Watching through original Star Trek in production order means you come across a three episode chock full of courtroom drama.
You may also be tempted (as I am on occasion) to fast-forward through the flashback portions of “The Cage” since it came up in the rotation sixteen or so episodes back. And while I like “The Cage,” it isn’t necessarily one of those installments that I can watch and then feel like I’d enjoy watching again within a few days or weeks.
“The Cage” also shows us the Gene Roddenberry tendency to never let an idea go to waste. Recycling the footage from the original pilot to help keep the budget in line for season one is a great idea. The framing story is well done, though part of me can’t help but draw comparisons to Lost. We’ve got our current take on the characters and then a flashback to fill in a few details and reveal some things that may challenge our assumptions about the characters and the universe.
Having two courtroom dramas back-to-back in production order probably cut the costs a bit, but it can leave you feeling like the series is getting a bit repetitive at this point. But I always try to look at it as this is the point where things are about to take a huge jump forward and Star Trek is about to become what most of us think about when we think about Star Trek.
I do have a couple of thoughts from the framing device, though.
First us is the fate of Pike. No, I don’t mean going to Talos IV to be with Vina. I’m talking about his tragic accident that leaves him trapped inside his own body, only able to interact with the outside world by saying yes or no. When I saw the movie Awakenings, I commented that I couldn’t imagine a horror writer coming up with a less appealing fate than to be trapped inside yourself, unable to say what you’re thinking or feeling with the outside world. And to have once been able to do that and be now cut off from doing so just gives me a chill. And while I can understand that where there’s life, there’s hope, the future for Pike before Spock shows up to put his plan in action looks fairly bleak.
I also can’t help but wonder just how the Talosians contacted Pike and/or Spock since communication with their planet results in the death penalty. Was Uhura looking away from the communications panel when that came in? Did Spock alter the logs?
And even though Spock’s sentence of death is put aside by Starfleet at the end, you can’t help but think that the crew of the Enterprise is going to have a hard time trusting him ever again. Or at Starfleet might not have something to say about the sheer level of lying and manipulation our favorite Vulcan first officer went to in order to kidnap Pike, steal the Enterprise and then lock in a course for Talos IV. Maybe this is why he gets to go on all those landing parties with Kirk. OK, maybe part of the reason.
It also makes me wonder if the Talosians can send these images across the universe as they do and created the illusions that they do (Commodore Mendez for example), why not use their powers to create more of an illusion that will get Spock into less hot water.
One other thing I recall about “The Menagerie” is when Columbia House began selling uncut copies of the original series on VHS at two per tape, this was the first offering in the line. And I always recall thinking, “Man, I wish they’d offer a better couple of episodes to start the collection with than these two.”
It’s not that these are necessarily terrible. But, for me, they’re more middle of the road classic Star Trek than anything else. Maybe I just didn’t (and still don’t) get why they’re considered so special. All I know is that if I was going to beg my parents to let me start collecting them on VHS, I’d want to get two more exciting episodes than these two.