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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30 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.
Mon, Jan 7, 2019, 1:22pm (UTC -5)
Re: Menagerie I&II(+Cage)--been away on long holiday, happy to be back to the show! must not be ready to return to real work though because i’ve gone on so long i had to resort to subtitles--hopefully that fades quickly, but yeah, this is going to be in multiple (im guessing at least 5) parts. safe to say this is what the office is paying for today lol.

“they kept us from seeing this, too. we cut through and never knew it captain.”
--number one

like more than half of the trekkies i know, i’ve always been a fan of this repurposing of the original pilot. I have a real soft spot for The Cage so to have it immortalized in canon rather than resigned to an historical footnote in bonus material works for me. but it’s so obvious that if shatner had been on board for it my pseudonym would be pikecentrick right now--in no universe do i think cage was ‘too cerebral’ for the 60s audience as the legend goes. what it lacked was shatnerisma pure and simple. on its own it drags some, a jaded career-captain longing for home is tonally wrong for the beginning of an exciting frontier space adventure, and of course all things considered the chemistry of the actual cast was lightning in a bottle that is absolutely worth the trade of losing ceiling-smasher Number One and a decent story. however, all that aside, shanter would have made this pilot compelling enough for the network through sheer force of will and we’d all be sitting here talking about the delightfully droll vulcan people and majel barrett would have turned up on TNG as a time-travelling starfleet admiral and not lwaxana troi (also, there is a universe in which that trek exists and i’d watch it even if it didn’t end up being better than ours). no disparagement of jeff hunter or the christopher pike we do get--as a great guest star and the tragic former captain of our very own enterprise he’s become a legendary trek figure in his own right. not knocking his performance, i’m just saying whatever failings the episode had writing-wise, cage would’ve been greenlit on shanter’s shoulders. the man is a whirling dervish of the very kinetic energy cage lacked.

random points: lolpoints for the LITERAL shipboard space-fax. points for the blue singing plant; i want one. points for charlotte gercke’s orion slave girl dance--titillation aside, the make-up and performance there are beautiful. The green color of the makeup contrasted with her lively and expressive eyes is really aesthetically pleasing and the shots of her are framed beautifully. attractiveness of the actress notwithstanding (and divorced from the ‘slavegirl’ context), the overall mise-en-scene is gorgeous and her performance is riveting beyond a simple opportunity for ogling, it’s not simply being hot and green that makes her magnetic there.
Peter G.
Mon, Jan 7, 2019, 3:04pm (UTC -5)
What's cool about this one is that it not only establishes continuity between the actual story of the pilot and the show we know - since Spock is the link between both - but it shows precisely how loyalty has *always* been one of Spock's traits and that it's not something he suddenly discovered under Kirk's command. It plays directly into the question of why he, as a Vulcan, is on this ship to begin with, and why he wants to be around humans despite appearing to complain about them all the time. Risking his career to help Pike (and perhaps the Talosians) is exactly the sort of thing we could only learn about Spock through an effort on a grand scale, like a motion picture. Here we're given it in two intallments; first through whatever audience had already seen the pilot, and then through this reexamination of it. So that's a featre-length look at what Spock's logic suggest to him to do, which seems to override things like rules and regulations.

There's also something in this story which ends up being a commentary on Kirk himself. Whether we want to see as a result of Pike's accident, or as always having been part of his nature, Pike does actually seek solace and comfort. He's still young and fights against it on Talos, but they knew that within him there was a desire to just stop fighting it and give in; to have peace and serenity. Now that his accident doesn't permit him to fight it any longer, Spock tries to give him that serenity. But the broader story is that some people do need consolations, comforts, and things to ease them along, wherease some few can actually get by trying to eliminate illusions and face reality no matter how uncomfortable it is. And that, to me, is Kirk: he'll face dangers, even to his own comfort, in order to do his duty and face the unknown. Unlike Pike, he does not secretly yearn for a stop to it all, and so while Spock is needed to help his old Captain find peace, his new Captain doesn't need his help to find peace, but to find danger. The transition from the old to the new, as shown here, really does outline exactly what Kirk brings to the table for the show that Pike couldn't, and how that old notion needed to be put to bed. And in fact it even goes further if we want to stretch out imagination, and perhaps suggests that Trek itself was about challenging the viewer and having them face danger of the mind; that this show wouldn't be a balm to help them get to sleep, but a punch to wake them up to real problems in the world. So Pike's story, while tempting to many, isn't what the show is about: it's Kirk's show.
Mon, Jan 7, 2019, 3:50pm (UTC -5)
“first officer speaking. security, send an armed team to the bridge. transporter room, stand by to beam captain kirk, as senior officer present, i present myself to you for arrest.”

as for the frame story, there’s no denying that despite its effective broad strokes, there are noticeable missteps in some of its logic. while the more obvious oversights can be either endearing or grating depending on my mood, i hedge like a porcupine at harsh criticism of this episode because despite being an obvious rush job, it owes its existence to savvy problem solving in a tight spot--nothing more trek than finding a clever solution to the problem at hand with the clock counting down and a ship to keep the episode has a few headcanon black holes one might get sucked into, since when is that not half the fun? ooooobviously if the bored trapped talosians can project to starbase 11 their telepathic range is such that they are probably scanning and eavesdropping on brains across a vast region of space surrounding talos, mining passerby psyches for experiences to add to the Thought Record as well as looking for appropriate slave/zoo-species to divert--all enterprise would have to do is clip a section of their (arguably huge) territory again and even across lightyears they could have instantly learned pike’s fate and easily communicated to spock with their offer. vulcans are telepathically sensitive too so it’s not even impossible that they are able to reach spock from even further out. duuuh. (wink) oh. and i always enjoy a good trek court martial in spite of most of them being complete rubbish as believable legal proceedings. yeah, more lay people have been to jail than lawschool or MIT--so it’s pretty common knowledge that evidence doesn’t come after ‘guilty’ and no criminal court of any kind really gives a shit WHY you’re trespassing because that’s fundamentally not its job, but you’ve just gotta treat it like technobabble. it’s obvious legalbabble and it’s absurd. on with the show. death sentence makes me laugh but ok, i see the STAKES you’re going for here. spock is not just risking career but DEATH. He cant just tell kirk what’s up cuz DEATH. pike doesn’t just agree to go with him cuz DEATH. I get it, i’m still in it with you, but leave me my quiet snickeyerolling. the fact that the trial is a literal farce of spock/talosian design with a telepathically-projected commodore helps me with this even though it’s obviously meant to be an accurate rendering of starfleet procedure for kirk/pikes benefit. one thing i always wonder about though is the (teleprojected?) starfleet orders relieving kirk of command and threatening a death sentence for him too. spock acts like the orders are real (‘jim please don’t stop me, dont let him stop me’) even when he knows telecommodore ‘taking command’ effectively puts the talosians in command/control of the ship and therefore, free of kirk’s skepticism, enterprise will almost certainly end up at talos. been trying to pretzel my brain into an explanation that lets me keep that ‘don’t let him stop me’ bit because it’s a nice moment for kirspock but it’s totally undermined by the reveal. the red herring largely succeeds at raising stakes again for the audience in the moment, but in-universe there is just no reason i can think of for the talosians to put this death-pressure on kirk themselves or for spock to go along with such conviction even for the sake of the grand deception. is it possible that spock is not fully aware of what is real in the projection either and believes the commodore is real himself? what might be the talosian reasoning behind leaving him in the dark? and alright, fine. yes. pike’s communicative predicament as described in the story is insanely stupid upon literally 5 seconds of consideration--hell, even hector salamanca and his bell managed better than we’re given to believe pike’s super-dalek chair can. but still, i give equal points/negpoints for a) anticipating neurally controlled robotic augmentation and b) completely failing to logically anticipate neurally controlled robotic augmentation--so it cancels out, right? ok ok. i concede. mccoy’s assertion that it will take months to question pike even with just a two word vocabulary strains believability on literally every conceivable level. i like to think it has to do with the nature of pike’s neural trauma, though the episode verbally contradicts that assumption. still, i give it all a 60s-pass and pretend pike has some kind of aphasia that inhibits his ability to use language without impeding his ability to comprehend it. now where were we?
Mon, Jan 7, 2019, 3:52pm (UTC -5)
“and that half is completely submerged. to be caught acting like us or even thinking like us would completely embarrass, yes. I could run off half-cocked, given good reason, so could you, but not spock. It’s impossible.”

oh spock, riddle wrapped in mystery inside enigma--menagerie poses so very many questions about you. spock the mutineer is a fantastic reminder that when a real (harhar burnham) vulcan decides on treachery, careful premeditation and consummate execution are a given even when the decision has an obviously emotional origin. for me one of the deep excitements of menagerie is in its understated, matter-of-fact portrayal of spock’s quiet and appropriately dispassionate display of vulcan deliberateness and calculation in the service of his fascinatingly human motivation. he’s running around literally pinch-dropping starbase techs, impersonating and kidnapping superiors, straight-up grand theft starshipping the enterprise from a federation base like a badass, deceiving his crewmates, and carrying it all off with the easy-breezy effortlessness of a leaping gazelle in his savannah element. aboard ship nimoy really nails the crew interactions. spock is commanding and unflappable in feilding their confused questions, with answers for everything. he’s cool-as-fucking-cucumbers in the face of mccoy’s suspicion. he anticipates potential obstacles and the reactions of the humans around him with assurance and accuracy (he absolutely knows kirk is coming and that shuttle is NOT turning back). and it may seem vulcan-standard--almost blase from a modern trek perspective--but this outing is building ‘vulcanness’ into a recognizable cultural philosophy by mining the contrast between in-universe (human) perceptions of vulcans so far (kirk’s initial defense of spock: ‘a vulcan can no sooner be disloyal than he can exist without breathing/that goes for his present commander as well as his past,’ also mccoy: ‘jim, forgetting how well we both know spock, the simple fact that he’s a vulcan means he’s incapable of telling a lie’), the fact of spock’s biracial heritage i.e. partial humanity, and spock’s actual actions as they unfold. we’re left to extrapolate vulcanness in some sense from what we can assume it isn’t, which makes our insight all the more powerful for not being based in exposition. there is a distinct implication from this storyline that vulcan-human hybrids would be UTTER MASTERS of deception should they choose it--a fleet suggestion of a farfarfuture where human/vulcan hybrids are themselves a differentiated race legitimately blended from their forebears. something out of the trek we’ve really been longing for eh discovery?

“you know why i've come, captain (pike). it's only six days away at maximum warp and I have it well-planned...i have never disobeyed your orders before, captain, but this time i must...i know. i know it is treachery and it's mutiny. but i must do this... have no choice.”

part of what makes spock’s mutiny so compelling is his total commitment to his course of action without pike’s prior approval. the episode’s initial stance is that spock catches pike totally unawares and basically forces the trip on him--that is not in keeping with spock’s general character but it becomes more credible if the extended charade of the court martial is framed as an insistence that pike be given a truly possible, reasonable choice. it is therefore pike, not kirk, who must ultimately see the talosian transmissions. the explanation spock offers for the trial may be as a distraction to keep kirk from regaining control of the ship too soon, but from what we learn of spock’s skillful duplicity in this episode, we need not take him at face value in this story. it is not kirk’s authority to turn the ship around which keeps the ruse going for so long--it’s that until pike has all of the information necessary to freely choose, kirk himself must a) be kept from influencing pike’s decision through appeals to honor/duty and b) still be kept from the bodily danger of being implicated in spock’s crime himself upon return to the real federation, telepathic illusion notwithstanding. so it is in delaying jim’s influence--and not his projected actions--that spock manages to juggle his conflicting loyalties to do what he concludes is best for both captains. he already knows (aside from implicating kirk in the crime) that if pressed he could convince jim to continue to talos for pike’s sake anyway, but only at the risk of contaminating pike’s true freedom to choose. kirk would almost certainly aid/abet him if appealed to--what is interesting then is that although spock’s entire mutiny is predicated upon his reasoned assumption that pike’s happiness/emotional wellbeing may ultimately be increased by choosing to accept the talosian offer, his actions throughout the faux-trial reveal a commitment to protecting pike’s right to make the call for himself. and because he does not--cannot--know with certainty what pike will actually do in the final moment, he must also protect kirk’s innocence. it is one thing to ask jim to disregard starfleet prohibition on a certainty that he is right to bring pike to the talosians. it is entirely another for his presumption of rightness to knowingly consign kirk to death should pike (once again) refuse the talosians and decide to live out a more limited existence among his own kind--both (differently) reasonable choices. there is a very sophisticated level of emotional intelligence involved in his decision to commit to his treason without pike’s affirmation up front. it’s big news! it demonstrates not only that spock’s actions (if not entirely emotion-based themselves) are at least the result of his recognition of a human-based moral imperative here, which could only be arrived at logically through an understanding of the importance of emotional connection for human beings to be mentally healthy. further, he orchestrates the entire affair based on an intuited outcome. he never presumes to make pike’s ultimate choice FOR him, but he does bank on his own guess about pike’s choice being right--a deduction that shows a remarkable reliance on the kind of intimate friend-knowledge of pike as an individual that he might typically deny, but nevertheless clearly possesses and makes use of in this instance. he basically risks life and career not even for pike’s assured happiness, per say, but on the chance that pike MIGHT opt for an alternative choice if given immediate means, and he’s completely willing to take these risks knowing his friend may ultimately reject the offer. obviously, only authentic personal feeling about pike’s fate could be the logical premise from which ANY of his plan is reasoned, but the episode also expertly preserves his vulcan dignity in all this as well through its sparing/subtle use of kirk’s emotional throughline as a reactive counterpoint. speaking of--i’m also (surprisesurprise) a huge fan of kirk in this episode. kirk-detective/kirk-betrayed/kirk-rethinking his preconceptions… shatner once again brings the heft necessary to sell the somewhat flimsy court martial material. as his initially unquestioning defense of spock to the commodore in part 1 gives way to logical suspicion both his amazed second-guessing and his staunch reservation of judgement in the face of mounting evidence of betrayal is powerful. shatner doesnt play up the fallout of this shift like many actors would. after the cat’s out of the bag he reigns it in and lets the atmosphere build around him, holding all but the pressing weight of the mystery back. the last moment of menagerie 1 hangs in the room like a cloud even after the screen is dark, with kirk carrying the dual-weights of command and deep friendship across his shoulders like two heavy buckets of water joined by the same yoke. there is a perfect moment of recognition he gives spock later on in part 2, a little once-over right before the telecommodore disappears. it’s like he’s reevaluating spock as a result of the new information--re-doing his mental calculus on spock, vulcans and friendship to incorporate what this sacrifice for pike has meant to the stoic man before him: just how deep the interpersonal loyalty and friendship might go in this alien-man who denies both...shatner conveys this new understanding like a pro and makes the audience privy to his side of the emotional exchange, elevating the moment of growth for both characters. kirk now knows something more of what spock is capable of. not just masterful cunning and a mutiny he could never have expected, but also what spock would be willing to sacrifice--life, pride, vulcan stoicism itself--not for a captain’s life/safety, but for his mere HAPPINESS (or chance of). when he ribs spock about a ‘tendency toward flagrant emotionalism’ and spock responds ‘no need to insult me sir,’ the levity is not (as usual) based on vulcanness as distinct from humanity, it is, for the first time, in ‘spock-ness’ as distinct from vulcanness--and the reveal rests on kirk’s new grasp of his first officer and on shatner’s acting rather than nimoy’s.
Tim C
Wed, Mar 6, 2019, 6:13am (UTC -5)
I re-watched "The Cage" tonight, because we're heading back to Talos IV on Friday and I haven't seen it in many many years. I was curious to see how it held up. I was especially interested to see whether or not I could see shades of Jeffrey Hunter in Anson Mount's performance.

And yes, I could! I don't know if Mount is doing it deliberately or not, but he plays Pike like a man who has had a weight lifted off his shoulders, which is what we see happening in The Cage. Pike's realisation during the "picnic" illusion with Vina also dovetails nicely with DSC season 2's idea that Pike feels guilt over missing the Klingon war:

PIKE: It's funny. It's about twenty four hours ago I was telling the ship's doctor how much I wanted something else not very different from what we have here. An escape from reality. Life with no frustrations. No responsibilities. Now that I have it, I understand the doctor's answer... You either live life, bruises, skinned knees and all, or you turn your back on it and start dying.

DSC's Pike feels guilty because he wasn't there to stand alongside the rest of Starfleet in their own time of need. It's actually a nice complement to the story of The Cage, albeit one that I don't entirely give the DSC writers credit for.

Aside from that, Majel's Number One is still the most obvious missed opportunity for TOS. Overall though NBC were probably right to ask for this to be retooled. Hunter's good, but he doesn't command the screen in the way Shatner does, and the brighter, more colourful sets that followed this were also more appealing. McCoy is also waaaay more interesting in his first appearance than Boyce.
Tue, Mar 19, 2019, 12:12am (UTC -5)
This is a great ep, the best so far. It has some flaws, but the pilot footage was used very creatively and a compelling, touching story was told.

Deforrest Kelly is so great as McCoy and Nimoy is really coming into his own. The story drags a bit when they're showing the transmission from Talos, but not too badly.

Miss Piper is the mandatory, gratuitously sexy lady in this ep, batting her eyes at Kirk and flirtatiously mentioning his past dalliance with a friend of hers. But Susan Oliver and Jeffrey Hunter win the all-time gorgeous couple award. Wow. Pretty people.

The guy playing disabled Pike is effectively cast, and the yes-or-no beeping was surprisingly moving. A sense of urgency was conveyed despite the limited communication. It was surprisingly obvious that Pike cared for Spock, still had a captain's sense of responsibility toward him, and was begging Spock not to endanger his life and career.

Nicely done!
Sarjenka's Brother
Thu, Apr 18, 2019, 5:24pm (UTC -5)
I agree with Springy above, and I consider this episode a watershed moment for the franchise.

It really helped establish the foundation of our notions of Starfleet and the Federation. Before this episode, the Enterprise was out there going from one thing to another -- extrapowerful aliens, Mudd's womenfolk, mad scientists, mysterious diseases -- but none of it was connected together.

"The Menagerie" did that. We now have context. We're beginning the process of universe building.

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