Christopher Pike: The Tragic Captain
In 1965, Gene Rodenberry produced the pilot for Star Trek, a series which chronicled the voyages of the starship Enterprise on a five year mission under the command of….Captain Christopher Pike. Did you think I was gonna say the Kirk guy? In the initial pitch for Star Trek, Jeffery Hunter famous for his roles in The Searchers, A Kiss Before Dying and King of Kings played the lead. By his side was Leonard Nimoy in his now iconic role of science officer Spock and Majel Rodenberry as his second-in-command Number One. Hunter left the project when the pilot “The Cage” was initially rejected for being “too intelligent” paving the way for William Shatner to takeover as James T. Kirk and the rest is history. Though he is a footnote to Star Trek history as a whole, he does have a growing fanbase thanks to his role in the Kelvin timeline of the movies and now as the main character of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. But what the fanbase also knows about Christopher Pike is the tragic destiny that awaits him.
In his sole episode in the famed captain’s chair Pike is burned out and dealing with a melancholy which comes with losing a number of the people under his command. In a particularly memorable scene he spills his soul to the ship’s doctor over martinis where he is actually contemplating resignation. We see in these moments the heart of a leader who puts people first. While Kirk and Picard lose some red shirts battling the Klingons they ultimately see it as an inevitable sacrifice, this Enterprise captain seems to understand the importance of life and protecting those under him. When he responds to a distress signal on Talos IV, he finds himself at the mercy of the Talosians who use their ability to warp reality to convince the captain to repopulate their world with Vina the human woman on this planet. By episode’s end the experiences he had has renewed sense of self-worth and returns to the Enterprise. In a moment that would come back into play later on in his life, the Talosians present Vina an illusion of Christopher Pike.
While “the Cage” was scrapped away for years, Christopher Pike would make an appearance on the famous Star Trek two-parter “the Menagerie” It is in this episode we see the tragic fate that ultimately awaits the former starship captain turned fleet captain. In rescuing a group of cadets during an engineering malfunction he is exposed to a blast of delta radiation. This leaves Christopher Pike horrifically burned and bound to a chair with a blinking light as his only means of communication. Seeing his former friend in this state hits the traditionally reserved and logical Spock to act on his traditionally controlled emotions. He sees the only course of action to save Christopher Pike is to return him to Talos IV and sets a plan into action. The Vulcan first officer seizes control of the Enterprise ultimately leading to a court martial trial. As his defense Spock showcased footage taken from “the Cage” introducing viewers to Christopher Pike for the first time. However at the end Pike is returned to Talos IV where the Talosians use their abilities to restore him physically so he can be with Vina.
In the modern era of Star Trek the story of Christopher Pike has been expanded on. He played a large role in the Kelvin timeline of the films played by Bruce Greenwood as a mentor to a young James T. Kirk. On television Anson Mount took on the role to great acclaim in the prequels to the original series.. It begins in the second season of Star Trek Discovery where he along with Spock and Number One temporarily end up on the Discovery as a mysterious series of “red bursts” manifest across the galaxy. During this time he is forced to confront his fate. Not only does he have to contend once again with Vina who realized the Pike she ended up with was simply an illusion. Perhaps the moment that had the most impact on him came during the episode “Through the Valley of Shadows” where in a Klingon monastery, a time crystal shows him his fate as we saw in “the Menagerie”. This presented him with a choice, he could leave the crystal behind and this would simply be a possible future or take it to complete his mission. In taking the crystal in order to save the galaxy his fate was cemented.
To say fans met his time on Discovery with enthusiasm is an understatement. Anson Mount’s portrayal of Christopher Pike proved so popular that his own series was greenlit Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Set seven years before the original series Pike leads a crew full of familiar faces and new characters to boldly go where no man has gone before. All the while he knows exactly what the future holds for him and rather than sulking he embraces what time he has left. He has a certain excitement over exploring the universe. Along the way he takes the time to truly bond with every member of his crew, cementing himself as the kind of leader who would not ask anyone to do something he himself would not.
In discussing his approach to portraying Christopher Pike, Anson Mount gave producers an incredible insight into the character and his fit among the captains of the Enterprise. According to him, Kirk had the bravado and machismo; Picard had the intellect, but Christopher Pike has the heart. Sure enough he has a greater sense of empathy than any others we have seen in the captain’s chair. By all accounts he is a good man through and through the kind of leader everyone happily follows no matter where he takes them. This makes his fate all the more tragic as it is his sense of selflessness that would seal his ultimate destiny. All the while during Discovery and Strange New Worlds we as fans along with the character know what is coming. But ultimately, Star Trek is a franchise built on hope and Christopher Pike’s story does end with a sense of hope. He is returned to Talos IV and where he is restored to his former self and finally reunited with Vina. In a way this brings his character arc full circle as he returns to the planet where his life was changed.