Illusion and Reality: TOS #16: “The Menagerie, Part II”

In the second half of this two-part episode, revelations from an earlier Enterprise visit to Talos IV reveal why Spock has hijacked the Enterprise to take earlier Captain Pike, now crippled, back to that forbidden planet.

  • The second half of this episode is weighted toward the original Trek pilot, with less of the frame story. We begin with a long log entry by Kirk recounting the situation (for viewers who didn’t see the earlier show, in part). Note how Spock refers to the lead Talosian as the ‘Keeper’ though I never heard that term in the dialogue. (It recalls a ‘Keeper’ in Lost in Space, the year before, who also collected specimens of various species, including humans.) Instead, his fellow Talosians call him ‘magistrate’.
  • Pike makes a pointless and unnecessary reference to having come from the “other end of this galaxy.” The writers of the show were cavalier about the plausibility of distances traveled.
  • It’s fun how the Talosians anticipate Pike’s reactions as he realized he’s trapped in his cell. “Next, frustrated into a need to display physical prowess, the creature will throw himself against the transparency.” Pike hears this, pauses a moment, then does it anyway.
  • The first fantasy scene has Pike reappearing at the fortress on Rigel VII that the Enterprise just visited a couple weeks before. Vina is there, he realizes; why? It doesn’t matter, she assures him – everything he thinks is happening now will affect just as it did before. So Pike fights the barbarian ‘Kalar’ and kills him. We get a throbbing version of the iconic “Vina’s theme” as this scene opens, before fight music (with a thumping tuba) takes over.
  • So here’s the nub: Pike is given to understand scenes like this are illusions. In fact, he’s back in his cell. Is he really then, running around and potentially getting killed? Is this something like the holodeck in NextGen? No doubt others have thought about these things — there have been innumerable books written about the physics, philosophy, religion, etc., of Star Trek — but in this case I’ve never completely understood how this would work. Presumably Pike is lying in his cell, like a brain in a vat, and his potential for actually being killed, say, in such an illusion is directly related to whether he believes he is being killed.
  • Vina explains how difficult it is to resist their illusions, and how the Talosians, having destroyed their planet in an ancient war, took refuge in mental powers. Plaintively: “But they found… it’s a trap. Like a narcotic. Because, when dreams become more important than reality, you give up travel, building, creating. You even forget how to repair the machines left behind by your ancestors. You just sit… living and reliving other lives, left behind in the thought records.”
  • Thus we have the danger of contact with Talos IV, and the reason for the death penalty. (But not, yet, why Spock is taking Pike back there.)
  • Second illusion: picnic back home, a spacey city in the distance. Vina suggests that Pike can stay here, if he wants, forever. Pike resists; can’t they block the illusion control with emotion? Vina admits they can but, in tragic anguish: “But you can’t keep it up for long enough. I’ve tried! They keep at you, year after year, tricking and punishing. And they won. They own me.”
  • Third illusion: Vina as a green Orion slave girl, dancing lasciviously for Pike, who here owns some elaborate establishment, where he can afford to entertain a couple associates with such a dancer. Pike, realizing he’s being played, stomps out. Vina follows, alluringly…
  • This scene is interrupted by the Enterprise crew – or least two women of the landing party — managing to beam down into the Talosian facility. Vina, coming out of the illusion, cries, “No! Let me finish!”
  • The first time I saw the original pilot, “The Cage”, which had never been broadcast on TV, was at a special screening at UCLA, sometime between 1973 and 1977 when I attended there. It was a packed audience. This line got a big laugh.
  • There’s a scene in which the Talosian keeper, having clumsily opened a panel in Pike’s cell to place food inside, is captured by Pike, who tries strangling him. The keeper becomes an illusory monster—your standard issue sci-fi/horror movie monster. Trek, at least in its early years, was never above this.
  • The frame story has the ‘transmissions’ of these earlier events on Talos IV stop, mostly for the sake of a commercial break, and for a dramatic scene in which Commodore Mendez insists on a vote on the charges against Spock. They all, even Kirk, reluctantly, vote guilty.
  • But after the commercial break, the ‘transmissions’ resume, and we see the end story—why the Talosians wanted a human pair in the first place. To rebuild their planet. Pike and Vina are to lead “carefully guided lives”. But Number One resists, insisting that humans aren’t meant to become a slave race, and threatens to overload a phaser to explosion.
  • The Talosian Keeper realizes, finally, that humans aren’t suitable for their purpose. The Talosians realize that humans have a “unique hatred of captivity”, and that makes humans unsuitable for the Talosians’ purpose – to save their race by rebuilding their planet.
  • Pike has a lame line about not being apologized for his capture, as if it’s all about him.
  • The Keeper explains, humans were their last hope. “Your unsuitability has condemned the Talosian race to eventual death. Is this not sufficient?”
  • “Your race would learn our power of illusion, and destroy itself, too”.
  • As Pike and party prepare to depart, Vina holds back—she can’t go with them. In an elaborate (for the time) special effects transition shot (which took several hours to shoot, via Cushman’s book), we see her beautiful form change by stages into a disfigured, old hag. She explains that as the sole survivor of the Earth ship that crashed here, she was found a dying lump of flesh; they had no guide for “putting her back together”. This is a striking way to explain why Vina can’t return with the Enterprise crew – but, the Talosians are seen as humanoid, what other guide did they need?? This has always struck me as an egregious flaw.
  • There’s a bit of a mismatch in what scenes mean, in the original story, and in that story reconstituted as a flashback. In the original story the Keeper advises that not only will Vina resume her “illusion of beauty”, but will have “more”… and we see a shot of Vina, climbing back up the rocks to the elevator down into the Talosian compound, along with an illusion of Pike –! But in the frame story of “The Menagerie”, this line is followed only by a lingering shot of Vina in her youthful beauty.
  • Because, in the end story of the frame story, Kirk dramatically realizes what this has all been about, why Spock has brought Pike back to this forbidden planet: because Pike, disabled and immobile in a kind of life-support wheelchair, has a chance to live an illusory life as a healthy young man – and to save the Talosian race! As the Talosians intended all along. And so the scene of Vina and Pike climbing up the rocks is shown after the wheelchair-bound Pike, asked if he wants to go there as the trial on the Enterprise ends, and answering ‘yes’ (one beep), has been beamed down.
  • We end with some fine lines, as the Keeper responds directly to Kirk: “Captain Pike has an illusion, and you have reality. May you find your way as pleasant.”
  • Yet, as fine and dramatic as these revelations and final scenes are, I am still bothered by the central premise. If the disabled Pike is to live a beautiful illusory life with a lovely Vina, how does that help the Talosians rebuild their planet and save their civilization?
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