Recap / Star Trek S1 E0 "The Cage"

Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Episode: Unaired Pilot Episode
Title: The Cage
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The original Pilot Episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. Written by Gene Roddenberry and produced in late 1964, it preceded the series itself by a good two years. While this pilot was not considered to have been a success at the time, the network executives did like it enough to finance a second pilot episode. And you all know how well that turned out.

The episode begins with the USS Enterprise (under the command of Captain Christopher Pike) on a routine patrol. Pike is suffering from self-doubt, having just come from a mission where a number of his landing party were killed in action (including his close friend and Yeoman).

The ship receives an belated S.O.S from survivors of a Earth spaceship that crashed on the nearby planet Talos IV some time ago. Once they arrive on this barren and desolate planet, they find a ragtag bunch of survivors, but something doesn't feel quite right about them. While the landing party does a thorough examination of the group, a young woman named Vina lures Captain Pike to a secluded spot, where he gets zapped by humanoid aliens and taken deep underground.

The survivors vanish, having been revealed to be an illusion created by the alien Talosians. Captain Pike has been placed inside a zoo. The Talosians aim to pair him off with Vina, who is in fact the only true survivor of the earlier spaceship crash. While the aliens use their telepathy to try and bring Pike and Vina closer together, in illusionary versions of his recent near-death encounter, his home city of Mojave back on Earth, and a Orion slave harem; the crew of the Enterprise attempt to breach the underground complex and rescue their kidnapped captain.

The Talosians finally kidnap two further females from the Enterprise crew, giving Pike the choice of three potential mates. The Enterprise's female first officer sets her hand phaser to self destruct, forcing the Talosians' hand and giving them no option but to let the three of them go. Pike watches sadly as the true extent of Vina's injuries are revealed, explaining why she can not come with them.

Footage from this un-aired pilot was later re-edited as a two part regular episode called "The Menagerie". The original version, however, eventually made its broadcast premiere in 1988, as part of the TV special The Star Trek Saga: From One Generation To The Next, which previewed the writers' strike-delayed second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. "The Cage" was also the last of the digitally remastered TOS episodes to air, debuting the week before Star Trek opened in theaters in 2009.

The Cage provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Absentee Actor: The entire regular Star Trek cast except for Leonard Nimoy (and, though in a very different role, Majel Barrett). Justified in that most of them hadn't even been hired yet.
  • The Bartender: Dr Boyce brings some alcohol with him during his visit to the Pike's quarters, and mixes him a martini as a part of the captain's Epiphany Therapy.
    Boyce: Sometimes a man will tell things to his bartender that he'd never tell his doctor.
  • Beneath the Mask: Pike's fantasy of being a decadent Orion slave trader.
    "Glistening green, almost like secret dreams a bored ship captain might have..."
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Vina, Number One, and Colt.
  • Bridge Bunnies: Yeoman Colt; ironically her presence makes Captain Pike uncomfortable as he's not used to having a woman on the bridge.
    • Averted and Lampshaded HARD by Number One, who gives Pike a Death Glare until he leaves the bridge.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Pike lays out how tired he is of being responsible for the lives of his crew, and making decisions that include "who lives, and who dies".
  • Characterization Marches On: Spock's joyful reaction to hearing the singing plants on Talos IV, and also his panic when he realizes THE WOMEN have been kidnapped. Actually, Spock in general.
    • According to Nimoy, this was because he felt that Spock needed some warmth to balance out how Hunter played Pike. At this point, Spock was just supposed to be an alien, "probably half Martian". Vulcan heritage and stoicism weren't part of his character yet.
  • Despair Event Horizon: The Talosians reach this point with the failure of their plan:
    Captain Pike: And that's it. No apologies. You captured one of us, threatened all of us...
    Talosian: Your unsuitability has condemned the Talosian race to eventual death. Is this not sufficient?
  • Dirty Mind-Reading:
    • Pike's fantasy of being an Orion trader is implied to be this, as he mentioned it during his gripe session with his doctor.
    • After beaming Number One and Colt down to Pike's cell as alternate mating choices, the Talosian Magistrate tells him that Number One's Ice Queen demeanor is a facade and she's often had fantasies about him, while Yeoman Colt has assumed the captain was out of her reach, "but now is realising this has changed".
  • Dirty Old Man: The doctor pointedly inquires about Colt's impertinent question "Who would have been Eve?"
    Boyce: Eve as in...Adam?
    Pike: Adam as in All ship's Doctors Are dirty old Men.
  • Distress Call: One of these kickstarts the plot.
  • Dying Race: The Talosians.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Everything, from the characters, to the uniforms, to some details of the USS Enterprise itself.
  • Energy Weapon: The huge laser cannon that gets wheeled out on the planet surface during the Enterprise crew's attempt to break into the Talos compound.
  • Epiphany Therapy: Dr Boyce's attempts to help Captain Pike get over his Heroic B.S.O.D..
    Boyce: A man either lives life as it happens to him, meets it head-on and licks it, or he... turns his back on it and starts to wither away.
    Pike: Now you're beginning to talk like a doctor, bartender.
    Boyce: Take your choice. We both get the same two kinds of customers— the living and the dying.
  • Face Palm: Vina does this when Pike gets punished for thinking wrong thoughts.
  • Fiery Redhead: What seems to be implied by Yeoman Colt's "unusually strong female drives."
  • Fire and Brimstone Hell: The Talosians can invoke that experience on Pike any time they want as punishment, and threaten to outdo that trauma if they have to.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Yeoman Colt is a suitable mate for her youth, strength and "unusually strong female drives".
  • Green-Skinned Space Babe: The Trope Codifier. Although strictly speaking, Vina is only pretending to be a green skinned space babe. But she's still the first one that we ever see in Star Trek!
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: Captain Pike is going through one of these when the episode begins, having lost several crewmen (including his personal yeoman) on a mission.
  • Humans Are Special: The Talosians access the records of the Enterprise and conclude that humans have "a unique hatred of captivity" that renders them unsuitable for their purpose.
  • Ice Queen: Number One was designed to be this trope.
  • Inertial Impalement: How Pike finishes off the barbarian in the illusory battle.
  • In Medias Res: The story begins as the Enterprise has completed a mission that resulted in serious casualties and is returning to base.
  • Lost Episode: A narrow aversion. Gene Roddenberry kept a 16mm black and white print of the episode, but the color negative was cut up to use for "The Menagerie". The color clippings were found in a film lab, and were used to restore the full color version of the episode.
  • Master of Illusion: The Talosians force Captain Pike to partake in a series of illusionary worlds. When he resists, they are also able to punish him with a Fire and Brimstone Hell and then believably threaten to go deeper into his mind for experiences even worse! Similarly, the Enterprise crew actually easily breaks into the Talosian base, but their powers of illusion made it appear that they'd been doing no damage at all, so they didn't realize they'd succeeded until Pike was already released.
  • Named After Their Planet: Talosians. From Talos IV.
  • No Name Given: Majel Barrett's character is referred to throughout simply as "Number One".
  • Pilot Episode
  • Psychic-Assisted Suicide: The Talosian Keeper tries to get Pike to release him by threatening to destroy the Enterprise. Vina confirms that he's not bluffing about his capability — the Talosians' illusion power could reach the orbiting starship and trick the crew into operating the wrong controls — but it turns out that he's bluffing about his willingness to follow through on the threat.
  • Raygun Gothic: This episode is where the death of this trope began.
  • Rubber-Forehead Aliens
  • Surveillance as the Plot Demands
  • Technology Marches On: An in-universe example. The consoles on the Enterprise bridge are here fitted with what look like personal computer printers (which print out messages on paper), and the Yeoman is seen using a clipboard with paper sheets on it. The beam weapons are called lasers instead of the later phasers. And the weapon used in the attempt to blast the Talosian entrance is a bulky device transported from the ship instead of ship mounted weapons. By the time of the series proper, both would be replaced by more futuristic devices. Medical science is presumably more primitive than it's portrayed in TOS, as Pike doesn't even speculate about the possibility that Vina's disfigurements might be repairable with Trek-era medicine.
  • Telepathic Spacemen
  • This Is the Part Where...: The Talosians note that, after hurling himself in frustration at the glass, Pike will now threaten then with the power of his starship. Hearing this, Pike chooses a more diplomatic (but equally futile) approach.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Pike tries throwing a sword at the barbarian during the illusory battle; it hits at the right angle and with enough force to embed itself in the barbarian's back.
  • Too Good To Be True: Pike realizes too late that the heroic survivors they've seen were just playing into their ideal fantasies.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Between Pike and J.M. Colt in particular. And according to the Talosians, possibly also Number One.
    • This was the entire purpose of the Talosians capturing Pike: to get him to develop enough tension with Vina that he would give in and help them breed a new race to reclaim the surface.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: According to the Talosians, Pike could visualize the vial of nourishment liquid provided by the Talosians as any meal he wished. Presumably, as long as he was able to somehow forget that it really was nothing more than a vial of blue liquid.