Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Good Trek / Bad Trek #2: The Cage

Intro: I’ve loved Star Trek since I was a kid. I started by watching TNG in 6th grade. I’ve been a fan since then and though I’ve spent a lot of time watching Star Trek, I’ve never watched The Original Series. So, I’m watching and reviewing them as a fan of Star Trek, but one who's never seen any of them. So I’m watching all the TOS episodes for the first time and saying whether or not they suck. At the end, I give examples of better Star Trek to watch that remind me of this episode. That’s it. 

The Enterprise is heading to the Vega colony to care for it’s injured following a battle we don’t see. They get a distress signal. Decide not to investigate it. Then they get the distress signal again and decide to check shit out this time. They go down find some survivors from an old crash site and are preparing to rescue them when SURPRISE is a trap. That’s no moon it’s a plot device. Turns out there are no survivors, it was all just an elaborate trap to get to capture Captain Pike because these aliens needed a prime specimen of man (?!?!?). 

Prime specimen of man Captain Pike
So now Pike has been trapped. In a cage. Being held prisoner be some large-headed aliens with relatively good makeup for a fifty-year-old show. They tell him they’re going to start experimenting on him which he doesn’t seem too wild about. These aliens are able to telepathically make Pike experience various things from his past in an attempt to interest him in the lady survivor whose name is Vina. 

Despite all my rage, I'm still just a Pike in a cage

There some illusions that are pretty ridiculous. Then Pike and Vina get to talking and Pike figures out that he and Vina are going to be in charge of repopulating the planet. Yup. Two people. Are going to repopulate the planet. That's what these genius aliens plan is. Just like Adam and Eve. Despite the fact that the aliens can make Pike experience anything telepathically, he seems none too keen on the whole monogamy thing. So he’s still going to resist this. Lashes out and realizes that the Talosians can’t read “primitive” thoughts. Which I guess means anger. This comes up later. 

I will watch you repopulate now

They try other illusions. Pike’s home in the Mojave dessert. Vina as an Orion slave girl (with green makeup so bad it looks like she did it herself). Meanwhile, the Enterprise is having trouble getting Pike out of there. They can’t blow up the door, but eventually they figure out where the power source of the underground lair is and are planning to beam down. However, when they do, only the women are beamed. The aliens have stolen the broads as a means of letting Pike choose with whom to repopulate the planet. 

Easy buddy. Save that enthusiasm for a pon farr episode.

Pike uses his primitive thinking to mask his thoughts and fist fight one of the aliens, and because the aliens are nothing but big headed nerds he kicks the shit out of him. The aliens then learn that humans don’t care for being imprisoned. Even if they get to have tons of sex. So they agree to let them go. Just like that. Unfortunately, Vina can’t go because it turns out she’s not really young and pretty. That was another alien illusion. Nope turns out she is old and disfigured due to the crash on the planet all those years ago. So she can’t rejoin society on account of her ugliness. Seriously. So she just decides to stay and live in an alien illusion where at least she'll be pretty. 

In space, no one can hear you scream (at the site of an unattractive woman)

Did This Episode Suck?

Yes.  I had seen this one before and it was worse than I remembered. It is just awful. This pilot was rejected by CBS. People say that now like it’s funny that they ever would’ve passed on what’s become such a valuable property. Watching the show now though, you think well, of course they passed on it. It’s shitty. It’s not just that it’s bad. That can be forgiven. It’s just boring. A quarter of the show is done with before we even meet the Talosians and Vina. They play the theme song then they play it again out of nowhere five minutes in. It’s just bad TV. 

It’s largely a completely different cast than the ones that will be in the majority of the episodes. The captain isn’t Kirk, but Christopher Pike. Played by Jeffrey Hunter who is just fucking awful. His wife didn’t want him on the show because she thought that science fiction was beneath him. Turns out that not only is science fiction not beneath him, but he is very much beneath science fiction. Not to say that this was a good episode. It’s not. He’s just bad enough to stand out as particularly awful in an already bad episode. 
Ummm how sexist is the concept of Orion slave girls? I think you mean Orion slave WOMAN!

The alien villains are dumb too. The Enterprise crew makes a big deal about how smart they are, what with their giant brains and all. But those brains don't seem to be doing them too much good. Why would they only abduct two people? You try to repopulate a planet with only two people, and you're just begging to have your population ravaged by recessive gene disorders. 

Also, these aliens aren't able to read what they call "primitive thoughts." Which means violent thoughts. But they are able to read his desire to have sex with Orion slave girls. What could possibley be more primitive than raping a slave?

The plot is shitty, the acting wooden, the awful costumes are awful, the dialogue is awkward. Everything about this episode is why I don't like TOS episodes. 

I initially wanted to say Encounter At Farpoint. The TNG pilot. Both are double episodes. Both are pilots. Both involve powerful aliens that trap and test Enterprise crews. So, you could go with that one, but I think a better fit is another TNG episode The Survivors. In it, the crew encounters two elderly folks living alone on a completely deserted planet. In involves powerful aliens who are able to conjure up images at will. It has barren planets. It has a sweet ending. It's got it all. As a bonus, it features an older woman that folks don't recoil in fear from so it doesn't seem hopelessly dated upon rewatching. 

There’s a twist at the end that I won’t give away, but John Anderson portrayal of one of the elderly survivors is really really touching. Anderson said that due to a personal tragedy he found this to be one of the hardest roles he’d ever played. It shows. You do have to put up with some Troi freaking out, which is never fun to watch. But you also get to see one of Worf's best lines on TNG. So that makes up for it. 

So don’t watch The Cage because it’s bad. Watch The Survivors because it’s good. 

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