throwback thursday

Throwback Thursday: “May You Find Your Way As Pleasant”: Captain Pike’s Disability and Cure in Star Trek’s “The Menagerie”

“May You Find Your Way As Pleasant”: Captain Pike’s Disability and Cure in Star Trek’s “The Menagerie”

The Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) episode “The Menagerie” (1966), a two-part episode, reintroduces viewers to the character of Captain Christopher Pike, who had not been featured since his debut in the original pilot episode “The Cage”. It is explained to the current crew of the Starship Enterprise, including Captain James Kirk and Commander Spock, that Pike, Spock’s commanding officer eleven years prior, is paralyzed and cannot speak, though his mind is unaffected. Within these episodes the overarching story is of Captain Pike becoming disabled himself and questioning prospect of an illusion, which amounts to a cure. The episodes push the idea of cure being the ideal solution in ways that many today may not agree with. However, these episodes also illustrate that cure is not necessarily a shameful thing, and that those who are disabled understand the importance of access to cure best, even when able-bodied individuals dominate conversations and access to cure.

Initially, Christopher Pike’s use of a wheelchair seems to be point of inclusive excellence in the show. In a world where bones can be regenerated within hours and most human diseases are virtually eliminated, it is curious, though no less welcome, to see a disabled body represented. This aspect of medical advancement and the existence of disability is explicitly shown in “The Menagerie.” Pike has rescued several cadets during an incident during an inspection tour of a cadet vessel, where one of the baffle plates ruptured, severely exposing him to delta rays, paralyzing him. His sole means of communication is a flashing light with a beep: once for yes, twice for no. The episode follows the reactions to Pike’s disability, as Spock orchestrates events to get Pike to the planet Talos IV, where the native Talosians can create elaborate illusions such that Pike can be “freed” from his wheelchair and live comfortably for the rest of his days. This illusion is tantamount to a cure to Pike’s disability. The perception of this cure as necessary is highlighted when Dr. McCoy explains how Pike’s disability is possible in this future, laminating, 

“We’ve learned to tie into every human organ in the body except one. The brain. And the brain is what life is all about. Now, that man can think anything we can, and love, hope, dream as much as we can. But he can’t reach out and no one can reach in!” 

In this, Pike’s paralysis is an unfortunate reminder of how far medicine has not come, rather than a celebration that his life could be saved at all.

While the respect for Pike, who has retained his rank of fleet captain even with limited communication abilities, is clear, this respect is undercut as Commodore Mendez tells Captain Kirk, “We didn’t have the heart to retire him.” Here, Pike’s disability is infantilized, turning the retention of his position into a form of pity rather than respect for his capability. For much of the episodes, Pike’s option in matters is largely ignored until the final decisions are made, as able-bodied crew members make decisions around him. In many ways, Pike’s disability becomes a plot device for “The Menagerie,” creating a situation in which Spock’s loyalty to his previous and current Captain must be tested. 

“The Menagerie” effectively has Pike reverse his position on the illusion of the Talosians from “The Cage.” In “The Cage,” Pike rejects the offer to stay on Talos IV, along with the woman he met there Vina, who is enamored with the Talosians’ illusion which keeps her looking and feeling young, which is effectively a cure for the disabling effects of age. Pike, then an able-bodied man, rejects the idea of cure, and attempts to sway Vina to escape “the cage” of said cure. Pike attempts to sway her to come aboard the Enterprise, and escape the Talosians’ illusion, but she decides to stay behind; Vina wants this cure, even if Pike considers it foolish. Pike’s harsh judgement of Vina in “The Cage” and Spock’s effective kidnapping of Pike to Talos IV against his initial wishes to effectively be cured in “The Menagerie” can be viewed as foregrounding the idea of able-bodied people deciding whether cure is appropriate or desirable for a disabled individual. To this end, Spock presents video footage of a prior mission to Talos IV,  thirteen years prior, where Pike faced the Talosians and their illusions, in order to convince Pike that this cure is the best option; this is the mission previously seen in “The Cage”. 

Initially in “The Cage,” Pike tells his chief medical officer Boyce, “You either live life – bruises, skinned knees and all – or you turn your back on it and start dying.” In this, it is shown that Pike is vocally against the idea of living in an illusion, even if that illusion is seen as a cure to whatever ails you. Everything previously established about Pike tells the audience that he is the type of man who would rather go down fighting. He would not want to take the supposedly easy route of giving into the illusion of a cure. However, in “The Menagerie,” Christopher Pike accepts the illusion, the cure, he so vehemently disagreed with thirteen years prior. 

This change of heart can be read two ways: Pike has finally admitted to succumbing to the perceived weakness of needing a cure, which is what he viewed the illusion as the last time he was presented with it, and that disability may exist as a part of the human condition until it becomes a personal and thus painfully inescapable thing. Or, he has embraced the fact that cure is not a shameful thing to those whom it is valuable, and that cure is a natural counterpart to disability which exists, and is a natural contingency of having a human body, regardless of technological or social advancements. With this overarching change of heart, the episodes foreground the idea that cure is the best possible choice when faced with disability. Vina sticks up for her decision to stay on Talos IV even when Pike considers it a weakness to give into cure, and later, when Pike himself is disabled, he is convinced by Spock that cure is not the weakness he once thought it was, and Pike decides to join Vina on Talos IV. 

While one could see Pike’s disability as mere inclusivity, the way in which Pike’s initial claim that the human condition should be born with dignity as it comes, which then changes to a desire for a cure he once condemned as an able-bodied man shows a more nuanced, if not infallible, view of disability. Pike’s change of heart shows how ultimately it is primarily disabled people who understand the value of cure, even if this idea is largely spoken around by the able-bodied protagonist’s, and is not explicitly acknowledged. The idea that you might only really understand the value of cure as a disabled person is especially highlighted by Pike’s change of heart in “The Menagerie.” 

This almost cyclical nature, of the able-bodied person not understanding the value or necessity of cure for never having needed or wanted it is reflected in the near identical parting words of the Talosian Keeper to both Pike and Kirk. At the end of “The Menagerie”, the Keeper tells Kirk, “Captain Pike has an illusion, and you have reality. May you find your way as pleasant.” This is a direct echo of his parting words to Captain Pike in “The Cage,” “She has an illusion and you have reality. May you find your way as pleasant.” The Talosian Keeper’s parting words are a hint at the idea that cure is embodied and understood fully by the disabled individuals themselves, and has inherent value as an option even when that option is not understood or even accepted for the able-bodied men in charge. Kirk does not understand Pike’s decision, because he has not lived a similar situation, just as Pike originally judged Vina’s decision until he himself became disabled. You cannot adequately judge situations which you do not understand, and the story taken as a whole, especially Pike’s change in attitude, lends credibility to the judgements of disabled people of their own bodies, which are typically not taken seriously. The only able-bodied character who seems to advocate for a cure seems to be Spock, the only non-human in the discussed group. As a half-Vulcan, Spock’s advocacy, while problematic in how he initially enforces the idea of cure against Pike’s wishes, is a stand-in for how different social groups can see disability and how the value the Talosian illusion, here a stand-in for cure, can vary.  

While the episodes do push the idea of cure as a monolithic solution to disability, they also send a positive message that cure is not a shameful choice by showing the trajectory of Pike’s initial dismissal and later acceptance of cure. This can be important for audiences to see because wanting a cure, even today, can be seen as a sign of weakness, especially by other disabled people. Emphasizing the positive impact of cure for a disabled person can also be seen bring the conscious awareness of disability to a forefront in societal thought rather than an individual’s sole burden, as cures are not developed in a vacuum. While the question of cure is certainly more complex than being always needed or wanted, a nuance largely lost in these episodes, the ability to choose cure, and not be shamed for it, is a valuable choice and possibility for disabled individuals, especially ones used to being spoken over or told how to exist with their disability by able-bodied individuals. Having positive figures in mainstream media which are disabled characters who self-advocate can be formative to disabled viewers, especially the newly disabled. 

 Works Cited:

“Star Trek: The Original Series, ‘The Cage.’” Season 1, episode 0, NBC, Feb. 1965.

“Star Trek: The Original Series, ‘The Menagerie.’” Season 1, episode 11-12, NBC, Nov. 1966.

Say Something!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s