Star Trek: TOS – S01E16/17 “The Menagerie”

“The Menagerie”

Season 1
Production Order #16 & 17
Airing Order #11 & 12
Directed by Marc Daniels and Robert Butler
Written by Gene Roddenberry

In the beginning, Gene Roddenberry created “The Cage”. Now the original pilot was rejected by NBC, it was “too cerebral” and the actors were found unsatisfactorily. And NBC said, “let there be a second pilot” and there was “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. NBC saw the second pilot was good and ordered it’s new series Star Trek. NBC aired it as the third episode and repackaged “The Cage” as a new midseason episode.

My review of “The Cage” hasn’t gone anywhere so a large number of these scenes and the basic plot have already been reviewed but that still leaves us with the new Marc Daniels directed scenes (after Robert Butler declined to return) that form the narrative backbone of this episode and of course the talk of how exactly the material was reused. While I quite liked the original pilot (and thought it superior to the second pilot and first three episodes actually released), it would have made no sense to use it intact in the middle of the series considering the cast was almost entirely different (save Spock). Yet it would have made even less sense for NBC not to recoup some of their $600,000+ investment in the pilot.

The Enterprise has received a message to divert to a starbase though it was quickly revealed that it was never actually sent. That’s a heck of a horror premise but that isn’t where this episode goes as in a nifty trick, ever logical stickler for the rules Spock is the one who faked things. We get the reintroduction of Captain Pike, however he has recently been severely wounded in an accident, leaving him confined to a motorized wheelchair like device that can communicate only in beeps. The only one he’s willing to see though is Spock (the one remaining crewman seen in “The Cage”) who served with Pike for 11 years, 4 months and 5 days until he was promoted. What may have been just a quick look in for us (though I’m not sure how far into their serving together that the episode happened) was a big portion of Spock’s life and while the reasons for reusing this are purely financial and the pilot wasn’t available at the time, I like the idea of not letting the character go to waste. This may be the one chance I get to compare Star Trek to New Girl (Coach) so I’m gonna take it.

In typical Spock fashion, he recognizes his current and upcoming acts as mutinous. He knocks out a man, steals command of the Enterprise by faking Kirk’s voice, kidnaps Pike, and takes it to the forbidden planet of Talos IV (which visiting would receive the penalty of death). Kirk and the Commodore chase after him and after intentionally travelling too far to return, forces Spock to pull them in and voluntarily surrender himself for court martial. He has one trick up his sleeve though as they can’t turn the ship around and has the ship still locked on course. While I know that “Court Martial” aired after his, having seen it beforehand adds a lot more impact to this story. Kirk’s defense of Spock (who gets found out pretty quick) as well as his defending of the fact that computer tapes can be changed (as had happened to him) resonates even more because you know he just went through that. The dramatic irony of the audience knowing Spock is guilty as it plays out makes Kirk more sympathetic than he’s ever been, the violation of trust just hanging in the air.

Spock continues his brilliant maneuvering as he pushes forward on the court martial, forces Pike into the role of one of the presiding, and pleading guilty. Halfway through the first episode, we finally get our first look at “The Cage” in the form of the crew watching footage of it. Surprisingly, the episode actually acknowledges how weird it is to have footage of all this including an exterior shot of the ship and footage of the aliens before the Enterprise has even made contact with them. The explanation that the images are coming from Talos IV doesn’t make much sense but points for trying.

Kirk votes Spock guilty eventually when the video temporarily dies which leaves the show in a big hole it has to dig out of. How will they let Spock off? What is so important Spock will risk everything? Why the need for all this secrecy? Well here’s where the episode cocks it all up. After a second episode which is largely just replaying footage from “The Cage”, the show reveals that the Commodore was an illusion all along and the episode makes the bold stance of actually admitting that his existence was merely to waste time. The real Commodore watched the same thing we did and winds up approving of their mission and everyone lives happily ever after with Pike’s body restored by the Talosian technology (albeit only on their world).

So why the fuck didn’t they just show this presentation at the base instead of flying all the way out and hoping for the best? Either Spock wouldn’t have been able to convince them, necessitating him stealing the ship and ending his and Kirk’s career to give Pike a nice retirement or he had and they could have just headed their drama free. Any military would have court martialed Spock regardless for disobeying orders, mutiny, falsifying records, or any of the countless violations he did even after he was given clearance to land at Talos IV but nope, unearned happy endings all around.

I know “The Menagerie” has a solid reputation in the fandom but I hated, hated these episodes. The first parter promised big things but it was all build up. With a proper explanation and sticking the landing, it probably would have been at the very least a decent episode. Hell the emotional resonance I mentioned with it tying into “Court Martial” was right there and it would have made for a cool perspective split. Instead this is the third straight episode (and two of three pertaining to Spock) that essentially functions as a trial and that’s not even getting into the fact that this is two episodes. Granted not even an episode of it is probably actual new material, but boy does it ever feel like two episodes. I liked “The Cage” and “The Menagerie” managed to make that worse spoil my enthusiasm on the show as it was getting a nice little run going.

Grade: F
Theoretical Grade Assuming the Material From “The Cage” Was Actually New Material: D

Stray Observations
– It should be noted that this week, Lawrence Montaigne who appeared in series highlight thus far“Balance of Terror” as well as “Amok Time” died this week at the age of 86.
– Sean Kenney replaces Jeffrey Hunter, who declined to return, in the role of Pike.
– Commander Pike’s appearance and communication method will be familiar to anyone familiar with South Park’s episode “Pre-School”.
– McCoy doesn’t seem nearly as excited to arrest Spock as I’d expect.
– It’s a bit surreal to watch Star Trek characters watching Star Trek which raises the possibility that the entire show is a mockumentary. I’ll stick to Spaceballs for my meta-sci-fi viewing.


– Since the Talosians can project fake humans days of space travel away, why haven’t they been using this ability to find another race that is suitable?
– I’ll give Star Trek credit, it’s taken far longer than Doctor Who (at least if you compare number of stories in) to get to an episode where it is a struggle to stay awake through parts. Even the duller episodes thus far had been watchable.
– Seriously, just watch “The Cage”. Stick it to people in the ’60s by taking advantage of our abilities to actually see the episode as it was intended and not as this butchered, straining for credulity mess.

Next Up: It’s back to Doctor Who on Monday with “The Ice Warriors”. There’s no need to fear, Star Trek: TOS is here… on Friday with “Shore Leave” (which I couldn’t be bothered to get to today and do a third episode especially with how today turned out) and “The Squire of Gothos”, a title so nerdy D&D players would pick on it.