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Star Trek TOS - Season 1

Star Trek TOS - 1x00 - The Cage

Originally Aired: 1964-12-12

Synopsis:
Captain Pike and his crew are lured to Talos IV by a race capable of creating powerful illusions. [Blu-ray] [DVD]

My Rating - 6

Fan Rating Average - 3.02

Rate episode?

Rating: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
# Votes: 487 5 3 9 13 34 96 50 61 48 47

Filler Quotient: 2, filler, but an enjoyable episode nevertheless. You can skip this one, but you'd miss out on some fun.
- This is the original pilot of Star Trek. It never aired until subsequent home video releases included it as an extra, but chronologically this is the first episode of Star Trek and many people believe that you should watch this episode first. However, it's worth noting that almost all of the material in this episode will be shown again in a chronologically later episode, The Menagerie, as a clip show. If you hate clip shows, then skip this episode. You'll catch all the important bits of this episode in The Menagerie's retelling of it.

Problems
- Spock at one point incorrectly refers to the Talos planetary system as the Talos "solar system." This is a common error. The term they were looking for is planetary system. The planetary system we live in is called the Solar System because our star is named Sol. As such, the term "Solar System" is a proper noun, not a generic term.
- There are numerous inconsistencies in stylistic continuity in this episode with respect to the rest of Star Trek that followed. However there are no significant problems with its internal continuity. If you ignore the stylistic continuity errors, the plot fits well into Star Trek's overall canon. If you're interested in the complete list of discontinuities, here they are:
- In this episode, Spock isn't the logical Vulcan that he is in chronologically later episodes. He displays emotions fluidly. This error is later fixed by revealing that Spock is in fact half human.
- The "time warp" speed in this episode is later retconned to "warp speed" instead.
- Pike calls his first officer a lieutenant, but first officers are later retconned to hold the rank of commander.
- Pike referred to his ship as the United Starship Enterprise, but subsequent episodes retcon this to the Federation Starship Enterprise.
- The colonists mention that they are Americans, but subsequent episodes violate this premise because later continuity establishes that the United States (and all Earth governments) would have reformed into United Earth by this time period.
- Pike claims that the Enterprise is "from the other end of this galaxy." But later episodes establish that no early Earth colony ship would have ever made it that far.
- The ship's "hyper drive" is later retconned to "warp drive" and the ship's "rockets" are later retconned to "impulse engines."
- The laser weapons in this episode are later retconned to "phasers."

Factoids
- This episode was rejected as the pilot for Star Trek by the TV networks for being "too cerebral." Gene Roddenberry was asked to get rid of the female first officer (played by his wife, Majel Barrett) and Spock because the TV networks didn't believe the audience would accept a female in a high ranking position nor an alien as a main character. Roddenberry compromised, getting rid of the female first officer but keeping Spock.

Remarkable Scenes
- Christopher Pike doubting his ability to command the Enterprise.
- Pike, to Number One briefly forgetting that his first officer is female: "I can't get used to having a woman on the bridge."
- The aliens belittling Pike shortly after his capture.
- Pike being transported back into the memory he bemoaned about to the doctor.
- Pike's illusionary battle with the savage.
- Number One using the phaser cannon against the alien door.
- Pike needling information out of his fantasy woman about his captors.
- Pike discovering that intense anger blocks their telepathy.
- Pike's fantasy woman referring to Pike discussing their capture as strange talk that gives her headaches; trying so hard to act as if the fantasy is real.
- Pike transported into a fantasy with Orion slave girls.
- Pike being presented with a "selection" of different girls to suit him for breeding.
- Pike capturing one of the aliens.
- Pike discovering that the phaser not working was also an illusion.
- The captured humans preparing to destroy themselves with a phaser overload rather than live as pets for the aliens.
- The yeoman asking Pike who would have been Eve and Number One quickly striking her down.

My Review
Set deep in the future, a weary captain of the starship Enterprise, Christopher Pike, is lured into an illusionary world created by reclusive aliens who seek to use his reactions to their illusions as entertainment. On at least some level, he finds himself tempted by their illusions, as he told the doctor he was thinking of giving up the responsibility of command to take it easy for a while. But he regains his vigor, breaks out of the cage, and returns to his ship with a renewed focus and conviction.

Aside from introducing us to the Star Trek universe, Star Trek's original pilot is a deep exploration of the psychology of Captain Pike. The plotting, while a bit too verbose at times, is quite strong. We learn what's getting him down and what he thinks he needs in order to recover during his conversation with the doctor, but we also get treated to actually seeing a version of these things as illusions after his capture by the aliens.

The illusions not only allow us to actually see what Pike was discussing with the doctor earlier in the episode, but also represent a new danger for Pike along with a new opportunity for him to recover from his emotional problems and regain his confidence. The revelation at the end that the aliens weren't all bad; only slightly misguided in their moral center was a nice touch. I liked that the aliens were neither terribly benevolent, nor terribly malevolent, but simply a shade of gray, much like their overall appearance.

As a side note, it's impossible to watch this episode without making note of the copious amounts of continuity errors with respect to chronologically later material. These errors exist because the rest of Star Trek retconned things established in this episode. Technically, it's the rest of Star Trek which is a continuity error. However, since this episode never aired during the original run, it's hard to hold any of that material responsible either. For a complete list of continuity errors, see the problems section.

Overall The Cage is a strong story. It is dragged down by unfortunate TV network politics of the time it was made and the necessary retcons by later material along with some of the internal imperfections in the plotting such as the verbosity of the A plot, but for all it has working against it, The Cage is a strong story whether it is the first episode of Star Trek you see (which I recommend!) or it is the last episode of Star Trek you see as a home video extra. It's above average compared to the rest of the series with its complexity and nuance.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From rhea on 2008-04-27 at 11:46am:
    All in all great episode, and I am happy that they recycled it in The Menagerie. However, it's a feminist's nightmare. Women are either intelligent, in which case they are not sexual, or sexual, in which case they are dumb. The worst, however, is that Pike is such a macho. Not only does he not want the new yeoman on the bridge because she irritates him with her femaleness, he also "agrees" with Mina's decision to stay on the planet so she can live in an illusion and be beautiful instead of going back with the Enterprise and be ugly, but among real people. Who but the most vain person (i.e. a 1960s regular woman, obviously, at least in the writers' eyes) would chose illusion and loneliness instead of a chance for a real life?
  • From Alan on 2009-06-23 at 10:16pm:
    "Who but the most vain person (i.e. a 1960s regular woman, obviously, at least in the writers' eyes) would chose illusion and loneliness instead of a chance for a real life? "

    Wel,i sure would if the illusion was happy and the real life was misery.Let's face it,looking like that what happiness could she have had?
  • From Jem Hadar on 2010-09-02 at 11:59pm:
    Loving the new reviews, keep them up! Great pictures too!
  • From Tallifer on 2011-02-19 at 5:08pm:
    "Sol" is simply the Latin word for a "sun," which is the central star of any system of planets. Scientists in former times preferred terminology derived from Greek and Latin, hence the term solar system. Of course, originally "sol" was only our sun, but now we know that there are many other stars which have planets.
  • From wes on 2011-03-23 at 6:13pm:
    Does anyone actually say what Spock is in this episode? I don't recall anyone saying that he is a Vulcan.
  • From CAlexander on 2011-04-12 at 10:53am:
    Whenever I watch the Cage, I find myself wishing I could see more of the adventures of Captain Pike. They say the Cage was rejected as a pilot for being "too cerebral." That sounds about right, that's why I like it. Pike comes across as more human that other Star Trek captains; he lets you know what he is thinking and feeling. You learn a lot about Pike in one short episode.
  • From Mike Meares on 2012-01-21 at 6:46pm:
    First, I have to say what a great Website! Thank you Keithinov!

    And like Jem Hadar wrote, I have to say what great photos. I have searched and searched the internet for Star Trek TOS photos and just can’t find good ones. You have come up with some fantastic ones.

    As to your review of The Cage, I thought your rating of 6 was a little low. However, I think your criticisms are correct but I feel the story and presentation holds up very well even after all these years.

    Rhea’s criticism is correct in that the issue of women was never handled properly by Star Trek producers. I think this is a ongoing weakness of Star Trek that was handed down by the great Gene Roddenberry. Roddenberry had a marvelous vision of the future but had a terrible view of women in general and the role of women in Star Trek in particular.

    And while I do agree with Alan that given a choice I too would have preferred the illusion over reality, you have to ask yourself if the Talosians knew nothing of human beings could they really care for Vina and all her real health issues better than Humans could? I understand her staying behind made for a good story and she was with the Talosians for 18 years ( although it makes you wonder how they kept her alive all that time not knowing human physiology ). However, I still feel Humans could have done more for Vina health wise than the Talosians.

    And I have to totally agree with CAlexander! Captain Kirk will always be my favorite Star Trek Captain, but I always wonder how I would feel if I had seen more of Captain Pike. Christopher Pike was such an interesting character and I wish we could have seen more of him.
  • From Stephan on 2012-05-17 at 3:58am:
    Nice site, I've just started watching the old star trek and reading your reviews after I watch each episodes.

    I wanted to go back here and make a point in regard to your comment in the problem section about how it's wrong for them to say they are "American". Well, I re-watched it and they didn't specifically say that they were Americans They said exactly: "We're from the American continent". That doesn't mean that they thought the United States still exists or that they have American citizenship, but rather points to the general area they are from.

    Nowadays, when people from the same country encounter each other while traveling meet abroad, they frequently exchange information about which part of their home country they are from. It's not a far stretch to see they would do that too in outer space considering which part of Earth they are from.
  • From Chazz on 2012-07-26 at 11:27pm:
    What a great website! I just discovered it and absolutely love it! The Cage is actually one of my all-time favorite Star Trek episodes. I love the overall theme we humans are insignificant specks in this universe and there are other beings infinitely more superior to us who would view us as less than an amoeba for science experiments. People forget this was still a revolutionary idea in the 1960's when many still thought we were made in the image of you-know-who. As for Captain Pike, I think he would have made ineffective leader, had he continued, especially with his self-doubts, weariness, bizarre fantasies and overall lack of self-motivation. Captain Kirk was a far better leader as he portrayed the real qualities that a ship captain would need to possess to command a crew of 400.
  • From Schreck on 2013-05-22 at 1:59am:
    My brother and i have been going through the star trek chronology watching every episode in order by stardate and i must say i have used this site as a constant reference for comparing as well as seeing how you view some of these episodes and i would like to post my ratings on here in the comments section as well...our ratings scale goes from 1-10 but on a .25 incremental basis...i also rate the episode based on how i would compare it with the rest of entertainment and not just trek so it is likely not going to have any 0's or 1's...
    I give the cage a 6 and my brother gave it a 7
  • From Alan Feldman on 2013-06-12 at 9:33pm:
    "The Cage"

    The best thing about this episode is that it is "high-density" material. In other words, there's little or no filler. There's always something interesting happening. Another great thing about this episode is all the elaborate sets -- nothing like the regular show.

    The worst thing: the ridiculous idea of humans preferring death over captivity (more on this later).

    At the beginning we see radio waves distort the view on the screen. Radio waves are not visible! Also, notice that the right half of the sky is just a mirror image of the left! (Well, small parts of it not, but the vast majority of it is.)

    Right after Pike leaves the bridge we see a girl wearing a red top and a white mini-skirt walking next to a guy dressed more for the beach than for a starship. Notice he's wearing shorts and sandals! A pretty lax dress code if you ask me.

    Notice the yellow sheet coming out of some machine on the console. It appears to be a very slow printer producing a rather low quality printout! And this is supposed to be two or three hundred years in the future? Maybe it's "retro," cheap-fax-machine style.

    I love the scene with Spock, Pike, and the blue leaves. It looks like they get some sort of buzz out of the leaves, especially Spock. Look at his smile! Yep, yet another emotion from the "emotionless one." If Spock were truly totally emotionless, he'd be boring.

    Notice the display window containing flowers that the Talosians walk in front of when they make their first appearance. I guess the Talosians just wanted to spruce the place up a bit. And just to the right of that you can just about see one of their specimens moving about and watching from its cage. If you blink, you'll miss it.

    Regarding Vina, Dr. Theodore Haskins said that "she was born almost as we crashed." No. 1 later said she was listed as an adult crewman on the ship. Somewhat contradictory, no?

    Starting a race of humans from two people would result in incest between the offspring. Better to start with unrelated pairs of males and females, no?

    At the end when we see that Vina is in reality grossly deformed, we learn that the Talosians didn't have a model for a human to go by when they "rebuilt" her. Would it be a large stretch of the imagination to at least assume bilateral symmetry, at least for the exterior? I mean, really now. And they knew how to give her an illusion of beauty. Why couldn't they just rebuild her to look like that, or as close as you can get? And if you can get everything to work, how far off can you be? And how could she still have been alive if she was so injured that "putting her back together" would result in something so malformed?

    The transition from pretty Vina to ugly Vina is extremely well done. Her eyes, lips, and eyebrows are even moving during parts of it! Although, admittedly, there is a difference in the overall look of the scene when the transmutation is done and it cuts to Pike and then back to her. During the transmutation it's like she's holding her head still for the hairdresser, but after that her head's sort of bobbing and we're back to "live action." There is a small lack of continuity there, but still pretty good. IOW, the last frame of the transmutation doesn't look quite like the first frame of her after cutting to Pike and back. Slightly overlapping sets of eyes at one point, but still very impressive.

    For some reason I find Pike's continual endless outrage to be annoying. And, while on top of this, parts of the episode strike me as really awkward, I still find the episode compelling to watch.

    Near the end, The Keeper says: "We had not believed this possible. The customs and history of your race show a unique hatred of captivity. Even when it's pleasant and benevolent, you prefer death. This makes you too violent and dangerous a species for our needs." If this were true there'd be mass suicides in prisons everywhere. Please.

    The idea of forcing one to experience an illusion instead of reality can only go so far. I mean, you can "override" reality only so much. If it's all in your head, that's fine (though you would have to synchronize the "dreams" that Vina and Pike share together, etc.). But if you're firing your phaser full blast at the Talosian elevator, and one of the flying rocks hits you in the head, I don't see how any illusion is going to fix that!

    I don't understand why you say, "Technically, it's the rest of Star Trek which is a continuity error." This is only a pilot -- a sales pitch, if you will. I would say the rest of Star Trek is the main thing.

    AEF, aka betaneptune

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