Friday, September 07, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 11 (The Menagerie: Part I)

Certain episodes make more sense once you learn what happened behind the scenes.  It always bothered me that Star Trek: The Next Generation’s third-season finale had only Captain Picard get assimilated by the Borg.  It would have made more sense to me to assimilate more of the bridge crew, if not the whole ship.  Then, I read that there was some doubt as to whether or not Patrick Stewart would return.  Apparently, there was some sort of contract dispute.  Picard would live or die depending on the outcome.

Similarly, The Menagerie raised a few questions for me.  It starts with the Enterprise called to Starbase 11, ostensibly at the request of Captain Christopher Pike.  Commodore José Mendez is a bit confused by this, as Pike couldn’t possibly have sent out any such request.  Pike has been confined to a wheelchair since a recent accident.  That same accident has left him unable to speak with anyone.  His mind is still active, but his body is useless.

It turns out that Spock lied.  He’s brought the Enterprise to Starbase 11 to abduct Pike.  The reason?  Spock will bring Pike to Talos IV, where the inhabitants can let Pike lead a seemingly normal life.  Spock has the ship programmed not to stop until it reaches its destination.  In the meantime, he’s put on trial.

As evidence, Spock shows Mendez, Kirk and Pike footage from the first mission to Talos.  Using this, he explains his plan.  The Talosians can generate very real illusions.  Pike can believe that he’s living out any fantasy.  This is why Starfleet has banned travel to the planet.  Spock risks death not only for himself, but for the rest of the crew as well.

The episode ends partway through the trial.  As a cliffhanger, one would have had to wait until next week to find out what happened to Spock.  Of course, through the magic of steaming and home video, it’s just a matter of calling up the next episode.

The premise had me a bit confused.  The most obvious flaw, as brought up by others, is that Pike can only communicate through a flashing light.  One flash means yes; two flashes means no.  Morse code existed back then.  I would also imagine that other forms of binary communication existed, which would have allowed for better communication.  It appears to be done more to show how bad Pike has it.  He can’t even communicate with people, so going to live with the Talosians seems like a good idea.

That being said, why did Spock have to hijack the Enterprise?  We’ve met Harry Mudd, so there are shady individuals that would have transported Spock and Pike for a price.  I suppose that few would have been a match for the Enterprise.  One could also argue that Spock would have needed a decent ship with a doctor onboard.  Still, it doesn’t appear that Spock even entertained the idea.

The entire episode is little more than a cheat.  From what I’ve read, production was behind schedule.  The Menagerie allowed the show to produce two episodes wile basically filming one.  They just had to film the Starbase and the trial.  It also serves as a way of getting the original pilot into canon.  (If you haven’t seen The Cage, don’t worry.  It looks like most or all of the footage made it in.)

One might also wonder why the Talosians didn’t make an illusion of Pike so that he might speak for himself.  The truth is that Jeffrey Hunter wasn’t available.  He had already moved on to other projects.  He is shown in the footage from The Cage.  However, the man in the wheelchair is a different actor.

It’s an interesting premise, at least.  A main character risks life and career for a former commander.  It’s not the thinnest of plots, but it is up there.  It does help if you try not to think about it.  I suppose Pike is lucky that Spock was still serving on the Enterprise.  The premise might not have worked, otherwise. 

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