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Monday, April 25, 2011

The Women!

In the Star Trek pilot episode The Cage, Captain Christopher Pike has been captured by the Talosians.  In a subsequent conference aboard the Enterprise, the officers realize how thoroughly they have been duped.  The Talosians not only lured the Enterprise to their planet with a faked distress signal, but used their powers of illusion to make the landing party interact with crash survivors who weren’t really there.  While one crewman argues that they should mount a rescue effort immediately, Mr. Spock warns against attempting to outsmart the Talosians.  Using a drawing of a Talosian head, he points out that their brains are three-times larger than the human norm.  He warns: If we start buzzing about down there, they could swat our ship as if it were a fly.

After their first attempt to break into the Talosian underground fails, a second landing party gathers in the Transporter room.  They’ve located a magnetic field that may come from an underground generator, Mr. Spock says.  However, if their measurements and readings are just illusions, they could find themselves materialized inside solid rock.

The team members take their places.  The transporter hums into operation.  Dematerialization takes place.  Then Mr. Spock realizes that only Pike’s yeoman and Number One are gone: once again, the Talosians have outsmarted them.  This time, they opted to pluck the two females members of the landing party.  Worse, in his superiors absence, the Talosians have made Mr. Spock responsible for the safety of Pike’s ship and the two hundred who crew her.

As a Vulcan, Mr. Spock has striven to let logic be the sole determinate of his choices and actions.  Yet he is half-human, and so must constantly battle the emotions that would influence him.  When he realizes the Talosians have used their mental powers to capture Pike’s yeoman and Number One, Mr. Spock takes no time to logically assess or discuss what has just occurred.  Instead, in what may rank as one of the most dramatic moments in television history, this half-Vulcan/half-Human throws up his arms (including the hand holding his irrelevant phaser) and shouts, “The women!”

What is new, what strikes Mr. Spock so forcefully, is that the aliens have invaded their ship, their fragile home among the stars, and plucked from it any additional captives they desired.  Clearly, if they can do that, the Talosians can do with the Enterprise as they wish, and the crew are powerless to defend themselves.

All of us occasionally face situations beyond our control.  No matter how hard you try to ignore your emotions and assess the situation logically, it is natural to feel fear when blind-sided by an overwhelming event.  Yet fear can be beneficial.  After all, like a lighthouse, fear alerts us to potential dangers that lay in our path.  So the next time you feel fear, pause to acknowledge it as a welcome warning, and use all your resources to chart a safe path through the dangers. 

Then resume your journey.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dangerous Reappraisals

In the Star Trek pilot episode The Cage, Captain Christopher Pike has been captured by the Talosians.  With the aid of their other human captive, the beautiful Vena, they have forced him to relive the recent fight on Rigel 7, as well as explored a dream of his, to retire from Starfleet and return home.  As they sit on their picnic blanket in a small park outside the metropolis of Mojave, Vena ponders why this new dream isn’t working for Pike.  She wonders: perhaps one’s strongest dreams are about what he can’t do.

Earlier, in his quarters, Pike confessed to the ship’s doctor that the deaths and injuries incurred back on Rigel 7 still plagued him.  Perhaps he was not cut out for the life and responsibilities of a starship captain.  When pressed on what he might do if he retired, Pike mused that he could return home, ride his horses and enjoy the quiet life.  Or he could go into business on Regulus or in the Orion colony.  Dr. Phil derides these notions: to the latter, he asks: You, an Orion trader in Green Animal-Women Slaves?

Having failed to capture Pike’s interest by making him live out his first notion of a quiet life, the Talosians now present him with the second.  Two men sit with Pike in an opulent palace.  As he watches Green Vena dance, one suggests to him that these green women actually enjoy being taken advantage of.  In fact, this is almost like the secret dream a bored ship captain might have.  The other asks him: If you could have anything, and this was just a sample, wouldn’t it’d be worth a man’s soul?  Pike grows tense, and his palms sweat as he watches Vena’s sensual display.  Then, abruptly, he flees the room, only to find himself trapped in a cave with this green animal-woman slave named Vena.  Her triumphant expression and posture suggests that she believes she’s finally hooked Pike, and is looking forward to reeling him in.  Yet, later, when the dream ends and they are returned to the cell, Vena’s reaction suggests that, once more, Pike has rebuffed her.

How could Vena fail so incredibly with Pike?  She has spent decades living with the Talosians, a race adept at delving into the minds of their subjects.  And how could the Talosians fail to captivate Pike?  Don’t they give him everything he has wished for?

When we are struggling with failure or loss, it is tempting to think: I must be on the wrong track.  If only I’d done something different with my life, I wouldn’t be here now.  Yet, when the Talosians let him explore these alternative life paths, Pike rejects them, seeing them as fallacies.  Perhaps, the next time you’re feeling down, a better question might be: How wise is it to ponder a major life change when I’m at my weakest?  Weren’t there good, sound reasons why I made the major life-decisions that I did? 

Perhaps the definition of a successful life includes the necessity of navigating your way through the occasional failure. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Allure of the Ordinary Life

In the Star Trek pilot The Cage, the Talosians have captured Captain Christopher Pike.  Using their mental powers, they conjure up compelling illusions.  Then they watch how Pike reacts to situations crafted from his subconscious. 

Earlier, in his quarters aboard the Enterprise, Captain Pike told the ship’s doctor that he was considering retirement.  After the attack on Rigel 7 in which members of his landing party were either injured or killed, Pike longed for a life with fewer risks and complications.  One idea was that he could return home.  Now, in this second dream/illusion, the walls of his cell fade away.  Captain Pike finds himself in a well-tended park. with the familiar skyscrapers of the Mojave megapolis filling the horizon.

Pike finds his beloved horse Tango awaiting him, while Vena unpacks a picnic basket and sets out his favorite foods on a blanket.  You’re home, she says.  You can even stay if you want to.  Unlike the earlier illusion in which the Talosians made him relive his fight with the Kaylar warrior, this quiet, peaceful setting soothes Pike.  While he cannot forget that he is still in a cage, and presses Vena for ways to fight the Talosians’ hold over his mind, he lets his guard down, even opens up about his past and his feelings.  When she admits that she fought for years against the Talosians, but finally gave into them, he understands what a lonely existence she has led.  To comfort her, he tells her that, from the first moment he saw her, he was attracted to her.  Such an admission suggests that: 1) despite his earlier doubts, he believes that she is real, not merely an illusion conjured up by the Talosians; and 2) in time, he can see their relationship developing into something far deeper and more meaningful.

When Pike first finds himself in the park, he reminds himself of Dr. Phil’s rebuttal to his desire for a life free of responsibility or frustrations: you either live life, bruises, skinned knuckles and all, or you turn your back on it and start dying.  But the sight of Vena, acting out the part of his wife, amid the pastoral setting of his youth, exerts its pull on him.  He knows it is an illusion, but still....

Life presents us with two choices: A) to live an ordinary life, or B) to try for an extraordinary one.  We can assume that a man who has risked the dangers of space travel, and then been entrusted with a starship (along with the two hundred people who crew her) has opted to live an extraordinary life.  Would it be so wrong for him to trade a life of danger and responsibility for one of simple, domestic harmony?  Is Dr. Phil right to suggest that such a choice inevitably drains all joy and purpose from life?

Some of us dream of achieving greatness, but when reality fails to match our dreams, we find comfort in the routines and pleasures of a less complicated life.  Whatever your situation, I say never give up on your dreams, but always take time to enjoy the normal rhythms of life as well.  Getting the balance right between the two...well, that’s the tricky part, isn’t it?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Power of Punishment

In the Star Trek pilot episode The Cage, Captain Christopher Pike has been kidnapped by the Talosians.  They have forced him to relive the fight on Rigel 7.  This time, they substituted Vena for his crew.  After he kills the Kaylar warrior, Pike is returned to his cell, where Vena asks him to pick another dream and let her live it with him.  Is she an illusion, created by the Talosians to help them explore Pike’s thoughts and memories?  Or is she a fellow captive?  When Pike repeatedly declines her request, Vena collapses, and screams “Don’t punish me!”  Then she vanishes. 

Later, Pike is studying one wall of his cave, when he sees an access panel close.  Set on the floor is a goblet.  A Talosian in the corridor tells him that it contains a nourishing protein complex.  If he wishes, they can make it resemble any food he cares to visualize.  But, the alien warns, if Pike attempts a hunger strike, they can punish him.  Suddenly, Pike finds himself in a pool of acid, while fires burn all around.  He screams in agony.  When the illusion vanishes, he is back in his cell.  The Talosian orders: From a childhood fable, Pike will now consume the nourishment. 

Pike drains the goblet.

The Talosian then informs him that an Earth vessel did crash on their world.  They found one survivor, and repaired her injuries.  When they found the species interesting, it became necessary to attract a mate for Vena.  That is why they captured him.  But Pike knows there’s more to the situation than this.  Why should they probe his mind if all they need is reproductive material?  Why make him fight the Kaylar warrior to protect her?  To him, the Talosians are going out of their way to make him feel protective of Vena, and to forge between them a cozy husband/wife relationship.  If he cannot believe their explanation, how can he even believe that Vena is real?  Yet he plows ahead with his questioning.  He was the one who refused to cooperate by picking a dream to live out.  Why didn’t they punish him instead of Vena?  The Talosian smiles.  He suggests that Pike’s question denotes not only emotional protectiveness, but sympathy for Vena.  Then the alien leave Pike to reflect upon their conversation. 

Parents punish children, not only for their disobedience, but to instill desired values in their successors.  In The Cage, the mentally-superior Talosian punishes Pike for not consuming his nourishment.  Pike acquiesces.  When Vena is punished for Pike’s disobedience, we realize the Talosians’ punitive measures are achieving the desired effect.  We may have left childhood behind, we may not be parents.  We may not claim to have been abducted by aliens.  But does this mean that questions concerning the ethical use of punishment are not applicable in our daily decision-making?

In business, if a client regularly delays payment, won’t the seller punish the client with extra fees or reduced buying opportunities?  In friendships, a friend who repeatedly lies may gradually be excluded from the formerly-close relationship.  A family member who always expects another to spend significant calendar dates with him or her, yet never reciprocates, may find that the latter grows reluctant to continue sacrificing interests and valuable time merely to please him or her.

Clearly, it is not impossible that, if applied in the correct way, punishment can achieve the desired effect.  Yet questions remain.  Where do we draw the line between tolerance of undesired behavior and attempting punitive measures?  Or should we always ignore actions that annoy or displease us, and forever treat others as we wished they would treat us, regardless of whether they actually do? 

Such questions leap readily to mind.  Sadly, satisfying answers are less easy of grasp.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Well-Trodden Path

In the Star Trek pilot episode The Cage, Captain Christopher Pike has been captured by the Talosians.  They have placed him in an underground cell, and forced him to relive the attack on Rigel 7.  This time, instead of fighting for his crew, his task was to protect Vena, the woman who appeared on the surface of Talos 4, only to disappear with the illusory scientists conjured up by the Talosians.  Still, he killed the Kaylar warrior to protect this woman who may be an illusion too. 

Now she has joined him in his cell, and urges him repeatedly to choose another dream and let her live it with him.  After the painful memory dredged up by the Talosians, after being forced to kill a sentient life form for her, one can imagine the responses that flood Captain Pike’s mind.  Instead, he focuses upon escaping.  To do that, he must know about his captors.  After repeated urging, she tells him something of Talosian history.

According to Vena, warfare drove the surviving Talosians underground thousands of years ago.  There, they concentrated on developing their mental powers.  But in time, they found they had fallen into a trap of their own devising.  Their dreams become more important than reality.  Consequently, they gave up travel, building, and creating, content to just sit, living and reliving other lives.  Today’s Talosians live vicariously off the imagined and remembered adventures wished up by descendants of species captured long ago, when their ancestors dared to travel the galaxy.

If Vena is real, then she aided the Talosians in capturing him.  Obviously, the Talosians will expect Pike to breed with her, to insure a constant, unending supply of dreams unique to the human species.  Disgusted, he tells Vena: you aren’t real.  Moments later, Vena collapses.  Don’t punish me, she screams before she disappears, leaving behind only the dress made of the same type of metal fabric as the robes worn by the Talosians.  Pike looks into the corridor, sees a Talosian hurry away.  While he is still angry with her, but pain she experienced shakes him.

What is one to make of Pike’s captors?  While their ancestors created this underground biosphere, present-day Talosians have forgotten how to repair the machinery that sustains it.  Plugged into their captives’ minds, they dream away their existence. 

Do you find yourself falling into patterns, doing the same things every day?  While routines add structure and value to our lives, there is always the danger of thoughtless obedience to the routine, like a slave following the dictates of his owner.  In such a rut, the joy of participating in those beloved activities starts to fade.  Surrounded by earthen walls, all you can see is the path pounded down by your footsteps. 

Are you living out your life as fully as possible?  Are you accomplishing everything you wish to?  Or is there more that you not only could, but should do?  Activity for its own sake is meaningless.  But then again, so is activity driven merely by routine.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

True Vision

In the Star Trek pilot The Cage, Captain Christopher Pike has been captured by the Talosians.  In a subsequent conference aboard the Enterprise, one senior officer insisted Pike was in danger and must be rescued immediately.  Dr. Phil, the chief medical officer, asked: If another landing party beams down, how can they be certain of anything they see or do?  Mr. Spock, as science officer, warned that if they tried to storm the underground city, the Talosians might use their mental powers to destroy the Enterprise.

Number One, Pike’s Second-in-Command, has left Mr. Spock in charge of the Enterprise and beamed down to Talos 4.  Her landing party has aimed a laser cannon at the rocky knoll in which the Talosians secreted the entrance to their underground elevator.  When the preparations are completed, she orders her people to take shelter behind nearby rocks, and signals Mr. Spock to transfer the ship’s power to the cannon. 

As they watch, the enormous cannon hums to life.  A laser shoots out.  Amazingly, the rocky knoll resists its destructive power.  Number One orders Mr. Spock to increase to full power, and when this proves insufficient, she asks him if he can give her any more.  But eventually, Mr. Spock reports that the ship’s circuits are in danger.  A reluctant Number One orders the laser cannon to power down.

The rocky knoll cools, leaving no trace of the attack.  Dr. Phil reminds her of the point he tried to make in the conference room: the top of the knoll might no longer be there, but if so, they will never know it.  The Talosians’ power of illusion is so great that the Enterprise crew cannot believe what they see, what their instruments tell them, or if anything they touch is actually there.  Thoroughly dispirited, Dr. Phil walks away.

As men of science, both Mr. Spock and Dr. Phil have calculated the odds facing them.  For them, the potential cost to the crew and ship are too high, while the possible pay-off, of rescuing Captain Pike, is minuscule.  Trying to beat the Talosians is therefore too risky to be attempted.  Yet Number One has accomplished what few other women in Starfleet have achieved: not only does she serve on the bridge of the Enterprise, but she is Pike’s Second-In-Command.  As Dr. Phil walks away, Number One’s expression suggests she is wondering how she can next attempt to circumvent the Talosians’ hold on their minds and rescue Captain Pike.  She knows the odds are against them, but is not so certain of failure as the men she serves with.

Throughout history, humans have repeatedly accomplished what many viewed as impossible, whether it was curing a killer disease, building a skyscraper, or traveling to the moon.  What is the daunting task you currently face, and how badly do you want success?  Knowing the odds against you, how hard will you try, and how much will you risk, to achieve your goal?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Together But Alone

In the Star Trek pilot episode The Cage, Captain Christopher Pike was transported back to Rigel 7.  This time, in place of his crew, he fights the Kaylar warrior to protect Vena.  When he is returned to his cell, he finds her standing beside him.  Out in the corridor, a group of observing Talosians notice his glare and leave.

Pike knows he was not really back to Rigel 7.  Instead, while his body was trapped in this cage, his mind was manipulated by the Talosians.  But is this a real woman standing beside him, or another illusion like the other crash survivors he met on the surface?  And why is she wearing clothing similar to that of his captors?

Vena insists that her purpose in being here is benign: she merely wishes to please him.  Pike declares he’s never dreamed of or imagined her; she suggests maybe he has, but has since forgotten.  But speaking of dreams, does he have any dream that he would like to share with her?  He can live out any dream he wishes, no matter how fantastic! 

Unfortunately for her, Pike is still traumatized by the deaths and injuries his crew suffered on Rigel 7, and in the first dream the Talosians made him relive, they forced him to again kill the Kaylar warrior.  He can hardly feel grateful to them, or her, for that experience.  Nor does he have any framework from which to judge whether she is real or not: she won’t even give him a definitive answer on that subject.  Even if he supposes that she isn’t an illusion, even if he could judge that she is as real as the Talosians, the question remains: why should he trust her?  And why should he share his intimate thoughts and dreams with her, when she played a part in the deception that led to his imprisonment? 

Vena cannot comprehend Pike’s reaction.  She has offered to live out any dream he desires, regardless of how much emotional or physical pain she might suffer during the experience.  She is willing to transform herself physically, or alter her personality in any way that will please him.  Yet Pike stands aloof; he refuses to share his thoughts or feelings with her.  The Talosians can give him anything in the universe, yet his only wish is to block them from reaching into his mind!

When someone we care for turns away from us, we wonder how they could reject our friendship and love.  A child or dependent parent grows aloof and uncommunicative.  A close friend drifts away.  A special friend or spouse finds less joy in your presence than in the past.  You cannot relive the circumstances that brought the relationship to this point.  You cannot buy another’s love with presents, or by regenerate it by subsuming your unique personality.  But if you can wait patiently, and if you can restrain yourself from trying to trap them inside a cage with you, perhaps one day they’ll return to your side.  To stay.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Reluctant Warrior

In the Star Trek pilot The Cage, Captain Christopher Pike has been captured by the Talosians.  He believes he is either a specimen to be studied or a new exhibit in a Talisian zoo.  While testing out the confines of his underground cell, he is suddenly transported to Rigel 7.  There he finds Vena, the woman whom he met in the crash survivors’ camp on the surface of Talos 4.  But she vanished, as did all the supposed survivors, when the Talosians appeared and kidnapped him.  Is she also an illusion?  Is he really back on Rigel 7, or is that an illusion too? 

Whether his surroundings and Vena are real or not, he is still haunted by the memory of the Kaylar warrior who killed three Enterprise crew members, including his personal yeoman.  While he denies his surroundings, he hears the approaching Kaylar’s roars.  Vena’s frantic pleas sway his resolve.  He runs with her toward an abandoned fortress. 

Vena pulls Pike behind some discarded equipment in the courtyard.  She asserts that he must kill the Kaylar as he did before.  Yet, isn’t this a mere illusion?  Just as they conjured up a convincing camp of crash survivors, the Talosians have looked into his mind to create this reenactment.  Will fighting the Kaylar again strengthen their grip upon his mind?  Will he lose his hold on reality if he gives in and fights the creature?  Vena insists that they will feel every injury the Kaylar inflicts on them.  Still, Pike hesitates.  His pride and sense of worth are at stake.  He is no mere animal, to perform tricks at his master’s whim.  But he is moved by the fear on Vena’s face.

Previously, Pike disclosed to Dr. Phil, the ship’s chief medical officer, that he blames himself for the deaths and injuries back on Rigel 7.  He believes he is unworthy of command, as he was slow to attack the Kaylar.  After all, he couldn’t even protect his personal yeoman.  Not only did she hold the lowest rank on the ship, not only did she have the least experience among the Enterprise crew, but her sole duty was to serve him, and he failed to protect her.  Now Vena stands in her place.  When the Kaylar discovers his hiding place, Pike knows he can no longer delay.  He competently dispatches his opponent to ensure that Vena does not suffer a similar fate. 

Should danger threaten ourselves or our loved ones, we all want to believe that we would rise swiftly to dispatch our attacker.  But the dangers we face are usually more mundane.  Perhaps our perceived self-worth is questioned, or a situation arises that may limit our personal liberties.  Sometimes we even leap into battle, only to later learn that our supposed aggressor bore us no ill will.  Pike proves that, while he is a capable warrior, he is also a reluctant one.  He does not attack at the first sign of danger; he does not wound or destroy needlessly.  Clearly, while he is brave, he also values peace.  What might our world be like, if more of us modeled ourselves on Captain Christopher Pike.