Before the latest episode of Star Trek: Discovery premieres tomorrow, we thought we’d do an overview of the only known television adventure of Captain Pike while in command of the USS Enterprise. “If Memory Serves” is the first episode of Discovery to directly tie into events from The Original Series, so it seemed appropriate to make a primer on “The Cage,” the unaired first pilot, for those fans who are new to TOS or just want a little reminder.
Three years before season two of Discovery, Pike, his first officer simply called “Number One,” and his science officer Spock, explored the outer regions of the known galaxy during their first five-year mission aboard the Enterprise. After a disastrous mission to Rigel VII, the crew and its captain are tired and badly need shore leave when they encounter an old-style distress signal and reluctantly detour to the unexplored system of Talos.
USS Enterprise under Pike visited Talos IV 3 years before Discovery season 2
To clarify the timeline of all of the Talos IV visits, the first one took place in “The Cage” in 2254. This will make Discovery‘s impending visit the second one, since it’s taking place in 2257, and the events of “The Menagerie,” where Spock returns with a badly damaged Pike, happen in 2267. The big takeaway here is that Pike’s visit to Talos IV happened three years before this season of Discovery.
At the time of his visit, Talos was just beginning to sprout some new life after a war, some thousands of centuries ago, had left the surface barren. The Enterprise arrived in response to what seemed to be a distress call from the SS Columbia, which had crashed there 18 years earlier. As already mentioned, there were two now-familiar faces on board: Spock, then serving as science officer, and a first officer known only by the name Number One.
Spock acted differently back then
“The Cage” didn’t even identify Spock’s species, and therefore provided no backstory and no details on Vulcan culture. The logical, aloof qualities he would later exhibit belonged to Number One, who kept a cool head and seemed nearly emotionless.
Spock, on the other hand, was more impulsive. He grinned upon discovering that some blue plants on Talos IV stopped emitting a sound when touched, and when the Enterprise set up a landing party to rescue their captain and none of the men were beamed down, Spock famously shouted “The women!” in surprise when he realized they, and only they, had disappeared.
When “The Cage” was turned down by the network and a new pilot was ordered, Spock was the only character to return, and Number One’s calm, cool demeanor was given to him, along with a name for his species, some very specific physical differences from humans, and (eventually) a very complex backstory. So while the difference in his behavior can be attributed to real-life decisions made by producers and writers, Discovery’s co-creator and executive producer Alex Kurtzman says that this will be addressed in-universe this season, filling in the gaps between Spock from “The Cage” and Spock on The Original Series.
Talosians are powerful telepaths
The Talosians have incredibly powerful minds, but weakened bodies, due to years of focusing all their efforts on their mental abilities. It was explained to Pike what had happened:
… they found it’s a trap. Like a narcotic. 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 record.
Despite not being able to build machines and live on the surface, the Talosians were incredibly powerful. They created illusions on the planet’s surface which felt completely real, leading Dr. Boyce to explain, “Their power of illusion is so great, we can’t be sure of anything we do, anything we see.” The survivors’ camp, all an illusion, appeared exactly the way the Enterprise crew expected it to be, and a phaser cannon at full strength appeared to have no effect whatsoever. Illusions could also be projected into space, with the potential to trick the crew into doing whatever the Talosians wanted them to. Later, in “The Menagerie,” the Talosians would be able to send an ongoing visual transmission to the Enterprise (now with Kirk in command), and also create the illusion that Commodore Mendez was on board.
The one limit on the Talosians’ power to read minds was their inability to get through primitive emotions, like hatred and anger, but no human could maintain those kinds of thoughts long enough to keep the Talosians at bay indefinitely, and “wrong thinking,” as the Talosians described it, was reason for punishment.
Pike was captured by Talosians
Captain Pike was deemed a top specimen by the Talosians. He was put in a cage with Vina, who was the only real survivor from the SS Columbia; the others were illusions. Pike was instantly attracted to her, but the Talosians seemed to not understand that humans were more socially evolved than most of the other species in their zoo, and simple attraction wasn’t enough. They put Pike (and Vina) through different illusionary scenarios, each one pulled from the weary captain’s mind, hoping to tempt him into mating with Vina. Most famously, Vina is reimagined as a green Orion slave woman, and Pike as having left Starfleet for a life as an interstellar merchant trader.
Through the course of these events, Pike did develop some feelings for her, but was always suspicious of the circumstances and of whether she was even real. Because of this the Talosians eventually manipulate it so that both Number One and J.M. Colt, Pike’s yeoman, beam down as alternate breeding choices. Pike, thoroughly fed up with the manipulation of his mind and the abduction of two of his crew, forced the Talosian magistrate to reveal the truth: they were looking for a group of reasonably intelligent beings to breed so they could do slave work (like fixing the old machines), and to start to tame the wilderness of the surface which was finally habitable again.
Talosians judged humanity as too dangerous, Talos declared off limits
While Pike was on the surface, the Talosians reached out and scanned the Enterprise computer, absorbing everything they could about humans. Between their computer core dump and the way Pike had behaved, they realized that humans are too dangerous.
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.
The Talosians now wanted nothing to do with humans, and certainly Starfleet felt the same way, the ability to create incredibly real illusions is just too tempting and far too dangerous a prospect to let anyone mistakenly fly near Talos.
Because of the events of “The Cage,” we find out later in the first season of The Original Series (“The Menagerie”), that the Federation lists travel to the Talos system as prohibited. Starfleet even creates General Order 7 to deter any ships from going there, stating that “No vessel under any condition, emergency or otherwise, is to visit Talos IV.”
Vina stayed on Talos, with “Pike”
Vina tells Pike she cannot go with him. As revealed at the end of the episode, while Vina is indeed real, she is actually middle-aged and physically deformed. The Talosians didn’t know how to properly fix her, so they could do little more than patch her up. “They had never seen a human,” Vina tells Pike. “They had no guide for putting me back together.”
She had been given the illusion of youth and beauty to help lure Pike, and to make her time on Talos more pleasant. When Pike learns of this, he realizes he must leave Vina behind.
There is one key difference between “The Cage,” and when footage of the episode is later reused in “The Menagerie.” In “The Cage,” as Pike departs, the Talosians restore Vina’s youth and give her an illusionary copy of Pike to live out her days with.
Mission had a big impact on Pike
The Christopher Pike we start with in the episode is quite a bit different from the more relaxed, congenial leader we’ve seen in season two of Discovery. “The Cage” shows us a pivotal moment in time for Pike. He’s burned out on being a starship captain. He recounts to the ship’s doctor and his confidant, Dr. Boyce, the recent mission to Rigel VII where three crew members died and seven were injured in an ambush from the native species there. He’s tired of the weight of command on his shoulders and even considers resigning his commission. Through his ordeal with the illusions, he was able to see the various scenarios he was mulling over in his depressed burned-out talk with Boyce, and each of them isn’t really the escape he was hoping for. It seems as though Pike comes out of his captivity a bit wiser, and with his faith restored in Starfleet’s mission, he returns to the Enterprise ready for the next adventure.
“If Memory Serves” will be released on All Access on Thursday, March 7th, 2019 at 8:30pm ET/5:30pm PT. It will air on Space at 8:00pm ET/5:00pm PT on the same night. It will be available on Netflix the next morning, Friday, March 8th, 2019.
“The Cage” is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and on most streaming services that offer Star Trek: The Original Series.
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