Director: Robert Butler
Writer: Gene Roddenberry
Cast: Jeffrey Hunter, Susan Oliver, Leonard Nimoy, Majel Barrett, John Hoyt, Peter Duryea, and Laurel Goodwin
Composer: Alexander Courage (Uncredited)
Air Date: 10/4/1988
Production #: 6149-01
In response to a distress signal, the USS Enterprise travels to Talos IV under orders from Captain Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter). Upon arriving on the planet’s surface, Pike and a landing party consisting of Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Dr. Phillip Boyce (John Hoyt), and several others locate a group of marooned scientists—later revealed to be an illusion—along with Vina (Susan Oliver), the only true survivor of a doomed expedition. Captured by the aliens responsible for deceiving him, Pike discovers that his jailors intend to breed him with Vina—with a horrifying twist.
The first Star Trek: The Original Series pilot (the second being “Where No Man Has Gone Before”), “The Cage” should be requisite viewing for fans of cerebral science fiction. Especially worth praising are the interactions between Captain Pike and his Talosian captors, which allude to many disturbing truths about the nature of mankind.
It should be indicated that Captain Pike lacks the diplomatic prowess of Jean-Luc Picard and the raw charisma possessed by James Kirk, preventing him from either bargaining or seducing his way to freedom. Unlike his fellow Enterprise captains, however, Pike often complements his authoritative demeanor with the sentimentality of a romantic thinker—a balance of attributes that, when coupled with the delicate performance of Jeffrey Hunter, should allow the audience to immediately sympathize with Pike. (In one scene, for example, a battle-weary Pike anguishes over the recent deaths of three crew members who perished under his command, demonstrating a vulnerable side not commonly exhibited by the captains of Star Trek.)
By employing science fiction to comment upon a dangerous aspect of the human condition (i.e., the tendency to immerse oneself in fantasy while escaping the trials and burdens of real life), “The Cage” earns its reputation as a classic installment in the Star Trek franchise. Specifically, the Talosians are said to have neglected the care involved in maintaining a societal structure, instead using the power of illusion (a type of narcotic, according to Vina) to entertain and reward themselves—a dire consequence of forgoing hard work in favor of extreme pleasure seeking.
“The Cage” is a thought-provoking and well-written, albeit slow-paced, episode. Notably, this offering contains many of the elements (e.g., social commentary, believable character motivations, and ground-breaking science fiction) that would define the Star Trek brand for decades to come.
Overall Quality: 10/10
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