Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Star Trek at 50: The Menagerie, Parts 1 and 2

Season 1
Episodes 15 and 16: The Menagerie, Parts 1 and 2
Filmed: October 1966 (The Cage filmed November -December 1964)
First Air Dates: November 17, 1966 (11th episode aired), November 24, 1966 (12th episode aired)

Karen: This two-part story is well-loved by most Star Trek fans - and why not? It surely gives us a deeper understanding of Spock, and expands our sense of wonder at the universe out there that the Enterprise crew is bravely exploring. It's also a huge 'what if' - what if the network had given the original pilot ('The Cage') the greenlight, and we had received a very different Star Trek?

Karen: Gene Roddenberry had the idea to incorporate footage from 'The Cage' as not only a cost-cutting measure, but to help fill out the production schedule, as the network had ordered more episodes of the show. However, rather than producing a crass product, the move created two fine episodes which invariably make top ten lists. 

Karen: Roddenberry put forth his proposal to NBC, and they agreed, stipulating that the new content be approximately 50% of the two episodes and feature current cast members. An 'envelope' story, to encompass the footage from 'The Cage,' was developed. John D.F. Black made a first pass at it, but Roddenberry wasn't satisfied and did his own version.  Black filed a complaint with the Writer's Guild for credit but lost, a result he was always bothered by. Roddenberry felt he had been the originator of the concepts. As noted in previous posts, these sort of disagreements would occur frequently with the show, particularly in the first season. Gene Coon would provide some additional script work before it was final.

Karen: According to Marc Cushman in These are the Voyages Volume One, NBC was gratified that the script highlighted Spock. In a memo from NBC rep Stan Robertson to the producers, it reads, "We are very pleased that you have written in Mr. Spock as the primary character since, as you know, he is emerging as one of the definite "pluses" in the series." It had become apparent that the viewing audience 'grokked' Spock. This story would be a nice vehicle for the Vulcan.

Karen: Malachi Throne was cast as Commodore Jose Mendez. Of note is that Throne originally did the voice of the head Keeper in 'The Cage' (which you can hear in the trailer below) but it was redubbed for 'The Menagerie. Sean Kenney had the unenviable role of the injured Captain Pike. They needed an actor who had at least a basic resemblance to Jeffrey Hunter, who had played Pike in the pilot. But poor Kenney was literally slathered in latex, stuck in a bizarre futuristic wheelchair, and had no lines! Luckily he was also cast on two other episodes ("Arena" and "A Taste of Armageddon") as Lt. DePaul -happily without any makeup.

Karen: 'The Menagerie Part One' is very much a mystery -why is Spock hijacking the Enterprise? Why is he kidnapping his former commanding officer, Captain Pike? Why go to Talos IV, a forbidden world? It's all very exciting. We know how incredibly loyal he is to Captain Kirk, as well as Starfleet, so his actions are shocking. Kirk is especially dismayed that his First Officer -his friend -would betray him. But as the story of the earlier Enterprise crew's mission on Talos IV unfolds, things become clear.

Karen: Ultimately, we discover the depths of Spock's loyalty and friendship towards Pike -and also Kirk, whom he keeps out of his plans, so he cannot be implicated. It reveals Spock not as a person devoid of emotions, but rather one who feels deeply, but keeps those emotions held rigidly in check.

Karen: It is intriguing to get this glimpse of a Star Trek that might have been. I think that the actors and characters we wound up with are much superior to the ones in the pilot. Kirk (and Shatner) is far more dynamic than Pike; and McCoy seems much more human and likable than Dr. Boyce. I have to admit that Number One was rather interesting, but it's been stated that many of her characteristics were transferred to Spock. Of course, Spock himself behaved quite differently at that point. In any case, having 'The Cage' as part of Star Trek lore provided some nice history and backstory. 

Karen: Pike's struggle with the Talosians was deemed 'too cerebral' by NBC at the time, but it seems like pretty good science fiction/adventure to me. Overwhelmed by illusion, the captain is unsure of what to believe - but pieces together a way to to overcome his captors. Susan Oliver as Vina, the only survivor of a spaceship crash, provides Pike with insights -and is well-remembered for her turn as a green-skinned Orion 'slave girl.'

Karen: The idea that the gravely handicapped Pike might prefer a life of fantasy to reality would certainly be controversial today. At the time however, it was a rather beautiful expression of Spock's desire to see his former commander live out his life peacefully. I'm curious what you all think of this ending.

Karen: On a lighter note, as a kid, the alien Keepers really freaked me out. They had those pulsating veins on their heads -ewww!! I remember I called them 'the buttheads.' Nuff said.


Edo Bosnar said...

Great write-up, Karen! I love this episode as well, for all of the reasons you mention, plus (especially the first few times as watched it as a pre-teen and then teen) I love the whole 'secret origin' or 'secret history' aspect of it, in which we get a glimpse at the pre-Kirk Enterprise and a younger, less experienced Spock.
My compliments also go to the entire production and writing crew; despite all of the tensions there apparently were behind the scenes, they did a commendable job of using the original pilot and integrating it into a new story without any of it seeming forced or contrived. And I really like the ending, precisely because it does kind of force you to think about what, in fact, you would prefer in a similar situation.
As for the "what if" conjecture (i.e. what if the original pilot had been accepted and that cast had become Star Trek?), I have to agree with you, Karen: we definitely got the better cast and characters in the later incarnation, with Spock as the only hold-over. For me, the only aspect of the original crew that I think is somehow better is Number One. I really like the idea of a woman as first officer.
And yes, those Keepers disturb the hell of me to this day with those pulsating veins. Just looking at that still you posted gives me a mild case of the creeps...

Anonymous said...

Haha! At last. Karen, waiting for you to get to this one has been very reminiscent of waiting for BBC1 to loop it back round in the 70’s. Of course, we didn’t know it was the re-tooled pilot episode, so watching it was a different experience then.

Re: the life of beautiful fantasy vs insufferable reality, I recently caught up with the 4400 and the episode where Tom Baldwin & Alana Moreva live out there whole life together in a few seconds, and, even realising it is was a lie, cannot bear to be parted from each other, reminded me of Captain Pike.

To Edo’s point, I like the way that up to this point, you always see Kirk as no 1 and Spock as his loyal lieutenant, and suddenly you find that Spock’s association with the Enterprise pre-dates Kirk and his loyalties used to lie elsewhere and seemingly still do. Suddenly, it seems like Spock is the real deal and Kirk is the Johnny-come-lately.

How horribly ironic that Jeffrey Hunter understandably declined to play Pike (although I assume the part would have not have been written mute had he accepted) and then actually died in much same condition (paralysed and mute) as a result of an on-screen explosion gone wrong in real life.

This episode kind of also reminds me of the Kree-Skrull war, inasmuch as it was designed to solve 2 messy problems (budget & schedule/deadline issues) and was a series of compromises, re-written scripts and a general mish-mash of old & new footage and ideas. Who would have imagined that one of the best and best-loved stories could emerge from these beginnings, and actually advance characterisation and the whole ST mythos? What a phoenix!

I want to watch it again now.


Pat Henry said...

My single complaint about this episode is the treatment of Mendez at the end. I don't know why the writers felt that had to dissolve him into "never being aboard" and issue his exoneration from afar. He could have just as easily said he'd defend the violation up with Star Fleet Command, or suspend the Order on this occasion or whatever, and exited for his quarters, leaving the stars to their denouement. As it plays out, had the power to reach out many light years distant and affect minds not even in their presence. Power such as that defeats the entire purpose of a world quarantine like General Order IV.

I love the old special effects--the laser cannon, the way the transporter worked, Very cool, Forbidden Planet stuff.

Anonymous said...

Great review Karen! My buddy called them the "behindheads". :-)


Garett said...

Great episode! The Pike pilot seemed more like something from the '50s, with the effects and tone-- like Forbidden Planet, as Pat says. The new cast and new Trek was for the best, a trendsetter rather than looking back. It's amazing they were able to come up with such a well-written series with all the rewrites!

Yup we called them the Bumheads.

Anonymous said...

The flashback parts of these episodes always seem a bit off to me, but I overall these are pretty good; I like Spock-centric shows.

Mike Wilson

Humanbelly said...

I remember a small group of my parents friends (other teachers) were babysitting/housesitting us for a couple of weeks one summer in the early 70's. On a very rainy Saturday afternoon, part 1 re-ran on a local channel, and we were all crowded into the basement family room in rapt attention. Then--


And there was a HOWL of dismay from this group of grown-ups-- who clearly had somehow not seen this episode before. Pandelerium, as they say. But I managed to find the courage to holler them down and say, No-No! On Saturday afternoons on this channel, a LOT of the time they show two episodes in a row-! (And then I kept my fingers crossed--). Commercial break with G.L.Perry Variety Stores, Culligan Man, and (probably) a couple of local car dealerships. . . and then that opening shot (Enterprise exterior?) of Part 2, and a NEW howl of victory and approval erupts, and several grown (but still pretty young) folks jumped up in the air.

I do not know why, but that was the GREATEST feeling ever--!

It's a gestalt episode. . . it's lightning in a bottle. . . it's undeniably special and well-done and full of heart. And it plays, interestingly enough, on that same bittersweet chord that makes us long for the impossibly lost Neverland, or Wonderland, or Narnia (ooh-- VERY much like that feeling, it is), or Brigadoon-- all of those can't-get-back-there-again fantasty worlds.

Karen, am I remembering that the final in-scene credits run over a following-shot of Kirk finally leaving the trial chamber and steadfastly going back to business? Was that this episode? Somehow a striking, compelling (and atypical) choice of its own.

My biggest, biggest nit-pick? Ye gods-- those dress uniforms that Kirk & Spock are sporting right in the included clip are HORRIBLY made!!! I suspect this would not have read nearly as bad on a TV screen, but OH-hohohohohhooo-NO, it's just so transparently clear that they were slapped together while the production manager stood there with their hand out, screaming that they needed them YESTERDAY--! The fabric on both sides of the (oddly placed) seams gathers and puckers and wrinkles massively-- they wouldn't pass muster in a decently rigid Costume Construction 1 class, I daresay. . .
(The braid's not doin' it for me, either. It's the kind of stuff I'd use for upholstery. . . )



Martinex1 said...

Wednesdays are horrible. It is consistently the most dreaded day in the office for meetings and other nonsense, while simultaneously being Star Trek day at the BAB. I want to join in the conversation but cannot! Ugh!

I really liked this two-fer, but the first part with Spock maniacally driven to transport Pike is so wonderfully intriguing. I liked part 1 much better. Spock's loyalty really stood out; it is easy to see how he became such a favorite.

I thought the "buttheads" were so nicely designed; those pulsing veins were really pretty amazing. For the most part the prosthetics on the show are quite good.

I think if the show had been picked up as was, Pike would have been a bit of a bore. But I liked Spock's spurts of loud reactions and I too liked the first officer. Kind of cool to see the progression..

Humanbelly said...

Does anyone recall. . .

Was it in this episode, or only in the original pilot, that we see Spock openly and broadly smiling while examining the vegetation on the planet?


Anonymous said...

Great stuff Karen! Yeah this definitely wove together the original pilot together with the new one seamlessly. We also see some humanity (!) in Spock, and learn what drove him to kidnap Pike, revealing his loyalty and compassion, traits which any self respecting Vulcan would deem as too 'emotional'!

- Mike 'was this the original Beavis & Butthead?' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Karen said...

I was at a conference the last four days so I didn't have much time to look at the blog. But now I am back and glad to see everyone has such fond memories of this episode. One big takeaway for me is about Spock. I so wish I could have been there when the show was first broadcast. Viewers must have been stunned by Spock's actions. The logical first officer hijacking the Enterprise? And then to discover the reason? We often think first of Spock's intellect (and rightly so) but he was a character who could also be defined by his incredible loyalty and friendship to Kirk, and also to Pike. Remember how he also declared his loyalty to Kirk in "This Side of Paradise" ('that man on the bridge') or in "The Ultimate Computer"? That's not logic talking.

Like many of you, I also appreciate the past history here, and the production team was certainly influenced by "Forbidden Planet". It's funny too to see Spock shouting, speaking with that weird faux British accent, or smiling when he grasps the fake-looking plants. In some ways, the later Enterprise went backwards -the women in the Pike era at least got to wear pants!

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