Boldly Going: “The Cage”

9 Sep

Originally published January 26, 2010 at TVVerdict.com

And so it is that I dive into “The Cage,” the original pilot shot for Star Trek in 1965 but not aired until over 30 years later. What’s most notable about the episode is that it features hardly any of the characters that would eventually make up the crew of the Enterprise — including the Captain himself, James T. Kirk. At the helm of “The Cage” is original captain Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter), a square-jawed and mostly humorless hero straight out of 1950s sci-fi. The only eventual crew member to show up on “The Cage” is Leonard Nimoy’s Spock, but even he isn’t yet exactly what he would eventually become — he’s less stoic and serious, even delivering his final lines of the show with half a smile. The rest of the crew in the pilot is mostly a generic collection of white faces; I guess the Enterprise hadn’t yet become the melting pot that Star Trek would turn out to be. “The Cage”

Stardate: Unknown

Original Air Date: October 15, 1988

The Story: The USS Enterprise answers a distress call from a nearby planet, and, once on the surface, discover a colony of human scientists that had gone missing nearly two decades ago. One of the scientists happens to be a foxy blond named Vina, who catches the eye of Captain Pike until she — and everyone else — suddenly vanish. They were all an illusion created by the bulb-headed Talosians, an mind-reading alien race that captures Pike and places him inside a cage. The subterranean Talosians want Pike and Vina (who now appears back in the cage) to get freaky and repopulate their planet with a race of slaves. Not cool. To make their proposal more enticing to Pike, they create a series of fantasy scenarios, recasting Pike and Vina in new roles each time: she’s a princess in need of rescuing, she’s a hot green alien, she’s a farm girl. They should have tried sexy librarian, which no man can resist. Pike does resist, though, and so the Talosians beam down the female crew members of the Enterprise. Pike and the ladies stage and escape, but are confronted by the Talosians before they return to their ship. Pike threatens to kill himself rather than be their stud, so the Talosians back down, offering some excuse about how humans are too violent anyway. Shouldn’t they have figured that out before they tried to populate their entire planet with humans? Live and learn, I guess. Pike tries to take Vina back aboard the Enterprise with him, but she explains that she must return underground with the Talosians. She really had crashed on the planet 18 years earlier, and was totally jacked up in the process; the Talosians “repaired” her and had been using their powers of illusion to make her appear normal and foxy. Before leaving, the aliens do Vina a solid and create an illusion of Pike to keep her company. They’re not all bad.

Reflections from a First Timer: I’m already putting way too much pressure on myself because this is technically both the first episode of Star Trek and the first installment of Boldly Going, but I still managed to really enjoy “The Cage.” No, Christopher Pike is no Jim Kirk (Kirk, for one, would have closed the deal with the make-believe pretty chick), but I was impressed that the series basically opens with the captain of the Enterprise bitching about how he doesn’t want the responsibility. He’s burned out and tired, and those are not necessarily the first traits we expect to learn about our hero in a 1960s television series. Already, Star Trekis distinguishing itself.

Watching “The Cage,” I was reminded of Steven Soderbergh’s remake of the Russian sci-fi film Solaris. Both deal with essentially the same premise: would you prefer to live in a fantasy — knowing that it’s a construct — or the cold and sometimes cruel reality of life? Soderbergh’s hero desired the fantasy because he was deeply sad and lonely; for Pike, it could be a viable alternative to his unhappy existence commanding a starship. But because Pike is somewhat one-dimensional (after those opening moments, which promised more), it’s never really a choice. He just wants out of that damn cage.

It’s neat that the bulb-headed alien race Pike and company encounter (looking like a cross between human Mars Attacks! martians and Vincent Price’s Egghead on the old Batman TV show) aren’t really all that villainous — they’re simply trying to rebuild their numbers (cue Barry White: awwww, yeah). They even offer Pike a variety of choices for his fantasy, turning foxy blonde Vina into a number of different characters (including the first appearance of the hot green-skinned alien) and, when that fails, offering up the ladies on Pike’s crew. Pike’s a square, so he’ll have none of it; Kirk would have tapped all that. Still, though, how novel that Star Trek is offering aliens that aren’t just out for destruction and war right out of the gate. Their methods are all wrong, and they are essentially trying to create a race of slaves — which, we can all agree, is wrong. I prefer to see them as matchmakers. Still, when their bluff is called they back down and allow Pike and the gang to go their own way. They also show some kindness towards Vina in the closing moments, which is more than they had previously shown to be capable of. They’re not bad guys, just misunderstood. And kind of bad. Because of the slave thing.

In an episode that contained several cool and heady moments (in more ways than one), I defy anyone not to be a little unnerved when Vina’s true appearance is revealed. The Talosians wanted to rebuild her, but had never seen a human before and had no point of reference. Let’s just say they got it wrong. Cooool.

The fact that I liked “The Cage” as much as I did bodes well for my little experiment this early on, because it’s not even Star Trek yet. Once Shatner shows up, it’s gonna be ON.

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3 Responses to “Boldly Going: “The Cage””

  1. Darren November 1, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    Comment

    Patrick, it’s almost as though you don’t want people to find this Blog. You mentioned your episode reviews during your F This Movie podcast on the Star Trek reboot but the TVverdict site seems to be defunct and you haven’t posted a link to this Blog. As a life long fan of Star Trek I’m quite interested in an articulate new fan’s fresh perspective so I had to actively seek this blog out.

    I prefer to show newcomers to Star Trek (ie. girlfriends I’m trying to indoctrinate) the series in production order rather than original airdate order. Even though each episode is self contained there is a sense, particularly with Spock’s demonstrations of his Vulcan abilities, that certain episodes occur before others. Also there’s a learning curve that the series creators were on that’s interesting to observe.

    The Cage is one exception. I never watch it in its original pilot format. The footage was recycled into another episode featuring the familiar Enterprise crew by creating a wrap-around story and I think it plays out far more interestingly in that context.

    Anyway, keep ‘em coming.

  2. PATRICK BROMLEY November 2, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

    Hi, Darren –
    I promise I’m not keeping the blog a secret, but I have been keeping it under the radar somewhat until it’s a bit more established. I didn’t want to run around publicizing a blog that only had a handful of posts, and figured it would be better to wait until I figured out exactly what I want to do with it. We both know that’s probably not going to happen, though, because pretty much everything is a work in progress. That being said, I’m really glad you found it! Thanks!

    I totally agree with you about The Cage. If I go back and watch The Original Series (not so much ‘if’ as ‘when’), I think I’ll take a page from you and just watch ‘The Menagerie Parts I and II.’ The frame story works better, and seeing what eventually comes of Captain Pike makes the whole thing so very, very sad.

    I really appreciate you reading and commenting! Hope you’ll stick with me!

  3. Nick February 15, 2012 at 4:51 pm #

    I liked the original pilot but it really makes you wonder how well Trek would have done if the suits really liked Hunter and Roddenberry went ahead with the cast as it was. Cest la vie. The suits wanted a second pilot and the awesomeness that is James T. Kirk was born.

    To add to the conversation, here is some fun tidbits about The Cage:

    -Spock was the only character to survive the first pilot, though his personality traits changed to make him much less emotional which gave birth to the Vulcan Logic. In fact the TV execs wanted Spock gone but Roddenberry fought them for it. 🙂

    -The Orion slave girl in The Cage is the green we all know and love. At first Roddenberry and crew thought that the green paint was not showing up on film. They later learned that the film processing team thought the green color was an error and kept color correcting it!

    Keep up the good work Patrick!

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