Change and evolution is inevitable in any franchise that survives half a century or more. Star Trek is no exception and nowhere is this more evident than in the depiction of women in “The Cage”, the pilot for The Original Series, filmed in December 1964. The misogyny is laid out the most bare after Yeoman Colt delivers a report to Captain Pike who says, “She does a good job alright, it’s just that I can’t get used to having a woman on the bridge.” Number One, who is never given a proper name, immediately turns around to look at Pike who then says, “No offense, Lieutenant, you’re different, of course.”
The common belief is that when most of the cast was replaced for the second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, Spock became logical and inherited Number One’s lack of emotion. Except: Number One is never portrayed as emotionless. High intelligence is not the same as having no emotion. Dr. Elizabeh Dehner would be more of a counterpart to Number One than Spock. She was highly intelligent and Gary Mitchell referred to her a “walking freezer unit.” In keeping with the times, Dehner says that, “women professionals do tend to overcompensate.” The sexist overtones permeate far deeper in “The Cage”.
Upon arrival at Talos IV, Pike takes every main bridge officer down on the surface except for Number One while claiming to need the ship’s most experienced officer on the bridge. The woman stays behind while the men beam down. If this were The Next Generation, Number One would have beamed down with the Away Team, regardless of her gender, while Pike would’ve been the one who remained on the bridge.
While on Talos IV, Pike encounters Vina who has spent 18 years on Talos IV since being stranded there after the SS Columbia crashed. Instead of wanting to be rescued, Vina would rather stay on Talos IV. The reason for this is because she was disfigured by the crash. How tolerant is humanity when it cannot accept the sight of an ugly woman? Vina would prefer to live in exile than have others see how she really appears. This is not the evolved or enlightened society that’s espoused to exist in later Star Trek. Pike even agrees with her reasons for staying behind after her true appearance is revealed in an emotional scene with swelling music.
Putting the emotional moment aside: If Vina was an adult when she crashed on Talos IV, couldn’t the Talosians read her thoughts and restore her to how she thought she wanted to look? Even overlooking the Talosians’ surgical inability, couldn’t Dr. Boyce have done anything? At the end of the episode, Pike tells the Talosians to give Vina back her illusion of beauty, The Magistrate, agrees to this, “And more.” He gives Vina, an illusion of Pike, who happily goes back underground with her. Pike, and the Enterprise, were drawn to Talos IV by the Talosians to bring Vina her idea for the perfect man as she admits to Pike earlier.
And what is Pike’s ultimate fantasy? What are his strongest desires? Vina says that someone’s strongest desires are of what someone can’t have. So the Talosians turn her into an Orion Slave Girl and someone in this new illusion tells Pike the women on this planet actually like being taken advantage of.
It could be argued that “The Cage” was forward-thinking in that it had a woman First Officer and women wore pants in contrast to when TOS became a series but deeper examination of the pilot shows how sexist the pilot is in every other area. Compare this to Voyager in the 1990s, which stars Captain Kathryn Janeway, Chief Engineer B’Elanna Torres, Seven of Nine, and where two of the main antagonists of the series are women: the Borg Queen and Seska. All are strong, independent women. In the “The Cage”, Vina tells Captain Pike she would make better wife material than Number One or Yeoman Colt.