Star Trek (The Original Series): The Menagerie (S01: E11-12)

Synopsis:

Stardate 3012.4. Captain Kirk realizes that someone aboard the Enterprise has taken control of the ship’s computer. Kirk is shocked to discover not only that Mr. Spock is the saboteur, but also that his Science Officer has locked the Enterprise on a direct course to Talos IV, a planet Starfleet members are forbidden to visit.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“Spock is finished, court-martialed, disgraced.”

Written by series creator Gene Roddenberry, The Menagerie (Part I & II) is the only two-part story in the original series. It’s also among Season One’s best offerings — The Menagerie skillfully explores the complex relationship between Kirk and Spock, and further develops the main themes of the classic series.

Legend has it that when production of the series got alarmingly behind schedule, Roddenberry desperately considered multiple ways to meet his deadlines. He eventually came up with a clever solution to his dilemma: Roddenberry took a quick look at the unused pilot, The Cage, and decided to write a story around it.

The Menagerie demonstrates that “necessity is the mother of invention.” It’s just a great story that foreshadows Spock’s ultimate sacrifice in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (1982), which, in turn, led to more sacrifices in the downbeat but extremely touching Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984). Duty, integrity, loyalty, friendship, compassion, all these things are examined in detail throughout the two-part adventure.

Perhaps the smoothest of all Star Trek episodes, The Menagerie is compelling and engrossing, in large part, due to the high quality of the rejected but still impressive pilot — The Menagerie takes a piggyback ride on The Cage‘s rock-solid storyline, excellent acting, stylish camera work and high production values.

The episode also contains one of William Shatner’s very best performances as Kirk. Shatner, who has been rightly accused of hamming things up, proves here that he is capable of giving a nuanced performance. The actor is able to convey a host of emotions as his character is forced to make some tough decisions — Shatner strikes the perfect balance between distress and disappointment, frustration and anger.

I also have to praise the work of Leonard Nimoy, whose serene dignity anchors the episode. I would argue that this is the episode where Nimoy (finally) figured out how to play Spock — from this point on, the Vulcan Science Officer ceases to be a work in progress. Nimoy’s scenes with Shatner are particularly powerful.

Additionally, there is the added bonus of seeing two Enterprise Captains, Capt. Pike and Kirk, together for the first time. It’s a unique opportunity to assess the work of the original star of the show, Jeffrey Hunter (The Searchers), against the work of the actor who replaced him. You couldn’t find two more different actors than Shatner (emotional) and Hunter (moody), and that’s interesting to watch.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

The Menagerie (Part I & II) appeals to my sensibilities — I’ve always been partial to stories about characters making difficult moral choices. Furthermore, from a technical standpoint, the two-part episode is a marvel of efficiency and imagination: it’s creative recycling of the highest order. This one is a keeper. Color, 50 minutes, Not Rated.

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6 responses to “Star Trek (The Original Series): The Menagerie (S01: E11-12)

  1. I think I just saw The Menagerie too close to the original pilot, but I have since recognized the brilliance of the recycled plot. You’re right about Shatner and Nimoy’s performances being top notch. Ironically, I’m right in the middle of reviewing all of the Star Trek movies. So I’ve had Star Trek on my brain a lot lately.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I still remember being just more than a toddler, my sister and I walking to the rec center to watch Star Trek on the big screen. Was hooked on it years later. Only three years and it never ends. **One thing I want to add in humor: The actor playing Kirk, without any real acting ability, found a niche that lasted a lifetime and more.

    Like

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