Thu
Mar 31 2011 1:01pm

Star Trek Re-watch: “The Cage”

Star Trek episode The CageThe Cage
Written by Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Robert Butler

Original Series Pilot
Production episode 0x1
Original air date: Oct. 4, 1988
Stardate Unknown

Recap: Dayton Ward

The Enterprise is traveling in deep space, and we drop in on the bridge crew under the command of Captain Christopher Pike. Everybody is tense while watching the viewscreen, as something’s heading directly for the ship. One of the bridge officers reports that it’s a “radio wave; an old-style distress signal,” which apparently was designed to scare the crap out of anybody who might happen across it. The signal indicates a vessel, the S.S. Columbia, was forced to crash-land eighteen years ago somewhere in the “Talos star group,” a remote area that has never been explored.

Without any evidence that there might be survivors after all this time, Pike decides that checking out some heretofore unknown dustball is a waste of time. He opts to continue on to the Vega colony where injured members of the ship’s crew can be treated… because the Enterprise’s sickbay apparently is closed for the season or something. I guess this mission came before that whole “explore strange new worlds, seek out new life-forms, blah blah blah” credo.

Star Trek episode The CagePike heads to down to his quarters, orders room service, and then plops down on his bed. He doesn’t even have time to see what’s backlogged on the DVR before there’s a knock on the door and this old dude just waltzes on in like he owns the place. It’s Doctor Boyce, carrying a man-purse or some such damned thing. As Pike justifies his decision not to investigate the distress call, Boyce turns and hands him a martini he’s just whipped up from the depths of his man-purse. Now that’s a house call! The only problem? My kid’s sippee cup is bigger than the glass Pike gets. If you’re gonna offer a man a drink, let’s not be going cheap on the booze, all right?

Pike and Boyce are hip-deep in a conversation about the crew’s previous mission to Rigel VII and the injuries they sustained, and how Pike is pretty much having a mid-life crisis—wanting to restore that Mustang convertible he’s had in his garage, find a bikini model for the passenger seat, that sort of thing—when Spock calls from the bridge. Hey! They just got a whole new message! Guess what, dude! There are survivors in the Talos system. Suck it, Captain!

The Enterprise arrives at Talos IV, and a scan shows metal fragments on the surface that might be the remains of a ship. The planet’s atmosphere can definitely support life, so Pike decides to beam down and give things a look-see. In the transporter room, the landing party dresses in their swank field gear and after a process that feels like it takes about as much time as waiting for coffee at Starbucks, Pike and company finally transport down to the planet. It kinda looks like they materialized on the set of Lost in Space, but I backed up a few times here and found no traces of tracks left by that damned robot.

Star Trek episode The CageThe team eventually stumbles into what looks like a mini Burning Man festival. A group of bedraggled old men greets the newcomers, and of course they look moderately enthused at the thought of being rescued. However, it’s not until an attractive young blonde woman, Vina, shows up and wastes no time giving Pike “The Look” that stuff starts to get interesting. Oh, yeah.

Dr. Boyce is rather mystified at the relative good health of everyone in the camp. C’mon, Doc: Don’t you know that simple livin’ is good for the body, mind, and soul? Vina wants to show Pike “the secret” behind the group’s well-being, and she takes Pike away from the camp and points to… well… nothing. Naturally, Pike is wondering what this chick’s been smoking, but then she, the other Columbia survivors, and their entire camp simply disappear as though they never existed.

Uh-oh.

Star Trek episode The CageA secret doorway opens in the side of a nearby hill and out pops a pair of Evil Butthead Aliens, dressed in what I can only figure are two of the higher-end shower curtains available at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. The first EBHA pops Pike with some kind of tranquilizer/neutralizer spray thingee, and the captain collapses. As the landing party reacts to the attack, the aliens grab Pike and drag him back through the door in the side of the hill, which closes behind them. Spock and the others try blasting their way through the door with their lasers, but it’s no joy.

Pike awakens inside some kind of prison cell and quickly realizes he’s not alone. In adjacent cells are specimens representing a variety of life-forms, none of whom look as though they’d be any fun at parties.

Star Trek episode The CageThat’s when a couple of “Talosians” show up to check out the captain as though they’re picking out a nice lobster. They confirm that the distress call was a setup, with the only thing missing being Allen Funt waiting to jump out from underneath one of the Styrofoam boulders. Oh, and hey, they talk without moving their lips. Telepathy, by golly! Though amused by Pike’s “limited intelligence” and predictable emotional reactions to being imprisoned, the Talosians decide the captain is ideal for “the experiment,” which is set to begin shortly. Maybe it’s just me, but the look on Pike’s face seems to say, “Aliens? Experiment? I saw Fire in the Sky, you bastards! Not gonna happen!”

On the Enterprise, Spock, Number One, and the others are discussing the current situation. They realize they’ve been suckered, with the aliens somehow able to project illusions directly into their minds. Number One decides it’s time to break out the big guns and unleash a whole new can of Whup-Ass down on the planet.

Star Trek episode The CageBack in Pike’s cell, the Talosians are probing the captain’s thoughts, and generate their first “test scenario” by putting Pike back into the events that recently transpired on Rigel VII. It’s just as he remembered it, except for the new addition of Vina as a damsel in distress. Pike follows her into the ruins of a crumbling castle, looking for weapons or a place to hide, but then they’re confronted by a giant alien warrior, the Kaylar, who looks about six or seven kinds of pissed off. I would be, too, if forced to wear the outfit this dude’s sporting. Unable to kill his tailor, the Kaylar sets his sights on Pike, and a brief skirmish ensues. Pike scores a lucky throw with a short sword, after which the Kaylar decides it’d be cool to jump at the captain who happens to be readying a Really Frikkin’ Huge Sword Kinda Thing, upon which the Kaylar impales his own doofus self. Ouch.

With the fight over, Pike and Vina find themselves back in Pike’s cage, and the captain sees the Talosians watching them, skeevy pervs that they are. After they leave, Vina tells Pike that she can be anything she wants him to be, do whatever he asks in order to please him. Pike, of course, figures the Talosians are getting their rocks off watching them, or perhaps even vicariously experiencing whatever he thinks and feels. Ew.

Star Trek episode The CageNow on the planet’s surface, Number One and a landing party are preparing to unleash the awesome power of a phaser/laser/whatever cannon on the doorway that leads into the hillside where Pike was taken, with power being channeled from the Enterprise itself. Some serious bang-bang, right? Uh, no. Some rock’s blown away, but the door holds. Or...does it? Dr. Boyce posits the not-so-ridiculous notion that they might very well have shot the hell out of that hill, but the Talosians could be using illusion to hide the damage. Sneaky little cockroaches, aren’t they?

Meanwhile, Pike is learning from Vina that the Talosians suffered a massive nuclear war generations ago, and the survivors retreated underground in order to survive. They spent the ensuing time developing their mental ability, to the near-exclusion of all else. Now their society’s dying, and they need to find a way to repopulate the planet and save their race from extinction, and Pike and Vina are their prime test subjects. Bow-chicka-bow-wow, and all that.

Vina apparently says too much, for she suddenly collapses in pain before disappearing. Pike turns to see the Talosian “Keeper” watching him, but the alien promptly disappears.

Star Trek episode The CageLater, Pike is looking for a way out of his cell when a trap door opens and deposits a cocktail (or whatever). The Talosian informs Pike that it’ll serve as nourishment, and he can just imagine it as a Big Mac Value Meal or an Atomic Burrito or whatever floats his boat. When Pike decides he’s not going to eat, the Talosian inflicts upon the captain the illusion of being thrown into a Fred Phelps prayer meeting Paris Hilton’s bachelorette party the flames of Hell. That’ll teach you not to finish your dinner, eh? Honked off by this treatment, Pike lunges at the cell’s transparent front window, and discovers that he caught the Talosian by surprise. What’s that? You guys can’t read through strong emotions like anger? Oh, it’s on now.

When Pike calls for the Talosians to get off Vina’s case and punish him for not cooperating, the Keeper is pleased. The next thing we know, Pike’s been “transported” to a new location, some kind of meadow on the outskirts of that funky city from Logan’s Run. There’s Vina again, this time dressed like June Cleaver, and even his horse, Tango, is there. Pike’s not interested in the illusion, knowing that any children he and Vina might have as a result of this forced pairing will simply become slaves to the Talosians. Vina is starting to freak out, knowing the Keeper will only put the smackdown on them again.

Star Trek episode The CageWhen Pike doesn’t buy this scenario, Vina realizes that the illusions based on Pike’s real-life experiences aren’t sufficient. Oh, no. The real party’s in the dirty, nasty stuff we all have tucked in the back of our twisted little brains. So, BAM! Goodbye, proper little housewife. Hello, sexy green alien stripper chick. Yep, that’s Vina, charging a special rate for lap dances in the Champagne Court. Pike, wigged out by this turn of events, runs off to find a quiet place to meditate (or whatever), but instead finds an underground tunnel from which there is no apparent escape. Then Vina appears, in full-blown Orion Slave Chick ensemble. Cue mood music.

On the Enterprise, a bold rescue mission is being put into action: Number One’s leading a landing party down into the Talosian’s hidden Batcave. But what if the sensor readings and transporter coordinates are an illusion? Well, then it’s gonna be a bad day for a whole buncha people. The beam out process starts, but only Number One and Yeoman Colt dematerialize, leaving the dudes standing there with befuddled looks on their faces and prompting Spock to shout… c’mon, re-watchers, sing it with me: “THE WOMEN!!!

To this day, I still chuckle at that.

Star Trek episode The CageNumber One and Yeoman Colt materialize inside Pike’s cell, where Vina is treating the captain to Thai massage. She’s pretty irked at this interruption, infuriated that the Talosians have seen fit to harsh her mellow with some competition. Pike snaps out of whatever illusion he’s experiencing and promptly grabs both Colt’s and Number One’s laser pistols, only to see that both pistols are without power. Number One’s communicator isn’t working, either. Pike’s ignoring her, now doing his best to stir up enough hate and anger to block his thoughts from the ever-eavesdropping Talosian pervs. Meanwhile, Vina and Colt get into a verbal catfight, and Number One pwns the blonde by demonstrating her ability to do basic arithmetic, like they taught the rest of us in second grade. Math nerd for the win!

The Talosian Keeper shows up, telling Pike he’s got a whole harem in which to, uh, “update the captain’s log,” if you know what I mean. After all, Number One’s got brains and a hot bod, but Yeoman Colt’s supposedly has “unusually strong female drives.” Added bonus: he can also choose by hair color—blonde, brunette, or redhead. Hmm… choices, choices. Not that it matters, as Pike is focused on wanting to stomp a big ol’ mudhole in the Keeper’s hindquarters. The Keeper fires back with some of that illusory punishment before flipping Pike the finger and leaving.

Star Trek episode The CageLater, Pike and the others are dozing in the cell, when Pike sees the trap door at the back of the chamber ease open. A Talosian hand is reaching for the discarded laser pistols, and the captain jumps on him like soccer moms at the Toys R Us the day after Thanksgiving. Pike’s got his hands on the Talosian’s throat, and the Keeper tries to scare him with the illusion of turning himself into Roseanne Barr a nasty ape-lookin’ thing. Pike’s not buying it and threatens to rip off the Talosian’s head, and the Keeper responds by threatening to destroy the Enterprise if Pike doesn’t let up.

On the ship, which the Talosians have prevented from leaving orbit, Spock and the others are working to repair their systems when the computer suddenly fires up. Someone or something is accessing the Enterprise’s library banks, sifting through every byte of information they possess. So far as I can tell, the Talosians were unsuccessful in finding Boyce’s hidden porn stash on library computer tape A-47.

Meanwhile, Pike releases the Talosian and fires one of the apparently powerless lasers at the window. Nothing appears to happen, but the captain figures the weapon worked and that the Keeper is just preventing them from seeing it. So, he aims the pistol at the Talosian’s head and offers to aerate him. Now properly motivated, the Talosian blinks his eyes, or wiggles his nose, or does whatever he does to summon some of that voodoo magic, and the next thing you know, a big ol’ hole appears in the window. Ta-dah!

Star Trek episode The CageLeading the Keeper at gunpoint, Pike and the others make their way to the surface, where they discover that the top of the hill with the Talosians’ secret entrance has been blown away. The Keeper’s now saying, “Well, you’re here. We’ve got you right where we want you, so feel to start procreating any time now.” Pike volunteers to stay with Vina in exchange for Number One and Colt being sent back to the ship, but that just ain’t gonna sit right with Number One, who promptly sets her laser pistol to overload. Ain’t no way the Talosians are breeding a race of slaves; no way, no how. The Keeper, understandably, craps his diaper, not believing the humans will kill themselves.

When more Talosians show up, Pike orders an abort to the overload, and the EBHAs yammer amongst themselves about the infodump from the Enterprise computers. These humans, they’d rather die than live in captivity, no matter what kinds of cool toys and gadgets, free food, and unlimited boot-knockin’ with hot young chicks might be available. This is crazy talk to the Talosians, who set Pike and company free. “Our bad, yo!” This was the last chance for the Talosians, as no other race had shown humanity’s apparent level of adaptability. The Talosians will soon be extinct, but hey, Captain, you and your ship just head on out. We’ll be fine! :: pouty pout ::

Star Trek episode The CagePike tries to get Vina to come with them, but then it’s revealed that her beautiful countenance is itself another illusion. If you ever wanted to know what the offspring of Phyllis Diller and the Elephant Man might look like, well… here you go. Vina was found by the Talosians in the wreckage of the crashed Columbia, and though they were able to rescue her, they had no guide for reconstructing her body in the wake of the traumatic injuries inflicted upon it. I’m guessing the rest of the ship’s crew was fed through a wood-chipper or something. Anyway, she can’t leave, because at least here the Talosians care for her and give her the illusion of beauty and health. And hey! Now they’re adding an imaginary friend: Pike! The happy couple heads back down into the Batcave for a nice, relaxing game of shuffleboard while dining on tea and sandwiches.

With everybody back aboard the Enterprise and on the bridge, Pike is asked by Colt who might have played “Eve” to his “Adam.” The question naturally garners several questioning looks from various crew members, but only young Lt. Tyler is stupid enough to open his mouth. If you’re wondering why you never saw him after this episode, here’s your reason right here. Pike orders the ship out of orbit and onward to its next destination, secure in the knowledge that his crew’s next adventure will be along in a week or so.

Oh, wait… damn.


Star Trek episode The CageDespite its faults and rather obvious “rough around the edges” nature when compared to the rest of the original series, I still love “The Cage.” It’s definitely different than what we ended up with after the second pilot sold and the series went to production, but there’s still enough there to showcase at least some of what Roddenberry intended with his “Wagon Train to the stars” concept.

For this review, I once again watched the version that I first saw, that being the black-and-white/color hybrid (in this case, from the original third-season DVD box set), with all its film skips and jumps, and background audio hiss and various other artifacts. To be honest, I’d rather they had kept this entirely in black and white. I would’ve loved having that as part of my collection, as I’m such a nerd for old-school B&W science-fiction and horror movies from the 1950s and early ’60s. Ah, well.

Star Trek episode The CageJeffrey Hunter is, of course, the definitive Christopher Pike, but I don’t know if he ever would’ve brought the warmth and humor which we now know was a very significant part of William Shatner’s portrayal of James Kirk. Star Trek with Hunter as the lead would’ve been a very, very different show, I think. And while no one can ever replace the beloved DeForest Kelley as McCoy, I’ve always been a fan of John Hoyt’s and would’ve liked to see him again as Dr. Philip Boyce.

The Talosians are interesting enough, but they and their story is one which ultimately will become a Star Trek cliché, with a “superior” alien race imprisoning or otherwise testing representatives of humanity and eventually learning they’re not as high and mighty as they thought they were before encountering “people from Earth.”

“The Cage” is a unique entry in the Star Trek mythos, for what might’ve been as much as what would survive and evolve not only with the original series but its spinoffs, as well.

Dayton’s Rating: Warp 5 (on a scale of 1 to 6)

 

 

Star Trek episode The Cage

 

Analysis: David Mack

To use a metaphor my fellow single-malt scotch aficionados will understand, this is cask-strength Star Trek. It’s raw and unfiltered, which enables one to taste the essential and undiluted spirit, but this magnifies all its flaws, as well. It’s the very best of the series and the very worst of it, all in one potent dram. Welcome to the original, rejected pilot for Star Trek.

The trope of “our heroes are tested by aliens” is an old one in science fiction, and it was used many more times on the original Star Trek television series, and again repeatedly on its successor series. However, this episode uses the trope to comment on itself, when Vina describes to Pike what’s wrong with the Talosians’ way of life:

VINA: They found it’s a trap. Like a narcotic. Because when dreams become more important than reality, you give up travel, building, creating. You even forget how to repair the machines left behind by your ancestors. You just sit, living and reliving other lives left behind in the thought record.

Star Trek episode The CageThe Talosians are terrific Star Trek aliens. Powerful but flawed, motivated by genuine needs but operating by distinctly non-human morés, they prove themselves to be masterful manipulators. They are the protagonists of this tale, setting it in motion, while Pike, the main character, plays the part of the antagonist and resists their efforts. But the Talosians, despite their methods, are not entirely villainous. They prove to be capable of compassion under the right circumstances—as evidenced by their guardianship of Vina and their later aid to the disfigured and paralyzed Commodore Pike in “The Menagerie, Part 1 and Part 2”, which repurposed nearly all the footage shot for this pilot.

Or, as Vina puts it when Pike captures the Talosian Magistrate and tries to choke him, “They don’t mean to be evil!”

Star Trek episode The CageI found it strange to hear Alexander Courage’s theme music sounding slightly “off,” and the visual effects are also quite crude compared to those of the series that followed it. Spock, however, is the most difficult part of “The Cage” for me to accept: he’s smiling and shouting all the time. Even his eyebrows look weird, all thick and wild and nearly vertical. Who is this guy? To hear Leonard Nimoy tell it to William Shatner on the 2001 direct-to-home video special Mind Meld: Secrets Behind the Voyage of a Lifetime, he chose to invest Spock with a heightened degree of intensity to compensate for star Jeffrey Hunter’s emotionally “internalized” performance. In the second pilot and beyond, Nimoy explains, William Shatner brought a more emotionally dynamic quality to the ship’s captain, enabling Nimoy to reign in his own style and deliver a more controlled and nuanced performance.

To be honest, I think everything about “The Cage” feels just a bit weird, as if someone entered my home while I was away and moved all my furniture. The costumes lack the black collars, the landing party wears jackets with Velcro fasteners, and the female officers are sensibly dressed in loose trousers and flat-soled boots (a look that I prefer, actually). The first officer mans the helm (which shouldn’t seem that weird, since I spent years watching the first officer serve double duty as the science officer). The whine of the Red Alert signal sounds so wimpy that I laughed when I heard it.

Star Trek episode The CageEven the corridors inside the ship look unfamiliar, with odd trapezoidal archways and crew-members walking around in civilian clothes that look as if they belong on the Santa Monica Pier rather than the Starship Enterprise. The communicators look incomplete, as if Starfleet ran out of money for casings. And why does Pike need to use his communicator to contact Doctor Boyce when both of them are on the ship? Apparently, this early version of the Enterprise left spacedock without an intercom system. Also, the quartermaster of this ship ought to be fired for issuing its commanding officer a bed that’s at least a foot shorter than Pike is tall.

I’m glad that the show’s producers’ did away with the double exposure of stars over the crew to signify warp travel, and also that they stopped calling it “time warp factor.” (A warning: I have a swift punch in the junk primed for the first person who says, “Let’s Do the Time Warp Again!” Aw, hell, it was me. Ow.)

One thing, however, was absolutely consistent from the pilot to the run of the original series: the blatant and grotesque sexism. It’s encapsulated perfectly in this exchange between Pike and his first officer, Number One, immediately after his attractive young female yeoman, Colt, has delivered a report to him:

NUMBER ONE: She’s replacing your former yeoman, sir.
PIKE: She does a good job, all right. It’s just that I can’t get used to having a woman on the bridge. (sees her reaction) No offense, Lieutenant. … You’re different, of course.

Then, when the ship reaches Talos IV, Pike takes every dude on the bridge with him to the surface—and tells Number One to stay behind and mind the ship. Which isn’t nearly as offensive as the creative decision to make Number One pout about it.

Not that Pike is the only one who needs to be indicted on this count. Pretty much every swinging Y chromosome in the episode gets in on the chauvinist action. Whether it’s the scientists referring to Vina as “the girl” or Spock reacting to the abduction of Number One and Yeoman Colt by shouting “The women!”, the fun just never ends. Even Vina herself is conscripted into the charade, by being forced to play a damsel in distress, a perfect domestic mate, and a green “Orion animal woman.”

Hell, even the Talosians—who are all played by women actors despite having their voices dubbed over by men—get in on the sexist action with this fine analysis of Number One and Yeoman Colt:

Star Trek episode The CageTALOSIAN MAGISTRATE: Each of the two new specimens has qualities in her favor. The female you call “Number One” has the superior mind and would produce highly intelligent children. Although she seems to lack emotion, this is largely a pretense. She has often has fantasies involving you. … The other new arrival has considered you unreachable but now is realizing this has changed. The factors in her favor are youth and strength, plus unusually strong female drives.

Actually, there is something else familiar in this episode, and that was Janos Prohaska, who was Star Trek’s go-to guy for playing alien creatures. He did double duty in this episode as the apelike creature and the freaky bird-alien that Pike sees in cells near his own.

The visual-effects shot of Talos IV early in the episode features a stretch of coastline that looks suspiciously like the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida peninsula. I wondered, “Why didn’t the producers use an image of a different continent and flip it upside down?” But then I realized, “Why spend that kind of money? It’s not as if most Americans know enough about geography to recognize their own nation on a map, anyway.”

Star Trek episode The CageCompared to many of the planet-of-the-week sets used during the series, however, the surface sets of Talos IV are extraordinary. The background paintings have a tremendous sense of depth, atmosphere, and parallax. It was also amusing to observe the landing party’s discovery of the “singing flowers,” one of the only times I’ve ever seen someone try to account for the ethereal background noise one always hears during these sequences.

This episode is also the origin of the famous matte painting of the fortress on Rigel VII that was re-used years later, in the third-season episode “Requiem for Methuselah.”

Other nice touches: Early in the episode we see several crewman on the Enterprise wearing bandages, and Spock limps slightly during the first landing mission. These are subtle references to the crewmen Pike says were wounded during the Rigel VII mission a short time earlier. The prosthetic makeup is also quite sophisticated for the era, as evidenced by the throbbing veins lining the enlarged craniums of the Talosians.

I got a special kick out of the episode’s ending line, Pike’s one word order to his crew: “Engage!” Suddenly, Captain Picard’s trademark phrase from Star Trek: The Next Generation takes on new meaning as a nod to Star Trek’s first hour.

Some of the lame bits: Adding animal noises to the soundtrack doesn’t make the mish-mosh Caveman-Viking with a bad overbite (aka “the Kaylar”) seem any more alien. Spock’s order to “switch to rockets” is completely anachronistic and doesn’t fit with any subsequent depiction of a Federation starship’s operations. If the Talosians can make Pike and the others see whatever they want them to see, why not trick Pike into thinking he still has his hand-lasers while they’re actually being stolen? Why did the Talosians choose that moment to forget their powers?

One line I simply don’t understand is when Pike says to the Talosian Magistrate, “I’m going to gamble you’re too intelligent to kill for no reason at all.” What does the one thing have to do with the other? Aren’t there countless cases of highly intelligent serial killers who commit murders without apparent motive? What if the Talosians are simply so jaded by their world of illusions that they don’t care about killing their specimens?

There’s another conceit of the episode I can’t fathom. At the end, Vina is revealed to be aged and scarred and deformed. Part of the explanation for her twisted body is that the Talosians “rebuilt me. Everything works. But they had never seen a human. They had no guide for putting me back together.” This story would be a lot more plausible if not for the fact that the Talosians themselves are basically humanoid in appearance. I suspect this line was a holdover from the story’s original (but then unfilmable) concept of the Talosians as giant crablike beings.

After the Enterprise crew’s seemingly failed attempt to blast their way inside the Talosians’ stronghold, Boyce points out to Number One that for all they know, they succeeded and the Talosians simply aren’t letting them see it—which turns out to be true. When one combines this insight with the subsequent revelation that strong emotions block the Talosians’ powers of illusion and control, it becomes obvious that what the Enterprise crew really needed at that moment was one guy on the landing party who’d get so fed up that he’d throw a screaming, swear-laden fit. In other words, me.

Star Trek episode The CageOf course, what this episode is most famous for in fandom is the Orion slave girl fantasy sequence. I have to admit: from the first time I saw it (when it was repurposed as part of “The Menagerie”), that scene made a powerful imprint upon my psyche. For me, Susan Oliver will always be the quintessential Orion dancing girl—the sexiest, the most alluring, and the best dancer (far better than Yvonne Craig as Marta in “Whom Gods Destroy”). Keep your gold-bikini Princess Leias. Give me a wild green Orion girl every time.

There’s a funny behind-the-scenes story about the genesis of the Orion slave girl. When the crew filmed makeup tests to see how the green body paint would look on-camera, with Majel Barrett as the willing test subject, they were perplexed when the green tint repeatedly failed to show up in the footage they shot. They tried multiple shades of green, to no avail. A call to the film lab cleared up the mystery: unaware that Majel was supposed to be green, they had been color-correcting the footage to make her look “normal.”

Despite having been filmed in November and December of 1964, television audiences didn’t get their first look at this episode until 1988, when it aired in its entirety as part of the two-hour special The Star Trek Saga: From One Generation to the Next. Prior to that, it had been released in 1986 on home video for Star Trek’s 20th anniversary, but by then many hardcore fans had already seen a black-and-white print of the episode screened by Gene Roddenberry at various conventions. For decades, there was no complete 35mm color print of the episode. Thanks to some good luck, a few attentive and conscientious professionals, and a bit of technical wizardry, enough of the missing pieces eventually were found, and a restored 35mm master print of “The Cage” was produced. (Read a detailed account of the restoration on Memory Alpha.)

I, for one, am grateful to be able to enjoy this fun, imperfect, thought-provoking, and historically significant episode, which was, despite its faults, ahead of its time in many ways. Though I pounced on the sexist attitudes evidenced in the dialogue, Star Trek episode The Cageit’s important to note that the show’s producers were very forward-thinking in casting a woman as the ship’s first officer and having an alien among the main cast—with no attempt whatsoever at explanation or backstory. Sure, the pilot is overly white, and would have benefitted from having more people of color, but considered in the context of its era, it was an important step in the right direction. Then remember that it was “intellectual” science fiction being produced for prime-time television at a time when everyone dismissed the genre as “kid stuff,” and that it launched one of the most popular and enduring science-fiction universes the world has ever seen.

That’s what I call a successful hour of television—even if it did get rejected by NBC.

David’s Rating: Warp 4.5 (on a scale of 1 to 6)


Check the Star Trek Re-Watch Index for a complete list of posts in this series.


David Mack wishes he had a yeoman like Colt to… um… bring him coffee. And stuff.

Dayton Ward wishes his doctor would offer him the occasional martini. That sort of thing might take at least some of the sting out of the bill, if not some of the more awkward or uncomfortable aspects of his annual physicals.

22 comments
Kurt Lorey
1. Shimrod
Like David, I am to this day captivated by Orion women. Still mad that they killed off the Orion Starfleet cadet in the re-imagined Star Trek. Not sure if Susan Oliver ever looked so interesting in anything else.

I was also always amused when watching The Last Starfighter seeing actress Meg Wyllie still going strong.

I agree that the uniforms really would have been much better with everyone wearing pants and flat-soled boots. I mean, c'mon.
Of course, since Captain Kirk "had" to wear heels (or was it lifts?), I guess it was only fair...
And really guys, don't you think anybody with teeth as bad as the Kaylar would act like a grumpy old bear?
Tara O'Shea
2. Tara O'Shea
I always prefer to think of Pike's ridiculous "I'm not used to women on the bridge" as him just being complete and utter crap with girls, instead of Roddenberry trying to highlight the progress women had made in the most awkward and offensive way possible.

I adore this episode mainly for Number One, who remains my favourite Trek XO to this day, and I still wish we could have seen more of Pike, Boyce, and Number One's adventures. I also wish we could read the original writer's drafts of the scritps NBC didn't pick for the pilot, to see more of Pike, Boyce, Number One, and Colt in action.
Tara O'Shea
3. AhoyMatey
Thanks a whole bunch, Dayton. Lunch sprayed on monitor. Unable to kill his taylor indeed...
Tara O'Shea
4. AhoyMatey
And a new way to spell tailor!
Tara O'Shea
5. Mike Poteet
Bravo! I really enjoyed both Dayton's hysterial reacap (made bearable because I know it was written with love) and David's spot-on analysis. I remember seeing that speech about "a woman on the bridge" the first time I saw "The Cage" -- as opposed to "The Menagerie," from which the scene is absent -- and being really shocked. It's hard, from this late date, to avoid letting that moment deflate all the genuine forward thinking that was going on, so I'm glad David put it in its proper context.

Still, since "The Menagerie" remains my all-time favorite episode of the Original Series (I know, I'm weird that way), I've always had a great affection for "The Cage." I would have been willing to watch many more adventures with Jeff Hunter at the helm; even to this day, the surest way to make me pick up a "Star Trek" novel is to put Captain Pike at the center. I was so pleased that J.J. Abrams' film brought this character back. (And, @Tara -- If you enjoy comics, Marvel had a very brief but very good run of "Star Trek: Early Adventures" in the 90s, starring Pike and company.)

One niggle with David's Analysis, though -- "the Talosians themselves are basically humanoid in appearance." Are they, really and truly? They are, after all, masters of illusion. Maybe they just want Pike to see them as "basically humanoid," huh? (Or did I just blow your mind? Nah, prob'ly not.)
Tara O'Shea
6. Stefan Jones
There's an interesting Forbidden Planet vibe to "The Cage." Similar setup (lost expedition, va-va-voom young love interest), similar dour message about a mighty civilization doomed by getting just what it wished for.

The re-use of the episode's footage in "The Managerie" was a wonderful stunt. The wrapper story was interesting in its own right, and WOW, Captain Pike in a Wheelchair sure has become a pop reference classic!

RE Spock, the original show proposal that Roddenberry circulated had him pegged as perhaps "half martian," with no suggestion that he was a Vulcan or emotionless.

"The Cage" was one of the inspirations of a RPG adventure I recently wrote for the Villains & Vigilantes superhero game. It's a freebie, so I won't feel guilty about linking to it here:

http://www.rpgnow.com/product_info.php?products_id=87502
Tara O'Shea
7. Tara O'Shea
@Mike Poteet I have it! And I geeked about it with Dan Abnett, even. I actually have nearly every comic, novel, and fan-film featuring teh Pike-Era crew, plus Roddenberry's original series bible, the script of "The Cage". What can I say? I'm a geeky fangirl. EARLY VOYAGES is probably my second favourite tie-in after Dorothy Fontana's VULCAN'S GLORY.
Tara O'Shea
8. HarveyTrekBBS
The "Forbidden Planet" influence is very evident. In fact, Roddenberry screened a 35mm print of the film at least once while he was writing the pilot, and also inquired as to the ethics of producing frame enlargements from the movie for the art department. The memo in question is reproduced in David Alexander's Star Trek Creator, though you can also see the original in the UCLA special collections library.
Tara O'Shea
9. Capper
I've always thought that the excuse that the Talosians "had never seen a human" for Vina's imperfect reconstruction to be baseless. All they had to do was look into her mind to see what other humans looked like. They can create whole worlds from memories but they don't think to look into her mind to see what needs to be done before they try to heal her body? That never made sense to me.
Warren Ockrassa
10. warreno
@9: The ship crashed 18 years ago - Vina would probably have been an infant then, or too young to have a decent sense of her body image. Certainly she'd have no notion of her maturation into an adult and how that was supposed to turn out.

At least, that's what I thought to myself, after thinking exactly what you did!
Tara O'Shea
11. Tara O'Shea
@warreno - Except that Vina was listed as an adult crewmember...

After a recent re-watch of "The Cage" with friends, we actually decided to track fantasy!Vina vs real!Vina, and I think the Talosians never actually put her in the same room as Pike until midway through his captivity... Of course, they also could have planted the illusion in her mind of being put back together wrong solely to *keep* her on Talos, so they could continue to feed off her dreams, as well...
Tara O'Shea
12. jjcanuck
I've always thought the EBHA's were pretty good villains of the mind control-oppressor variety. The voyeur aspect of the villains added a whole other level of creepy.

Aside from the EBHA's there isn't anything good about The Cage in my view. It's too hard wading through the misogyny.

I get why guys would find things to like in this episode. It's pretty blatantly geared to male viewers.

Thanks David for acknowledging the relentless sexism. It is grotesque. You still gave the episode 4.5 out of 6. Maybe it's hormones, of the green Orion variety. Or the thought of Yeoman Colt bringing you coffee. And stuff.

There is the sensible clothing for females, which is a plus, but it didn't appear to go over given how they fixed that bit of equality in the series.

And seriously, an TOS episode without Bones can hardly rate above a 3 out of 6, but that's just me.

Enjoyed your re-watches.
P J Evans
13. PJEvans
A friend of mine ran into nearly the same film-lab situation: he photographed a blue woman, against a studio-gray backdrop, and the pictures kept coming back with an orangy background.
Tara O'Shea
14. peachy
The novel Legacy features flashbacks to the adventures of the 'original' crew, via the memories of a doped-up Spock.
Tara O'Shea
15. Michael S. Schiffer
"They found it’s a trap. Like a narcotic. Because when dreams become more important than reality, you give up travel, building, creating. You even forget how to repair the machines left behind by your ancestors. You just sit, living and reliving other lives left behind in the thought record."

Some decades later, the holodeck became standard equipment on Federation starships...
Tara O'Shea
16. Mike Poteet
@Tara -- Did you read David Stern's "The Children of Kings"? It had Pike on the cover so, of course, I snatched it up, only to be perplexed by several "inconsistencies"... but all was revealed when Stern's afterword notes that the book is a prequel to the 2009 Star Trek film! Interesting, that Pocket released the first "new continuity" fiction using the images of Jeffrey Hunter and Leonard Nimoy rather than Greenwood and Quinto.
Dayton Ward
17. daytonward
@Michael: And centuries before that, the Talosians gave us Facebook and Twitter. It's as much as our shockingly limited intelligences could handle.
rob mcCathy
18. roblewmac
1. ooh can we rewatch the cartoon next?
2 Michel s yeah there's irony there and I just hate the holdodeck with a mad passion
Admeral "The entire crew killed by bite wounds in mid-space? No allien contact listed for 4 months...it's a mystrey and don't like mysteies the give me a bellyac...
redshirt "No sir look they were playing "little red riding hood on the holodeck "
Ad "I see, Wolf comes to life, Picard reads it Hamlet, wolf eats Picard.
Red "in the story Red riding hood was still alive. Maybe if we find it
Admeral "screw that! Case closed.
Tara O'Shea
19. Fredtrekker
As for the line from Vina about them not knowing how to put her back together, it's probable she was unconcious or even in a coma, and possibly one has to be awake for them to probe the mind. That's one explanation. If her mind was not open to probing at that point, they had no idea what she should have looked like in her natural "alien" (to them) form. Must have been pretty messed up!

I agree about the Orion slave girl scene. Never been topped for sheer sexiness! Powerful stuff.
Tara O'Shea
20. PhilSD
warreno, Number One resolves the discrepancy in Vina's age by pointing out that there was a Vina listed on the SS Columbia's roster as an adult crewman. "Now adding 18 years to your age then..." She's cut off by the appearance of The Keeper, but this foreshadows the eventual revelation about Vina.
Tara O'Shea
21. scotpens
@ David Mack:
"For me, Susan Oliver will always be the quintessential Orion dancing girl — the sexiest, the most alluring, and the best dancer (far better than Yvonne Craig as Marta in 'Whom Gods Destroy')."

Surely you're joking. Susan Oliver was a talented actress and a beautiful babe to boot, but she wasn't a dancer. Yvonne Craig was a trained ballerina, with the moves and the body to prove it. Oh, those legs!

@ jjcanuck:
"It's too hard wading through the misogyny. I get why guys would find things to like in this episode. It's pretty blatantly geared to male viewers. Thanks David for acknowledging the relentless sexism. It is grotesque."

Misogyny? Sexism? For Pete's sake, this was made in 1964. At that time, the only women serving aboard naval vessels were nurses on hospital ships. For all of Gene Roddenberry's forward thinking, the show still had to appeal to contemporary audiences. Hell, the word "sexism" didn't even enter the language until six years later.

Honestly, you young people nowadays . . .
Tara O'Shea
22. feenix219
So, The Next Generation was just a combination of The Cage era and Phase 2? Captain PIKEard, saying "engage" ... calling his first officer Number One... the cerebral thinker. Commander William Decker/Riker, his alien love interest Ilia/Troi, the logical being that wished to understand human emotions (Xon/Data)... they sure didn't let any concepts go to waste... ;)

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