Welcome to the unaired pilot of Star Trek: The Original Series. Footage from “The Cage” was repurposed and used for a later episode called “The Menagerie.” At this point, I’ve watched somewhere between eight and ten episodes of TOS. While I haven’t made it to “The Menagerie” yet, I’ve seen “The Cage” at least four times as I write this. I must say that I’m interested in seeing how this footage gets reused later on.
Among other things, it seems the show was mostly recast between when “The Cage” was filmed and when the show was picked up. The only character I recognize from later episodes of TOS is Spock, and Leonard Nimoy’s portrayal clearly changed. Missing are other characters we associate with TOS, like Kirk, Sulu, McCoy, Rand, etc.
But let’s talk about the actual episode, shall we? The Enterprise receives a distress signal from a nearby planet and the crew learns that a ship crashed there 18 years earlier. Captain Christopher Pike debates whether it’s worth it to investigate and decides to wait to see if there’s any evidence with the survivors.
While waiting, he has a conversation with the doctor about how he’s thinking about possibly retiring from his post; the doctor tells Pike that he thinks that Pike would be bored if he did that. Just then, Spock informs us that there is some evidence of survivors.
So Pike, Spock, and some crew members beam down to the planet and discover a group of scientists who survived the crash…plus an attractive young woman named Vina. We’re told that Vina was born around the time of the crash (which will be important later). It’s clear there’s an attraction between Vina and Pike, the former of whom lures the latter away from the rest of the group. Pike is then captured by a group of aliens called Talosians who live underground.
Pike is held by the Telosians in an underground cage in a kind of zoo. As a captive, he learns that:
- The Talosians originally lived above ground, but fled below ground due to a war that made the surface uninhabitable.
- While underground, they forgot how to use the machines made by their ancestors, so decided to develop their mental capabilities instead.
- One of the skills they developed was the ability to create elaborate illusions. They use this skill to create elaborate illusions for the creatures they hold captive. The hope is that their captives will be happy and that the Talosians can use their feelings of happiness as a kind of narcotic.
- Also, the Talosians see that the surface is becoming habitable again and want to create an army of human slaves to work the land for them.
The Talosians want Pike and Vina (who, as it turns out, was the sole survivor of the crash) to essentially serve as “Adam and Eve” for this new race of humans. One of the illusions they create for Pike is where he and Vina are living in Pike’s old hometown upon his retirement, in a way giving Pike a glimpse into what his life would be like if he retires from the Enterprise.
After reading the records from the Enterprise, the Talosians learn that humans don’t like being held captive under any circumstance – even if their captors are benevolent. In fact, humans would rather die than be slaves. The Talosians decide that this makes humans too volatile for their purposes and decide to let the crew go. Vina, however, decides to stay behind. You see, she was barely alive when the Talosians found her and while the Talosians did their best to put her back together, she is very deformed.
All of that said, I have some thoughts/feelings/opinions/questions about this episode.
- I wonder what TOS would have been with Pike as captain rather than Kirk. I’m not sure how much Pike is mentioned again (I mean, I assume he’s referenced in “The Menagerie”), but I’d be curious to know if they ever give an explanation for why he left. Are we to believe he retired after all?
- Who exactly is Vina? What’s her story? Was she an infant at the time of the crash, as was suggested at the beginning of the episode? If so, was a pregnant woman (VIna’s mother) allowed to travel on a scientific mission? Where did the illusions of the other survivors come from? Were they based on people who were actually on the ship? Why were there no illusions of female survivors? If Vina was an adult (and scientist?) at the time of the crash as Number One suggested, how old is she now? If she was an adult in, say, her twenties at the time of the crash, wouldn’t that put her at or near 40 by the time the Enterprise showed up? And if she did, in fact, have a scientific background, couldn’t she have helped out around the Enterprise? Surely it doesn’t matter what a scientist looks like? I guess I was a bit annoyed that Vina was basically reduced to her looks.
- Why did it take so long to figure out that humans weren’t suited to their needs? Did no records from Vina’s crashed ship survive for them to comb through? If not, why didn’t they hack the Enterprise’s archives before they went through the trouble of capturing and studying Pike?
- Why were the Talosians so fixated on Pike being Adam? When it became evident he wasn’t interested in Vina, they brought in Number One and the Yeoman in order to give Pike options. But why couldn’t they have brought in more male crew members from the Enterprise?
So yeah, that’s my really long thought about the episode. What did you think?