Anika and Liz go back to the beginning of it all: “The Cage”, the unaired Star Trek pilot starring Jeffrey Hunter, Majel Barrett, and Leonard Nimoy as a cheery guy named Spock.
We’re joined by guest Ellie, who watched “The Cage” for the first time, and is here to say what everyone’s thinking: the Talosians’ heads look like butts.
We also cover important issues, such as:
- shorts in space
- Number One, Michael Burnham and stoic female characters
- wild speculation about Discovery‘s approach to Chris Pike, Number One and Spock
- how does “The Cage” manage to get more sexist with every passing decade?
- they may have giant brains, but maybe the Talosians aren’t actually that bright
- AND MORE
Sourcing a claim:
…the “myth” of the network wanting to eliminate the female first officer was debunked by Herb Solow and Robert Justman in Inside Star Trek: The Real Story. In the book, they state that NBC supported the idea of a strong woman in a leading role, they only rejected Majel Barrett, feeling the actress is not talented enough to pull off such a role, and “carry” a show as co-star. (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, p. 60)
We’re still getting the hang of audio recording and editing, so apologies for the variable volume and quality.
Liz: Welcome to Antimatter Pod, a Star Trek podcast where we discuss fashion, feminism, subtext and subspace, hosted by Anika and Liz. We’re joined by our very first guest, Ellie, as we discuss “The Cage”, the original, rejected Star Trek pilot.
So “The Cage” was filmed in 1964. It was the original pilot for Star Trek, and the expectation was that it would either go to series, or it would be aired as a standalone movie. And instead, something completely unprecedented and very rare happened, and the network said, “This is very interesting, but we don’t like this pilot, please make a completely different one.”
And so they did, and so “The Cage” sort of endures as this very strange little artefact which – at some points, people said it wasn’t even fully canon, and then Discovery came along, set several years later, and soon “The Cage”’s Captain Pike will be commanding Discovery.
Anika: There is that episode where they – it’s a two-partner where they split it up, and it’s, like, Spock’s flashbacks, or – I think it’s, like, a recording.
Anika: They randomly watch a recording because he’s on trial for mutiny – so I guess it wasn’t completely random. It had a purpose.
Liz: No. No.
Anika: But it’s a completely random episode.
Liz: They couldn’t get Jeffrey Hunter back as Pike, so they popped some guy in some terrible, terrible wheelchair, completely unable to speak or communicate except with flashing lights.
Who wants to recap “The Cage”?
Anika: So we start with sad Captain Pike, who is tired of his job, and they get a distress call from a planet saying that it’s a lost ship that apparently crash landed on this planet. At first he doesn’t want to go, but he gets talked into it. And they – – –
Liz: In fairness, I just want to say, he doesn’t want to go because he doesn’t believe there’ll be survivors. He’s not a complete monster who’s so burnt out he’s just ignoring distress calls.
Anika: That’s true.
Ellie: And he gets talked into it by his doctor friend, who, for some weird reason, is also a bartender? Mixing drinks like an old timey snake oil salesman while wearing a bathrobe.
Anika: That scene is so amazing. There’s so much to talk about.
Okay. I’m trying to get the story out. So they beam down to the planet, and they find the lost ship, the survivors. And it’s a bunch of old scientists, and one hot girl. And I like to call her “manic pixie dream Vina”, because that’s exactly what she is. And she definitely just gets, you know, she gives Pike a reason to figure out his life while he’s being trapped by crazy telepathic aliens who have forgotten how to do anything other than be creepy telepaths? So their plan is to repopulate the planet with Vina, and they decide that Pike is the perfect man for it.
Liz: I believe Vina’s words are, [breathy] “He’s the perfect specimen…”
Anika: But Pike is not interested in being Adam, and recreating their creepy telepathic race as humans. The whole thing is really strange. And then, so, eventually, through both force and, like, rage – they can’t read his thoughts when he’s really, really angry and hates them – he breaks through all of the illusions, and they decide to let him go. And then he’s better. He’s found a new lot in life. And Vina stays for terrible reasons.
Liz: Which we will discuss. And along the way, he gets to experience a series of illusions of other lives, the sort that he was fantasising about with Dr Bartender. You know, normal things like being married and having a family back home, and being a sex trafficker. Completely normal fantasies that aren’t problematic or troubling in any way at all.
Ellie: But they do all involve astroturf.
Anika: There’s also the space renfaire.
Ellie: That, too.
Liz: Oh gosh.
Ellie: And they managed to splash out budget-wise. They were able to rent a horse – an actual horse. I was impressed by that.
Liz: I feel like, it was the ‘60s, there were a lot of westerns being made, there were just horses everywhere.
Ellie: That’s true, yeah.
Liz: Couldn’t walk down a street in Los Angeles without a horse turning up. I assume.
Anika: So! Where should we start in our analysis?
Liz: “The Cage” was my very first exposure to pre-Next Generation Star Trek.
Ellie: Oh my. I’m sorry.
Liz: “The Cage” and The Undiscovered Country. No, no, it’s great, because then Discovery came along, and I was like, this is clearly made for me. And so I am very fond of “The Cage”, even though, watching it last week, I was struck by how it’s even more sexist and problematic than I remembered.
Anika: I had only seen the two-parter version until Star Trek showed up on all the streaming services, and I realised that it was available as, you know, episode 0. Not on all of them, though. This is a weird thing that I noticed, because I have every streaming service, because I have problems. And on CBS All Access and Hulu, “The Cage” is not available. You can’t watch it. But on Netflix and Amazon Prime, you can.
Liz: That is so strange.
Anika: I cannot explain it. I was like, maybe it’s a rights issue? But it doesn’t make sense. So – it’s, you know, it’s who thinks it’s Star Trek, I guess. But – yeah. So until, like, Netflix, until Star Trek was on Netflix, I hadn’t seen “The Cage” as its own episode. I’d only seen it cut up in Spock’s episode.
Liz: It seems very strange that CBS All Access doesn’t carry it, because it’s going to be a fairly big part of Discovery this year. Next year.
Anika: Well, a lot of things don’t make sense about CBS All Access.
Liz: I’ve gathered that impression, yes.
Ellie: Seeing this for the first time, my initial overall take on it is that it is very bad, but it is a fascinating sort of bad. It’s the kind of bad that you want to pick over, you want to discuss, you want to, you know, explore all the different ways that it is bad. And sometimes you think of some things being so bad it’s good. No, I think it’s still bad. But, again, there’s so much to unpack from it that I’ve had a lot of fun watching it.
Liz: You can absolutely see how a decades-old franchise came from this, and you can absolutely see why it was the right thing to reject this pilot.
Ellie: Yeah. Yeah.
Anika: Right. And so – it’s interesting that you say that it’s bad, but in a fascinating way that you want to think about, because I feel like that’s what the executives at NBC also thought. They were like, “Wow, this is terrible. But something is there, and we want to see more of it, we just want it to be completely different from this.”
Ellie: Right. I bet that’s probably what they said, something along those same lines, yeah. But, again, it’s nice that it still exists as this sort of artefact, which wasn’t really even uncovered, people didn’t even see it until decades later, but it’s this artefact that we can kind of look back at and pick out, okay, we see how this ended up in the series, or that ended up in the main series, and kind of pore over it as, sort of, like, this apocryphal document.
Did you want to talk about wardrobe, make-up, hair, just, sort of, the fascinating fashion choices that were made?
Anika: The aesthetic.
Liz: I have to say, modern televisions are not kind to these costumes. Like, you can see how badly they fit, how poorly they’ve been made, how cheap the fabric is. It’s terrible.
Anika: The colouring is off, too.
Ellie: On the prosthetics, you can actually see the line that the latex cap makes along the foreheads. And whatever effect that they had to create these veins on these bulbous heads – which, I will go ahead and say right now, those heads look like butts. There’s no way around it.
Liz: Someone had to say it.
Ellie: Yeah. But these pulsating veins – it looks like they put a great deal of effort into creating this effect. And it still looks terrible, but you can tell they tried. They really tried.
Liz: You’ve gotta respect the work.
Anika: I like, so, at the very beginning, after Pike leaves the bridge, and he goes to his quarters to mope, and he passes this random couple in the hallway, and they’re just wearing regular clothes.
Anika: And I love it. I was like, “Oh, look, she’s, you know, she’s gonna go play space tennis in her little dress!”
Ellie: And the dude in shorts and a T-shirt! I noticed that. I’m like, why are these – did they walk onto the set, and they just forgot to cut that part out?
Anika: And they were like, “Eh, that’s fine.”
Liz: “Hey, kids, you wanna be an extra?”
Ellie: “No, no costumes, no make-up, just walk down this fake hallway.”
Anika: And I was sort of, like, is this – are they saying, “Hey, we’re not military”? What is the purpose of these random people in the hallway, wearing their casual clothes? I really – I had to pause and write about it, because I was like, I need to know more about these people.
Liz: As ridiculous as the costumes are, at least seeing that girl proves that it’s not just Number One and Yeoman Colt as the only representatives of women on the ship.
Ellie: That’s true.
Liz: Like, there’s at least three.
Anika: Since, you know, Pike seems to think the women don’t – aren’t really there.
Liz: And Number One doesn’t quite count as a woman. Which I think was a really winning strategy to take in communicating with your first officer.
Anika: She’s not like the other girls.
Ellie: That look she gave him! It was this look of barely restrained rage. And you could see that rage, but she holds it back. But you could tell that she’s thinking, “Oh my God, this guy. Why do I have to deal with this guy?”
Liz: That was the moment, as a child of about eleven or twelve, that I fell in love with Number One.
Liz: In fact, I was reading Memory Alpha, and according to one of the producers, it was not the network or the female test audience with Number One. In fact, they rather liked the character, but they didn’t like Majel Barret in the role. They didn’t think she was a good enough actress.
Ellie: Poor Majel Barret. But at least she – she brought us so much later on in her life. So much.
Liz: Well, the thing is, I don’t think her performance here is bad, and I’m wondering if the network perceived it as a bad performance because it’s just totally devoid of any sort of feminine pretence.
Anika: Absolutely. I mean, she’s – and they point it out, they, like, more than once put a spotlight on the fact that she’s not feminine enough.
Liz: And even right now, with Michael Burnham, people have trouble responding to a female character who has emotion, but generally doesn’t display them performatively.
Ellie: Doesn’t emote quite so – the way we’re used to seeing women emote on television and movies.
Ellie: And I think, with her – she was something ahead of its time. You know, her performance, her characterisation of this character was so ahead of the time that they just couldn’t handle it, perhaps.
Liz: I agree. And I think she was even further ahead of the time than the writing, because the writing treats her lack of emotion as something which weakens her as a woman. But she doesn’t seem particularly insecure about it, she’s more irritated than anything else when people suggest that.
Ellie: Exactly. Yep. The only flaw in her performance is not so much her, but that wig they put her in. I don’t care for that wig. It’s an unfortunate wig.
Liz: Yes, it really is. And I think that’s because they spent their whole wig budget on Vina.
Liz: Every single – every version of her has a different wig!
Ellie: Lotta wigs. I do like Yeoman Colt’s wig. I like the bangs, which I characterise as “’90s girl bangs”. So I just – I had forgotten what her name was, so I just started calling her Yeoman Bangs. And I – that’s a cute look, that’s a fierce look. She really rocks the – – –
Anika: It is. And she has a – you know, the cute little bow that she has in the back. I’m just like, awww. When you say ‘90s bangs, it’s like, yeah, she’s like a Sailor Scout. That’s what I – – –
Ellie: Oh yeah!
Anika: I was like, she looks just like – she’s like Sailor Venus hanging out over there. It’s perfect. Yeah. Whereas Number One’s hair, I kept – again, I kept trying to understand the back of her head. Because it was – there were braids, and there was something green, and I was just like, “What is going on with – what is actually this hairstyle? I don’t quite understand it.”
Liz: I think there was a green ribbon braided into her hair? But most of her hair is down? It was very confusing.
Anika: It was very confusing.
Ellie: It was trying to be a flip on the end, but didn’t quite make it, so it kind of just sort of hangs there, sticking up in a weird way. I did, however, love the blue nail polish.
Ellie: Which is also ahead of its time. Back in the ‘60s, I don’t know if you saw that colour nail polish that much.
Liz: I don’t think you did.
Ellie: I recall it sort of starting to become a thing in the ‘90s. But back then? I don’t know.
Anika: It was space nail polish!
Ellie: Right. Exactly.
Anika: Everything is very space. That’s why literally everything sparks. Everything sparks. Even the prison blanket is sparkling in the lights.
Liz: We’re going to get onto TNG, which is the era of, uh, shiny fabric for bedding.
Ellie: Yes, the shiny blankets.
Liz: We’re starting as we mean to go on.
Anika: I love the space fashion.
Ellie: Their glitter budget must have been huge for this.
Liz: So many sequins.
Anika: That blue nail polish – I would love to see OPI replicate it and, like, issue a special edition Number One nail polish.
Liz: I remember in one of the tie-in novels set in this novel, Pike likes to gauge Number One’s mood by the cover her nail polish.
Ellie: Oh, nice.
Liz: And blue is, like, her neutral contented colour.
Anika: I love that.
Ellie: That’s just like me!
Anika: I have to mention Vina’s eyelashes.
Anika: Because they’re amazing, and I was just, like, wow, you’re mesmerising. I understand why he’s fascinated by you, because just those eyelashes are enough.
Liz: The cat’s eye eyeliner? Perfect in every respect.
Anika: Yeah, and it all just frames her eyes so well.
Liz: And she’s a really beautiful, compelling actress. And I don’t believe her as an eighteen-year-old, the manic pixie dream Vina, but in her other personae – because the actress was in her thirties at the time – in her other personae, she’s really, really good. Mostly. Given the style of the era.
Ellie: And, speaking of style, it was interesting – you mentioned earlier that skirt she wears in the beginning. And in my notes, I wrote, “What is the blonde’s skirt made out of? Is it a failed arts and craft project? And why does she sound like she’s on barbiturates?”
Liz: [breathy] Well that’s just how desirable women spoke back then.
Ellie: I know, and it’s such a foreign concept, now, that I’m just, like, are you on some kind of drugs? I don’t get it. The breathy sound, I don’t know. It’s just disconcerting to me on a deep level.
Anika: She’s a dream girl! That’s what it is, it’s this, you know, not quite real aspect. Everything about her, including her voice, is not quite real. And I liked that, when she had the most control over what she was doing herself, she wasn’t playing a part, and she – she wasn’t playing a part for the Talosians, but she also wasn’t playing a part for Pike, was when she was angry at the other women showing up.
Anika: That whole scene? And her voice was different there, because she was very petulant, and very, like – but it had this harsher sound to it, because it was – – –
Ellie: It had a bite.
Anika: Yeah. Not this, you know, false version of “I can be whatever you need me to be.”
Liz: The pretence fell away. Yeah. Terrible writing, you know, women turn up and immediately she gets jealous. But, at the same time, it’s a great performance.
Anika: Yeah. I mean, when the women show up and it’s the three of them – and she – you know, the other two are just sort of like, “What is even going on?” And she’s already having a fit. But they are – they’re not jealous, and they’re not – but it is weird. There is a weird vibe after that point. And, of course, at the end, Colt really does want to know, like, who was going to get to stay. So it’s a really strange, terrible, not – it makes me uncomfortable, that whole situation. But at the same time, it’s interesting that the back end of the whole episode is really just Pike and three women wandering around, doing everything.
Anika: So it’s this interesting, like, huh, there’s actually more women than men on screen right now, even though it’s this terrible context.
Ellie: “Bechdel test, what?”
Liz: There are more women with speaking roles in this episode than in whole stretches of Enterprise.
Anika: That’s so terrible.
Ellie: That’s a sick burn. But it’s a good one.
Ellie: It was interesting, in my notes, I was – the way that she was acting, at least for some of it, I wrote in here, “WTF did they do to her to make her act like that? What did they even do to her?” Because they even said about – the way that they were testing him, she must have been there for a very long time. But over the years, what did they even do to her that caused her to have this persona of needing to please this man that suddenly shows up?
Liz: I feel like she’s probably spent decades trying to please the Talosians.
Ellie: And that has some very disturbing connotations.
Liz: Vina’s story is terrible.
Liz: Because at the end, we learn that she’s not a beautiful young woman, but she was a crewmember on this science ship – presumably a scientist, in fact, though she’s a woman, so who can say – and she was the only survivor of the crash, and she was grievously injured. And the Talosians put her back together, but didn’t actually know how to do a proper job of it, so she’s terribly deformed. And this whole persona of youth and beauty is a complete illusion. And one that she embraces, because it’s, I think, easier for her than facing reality? They say she’s not in pain, but is she really not in pain, or is that another illusion?
Liz: So, like, she’s participating in this whole plot to breed a race of human slaves to serve the Talosians. But I find it really interesting to wonder how culpable she is, and how much is just the psychological effects of the state of her life for the last eighteen years.
Ellie: I can’t imagine anyone coming through that without some serious – a damaged mental state. Maybe an inability to really understand what is reality and what isn’t, because for so long, she probably had no distinction between them.
Anika: And she is the one who points out that it’s like a narcotic, and that it’s like an addiction. So I feel that, even though she’s talking about the Talosians, she is also participating in that aspect of the fantasies.
Anika: And so she’s sort of, like – addiction, she hates it, and she doesn’t want it, but, at the same time, she feels better when she’s doing it.
Liz: Agreed. Agreed. And I think that makes it even worse that Pike has left her – like, agrees that she should stay behind at the end. He’s like, “She had her reasons. And for what it’s worth, I agree.”
Liz: She’s basically been a prisoner for this whole time, and – I’m sorry, but the Federation can, in fact, fix her injuries and give her plastic surgery. Like, that was a concept and a thing that even existed in the ‘60s.
Ellie: And how about mental – – –
Anika: She can have therapy!
Anika: And then she will be, you know, better off in every way. Basically.
Ellie: Being around other human beings, that also – – –
Anika: Yeah! Right! You know, just being with real people, as opposed to imaginary people?
Liz: And knowing that everything around you is real, and not another illusion?
Anika: Yeah. I mean, it’s a horrible, horrible idea to leave her there. And these are not aliens within the Federation, and they’re terrible. They admit that they’re terrible. They ruined their planet, they ruined their race, it’s like, there’s nothing good going on on this planet. And, going back again, it’s even worse that Spock decides that he’s going to bring Pike back there, too. It’s like, what is wrong with all of you? You need some serious intervention here.
Ellie: I was looking, actually, at the pre-show notes, and this was an interesting thing that somebody – one of you wrote down, “The Talosians may have giant brains, but they seem kind of stupid, like the idea of trying to breed a slave race from two people, one of whom is probably post-menopausal.” And it’s like, interesting, yeah.
Liz: That was me! And because I have watched this so many times, I’m thinking through the whole thing, but she’s quite old! The graphic sexuality – by the standard of the ‘60s – was an issue with this episode, as well, and I’m sure they weren’t allowed to discuss menopause on television back then. But you have to wonder!
Anika: And they admit that they put her back together wrong.
Liz: Yeah! Can she even have children?
Anika: So the idea that she’s – yeah. It’s just – – –
Liz: Do you want Talosians delivering your baby?
Anika: I want Talosians nowhere near me.
Ellie: They almost seem like – the Talosians, they’re like children playing with an ant farm. They have no idea how one would – or even with a small animal – how you would help an animal that’s injured without, probably doing grievous harm to it. There’s just a weird clumsiness to it.
Liz: Yeah. And I think your interpretation is good, because it makes it seem less like a problem with the writing, and more like a problem with Talosian culture itself. But – surely someone was sitting in the script room going, “Uhhhh, Gene, I just have a question…?”
Anika: Clearly not.
Ellie: But it’s perhaps that they humans almost as a zoo animal. Like, you see some of the other creatures they have in there. So, you know, they’re looking at it – yeah.
Anika: I mean, he calls it a menagerie. There are other episodes of Star Trek – there’s one in Next Generation where Picard is taken off and put in a jail cell with three other people, and meanwhile a fake Picard is put on the Enterprise, and he wanders around and starts singing – – –
Liz: Makes out with Beverly.
Anika: Yeah, he sings in Ten Forward and makes out with Beverly and then sends her away. And that was, like, you know, random telepathic aliens who want to know what’s up with humans. And then, in Voyager, there’s an episode where the invisible aliens, like, connect guide wires and machines to all of the people?
Liz: Oh yeah!
Ellie: Oh yes! Yes, yes.
Anika: And poke different – – –
Liz: The headache episode.
Anika: – – – bits of their body to see what happens. It’s like this recurring theme of more advanced aliens who have nothing better to do but look at – you know, do experiments, treat humans as lab rats. And I’m just curious, what is the moral of these stories? What are we trying to learn from them?
Ellie: Thematically, there is also a tie-in – and I think you guys have not seen it, but the show The Orville, which, of course is getting a lot of Star Trek comparisons. The second episode features something very much like that, where two characters end up sort of in a zoo, a replica of their former apartment, being held by this race that deems itself far superior to humans. I mean, it was a blatant, blatant rip on this episode, but it was interesting how they did it.
What topic do we next want to talk about? Do you want to talk about other ways in which this episode has influenced future Trek?
Liz: Yes! Because Michael Burnham was explicitly based on Number One.
Ellie: Which is so cool! I had no idea.
Liz: It makes me wonder how they’re going to put the two of them in a room together this coming season.
Anika: I’m super interested to see how they adapt Number One to now. Because she’s great, she’s a very interesting, multi-dimensional character now. Like, she’s bare bones in the episode, but you can definitely see what the potential is there. And in some ways, you know, they did give some of her character traits to Spock. And he’s, you know, Spock. So there is – but I’m interested to see how Rebecca Romijn, who I love, and I have loved since X-Men – I cannot wait to see her, because I really don’t think that she gets to play the range that she’s capable of very often, because she’s so beautiful.
Anika: And she’s so, like – she’s so good at doing her thing, but – – –
Ellie: And I believe she’s also on the show – a series called The Librarians. I’ve seen a few episodes of that, and I thought she was very good in that. And I noticed that the wig that they have her in is similar, but definitely an improvement on the one from the original Number One.
Liz: I have to say that finding out what they were going to do with Number One’s hair was my main point of curiosity. The casting, you know, it would fall the way it fell, but the hair?
Anika: I remember, at New York Comic Con, they did a panel with the entire cast, and she was the moderator. And at the very end, she said, “I’ve been told that I’m allowed to answer this question: I will be a brunette, and I will have a wig.” And it was like this – everyone was excited, because they were like, “You’re not a brunette! We need to know if you’re going to be a brunette!” It was really funny. And she was so cute.
Liz: She doesn’t have the face that I would have picked for Number One? Like, she’s not very angular? But I look at her, and I do see Nurse Chapel, who was also played by Majel Barrett. So that seems like a really good choice. I’m so eager to see how they do the characterisation.
Liz: Especially because I think audiences do still have a problem with very stoic women. You know, we saw it with Olivia Dunham in Fringe, we see it with the reaction to Michael Burnham now.
Anika: Yes, yes. Very much so.
Ellie: We need more stoic women! I would love to see more of that.
Liz: We do!
Liz: And women who don’t have a big, traumatic reason for their stoicism.
Liz: There are lots of different backgrounds for Number One in tie-in literature and so on, and none of them are as simple as, eh, she’s a normal human lady who’s just not very expressive.
Ellie: It happens.
Anika: Women can have any personality trait? What?
Liz: Sounds fake, but okay.
It’s interesting how little we’ve spoken about Spock.
Ellie: For a second, while watching that, I had to google just to make sure that that was actually Leonard Nimoy. Because – – –
Ellie: Again, I’ve seen very little TOS. I was like, he doesn’t talk or – it doesn’t look like the Spock that I vaguely remember in my memory. He seemed different.
Anika: Well, he’s not the Spock. He’s different. He’s a different character. I mean, in terms of his personality traits. Like I said, they grafted Number One’s onto the Spock character, and he became that. I mean, he’s very young, he’s very, like, opinionated. He’s emotional! He’s very emotional!
There is this beautiful moment on the planet when they see those big blue sparkly leaves? Plant? Whatever that is? And he makes them jingle, and his whole face lights up, and he’s so happy. I’m just like, oh my gosh. It’s just this beautiful moment that you would never see on Spock, you know, going forward. So it was great. And it’s not – like, Spock does smile, but it’s in response to huge emotional moments, not beautiful flora and fauna. Just the excitement of being on this planet and seeing a species of plant that you’ve never seen before. It was amazing. It was also – just, he’s so young, and so not Spock.
Liz: Sarek is so disapproving of him right now.
Anika: Yes! And you can almost – like, you can say that he wasn’t being that Spock in these. So I’m very interested to see Spock on Discovery because I want to see if he does have some of that youthful enthusiasm “I can’t hide my emotional human side as well” to him.
Liz: And it would be interesting. I don’t want season 2 of Discovery to be more about Spock and Pike than about Michael, but it would be interesting to take Spock on the journey from being that guyto the Spock that we come to know later. Especially if Michael is also on a parallel journey towards being more emotional.
Ellie: Mm, interesting. It makes me – again, I don’t know the history of it, but it almost seems that they had no concept of who the Vulcans were besides having pointy ears when they created that. Like, the whole idea of this race of humanoids that, you know, were similar but also very separate and different from humans, it seems like none of that even existed. They’re just, like, “Okay, put these ears on and do your thing.”
Liz: I think that’s it. They made the Vulcans up a few episodes later, and started refining them from there.
Anika: Yeah. He was like, “I want an alien, and I’m gonna, you know, I’m gonna flesh that out and make it a thing.” Because it’s very – you can tell the characters that are important in this pilot. You can tell who’s gonna be a regular. And Spock is definitely one of them. It’s clear that’s a cast player. But it’s not – you’re absolutely right that there’s no concept of how he’s different from the humans.
Ellie: Right, right.
Anika: It’s just, he is. “There he is up there.”
Ellie: It’s basically just some ears. “Put these ears on, and that’s what makes you different from the rest.”
Anika: And those really sweeping, demonic eyebrows.
Ellie: Yes, yes.
Liz: Oh, he needed to groom those.
Ellie: Get some boybrow on there. Now, do you think that doctor, the one mixing cocktails, was kind of later turned into Bones?
Liz: I think, to an extent. But I like Bones much better.
Anika: He definitely shares some traits. I mean, Bones is always mixing drinks and, you know, giving his good ol’ boy advice, too.
Ellie: Right, right.
Anika: So there’s definitely – and he’s also the older friend to the young captain.
Anika: You know? Not exactly peers, but like an older brother … or uncle … or young uncle, or – you know. So there’s that relationship. So, since we’re talking about them, or talking about him, I have to mention that in their scene in Pike’s quarters, where he does dispense his whiskey and advice – – –
Liz: [“Well actually” tone] It’s gin.
Anika: Okay, sorry.
Liz: He’s making martinis?
Anika: Sorry! I wasn’t paying attention to the alcohol, I was only paying attention to Jeffrey Hunter lying down in the bed, because – – –
Ellie: That pose! He was doing that pin-up girl pose.
Anika: Yes! And he would, like – – –
Liz: “Draw me like your French captains.”
Anika: He drops back into this, and I was like, “Whoa, I have never been attracted to Jeffrey Hunter, but I am entirely attracted to Jeffrey Hunter right now in this moment.” And then he sits up to mope, and he lies back again in this exact – whoosh! “I have to be dramatic about my lying.” It was just – it was so amazing.
Ellie: I made some note about it. He’s definitely hotter and can act better than Shatner. Although … again, later, when you see him kind of going full into the Shatnerian school of acting and emoting – there’s definitely some of that. But at least at the beginning, I was like, huh, I like what I see.
Liz: The irony is, according to Memory Alpha, when Shatner was interested in the role of the captain, he watched “The Cage”, and he was like, “Yeah, there’s not gonna be this sort of overacting with me.”
Ellie and Anika: [laughing]
Liz: My dude. My dude.
Anika: I mean, my understanding is that television was still sort of in its youth, and a lot of the actors, they started in theatre, and they were trained in this very specific classical way, and they didn’t understand how to translate that to film and television? And it was also, like, it was still – sweeping emotion was how you acted. There was definitely still a – we were getting towards the “We’re gonna take things smaller,” but we weren’t there yet, I feel.
Liz: Even film acting wasn’t very naturalistic yet.
Ellie: They hadn’t really figured out how to go from stage acting, where you have to definitely emote and project quite a bit, to film acting.
Ellie: It took a very, very long time for that to happen.
Anika: Yeah. It was new for everybody, the directors as well as the actors. It took however many years of watching it to realise.
Liz: Also, they’re making television for tiny, tiny TV sets. You know, compared with what we have now. And so you really did need to, probably, put in that little bit of extra effort to really pop out of a small black and white screen.
Ellie: Yeah, that makes sense.
Anika: It was so different back then!
Liz: It’s almost like it was made for a different era!
Anika: Oh my goodness!
Ellie: So I’m looking at the notes, and I saw – this is interesting, because I was not very familiar – Susan Olivia, that’s the actress who was Vina? And I like this note, she overcame a fear of flying to become a record-breaking aviator, and was one of the earliest female TV directors before dying of cancer at 58. Like, that’s quite career. That’s quite a lot to go on from this one role here. That’s pretty cool.
Liz: It was interesting, actually – I think it was in the ‘70s, and I want to say it was the Directors Guide. And I really should have taken more notes when I looked this up on Wikipedia. But at some point, the Directors Guild – or whatever organisation – was like, “Have you noticed how there aren’t many women directing?” So they had this class, and they were like, “Well, we don’t wanna get actresses in this,” you know, “we’re not just doing this for the publicity.” But, of course, you need publicity to get attention. So among the first graduates from this class were Susan Olivia, Maya Angelou – – –
Ellie: Oh wow.
Liz: – – – Lily Tomlyn – – –
Ellie: That’s so cool!
Liz: And quite a lot of other names that you would recognise.
Anika: That’s amazing!
Ellie: That’s very cool.
Liz: Though it looks like Oliver didn’t go on to direct much. She directed an episode of MASH and an episode of the MASH sequel, Trapper MD, but didn’t really seem to get a lot of work.
Anika: Well, it’s still hard for women to get work as directors, so…
Liz: Yeah, yeah, I don’t think this is any fault of hers at all. And when she died, as I said, quite young, she left most of her money to the organisation supporting female directors.
Ellie: That’s very cool, too. It’s actually a bit of a precedent for a Star Trek actor to later become a director, because there’s quite a bit of that.
Liz: Oh my gosh!
Ellie: You’ve got Jonathan Frakes, you have Roxane Dawson, I’m trying to think of who else.
Ellie: Yeah, but – and – – –
Anika: A lot of them.
Ellie: Yeah, this whole trend of getting the different actors to take their turn directing, we saw quite a lot of that.
Liz: And a small handful of them go on to make directing their primary career after the acting roles dry up.
Liz: I hadn’t made that connection! I’m so happy now!
So are we interested to see what they do with Pike on Discovery?
Anika: Yeah, because Pike in the Kelvinverse is not the same. He’s a different animal.
Liz: He’s a really generic sort of gruff, paternal mentor figure.
Anika: Yeah. I mean – – –
Liz: And played by Bruce Greenwood, who is wonderful, but not at all a presence like Jeffrey Hunter or Anson Mount.
Anika: No, yeah, a very different take on it. I mean, he’s put in a different role, it’s a different – you know, everybody’s different over there. So it’s okay, I don’t dislike it. I like the idea of these interesting parallels. But it will be interesting to see Anson Mount take on the Pike that is supposed to be the same as this one. It will be interesting to see – – –
Anika: You know, because this Pike has a lot of issues.
Liz: Starting with women!
Anika: There’s a lot to overcome in my book to have the same impact but not quite as many problematic flaws.
Liz: He was sort of Gene Roddenberry’s first pass at a cerebral, intellectual hero. Like Number One, he was sort of a character ahead of his time, and I’m eager to see how he is without the baggage of 1960s sexism.
Anika: I’m interested to see, even though Anson Mount is going to be playing this Pike that – I don’t dislike him, but it’s hard to get past a lot of that – you know, all of the sexism. And also just that he’s literally introduced as moping. You know, he’s moping sexily, and I can get into that, too – again, my Anakin problem, and even my Kylo Ren problem – but I also really wanted someone to slap him around a couple of times. Just wake up and focus on what’s – and I guess that’s what the Talosians did, so good job, Talosians.
Liz: And that’s also one of the issues that the network had with the character, that this is not a good way to introduce your hero.
Anika: Right. Exactly. He didn’t come off as heroic. He came off as an Anakin Skywalker or a Kylo Ren. And I love them with my whole heart and soul – at least Anakin – but – right.
Liz: But you need a connection with a character to care about their pain.
Anika: Right. Exactly.
Liz: Yeah. Apparently, like Kirk – I’m sorry, Pike is going to be in a better place in Discovery? It’s a couple of years later, he’s sort of put that burn out period behind him? He’s okay. And he’s going to be the straightforward, decent captain that that poor crew desperately needs.
Ellie: That poor, traumatised crew.
Anika: In Star Trek: Beyond, in the third Kelvin movie, right in the middle of Kirk’s five-year mission, he is having the same problems. He is also bored with his job and, like, over it all. So that was interesting to me. But I like it in Beyond because I already care about Kirk. But in “The Cage”, I’m like – – –
Liz: Yeah. Yeah.
Anika: You know, I’m not with you yet. I am not invested in you to have this – – –
Ellie: Get me to like you first, then I’ll care about your existential angst.
Anika: Your manpain.
Liz: We needed to see Michael Burnham at the height of her career – – –
Liz: – – – before we saw her at her lowest.
Ellie: Yes, yes. And that was very good. That was a very good move on their part. You don’t get a sense of how far she’s fallen and the impact that it’s had on her unless you contrast that to what she was before.
Anika: Right. And to see how she crawls back up there and gets hers back, but she has learned, and she’s a different person, and she makes different decisions because of it. Yeah.
Liz: Yeah, she’s come through the hard way. Whereas Pike sort of just, uhhhhh – – –
Anika: He gets to be a sex trafficker for fifteen minutes.
Liz: Oh my gosh, that whole sequence – – –
Anika: It is horrific.
Liz: – – – gets harder and harder to watch every viewing. And it wasn’t that great the first time.
Anika: And it’s definitely, like – watching it, I was like, okay, I get what’s going on here, he is having this moral conundrum, “I’m the hero, I can’t sit here and put up with this and play out this fantasy,” so he has to leave. And he goes off, and that proves that he’s really a good person who doesn’t want to be a sex trafficker – but she follows him, and they look at each other, and they’re smouldering. And then fade to black. And I was like, that is the worst possible choice for – like, I know what happened, and I don’t like it. That is bad.
Liz: The whole concept of the Orion women is bad! “The women on this planet like to be taken advantage of.” Ugh!
Ellie: I think I wrote that in my notes, and “ugh” when that comes up. And also kind of snarking on the fact that, costume-wise, they had him in a combination of blue lamé and purple lamé. So this very bright, metallic fabric in these very bright colours. That’s what drew my attention the most.
Anika: Okay, my two costuming comments on that scene were that Vina’s is a case of cultural appropriation in the worst way – – –
Ellie: Oh yeah.
Liz: Oh yeah.
Anika: – – – and Pike is wearing an amazing, horrible space pimp outfit.
Ellie: My God, it is a space pimp outfit.
Anika: That’s all I got. I agree that it’s very distracting, and it’s just, like – and why is the other random guy wearing a Starfleet uniform? I don’t understand what is going on!
Liz: I know! And the other two men in the scene seem like – I almost want to say, sort of, anti-Semitic stereotypes? One’s sort of rodent-faced, and the other – it’s just so uncomfortable.
Anika: Every single thing about the entire scene is uncomfortable.
Liz: I hate it.
Anika: And they have tried – they keep trying to make Orions better, or recover them in some way. You know, say that this wasn’t a horrible, horrible thing that even the network decided they wanted to cover up and never mention again. “It’s actually, you know, a real culture that we care about.” And it’s just – no! Just stop! Just stop trying to make the Orions happen.
Ellie: I did like the move that they made in the Kelvinverse – – –
Ellie: – – – at least in the first film, having – yeah, Gaila, who’s at the Academy, she’s Orion. Unfortunately, I’m guessing from the fact that she doesn’t show up in the next two movies, she did not survive the big attack. But I thought that was kind of neat, that they had her on there.
Anika: I agree. But it’s sad, because of every Orion that’s appeared in Star Trek, like, she has the best outcome? And it’s to die in an explosion in space.
Liz: I would just like to see more Orions who are just regular people. They’re not sexy, sexy green ladies, they’re not criminals, they’re just … you know, what happens when you’re an Orion accountant?
So should we wrap this up?
Ellie: I think we covered all the salient points. We covered fashion, we covered the societal, you know, implications of such a thing, of this episode. I think we covered everything.
Anika: Thank you for listening to Antimatter Pod.
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