There are those who would see “The Menagerie” as just a flashback episode, doing little more than providing a framework to salvage the footage filmed for “The Cage“. But your humble Poore Trekkies see this episode in a much different light. Far from being a throwaway flashback episode, we feel “The Menagerie” presents some of the earliest examples of the character of Spock – as a man – and portray qualities that we will see over and over again throughout not only the rest of the original Star Trek series, but repeated multiple times in the movies, his appearances on The Next Generation, and even his place in the J.J. Abrams reboot movies. And those roots can all be explored by simply asking one question: “Why did Spock do it?”
The obvious first point to consider is Spock’s heritage – as we all know, he is half Vulcan and half Human. This sets up so many conflicts throughout the show and movies that by itself, it’s too broad a topic to cover just once here. Since the struggle between his humanity and Vulcanity – emotion and logic – is such an integral part of his character, we know this plays into the decisions he makes in this episode. We feel it’s important to consider how that affects his decision-making in general; specifically, we believe his Vulcan side with its logic is strong enough that it will serve to overrule any truly bad decisions his human side with its emotion may come up with. And in fact, what this episode demonstrates (and we see repeated many times later) is how Spock will do the human thing the Vulcan way – meaning perhaps he makes an emotion-based decision, but sets about taking action on it in the most logical way possible.
As is often the case with unexpected behavior in a known individual, the first “offenses” tend to be relatively small and easy for them to justify. Since Spock carries out his plan at Starbase 11, we see he must have decided that breaking Starfleet’s directive prohibiting contact with Talos IV was logical. And though by legal definition, he technically committed assault against two Starfleet officers, he was only using the relatively harmless Vulcan nerve pinch, so there was no permanent harm brought to those men. So we can see that right at the beginning, the logical conclusion he saw at the success of his plan could easily justify the emotion that led to the plan in the first place.
Taking a step farther, though, we see Spock’s emotional decision beginning to affect others when you realize that he quite literally kidnaps Captain Pike. From the first moment Pike sees Spock, he knows what the plan must be – Spock even guesses Pike knows why he’s there – and Pike says no. For the next few hours, Pike is essentially sitting in his room screaming “NO! NO! NO!” over and over again, and Spock takes him anyway. Far from consenting to the journey, Pike is a reluctant abductee who is forced onto a court martial tribunal. Looking at it from Pike’s point of view, here is a situation from 13 years in his past, that we’re sure he must have been trying to forget and put behind him. And suddenly, in more vivid detail than even starship logs could ever record, are the events of those days of his life. Though the man is almost totally incapable of movement or communication, we can see in his eyes that he is reliving it all, and after being reminded of everything that happened, only then is he able to answer the question of if he wants to go spend the rest of his life with the Talosians – with Vina – and he says “Yes”. But up until this moment – with the Enterprise already in orbit around Talos IV – Captain Pike is a non-consenting abductee, and Spock could only have had hope – a human emotion – that Pike would eventually change his mind on the matter.
Amid all of the order and logic of the plan, Spock knew that he had to protect his commanding officer. He engineers a setup whereby he can assume command of the Enterprise and leave Kirk behind. He knows Kirk will be angry and betrayed, but he knows that is the only way to protect Kirk. However this is where Kirk’s emotions present a major problem – he jumps in a shuttle, which he knows will never actually catch up to the much faster starship, and follows Spock until the fuel runs out. This forces Spock to switch to Plan B, but The Plan is still in motion, using the court martial as a distraction. There is an obvious appeal to Kirk as more than a commanding officer, when Spock changes from addressing Kirk as “Captain” to pleading with his friend “Jim” to not get in the way of the plan; what is interesting to note here is that this comes right on the heels of Kirk being relieved of duty due to Spock’s actions. This means that Spock feels so strongly about his plan to help Captain Pike that he is even willing to risk the career of his current commanding officer – and good friend. How much farther would Spock be willing to go to make this plan succeed?
The answer is that he is willing to go as far for Christopher Pike as he eventually did go for Kirk, McCoy, and the rest of the Enterprise crew in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – laying down his own life. While it’s true that after Starfleet saw the images the Talosians broadcast that explained Spock’s motivations, they waived the death penalty this time, Spock could not have expected that to happen. As far as he knew, the moment he enacted the plan, his death was certain, and he was willing to lay down his life. This goes to show that Spock valued the quality of Captain Pike’s life even above his own life! We know from Dr. McCoy at the beginning of the episode that the machines keeping Pike alive would do so theoretically for a long time, so it’s not like Pike only had a few days left to live. It appears as though Spock decided that there are things worse than death, and that Pike’s condition qualified as such, and that giving him some semblance of his old self back – even if it was just an illusion created by the Talosians – was worth dying for. He willingly took actions that he knew would inevitably end his own life, just so that Christopher Pike could live out his remaining days happy with Vina.
Though this is certainly not the last time we see Spock doing the human thing the Vulcan way, it’s one of the most poignant. Not very far underneath the seemingly cold Vulcan exterior, Spock obviously carries a great deal of love for his friends. And while he always downplays those feelings – those emotions – as mere logic when confronted about them (it happens right at the end of this episode), anyone who would be a friend of Spock’s could always know that he would consider their needs as outweighing those of his own. So, dear reader, we ask again – “why did Spock do it?”