Star Trek TOS: Enslavement, Sex, and Man’s Sense of Duty in ‘The Cage’

The Cage

Star Trek — The Original Series

Season 1, Episode 1

The Cage

Humans are too headstrong and violent to allow wholesale enslavement of themselves. The earthly species might be in the business of lassoing other humans into involuntary servitude, but such is not the case for aliens with weird heads. 

Those are the Talosians — an alien threesome from Talos IV — and those genderless entities were largely disenchanted with Christopher Pike and his pals in The Cage. The big-headed nemeses attempted to lure Pike with guarantees of sex, bold repopulation of a planet, and some neat telepathy. But Pike wasn’t interested in any of that. On a few notable occasions, he turned down advances from a flirtatious dame named Vina. The aliens figured interweaving sexual desires for Vina with figments of nostalgia would do the trick. The Talosians were wrong.

For the most part, Pike turned down physical relations — aside from one tongue-in-cheek “I’m not finished!” remark from Vina — remaining steadfast about escaping the cage. He was ultimately successful after Pike and another woman — her name was simply Number One — threatened the aliens with a kamikaze-like plot that would presumably kill everybody. It was a dealbreaker for the Talosians.

The Cage was a commentary on man’s sense of responsibility, too. Early in the episode, Pike privately bemoaned serving as the ship’s leader, disillusioned with controlling the fates of his crew members. Pike’s medical advisor, Dr. Boyce, talked him off the ledge of job abandonment, setting up the eventual parable that a man needs responsibility rather than whimsical galivants with horses on a farm. The horse utopia was something Pike thought he preferred to leading men and women.

Then, Spock interrupted the doctor-patient drinking session (yes, alcohol) with a message about Talos IV, which spurred into motion the plot. Pike was tasked with saving others, even after the “others” were totally fake con-jobs conjured by the Talosians. Humans were distressed, nudging Pike back to leaderly duty after his brief fantasy about dereliction. 

During his encounters on Talos IV, Pike utilized violence, diplomacy, and neared the brink of sex to complete the mission — just what a man “should” do by conventional 1960s standards in the face of adversity.  

He also made a nifty discovery. If he could coax himself into outright rage, the aliens were powerless. That is — man is impervious to analysis when fueled by hate. Ironically, Pike’s self-professed version of hate helped set him free. Why? Because the Talosians did not understand hate and rage. 

There were no Black actors cast in The Cage. If the screenplay was teleported into contemporary society, designating Number One as a Black woman would pack a heavy punch. She was the character prepared to blow herself — and everybody else — to smithereens for the purpose of combating enslavement and saving her friends back on Enterprise. When the Talosians freed Pike, Number One, and another woman (Yeoman Colt), a determination was rendered that humans boast a “unique hatred of captivity.”

Number One and her ancestors could tell them all about it. 

Themes: Enslavement, Lust

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. His odyssey with Star Trek starts from beginning to finish, watching ‘The Original Series,’ all the way to the present day. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).