out of his predicament with apparently no trouble at all. We can make a guess that perhaps this incident is why he doesn’t receive a promotion or command of his own until years later, but there is nothing spoken on-screen to that effect.

We are also left to ponder about how much of the incident was real at all. Since the Talosians can apparently project their powers through subspace, one wonders just how long they conspired with Spock, and also, how much we see of Mendez was real or an illusion. My guess is that the Mendez we see at the base was real, and what goes onto the shuttle with Kirk was the illusion, but unfortunately, again, there is little to back that up. What we do know for sure is that the Talosian’s powers are not to be trifled with, and it is truly for wise for Starfleet to give them a wide berth.
Despite some problems with logic and consistency, “The Menagerie” is an entertaining, fascinating episode that shows original series Trek at some of its most interestingly cerebral. Gene Roddenberry’s first pilot examines the nature of reality decades before The Matrix did, and asks the questions: What is real? How does one define their purpose, their reality? Is our reality just relative, defined only by experience? Is there a such thing as an absolute reality, or only what our senses perceive, or for that matter what they think they perceive? This is smart, ahead of its time writing for the 1960s.

Through the tragedies that befell both Vina and Pike, we must also question the quality of human life, and the value we place on it. Is it worth staying alive if you can’t function? If your brain is sound but your body is broken, can you still truly live? Speaking for myself, I certainly would despise the existence that Captain Pike is forced to endure in his wheelchair. I’d rather be dead than live that way. I’m not sure how I would react exactly to being forced to live in an illusion, but it is certainly preferable to a reality of uselessness and immobility. Besides, is our everyday life not just an elaborate series of deceptions spun before our very eyes; maybe not as powerful as a trick of telepathy played by an alien race, but an illusion nonetheless?

For even provoking these thoughts, and much more, “The Cage,” and by extension, “The Menagerie,” are what I consider among the best of Star Trek’s purely cerebral stories about human nature. It is imaginative, thoughtful, and quite engaging.

Posted by Morbius19 on 2015-01-17 22:58:50

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