Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Recap: The Cage (3 of 4)

This is the third part of a recap of the original Star Trek pilot, "The Cage", that I posted to the rec.arts.startrek.misc newsgroup back in November 2005 under the screen name Empok Nor. The first two parts are, as Vina would put it, here and here.

The starship Enterprise, under Captain Christopher Pike, has been lured to the planet Talos IV by a fake distress call, and Pike captured by the telepathic Talosians. The Talosians are making Pike relive past episodes in his life via telepathic illusions, accompanied by a young woman named Vina who insists that she is not an illusion. We pick up the story in

The cell, later. Pike is testing the stone blocks for weak points again. He doesn't see one of the blocks open like a sliding door. Only when he hears a glassy click does he look down and see it closing. He tries to get to it before it closes, but he's too late. On the floor below the block is something that looks like a cross between a test tube and a brandy snifter with a couple inches of blueish-green liquid in it. Then he looks toward the picture window and sees the Keeper standing outside it.

Instead of just thinking at Pike, the Keeper actually opens his mouth and speaks. "The vial contains a nourishing protein complex."

"Is the Keeper actually communicating with one of his animals?" snarks Pike. In the original series, they almost never got into the question of how members of Starfleet were able to communicate with alien races. They always spoke English, and nobody remarked on it. Here, though, it makes sense to assume that the Keeper has picked up English from reading Pike's mind.

"If the form and the color is not appealing, it can appear as any food you wish to visualize," the Keeper continues.

"And if I prefer --" Pike begins.

"To starve? You overlook the unpleasant alternative of punishment."

Pike's eyes close and his hands clench. Suddenly he is surrounded by flames and kneeling in a bubbling fluid while he screams in pain.

Pike is back in his cell, the vial in his hand. "From a fable you once heard in childhood," the Keeper notes. "You will now consume the nourishment."

Pike gasps, "Why not just put irresistible hunger in my mind? But you can't, can you? You do have limitations, don't you?"

The Keeper is starting to look annoyed. "If you continue to disobey, from deeper in your mind there are things even more unpleasant."

Pike looks down at the vial, thinks things over for a moment, then drinks it. Glaring at the Keeper, he stands up, then suddenly throws himself at the transparency. Bwong! The Keeper, startled, jumps back.

Pike is grinning. "That's very interesting."

"Now, to the female," the Keeper says as he regains his composure. (A bit of advice for any future space travelers out there. Never trust anyone who refers to a woman as "the female".)

"You were startled," Pike points out. "Weren't you reading my mind then?"

The Keeper, though, doesn't want to pursue that line of inquiry. "As you've conjectured, an Earth vessel did crash on our planet, but with only a single survivor." The Talosians presumably picked this bit of conjecture out of Pike's mind.

"Now, let's stay on the first subject," Pike insists. "All I wanted for that moment was to get my hands around your neck."

The Keeper refuses to be swayed from his topic of conversation. "We repaired the survivor's injuries, and found the species interesting."

"Do primitive thoughts put up a block you can't read through?"

The Keeper is starting to sound pissed as he steps on Pike's lines. "It became necessary to attract a mate."

Pike finally gives up and says, "All right, all right, let's talk about the girl. You seem to be going out of your way to make her attractive, to make me feel protective."

Approaching the cell again, the Keeper says earnestly, "This is necessary in order to perpetuate the species."

"It seems more important to you now that I begin to accept her, like her."

"We wish our specimens to be happy in their new life."

Pike isn't buying it. "Assuming that's a lie, why would you want me attracted to her? So I'll feel love and a husband-wife relationship? That'd be necessary only if you intend to build a family group, or perhaps a whole human community."

Turning away, the Keeper says, "With the female now properly conditioned --"

"You mean properly punished," Pike says angrily.

The Keeper turns to look back at him.

"I'm the one who's not cooperating!" Pike snarls. "Why don't you punish me?"

"First, an emotion of protectiveness. Now, one of sympathy. Excellent," smirks the Keeper. He turns and enters the elevator with a pling. Yeah, he's an asshole all right. And it isn't hard to figure out where Matt Groening got the model for Homer Simpson's boss.

Pike stands there and glares at him, then the background behind him blurs with a vroon sound. Pike is now wearing a denim jacket over a blue turtleneck. Behind him are two horses standing next to a small tree.

"Do you want some coffee, dear?" The scene opens out to a picnic lunch set in a wooded clearing. Domestic Vina, with wavy shoulder-length hair and dressed in a white riding outfit, kneels next to a blanket as she removes items from a picnic basket. "I left a thermos hooked to m' saddle," Domestic Vina continues.

To the sound of birdsong and a western acoustic guitar, Pike approaches the horse. The horse neighs, and Pike realizes that he recognizes him. "Tango! You old devil, you. Sorry, I don't have any . . . " Feeling the pocket of his denim jacket, Pike removes a couple of sugar cubes. "They think of everything, don't they?" he remarks to Vina as he gives Tango the treat.

As he starts to approach her she reminds him, "Honey, the coffee." Giving her an okay whatever look, Pike goes back to Tango and unhooks the thermos from his saddle.

"Isn't it good to be home?" says Domestic Vina.

"They read our minds very well," Pike remarks. "Home, anything else I want. If I cooperate, is that it?" Putting a hand to her head, Domestic Vina gives him a warm smile combined with a warning look as she says, "Have you forgotten my headaches, darling? I get them when you talk strangely like this."

Handing her the thermos, Pike says, "Look, I'm sorry they punish you, but we can't let them --"

"My!" Domestic Vina interrupts, "It turned out to be a lovely day, didn't it?"

Relenting, Pike says, "It's funny, about twenty-four hours ago I was telling the ship's doctor how much I wanted something that's not very different from what we have here. Escape from reality, life with no frustrations, no responsibilities. And now that I have it, I understand the doctor's answer."

"I hope you're hungry," says Domestic Vina. "These little white sandwiches are your mother's recipe for chicken tuna." Good lord, do people actually eat chicken tuna sandwiches? That sounds gross.

"Because you either live life, bruises, skinned knees and all, or you turn your back on it and start dying."

Domestic Vina is not at all happy to hear Pike talking like this. Tango and the other horse, meanwhile, continue to stand placidly by their tree.

"The doctor's gonna be happy about one part of it, at least," says Pike as he takes in the vista through the trees. "He said I needed a rest."

"It's a lovely place to rest," Domestic Vina points out.

"Yeah, I used to ride through here when I was a kid. It's not as pretty as some of the parks around the big cities, but . . . " Nodding toward a city off in the distance, he says, "That's Mojave, that's where I was born."

With a smile, Domestic Vina says, "Is that supposed to be news to your wife?"

This clearly creeps out Pike. He turns back and glares at Domestic Vina.

"You're home," she insists, giving it the old college try. "You can even stay if you want. Wouldn't it be nice to show your children where you once played?"

"These 'headaches', they'll be hereditary, you know," Pike points out. "Would you wish them on a child, or a whole group of children?"

Domestic Vina is getting annoyed. "Foolish," she mutters.

"Is it? Look," he says as he kneels next to her on the blanket, "first they made me protect you, and then feel sympathy for you. And now we have these . . . familiar surroundings and a husband-wife relationship. Well, they don't need all this for just passion. What they're after is respect and mutual dependence."

Domestic Vina really, really doesn't want to hear Pike talking like this. Desperately she breaks in with an artificially chipper, "They say in the olden days all this was a desert, just blowing sand and cactus."

"But we're not here, neither of us," Pike insists. "We're in a menagerie, a cage."

"No!" growls Domestic Vina.

"I can't help either one of us if you won't give me a chance. Now, you told me once that they used illusions as a narcotic. They couldn't even repair the machines left by their ancestors. Is that why they want us? To build a colony of slaves?"

Now Domestic Vina's the one getting frustrated. "Stop!" she implores him. "Don't you care what they'll do to us?"

But Pike presses on. "Back in my cage it seemed for a couple of minutes that our keeper couldn't read my thoughts. Do emotions like hate, keeping hate in your mind, does that block off our minds from them?"

Resigned, Domestic Vina admits, "Yes. They can't read through primitive emotions. But you can't keep it up for long enough. I've tried. They keep at you and at you, year after year, tricking and punishing. And they've won. They own me. And you must hate me for that."

The Vina theme slowly comes up as Pike takes her hand and says, "Oh, no, I don't hate you. I can guess what it was like."

"That's not enough," says Domestic Vina. "Don't you see? They read my thoughts, my feelings, my dream of what would be the perfect man, and that's why they picked you. I can't help but love you. And they expect you to feel the same way."

"If they can read my mind," says Pike, "then they know I'm attracted to you." We suddenly pull back from Pike, showing him on the Talosians' monitor. "I was from the very first moment I saw you in the survivors' camp." A shot of the Keeper and Butthead as they look on. "You were like a wild little animal."

"A curious species," Butthead thinks to the Keeper. "They have fantasies they hide even from themselves."

Back on the Talosians' monitor, Domestic Vina observes, "I'm beginning to see why none of this has worked for you. You've been home; and fighting, as on Rigel, that's not new to you either. A person's strongest dreams are about what he can't do. Yes, a ship's captain, always having to be so formal, so decent and honest and proper." A shot of the Keeper, Beavis and Butthead as they look on. "You must wonder what it would be like to forget all that." The Keeper waves his arm, and there's a vroon sound.

Back to Pike, as the background behind him blurs into the main hall of a palace. Pike is now wearing a shimmery magenta and teal outfit with a torc of woven gold around his neck. The music is a vaguely middle-easternish mix of flute and percussion with the occasional chord from a harp. Pike is reclining at a low table laden with food, and reclining along with him are a chubby balding guy in an elaborate robe with an earring in his left ear (the Orion Trader, the Star Trek Concordance calls him), and a guy in a gold-edged uniform with gold shoulders boards (the Fleet Officer). Both of Pike's companions have knowing smirks. The table sits next to a pool, on the far side of which are four musicians in middle-easternish outfits and a green dancing girl in an outfit that's mostly bare skin with patches of fabric. Behind the musicians and the dancing girl are some fountains and a couple of burning torches.

"Nice place you have here, Mr. Pike," the Fleet Officer smirks.

We get a close-up of the dancing girl's green face and bright red lips, then back to Pike as he realizes: "Vina!"

The Orion Trader smirks, "Glistening green, almost like secret dreams a bored ship's captain might have."

Back to Glistening Green Vina, moving in a way that says, come and get it, big boy!

"Funny how they are on this planet," observes the Fleet Officer with a leer, "actually like being taken advantage of."

A wide angle of Pike and the others watching the entertainment as the Fleet Officer drinks from some weird-looking cornucopia-looking goblet.

A shot of Vina dancing up a storm, then a brief glimpse of Pike as he goes gulp!

"Suppose you had all of space to choose from," remarks the Fleet Officer, "and this was only one small sample."

"Wouldn't you say it's worth a man's soul?" remarks the Orion Trader.

Extreme close-up of Pike getting really hot and bothered. More shots of Glistening Green Vina, then Pike jumps up from the table and takes off, and good lord, he's wearing red shoes with pointed toes. Yes, Captain Pike, you are in Hell.

Pike rushes through a door and down a hallway, and the silk hangings on the wall quickly give way to bare rock illuminated with torches. Back when I was twelve years old and watching this scene in "The Menagerie Part II", this next bit would really creep me out: the music is still playing back in the main hall as Pike looks around at the rock walls, then suddenly fades out. Pike rushes back to find the doors gone and a rock wall in their place. Creepy.

Pike peers around for a few seconds at the rock-walled tunnel he now finds himself in, then turns around to see Glistening Green Vina standing there holding a torch. The look on her face says, come and get it, big boy!

(continue to part 4)

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