Star Trek TOS Pilot - The Cage #

It’s my latest weird and probably destined to fail project: a years- (decades-?) long trip through all 755 (as of writing this — Discovery is about to air its second season) episodes of Star Trek, starting at the beginning in 1968.

I’ve always had Star Trek on my radar, in one way or another. I’ve always really loved Science Fiction, spent a lot of time as a kid watching Star Wars and Stargate SG-1, and my aunt is a huge Star Trek fan who talked about it all the time. I watched a few episodes here and there, on syndication or later streaming, but never properly got into the entirety of the daunting canon. I’m aware of how much there is, how many details, and have heard great things about its philosophical importance and intelligence, which is something that really speaks to me at this time in my life.

I hope I can stick to a few main themes in writing these post-episode notes. I’d like to talk about the design, the periodicity and the cultural references in the show. I’d like to talk about the show’s philosophy, and how it relates to me and my philosophy. And I’d like to talk about the show and its worldbuilding and the universe’s invented mythology.

A note on the order #

I’m going to be watching the episodes for each series in the order they appear in Netflix streaming, since I don’t have time to mess around with the other canonical watching orders. I’ll learn more about this specific order as I watch. I’ll watch the series in the following order: The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, Discovery. I will skip The Animated Series.

Episode summary #

The pilot episode, The Cage, first aired in February 1965 on NBC. It stars Jeffrey Hunter as Christopher Pike instead of Captain Kirk, apparently corrected in the real first episode of the show.

The philosophical nature of the show, and how seriously it takes itself, is evident from the first few shots. Chris Pine, the captain, is very conflicted. Aware of the responsibility of being the captain of a spaceship. I’ve always loved this about Star Trek: the conflicted characters, the philosophical approach to science fiction.

Of course, the role of women in 1960s society is very clear in this episode. The closest comparison I have in popular culture is Mad Men, and the attitudes towards women here, although trying to show some sort of progression, are very telling of the time. “I’ll never get used to a woman on the bridge” suggests gender roles only started changing somewhere in the late 2200s…

Down on the mysterious planet which is a source of a distress signal, we are introduced to the amazing Talosians, with their oversized pulsating brains. There is only one female amongst the survivors of a crash and it soon becomes clear that everything is an illusion created by the Talosians to lure Pine into their zoo to mate with the female survivor.

I really enjoyed the dialogue between Pine and the Talosian “magistrate”. In fact I enjoyed most of the scenes with the Talosians, and their disbelief at petty human endeavours and emotions. The costumes of the pig and bird, conjured up to scare Pine’s primitive human mind, were excellent – wonder if they looked that good on TV in 1968 (or on VHS when most Star Trek fans would have seen it, in 1998).

The two twists at the end: the first, where Pine outsmarts the Talosian and realises he did succeed in shooting a hole in the glass, and the second wherein the woman became visible as her true, old and disfigured self, were both very satisfying.

From a worldbuilding perspective, I noticed a few nice details:

  • History of the planet Talos: ravaged by war, and only recently again habitable, the inhabitants forced to develop mental strength over physical.
  • Class M planet: oxygen atmosphere
  • Mojave, Pine’s home town.

Stray observations: #

  • Ship’s doctor is also different in this episode; much different to Bones in later episodes.
  • Trying (and failing) at shooting the hole in the wall with a laser gun reminded me of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. I wonder if that was an intentional callback in the latter film?
  • Description of women’s desires struck me as being quite adventurous for the day?
  • “You either live life, bruises, skinned knees and all, or you turn your back on it and start dying.” - Pine
  • The scene with the green slave dancer is terrible and weird.
  • “Comfortable husband-wife relationship.” - Talosian magistrate
  • What the hell is “chicken tuna”?