‘Star Trek’s Captain Pike: From Misogyny to Non-Toxic Masculinity
I’m loving current Star Trek‘s Captain Christopher Pike! Anson Mount brings a layered, nuanced, and compassionate performance to a role that could have been either boring or bombastic as hell in the wrong hands. The role itself has also been written that way.
To appreciate how far Christopher Pike has come, we should look at earlier incarnations where, despite starting his existence on a show that aimed to give us an optimistic view of humanity’s future, he was still forced to adhere to 1960s misogyny and toxic masculinity.
Where plenty of sexism has gone before
Captain Christopher Pike (played by Jeffrey Hunter) first appeared in Star Trek‘s first pilot, “The Cage.” This pilot was rejected by the show’s then-network NBC, remaining unreleased and unaired for years. However, NBC believed in Gene Roddenberry’s concept enough to order a second pilot with lots of changes (like a new Enterprise captain, James T. Kirk), “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”
“Where No Man Has Gone Before” had plenty of misogyny in it. In one scene, a blonde yeoman comes onto the bridge, Captain Kirk gets her name wrong (calling her “Jones” instead of “Smith”—she briefly corrects him), then physically moves her away from his chair to get past her. She then has exactly zero lines for the rest of that looooong scene, only existing as a prop for men to physically move.
Dr. Elizabeth Dehner (Sally Kellerman), the doctor introduced in the pilot, was introduced by a man while all the other male department heads introduced themselves. Lt. Commander Gary Mitchell (Gary Lockwood) immediately hits on her. At work. In front of everyone on the bridge. Upon first meeting her. He then calls her a “walking freezer unit” when she rejects his advances, and no one bats an eye.
So yeah, Star Trek was a product of its time, blah-blah. It’s interesting to note, though, that while Kirk is steeped in the same sexism as everyone else, he doesn’t make sexist remarks in his introductory episode. Sexism isn’t a conscious part of his identity as presented.
TOS Pike can’t handle women on the bridge
And then there’s Captain Christopher Pike—who, when introduced, sloppily navigates having women on the bridge. Check out this clip from “The Cage:”
Not only is he still “getting used to” seeing women on the bridge, he treats his yeoman like a child while not even seeing Number One (Majel Barrett) as a woman, because she’s … smart and competent? He makes a big production of leaving her behind during an away mission, because she’s his most “experienced officer,” so she needs to monitor the planet from the ship.
I know she’s the First Officer, and it’s wise for the First Officer to stay behind if the Captain is leaving the ship … but it just sucks that the first time the show adhered to protocol was with a woman first officer on the heels of dealing with a sexist moment with her boss.
Anyway, the Enterprise responds to a distress call from the survey vessel SS Columbia, which had gone missing 18 months prior.
They go to the source of the call, Talos IV, to look for survivors. However, a woman named Vina (Susan Oliver), is the only one. The others are illusions created by the Talosians to lure the Enterprise to them. They present Vina to Pike as an object of desire. They imprison Pike, because they hope to have them repopulate their planet and create a slave race for them. (Yowza.)
Once the problem of the episode is resolved, the Talosians let Pike go. Pike asks Vina to come with them. That’s when the Talosians reveal that the beautiful Vina is partially an illusion herself. Her youthful beauty fades away, and we see her true appearance as an older woman, disfigured from the accident. The Talosians healed her, but had no record of what humans are supposed to look like, so they did their best.
Vina says that this is why she can’t go with Pike. And … Pike doesn’t put up a fight. It’s more important that she be somewhere where she can be beautiful than that she be with her people again? Like, he doesn’t even bring up the possibility of their medical officers being able to help her, or her family and friends who must miss her.
He just leaves her there. Because God forbid she not be young and pretty. And we’re supposed to understand this as a “compassionate” gesture. Ugh.
Footage from the unaired “Cage” pilot was repurposed in the Star Trek episode “The Menagerie,” where we’re re-introduced to Captain Pike. This time, he’s a fleet captain with whom Spock served before Kirk (in a nod to “The Cage”), and he’s suffered a horrible accident in the process of saving cadets from a plate rupture on a training vessel. The radiation left him paralyzed and reliant on the use of a brainwave-operated wheelchair for mobility and communication.
“The Menagerie” centers around Spock (Leonard Nimoy) who, in a show of loyalty to his former, long-time captain, risks court-martial and imprisonment to get Pike back to Talos IV. Turns out, Pike wants some of that Talosian Instagram filter for himself so that he can live out his few remaining years with use of his body.
While I don’t know how to feel about this presentation of disability (and the desire to “fix it” at the expense of leaving your entire species behind), at least this reason for wanting what the Talosians can do is a genuine quality-of-life issue. Whereas he left Vina on Talos IV years ago, because she was stricken with … not being young and pretty.
I guess not being young and pretty is considered a disability to some people. /sarcasm
Kelvin Universe Pike
Kelvin Universe Pike (Bruce Greenwood), whom we got to know in J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek film, brings more mature, tough-love Dad Energy than previous incarnations.
This Pike served with Kirk’s father on the USS Kelvin, and is disappointed with how young Jim is choosing to honor his father’s memory. He challenges Kirk to join Starfleet and “do better.”
Through Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, Pike is a gruff, but nurturing presence for Kirk; a father figure who guides Kirk toward being his best self.
Greenwood’s Pike is the halfway point between the cold leadership and callous sexism of Jeffrey Hunter’s Pike, and the warm, progressive, non-toxic masculinity of Anson Mount’s.
Present-day Pike (a.k.a., the best Pike)
When Captain Christopher Pike was first introduced in Season Two of Discovery, replacing Jason Isaac’s Captain Lorca in the episode, “Brother,” it was immediately clear that he was a different kind of captain than we’d ever seen, of any race or gender. Check out how he introduces himself as Lorca’s replacement:
He jokes and smiles. He listens to people. He cares about the crew’s emotional well-being.
He allows the crew to read his personal record, which Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman) accidentally puts up on the view screen, showing vulnerability by addressing his childhood asthma and his failing grade in Astrophysics at Starfleet Academy.
He even respects Commander Saru’s (Doug Jones) position in the chain of command and asks his permission to take the captain’s chair before doing it.
In under three minutes, Anson Mount’s Captain Pike earns the crew’s deep respect and became someone I’d follow anywhere. He is a warm, compassionate man who commands respect by giving it.
And what about his treatment of women?
Pike brings that warm, compassionate, respectful energy to everyone with whom he interacts, no matter their gender. This is especially true for his crew.
Even in the scene above, his first in the pilot for Strange New Worlds, we never get a vibe that he feels he’s better than his lover, Captain Batel (Melanie Scrofano). Even though he is keeping his reasons for questioning his return to command a secret, it’s for genuine, timeline-related reasons, not because he “can’t talk about his feelings,” or is trying to “be a man.”
And can we talk about the fact that in the opening scene of Strange New Worlds, we’re introduced to Pike in his home, watching an old sci-fi movie and making pancakes for his hot, captain girlfriend who’s slept in. Let’s talk about the fact that he’s dating a fellow captain, one with higher security clearance than him, and isn’t threatened by that. Let’s talk about the fact that she’s like “See you in four months,” and he’s like, “Cool. Come see me next time you’re in town.”
It’s a casual sexual relationship, but it’s still full of respect, kindness, and genuine care, with zero insecurity.
Christopher Pike is a great example of non-toxic masculinity. He’s a leader, and a male character, fit for a modern viewership that increasingly values things like mental health, diverse gender expressions and sexualities, and intolerance of abuse from employers and superiors.
I can’t wait to get back aboard his Enterprise when Strange New Worlds returns for its second season on June 15.
(featured image: Paramount+)
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