Star Trek: The Cage

Star Trek TOS logo

Star Trek TOS logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation with my brothers every Saturday night before we had to wake up for church the next morning. I subsequently became the lone Deep Space Nine fanboy in our family (I pretended Voyager & Enterprise didn’t happen). Although I had seen many Star Trek: TOS episodes, I had never made a concerted effort to watch The Original Series all the way through. This is my attempt to do so, and I will try to blog out my thoughts about as many TOS episodes as I am able to.

The  unaired pilot episode for Star Trek: The Cage, is an exploration in the dynamics of gender roles. From the beginning, Lieutenant Number One, played by Majel Barrett (creator Gene Roddenberry’s wife), is described as being the second in command of the fleet, with the second most experience and credentials behind only Captain Christopher Pike. When Pike is captured by the telepathic, sinister Talosians, Number One is the person who leads a failed attempt to rescue him.  One other female character, yeoman J.M. Colt, stood in to represent an ideal youth during that era (I mean, the late 1960’s—although Star Trek takes place in the future).  Pike resists the Talosians attempts to mate him with Vina, a beautiful damsel in distress who promises Pike she can be “any woman he wants her to be.”

The Talosians dictate that the role of women is relegated to reproduction.  They are telepaths, and in science fiction, the trope of the telepath with an overgrown skull is an outgrowth of a particular vision of Western human agency, one of Eurocentric rationality, one that denies individual experience and subjectivity.  The Talosians allow Colt and Number One to dematerialize onto their planet, but only to give Pike more options. Colt is considered very young and filled with hormones, while the Talosians assure Pike that in spite of Number One’s high grade intelligence and lack of emotion, she still fantasizes about being with him. Number One figures out that Pike is to be “Adam” in this new Garden of Eden.  But who is to be the new Eve? That’s the question we are left with at the end.

I found it interesting that the Talosians punish Pike for having “wrong” thoughts about the second sex.  The Talosians were offended by the very notion that women could exist for more than just breeding.  It rings so familiar in both secular and religious circles, and the fact that a particular eroticized understanding of Eve and Adam’s story (where they are adults, not children) further demonstrates Roddenberry’s progressive vision of a future with the genders as equals.

The Cage (Star Trek: The Original Series)

The Cage (Star Trek: The Original Series) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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0 thoughts on “Star Trek: The Cage

  1. wken

    Agreed. The real original “Trek” was an even-more-progressive model than the series which ran. The real series, though, did have Sulu and Uhura on the bridge full-time (once that became Sulu’s role … he started in the botany lab, I think). The gender roles and philosophies of The Cage go well past anything the censors would let Roddenberry do.

    The idea that women have sex drives of their own, and that Number One actually had a fantasy life, was pretty radical. And likely played into why this is the unaired pilot. It also probably plays into why Kirk became quite the skirt-chaser that he was. Capt. Pike didn’t go for the pretty woman captive/damsel in distress. That was more or less uinheard of in 1960’s TV. Observe the number of times when Kirk did go for the fellow-captive woman (“Whom Gods Destroy,” “Gamesters of Triskellion,” even “The Undiscovered Country.” Spock went for her in “All Our Yesterdays.”)

    I would really like to see where Gene Roddenberry would have taken Chris Pike. As much as I like TOS as it was aired, and I prefer TOS Spock to emotional-Spock (“The women!”), I wish I could see the real vision for the series.

    But I still commend him. Even if the network wouldn’t let him be as gender-equal as he wanted, he did a decent job of racial work for his time. The first interracial kiss on TV isn’t nothing. Uhura’s lecture of Abe Lincoln in “The Savage Curtain” is priceless.

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  3. Charles

    To connect with your inner DS9 fan, you are most likely aware that the pilot was unaired because the suits thought it “too cerebral” for the viewing audience. Compare it to the DS9 pilot, in which we see Sisko discussing the nature of linear existence with non-temporal non-physical aline who are manifesting themselves as telepathic projections of figures from Sisko’s memory. Compared with that, The Cage seems downright lowbrow.

    And yeah, the big-forehead alien thing. From a certain neuropsychological perspective, it does make some sense. The more abstract cognitive functions are handled in areas of the brain that are physically higher and farther forward (prefrontal lobes), while emotional processes are handled in areas that are anatomically more “down and back” (e.g., the amygdala), so assuming that a species with “more higher” cognitive abilities like telepathy would need more of the higher/forward structures makes a certain amoutn of sense. Okay, now I’m off on a neuropsychology tangent, since we’re talking about telepathy and brain shape. One of the current areas of work in neuropsychology is “theory of mind” (our ability to look at the actions of others and infer their mental states, so things like deciding if someone stepping on my toe was deliberate or accidental), which appears to involve the right temperoparietal junction (side of the head instead of front). So if we could argue that telepathy would be suped-up theory of mind, maybe a telepathic species would have a WIDE head instead of a tall head.

    I’m glad you’re going back to the source of Trek. I loved the original series before TNG came around, so it will be fun seeing your reactions to watching it for the first time.

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