Is Star Trek’s “The Menagerie” still Great?

The last time I watched “The Menagerie” recently, I was wondering whether this episode still represents greatness. Don’t get me wrong. There were strong performances from the regular cast (particularly Nimoy) and the guest cast (Malachi Throne, Susan Oliver, Jeffrey Hunter and Meg Wylie). It made great use of effects that were common at the time (matte paintings, etc.). And the story made for an economical and compelling mixture of some old footage and new framing story line. So, what could be wrong? Well, one of the last scenes with Vina (Susan Oliver) just doesn’t sit right these days. She claims she can’t return with Captain Pike to the Enterprise, and then its revealed that she’s actually horribly disfigured. Are we to think that in the far future, the crew of the Enterprise would be less accepting of a disfigured woman than various “ugly” aliens? I suppose we can perhaps conclude that they would have been accepting but that Vina, who had been living her life of illusions for over a decade, would have felt self conscious and embarrassed. But it would have been a beautiful message to show that she had nothing to fear, and then show how everyone accepted her as she was. The same goes for Captain Pike. In the “present” (of the episode), Pike himself has become severely handicapped, only able to move with an all- encasing motorized wheel chair and only able to speak via beeps. But in the end, it shows he can only be happy with Vina if they both live out their lives of illusion. This seems like a very nice gift from the Talosians. But might it not have been better if somehow they could live out their lives together in the “real world” , perhaps with some better aids to overcome their handicaps, but no so much living a life of almost pure illusion?

And if you like reading about the interplay of science and science fiction, read my (Steve Bloom’s) book, The Physics and Astronomy of Science Fiction, available from your favorite electronic book sellers and the publisher (McFarland).

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