Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Menagerie, Part I

**** (4 stars out of 5)

It's the only two part episode of Star Trek's original series. Winner of the Hugo Award for best dramatic presentation in 1967, it was created as a desperate cost-cutting measure. How so?
'The Menagerie' is a framing device built around the unsuccessful but expensive and astoundingly awesome first pilot for Star Trek: 'The Cage', written by Gene Roddenberry.

At Starbase 11, Kirk is re-introduced to Spock's former commander. Christopher Pike ran the Enterprise back in the day, but he was recently irradiated while saving youths on a training mission gone awry. Now he's disfigured, burned, and immobilized. He's still got all his marbles, but he's mute with a battery powered heart, and a support chair that only lets him blink 'yes' and 'no'.
He cuts such a heroically tragic figure it would take the cold heart of a Vulcan to ignore his plight.

Over Pike's impotent objection, Spock runs off with Pike & the ship, headed for planet Talos IV. Bad enough, but going to Talos is prohibited- on pain of death. In fact, we're told that going there is the last death penalty on the books in this day and age.

Now Kirk and Commodore Mendez race to catch up in a shuttlecraft (the first seen in the series, handsomely upgraded in CGI.) Side note: Mike & Denise Okuda's commentary track informed me that a shuttlecraft's then sci-fi "ion propulsion" has since become a reality in space travel. That was fast! Nice work, nerds!

Mendez and Kirk are bound by duty to put Spock on trial for his life: and his defense consists of... a lovely set of 13-year-old home movies. Impossibly obtained, impossibly detailed looks at Pike's previous adventure on Talos IV. And looks back at Pike's crew. Looks at John Hoyt's crusty booze-and-advice dispensing Dr. Philip Boyce. And looks at a young Spock who smiled and shouted. (I even love the imperious gestures Spock uses to change screen images on his computer- they remind me of the light touch currently in use on kobo and iPad digital devices.)

Pssst. Don't look now, but there's a WOMAN in charge of the Enterprise! Gasp!
With Pike and his crew exploring Talos, meeting a batch of old science geek castaways and Vina, their pretty blonde orphan protege, the First Officer known only as Number One has the bridge. Didn't they notice... she has a vagina! Girls can't DO things!

Lasers, time warp drives, veiny-headed aliens, that's plausible, if only just. But ladies with brains? That's TOO weird.

The Talosian locals are illusion-casters who captured Captain Pike for their menagerie long ago. There weren't any geriatric scientists. The Talosians threw Pike into bizarre simulations, like battling a beardy weirdy in a castle on Rigel VII for the hand of the Princess Vina. But what's it all about?

If, as Kirk would have it, 'A Vulcan can no more be disloyal than he can exist without breathing', then what the devil is going on with Spock?

To Be Concluded Next Week... or as Spock put it: "You MUST see the rest of the transmission."

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