One of the horror genre's "most widely read critics" (Rue Morgue # 68), "an accomplished film journalist" (Comic Buyer's Guide #1535), and the award-winning author of Horror Films of the 1980s (2007), The Rock and Roll Film Encyclopedia (2007) and Horror Films of the 1970s (2002), John Kenneth Muir, presents his blog on film, television and nostalgia, named one of the Top 100 Film Studies Blog on the Net.
Wednesday, September 06, 2017
Star Trek Anniversary - John's Top 20: "The Menagerie" (#10)
At number #10 on my list is this brilliant two-part story that consists of both new footage with our familiar crew, and previously unseen footage from Captain Pike's era, from the original series pilot, "The Cage." "The Menagerie" also demonstrates Spock's loyalty to a friend, and features a powerful through-line about the seductive power of illusion (living in a dream world). Stardate 3012.4
U.S.S. Enterprise receives a message diverting the vessel to Starbase 11. There, Commodore Mendez (Malachi Throne)
insists that no such message was sent.
also reports some grave news. Fleet Captain Christopher Pike (Jeffrey
Hunter/Sean Kenney) has been badly injured during a rescue attempt aboard a
cadet vessel. Although Pike survived the incident, he was exposed to delta rays
is now horribly scarred. He is also confined to a life-support chair, and is
only able to answer “yes” or “no” through an indicator light. As Dr. McCoy (De
Forest Kelley) points out, Pike is as alert as ever, but he is trapped in a
is the former captain of the Enterprise, and was Spock’s (Leonard Nimoy) commanding
officer for many years. Accordingly, Mendez suspects that Spock sent the phantom
message so he could see his former friend.
truth is somewhat different.
abducts Pike and hijacks the Enterprise, stranding Captain Kirk (William
Shatner) at Starbase 11. Spock
immediately sets a course for Talos IV, a mysterious planet that Starfleet
officers are forbidden to have contact with.
of this edit is punishable by the last death penalty on the books.
pursues the Enterprise in a shuttle-craft, and attempts to stop his
apparently-mutinous first officer. When
Spock is held for court-martial, however, exonerating evidence is presented…straight
from the mysterious Talos IV.
a view-screen on the court room, images from nearly two-decades earlier play
out. They reveal the details of Captain Pike’s visit to Talos IV, and his
strange encounter with the beings there.
two-part episode -- the brilliant “The Menagerie” -- began as a production
expedient. Because Star Trek was expensive -- not to mention complicated to produce -- there was the ubiquitous worry that
deadlines would be missed, and an episode might not make it to air.
result was a clever re-use of the original pilot, “The Cage,” with new
wraparound or bridging material featuring the regular cast, standing sets, and
so forth. Few would have imagined, no
doubt, that a glorified “clips” story would become one of the most beloved
episodes of the series, or for that matter, one of the best Star Treks ever made. Yet that is precisely what happened.
Cage” by itself is a clever, intelligent story about mankind’s indomitable nature, and humanity's refusal to give in to emotions or appetites (such as desire) in the face of,
But the bridging material included in "The Menagerie" adds so much to the story-line.
It is the yin to “The Cage’s” yang.
Cage” is about the ways that illusions can be a trap (like an addictive “narcotic,”
in the words of the teleplay,”) then “The Menagerie” is an even-handed,
book-end opposite conclusion.
perhaps, an illusion can be legitimately, life-saving. Sometimes, it can be a refuge from suffering.
In exploring that idea, “The
Menagerie” deepens the character of Spock significantly. Not only because we
meet a younger, apparently more impulsive version of him in the material from “The
Cage,” but because we come to understand that beneath his cool, glacial
exterior, he does feel. He does care.
And the bonds Spock forges with his friends are strong...even unbreakable. Here, he exposes himself
to legal jeopardy and possibly death in order to save a friend, Christopher
Pike. He acts against regulations, against orders, against prudence, even, to
enact a positive outcome for a man whose life has been destroyed.
The question, of course, is this: are Spock’s
decisions based in emotion or in logic?
I could very well our dispassionate friend explaining the utter illogic of Pike’s continued suffering, as
well as the illogic of a zero tolerance policy towards visiting Talos IV. In this one setting, in this one case, there
is only one logical place for the injured Captain Pike -- Spock’s friend to live out the rest of his days. And
that place happens to be Talos IV.
Trek movies present a kind of mirror or reflection of this episode's ethos. In Star
Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), Kirk risks legal jeopardy and
death, too, to visit a forbidden planet called Genesis.
As is the case in “The
Menagerie,” he does so to save his friends, both Spock and McCoy. He must alleviate their suffering.
In both examples, one cannot escape the
conclusion that Star Trek has made a judgment on “rules.”
It is more important to achieve a good (such
as saving a friend) than it is to adhere to a policy, rule, or hierarchy.
When one considers all the occasions in which
Kirk chooses “normal human development”
over the dogma of General Order One, or the Prime Directive, this philosophical
viewpoint becomes even more apparent.
Rules are good. They give us all guidelines.
Helping people is better.
original “The Cage” possesses a much more “cerebral” philosophy for certain. Pike’s
adventure is not about helping friends, about succumbing to your feelings or
Rather, it is about the opposite. It is about how a
starship captain, Pike, must remain disciplined in the face of sexual fantasy.
If Pike succumbs to his appetites, to his sexual desires, he will be responsible
for fathering a race of human slaves. The Talosians keep tempting him with those fantasies. They are inventive
and relentless in their attempts. For example, they set up a scenario in which he is a
knight in a shining armor, protecting a virginal princess from a Kalar
barbarian. Here, he is asked to fulfill his biological male role of protector.
And then the Talosians tempt Pike again
with a scene of domestic bliss. He is home, safe and well-established. His beautiful wife adores him, and he her.
unforgettably, the Talosians tempt Pike with Vina’s (Susan Oliver) final appearance: as a
seductive “animal-like” Orion Slave Girl. Vina's dance is one of the great moments in Star Trek, the promise of alien contact that is dangerous, different and desirable.
have written here before about the kinky aspects of the original Star
Trek, and the way that the later generations prove far more conservative
(as a whole) in their approach to sex, and sexual fantasies.
“The Menagerie” is a prime example of Star Trek getting its kink on. The ship’s captain is attacked, essentially,
with sexual fantasy after sexual fantasy, but he must not crack; must not
The underlying theme of “The Cage” aspect of this episode is that
appetites and desires must be controlled, lest a negative future be
wrought. Pike can indulge in every
fantasy, every kind of sex he can imagine. But in doing so, he risks focusing on the
selfish; on the personal, and not seeing the big picture. He would fail to consider the welfare of the
human race itself. It's a classic conflict between desire and morality.
provocative sexual aspects of "The Menagerie" might be today viewed as somehow
sexist by some, especially since female crew-members are referred to at one point as “breeding
And yet, at the same time, “The Cage” is amazingly progressive in one very remarkable regard. Number
One (Majel Barrett), a competent, highly-accomplished female, is
second in command of the Enterprise during Pike’s voyages.
She is depicted leading
a landing team, in command during a strategy briefing aboard ship, and in other situations
that demonstrate well her skill, training and judgment. So of course, the network axe Number One. Who does she think she is?
Alas, there would be no other female
character of Number One's ilk in Star Trek until the age of Deep Space Nine. Crusher and Troi on Next Gen were always
firmly ensconced in caretaker roles, and Tasha Yar was so underdeveloped that
viewers rarely if ever got to see her in a leadership role.
Cage” is also forward-thinking in its presentation of Captain Pike.Although he keeps horses, he is much, much less
cowboy-like than is Captain Kirk. Indeed, Pike seems a more direct antecedent of Jean Luc Picard than he is of James Kirk. Pike is introspective; he is moody. He is reserved…and private.Thus Pike does not feel like a product of 1960s TV. He is very un-Bond-like and un-cowboy-like at the same time.
Cage” also features fewer Western tropes, in general, than we see in many Star
Trek episodes of the regular series. It feels ahead of its time, and
Menagerie” is also brilliant in a way that was certainly not intended.
More than any other episode in the original
series, it establishes the reality of the Star Trek universe by granting it…history.
In this episode we see a future that is
twenty-years earlier than Kirk’s time. It is a clunkier time in terms of technology, and appropriately
so given the arc of history. There are Flash Gordon ray guns
about, goose-neck monitors, and large communicators that have their circuitry
visible under transparent materials.
see older uniforms, a younger Spock, and more.
We see a starship bridge that is recognizable as such, but clearly of an earlier design.
point is basically this: Had Star
Trek attempted to invent this “earlier” future, it would have cost the series a
lot of money, and been been practically impossible to do so.
But by importing an earlier
production into its continuity -- in the form of “The Cage” -- “The Menagerie” presents a whole, incredibly believable, fully-realized three-dimensional “history” to the
series we know and love. The differences and similarities in production design
make the universe feel as though it is always developing, always in
motion. "The Cage" actually feels like it comes before Star Trek in history.
A critical flaw of Enterprise, I feel, is that it always looked like it came after Star Trek, and so didn't have the right vibe for a prequel. It didn't feel like history. It looked and felt like something new.
I finish blogging the first season of Star Trek, I’ll present my list for
the ten best episodes of that span, but without giving too much away, “The
Menagerie” will certainly make that list.
It dynamically expresses Spock’s
under-the-surface humanity at the same time that it grows the universe
dramatically, and transmits a message about discipline in the face of