Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Menagerie Part II

The Menagerie Part II opens with a brilliantly stylised tracking shot. First we see Kirk full face, looking out of the screen with the Captain's log playing in voiceover. As the camera moves Spock comes into frame, again facing the camera, with Commodore Mendez in profile. Mendez reads a list of charges against Spock who replies each time with the single word,"guilty". As part of an episode it would look unbearably hokey but here in the teaser it's a quick and effective way of bringing the viewer up to speed on events in The Menagerie Part I. Those events being the mystery of Spock kidnapping Captain Pike, and hijacking the Enterprise to the forbidden planet of Talos IV. The Menagerie Part II explains why. Sort of.

Talos IV is a sealed world. To prevent humans learning the Talosians' techniques of illusion projection Starfleet imposes General Order 7 on the planet. "No vessel under any condition, emergency or otherwise, is to visit Talos IV." The punishment for any breach of this order is death; the last remaining capital offence. The Talosians' ability to project convincing illusions means Pike will be able to effectively leave his shell of a body and live a normal life. So we now know why Spock believes Talos IV is the ideal place to take Pike but what's missing is his motivation. The risk Spock is taking goes way beyond simple loyalty, or compassion, or logic. Surely other people could also benefit from life on Talos IV? What makes Captain Pike so remarkable? Spock invites the death penalty on himself, and, apparently, gets Kirk relieved of command simply for watching images sent from Talos IV. We can never see what occurred during Spock's 11 year service with Captain Pike to form such a remarkable bond because we are limited to footage from The Cage. Unfortunately because The Cage footage is also edited to largely focus on Captain Pike we see very little interaction, or chemistry, between him and Spock. Ultimately Spock's motivation is left frustratingly vague.

The Menagerie Part II also doesn't make Talos IV seem the best place for Pike to spend the rest of his life. We see him kidnapped by the Talosians, and tortured. Fellow captive Vina describes her life on the planet. “They keep at you and at you, year after year, tricking you, punishing. And they won. They own me.” When Pike rejects, Vina, the Talosians obtain other women from the Enterprise intending to breed a slave race to rebuild their planet. Only a suicidal gesture of self-destruction persuades the Talosians that humans are unsuitable as slaves, and the Talosians tell Pike he has condemned their race to death. Still, it's all water under the bridge. The Talosian's have had 13 years to get over any bad feelings. I'm sure Pike and Vina will be very happy together.

Unfortunately The Menagerie Part II is attempting to tell a story at odds with the footage from The Cage. The Menagerie Part II wants to show us how an illusionary life can sometimes be preferable to reality. The Cage footage wants to show us how an illusionary life is a prison. This basic difference between the two, and I suspect, the sheer speed at which the envelope script was written and filmed, means it doesn't always tell a satisfactory story. For example at the end of act three the Talosian's stop broadcasting their images, leading to Commodore Mendez forcing through a court martial verdict and declaring Spock guilty. Yet when the broadcasts resume at the start of act four Kirk, Mendez, and Pike watch them again as if nothing has happened. Beyond the need for a dramatic cliffhanger to end act three there is no story need for the guilty verdict, or the transmission interruption.

The ending is one of the most effective moments of the episode. Not the 'all charges dropped General Order 7 suspended on this occasion' message from Starbase 11 which feels overly convenient but the point where Kirk realises he has been tricked. Kirk turns to speak to Mendez, who, in a nice touch of continuity, vanishes in exactly the same way as the Talosian illusions we have just been watching. A simple fade would have established his illusionary nature equally well, and been cheaper, so it's nice to see someone went the extra distance and found the money and time to recreate the original effect. Likewise it's something of a surprise when the Keeper suddenly addresses Kirk by name. Two weeks of seeing Kirk and the others unable to do anything except passively watch Talosian broadcasts makes any interaction a surprise. The brief conversation between Kirk and the Keeper is what finally ties the two plot strands together and does most to make The Menagerie Part II feel like an story in its own right, rather than an episode in which Kirk, Spock, Mendez, and Pike watch a story. Imagine my delight at discovering Malachi Throne, the actor who plays Commodore Mendez, also voiced the Keeper in The Cage and The Menagerie Part II; a clever piece of budget casting.

In the review of The Menagerie Part I, I suggested we play Gene Roddenberry for a Day and try to come up with a similar envelope story for Where No Man Has Gone Before. The best I could manage was a flashback story in which the Enterprise crew relive the events of Where No Man Has Gone Before; first as dreams and then as increasingly real memories. As the Enterprise is pulled back to Delta Vega Spock realises Gary Mitchell has returned. Kirk did not kill Mitchell, he simply put Mitchell to sleep while his powers regenerated. Kirk is now faced with killing his friend a second time. Mitchell appears on the bridge and reveals he has grown beyond humanity and revenge. Mitchell apologies to Kirk and the crew, the events they have experienced were a side effect of his powers regenerating and exceeding their previous limits.

Pretty thin stuff. Especially the bit about Mitchell outgrowing humanity. I now imagine him appearing on the Enterprise bridge as a green tinted, toga wearing demi-god, with an echoey voice and the all important ripple effect obscuring Mitchell's face; it would probably cost too much to hire Gary Lockwood again. The challenge Gene Roddenberry faced when writing The Menagerie was a considerable one, and he deserves praise for the solution he came up with. 

Enterprise crew deaths: None. It's not entirely clear what the rest of the Enterprise crew are doing while Kirk and Spock watch an old episode of Star Trek but none of them die.
Running total: 19

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