At this point in the project I am three episodes ahead of this one. I know the series will come into its own, but something about this entry is just so captivating that I am immediately saddened by the things that were not to be. Like Chris Pike as captain. And John Hoyt as Dr. Phillip Boyce. And Majel Barrett (who would later marry Roddenberry) as Number One. Sure, I know she’ll be back. But having a female Number One in the mid-’60s? Come on. What an amazing prospect. Anyway, let’s not lament the could have beens and instead celebrate the actually weres.
Pike is captured by aliens that are very Twilight Zone “To Serve Man”esque. He is held in a cage along with a host of other species and a lovely lass named Vina (Susan Oliver). The aliens want the two to hook up so they can populate their planet with human slaves. Super romantic, right? The aliens attempt to coerce the captain with their power of illusion. But they are outsmarted by the power of human emotion (!!) and it all wraps up with a rather poignant and sad ending.
And that’s really where the strength of this episode can be found: in its somewhat on-the-nose look at illusion and desire. Lines like “people are alike all over” (which has larger implications when you’re speaking in terms of the whole of space) and “You either live life, bruises, skinned knees and all, or you turn your back on it and start dying” populate this entry. These eternal truths will continue to spring forth in the seasons ahead, I’m sure. They just do so much to ground what may have easily slipped into nothing more than a goofy romp.
In the end, “The Cage” leaves us with a question: would you want to be deceived even if it meant you ended up with everything you wanted?
Overall, I adore this pilot. If you’ve ever watched any TV from the ’50s or ’60s you’ve seen John Hoyt (“Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”), and his inclusion here was a treat. Number One was badass and had a tragically hip blue manicure. And Pike was really going through some heavy shit. He was facing an intense internal conflict that is absent from any early Kirk. On the plus side, pilot Spock was not the seminal, logical Spock we all know and love. That character certainly got a positive makeover.
Next time we’ll get some McCoy. Join us, won’t you?