Assignment: 1965: The Second Pilot

It’s March 26th, 1965. Alice Herz, the elderly woman who set herself on fire in protest of the Vietnam War (as discussed last week), dies from her burns. And seemingly nothing else, because it’s a Friday, and apparently nothing happens on Friday in 1965. Well, except for the little matter of NBC officially greenlighting a second pilot for Star Trek.

The shocking nature of this move simply cannot be understated. Even today, when a network or studio says “no”, that’s usually the end of the discussion (because networks and studios hate nothing quite as much as looking like they’ve made a mistake, and reversing a decision does just that). However, be it because of Herb Solow’s pull at NBC or NBC’s desire to score points with Lucille Ball in the hopes of drawing her away from CBS or some other crazy reason, Star Trek received its second chance.

There were some concessions, however. The budget for this second pilot was set at $216,000 (or slightly over $1.6 million in today’s dollars)-as impressed as NBC was with “The Cage”, they wanted to see if the second pilot could be produced on a budget close to that of a typical one-hour drama. Secondly, there was a direct edict against the overt sexuality that permeated the previous episode. However, most of all, the cast needed a massive overhaul. Gene would declare in later years that the network wanted him to cast more “sensibly” (read: white men), but this seems to be an exaggeration based on NBC’s objections to Majel Barrett and Leonard Nimoy. While it is thoroughly possible that NBC lied to Roddenberry on just why they wanted Barrett gone (namely, that she was Gene’s mistress), the now-accepted story is that NBC believed she lacked star power (as opposed to chauvinism because she was a woman in a command position). The objections to Spock and Nimoy that Gene later related, however, were completely true: Spock looked far too Satanic for NBC’s tastes, because the network officials feared that Southern affiliates would not clear Star Trek with him onboard. Nevertheless, Roddenberry fought for (and won) Spock a continued spot on the series, and Leonard Nimoy agreed to return despite continued misgivings about playing an alien.

For the rest of the cast, most were swept away with little objection or comment. John Hoyt, whom Roddenberry had not wanted cast, was specifically not retained, and he would later call “The Cage” a “dog”. The unkindest cut, however, was Jeffery Hunter. Despite speaking well of the pilot in the press, Hunter was not present at the cast and crew screening. Instead, his wife, actress Joan Bartlett, appeared in his stead, and according to Herb Solow in Inside Star Trek (though he referred to her as “Sandy”, likely a misremembering of her nickname “Dusty”), coldly declared after the screening, “This is not the kind of show Jeff wants to do. And besides, it wouldn’t be good for his career. Jeff Hunter is a movie star.” Years later, Oscar Katz would relate that everyone thought it was the standard Hollywood negotiating tactic of refusing a job in the hopes of getting a higher paycheck. That is, until Hunter’s agent finally admitted that Hunter wouldn’t do another Star Trek for any price whatsoever. It was at this point that negotiations ended (and, if the autobiographies of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy are correct, to the relief of Gene Roddenberry, who dealt with numerous angry and excessive demands from Bartlett during negotiations), and both parties moved on.

The decision was a catastrophic mistake on Hunter’s part. Besides the phenomenal success of Star Trek, Jeff Hunter was one of the many leading men of the ’50s and early ’60s who found themselves relegated to foreign-made B-pictures as Hollywood’s traditional studio system collapsed. His marriage to Dusty Bartlett was a casualty of this downturn in fame, and he also became an alcoholic during this time. In 1969 Hunter married General Hospital star Emily McLaughlin, but he died in May of that year of a cerebral hemorrage, which was believed to be the result of injuries from a botched explosion while filming ¡Viva América! in Spain. He was 42.

There were also big changes behind the camera. Byron Haskin, who did not get along terribly well with Roddenberry, left, and was replaced by Bob Justman (creating a gap at assistant director). Bill Snyder was back at Disney, so a director of photography was needed. Given the desire to shoot the new pilot in a quicker fashion, it was decided not to call on Robert Butler again. And lastly, Fred Phillips was temporarily unavailable. Along with the cast, we’ll be exploring these new additions at length in the coming months.

Of course, there was the matter of the story for the new pilot. Once again, three story treatments were submitted for approval. But this time, Gene had help. As a reward for his help in the preparation of “The Cage”, Samuel A. Peeples was given an assignment, which was eventually titled, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. The episode dealt with two crew members becoming godlike-a “cerebral” premise, to be sure, but also loaded with spectacular effects sequences.

The second assignment was handed out to Stephen Kandel, who attracted Gene’s attention on the strength of an unsold pilot named, “Stranger in Our Midst”, about about alien refugees trying to pass as humans. His outline, named “Warrior World” (about an alien world where even the slightest offense is enough to spark an interstellar war) was ultimately shelved, and Kandel was given “The Women” to revise, and it was rechristened “Mudd’s Women” so as to try and hide the story’s origins from NBC. Regardless, the same sexual themes in the original version were still present here.

The last assignment (chronologically the second, but bear with me here) stayed with Roddenberry. Titled “The Omega Glory”, this episode was a pretty blatant attempt by Gene to follow NBC’s commands to the letter. Its plot was pure action/adventure, involving a parallel world where World War III had happened, with the Asian Communists holding the upper hand in a world ravaged by nuclear war. To further punctuate things, the story ended with a fist fight and a bit of obvious patriotism. But, best of all, the episode could be shot on existing sets and the Desilu backlot with a relatively minimal budget. All in all, this was the “safe” option.

NBC chose Peeples’ script, which was arguably the most expensive of the three by a good country mile. The message was crystal clear: they wanted exciting, expansive stories for their money. And absolutely none of the sexuality that they thought was over the top. So, with the story decided upon, Peeples started working on the scripts while Gene started to build his new cast and replenish the crew.

Next week, we’ll be taking our first journey to the ’80s with the most popular and influential science fiction film series of that decade-and every one since. (I’m sure I don’t have to say any more about what movies I’m talking about.)

Tomorrow Is Yesterday: The Vietnam War

“We gotta get out of this place
If it’s the last thing we ever do
We gotta get out of this place
Girl, there’s a better life
For me and you”-The Animals, “We Gotta Get out of This Place”

Nearly as contentious and as defining a struggle in the ’60s as the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War stands to this day as the textbook example of military adventurism gone wrong. As with the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war effort is one of the textbook examples of protests, both peaceful and not, against a wrongheaded and wildly unpopular national policy by the US government.

The war in Vietnam started primarily for two reasons: One, because the US backed France’s continued colonization of the country (known at the time as French Indochina) after World War II, and because it served as a proxy war against communism under the ridiculous “Domino Theory”. While the Allied Powers (the US, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union) all agreed at the conclusion of the Asian war that Vietnam belonged to France, there was no way that the French (who had been occupied by the Nazis for much of the war, leaving Japan in control of Vietnam) could be expected to resume control of the country, so the southern part of the country was temporarily controlled by the British (using freed French forces and conscripted Japanese troops) while the Chinese controlled the North.

However, before the two forces began their occupation, Hồ Chí Minh, the leader of the Việt Minh resistance movement (which had been supported by America’s Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner to the CIA), issued the Proclamation of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and convinced Emperor Bảo Đại (who was essentially a puppet for the occupying Japanese) to abdicate his throne. Minh, who had been trying to receive recognition for his goal of Vietnamese independence since the end of World War I (where he was summarily ignored during the negotiations for the Treaty of Versailles), petitioned President Harry Truman multiple times using the Atlantic Charter, but was again ignored.

That is, until the Communists won the Chinese Civil War in 1949. The Next year, both China and the Soviets had officially recognized the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the US and Great Britain recognized the French-backed State of Vietnam (which was led by Bảo Đại). However, by 1954 (and despite the costs of battle being almost entirely borne by the US), France had granted independence to French Indochina, splitting it into Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. At the Geneva Conference (which was also supposed to solve the Korean War), the terms of the Geneva Accords dictated that Vietnam be split into two countries at the 17th Parallel until elections could be held to unify the country.

Those elections were never held. Minh became further entrenched in North Vietnam, while Ngô Đình Diệm rigged the elections in South Vietnam, with the help of the US. Both leaders solidified power by jailing or killing their political opponents, though by 1959, Diệm was convinced that dissidents had formally organized against him. He was a year off: 1960 was when the Nation Liberation Front was officially organized. Known more infamously as the Viet Cong, the NLF was backed by North Vietnam, and sought to pit all dissenters, whether they were communists or not.

While “military advisors” had been in Vietnam since 1955, President Kennedy felt forced to draw the proverbial line in the san against the spread of Communism following the botched Bay of Pigs Invasion in Cuba (a holdover from the recently departed Eisenhower Administration), the building of the Berlin Wall, and a negotiated settlement between the opposing powers in Laos. However, Kennedy preferred to rely on the South Vietnamese to take care of the Viet Cong themselves, though with ever-increasing numbers of “advisors”. The CIA was not as content with this plan and engineered the assassination of Diệm without Kennedy’s approval (and to his shock and dismay).

Diệm’s death only led to instability in South Vietnam, but little changed with regards to the strategy there even after Vice President Johnson became President Johnson following President Kennedy’s assassination on November 22nd, 1963. That is, until the now-notorious Gulf of Tonkin Incident on August 2nd, 1964, which was massively overblown (and combined with a non-existent second incident two days later) involving the USS Maddox, an action ultimately blamed by National Security Agency historian Robert J. Hanyok in 2005 on the NSA itself. The result of the incident was the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave Johnson the authority to send in “conventional” troops to Vietnam without a formal declaration of war. The resolution was ultimately only opposed by Senators Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening of Oregon and Alaska, respectively. At first, this meant air strikes, but after a Marine barracks at Pleiku was attacked on March 2nd, 1965, bombings on not only Vietnamese targets, but ones in Laos and Cambodia. On March 8th, 3,000 US Marines were deployed, signaling the start of the ground war.

Even at this point, there was growing opposition to the war. In May 1964, 12 New York men burned their draft cards in protest, and singer Joan Baez led 600 protestors in San Francisco in December. And on March 16th, 1965, an 82-year old pacifist named Alice Herz self-immolated herself in protest of the war, copying the method of protest that Buddhist Vietnamese monks has taken previously.

Next week, as originally promised for this week, we’ll discuss the second Star Trek pilot for the first (and most certainly not the last!) time.

Tomorrow Is Yesterday: The Civil Rights Movement

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”-Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence, July 4th, 1776

The greatest failing in the formation of the United States of America was its tacit acceptance of slavery by not only keeping it legal in the Constitution, but creating the Three-Fifths Compromise that counted each slave as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of the census (and therefore the makeup of the House of Representatives when revised every ten years). This approval (intended partly to ensure that the Southern states where slavery was most common would join the union) sat like a festering sore for some 60 years before becoming a combative dispute in the 1850s, and then leading to the Civil War in the following decade.

After the North won the war, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution gave the many slaves in this country their freedom, citizenship, and for the men, the right to vote. As such, Reconstruction saw gains for the then-liberal Republican Party in the South (though not peaceful ones, as racist hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan emerged to oppress African Americans), but after the Compromise of 1877 (which handed Rutherford B. Hayes the Presidency), Reconstruction was allowed to end, and the brutal Jim Crow era began in the South while segregation was allowed to flourish in an equally pernicious fashion in the North. The key plank in this status quo was the Supreme Court’s absolutely vile decision in the Plessy v. Ferguson case in 1896 that declared that “separate but equal” was just.

If anything good came from Plessy, it was the formation of the Civil Rights Movement. The early days of the movement were not easy, what with the robber barons, two World Wars, the revival of the Ku Klux Klan (thanks to D.W. Griffith’s technically pioneering but morally repugnant Birth of A Nation), and the Great Depression in the first half of the 20th Century. A big result of the difficulties faced towards African Americans was that millions ultimately left the South and migrated to Northern cities, where the racism, while still embarrassingly present, was far less overt than in the Jim Crow South.

The turning point for the Civil Rights Movement came in 1954 when Plessy v. Ferguson was overturned at long last in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case-but only in relation to education. Energized, and also dissatisfied with the incompleteness of the victory,groups like the NAACP began to engage in direct action. The first of these direct actions was the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. The action was first considered when Claudette Colvin was arrested for not moving from her seat for a white passenger on March 2nd, 1955, and formalized in December of that year when Rosa Parks, who was a secretary for the local NAACP chapter (and generally less of an unfair target for personal attack) was arrested and convicted for the same offense. The boycott lasted for a little more than a year, and was successful. Equally important, however, was the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement’s greatest and most famous leader: the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King, originally from Atlanta, was chosen to lead the Montgomery Improvement Association, which spearheaded the boycott, and preached for nonviolent protest and cooperation, using his faith as a basis for his arguments. He was also a staunch supporter of wage equality for all, family planning, and would become one of the fiercest opponents of the war in Vietnam in the ’60s. During the bus boycott, King’s home was firebombed. Soon, he would be subject to surveillance by the FBI and labelled a radical and a communist.

In 1957, two major events occurred. The first was the formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which elected King as the organization’s President. The SCLC intended to involve churches directly in fostering the nonviolent activism that Dr. King and the MIA had successfully used in the bus boycott. Slow to gain traction out of fears of retaliation (many of those methods involving violence), the SCLC eventually became as important in the movement as the NAACP and the Congress of Racial Equality.

The second major event of 1957 was the integration of Little Rock Central High School by what became known as the Little Rock Nine. Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus, known for his strict belief in segregation, used the National Guard to bar entry to the nine black students who had sued for the right to attend the school. Eventually, President Eisenhower was forced to federalize the National Guard troops and deploy part of the 101st Airborne Division to enforce Brown v. Board of Education. By all accounts, the Nine went through hell in trying to attend the school. They were abused by crowds when being escorted into the building, and then harassed by the other students inside. One of the Nine, Minnijean Brown, was ultimately expelled for taking a stand against her attackers. In the end, only Ernest Green would graduate from Central High School, and Little Rock would close the entire public school system at the end of the year, rather than continue to obey the Supreme Court. They would not be the only community to do so.

1958 brought the start of the sit-ins, designed to peacefully protest segregated businesses by simply sitting down. The first such sit-in was organized by the NAACP Youth Council at the lunch counter in a Dockum Drug Store in Wichita, Kansas. Three weeks later, the store reversed its policy, and the entire chain of stores in the state quickly followed suit. The tactic spread like wildfire, with similar incidents throughout the South and even as far as Nevada (which, in no small part because of of the power of the mafia in Reno and Las Vegas, was almost as racist as the South). Eventually, Ella Baker of the SCLC organized a conference of sit-in leaders at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. The meetings resulted in the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which along with CORE became known for a more militant outlook on the movement.

In 1961, CORE initiated the Freedom Rides as a test of the 1960 Supreme Court decision in Boynton v. Virginia, which finally ordered transportation lines desegregated. This was the most dangerous protest yet, with buses being firebombed and Riders being brutally attacked, the most notorious incident occurring in Birmingham, Alabama when Public Safety Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor decided to give the Klan 15 minutes to do as they wished before police intervention. The Riders were beaten badly, with James Peck (one of the many whites who fought for civil rights) requiring 50 stitches to his head. The tipping point was on May 24th, 1961, when Riders were arrested in Jackson, Mississippi. By the end of the summer, more than 300 were arrested for taking part in Freedom Rides in Jackson, and they were regularly beaten, forced to work hard labor in the sweltering heat, and crammed into tiny cells (with the windows closed on the hottest of days), among other offenses. Public opinion soon shifted in favor of the Riders, and President Kennedy ordered the Interstate Commerce Commission to issue an order to integrate.

Birmingham became a hotbed for conflict in 1963 when the SCLC organized a campaign to desegregate the city, which was highly divided racially. Eugene Connor was at the forefront, and he ordered protestors to be sprayed with fire hoses, attacked by dogs, and beaten by police. Connor, whose grip on control of the city was diminishing (Public Safety Commissioner was the only elected office he held after running for multiple positions in the 1962 elections, including mayor), ignored the authority of the mayor with his actions, and with his political allies, went so far as to claim on a technicality that his term in office did not end until 1965, in effect leaving Birmingham with two active governments. The SCLC’s protests focused directly on businesses, however, and gained some traction before Connor managed to acquire an injunction against the protests on April 10th. Two days later, on Good Friday, Rev. King and 49 others were arrested. While incarcerated, King wrote his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, which responded to complaints from eight white clergymen who criticized the decision to protest before the incoming mayor could affect change. Meanwhile, profits began to nosedive for local businesses (including national chain stores in the area), causing executives to blink and demand that the President intervene. Dr. King was released on April 20th.

The dispute appeared to be ending on May 10th with the announcement of the Birmingham Truce Agreement, and King made preparations to leave (which he did the next day, departing for Atlanta). However, state officials were tipped off that the KKK was planning a bombing, and nothing was done to stop the National Guard from leaving on the 11th by order of George Wallace, the Governor of Alabama. While the Klan held a rally in nearby Bessemer, the Gaston Hotel (where King had stayed) received a bomb threat. Roughly two and a half hours later, the home of Rev. A.D. King (brother of Martin Luther King, Jr.) was bombed by the police. The Gaston was also bombed just before midnight. (A KKK informant, Gary Rowe, attempted to pin the bombing on the notoriously militant black separatist-oriented Black Muslims when reporting to his FBI contact. Rowe is also believed to be one of the men who took part in the bombing.) While some people began to march peacefully after the bombing at the Gaston (which was loud enough to be heard throughout the entire town), the situation turned ugly and rioting started,followed by the arrival of the state police, who took brutal action. In order to protect the Truce, President Kennedy was forced to send the Army to restore order.

In total, 100 cities saw riots that summer, as tensions boiled over. Even the Kennedy Administration was affected: Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy called a meeting with author James Baldwin and other cultural leaders, and the result was thoroughly antagonistic, but managed to convinced both Kennedy brothers (especially Robert) of the seriousness of the situation. On June 11th, after forcing Governor Wallace to integrate the University of Alabama, the President appeared on television asking America to support the Civil Rights Movement on a moral basis, and promised to introduce legislation to Congress.

On August 28th, The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was held in support of President Kennedy’s Civil Rights bill, and fast became one of the most famous-and controversial-actions of the era. Some 300,000 people swarmed to the nation’s Capitol to march, and hear speeches by Rev. King and others. The most famous speech was King’s inspiring “I Have a Dream” speech, which called for cooperation and togetherness in support of the President’s legislation. Most controversial, however, was the speech by John Lewis of the SNCC, which was deeply critical of Kennedy, and was nearly cancelled by the march’s organizers for being “too inflammatory”. Lewis conceded, removing some of the harsher words in the speech, but it underlined the growing criticisms that the Movement was being co-opted and watered down, most notoriously by Malcolm X, whose Message to the Grassroots speech lambasted the affair as a “picnic”.

Soon afterwards, however, Malcolm X began a transformation that turned an already powerful leader into one of the greatest of his time. After falling out with the Nation of Islam and leader Elijah Muhammed (who may have been engaging in the damning taboo of engaging in extramarital affairs), Malcom X converted to the Sunni branch of Islam and went on his Hajj to Mecca, where, when seeing Muslims of all colors worshipping, he had an epiphany about racism. He realized that his religion could be a means to overcome the issue of racism, and openly regretted many of his prior actions. This is not to say that Malcolm X had become soft; while he was suddenly more willing to work with more moderate leaders (including having a single meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr. on positive terms), his push for black nationalism continued, and he started working with the Organization of Afro-American Unity and speaking at the Militant Labor Forum, held by the Socialist Workers Party. However, his feud with the Nation of Islam cost him his life: he was assassinated on February 21st, 1965 by three mean as he prepared to address the Organization of Afro-American Unity in Manhattan.

This brings us to the “present” in Star Trek Debriefed, and the Selma to Montgomery marches. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, it was now illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. However, getting out the vote in the South was still a severe challenge. Poll taxes, literacy tests, and other methods targeted towards largely poor and disenfranchised African Americans were still in place. The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party was the boldest move to challenge this system, as the party was created in opposition to the state’s official party, and exposed the deep divide in the Democratic Party just as President Lyndon Johnson was trying to celebrate his party’s civil rights victories while trying to win his first elected term as President. The MFDP was ultimately unsuccessful, but on February 26th, 1965, the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson galvanized the voting rights movement in Alabama. Jackson, who was a deacon in Marion, was beaten and shot by police while marching on the 17th.

Rev. James Bevel, Director of the Selma Movement (and the man who had called for and initially planned the March on Washington), planned, along with Hosea Williams of the SCLC (and Martin Luther King’s field general) and John Lewis, to lead a March from Selma to the capitol of Alabama, Montgomery. On March 7th, 600 people began their march and made it a whopping six blocks before being beaten, gassed, and, for 17 people, hospitalized by the police. Lewis and Amelia Boynton (who had organized the march) were beaten unconscious. The event became known as “Bloody Sunday” after footage of the police brutality was broadcast nationally, and caused a major outrage. President Johnson, in a televised address, lambasted the brutality of the event and promised to introduce a voting rights bill to Congress. The SNCC, who had not officially supported the first march due to their differences with Dr. King and the SCLC, now fully on board, and organized sit-ins the next day, including in the office of Attorney General Nicolas Katzenbach.

Seeking an injunction against the police, the march organizers instead received a restraining order against a further march until further hearings could be held. However, a march was still planned for March 9th-“Turnaround Tuesday”-as Dr. King made a nationwide call for clergy to come to Selma.  Roughly 2,500 people marched to the Edmund Pettis Bridge before turning back after a prayer session. However, only the SCLC leadership was informed of this second march, creating confusion and resentment.

This was massively overshadowed by the events of that night. Three white Unitarian Universalist ministers who had heeded Dr. King’s call were attacked by members of the KKK, and James Reeb, from Boston, never woke up, dying two nights later. The rage was swift and widespread. President Johnson, who had not even acknowledged Jimmie Lee Jackson’s beating and death with a single phone call, made over 50 related to Reeb. Sadly, the life of a white man had made more of a difference to many, including the President, than the death of a black man.

The SNCC and students at Tuskegee Institute opened a “Second Front” of protests directly in Montgomery, and were again attacked, though protestors this time threw bricks at the police, who were mostly on horseback. Activists in solidarity with the Selma protestors had a sit-in in the East Wing of the White House. And on March 15th, President Johnson introduced the 1965 Voting Rights Act in a televised address.

On March 17th, the march was finally allowed to proceed, and on the 21st (a day after the Alabama Nation Guard was federalized by the President), the March began. On the 25th, a crowd 25,000 strong reached the capitol and listened to Dr. King deliver his How Long, Not Long speech, before he was barred from delivering a petition directly to Governor George Wallace. The crowd stayed peacefully until a secretary appeared to take the petition.

The successful third Selma march had a horrible postscript, however. Viola Liuzzo, a white housewife and mother of five from Detroit, was shuttling protestors back to their destinations with Leroy Morton, a 19-year old African American man when the two were chased by members of the KKK while driving back to Selma on a back road. Liuzzo was shot in the head twice and her car veered off the side of the road into a ditch. Morton, covered with Liuzzo’s blood, survived by playing dead when the Klan members inspected the shot-up wreck for survivors. One of the men in the car was FBI informant Gary Rowe, which led to Liuzzo being a victim of the FBI’s notorious COINTELPRO operation, as she was accused of being a communist, a drug addict, and of cheating on her husband in order to deflect any implication against the Bureau.

Next week: Discussing NBC’s surprising next step with regards to Star Trek.

These Are The Voyages: “The Cage”

Written by: Gene Roddenberry

Directed by: Robert Butler

Production code: 6149-1

Principal photography: November 27th, 1964-December 18th, 1964 (16 days)

Score: Alexander Courage (recorded January 22nd, 1965)

Final episode cost: $616,000 (approximately $4,643,984 in 2015 when adjusted for inflation)

First Aired: October 4th, 1988 (October 15th, 1988 in some markets)

The U.S.S. Enterprise encounters an old-style radio distress signal from the S.S. Columbia, which has apparently crashed on the fourth planet in the Talos star system. Captain Pike decides not to pursue the signal, opting instead to proceed to the Vega colony to tend to their own sick and wounded. Retreating to his quarters, Pike sends for the ship’s doctor, who serves the weary captain a drink. Still smarting from a disastrous mission on Rigel VII, Pike is considering leaving the service when Mister Spock informs Pike that there are indeed survivors from the Columbia. Upon arriving, Pike and his landing party discover a collection of grizzled survivors, and one beautiful young woman, named Vina. However, the entire scene is an illusion, and after being led by Vina to the “secret” of the survival of the scientists: instead, Pike is captured by strange beings who have been watching the landing party since they beamed down. Spock and the rest of the landing party try to force their way to the Talosians’ lair, but are forced to admit defeat.

Pike wakes up to find himself in a cage, with all sorts of alien creatures visible from his cell. The Talosians arrive, and speak to the captain using telepathy, ultimately promising to begin their “experiment” soon enough. On the Enterprise, the rest of the crew come to a similar conclusion as Pike, and ultimately resolve to use the ship’s power to gain entry to the Talosians’ habitat, despite warnings from Dr. Boyce and Spock that the Talosians could very well be influencing what they see. When the experiment on Pike begins, he is placed in an illusion of his fight with the Kalar on Rigel VII, however this time the girl from before, Vina, is cast as a damsel in distress to rescue, which Pike does, despite his protests. After the illusion is over, the Talosians depart, and Pike continues questioning Vina while Number One tries using a laser cannon to break through the entrance to the Talosians’ cage (which apparently fails). While still talking to Vina, Pike learns that the Talosians retreated underground after a massive war, and learned to use their mental powers to become voyeurs. However, the Talosian Keeper returns and makes Vina disappear to be punished, which angers Pike.

Later, as Pike searches for a way out of his cage, a drink is deposited into the cage, and the Keeper speaks to Pike, and teaches him about the Talosian form of punishment. The Talosian admits that Vina is in fact real, as was her ship, and that Pike is intended to mate with her. Pike also learns that the Keeper cannot predict swift, aggressive actions while the Keeper learns that Pike is starting to care for Vina. The next illusion then begins, with Vina as Pike’s wife on Earth, picnicking in what was once the Mojave Desert, before Vina figures out what may be a more enticing fantasy for Pike: living as a trader, and Vina as a lusty Orion slave girl. Pike flees, but is cornered by her. Meanwhile, the Enterprise crew think they have located the Talosians’ lair and intend to beam down, but only Number One and Yeoman Colt are beamed down-right into Pike’s cage. Now forcing himself into a blind rage, the Keeper returns and declares that Pike now has two more “choices”: the intelligent Number One, or the young and extremely virile Yeoman. Pike is punished for insolence, but he is undeterred. However, Spock has decided to escape, but suddenly, all ship’s systems are disabled. Later, Pike seizes his chance and grabs the Keeper as he tries to steal Number One and Colt’s lasers. The Keeper threatens to destroy the Enterprise, while all of the ship’s memory banks are copied. Pike calls the Talosian leader’s bluff, and proceeds to the planet’s surface, where the illusion that the laser cannon attack failed is revealed. The Keeper reveals that he has played Pike, because he wants them on the surface. Number One sets her pistol to overload, but Pike orders it cancelled as the other Talosians inform the Keeper of their findings: the humans, while adaptable, are too uncontrollable. The Talosian race is doomed. Number One and Colt are returned, and Pike learns that Vina, while real, is still an illusion: she is really middle-aged, but with a battered, misshapen body because the Talosians healed her without knowledge of her anatomy. Vina’s illusion is restored, and she is rewarded with an illusory Captain Pike as the real Pike, now invigorated, returns to the Enterprise and departs Talos IV.

It’s February 1965, and Operation Rolling Thunder, calling for air strikes on North Vietnam, begins. Canada adopts its now-familiar red-and-white “maple leaf” flag. Gambia achieves independence from the UK. Malcolm X is assassinated. Peter Jennings becomes the anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight at the age of 26. Brandon Lee, Princess Stéphanie of Monaco, Chris Rock, and Dr. Dre are born. And somewhere during all of this, Star Trek‘s pilot is screened, first for the cast and crew, and then for NBC.

However, it’s also October 15th, 1988. Kirk Gibson, barely able to walk due to injuries, hits a game-winning pinch-hit home run to win Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. Two days earlier, Michael Dukakis is asked by Bernard Shaw during the second Presidential Debate if he’d support the death penalty if his wife was raped and murdered, and says no, which is ultimately one of the primary reasons he loses the election to Vice President George H.W. Bush. And, as a makeup for two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation lost to the 1988 Writer’s Strike, “The Cage” is finally aired in full color in syndication.

There is simply no way I can comment on this episode fairly in its original context, thanks to my having not seen the episode in its complete form until well after seeing “The Menagerie” and also after reading about its production in Allan Asherman’s Star Trek Compendium. And, unless you discovered Star Trek in the late ’90s (when “The Cage” finally joined Star Trek‘s syndication package), that’s probably the case for you, too. And with all of the visual, audio, and casting differences, “The Cage” feels every bit the 13 years before the rest of the series that “The Menagerie” says it took place even though it was produced less than a year before “Where No Man Has Gone Before”.

Most noticeable is the visual design of the Enterprise, and of the bridge and transporter room sets (the only two sets that were not revised heavily for the series itself). For the bridge, all of the familiar black and red tones are not present. Furthermore, the helm console has fewer and less stylized buttons. And perhaps most visible of all, the main viewer has rounded edges and a tapered border (much like a ’60s-era television set) with no status lights whatsoever. The transporter room, besides the same lack of reds and blacks as the bridge, uses the helm console (albeit raised) as the control console.

The Enterprise model is also subject to this, as while it’s essentially the same ship, but without the lights and some of the minor details (such as the lighted nacelle tips). The main reason for this is that because of the delays with the model construction, the full 11 foot model was only used for the dynamic (and technically challenging) sweeping shot after the opening credits that transitions seamlessly to the bridge. So, for the bulk of the episode, the 3 foot reference model was used (and even that was produced late, as it was delivered for inspection to Gene Roddenberry during the shooting of the Kalar battle on the 12th and 13th days).

However, the greatest difference from the rest of the series lies with the portrayal of Christopher Pike by Jeffrey Hunter. Instead of a dashing, confident captain, Pike is weary and troubled, openly considering tendering his resignation after the deaths of multiple crewman on the last, unseen mission. This affects everyone else, particularly Spock, as Leonard Nimoy felt compelled to insert more energy into his performance in response to Hunter’s distant performance. In fact, much of Spock’s stoicism lies with Number One, who other than an overplayed pout when she’s left off the initial landing party and a bit of cattiness with Vina while trapped in the Talosians’ cage, outlogics Spock nearly every step of the way. Even Alexander Courage seems to catch onto Hunter’s performance, as his score is much more subdued and moody than later efforts.

There is much that is surprisingly familiar here. The episode’s conclusion is less dependent on the value of might makes right than it is on the ethics and intelligent arguments of the Enterprise crew, which is famously a primary reason why NBC passed on this pilot. Many of the devices familiar to Star Trek viewers are already in place, even if in unrefined form (lasers instead of phasers, for instance). Most notable is how the beamdown point is specifically placed out of view, in the first indications of the Prime Directive. And for critics of the show, Roddenberry’s confusing sexual politics come into play: Pike has issues with “woman on the bridge” when he nearly runs into Yeoman Colt but declares Number One to be “different” (which seems to be code for “friend-zoned” more than anything else). Vina would probably also fall into this trap if not for the performance of Susan Oliver.

A great deal of this is because Susan Oliver was quite a bit more than your average pretty face on television. After being sufficiently spooked by Pan Am Flight 115’s near-fatal descent (the plane fell into a spiral after the autopilot failed, losing 29,000 feet of altitude before the pilots regained control) on February 3rd, 1959-the same day as “The Day the Music Died”, when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper died in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa-she rebounded and became an incredibly skilled aviator throughout the late ’60s and ’70s. And if that wasn’t enough, she successfully transitioned to directing in the late ’70s until she died of lung cancer in 1990. So, if anyone could inject gravitas into a potentially exploitive role, it was her. And she needed it, because the “snap of a finger” easy role that Oscar Katz promised was anything but. Besides the lengthy shoot, Oliver had a rough time in the green makeup (she eventually needed a Vitamin B shot, and spooked the doctor when he saw her) and the true appearance shot was long and arduous, with multiple stages of heavy makeup applied to achieve the changing effect. Katz never visited the set, and with good reason: Oliver sacrificed a vacation to Hawaii by appearing in “The Cage”, and her queries as to where the Desilu executive was grew to the point that repeated photos of Oliver in the middle of filming her “easy” part were shot with her holding a sign reading, “Oscar Where Are You?”

The lengthy, difficult, and massively expensive shoot produced a pilot that was close to feature quality. It was, however, far from “Wagon Train to the Stars”. And NBC was still less than enthused to see Gene Roddenberry’s girlfriend in a prominent role, and Majel Barrett did little to discourage their view that she lacked “star power” (never minding that many Star Trek fans would come to disagree with their assessment). Worse were the deep sexual themes in the episode, and the seductive dance by Vina. So, despite being impressed by what they saw, NBC rejected Star Trek. What they did in March of 1965, however, literally changed history.

Next week, however, we’ll change gears with the first Tomorrow Is Yesterday post, to (nearly) coincide with the events of Alabama’s Bloody Sunday. That’s right: it’s time to discuss the Civil Rights Movement.