December 6, 2023

Gabbing Geek

Your online community for all things geeky.

Weekend Trek: “The Cage”

Star Trek started here...sort of. Maybe. Not really.

So, maybe I don’t have enough to do around here.  I mean, I’m already covering two shows per weekday, so why am I adding something for weekends?

Well, it’s Star Trek.  What other reason do I need?

In all seriousness, Jimmy Impossible approached me around the time we finished up the Game of Thrones rewatch/chat to see if I’d be interested in covering Star Trek: The Next Generation.  I proposed an alternate show which I am hoping we get to soon, but I would like to do something here with Star Trek.  I’ve probably seen all of the episodes of the original series and the animated series, most of Next Generation, the first few seasons of Voyager, and season one of Enterprise plus all the movies.  Somehow Deep Space Nine has slipped through the cracks aside from an odd episode here or there, something I really wanted to eventually get around to, so being the guy who always starts big projects (as I type this, I’ve covered nearly 30 full seasons of The Simpsons), so I’m going to be doing original Trek and then the animated series on weekends with an open invitation to Jimmy to join in at any time, and then switching to Jimmy’s proposed Next Generation discussion when the time comes.

Gabbing Geek would so be a dead site if I ever started going outside.

But we should always start at the beginning because starting at the end doesn’t make a lot of sense.  And the beginning for Star Trek is the original pilot called “The Cage,” a prospective episode that the network ultimately rejected for being too slow and cerebral with special attention given to the only two actors who managed to carry on to the eventual series with a different pilot.

Yeah, it seems the network didn’t care for an unknown actress named Majel Barrett, cast here as the nameless first officer “Number One,” who only seems to have been put on the show at all because she was series creator Gene Roddenberry’s girlfriend and eventual wife.  They also didn’t care for Leonard Nimoy’s Spock.

Did they like Jeffrey Hunter’s Captain Christopher Pike?  I don’t know.  I do most of my shoddy research on Wikipedia anyway.  Hunter wanted to pursue a career in film, so he didn’t stick around on Trek when the second pilot was ordered.  Considering I know him best from The Searchers, he may have been on to something.  Hunter died young in a freak accident/weird disease, but he was clearly a better actor than Big Time Ham William Shatner.

Then again, Shatner might be better than his rep in some episodes.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

As far as “The Cage” goes, we follow the crew of the Enterprise as they investigate a crash site that it turns out isn’t with Pike taken hostage by the telepathic natives of the planet, the Talosians.  Why?  They want him to make some babies with a woman they also have…or don’t.  Pike isn’t sure at first, and given how he quickly learns he can’t trust what he sees until he and the crew are eventually allowed to leave when the Talosians realize humans never like even benevolent captivity, he has good reason to doubt, but the young woman Vina is actually a physical wreck who can’t leave the planet, so she’s given a Pike illusion to keep her company.

As for the two eventual holdovers, Barrett is…fine, but the role is underwritten.  Then again, so are pretty much all the characters other than Pike.  Spock’s own distinctive look is about all that sets him apart from the others.   What is his position on the ship?  I don’t know.  Where is he from?  He doesn’t say.  Is he the emotion-free man of logic he’s best known for?  Well, no.  He’s got a broad grin on his face when he stops to check out a blue plant that looks pretty fake to me.  Aside from the ears, the eyebrows, and the hair (not quite as neat as it would be), he could be any other member of the rather homogeneous crew seen here.

Yeah, for all Star Trek is rightfully reputed for his more progressive stances, this Enterprise crew is almost entirely made up of white men (and Spock may or may not count as one of them).  There are two women, Number One and Pike’s Yeoman, and there is one Asian guy helping the transporter room chief, but I don’t recall him saying anything.

And then there’s the gender politics.  Those have not aged well.  Pike says he doesn’t like women on his ship (except maybe his first officer Number One), and Vina sees Pike as a prize she’s competing with once the Talosians beam the other two female characters into the cage they set up for him.  There are apparently green-skinned slave girls who don’t say no, and all the Talosians do is try to set up a perfect fantasy scenario for Pike.  Plus, of course, all the women are on some level attracted to him.  Why wouldn’t they be?  He’s the captain of the Enterprise.  Even if he doesn’t have a captain’s log with a stardate or the standard introductory voiceover, those guys are metaphorical magnets for attractive women.

So, really, “The Cage” is rough, not quite the Trek the fans will recognize, but it’s got the ingredients.  Trek was always more about the philosophical big ideas than big action moments, something I’m not sure many people who aren’t Trek fans realized.  Or they did and that’s why they didn’t care for it.

Anyway, come back this time tomorrow for the first episode that the network actually aired…before they recycled most of “The Cage” for a special two-parter sometime later.