There may not be a strong thematic thread evident through each of these installments, but they’re perhaps the strangest collective bunch of the show so far. One deals with an incredibly straightforward premise, and the other’s plot is so memorable and complex that I mostly knew of it from the spoof that Futurama produced.
So far, the show has shown itself adept at creating high concept episodes without resorting to skipping around to numerous planets or encountering strange and exotic aliens. The Corbomite Maneuver managed to create a captivating story throughout much of its runtime despite remaining confined mostly to the ship’s main room and only venturing off the ship in the episode’s final minutes. The episode kicks off when the Enterprise encounters a bizarre spinning cube that prevents the ship from moving out of its way. When the cube begins emitting a deadly amount of radiation, Kirk is given no other choice but to destroy it. Equally strange is the increasingly dangerous behavior of Bailey (Anthony Call), who questions and disobeys Kirk’s orders.
Because I have the benefit of over 50 years of TV watching than those that watched Star Trek during its original run, I know that the rules of television dictate that a guest actor who’s never been featured prominently before must not survive the episode. And so, with every cut to Bailey and every line of dialogue given to him, it seemed clear that something would happen to him, but The Corbomite Maneuver doesn’t directly tie his plight to that of the Enterprise. Instead, it leaves off at a strange jumping-off point that would indicate that it would be part one of a multi-episode story. Star Trek has been almost completely compartmentalized so far, with each episode unrelated to the others, so I wouldn’t be upset if this is the episode that bucks the trend and returns to Bailey somewhere down the line.
What’s strange about The Menagerie isn’t exactly its story, but its ingenious use of the scrapped pilot The Cage. Through a rather brilliant framing device, the two-part episode essentially shows the entirety of The Cage while deepening the relationship between Kirk and Spock. I was a fan of Futurama during its original run, and fondly remembered the Star Trek homage Where No Fan Has Gone Before, but had no idea it cribbed the conceit of Captain Pike’s plight from The Menagerie; just another instance of the long-reaching influence of the show.
As for the content of The Menagerie – the content that wasn’t pre-recorded, that is – it strengthens the relationship that Kirk has with Spock, trusting him in the most impossible circumstances. By the time we get to the ending, does the show justify spending almost two hours to find out why Spock has been so insistent to trust him? Maybe not, but I would imagine that viewers in the 60s were more engrossed than someone like myself who can already watch The Cage on its own. Not that I’ll hold that against the power of the episode though; it’s a fantastically realized sci-fi story that, once again, shows how well built the show could be. Not to mention a smart piece of budget stretching on Rodenberry’s part, salvaging what could have been a sunk cost for the network.
In my research, I’ve learned that several of the storylines and characters that we’ve seen already would come back in future iterations or movie versions because they were so beloved by the cast and crew, and its fans. While I don’t know yet whether anything from The Corbomite Maneuver or The Menagerie will return, I wouldn’t be upset to see an expansion of the already solid ideas in place.
The Corbomite Maneuver Grade: B
The Menagerie pt. I & II Grade: B+