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The Menagerie Parts I & II

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at August 5, 2005 - 8:02 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Menagerie, Part One' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: The Enterprise is diverted to Starbase 11 by a call Spock claims to have received, but when the ship arrives, Kirk learns that no signal was ever sent and that the man who purportedly sent it could not have done so because Captain Christopher Pike, formerly of the USS Enterprise, has been completely paralyzed in an accident and cannot even speak. Though Kirk is certain that there has been some mistake, he is forced to accept that Spock lied to him when Spock takes the ship and Captain Pike to Talos IV - a planet visited only once previously, by Captain Pike and his crew. Anyone contacting that planet ever since has faced the death penalty. When Kirk and Commodore Mendez pursue the Enterprise in a shuttle, Spock brings them aboard and insists that he must be court-martialed at once for his crime.

While the ship proceeds toward Talos IV because Spock's sabotage will cause the life support to fail if Kirk attempts to override its helm controls, Kirk, Mendez and the immobile Pike watch transmissions from the planet that reveal the full story of what happened when Pike and the ship visited it years earlier. Pike was taken prisoner by the Talosians, a species whose powers of illusions have grown so great that they can no longer repair their own machinery, though they can trick and punish others into doing their bidding. They have a human female captive they rescued from a crash and hope to breed a colony of humans to maintain their technology, but when they discover that Pike and his crewmembers would rather die than accept captivity, they let the Enterprise go, telling the humans that further contact is impossible because if human beings learned their powers of illusion, they would destroy themselves.

The courtmartial officers all find Spock guilty, but by then the Enterprise has reached Talos IV, where the Talosians communicate directly to Kirk, who realizes that Spock was determined to bring Pike to Talos IV to free him from his shattered body and allow him to live via illusion; Spock did not want Kirk to face the death penalty alongside himself. Kirk also learns that Mendez was never on board, but was an illusion to distract Kirk from attempting to regain control of the engines, so the courtmartial decision against Spock will not stand. After viewing the Talosian evidence, Starfleet also agrees not to press charges against Spock, and Pike is invited to spend his life on Talos IV with the severely injured human woman he met their years before.

Analysis: Two of the finest hours of Star Trek ever made, "The Menagerie" incorporates the series' original pilot into a two-parter that deepens and complicates Spock's character in both the past and present, turning some of the flaws of "The Cage" into assets. There is a great deal to like in the story witnessed in flashback - a captain facing some of the dilemmas that regularly afflict Kirk concerning risks to the crew and the difficulty of a personal life, the highest-ranking woman we will see in Starfleet until The Next Generation, another crew that appears to have strong personal bonds and a spirit of exploration despite the dangers they face. There are also some things that make me profoundly glad that "The Cage" was not picked up as the initial episode of Star Trek, most notably a captain who's not quite Kirk, a doctor who's not quite McCoy and a Spock who's not quite Spock, though there are also some excruciating attitudes about women and sexuality despite a female "Number One" that make me flinch.

Structurally the episode is a bit awkward, setting up the backstory via exposition in which Kirk and Mendez discuss the Talosian situation and Pike's accident while Spock gets in a few gratuitous action sequences knocking out guards so he can send false messages to the Enterprise. There's no real damage done, but it's a good thing no enemies of Starfleet picked this week to attack, and one really wonders about starbase security when one man can singlehandedly control so many systems as well as beaming a critically injured patient right off the facility. The story picks up once Kirk is aboard the Enterprise and the mysterious messages begin to play on the viewscreen. Mendez, whom we will later learn is really an illusion - he plays to Kirk's expectations of how a commodore would respond - insists that such material has no business being aired at a courtmartial, but Kirk and Pike both permit Spock to display this evidence, telling much more of the story within the story than is truly necessary for his defense, for Pike's emotional state before visiting Talos is hardly relevant in terms of the charges against his former science officer.

The story of "The Cage" is itself engrossing and entertaining, though it brings up a number of questions about the intelligence of the Talosians, such as why they didn't try to keep more human subjects to study and how they believed a single pair could breed an entire colony of workers. They repeatedly insult the captive Pike's intelligence for not having realized earlier that he was facing a fantasy on the surface rather than reality, yet he is quick to figure out not just their motives but their weaknesses, even before Vina agrees to tell him what she knows about the beings that rescued her from the wreckage of an Earth ship many years earlier, only to make her their slave and seek out a male counterpart. His strategy in trapping a Keeper, forcing the Talosian to show him the hole his phaser made in the wall and his final display of compassion - allowing Vina and the Keeper to return inside when Number One sets her phaser to overload - ultimately makes him seem both more clever and more highly evolved than the Talosians themselves.

Vina insists that the Talosians don't mean to be cruel, and indeed they seem determined to create a sense of happy nuclear family among their victims...though one wonders whether, if they had abducted Kirk rather than Christopher Pike, they would have provided a harem in deference to his apparent preferences instead of a lone woman. Presumably much of what the Talosians have learned about humans and their desires comes from Vina, so it is interesting that they are ready to cast her aside and provide Pike with an alternate female rather than finding Vina a different man when things seem not to be working between them. Since Vina was so badly damaged in the crash that brought her to Talos IV, it is curious that they wish to keep her as breeding stock rather than choosing a healthier human woman from Pike's crew. Their loyalty to Vina and later to the returning Pike is formidable. Did they learn this quality from the humans they had hoped to enslave, by reading their minds? Or was it already a part of them, and if so, where did these delicate creatures of illusion find the steel to carry out their plot to breed slaves?

I really loathe Vina's reasons for not departing with the Enterprise and Pike's easy acceptance of the suggestion that being ugly is a reason for a woman to choose illusion over having a life. Presumably there would be medical help for her back at a starbase, though I would understand if she thought her health could never be repaired and for that reason chose illusion over pain. While she might never be as young and beautiful as the illusory Vina, the suggestion that youth and beauty are still so essential to a woman's happiness that she would rather never see another human than be seen as ugly is really quite offensive. I assume she was a scientist on the mission that took her to Talos, since Number One begins to calculate her age as a crewmember; wouldn't she want to share what she had learned? Certainly she is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome and a degree of symbiotic dependence upon her captors, but the fact that Pike merely says he understands rather than trying to persuade her of all she might have to live for back home doesn't make me like him much.

It's a great relief that we didn't end up with a Star Trek series where from the first episode the captain has overt sexual tension with both his first officer and a pretty young thing on his crew...well, okay, arguably Kirk had that too, but not with so much melodrama from the get-go. (The "Who would have been Eve?" line from "The Cage" is thankfully excised in "The Menagerie" but its implication remains.) Yet some of the elements of that original pilot are replicated successfully in the Star Trek that would be: the drinking-buddy aspect of the captain's relationship with his doctor, the logical, purportedly unemotional first officer, the brash younger bridge crew ready to die at their captain's order, and particularly the spirit of exploration and compassion which are hallmarks of the original Star Trek.

Kirk and Spock's relationship is cemented for all future episodes in "The Menagerie", ironically as Spock mutinies and disproves the adage that Vulcans can't lie. As passionate as Kirk is defending Spock to Mendez, he's equally convinced that Spock could and would distort the truth if Spock had a compelling reason to do so - and unlike McCoy, Kirk's not convinced that the Vulcan is incapable of such strong feeling for his onetime captain that he would never resort to breaking the law to bring Pike a measure of happiness. The two-parter concludes with a tag that will be repeated in several other episodes where Spock behaves in a manner that is flagrantly emotional, then attributes his actions to logic and accuses the humans of insulting him if they suggest otherwise; it becomes a private joke between Spock, Kirk and McCoy in "Amok Time" and "The Galileo 7", but here it's something deeper, the first tacit understanding between Kirk and Spock of the degree to which Spock is not Vulcan but just as capable of loyalty and love as Kirk.

For if "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of few, or the one", as Spock so famously declares later on, his decision to divert a starship and face the death penalty for Pike makes no logical sense whatsoever. What has happened to Pike is a grave tragedy, but Spock puts numerous other people at risk, fighting the engineers and security officers on Starbase 11, forcing Kirk to follow him in a shuttle until the ship's oxygen is almost gone, placing Kirk in a position that might have damaged his career as well as Spock's. He also risks his very close relationship with Kirk, who takes Spock's treachery as a personal betrayal; it is only Spock's insistence that he was trying to protect Kirk from the death penalty by refusing to share his plans that brings Kirk around after Kirk has undergone the agonizing process of condemning Spock by finding him guilty.

Certain elements of "The Menagerie" are enshrined forever in Star Trek lore: the green-skinned dancer (who is, in fact, Pike's fantasy of an Orion slave girl rather a real Orion woman), Spock smiling at the chiming plants on Talos and shouting, "THE WOMEN!", the pretty officer at Starfleet telling Kirk that she had heard of his reputation from one of the pretty officers on his ship. Visually, Talos IV doesn't hold up quite so well on DVD - it looks less like Vasquez Rocks and more like painted cardboard - yet it remains visually memorable, with its transparent yet claustrophobic underground prison and the strange desert on the surface. But the lasting images of this two-parter for me are images of Spock, both young and smiling and older but still emotional, trying to balance loyalty to two captains who mean more to him than the facade of logic to which he has devoted himself.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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