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Friday, July 29, 2011

The Curiosity Factor

In life, there are the curiosities and the mainstays.  The restaurants we occasionally visit versus our favorites, the friends we check in with every few months versus those we regularly hang out with, even the websites or blogs that are clicked on now and then versus those we read daily.  Often, we may not understand why one remains a mere curiosity while another ascends to become a favorite.  We just know that the latter somehow bonds more fully with us, adds more value to our lives, and as a result helps us better connect with the world around us.

In the case of Star Trek, we know why The Cage is a curiosity: we never had a chance to make it a mainstay.  Passed over by network executives, and given a mandate to make key crew changes, the revised Star Trek that Gene Roddenberry gave us, and with which we subsequently fell in love, concerned an Enterprise captained by James T. Kirk, and with the exception of Mr. Spock, an entirely different crew.  We may have seen excerpts from The Cage in the two episodes of The Menagerie, but most of us never saw The Cage until a decade or more after it was made.  Would we have fallen in love with Pike and company the way we did with his successors?  Sadly, we will never know, as we were never fed a steady diet of stories about them.  We never got to see the crew visit other worlds.  We never watched how Pike dealt with other crises.  We never saw Number One, Dr. Phil, and Pike’s yeoman develop as the series progressed.

Plot is character, and character is plot, as I believe the great author Stephen King once said.  While we can never know what other trials Pike and his crew would have faced, we do know that this original crew had great characters.  Captain Christopher Pike, having rediscovered his love of command, surely would have faced future dangers with dogged determination, and perhaps even good humor.  Number One would have kept the Enterprise running smoothly for Pike, and not weighed him (and us) down with tiresome complaints or unnecessarily dialogue.  Dr. Phil would have continued to dispense moral insights with his medicine, but probably without McCoy’s constant need to needle Mr. Spock for attempting to honor his Vulcan values.  And as for Mr. Spock...well, thankfully, at least we got to see how he developed.

Jews and Christians have their Apocrypha, investors have the commodities market, politicians even have their consciences (We hope!).  In fiction, we all have our curiosities, stories we may not fully understand nor utilize every day of our lives, but nonetheless influence us on an occasional basis.  Given its single-story status, The Cage can never be anything more than a curiosity.  Yet, after reflecting upon the story in so many (perhaps too many?) blog entries, I know I will walk more boldly into my own future, bolstered by how Captain Christopher Pike, the various members of his crew, and the Talosians have rubbed off on me.  I have come to realize what a wonderful curiosity I have found in the Star Trek pilot episode The Cage. 

Thank you, Gene Roddenberry, for creating such a fascinating story.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Dr. Phil’s Prescription for Captain Christopher Pike

In the Star Trek pilot episode The Cage, Captain Christopher Pike has escaped from Talos 4 and returned to the bridge of the Enterprise.  But as he strides toward the command chair, Dr. Phil says, “Hold on a minute.”

Before they traveled to Talos 4, Pike had called the doctor to his quarters, where the captain had asked him to confirm the rightness of his decision on the bridge to continue onward to the Vega Colony.  When Dr. Phil asked Pike to consider a rest leave, the captain confessed that he was contemplating retirement.  Pike claimed he was tired of command: he wished for a life of few responsibilities.  He mused about returning home, or becoming a simple trader.  As Chief Medical Officer, it is Dr. Phil’s duty to periodically assess his captain’s fitness to command.  So when Pike returns, Dr. Phil asks himself: Is Pike ready to command the Enterprise? Has he recovered mentally and emotionally from the losses suffered back on Rigel 7? 

Pike assures the doctor he feels fine, and Dr. Phil is forced to admit that the captain looks one hundred percent better.  Pike says, “You recommended a rest, a change of pace, didn’t you?  I’ve even been home.  Does that make you happy?”  While imprisonment wasn’t what Dr. Phil had in mind, he understands how the Talosians could use their power of illusion to make Pike believe he had returned to Earth.  Dr. Phil is not yet convinced that Pike is ready to command, but he lets Pike retake his chair, while the doctor finds an inconspicuous place on the bridge to observe him further. 

When the yeoman asks, “Who would have been Eve?” Pike allows Number One to handle the situation.  A mere glance from Pike is sufficient to refocus a curious bridge officer on his duties.  But the mention of Eve suggests that Pike faced more than simple confinement.  Does such a weighty Biblical symbol represent the tip of an emotional iceberg against which Pike may later run aground?  Dr. Phil approaches and asks, “Eve as in Adam?”  Pike’s response is a rebuff: “As in all ship’s doctors are dirty old men.”  Dr. Phil smiles and squeezes Pike’s shoulder.  This is not the same man who earlier felt the need to explain his decisions to his bridge officers, who sought the ship’s doctor for confirmation of his orders, and who shrunk from the everyday challenges of life aboard a starship.  Pike sits in his command chair, facing the forward viewscreen, cajoling Number One for the bridge crew’s slack discipline.  Dr. Phil is content to leave the bridge, knowing Pike is ready to chart his (and the ship’s) course into the future.

When our friends’ lives are in turmoil, we naturally want to help them through their difficulties.  This is as it should be: we may not be in authority over them, as Dr. Phil is, but we are nonetheless duty-bound to assist in any way we can.  Often, a simple suggestion as to how to get their lives back on track is all a friend needs from us.  Then we must stand aside and watch, and hope that they either follow our advise or find their own solution.  Biting back all the accumulated wisdom one would love to offer is never easy.  But it is necessary, not only to preserve the relationship, but for our friends’ mental and emotional health. 

At least, that’s Dr. Phil’s Prescription for Captain Christopher Pike.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Illusion of Another’s Ability to Change

In the Star Trek pilot episode The Cage, Captain Christopher Pike has escaped the Talosians.  In the transporter room, his yeoman and Number One are surprised not to see Vena.  Number One might guess at her advanced age, but neither have reason to suspect how badly she was injured in the crash, nor how the Talosians’ well-intentioned efforts at reconstructive surgery have left her handicapped and disfigured.  When Number One asks if Vena will beam up, Pike simply tells her “No.”  His refusal to explain leaves both women mystified as to why the person who attracted Pike most has remained on Talos 4.  Number One puts on her game face and follows the Captain out, but the yeoman lingers, wondering what transpired after she beamed up.

On the bridge, while Number One retakes the position of responsibility that she has earned, the yeoman chooses to linger nearby, despite the captain’s dislike of such unnecessary crew (particularly women!) on the bridge.  At one point, he nearly runs into her, and when he starts to reprimand her, she hands him the report he periodically requests.  She uses this justification for her proximity to ask, “Captain, I was just wondering...who would have been Eve?”  Number One’s head whips around.  With steel in her eyes, she snaps, “You’ve delivered your report.”  The yeoman hurries away; she will still attend to Pike’s personal needs.  Number One remains unrivaled on the bridge, where she can best demonstrate to Pike how essential she is. 

Despite their many differences, both women stake out their territory with regard to Pike.  Vena may have left the field of battle, but each hopes that if she just keeps on fighting, one day Captain Pike will return her love.

Whether we look to another for romance or simple friendship, it’s likely that, at some point in our lives, we will delude ourselves into thinking that another who ignores or spurns us may one day reverse course and return our obvious affection.  We are the sum of our experiences and choices.  We can no more change ourselves into someone another will respect or love than we can change the weather.  Why then do we hope that another will change to suit our desires?  Anyone who views us as having little value for their lives at present is unlikely to value us more in the future.  While endurance is always admirable, enduring does not necessarily equate with succeeding, winning, or obtaining.  It is our illusion of another’s ability to change that we forget this. 

Thus sustained on false hope, we fail to perceive those around us who are willing and capable of respecting and/or loving us.  The one we wish to change feels put upon; our hope for their imminent transformation stresses what little relationship we currently have with them.  We lose too, suffering each day with disappointment that the change we desire has not yet occurred.  And then there are those who might crave our love or friendship, whom we cannot currently perceive  Their lives are impoverished by our absence.

This is not a dilemma created by an alien race with superior mental powers.  This is the all-too-human tragedy of unrequited love.