More court drama aboard the Enterprise!
This two-part episode features Spock willfully committing mutiny by hijacking the Enterprise in order to transport the now-crippled Captain Pike to the planet Talos IV. Pike was the previous captain of the Enterprise whom Spock served under. Seeing him act with some mysterious form of allegiance to his former Captain really holds together the "bookend" sections of these episodes.
You see, this episode regurgitates footage from the original, unused pilot episode for Star Trek in which Pike was the lead. They've wrapped a new story around the episode. One which, to my mind, feels too obviously reverse engineered for the purposes of using the old footage. No matter how interesting Spock's dedication is, it can't make up for the inherent shortcomings of the pilot. Especially when the two seem so completely disparate.
Since I consider these stories paired but entirely separate, lets then talk about that pilot, The Cage. The story deals with the crews encounter with a highly advanced species. The concept itself is pure science fiction, evoking the best of Forbidden Planet and the like. Unfortunately, it did little to advance character. These alien beings allow us to journey into Pike's psyche. However, learning facts about a character is not the same as developing one. It will satisfy fans of strict sci-fi more than anyone else.
The content of the pilot itself, however, is nothing to be sniffed at. The concepts dealt with (perception, reality, choice) are ambitious for their time. They are rife with storytelling potential. Unfortunately, they were dealt with in a way that feels a little inaccessible. This lead to many criticisms, specifically from the studio that felt it was too "cerebral." I can reconcile this overly simplified criticism with my own discontent with the episode's execution.
Thankfully, the bookend segments with Spock and his trial, on their own, are quite well done. They use the events of the pilot as a catalyst for drama. When you navigate away from that to show the catalyst in intimate detail, it becomes tiresome and feels unnecessary.
"Captain Kirk, Captain Pike has an illusion, and you have reality. May you find your way as pleasant."