Star Trek : The Cage

The Cage

Captain Pike and Dr Boyce

*** If you’d rather listen, here’s my first (yawny) attempt at podcasting – Star Trek : The Cage ***

The Beginning of the Final Frontier

The first ever filmed scene in Star Trek featured Captain Pike musing early retirement and his lack of motivation.

This scene between the first captain in Star Trek and Boyce, the ship’s doctor, is bursting with hints at the deep questions of life that the many TV series and movies of Trek would eventually attempt to answer.

These shows are deep! It’s easy to get lost in the phaser fire and forehead prosthetics, but before any of that was ever filmed two actors met, shook hands, and wondered what the heck kind of a kids space show had dialogue like this.

Boyce: “A man either lives life as it happens to him, meets it head on, and licks it. Or he turns his back on it and starts to wither away.”
Pike: “Now you’re beginning to talk like a doctor, bartender.”
Boyce: “Take your choice. We both get the same two kinds of customers. The living and the dying.”

Pretty heavy stuff.

Dr Boyce shows Pike the two paths of life: Let life beat you down, or let life’s challenges make you stronger.

It’s easy to say it: “Let life beat you down, or let life’s challenges make you stronger.” But when Pike is about to take that advice and mentally file it under ‘cute proverbs,’ Boyce slams him with a searing description of all his previous patients: they’re all either the living or the dying.

There’s no worming your way out. You’re either living or you’re dying. This might seem like a false distinction to draw because everybody is dying really. Whether any given person considers himself or is considered by others to be a living person or a dying person is immaterial. They’re both going to be dead.

Obviously, Boyce isn’t going on about the scientific definitions of life. He’s hitting on the spiritual definitions. “Are you engaged in your daily activities? Or are you just coasting?” If you’re living, you’re experiencing your life, your surroundings, the people around you. If you’re dying, you’re just marking time til retirement.

Either you’re living a life or you’re coasting through one.

Pike had better make a decision because he’s about to be challenged on this very topic in a very real way.

The Mission

The ship is orbit around Talos IV, in response to a distress signal. The distress signal is a fake and Pike is captured by the super-powered telepaths who live under the surface. They want him to become the newest member of their zoo, providing a male to Vina, their captive woman.

The Talosians put Pike through a series of illusions meant to generate emotional responses they can vicariously enjoy. They present some pleasant illusions to convince him that he could have a quite comfortable life on Talos IV. Of course, he rebels and suffers a telepathic punishment. The Talosian guards then project images of hell for Pike to suffer through. He’s forced to imagine that he’s crawling around a fiery pit with no escape.

Pike has firmly decided to get off this planet however he can. His interest in the simple life has faded away in the face of a forced simple life, artificially created by the Talosians.

Which Life is Worth Living?

He has chosen to live the kind of life that Doctor Boyce recommended: a life lived, not coasted through.”There’s a way out of any cage and I’ll find it,” he yells at his guards. As they slink away from his jail cell, he’s left alone with Vina.

He's not interested. He needs his freedom, babe.

Everything Pike could want is here. He has a beautiful woman to be his wife, he can live anywhere, in any time, he could ever dream of. The Talosians are offering him comfort and security.

In Star Trek: Generations, Pike’s successor will face the same predicament at the end of his career. Kirk realizes that the dream-giving Nexus isn’t a second chance at life, it isn’t a perfect world for him to live out the rest of his days. Kirk discovers what the Nexus really is when he jumps a familiar chasm with his favorite horse. “I must have jumped that fifty times, scared the hell out of me each time. Except this time, because it isn’t real. Nothing here is.

Kirk learned and Pike learned. This isn’t real. Therefore, it’s not worth it.

Vina opined, “A person’s strongest dreams are about what he can’t do.”

The dream world that the Talosians created for Pike and Vina was exactly built to please the captives with fantasies of what they can do; setting them up with challenges that they can accomplish. In the dream world, Pike could dream anything and it would come to pass. The challenge of skiing or battling monsters or building an empire or loving a woman became no challenge at all in the fantasy world constructed by the Talosians.

The Comfort Cage

Pike’s conversation with Boyce at the beginning of the episode is now a manifest problem. He wanted to give up his life in Starfleet for comfort and security and peace. He’s being offered that now.

He’s refusing, seeing that the way to comfort and security and peace has nothing to do with ignoring the problems of life. The Talosians thought the key to achieving those things was entirely inside of us.  They thought that Pike and Vina could be fulfilled by pursuing all of their desires. It turns out that true comfort and true security and true peace don’t come from being given fake lives to live.

That’s just entertainment.

Vina tells Pike, “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 record.

This is a stern warning to start Star Trek on. This is a stern warning for a franchise comprised of 727 episodes and movies, hundreds of books and comics, and an ever-growing dream world being built by the minds of Star Trek fans and writers.

As Pike was tempted to indulge in the cozy fantasy, so are Trek fans confronted with a challenge. With a nearly endless stream of Star Trek content, we really could live in a dream world. We really could watch Star Trek all day. I have done that a few times. We could surround ourselves with this fantasy world, to avoid the real one as much as possible.

We could arrange our desktop backgrounds to look like this:

 Or busy ourselves gazing at these beauties and their ample nacelles:

I’ve never done this next one, but I could easily imagine a time when I would love to be hearing this all day:

That last one was pretty extreme. But I have indulged in studying the blueprints of space ships that have never been built.  And ‘indulge’ is the key word.

The world of Trek isn’t real. Like Vina warned, “When dreams become more important than reality, you give up travel; building; creating.”

Unlock the Cage

After Vina and Pike discuss their situation, the aliens capture two female Enterprise crewmen. Provided with three women as his potential mates, Pike’s anger against the Talosians rises. He determines to fill his mind with hate, a strong emotion which the Talosians cannot detect.

He uses his rage to overpower the guard and he takes the three women with him to the surface. There, Number One threatens to overload the phaser pistol, causing an explosive death for everyone nearby. The Talosians find that humans are too protective of their freedom to ever be suitable captives.

They release them.

The Vision of the Perfect Future World of Star Trek

Pike asks Vina to come with him so he can take her back to earth. It’s revealed that she isn’t quite as beautiful as the Talosians led him to believe.

Poor Vina opted to stay on the planet and live out her days in the cozy fantasy life. It’s hard to blame her. On earth, she wouldn’t fit in. She would be ugly again and her broken body would make her useless.

This is a dark view of the future, isn’t it? Ugly and disabled people would sooner stay in hiding, living out their fantasies – knowing full well the damages a fantasy life brings.

Freedom From Everything but Hate

And what about Pike’s solution? The only way he was able to regain his freedom was to stir his own hatred.

The way the Bible talks about hate and anger is in pretty strong terms. The idea is that whatever makes you angry is the thing you’re most protective of. For instance, a man could reasonably and righteously become angry if someone hit his kid or his wife. He’s angry because the thing he loves so much is being attacked.

Think about times when people get angry. Every time it’s because something they love seems to be under attack.

You get mad in traffic because your free time is being attacked. You get mad at politicians because they’re attacking your money or your freedom. At least, you perceive that these things are being attacked and that’s why you get angry.

Pike is most protective of his freedom. That’s why he became enraged.

Is that a suitable possession to protect? Sure it is.

Is it appropriate to engage the rage? If you decide that becoming enraged here is justifiable, which Jesus would equate with murder, then Pike gets to leave. If his rage is unjustifiable, what would he do then? Just live there forever? He values his freedom too much to just sit there and live his life out is some fantasy.

(In a later episode, when Pike suffered an accident and his body became feeble, he chose to return to the fantasy!)

I’m curious about what other emotions the aliens couldn’t predict. Pike and Vina discover that strong emotions are undetectable. This is discovered when he rages against them and he notices the little Talosian become startled. I wonder if extremes of compassion or love would have been just as effective against them.

Maybe Pike could have heard their story and engaged with their despair and fear and overcome the aliens with his compassion. Who knows.

Maybe the Talosians would have been forced to release Pike had he overpowered them with love or compassion. According to their report on our species, he wouldn’t be capable of that though.

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.

Looks like hate was his only option, considering the customs and history of the human race.

Big Ideas

  • Engage your world, don’t just coast
  • Comfort can lead to addiction of comfort, which can destroy us
  • Anger is an expression of love – just make sure you’re loving the right thing.

Tomorrow on Geeks of Christ:

Next Week on Trek Tuesday:


5 thoughts on “Star Trek : The Cage

  1. That is one thorough rewatch! I liked your post, and, yeah, I’ve been struck by the irony of my many viewings of this episode in particular in light of Vina’s warning about “living and reliving other stories”…!

    I think even Jesus “engaged the rage” in some holy ways. Cleansing the Temple, for instance, or that strange alternate reading of Mark 1.41: “Moved with anger,” instead of pity – not anger at the leper, but anger at the disease, anger at anything that dares oppose God’s good will.

    The first time I saw “The Cage” – as opposed to the bits preserved in “The Menagerie” – I was struck by how blatantly sexist Pike was. I know, it was the 1960s, and the show is a product of its time and is sexist in plenty of other ways (Vina is really just one sexist trope after another, when it comes right down to it); but, at the time, I’d bought into the whole “Oh, Trek was so enlightened and ahead of its time” mythos. Well, maybe it is true in many ways; but in other ways – such as Pike grumbling, in Number One’s presence, that he “just can’t get used to having a woman on the bridge” – ouch!

    Do you agree with Pike’s later decision to live out the rest of his life on Talos IV? Might the Talosians be using their power for good, for redemptive purposes – to alleviate suffering – at that point? I don’t know. It’s always been an interesting conundrum, one I go back and forth on. I usually end up deciding, it’s Pike’s life, who am I to judge him when “The Menagerie” so clearly establishes he’s just trapped with no hope of anything better? (One area where Trek didn’t anticipate how much technology would advance – if we can have Stephen Hawking giving lectures in quantum physics, surely we’d be able to do more for poor Pike than a wheelchair with a flashing light!)

    Thanks for a good post. Looking forward to more!

    • This was a little longer than I planned…
      Well, I’ll write a longer piece for each pilot and special episode (maybe Space Seed and Best of Both of Worlds deserve more attention).

      Thanks for your thoughtful response.

      As for my judgment of Pike’s anger, I was trying to build off of an assertion I heard Keller make a few years ago: Anger is an act of protection. When we protect something holy – anger can be righteous. When we protect something selfishly – we are likely sinning.

      So Christ’s anger would clearly be okay. Pike’s anger is in protection of his freedom. It’s good to be free, but is it good enough to authorize anger? I don’t know for sure.

      I too have struggled with Pike’s decision to return to Talos IV. I’ll have to come up with something for my review of The Menagerie. In real life, I would probably shrug and say, “It’s your life, Chris.” But, with the luxury of watching the 40-year-old drama play out multiple times, I might be a little more critical of his choice.

      I haven’t figured that one out yet. I’m guessing that I may never figure it out satisfactorily.

      • Re: is Pike’s anger justified? I don’t know. God is shown consistently in Scripture as the God of freedom, from the Exodus on; but we are also told to love our enemies. On the other hand, Paul says, “be angry, but do not sin” – in context, an admonition to the Christian community; but maybe it applies to our relationships outside that community as well? There is a place for anger so long as it does not lead to sinful action?

  2. Great analysis. However, couldn’t the Talosians reached into Vina’s mind in its unconscious state and figured out what she looked like? Even without reading her mind, they could have assumed that like themselves, she possessed laterally symmetry.

    Interesting, too, that the vision of hell is described as “a fable you once heard in childhood.”

    Still, at least TOS acknowledged earthly monotheism. By the time we reach TNG, DS9 and VOY, all terrestrial religions have apparently been abandoned — except, of course, for Chakotay’s Native American beliefs. The episode in which he lends Janeway his electronic peyote device to find her “animal spirit guide” is especially amusing.

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