NOTE - These comments refer to the "envelope" portion only. For review of the original pilot, see The Cage.
This is every bit as good as it was ingenious, cheap, time-saving, and probably fun to make. Everything clicks, and it provides the perfect envelope for reusing the rejected pilot episode.
Perhaps the greatest triumph is in Spock's motivation. It seems natural that Spock should feel as much loyalty for past commanders as he does for his present one. That makes it a completely natural connection for him to try and work out a solution for the injured Pike. So, why all the cloak and dagger? Why the court martial and long, somber glances from Kirk? Why the death penalty?
It becomes clear when you try to reconstruct how the story was written, which must be done in reverse. Start with the notion that there were things on Talos that Pike liked. Maybe he wants to get back there. But why? There are several possibilities if you have Jeffery Hunter available to reprise his role, but they did not (and probably couldn't afford him even if he were willing). It meant that Roddenberry had to be very creative, and a disfiguring injury is a perfect choice. Pike knows the Talosians can give him the illusion of restored health. Such disfigurement plays beautifully on the ending of the pilot.
But you need to find a reason to show all that old footage. Vanilla flashbacks come to mind, but that's far too pedestrian for Trek (which, even in its worst moments, was never pedestrian). A trial (being a device fresh in memory) works much better. To make that work, you need a couple of things. First, Spock has to have committed a crime. And while mutiny is sufficient, why would he have to become a mutineer? Why not just tell the authorities about Talos and arrange for Pike to return there? Thus is born General Order Seven, and Spock is effectively prevented from using official channels.
All that's left to figure out is how Spock gets to Pike, and the answer is provided in last week's sets -- a starbase! (We get a nice new matte painting, but unfortunately it means we have the same lame models out the windows. At least this time there's a little more attractive lighting, but those things really do look completely fake. And did Kirk really have to walk right up to the window to call extra attention to that fact...?)
Certainly, it was not that easy to write. In fact, Roddenberry made it known just how difficult it was. But the easy grace with which it all fits together is a testament to his abilities as a writer. It may have been difficult, but it looks completely effortless. Every part of this script is logical, and character-driven. There are no monsters, no mad scientists, no transporter malfunctions (check out the very short list of cliches). It's simply about the loyalty one man has for another. The one clever gizmo, Pike's chair, never gets in the way. In fact, it adds substantially to the drama.
There's even more loyalty on display. By not involving Kirk in his scheme, and taking complete control of the ship, Spock displays how much loyalty he has for his current commander. It's two successes for the price of one!
It looks like they had lots of fun making this episode. Visual references to the pilot abound (including the weird "War of the Worlds" viewers), and Malachi Throne looks completely at home in his role. It's a shame they couldn't have used him as the recurring character Roddenberry always wanted to include.
The long shot which ends part two, with the accompanying music from the pilot, and Shatner's "I've been had, but it's OK" look, is one of the series' most memorable. It is a beautiful finishing touch on one of their best episodes.
Rating: Very Top (1)