Captain's Blog pt. 76: The Menagerie

Title: (3) The Cage becomes The Menagerie.

Script/ Theme: A real gem. Choosing "The Menagerie" is not a dis to "The Cage," which is a masterpiece. In the crisis-of-20th-century-masculinity genre, especially, I'd put it up there against Updike's Rabbit books.

It's an abstraction of Roddenberry's own situation at the time. I won't over-focus on it, because the story in and of itself is applicable to just about anyone. But there's a conscious effort, it seems to me, on Roddenberry's part to play it up. Just a few examples (more like suggestions:)

"Since you resist the present specimen, you now have a selection."
The Talosians (old ladies in drag) are the prism through which he examines these concerns. It's a short step from there to "filling my mind with thoughts so primitive they black everything else out."
This should really be how Mad Men wraps up: Don Draper on Talos IV. Or "The Enemy Within."
Pike's critical condition is cured only when reunited with "the girl who got away" aka the one outside the ideological bounds of his "cage."

The Orion slave girl fantasy is the only scenario where Vina towers over Pike. This was deliberate; Roddenberry intended Orion girls to be eight or nine feet tall, something reconsidered by the time of "Whom Gods Destroy." But as a projection along the lines described above, it fits nicely.

"Receiving a distress call, Captain." Spock is there to c-block Pike's martyrdom.

If reading the episode as gender role breakdown doesn't do it for you, it's also a complex exploration of that borderland between voyeurism and solipsism. In this way, the envelope story of Kirk having to watch it all to learn anything - and the lengths to which everyone around him go to ensure his spellbound participation - is especially interesting.

Creepy guy: "Wouldn't you say it was worth a man's soul?"
"He keeps blinking 'no...' No to what?"

In context of its competition on Nov. 17 and 24, 1966, it's a PBS mind in a VH-1 world. A 10-and-1o split if there ever was one.

Visual Design: (3)

Bridge set of the original Enterprise.
The re-touched matte shots in the remastered versions are very nice.
Glad they didn't digitally edit out Spock's emoting.

Kirk and the Gang: (15) Tough call. Everyone does a fine job here, particularly Spock when he's trying to stall for time when Talos inexplicably stops transmitting. (Speaking of, why do the transmissions pause like that? Is there a reason given? Since Mendez is an illusion, as well, this means they're feeding him his lines.

Are the Talosians just creating a little dramatic tension for the Captain?

But the weight of performance in this episode falls primarily in our next category.

Guest: (10) With the exception of the Commodore

The impressively named Malachi Throne
and Miss Piper

Julie Parrish, who later played Nat's girlfriend on Beverly Hills, 90210
the so-called guests here are of course the original cast hired for the show. The pilot (famously deemed "too cerebral" by the network suits who screened it) was re-used with the envelope story around it.

Majel Barrett, Jeff Hunter, and Laurel Goodwin.
Peter Duryea, who looks like he stepped out of one of those rocket to the moon with a monkey sidekick movies. Named Skip or Flash or Zip or something.
Number One with John Hoyt.
Yeoman Colt, she of the unusually strong female drives.
Watching the original cast interact on a recognizable Enterprise (and with Mr. Spock, of course) is a sidelong glance into the Trekverse that might have been. I wish the recent reboots incorporated more from this, actually. It was great to see Bruce Greenwood as Pike and all, but it'd be fun to see mix-and-match of the two Enterprise eras in the alternate timeline being explored. (Not that "The Cage" is much of an "era." More of a glimpse.)

Proto-Trek, before a 100%-more-Shatner direction was agreed upon.
Jon Lormer (far right)

The main guest star of "The Cage" and thus "The Menagerie" twice-removed is Susan Oliver as Vina.

In addition to all of her work in film and television, she was an accomplished aviator, like you or me.

Not sure what the hold-up is with its release, but The Green Girl, a documentary about her life and career, should be coming out before the end of the year.

Interior Logistics: (2) As proto-Trek, I'll take it easy on this episode, but just a couple of things, some from Farrand, some from a time before Farrand, before the internet, before the empire, when I'd just harangue my brother or whomever about these sorts of things.

- It is revealed at the end that Commodore Mendez's presence at the trial and in the shuttlecraft was just one of their illusions.

Talos IV is 6 days away at maximum warp from Starbase 11.

Can the Talosians really broadcast their illusions across such a distance?

- I get that Pike is supposed to be visually represented as embodying a living hell, as is Vina once we see her true form. But does it make any sense for either of them to look the way they do?

The Talosians' sense of telepathy is advanced enough where they didn't need an owner's manual to "put her back together:" just pluck a picture of herself as a pretty young thing from her memory and voila. Their failure wasn't about their abilities as illusionists/ telepaths, of course, but as reconstructive surgeons, or beings-who-operate-reconstructive-machines. But the line is "Everything works, but they had never seen a human." This seems to imply her appearance is due to not knowing what a human looks like. Considering the "Spock's Brain"-like complexity required for the "everything works" statement to make sense - ah, screw it. It's a great twist, serves the metaphor well, and daylight's wastin'.

As for Pike, good lord, what branch of Starfleet Medical worked on him?

He can only say "yes" or "no?" And has a battery heart? I realize it's tricky to accurately convey medical technology of the future and that it's meant to be metaphorical power over literary realism. But hey. It's what I do.

- Eugene Myers points this out in his re-watch: "Most frustrating to me is the fact that Spock’s reason for not confiding in Kirk—the death penalty—is invalidated when the punishment is conveniently removed as soon as they regain contact with the starbase. Who knows what might have happened if the situation were explained from the beginning?"

It's kind of a long justification for showing the pilot in a lot of ways, so I see this as only part of a larger array. Or maybe it's that hey, Spock indulges himself from time to time, as we see later at the end of "Whom Gods Destroy." Sometimes he just lets people slug it out and looks on. More voyeurism, perhaps?

Memorability: (15) The points for this category usually only go to 5, but it's possible that outside of Spock's ears the Dancing Orion Girl is for better or worse the most iconic image of all Trek.

Total Points Awarded: 68

Food for Thought: When I think of worst case scenarios of getting older (physically atrophying, losing bladder control, unable to even remember what Star Trek is, slowly passing out of this world in a cobwebbed corner in some hospice) the idea of spending my final years in simulated strenuous copulation or endless family picnics under sunny skies in a Talosian zoo seems pretty preferable. I love that the episode ends the way it does.


Nothing sad about it. It ends on a high, if pensive, note. No reason, no stubborn dogma, no what Captain Picard might call pedantic first-year-philosophy student bull. Spock gets nothing out of it; indeed, he risks it all for just the chance of helping Pike achieve the palliative care he can only get on Talos IV.


The idea of a fine-tuned universe created for (or by) human consciousness to exist and dream about itself is literally older than the beard of Moses, but it's just wild to me that the Astronomer Royal of the UK is floating this same sort of Talosian dreamscape, now, in the halls of academia.

All in all, what is real or unreal doesn't seem to matter too much. To paraphrase the Talosians, Captain Pike has an illusion, and we have "reality."

May we find our way as pleasant.


  1. Some of the plot is extremely illogical -- especially, as you point out, the idea of the Talosians not having been able to figure out what Vina should look like. That just doesn't make much sense; she basically looks exactly like the Talosians!

    I've also always had a problem with the idea of the planet being SO off-limits that it carries a death penalty. That seems harsh. Also, is Trelane's planet given similar status? The Organians? The Metrons? If not, why not? Is it a holdover from a vastly more conservative Starfleet administration, when Texans ruled? I don't buy it.

    That said, I absolutely love "The Cage," and I remain extremely impressed by how well the footage from that pilot was repurposed for use in "The Menagerie." That was a textbook example of properly using what you've got. And I always smile a bit when I consider how cool it must have been for a hardcore Trekkie to see this episode, and see what amounts to an episode from an entirely different version of the same series. Very cool.

    And for the record, I agree that it would have been nice to see some of these characters pop up in the Abrams movies. A Yeoman Colt cameo would have been nice. A Dr. Boyce cameo would have been even better. Ah, well.

    1. The interior logistics for this one don't bother me so much, because the themes explored/ subtext is so interesting I just need a little bit of covering fire. So the death penalty for Talos IV is an effective metaphor for going "off-script"/ daring to question the mid-20th-century hetero male "cage," as it were. "Right thinking will be rewarded; wrong thinking is punishable."

      Or, from the voyeurism angle, same thing.

      I actually really think this episode makes quite a contribution to the discussion of both of the above. In many ways, it's the equivalent of Rear Window for the voyeurism angle, and Updike's Rabbit series for the male-identity-fragmented/exposed-as-illusion read.

    2. I read "Rabbit, Run" in college for one of my classes, but all I remember of it is that I hated it.

    3. That's actually the worst of the 4, for my money. I read them backwards, though. All I can say is, if it weren't for the first, the other 3 wouldn't exist, which is a pity, as they're brilliant, but I never liked the 1st one, either. I can see how it was innovative/ important for its era. But it covers material I find more compelling in "The Cage" and elsewhere.