Star Trek: Discovery and New Life for “The Cage”


Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery features the return of several characters from a forgotten chapter of Star Trek.  Captain Pike, Number One, and even the Talosians and Vina have made appearances.  Is this a taste of what Star Trek could have been?

Growing up, my family had a VHS copy of Star Trek’s original pilot, “The Cage“.  I watched it countless times and I still remember how it shifted from black and white to color footage.  That’s when you saw previously unaired footage spliced with what was used in the episode “The Menagerie” where the pilot was played as video evidence of Captain Pike’s adventure when Spock was put on trial in the episode for bad behavior.

While “The Menagerie” itself is a good episode in that it’s an entertaining story within a story, it features a fate for Captain Pike that is a bit dark.  It does resolve the dangling threads of the unaired pilot and how it fits within the world of the Original Series.

Star Trek then…

The Cage” was an episode that promised some things I felt like we didn’t get to see in Star Trek for a long time.  The character, Number One, for example, was ahead of her time.  A female executive officer, skilled, intelligent, she wore pants, and again for those of you in the back, a woman.  She outranked Spock this go around.

While Star Trek has since featured many female characters in all ranks, the Original Series was a bit of a letdown in comparison.  Sure we got Uhura, but Yeoman Rand and Nurse Chapel were lower rank characters, not their fault, but women in supporting roles to men was a much more palatable situation for the TV audience of the ’60s.

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Too bad for Number One.  I thought she was amazing.

I also thought Captain Pike was potentially a more interesting and nuanced character.  His recent trauma from a previous mission where he lost some crew members shows us a man struggling with the responsibilities of being Captain.  Kirk was always much more charismatic, confident, and to be fair, those are great qualities for a commanding officer.

His friendship with the Enterprise’s doctor/bartender, Dr. Boyce, was much different from Kirk’s relationship with Dr. McCoy.  Boyce, notably older than McCoy, was more of a mentor to Pike.  He was even a bit world-weary.  He kind of reminds me of Guinan, in a way, someone the captain could confide in without jeopardizing his authority with his bridge crew.

All of this points to a kind of Star Trek we wouldn’t see until much later in the franchise.  An emotionally scarred captain, women in high-ranking positions, etc.  Even the plot of the pilot was much more psychological and mysterious, as opposed to the more swashbuckling nature that we got instead.  What we did get, however, was a more uplifting, inviting view of the future, which helped Star Trek garner its now massive appeal.

We’ll never know if Pike and crew could have done the same.

Image: CBS Studios Star Trek Discovery Captain Pike and Number One

…and Star Trek now.

Star Trek: Discovery, from its first season, echoed some of the things that resonate with me from “The Cage“.  Namely, the main character at odds with herself and her position, nearly traitorous Michael Burnham who carries the weight of the past with her.  This isn’t a new concept in Star Trek at this point, but it was still interesting to see.

But then flash forward to season two.  I was apprehensive when Captain Pike was brought into the fold.  I didn’t have any specific reservations, but it just seemed a risky thing to do.  By making Pike a major character, he could either live up to what we saw in “The Cage” or it could go off the rails.

Thankfully, Discovery’s Captain Pike is a wonderful addition.  So is Spock, by the way, and even the too-brief appearance of Number One.

And so now in 2019, over 50 years since the original production “The Cage“, its eventual incorporation into “The Menagerie“, its original airing to the public in the 1980’s, and J.J. Abram’s films, what used to be a relic of Star Trek’s development and evolution has finally been given new life, not only through reference or homage, but through action.

While it isn’t Pike’s Enterprise or his full crew in every episode, it’s still a slice of that original vision that we get to see realized after all those decades of wondering.  Star Trek: Discovery is doing many things well, despite mine and so many others’ initial skepticism, but I think what it’s doing best is honoring and showcasing historical aspects of the franchise that we’ve only heard about.

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Keep going, Discovery, and thanks for satisfying what my imagination has been pining for since childhood.