Star Trek: The Original Series

"The Menagerie"

3 stars

Air dates: 11/17/1966 and 11/24/1966
Written by Gene Roddenberry. Part I directed by Marc Daniels. Part II directed by Robert Butler

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The original unaired Trek pilot, "The Cage," becomes the subject of the series' only two-part episode when Spock commandeers the Enterprise to take Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter)—the former captain of the Enterprise, who has been paralyzed in a recent accident—to the off-limits planet Talos IV. To reach there would invoke the only death penalty still on record.While en route, Spock undergoes a court martial held by Kirk and a Starfleet Commodore. Part of Spock's testimony is the story of Pike's original visit to Talos IV 13 years earlier. The testimony is broadcast from the Talosians themselves.

Although the episode was designed to save money, "The Cage" is nevertheless a Trek adventure worth unearthing. Although coming across as even more dated than an average TOS episode, it benefits from an ability to say something about a human inner struggle of mind over matter. The device used to tell this story is clever, if a little forced. Spock's theft of the Enterprise was nicely executed, and Kirk's decision to chase the Enterprise in a shuttle (hedging his bets that Spock would have to turn around to rescue Kirk before his shuttle runs out of fuel) also demonstrates ingenuity.

The shifting back and forth between "The Cage" footage and the new footage is sometimes awkward and is accompanied with rather weak explanations, but the suspense factor (What happened on Talos, and why are we going back there?) allows us to forgive all. The ending works pretty well too ... but I still wonder why Pike was so adamant on not going to Talos IV from the outset.

Previous episode: The Corbomite Maneuver
Next episode: The Conscience of the King

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23 comments on this review

Thu, Jun 5, 2008, 5:14am (UTC -5)
As for The Menagerie, I always felt Pike didn't want to go to Talos at the beginning of the episode because he didn't want Spock to risk facing the death penalty.
Mon, Dec 7, 2009, 9:03pm (UTC -5)
"The Cage" set a high standard for the portrayal of women on television in 1964. It's just too bad that the series proper had to revert back to girls in skirts that scream "Captain help!" and dream of being princesses. I wonder if the modern Treks will seem similarly dated in 30 years.
Thu, Jan 14, 2010, 8:23am (UTC -5)
In regards to "The Menagerie" I've always felt that Pike initially signals "no" to Spock, because he doesn't want to see Spock in any trouble. I just watched the episode again last night and one new thing that struck me was the look on Pike's face near the end of the episode, when he is looking once again at the image of Vina and realizes he does have a chance to "live" a normal life again even if only in fantasy. One could argue that Pike's facial expression never changes throughout the episode, but I think it's all done with the eyes. I saw longing and hope for the first time.

My mom often wonders why I'm constantly rewatching ST episodes. There are a lot of reasons, but one big one is that on occasion I'll notice something or hear something which I hadn't the first time around (or 2nd, etc.) and the episode or film will mean something a little different the next time around.
Sat, Aug 6, 2011, 1:00am (UTC -5)
Regarding "The Menagerie" having a framing device for the clips that is "a little forced:" A little? It's incredibly forced. For one thing the legal proceedings make no sense (Spock pleads guilty, then gives testimony? Then is found guilty by the panel but still gets to present evidence? Trespassing is punishable by death, and is the only death penalty still on the books? WTF?). It's so ridiculous that the only reason to watch is to see how it ends, and one of the episode's strengths is how it weaves in the ending from "The Cage" to show Pike's fate.

If you haven't seen Futurama's "Where No Fan Has Gone Before" it's highly recommended. Being more familiar with the movies and only seeing the episodes occasionally when I first saw it, I got all the series-wide parodies, but it has some really spot-on parody of "The Menagerie" and "The Squire of Gothos" (which you're way too harsh on in my opinion, that's a 3-star for me if only because Trelane is a fantastic character fantastically acted) in particular. Not just the Pike wheelchair reference, but Zap Branigan's line that trespassing is punishable by "four consecutive death sentences" is even more hilarious now that I've seen "The Menagerie."
Thu, Jul 19, 2012, 10:04am (UTC -5)
I watched both parts of this yesterday, but I'd already seen The Cage, as well. I thought, and think, that The Cage is boring. What compels me is the connection between the Big 3--Kirk won't even entertain the notion that Spock might have made a mistake about receiving a message from Starbase 11, much less that he lied about it. Even when he starts to doubt, what he asks McCoy is, "Could this have anything to do with Spock," not "Do you think Spock lied to us?" And McCoy is vociferous in his defense of Spock.

Even through the court martial, Kirk keeps insisting on hearing more of the story from Spock, even though Spock's guilt is well-established and the death sentence has been passed (by Kirk!). Kirk still trusts Spock, even though Spock has lied to him and betrayed him in the worst way. Kirk knows there has to be more to the story and trusts Spock when he says it will unfold.

In the end, Kirk tells Spock, "You could have come to me," and Spock replies, "And risk you facing the death penalty, too?" All Spock has done has been for the purpose of honoring his former captain and protecting his current one--all Spock EVER does is to protect his current captain. Those elements of the episode make this a stand-out for me, even if I fast-forwarded through the Cage footage.
Tue, Oct 9, 2012, 5:11pm (UTC -5)
This one is a classic, but it would be an all-time great if only there were a few less goofy things.

1) TOS was always bad about this time and speed, but how did a shuttle with Kirk and Mendez catch up with the Federation flagship?

2) If a shuttle was that fast, why didn't Spock just steal a shuttle?

3) How did the Talosians project Mendez all the way on Starbase 11? Was there ever a real Mendez?
Fri, Jan 18, 2013, 5:04pm (UTC -5)
Hard to believe the Talosians couldn't repair Vina outright. Actually, a trip through the transporter with her pre-injury pattern should restore her.
Fri, Jan 18, 2013, 5:21pm (UTC -5)
I adore this episode (I'm counting parts 1 and 2 and The Cage as one long story). What's so awesome about it, is that it tackles concepts about the nature of reality and illusion 33 years before "The Matrix" blew anyones mind.
Sun, Sep 15, 2013, 6:03am (UTC -5)
I agree with Patrick above. The Menagerie blew my mind. My favorite episode so far. Yes the way the old footage was inserted into the story, is awkward and the explanation weak, but the whole thing makes for one hell of a great story and THAT is what I love about Star Trek. Honestly I don't care much for technical or scientific plausibility, as long as the story is good I am perfectly willing to suspend disbelief.

(And I loved the fact that we had a capable, strong female First Officer in The Cage. Unfortunately TPTB made a few steps backwards after that.)
Mon, Sep 8, 2014, 11:12pm (UTC -5)
I liked "The Menagerie" a lot. It's not "City" good, but it's close.

I always felt like this was alien race worth resurrecting on one of the subsequent series. They were fascinating, as Spock would say.

I wonder if there was ever any thoughts of doing that for Next Generation or DS9 or Enterprise?
Sun, Sep 28, 2014, 5:33pm (UTC -5)
"when he is looking once again at the image of Vina and realizes he does have a chance to "live" a normal life again"

I wonder also that Pike had fallen in love with Vena, and part of the reaction was accordingly.
(Susan Oliver was striking btw).

I would have made it far more romantic, and touching, where Kirk asks "Chris, do you want to go there ?"

Instead, "Chris, do you want go there, and be with her ?"

The eternal love of a man for a woman, is dealt
directly from God.

I think they just missed the boat there.
Thu, Apr 14, 2016, 11:46am (UTC -5)
In 1984, I had a job that was six minutes walking time from my apartment. TOS came on at 5, so I would walk home and turn it on, and always miss the intros. This was back when TVs mostly had dials you had to turn and antennas that had to be adjusted to catch the programs. It was a bummer if it was raining, because no amount of fiddling would make the Star Trek channel come in then, lol.

What I think many of you are forgetting is that "The Cage" was unknown until 1988. I don't think using the old footage was really a money-saving effort, but rather that Gene wanted to use the excellent pilot episode in some way. It deserved to be seen, and this was the only way it could be viewed. Oh, how I wish the network had gone for that pilot--I LOVED Majel's "Number One."

If you view this while blocking out your memory of "The Cage," this is a GREAT episode. Pike is a truly pitiable figure--and that we got to see what he had been through, and the man he once was, was amazing. I give this one high marks!
Thu, Jul 21, 2016, 7:50pm (UTC -5)
So what's with the commodore being a Talosian illusion? Was there any point to that in the slightest? Not only was this plot twist not related in any way shape or form to the actual plot, but it actually hindered the Talosians' goal of getting Pike since the commodore was aiming for a speedy trial of Spock. Furthermore, it completely contradicts the idea of a death penalty for going to the planet, since the Talosians are obviously far more powerful than they were shown to be in The Cage. If they can project their illusions dozens of light years, then the Federation is already doomed. How do we know that any of this really happened the way it played out? How do we know Spock wasn't being tricked by the Talosians to do this, or that the Talosians didn't create an illusion that caused the accident to render Pike an invalid in the first place? Heck, if they really are that powerful, how do we know Pike's actually an invalid at all?

That was my biggest problem with the framing story, but not the only one. Unfortunately, while it started out strong (this is our first sign of Starfleet Command, even if it still isn't called that), it couldn't sustain it. I liked Spock working to take over the Enterprise, and I liked the mystery of what was going on. Spock torn between the loyalty to his current captain and his former one was very subtly played, being as conciliatory to Kirk as he could while ultimately betraying him. Kirk forcing the issue by going on a suicide run in the shuttlecraft was a nice touch. And it's good that they at least admitted that the TV-style direction of the pilot episode wasn't a log recording, but rather a mysterious recording coming from the Talosians. I guess they could have just claimed it was Spock narrating what was going on, but since so much of it was Pike's experience and Pike's alone, that would have been silly as well.

But then Spock plead guilty, the trial was over, but it then continued just to pad out the episode. There was no more mystery or even tension in the real-time story anymore. This is despite the fact that Spock was no longer in control of the Enterprise, yet they were still on their way to Talos for some reason. Did he lock out navigation and the engines? If so, why not have that as the latter half of the framing story? Or have Pike's dilemma be the focus? He clearly didn't want to go to Talos again, although it's not clear if he truly didn't want to or if he was just trying to protect Spock. Then again, if he was trying to protect Spock, once they got to the trial section he should have insinuated it was his idea in order to at least try to get Spock clemency. As it stands, we don't know enough about how Pike feels regarding this whole situation.

After all, the whole point of The Cage was that he was fighting the Talosians the entire time. He clearly didn't like the idea of living out a fantasy life, and he clearly wasn't a fan of Talosian morality (kidnapping him and putting him in a zoo would do that to him, I guess...). So even if he's paralyzed, would he still want to go back? Maximillian has a point that bringing the focus back to Vina at the end would at least give him a bit more justification. As it is, the theme of The Cage is that living a fantasy life is wrong, while here it is that it is just peachy as long as you're disabled. Kinda muddled, isn't it?

Still, The Cage was a decent enough episode to be worth bringing back, and framing the story this way, as something that happened years ago on the Enterprise with a different crew, is a perfect justification for the stylistic differences while making the Trek universe feel bigger overall. A smart decision there.
Peter G.
Fri, Jul 22, 2016, 12:02am (UTC -5)
@ Skeptical,

I haven't watched Menagerie for some time but from the many times I watched it in the past it was always my assumption that going back to Talon wasn't Pike's idea at all, but that it was a sort of deal struck strictly between Spock and the Talosians. I think they got word, somehow, that Pike (whom they likely respected as a 'good specimen') was crippled, and got word to Spock what they'd be willing to do for Pike if Spock brought him back. SInce we know they can project images and ideas across long distances they may have simply been able to contact Spock telepathically.

If I'm right it does raise the issue about whether they tricked Spock, however they never exhibited any sort of mind control; illusion was their power. Unless Pike was never crippled in the first place then illusion wouldn't have aided them in convincing Spock. Likewise, too many people (the doctors, admirals, crew, etc.) would have to have been tricked to create a convincing illusion of Pike being crippled. Therefore my takeaway is that the Talosians were earnestly doing this to help him, and that Spock agreed purely out of compassion.

I didn't realize this as a kid and teenager, but now that I think about it this episode makes for an extremely strange choice by Spock if compassion was his objection. Certainly the typical Vulcan approach would be to do their duty and follow the rules. Spock certainly does neither here, and although loyalty to Pike is on the table, I don't believe that loyalty alone would warrant doing this; at least not using Vulcan logic. I think Spock is using Human logic, which is maybe our first strong sign that he isn't a purely Vulcan as he likes to claim. There are other instances of this throughout TOS, but I think this would be the first. I'm pretty much willing to discount his smiling in "Mudd's Women" as being them not having quite figured out his 'rules' yet.
William B
Fri, Jul 22, 2016, 1:37pm (UTC -5)
As with Peter, the impression I got was that it was not Pike's idea, ORIGINALLY, to go back to Talos IV. I think that the ship was still locked in to go to Talos IV. So what was the purpose of the Mendez illusion? Why, to do the court martial. Why do a court martial? *To get Pike to watch the videos.* And Kirk, too. I think that is part of the magic of this episode. Pike is asked to relive the mission from The Cage, as part of the court martial for Spock, but is now allowed the option of choosing to return to Talos IV on his own terms, where he can live a fuller life again.

I actually don't think there's much of a contradiction between The Cage and The Menagerie. Pike in The Cage would not stay and be a lab specimen to breed. He presumably still doesn't want to be treated like an animal in a zoo. However, eventually in The Cage it is made clear that Vina *wants* to stay. She is disfigured and does not believe she has a life off the planet. Pike returns to Vina now that he is sufficiently disfigured that he does not believe he can have a fully satisfying life off the planet. And he returns with the understanding that, now, the Talosians give him the choice. Illusion is not entirely wrong -- even in The Cage, Vina is a willing participant in the illusions created for her -- but that illusion must be agreed to.

Now, this has troubling connotations. We're not in the TNG era where blindness does not prevent someone from flying, running the engines of, and commanding a ship. Pike is a commodore but will take a life of illusion, where he has the opportunity of experiencing the things life has to offer, rather than continue "in the real world." That is fine as far as the individual is concerned, but it sends a weird message. The bigger problem is with Vina (and it's a problem in The Cage, too). OK, so her face is ugly -- I don't have illusions that 23rd century humans will be fully beyond superficialities, but The Cage treats it as obvious that the whole of a woman's life is in her beauty. The comparison with Pike in The Menagerie is even more striking. Vina is perfectly healthy and has a perfectly functional face, just one that looks aesthetically awful, and the episode implies that the male equivalent of the disability of a woman being *healthy with an ugly face* is being *entirely paralyzed with no ability to communicate save beeping*. This is the season of Mudd's Women so it's rather noticeable (though at least Mudd's Women implies, though it doesn't show, that the Venus Drug has effects on men too and that there is a male beauty standard in the 23rd century, though it seems to have to do with toughness).

I agree with Peter also that this suggests a kind of different model for Spock besides pure logic. I have always thought that Spock's willingness to go to the lengths he does for Pike, and perhaps *without Pike's express permission beforehand*, suggests a level of human emotional connection to Pike and his well-being which is not apparent in Spock's dealings with Kirk and Bones at this stage in the series, though seeds are there. I think it even on some level fits with the kind of angry Spock in The Cage, the idea that perhaps Spock had not managed to damp down his emotions as fully during his tour with Pike; perhaps it was even during his time with Pike that Spock found a way to get by in Starfleet and "find himself," and that this was the reason for his unusual, absolute loyalty to Pike and his emotional well-being.
William B
Fri, Jul 22, 2016, 1:52pm (UTC -5)
Anyway, a lot of what I love about The Menagerie is how it repurposes The Cage to create a different narrative -- instead of a story about Pike triumphing over the Talosians and showing the indomitability of the human spirit, it becomes one about Pike having rejected the Talosians but then being able to accept them on their terms, once he comes closer to Vina. There is a nice passing of the torch in the way Spock plays something like the Pike-in-The Cage role -- Pike eventually left Vina behind with the Talosians but understood that the Talosians' illusion power was too great to be wielded by Starfleet, and now Spock does something of the same thing now that Pike effectively "retires" to Talos IV. The problem of the illusions on Talos IV is that they are destructive as long as they are central to a society -- the Talosians destroyed themselves, and say that humans will destroy themselves, too, if they are given the illusions too soon. The death penalty has been instituted as a barrier against either the Talosians manipulating any other Starfleet ships or, presumably, the Federation getting a hold of the technology and destroying itself. It is something like the paradise which Kirk says humans are not ready for. But Pike is now "ready" for this heaven now that he sees his Starfleet career is at an end. It is as if Pike, too, gets a "death sentence" -- his old life is over now. No one can commit to the illusions on Talos IV and hope to continue living in the "real" world, and it is extremely dangerous for anyone to believe they could wield the power of illusion outside of the very narrow confines of one's own life. But Pike is not coming back. Spock is effectively giving Pike the choice of whether he wants to accept a very human "euthanization," of having a full and complete "afterlife" and ending his contributions to the rest of the Federation. This contributes to and furthers the themes of The Cage about Pike feeling restless as a Starfleet captain and wanting to live one of the other possible careers he could have (including sex slave trader -- like Dr. Piper, I rather hope he was not really serious about that one). In The Cage, the brush with illusions helped strengthen Pike's conviction that he wanted to be part of the Federation (human) project of exploration and self/other betterment, but post-accident Pike feels that his abilities and desires to do so are limited. And again, that is not great as a message to all disabled people -- Stephen Hawking continues to contribute to the world, after all -- but I am willing to accept the idea that Pike, and Spock, would believe that *for Pike* his limitations (and achievements) were sufficient to earn him an early retirement to isolated love and fantasy.
Peter G.
Fri, Jul 22, 2016, 3:13pm (UTC -5)
Good comments, William. But one thing about your concerns about what Star Trek was saying about female physical beauty. It wasn't Star Trek that suggested Vina's only hope was to live on Talos because she was ugly; it was Vina's desire and hers alone. To assume her position represents Trek's statement on what's important to women in general might be a mistake. From watching The Cage I think it's made fairly clear that Vina is shown to mostly be a shill for the Talosians, trying to undermine Pike and in a certain way betraying him since he couldn't really trust her motives. We learn in the end why she wanted to be there, but that sympathetic note shouldn't alter the fact that she isn't ever lionized by the script in any way. I therefore think it's not at all clear we're supposed to understand that she made any kind of 'correct' choice.

That being said, if we look at her history there are good reasons for her to stay there beyond being disfigured. For one thing she more or less died there and the Talosians put her back together. That alone should mean she owes them her life. They didn't do it quite right, and...well, let's just say that if they got the outside wrong I'm not putting good odds that they got the inside quite right either. Who knows whether she's in a constant state of discomfort of has some kind of other problems. She's alive and functional, but I'm not so sure I'd accept as certain that her *only* problem is her face. But even if it was, it's entirely possible that she actually just liked being there, and that it wasn't just all about her looks. She could literally live any fantasy any time. Talk about holodiction. Your comments about it being a heavenly afterlife are right on point. Plenty of undamaged people would want to stay there as well, cage or no cage. I also got the distinct impression that the Talosians really did care about her and her well-being, so in light of that she might even view them as all the family she has left.
William B
Sat, Jul 23, 2016, 1:42pm (UTC -5)
Good point, Peter. It also occurs to me that the focus on beauty as the *primary* reason Vina wants to stay can be attributed to the Talosians' fixation on Vina's attractiveness as a mate, which filters down to Vina given her role as shill for the Talosians (as you pointed out), so that we need not even believe that Vina herself necessarily believes that her physical appearance is the primary reason not to leave, or, if she does believe that, it may be more the result of the Talosians' focus than anything about 23rd century human values.

Still, Pike later says that he agrees with Vina's reasons for staying. That he says reasons, plural, suggests that it's not just about the beauty issue but other things too, such as those you list in the second paragraph, but it's still the beauty issue which is the primary thing Vina presents and the primary one he reacts to. Pike is meant to be a flawed individual to be sure, but I don't get the impression that his judgment is meant to be suspect at that stage in the story. By contrast, for example I could imagine Kirk overriding Vina's wishes in basically forcing her to fight for her freedom or Picard talking through Vina's options with her until he is satisfied that she is aware that the beauty standard is not a value that she needs to accept. Pike does not need to be either of them, and ultimately I think Picard and Sisko would accept Vina's choice as her own (and maybe Kirk would, too, eventually, especially given that he accepts this end for Pike). Still, you're right that Vina's choice (and even Pike's support of it) need not be a conclusive statement about 23rd century society or what Roddenberry et al. consider correct.
Sun, Jul 24, 2016, 9:45pm (UTC -5)
For what it's worth, I was also under the impression that Vina was had more physical deformities than just being ugly, what with the comment about coming back wrong. I assumed she had severe deformities and possibly was even in constant pain. If so, then it isn't just vanity that keeps her with the Talosians, and would fit with this episode's theme that living a fantasy life is ok when you're disabled.

As for the rest of the conversation, I suppose it does make some sense that the Talosians contacted Spock somehow and offered their assistance when they heard about Pike's accident. Perhaps they do feel something for him and have some affection after he demonstrated his abilities by breaking free of their illusions. Maybe they can offer him more now. And I like William's theory that the purpose of the court martial was to get Pike to relive those experiences. But given how antagonistic Pike was during the original visit to Talos, why would they think that would change his mind? What was the reason for changing his mind?

Also, how do they get a hold of Spock? Why him instead of Majel Barret? How can they project their thoughts across dozens of light years?

I think these (and others) are all interesting questions, and I think exploring both Pike and Spock in the second half of this episode would have been great. So I stand by my statement that the framing story falters in the second half. William and Peter bring up interesting points that they could have explored, but didn't. It's why I feel this is just a good episode rather than a potentially incredible one.
Peter G.
Mon, Jul 25, 2016, 1:45am (UTC -5)
@ Skeptical,

Oh, I completely agree that this is merely a good episode, which should have been great. Some aspects of it are outstanding, including Spock's hidden agenda (and even more hidden motives), as well as the completely unexpected turnaround where the Talosians, who were portrayed as antagonists, really turn into Pike's saviors in the end. It turns a straightforward episode like The Cage about monstrous aliens into a contemplative look at what those aliens really offered, and how failing to understand each other is what really caused the antagonism in the first place. A classic Trek message, if ever there was one, but not nearly as hackneyed as how such messages are delivered in later series such as Voyager (where you're hit over the head with it) or Enterprise (where it's shown in a kind of folksy, simplistic tone).

The parts that are unclear both make the episode better as a conversation piece, but also more unclear while being viewed.

To reiterate one thing William either said or alluded to, I don't think Pike *would* have changed his mind unless he was put in an extraordinary circumstance such as Spock put him in. Spock took a huge chance that he actually would, since if he didn't the whole trip was for nothing. He was banking on Pike having to revisit his memories and dealing with aspects of them he likely came out of with anger rather than clear-minded understanding. His takeaway from the event was that it was a bad, dangerous place, and nothing other than reviewing the events could change that. Perhaps it also took reviewing them with Spock, who was also there at the time (his #2), and who might have elicited Pike's sympathies since he had already gotten himself into serious trouble just to try to give Pike a gift.

There may be a side point to be made in Pike choosing to go back with the Talosians, which is what he had felt fed up, restless with his life, with Starfleet. Maybe the constant fighting, the antagonism, wasn't for him. After all, unless I'm mistaken, Pike came from a time during or just after the major Klingon-Federation war. I can see how yet another torturous experience with hostile aliens could give him some serious reservations about thinking that exploring is all so much fun anymore. But by going back to them he could do the one thing he probably always did want to do, which was to get to know new life forms in peace and engage in friendly exchange of knowledge. Heck, maybe he could even help them with their shattered world finally.
Wed, Jan 25, 2017, 8:40pm (UTC -5)
No doubt a true Trek classic. Great way to repackage and reinvigorate "The Cage". Certainly an episode to generate discussion. For me, I enjoyed the 1st part much more than the 2nd. In the 1st part, you're left with an immediate desire to get answers to so many questions like why is Spock doing this, what is so bad about Talos IV etc. The 2nd part where the Talosians simply conclude humans are not suitable for their purposes is a bit anti-climactic. The other thing I'm left wondering is what's true and what's an illusion. The part about the Commodore being an illusion while conducting the court martial seems a bit of a stretch to me -- that the Talosians can transmit their illusions to people light years away. I also thought the transmission from Starfleet Command that Spock is cleared of all charges was part of the illusion.
The overall ending arrangement with Pike opting to stay on Talos IV makes sense and provides a nice finish to the epic.
Overall, 3/4 stars for me. One I'd definitely want to rewatch and pick up some more of the subtleties. Just watched the 2 episodes for the 1st time in probably over 30 years.
I wish TOS had more 2-part episodes.
Dark Kirk
Sat, Jun 24, 2017, 9:47pm (UTC -5)
There was a pretty good single-issue comic book story based on the ramifications of this episode.
Trek fan
Sat, Sep 23, 2017, 10:47pm (UTC -5)
Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek won a Hugo award for this brilliant two-parter "The Menagerie." I first saw it on TV in the early 1990s before I ever saw "The Cage" -- and I thought it was really compelling. Seeing "The Cage" first spoils it, so I recommend watching "The Menagerie" before the failed pilot it repurposes, as the second version actually improves on the original by adding additional layers of mystery and meaning. I give it 3 1/2 or 4 stars.

This two-parter is essentially a character study of Spock, broadening our sense of him and testing his relationship with Kirk and McCoy. The first part of the episode, in which Spock stages a mutiny with a poker face that only cracks with worry (well-played by Nimoy) when he realizes Kirk will die in the shuttle if he doesn't surrender, remains particularly shocking and strong. Spock is the last person on the crew we expect to see "go rogue" or bring his loyalty into question. The rest of the two-parter, flashing back to Spock's mission with Captain Pike (Jeffrey Hunter) to Talos IV, gradually unspools the truth about Spock: That his personal loyalty to his friends exceeds his institutional loyalty, revealing a more vulnerable human side of him than we've seen previously. This is really the first "Spock episode" of TOS and it's a doozy that keeps us guessing for most of the running time.

The haunted sight of the crippled Captain Pike (Sean Kenney, doing some wonderful acting with his eyes) bound to a high-tech-that-isn't wheelchair in the present-day sequences remains one of the most iconic images in all of Star Trek. That Spock has worked out an arrangement with the Talosians to give his former captain some peace, yet remain loyal to his current captain, is a particularly deft beat in what is probably Roddenberry's best Star Trek script. The episode leaves us with the notion that what is "real to us" is sometimes the best possible reality given the alternatives; the show's insistence on the quality as well as the quantity of life (let's not forget that nobody suggests euthanizing Pike!) shows a deep compassion and empathy for the state of the handicapped that one rarely sees on television.

It's fun to watch the original mission from "The Cage" through the eyes of the current Enterprise crew, comparing two possible visions of the show. I'm always struck by how the original Enterprise set and costumes on "The Cage" look strikingly similar to the drab uniforms and gray-black design of the ship on the much-maligned "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" in 1979. In some ways, TMP may be Roddenberry's callback to "The Cage," attempted to reboot the original cerebral vision -- the two products certainly have a lot in common. But the pulpy feel and colorful sets/costumes of TOS (somewhat regained in the movie series by "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) speak to what many viewers came to love about the show's hyper-realist tone as retooled under the more physical Captain Kirk -- it's hard to imagine how "Star Trek" might have succeeded had the producers kept the brooding and unhappy Captaint Pike. Part of the power of "The Menagerie's" solution to Pike's dilemma is that it suggests a character who was unhappy *before* he was crippled has come to have a different view of life because of his suffering and might finally be ready to accept happiness.

Gotta love Commodore Mendez (the strong Malachi Thorne, also Romulan Senator Pardek on TNG) as our first image of Starfleet brass in TOS -- I'm not sure precisely when he becomes an illusion, but I think it's pretty clear that the real Mendez never being on the ship was Roddenberry's way of absolving Spock of the court martial that required three command officers. With only two command officers present, the hearing was never a binding judgment, and Spock is clever in the way he protects the crew by not involving them in his treason in case he fails -- I find it deliciously ironic that the nitpickers in this thread, who typically complain when Trek *doesn't* explain certain plot gaps, now complain here when Trek *does* cover it! In point of fact, it's clear Roddenberry labored extensively on this particular story, working extra hard to cover all the apparent holes in connecting two stories through flashback. I for one recognize the effort and give him credit for it; the story *truly* holds together better than many people here are giving it credit for.

Be that as it may, perhaps the biggest reason I love this episode is the strong character development as we watch the crew trust Mr. Spock even against their better judgment until even McCoy can't take it anymore. Watching not only Kirk but also McCoy defend Spock's loyalty as unimpeachable heightens the drama: We wonder how the heck Spock's actions of mutiny in the taughtly paced first half of the episode, which are pretty darn convincing as these things go in the Star Trek universe, can be reconciled with his loyalty to the crew. And it's truly touching the way Spock risks his own life and career to fulfill what he knows must be a desire of Captain Pike, who himself doesn't want to go to Talos if it will mean the end of Spock's career. Some nice foreshadowing here of the crew mutiny and trip to Genesis in "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock."

The flashback footage to Pike goes on a bit too long at times, pulling us out of the more interesting Spock crisis, but it actually adds to the "what the heck is going on" part of the mystery because this episode (the only two-parte in TOS) is so different from all others in the original series. And again, it really helps not to have seen "The Cage" before this one -- far better to see "The Menagerie" first and then watch all of "The Cage" as I did in my own life, as that's the order it aired originally since "The Cage" only had its belated broadcast premiere in the 1980s.

But again, it all comes down for me to the admirable sense of Spock's loyalty and (dare we say it) compassion for shipmates we get in this episode, and finally the haunted image of Pick in his chair being contrasted with his final embrace of a very realistic illusion as the most real thing left in his life. When the cerebral and unhappy Pike is actually reduced to little more than a brain trapped within a body, it seems ironic that he changes his view and longs for an embodied existence again. And who are we to say his reality at the end of "The Menagerie" is any less real than ours? That's the question this brilliant science fiction piece leaves us pondering.

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