So, I have long since thought of myself as the World’s Worst Trekkie.
Star Trek has been a part of my life since I was about five years old, when I reluctantly watched some episode or another of TNG with my dad and ended up loving it. If I wasn’t a fan, I never would have written for a Trek RPG, which means I never would have made some really good friends, nor would I have cosplayed various versions of Spock again and again. I also have to seriously question where my writing skill level would be at today, so yeah, obviously Trek has been an important part of my life.
But my journey with the franchise hasn’t exactly gone in a straight line.
I really like TNG, but I watched most of it when I was young, and there are plenty of episodes I probably didn’t see or otherwise don’t remember. (Unlike the ones I re-watch all the time, like “Cause and Effect” or “Clues” or “Night Terrors”–yeah, I said “Night Terrors,” people, COME AT ME.) I watched DS9 for a while, but a lot of it went over my head when I was a kid, and I abandoned the show soon after they killed off my favorite character. I’ve only seen a handful of Enterprise episodes, and even less TOS (although I have watched every TOS movie with the exception of The Motion Picture.) Voyager–often regarded as the worst or second-worst of the bunch–is the only Trek show I’ve watched from start to finish; meanwhile, I run extremely hot and cold on the current Discovery. And while I have significant problems with Into Darkness, I definitely don’t think it’s the worst Trek film in the entire franchise, nor I do think that Wrath of Khan is the best.
So, you see. World’s Worst Trekkie. But for years, I’ve been kicking around the idea of checking out TOS: writing mini-reviews for each episode in which I analyze from the perspective of a Trek fan who has little-to-no nostalgia for the original series to fall back on. How will a blasphemous geek like me feel about the show that started it all?
Well, this 2018, I aim to find out. Which means it’s time to begin with Star Trek’s first pilot, the one that got summarily rejected: “The Cage.”
There will be SPOILERS for this episode and probably TOS in general. You’ve been warned.
WHAT GOES DOWN, BASICALLY:
The Enterprise receives a distress signal, but Captain Pike (Jeffrey Hunter) initially won’t go check it out because he’s feeling all guilty and bitter after the ship’s last mission ended with some of his crew dead. Of course, they eventually do investigate, only to realize the whole thing’s a trap: Pike is kidnapped by telepathic, big-headed aliens (the Talosians) who keep him in a zoo of sorts, where he’s subjected to various illusions that are built from his memories. Ultimately, the Talosians want to use Pike and their other human prisoner, Vina (Susan Oliver), to repopulate the planet. Pike wholeheartedly disapproves of this plan.
Meanwhile, the crew ineffectually tries to rescue their captain. This only allows the Talosians to abduct both Number One (Majel Barrett) and Yeoman J.M. Colt (Laurel Goodwin) to give Pike more breeding partner options. Soon, however, they come to realize that humans have a “unique hatred of captivity” and are thus too dangerous to be of any use. Pike, Number One, and Colt return to the Enterprise. Vina, meanwhile, chooses to stay behind with a Fake Pike because her beauty is a Talosian illusion; she actually has a number of prominent physical scars and deformities, and without the telepaths, she would have to live with those deformities being visible forever.
Years and years ago, I posted a pretty negative review of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Not shockingly, people strongly disagreed with me in the comments. Some were totally respectful and provided interesting points on why they liked the movie.
And then there were people like this:
I expected you to not like it, actually. Chicks usually don’t.
However, I can’t help feeling that it’s people like you who were the reason The Cage never worked as the Star Trek pilot and it had to be retooled to have more action and things blowing up real good.
Well, here’s to proving that asshole right, I guess: I didn’t like “The Cage.”
There are multiple reasons for this, none of which are that it’s “too cerebral” for me–although, apparently, that is why the studio axed it. Actually, there are some ideas I do find interesting here, at least in theory. For starters, I’m really intrigued by the character of Number One, a first officer who is rarely seen or treated as a woman because of
blatant chauvinism her intelligence. I’m curious to see how her journey would have unfolded, and I wish she hadn’t been dropped with the rest of the crew for the new pilot. Fucking studio.
There’s also a potentially interesting dynamic between Pike and Vina. My favorite scene, by far, is the picnic scene, where both characters are carrying on almost two entirely different conversations: Vina, wanting to avoid further torture, desperately tries to get Pike to play along with the scenario, while Pike, having none of it, continues to work out a way to escape. Both POVs are understandable. And, conceptually, I like the idea that these two characters ultimately make very different choices: Vina chooses to embrace illusion in favor of being happy, whereas Pike chooses to embrace reality in favor of being free.
The problem, of course, is why Vina chooses to stay with the people who’ve imprisoned and tortured her for however many years. There are a number of explanations TOS could’ve used to provide for interesting psychological and philosophical debate; the fact that she’s just too ugly for the real world isn’t one of them. I mean, holy shit, people. Setting aside the fact that there’s a whole universe out there that might have better plastic surgery options than this shitty rock, like, the moral of our story really boils down to the idea that you can be too hideous for actual happiness? Like, it’d be one thing for Vina to believe that about herself because she’s had a terrible life and no real opportunity to learn positive self-esteem, but Pike–our motherfucking hero–actually says that he agrees with her reasons for staying! You can practically see the horror behind his eyes when he realizes he narrowly escaped hooking up with an ugly woman like her.
What I’m saying here is that Pike is an asshole, and I’m not going to miss him at all.
Spock is the only crew member who survives the transition from “rejected pilot” to “actual series,” although there are some rather noticeable differences from the Spock we all know and love. Like the terrible eyebrows, for one thing. Also? He full out grins. It’s fucking weird.
I’m never going to seriously hate on special effects from a low budget show in the 1960’s, but I will say their depiction of warp speed is pretty hilarious. Also, the drill at full power apparently sends off colorful sparks that look like they’re straight out of an old Disney movie. Like, I’m thinking Fantasia here.
A telepath who can’t read someone’s thoughts if they’re having “primitive” emotions such as hate . . . you know, maybe such telepaths are not meant for the glorious field of kidnapping, psychological, and physical torture. I’m just saying. It seems like a considerable drawback.
It’s funny because while the captain is always the MC of sorts (excluding Discovery, of course), Trek shows are generally considered ensemble shows, each with a large cast of characters, most of whom at least get some time in the pilot to establish name, job function, basic personality, etc. I point it out because “The Cage” is basically “The Captain Pike Show” with a little time set aside for the doctor, and not much else. (And even that time is really about Pike and establishing his world-weary attitude towards captainship.)
Yeah, I’m definitely happy Pike is gone after this episode, and not just because he’s an asshole. I couldn’t take Jeffrey Hunter seriously in The Searchers, and apparently, I can’t take him seriously here, either.
The female Starfleet officers get to wear pants in this episode! I’m waving you hello and goodbye, equal opportunity pants!
LINE OF THE EPISODE:
“Have you forgotten my headache, darling? I get them when you talk strangely like this.”