Pilot: The Cage | Star Trek: TOS

“The Cage” was the originally intended to be the pilot of Star Trek: The Original Series, but ultimately went unaired. I was debating about how to work this episode into a discussion here on She Treks; some time on Google yielded different opinions as to where to fit it into your TOS viewing order. But since it’s the first episode on Netflix, I figured what the hell.

So the only character in “The Cage” that I recognized from the handful of TOS episodes I’ve watched was Mr. Spock. In “The Cage,” the USS Enterprise was captained by a character named Christopher Pike. If, like me, you’re new to Star Trek: TOS, you might be wondering “who the fuck is Christopher Pike? I thought Kirk was the Captain of the Enterprise for TOS. And why was this episode not originally aired?” I looked up the Wikipedia article (so take this with a grain of salt), and this is what I learned: “The Cage” was filmed in 1965, but wasn’t aired until 1988. While it was meant to be the pilot episode of TOS, the network rejected it and ordered a different pilot. As far as Jeffrey Hunter, who was cast as Captain Pike – supposedly he had a six-month contract with the show and was required to be on TOS if the show was picked up. He was not, however, required to be on the new pilot, so he wasn’t. Whether the decision not to keep him with the show was his decision or the decision of Gene Roddenberry seems to depend on who you ask (or at least according to Wikipedia). I’m pretty sure some of the footage from “The Cage” ended up in the two-parter from later in season one, “The Menagerie,” so I assume I’ll be essentially watching the same episode again.

The plot

“The Cage” revolves around the Enterprise receiving a distress signal from a planet where humans don’t typically explore because it was presumed uninhabitable. They realize however, that a ship crashed there 18 years prior and when they receive a transmission that there were survivors, they decided to land and help. What ends up happening is that Captain Pike is lured away from the rest of the group and then captured and taken underground where he is observed by a group of aliens called the Talosians. The Talosians hope to encourage Pike to mate with a human woman they previously captured named Vina using their power of illusions in order to create a slave race so that they can re-build life on the surface of the planet and live there. Pike is, unsurprisingly, not happy with this. What eventually frees Pike is that the Talosians go through the archives of the Enterprise and realize that he’s not a good fit for their needs. This will ultimately doom the Talosians to death, since apparently the only thing they know how to do is create these illusions.

Some thoughts

Are ship’s doctors in the Star Trek universe expected to be therapists in addition to general practitioners? Because the conversation between Pike and the doctor in his quarters looked a lot like a therapy session to me, except with alcohol. Perhaps it’s not unusual for the crew of the Enterprise to need that kind of service. After all, they’re presumably a long way from home and their families and they probably see a whole lot of scary shit. I have no idea if there’s going to be an explanation as to Pike’s departure from TOS in a later episode, but based on this conversation, one obvious thing they could do is have Pike say “I’m too tired for this. I’m going home. Peace out.” The line in this scene about the people of the Orion colony dealing in women and slaves certainly caught my attention. I know we sort of see what that might look like in one of the later illusion scenes (and PS: holy uneven green makeup, Vina!), but I’m wondering if we’re going to actually see the Orion colony in a later episode. I’m trying to decide if I want to see the Orion colony, because I’m nervous about how well something like that might be handled.

One of the things we learn about Pike throughout “The Cage” is that he doesn’t seem to know how to talk to women on his crew. His new Yeoman, a young woman (are all the Yeomen in the Star Trek universe women? Stay tuned, I guess), seems to make him nervous. It doesn’t appear as though Pike thinks of Number One the same way he thinks of other women. Yet, when Pike is in the menagerie with Vina, he seems to want to protect her. What I get from this is that how Pike relates to women depends on the context and that he doesn’t know how to handle women in professional settings.

"pretty" Vina, The Cage

This is what Vina looks like when under the Talosians’ illusion.

Speaking of the women in “The Cage” (the way I’m wording this sounds awful; I’m sorry), one of the things the confused me was Vina’s age. She was the sole survivor of the ship the previously crash landed on the planet, right? Number One indicated that the Vina who crash landed was an adult. We also know that the crash happened 18 years ago. Let’s say Vina was a young adult at the time of the crash – say, 18-20 years old. That would have put her in her mid to late 30s by the time Pike came along. I know it’s possible to have children at that age, but I also kinda feel like most women in the 1960s (when this was filmed) were having their children younger. That might be why the Talosians were so desperate to find a man – they thought Vina was not going to be able to have children for much longer. All that said, I feel like it would have been more realistic for Vina to be older than 18-20 when her ship crashed.

"ugly" Vina, The Cage

Vina’s true appearance.

I would’ve loved to have seen more of Vina’s backstory. Obviously, we know that she crash landed on the planet, but I would’ve loved to learn about where she came from and her role on the ship. Ultimately, Vina seemed to think her worth was based on her appearance and her relationship with a man. Vina wanted to stay with the Talosians because they could provide her with the illusion that she was beautiful and desired by her dream man. This made me wonder if Vina was always like this or if her extended stay with the Talosians and exposure to their mind control altered her desires. That Pike seemed to agree with Vina’s desire to remain with the Talosians for me underscores that he seems to base a woman’s value at least in part on their appearance as well. The fact that cosmetic surgery, if Vina wanted it, didn’t seem to be available was interesting (while I’m of the opinion that everyone is more than their appearance and that one’s appearance doesn’t determine their value, I also support cosmetic surgery being available to anyone who wants it).

prisoners in the menagerie, The Cage

Only the women who were trying to beam into the menagerie were allowed to do so.

Another plot point of “The Cage” that confused me was why the Talosians were so desperate to have Pike in particular as their Adam. At first, it seemed as though the Talosians chose Pike because that was who Vina preferred. However, when it became clear that Pike wasn’t interested in Vina, the solution didn’t involve bringing down more men. When the crew decided to beam down into the menagerie, the group they intended to send down included a group of both men and women. It was the women who were ultimately allowed to beam down by the Talosians; the men remained on the ship. What I don’t understand is when it became clear that the Talosians weren’t going to get what they wanted from Pike, why they didn’t either bring down more men for Vina to choose from or bring down a mixed group and tell them that one man and one woman were going to have to volunteer to be Adam and Eve.

The final thing that confused me about “The Cage” was this: the Talosians decision to scan the Enterprise for their archives to better understand human history. A couple questions about this: first, did they do the same thing with the ship Vina was on? Granted, the Enterprise would have had 18 years worth of human history that Vina’s ship wouldn’t have, but the Talosians could have at least learned how humans felt about captivity. Furthermore, they could have learned what humans looked like. Second, why didn’t the Talosians scan the Enterprise in the first place? It seems like knowing this information would have been extremely valuable in knowing whether or not the humans would have made suitable slaves. If the Talosians had scanned the Enterprise in the first place, they could have saved themselves a whole lot of trouble with Pike.

That’s what I think about “The Cage,” the originally unaired pilot episode of Star Trek: TOS. This post ended up being super long. I don’t know how people feel about TV review posts that are this length. Presumably, this is roughly how long my later review posts will be as well. So if you could let me know in the comments – is this too long for a review post? The right length? I’m going to need to decide how much I’m going to have to edit and cut stuff out.

Meet the Author

She goes by either Sue or Taylor and doesn't care which you choose to call her. She's 30-something living in Pennsylvania, USA. For years, she didn't think she would like Star Trek, but time and experience proved to her that she probably would. Because she didn't come to Star Trek until adulthood, she is perhaps way behind her Trekkie peers. She Treks is her attempt to slowly "catch up" and hopefully connect with other Star Trek fans along the way. When she's not watching Star Trek, she can be found enjoying one of her random other interests.

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