Star Trek Guide

‘Star Trek’: The Complicated History and Future of Captain Pike, Explained

In 1965, the very first Star Trek episode, “The Cage,” went into production as the initial realization of Gene Roddenberry’s idea for a “Wagon Train to the Stars.” But the captain chosen to lead this voyage wasn’t William Shatner’s James T. Kirk. Instead, the part of Captain Christopher Pike was played by Jeffrey Hunter.

Shatner was ultimately the right choice to headline the original series alongside Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, and the rest of the cast. Star Trek wouldn’t be a global phenomenon without them. And yet the potential of a Star Trek series following Pike’s Enterprise remained unfulfilled, until the recent announcement that Star Trek: Strange New Worlds will dive into this largely unexplored era of Trek lore. It’s also a remarkable turnaround for Pike, who will now take his rightful place among the great captains of Star Trek.

Almost the entire cast of “The Cage” was released after the original pilot was rejected, and Hunter left the series behind to focus on making movies before his untimely death in 1969. But Nimoy remained, and his presence in the original Star Trek pilot helped solve a problem for the producers. To keep up with the grind of making new episodes, the creative team repurposed footage from “The Cage” into the two-part episode “The Menagerie.” Those episodes also gave fans a glimpse of a more youthful and exuberant Spock, which was in stark contrast to his more reserved persona. But this was the first time that viewers met Pike, although Hunter didn’t reprise his role for the newly created scenes set years after the initial story.

Instead, Sean Kenney guest-starred as the older Pike, who had been badly maimed and disfigured in an accident. Pike’s injuries were apparently so severe that even the highly advanced medical technology of the era couldn’t give him much mobility. His ability to speak was also lost, leaving Pike reliant on a machine that could only communicate with answers to basic “yes” and “no” questions. It was a horrific fate for the captain, but it led to one of Pike’s defining moments several decades later.

In “The Menagerie,” Spock illustrated his loyalty and commitment to Pike by risking his life and his Starfleet career to return his former captain to Talos IV. The clips from “The Cage” established Pike and Spock’s first encounter with the Talosians, an alien race who had the ability to create vivid and lifelike telepathic illusions. It’s also worth noting that the conclusion of Pike’s story mirrors that of Vina, a young woman who was disfigured by a crash on Talos IV. With the aid of the Talosians, Pike and Vina were able to live together on Talos IV without the burden of their frail human bodies holding them back.

That could have been the end of Pike’s presence in Star Trek. However, Star Trek novel writers found it irresistible to revisit the previous captain of the Enterprise. In the ‘90s, Marvel even gave Pike and his crew their own comic book series: Star Trek: Early Voyages. The comic ran for 17 issues, and it offered fans a taste of what could have been.

Surprisingly, Pike’s modern resurgence owes a great deal to J.J. AbramsStar Trek reboot films. Bruce Greenwood stepped into Pike’s role, and the key change to his place in the mythos was that Pike mentored both Kirk and Spock in the Kelvin timeline. Unlike Pike’s appearance in “The Cage,” Kelvin-universe Pike had no ambivalence about his future in Starfleet, and Pike went out of his way to give Kirk the chance to follow in the footsteps of his late father, George Kirk.

Pike’s faith in Kirk was rewarded when the young crew of the Enterprise emerged victorious over Nero. In the sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, Pike salvaged Kirk’s Starfleet career by keeping him on as his first officer. Even after Kirk nearly squandered his future, Pike stood by him. That solidified Pike’s fatherly bond with Kirk before he was tragically killed in a terrorist attack. In this timeline, Pike didn’t get to enjoy a happy retirement on Talos IV.

In the main timeline, though, Pike’s story might not be done, as Star Trek: Discovery revisited Pike and his Enterprise crew during its second season on CBS All Access. Anson Mount stepped into Pike’s role for the series, shortly after starring in Marvel TV’s ill-fated Inhumans adaptation. Rather than relegate Pike to a mere guest slot, the series temporarily elevated him to Captain of the Discovery while the Enterprise was being repaired. It also further developed Pike’s character.

After Mirror Gabriel Lorca’s (Jason Isaacs) attempt to groom and manipulate her, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) was understandably weary of Pike. But he soon won Burnham’s trust by demonstrating that he was a true believer in Starfleet’s ideals. Pike also placed his trust in Burnham as they searched for her missing foster brother, Spock. This series once again firmly established Pike’s status as a mentor within the franchise. If Burnham goes on to become Discovery’s new captain in the upcoming third season, then her experiences with Pike will likely shape her command as well.

Since the events of Discovery Season 2 take place after Pike’s first trip to Talos IV in “The Cage,” the creative team was able to foreshadow Pike’s fate in “The Menagerie.” In the penultimate episode of Season 2, “Through the Valley of Shadows,” Pike came face-to-face with his disfigured future self while attempting to obtain a Time Crystal. Pike was suitably horrified in one of the most genuinely creepy scenes in Trek history. But Pike also received a vision that showed him he was injured while saving lives.

Tenavik, the Klingon responsible for guarding the Time Crystals, warned Pike that taking the crystal meant that he couldn’t change his dark future. Regardless, Pike didn’t shirk his responsibilities. Pike even made an impassioned speech about facing his fate even if he didn’t like the way it will end. In short, Pike walks the walk like few others in this franchise. Tenavik was suitably impressed and humbled by Pike’s bravery. That moment also demonstrated why Pike deserves his own series.

In large part due to the strong response to Mount’s Pike, Ethan Peck’s Spock, and Rebecca Romijn’s Number One, that trio will reunite for the Strange New Worlds series. Their upcoming adventures won’t have the same flavor that Roddenberry envisioned decades earlier. But the complexities of Pike’s character, as well as those of his crew, will make it a journey worth taking when the new series finally materializes.