Sunday, July 15, 2012

Classics: TOS 1:11/1:12 - The Menagerie

Overall: 6.6

I know this may seem like a shockingly low score, but in truth, I just don't think The Cage is all that good.

Plot Synopsis:

Parts one and two are discussed here and here.

The Skinny:

Because I agree with much of what is stated here, here and here, I'm tempted to dispatch this review with a simple, "What SF Debris said." But that would be cheating -- and at any rate, I have things to say that our favorite video reviewer only briefly touched on.

To wit: The frame story for The Menagerie is very good, as it challenges everything we thought we knew about Spock and takes the character to some fascinating places. Building upon the outburst of emotion we saw in The Naked Time, Roddenberry gives us a Spock who is still susceptible to the dictates of friendship and loyalty, once again revealing that beneath his disciplined, stoic exterior, Spock feels as much as any man. Layers upon layers! Complexities upon complexities!

Sadly, the story within a story - i.e., The Cage - is quite overrated. The characters in the first iteration of Trek were flat, and I'm not sure SF Debris' attempt at an explanation (namely, that a pilot doesn't necessarily have to be the first episode) really cuts it. More important to me personally, though, is the fact that Roddenberry undermines his own message. Pike spends the entire episode fiercely resisting the Talosians' gilded cage because of his explicitly stated belief that the messiness of reality is preferable to the Talosians' manipulative pseudo-world. Yet when we discover that Vina actually looks like this -

- Pike suddenly changes his mind and decides that the illusion is just fantastic. What the hell?

Contrary to SF Debris' remarks on the aforementioned change of opinion, I don't think this necessarily has to do with Vina's gender. Remember -- Gene Roddenberry evidently believes that a severely disabled Pike should be sent to Talos IV as well. No -- I think what we're seeing here is Roddenberry's profound discomfort with suffering. Because Roddenberry is a relentless materialist, he simply can't conceive that a life like Vina's or Pike's would be worth living. Thus, all he can offer is the sci-fi version of euthanasia.

As you might expect, I have a different view. Consider, for example, the plight of the late Jean-Dominique Bauby. Bauby suffered a massive stroke that paralyzed his entire body save his left eye -- and yet he was able to blink out an acclaimed memoir describing his experiences. If Bauby could overcome being "locked-in" using our primitive technology, who's to say Pike couldn't do the exact same thing? I know, I know -- Bauby was after Roddenberry's time. But I think The Diving Bell and the Butterfly still reveals Roddenberry's complete failure of imagination -- and the folly of jumping to conclusions when it comes to assessing the supposed value of someone's existence.           

Writing: 7.3

The frame earns an 8.5 - a score that would be higher were it not for the silliness of General Order 7 (see also: SF Debris' rant on the subject). The Cage, meanwhile, earns a 6. It's not horrible, but I can certainly see why those oft-vilified network execs told Gene to try again.

Acting: 7.5

Susan Oliver's performance in The Cage is pretty bad. Otherwise, I have no complaints.

Message: 5.0

I don't want to be too harsh here, but as I discuss above, I do think these episodes send some questionable messages regarding suffering and disability.

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