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What Happened To Captain Pike On Star Trek: The Original Series Was A Tragedy

In the original pilot shot for "Star Trek," titled "The Cage," handsome, rugged U.S.S. Enterprise captain Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter) is kidnapped by the Talosians, telepathic aliens who want to use him as breeding stock for a race of slaves. Although Hunter's Chris Pike was ultimately replaced by William Shatner's James T. Kirk in a second pilot — and the rest of the series — footage from "The Cage" was later repurposed for a Season 1 episode called "The Menagerie."

One of the best "Star Trek: The Original Series" episodes ever, "The Menagerie" begins with Spock (Leonard Nimoy) hijacking the Enterprise to return Pike to Talos IV. The Pike we see in "The Menagerie," however (played by Sean Kenney), is in quite different shape from the Pike we met in "The Cage." At some point after being promoted to fleet captain, Pike is exposed to a deadly dose of delta ray radiation while rescuing cadets during an accident on a training mission. He is left scarred almost beyond recognition, unable to speak or walk, and only able to communicate by flashing a light on his wheelchair that's wired directly to his brain.

It's a terrible, tragic fate for a man who, by all accounts, was not only one of Starfleet's best officers but who also expressed reservations about continuing in the job — reservations that almost certainly came back to haunt him after his horrifying ordeal.

Captain Pike wasn't even sure if he wanted to stay in Starfleet

Early in "The Cage," Captain Christopher Pike hints to the Enterprise's chief medical officer, Dr. Philip Boyce (John Hoyt), that he's thinking of retiring from Starfleet: "I'm tired of deciding which mission is too risky and which isn't," he confides wearily. "And who lives. And who dies." Following the events of "The Cage," Pike apparently reconsiders his plans and ends up not only staying in Starfleet but accepting his promotion to fleet captain. 

It's his accident, however, that arguably causes Pike to change his mind about another position he staked out during his confinement on Talos IV. In "The Menagerie," Spock illegally commandeers the Enterprise to Talos IV because the Talosians — knowing of Pike's physical state — have offered to take care of him for the rest of his life. With their immense telepathic powers, they can restore Pike's body and health through the power of illusions, allowing him the sensation, if not the reality, of living out his life the way he wants.

Although Pike won his freedom in "The Cage" by demonstrating that humans detest captivity above all else, when he is asked by Spock in "The Menagerie" if he wants to live an illusory life on Talos IV, Pike signals "yes" — a bittersweet affirmation that he would rather accept the Talosians' unreality than continue to endure the quality of life he now has. In the end, of course, it's a "happy" ending for Christopher Pike — but one brought about only by unimaginable tragedy.