The Menagerie Parts 1 & 2 (Star Trek: The Original Series) Review

star_trek_spock_menagerie

“Siri. What’s the nearest transporter with proximity to a self-serve fro-yo?”

Episode: The Menagerie, parts 1 & 2 — Season 1, Episodes 11 and 12 (1966)

Director: Marc Daniels (1) and Robert Butler (2)

Writer: Gene Roddenberry[1]

Spock abducts his former captain, leaves Kirk behind at Starbase 11, puts the hijacked Enterprise on a course for the forbidden Talos IV, and then turns himself into McCoy (of all people) for court martial! The only two-part episode in the early franchise, “The Menagerie” keeps the audience wonderfully blindfolded for most of the first half, making us wait for the trial to hear Spock’s peculiar explanation.

By late 1966 production complications were resulting in a situation where Desilu studios was always behind in delivering new episodes to NBC. Roddenberry had the genius idea to spill the first unused Star Trek “The Cage” pilot[2] out of the can and incorporate it into a current-cast frame. Shooting only took a week – two episodes for the price of one!

This episode lent the franchise a new depth and texture, not because of its particular drama but by placing the “current” events of Kirk’s Enterprise into a longer-term continuum. We get a hint of the larger bureaucratic and military presence of Starfleet Command, what with its bases, functionaries, and regulations. For every Kirk pulling off the Corbomite Maneuver, there’s a Captain Christopher Pike (Sean Henney in the “present”) getting burned saving cadets, while Commodore Jose Mendez (Malachi Throne) flies a desk.

Even more powerful is the incorporation of “The Cage” as a visual juxtaposition against the jazzier, more colorful frame. Though it was only a year older, the footage nicely suggests an earlier era of interstellar exploration. To top it off we have the coincidence of Leonard Nemoy in both, and the combination of make-up and exuberance that makes him seem like a teenager in the pilot, while in “The Menagerie” he acts from a more mature loyalty.

As Spock executes his plot, we learn the lengths to which the “unemotional” Vulcan is willing to go in his obeisance to principle. Star Trek made a great deal of hay with characters who are in some way emotionally refracted or inexperienced,[3] but “The Menagerie” gives an accurate display of what such characters feel: an almost inhuman depth of emotion. Spock’s internal journey throughout the series is not one of emotional discovery, but rather learning to manage the powerful emotional terrain he already owns.[4]  It lends itself to a certain amount of messianic theater.

After the court martial reviews the “Cage” found footage, Pike is allowed to reconsider the choice he made so many years before in the pilot: does he wish to embrace the illusion of a beautiful life offered by the Telosians? Probably because Star Trek is notoriously hard on characters with any kind of disability or aesthetic divergence from human-normal, the man beeps “Fuck yes!” Kirk and the audience are left behind to consider the bargain.


[1] “The Menagerie” won a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. “The City on the Edge of Forever” was the only other episode to be honored thusly.

[2] For a fuller examination of the pilot, see my first eponymous review.

[3]     After Spock there was Data (Brent Spiner) and his ongoing quest to be human. Star Trek: Voyager upended the pattern with two characters, the properly synthetic Doctor and the more conflicted recovering Borg, Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan).*

* In Seven of Nine’s enormous breasts, the franchise discovered two characters it would continue to recycle with very few changes from then on.

[4] I am in debt to fellow soft-culture blogger “Fancy Deadpool” for this insight.  Please peruse his work at hunguponsuperheroes.blogspot.com for a sampling of the man’s rare genius.

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Filed under Childhood Memories, Star Trek Original Series

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