Warp Speed to Nonsense

Warp Speed to Nonsense

Monday, November 4, 2013

Season 1, Episode 16 "The Menagerie, Part 1"

"The Menagerie, Part 1"
Production Number: 16
Air Order: 11
Stardate: 3012.4
Original Air Date: November 17, 1966

So it's no secret that I have a love/hate relationship with the budget for this show. It was small enough that the production crew had to get creative. Sometimes the effect was good (in order to make it seem as though there were far more people on board, when there was some sort of crash or accident occurred, voices from "other parts of the ship" would "report in" with damages and casualties). Sometimes it was not ( all of the walls of the Enterprise are smooth and the same color so that they could be moved and swapped out, making the ship look less like a space vessel and more like a government office full of cubicles). And then there's "The Menagerie", one of the best uses of making the most of a tiny budget that I have ever seen. It's fucking genius. Budget, you is a sexy beast.

So here's the lowdown: Gene Rod wanted to make a weekly sci-fi show, and the network execs said it couldn't be done cheaply enough. So he ran off and wrote several scripts to prove them wrong. "The Cage" was selected and filmed. It featured a "wagon train to the stars" theme, with a starship called Enterprise, a captain called Christopher Pike, a female Number One, and a half-Vulcan science officer, Mr Spock. The story revolved around the ship visiting a mysterious planet, and the captain being kidnapped by aliens. It was pretty. It was thought-provoking. It was... still too expensive.
"No thanks," said the execs. "But could you make another?"
They had a list:
- Less expensive... by a lot.
- Ditch the guy with the ears.
- Ditch the female Number One.
- Less talk, more action.

Quite a bit had to be sacrificed to trim the budget down to pretty much pennies each week, which meant they would have to get creative, and also ask their audience to make the stretch with them that this show was set in outer space in the future. They wanted more action, more fight scenes, and less talking and introspective moments. This seems to be a compromise: we ended up with Ripped-Shirt Kirk, but the story usually includes something to make the audience go hmmmm. "Ditch the female Number One. A girl can't be second in command! She makes our ginormous dicks look small!"
"The guy with the ears has to go, too." Gene Rod told them to take a flying leap. "He goes, I go." Interestingly, he made the same threat when the execs complained about Uhura too. "You can't have a black woman on tv who isn't a nanny or a maid! That's not how the status quo works!" Gene again gave them the finger, and my guess is that they gave in because they realized that seeing Uhura on screen every week gave them plenty of images of forbidden chocolate to fap to later. Score one for equality.
So Gene Rod and Co went back and tried again with "Where No Man has Gone Before". Jeffrey Hunter, who played Pike, was no longer available and was replaced by Bill Shatner. The Guy With the Ears was promoted to first officer. Number One (played by a differently-credited Majel Barrett, ie the future Mrs Gene Rod) was demoted and re-coiffed as Nurse Christine Chapel. The captain wrestles with someone most episodes. And the budget was slashed. Unfortunately, it wasn't slashed enough, and the budget kept getting smaller and smaller, until...
There was pretty much nothing. There needed to be a certain number of episodes, and there was not enough money to quite make it to that number. They needed to use "The Cage", which would make zero sense in the chronology and plotlines of the new show. So Gene did something amazeballs: he got out his scissors. By editing down "The Cage", cutting it in half, and writing what he called an "envelope", he stretched that one expensive pilot into two episodes, and fit it all nicely together to make sense, calling the new episode "The Menagerie" (which is a better title if you ask me). He got two full episodes out of that one, and the envelopes could be produced quickly and cheaply. None of this awesomeness would have existed if Rod and Co had gotten a Michael Bay budget. Sometimes, the best shit comes out of being broke as a joke.

And now, "The Menagerie"...


Our intrepid trio beams down to the surface of Starbase 11, and are greeted in some sort of art garden by a red shirt, who relays that the commodore is puzzled as to why they are there. Kirk replies that they got a message requesting that they divert back. "Wait!" says the sharp reader. "Weren't we just at Starbase 11?" Yep. Kirk was detained and almost court martialed at Starbase 11 last week. But "Court Martial" aired four episodes after this, so technically it looks like this is their first trip to SB11. In the meantime, please enjoy the view:

This commodore is a gold shirt, Commodore Jose Mendez, and Kirk tells him that Spock received a message from his former captain, Christopher Pike. "Not possible," said the commodore, and he leads the others to the medical facility. Seems that Chris Pike was caught in a ship accident involving some Starfleet cadets, and in dragging the kids out, he was exposed to delta rays. (Does this sound like "saving orphans from a burning building", but more... futuristic?) Whoever did the make-up for this episode did a damn good job - that shit looks painful.

The wheelchair thing that he's in makes him look like Davros, and it's iconic enough enough to have been spoofed a number of times on other shows. Unable to speak, Pike controls the chair with his mind, and communicates through a single light on the front of it: if the light blinks once, his answer is yes; twice and he means no. But Pike doesn't want to see them. He allows Spock to hang out, and after everyone has left, Spock tells Pike that he has a plan. Presumably, Pike knows what he has in mind, but doesn't approve. All we get are tantalizing hints like "six days away at maximum warp" and "mutiny". Pike's light keeps stuttering no.
Back in Commodore Mendez's office, Kirk is still insisting they got called back. The computer says otherwise. I'll bet Kirk is sick of this shit. He knows one thing, the computer says something else.Only this time, it's Spock vs the computer, and we all know which one is more reliable.
Spock sneaks into the computer room and pulls a nerve pinch on the dude running the machines before taking a machine apart himself.
In Mendez's office, a red shirt brings in some tapes and reminds Kirk in a friendly way that he's tapped pretty much every girl in the known universe. She gives him some bedroom eyes and the commodore reminds her that this is not a singles cruise. She launches into a speech about how they found no evidence of Pike sending a message to the Enterprise, but that Spock is extremely loyal to his past captain.

In the computer room, Spock alters the voice modulation controls and hails the Enterprise using the voice of the starbase's communications officer. The voice tells the Enterprise that they will be running a top-secret mission, and that the course will be handled by the computer rather than a navigator. Uhura asks for confirmation from Kirk, but Spock has it covered, using a tape of Kirk's voice. In fact, Spock is so badass that when the SB11 chief interrupts him, he successfully wins a fist fight while relaying orders to the Enterprise crew.

Kirk watches Pike on a monitor. (Seriously, everyone watches Pike on monitors. I wonder if it makes Pike paranoid as hell.) The light on the wheelchair is repeatedly blinking no. Bones comes in and rants that it's BS medicine - Pike's body is a vegetable, but his brain functions perfectly. Kirk is pissed as hell that something isn't right on his ship. He suspects Spock, and Bones surprisingly defends the Vulcan. But then the voice of the comm officer for SB11 pages Bones back to the Enterprise. 
"Probably a hangnail," he grouches. I love Bones. Did I mention that? 

Kirk is ordered by Mendez to read a top secret document. It talks about General Order 7, which is that no ship may go to the planet Talos IV. It carries the sentence of death. The only ship to visit there was the Enterprise, under command of Pike, who had a science officer named Spock. Then, in one fell swoop, it is discovered that both Pike and the Enterprise are gone. Dramatic music!
On the bridge, Spock announces that Kirk has been ordered on medical rest leave, and that he is in charge.
"The hell you say!" yells Bones.
"It's all a secret," says Spock, and leads him to Pike.
He then plays a tape for Bones, wherein Kirk asks him to care for Pike but not ask any questions. Pike, meanwhile, has been blinking no this whole time. It's pretty much the most orderly tantrum ever.

On the bridge, the helmsman reports that they are being followed by a shuttlecraft, which is hailing them. Spock forbids contact, then asks the computer how long until the craft only has enough fuel to make it back to SB11. The computer replies that the shuttle is already past that point.
"Well, fuck," says Spock.
Kirk and Mendez are obviously in the shuttle, now dead in the water with two hours of oxygen left. Kirk half-hopes the Enterprise won't come back for them, as Spock will be court martialed for stealing the ship. Mendez reminds him that if Spock goes to Talos IV, he'll be put to death. I wonder how Starfleet executes people...
Out of options, Spock puts the brakes on the Enterprise, and tractors in the shuttle. Then he calls armed red shirts, puts the helmsman in charge, and tells Bones that as the senior officer, the good doctor must have him arrested for mutiny.
"Dafuq?" says Bones, and has him confined to quarters rather than tossing him in the brig.

Kirk and Mendez come aboard, and Kirk gets his command back, but the helm can't disengage from computer control until they reach Talos IV. Clever Spock has cross-circuited that shit with life support.
Kirk's Log 3012.4: The Enterprise is stuck going to Talos IV, and they have to do a hearing on Spock. Kirk laments that this sucks mandrill butt.
At the hearing, Spock requests immediate court martial. When Kirk protests that they are short one command officer, Spock points out that Pike is still active duty. Mendez admits that no one wanted to retire Pike after rescuing those orphans cadets.
"He's got it all planned out," says Mendez in admiration of Spock.
Of course he does. Whether it's brushing his teeth, conducting a science experiment, or fucking you sideways with a katana, Spock knows how to run shit.
Kirk's Log 3012.6: Court martial convening. Spock has waived his right to counsel and plead guilty. He is aware that, as a consequence of his actions, he faces the death penalty.

The dress uniforms come with these little triangle patches on the chest. My guess is that they're Girl Scout merit badges. Mendez has the ones for fire-building and knot-tying. Kirk has badges for dramatic pauses and seducing fellow scouts.

Spock requests that they turn on the viewscreen so that he can explain himself fully. They do so, and Spock fires up the Way Back Machine to talk about 13 years earlier, when Pike was in charge of the Enterprise.

The Enterprise of old has come across a distress signal, sent out from the Talos system. The call numbers match a Starfleet science ship, and they guess that the ship crashed in that system 18 years earlier. Pike decides to skip an investigation and move on, as they have more pressing matters.

A fancy-pants corridor on what is clearly Casual Friday.

He goes back to his cabin and pages the ship's doctor. Pike wants a second opinion about skipping the distress signal to care for their own personnel. The doctor concurs and pours Pike a martini.
"The hell?" says Pike.
"Sometimes," says Dr Royce, "a man will tell his bartender things he won't tell his doctor."
Ooh, smart man. Is this guy Bones' predecessor? I like him a lot. He guesses that Pike is thinking about a fight on Rigel VII, where several crew members went red shirt.
Pike is tired of decision-making, and is thinking of retiring, possibly moving back home to ride horses. Or of becoming an Orion trader.
"You, trading in green animal slave women?" asks Royce.
Foreshadowing, you guys. It's so thick you could cut it with a knife.

Spock pages Pike to let him know there's a follow-up message to the distress signal. Pike decides to check it out, and they switch course.

You know how during "Court Martial" I complained about the ship's visual log miraculously being able to record Kirk's flipping the "alert" and "jettison pod" switches? Mendez starts bitching about it now.
"How the Hello Kitty did you get this recording? The ships don't record like that!"
"It's a secret," says Spock.
Mendez accuses him of making it up, but Pike's light indicates that the Vulcan is telling the truth.

Pike decides to take an away team down to the Talos IV crash site, and leaves Number One in charge of the ship. The away team beams down in swanky matching jackets that should really have a team name ironed on the back, like "Enterprise Enforcers" or "Pike's Pumas" or "The Wesley Crushers". A big deal is made of the beaming process, which actually seems kind of cute now. The surface set is fairly complicated for this show, with a matte backdrop and fancy plants.

Dude, don't smile. It's creepy.

The away team stumbles upon a make-shift encampment full of old people... and one young woman. The old guys introduce her as Vina, born almost as they crashed. Vina sets her sights on Pike. But suddenly, we're seeing this scene through yet another viewscreen, one which is being viewed by small people with large craniums. Trek-ception!

As they're preparing to beam up the survivors, Royce reports that everyone is in perfect health. Vina tells Pike that there is a secret to their awesome health, and leads him to a small mountain to show him. When he doesn't see anything, she and the survivors disappear. A door opens in the mountain and the cranial Talosians file out. They shoot him with some kind of knock-out gas, dragging him into the mountain, just as the away team comes running. The team shoots at the door in the mountain, to no avail. Spock pages Number One to tell her that the whole thing was a trap, and that they've lost the captain.

The screen fades, and Uhura pages Mendez to tell him that Starfleet has detected that the Enterprise is receiving transmissions from Talos IV. Starfleet command is relieving Kirk of his command of the ship. Spock admits that he was aware of the fact that the records being shown at his court martial were coming from Talos.
"Dude," says Mendez, "you just got yourself the death penalty, and you've fucked up your captain's career. Good job." 
He requests that Spock relinquish control of the ship. Spock declines, and Mendez calls a recess to the trial. The room empties and Spock turns to Kirk.
"You have to watch the rest," he begs. "It's important."
"You just fucked me sideways with a katana!" yells Kirk.

The now not-so-much captain orders Spock locked up, and Kirk is left to Hamlet by himself in the make-shift courtroom.



I hope everyone had a Happy Halloween, a Blessed Samhain, a Happy New Year, and a wonderful El Dia Los Muertos. If none of those applies to you, I hope you had a great week!

This is what happens when you interpret "street cred" to mean "proving you're the biggest nerd on the block".

This week's tea also came from the Adagio sampler pack. I tried the Fruit Sangria, which is herbal. It brewed up blood red, and the best way to describe both the smell and taste is to imagine brewing a cup of it, then just as you lean forward to smell the steam rising in swirls off the surface of your tea, a big burly guy comes barreling into your kitchen, punches you in the face and yells, "FROOOOOT!" Unsweetened, it's a bit like berry-flavored Vitamin Water.

So my tea-whispering cousin Agent K alerted me to a "free sample" offer from Twinings: three free bags of tea, of your own choosing. They won't get there tomorrow (order says it takes 4-6 weeks), but it's at least three free cuppas, right? And the selection is pretty good.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome review! Excellent kitty bonus picture at the end (adorable!). Extra credit for your screen grab of Spock asking Bones to arrest him and Uhura's look of shock - which was an excellent move by the director because it shows how crazy this whole scenario seems to someone who knows (and likes) Spock. Personally, I also like Uhura's scream in "Arena" when Kirk just vanishes. Tensions are pretty high already, and her scream really added a sense of menace to that episode (IMHO).