A Psychoanalytic/Sociological Analysis of the 'Star Trek' Original Pilot Episode: 'The Cage' by Frank Edgee


In this essay, it my aim to create a synthesis between the fields of Psychoanalytic theory and sociological theory. This might appear an almost impossible venture, and I shall briefly canvass the arg- uments against such a synthesis, however, its synthesis is very much a possibility. For the purposes of this essay, I shall use this resulting theory to analyse the original pilot episode of the popular television series, 'Star Trek'.

This is, indeed, an interesting topic: this pilot episode was only showed in Australia in December of 1991. This first version was rejected by 'the network', and another was commissioned with 'Star Trek' characters more familiar to us today.


Arguments Against the Use of Psychoanalytic Theory in a Sociological Sense

The works on Psychoanalysis derive their fundamental origins in the works of Sigmund Freud. His ideas are explicitly derived through experiential means, specifically, his treatments of mental patients as a clinical psychiatrist.

I can, however, assume this much - that you know that psychoanalysis is a procedure for the medical treatment of neurotic patients ... you cannot be present as an audience at a psychoanalytic treatment. You can only be told about it; and, in the strictest sense of the word, it is only by hearsay that you will get to know psychoanalysis (Freud, 1976, pp39-42).

Indeed, the factor that information gained about a culture can only be realistically gained through interactions specifically with individuals and over a lengthy period of time, seems to make psycho- analytic theory as a sociologically empirical praxis unfortunately limited.

But when we take a neurotic patient into psychoanalytic treatment ... we point out the difficulties of the method to him [sic: or her], its long duration, the efforts and sacrifices it calls for; and, as regards its success, we tell him we cannot promise it with certainty, that it depends upon his own conduct, his understanding, his adaptability and his perseverance (Freud, 1976, p39).

Yet, perhaps the most convincing argument against the use of psychoanalytic theory for 'common sense' is that it refuses, not only to provide the basis for its falsification, but, to recognise our own experience. Freud's reply to these arguments is to explain that he firstly begins upon self-contemplation, and tries to understand the workings of his own mind.

If there is no objective verification of psychoanalysis, and no possibility of demonstrating it, how can one learn psychoanalysis at all, and convince oneself of the truth of its assertions? ... But of course there is a practicable method none the less. One learns psychoanalysis on oneself, by studying one's own personality. ... Nevertheless, there are definite limits to progress by this method. One advances much further if one is analysed oneself by a practised analyst and experiences the effects of analysis on ones own self (Freud, 1976, p44).

This might seem hardly the basis from which to base such an overarching theory on the conscious and unconscious structures of personalities of people. Freud's reply to this conception is that he has had many many experiences of peoples' denial of their subconscious and that this is simply another example: to argue against the method is to deny what is generally true.

Overall, we might say that much of his theory derives almost solely from his works of mental patients. The question we must reasonably ask is 'can we hope to create a theory of the overall culture from Freud's psychoanalytic studies on the conscious and unconscious mind of the neurotic?' Neurotics are judged to require 'treatment' solely due to their perceived deviance from societal normalities. This would seem to place its critical notions, for example, the Oedepus Complex in adults, as being rather a difficult to maintain. This is the greatest barrier to an understanding of individuals within the overall society, yet, perhaps due to its origins within self-analysis, Freud deals with this problem.

Thus, a healthy person, too, is virtually a neurotic; but dreams appear to be the only symptoms which he [sic] is capable of forming. It is true that if one subjects his [sic] waking life to a closer examination one discovers something that contradicts this appearance -- namely that this ostensibly healthy life is interspersed with a great number of trivial and in practise unimportant symptoms. This distinction between nervous health and neurosis is thus reduced to ... whether the subject is left with a sufficient amount of capacity for enjoyment and of efficiency (Freud, 1976, p510).

Perpetuation of Values: A Sociological Intepretation

In some ways, it is one of my principle aims in this essay to incorporate the Psychoanalytic tradition within the sociological. Due to the nature of the text to be analysed, it is most certainly required that this must take upon it the concerns of feminism: The pilot episode of 'Star Trek' is obviously sexist (in its legitimation of assumptions of female inferiority, seen particularly with the Captain's surprise that there is a woman on the Bridge!). Yet, it is clear that Psychoanalysis has been seen by feminists as a theory negative towards gender-issues.

Freud was fiercely denounced in most early writings on sex roles and womens liberation. Indeed the whole psychoanalytic tradition was seen, with some justification, as a (if not THE) bastion of male supremacy in our society: a pseudobiological imperative used by clinicians and welfare agencies alike to impose domesticity and inferiority on women. Its phallocentric notion of penis envy as the pivot of feminine identity offended most feminists (Segal, 1988, p121).

Yet, historically, in the 1970s, feminists found that the rather hopeful concept of a universal female collective, made difficult only due to male subjugation which would have to be fought, was untenable given their own experiences: women in women-only environments (without male influences) have as many differences of opinion and arguments as men in men-only environments without the influence of women.

[feminist theory] should only be at odds with the idea of there being some single type of conflict-free female essence, which all women share, but which patriarchy has denied, crushed or distorted, the idea which prevails in radical and revolutionary feminist accounts of the essentially autonomous, gentle and pure sexuality of women when uncorrupted by heterosexual imperatives (Segal, 1988, pp128-129).

Thus, feminists have turned to Freudian psychoanalysis to seek solutions to this problem; however, they have not chosen 'pure' Freud, instead, they have turned more toward Lacan's reinterpretation of Freud's psychoanalytic theory. What has emerged is something very much akin to Hodge & Kress's (1988) studies in social semiotics. The relevant key features of this framework I shall now discuss:

Ideological Complexes, Oedepus and Symbolic Power

Human individuals are the sums of individual experiences. And so, it cannot be maintained that we are all similarly socially constructed by 'social realities'. Whilst such social structures might exist, it is our individual interpretations (which are necessarily dependant upon our personalities) which contribute to our social knowledge.

The overall impact of the Lacanian reworking of orthodox Freudianism on feminism, however, remains problematic and contentious. Clearly, it is important to assert and to study the complexity of a [psychological] reality which is not reducible to any immediate social reality (Segal, 1988, p129).

Our structures of thought and knowledge are determined through a process of implicit and explicit decision-making; it is through a dialectical consciousness. First conceptualised in detail by Hegel, as process of 'thesis', 'antithesis' and 'synthesis', this reflects ordinary thought to a greater degree than formal logic.

the dialectic gives expression to a law which is felt in all other grades of consciousness, and in general experience. Everything around us may be viewed as an instance of dialectic. We are aware that everything being finite, instead of being stable and ultimate, is rather changeable and transient (Hegel, 1989, para81).

However, whereas Hegel would have posited that syntheses made as a result of the dialectic are a direct result of 'pure reason' which makes an intelligent decision as to what to keep and what to discard within our ideas, the feminist freudian would argue that our decisions are made partially due to reason, but, with just as much influence, is the individual personality of the individual. This personality depends on the development of the psyche which emerges from the enclosed interweaving web of systems (sexuality and gender, affection, power, et al) that are an inevitable part of the nuclear family.

However, it is this very factor which makes the Oedepus Complex active in certain situations: when an individual is brought up in, for example, a single-parent family where one or other parent is not an element of an individual's development experience, Oedepus is clearly not an issue. It is now the time to explicitly describe this theory on the Oedepus Complex.

A baby (of either sex) gains most of its initial nurturing, and sensual contact, through breastfeeding: when the baby is finally weaned from the breast, it is deprived of this sensuality and nurturing. The baby, understandably, feels frustration at this depr- ivation. However, due to its dependance upon the activities of both mother and father, it represses these feelings (they have no other outlet than crying, and it is eventually realised that this is to no avail). As the baby grows, this child begins to understand that much of this time and sensuality is being bestowed upon the child's father. It is then, according to Freudian theory, that the male child will fear punishment from the father for his sexual feelings for his mother, manifested says Freud in a fear of castration. This causes the eventual repression of these feelings. The female child, however, will repress her feelings of sexuality toward her mother only when she realises the physical relations of the sexual act: for her to have a sexual and sensual relationship with her mother she must have a penis. This is the core of Freud's notion of 'penis envy'. The female child will then attempt to find an alternative, and will become more passive in an attempt to gain love and sensuality from the father, and a desire for a baby which only the father may provide. All in all, what this serves to suggest is that there is no such thing as a biological determinant of personality difference: it is only through individual experiences, and indeed, relations of sensuality, power and dominance that the core matters of our ideology (structures of thought and knowledge) are formed.

The centrality of importance of the Oedepal drama in orthodox psychoanalytic theory is Freud's belief that men and women are neither simply 'masculine' or 'feminine', but that they acquire their adult social identity only through the resolution of childhood incestuous attachments to their parents. Only at this stage, and not before, do boys and girls acquire a sexual identity, and with it a differing relationship to their own sexuality (Segal, 1988, p124).

Yet, the truth of this is often repressed by our unconsciousness. Thus, whilst it may still greatly affect the dialectical consciousness, the fact that it does indeed affect the dialectical consciousness may be

However, a cursory note must be attached to this overly-assuming Oedepus theory: children generally don't actually understand the true nature of sex organs at least until puberty (if they did, we wouldn't need 'sex education' courses to help children understand). When a child sees sex organs of a different sex than him/herself, the child merely thinks of difference, not of function. And so, I will posit that the child, when confronting the problematic Oedepus situation sees the displacement of attachments, not as sexual, but, as affection and nurturement, and that there are strange rules (imposed by 'social reality' -- a mysterious thing to the child) which leave physical affection untenable except in forms limited and delineated by their physical gendeer: the penis is only symboli of this relation.

Deconstructing 'The Cage': Theory in Practise

In examining 'The Mind Cage' we find that, when examined by this sort of analysis, the results seem quite concrete and complete. In a storyline, or other genres of recorded texts, we might expect this sort of concreteness of idea; however, when examining an ideology, or an externalised form of statement of unconscious ideas, we expect to see contradictions. This, in itself, may suggest that the writer of this episode (Gene Roddenberry) anticipated such a Freudian analysis and planned for it to be analysable as such. This would be nothing new -- many episodes of 'Star Trek' eventually used all sorts of theoretical frameworks and speculative concepts to plan their episodes. This may, indeed, falsify our attempts at psychoanalysis in that the episode does not necessarily contain notions which are identifiable in people ouside the range of Freudian theory.

However, this analysis is still valuable in that, as the genre of 'science fiction television series', it does not make this Freudian influence explicit: indeed, it is barely recognisable as such without studied knowledge of the psychoanalytic view.

Item One: USS Enterprise As Mother's Womb

In the opening scene, the Enterprise comes into view. At the top of the ship, we are led inside through a superimposed area through which the Bridge, and the people inside, are visible. Once inside, we begin to watch the plot unfold from within. In this, I shall posit that this superimposed area is representive of a female vagina: and not just anyones!

Inside this Enterprise/womb, the people are comfortable and it is 'home', it is a mother/Enterprise/womb. During the 'timewarp' to get people restored to their proper health (after their last encounter), we notice that the scene on the Bridge fades in and out of the scene of the starscape. We might suggest that this is similar to the pulse of the over-stressed mother at the height of her pregnancy: the mother/Enterprise/womb is going to the doctor!

Item Two: Birth, Alien (M)Others and Insemination

If we are to suggest that the Enterprise is a mother/womb, the strange relationship which the 'beam-down party' represents is intriguing: for at once, they have left the mother/womb, and are born: yet instead of receiving love and attention, they are to give this attention to the remnants of the crash survivors.

And yet, we are aware that there is only one female among them: she has remained celebate 'among a group of old scientists'. There are six among the 'beam-down party', yet the female is seemingly attentive to only the Captain. Just as surely as if it were a relation of sperm, the female/ovum only allows the Captain (who is the successful spermatazoa) to engage her attentions. Entering the alien base's lift, which might be compared with the vaginal tube leading to the womb. Yet, the Captain was brought unwillingly into this other- womb/alien-base.

Item Three: Symbols of Power - Aliens vs Captain

The relative sizes of skulls, as compared between the captain and the aliens, here becomes a symbol of power. As if two men were comparing the size of their penises and saying 'mine is bigger than yours', the first meeting between the Captain and the aliens is one of comparison of 'intellect'. Yet, the Captain doesn't measure up, and is proved predictable and ,thus, loses face. A power relation has been set. However, an interesting element within this is that the Captain finds, strangely enough, that a way to 'prove dominance' is by the showing and exercising of anger and violence! This is rather frightening from a feminist perspective (indeed, from any perspective which values justice): it quite clearly legitimates, for all to see, violence as a response to personal insecurity. Yet, it is very much in line with the showing of frustration at the deprivation of the child's mother.

Item Four: Rigel 7 and the Reinactment of Oedeupus

When the Captain's recent experiences on Rigel 7 are used to construct a 'reality' for him, we are witness to an intriguing drama: the Captain is to rescue (what he takes to be) one phantasm of his imagination/memory from another. This takes the form of rescuing the female used to lure him into the other-womb/alien-base from one of Rigel 7's supposed inhabitants: yet, look again -- for, at this stage, aren't these two supposed phantasms of one and the same 'family'? The Captain 'kills' the giant/father, thus taking the femal/mother for himself. She then offers herself to him. When asked why she wears the clothing of the aliens, her wistful reply is an offering "Well, I have to wear some clothes -- don't I?"

Item Five: The Creation of Life and the Final Rejection of the Alien M(O)ther

Just as the alien base is used to signify an other womb/vagina, so the analogy is continued with the aliens' stated plans for the Captain: Just as the Captain/successful-sperm has been selected by the female/ova, so it is the intention of the alien-base/womb to create a human society from this 'adam' and 'eve'. However, the Captain/ successful-sperm/adam's resistance to captivity eventually results in a search of the Enterprise/womb's knowledge of human kind (racist against Vulcans?) which reveals humanity's supposed preferal of death to captivity. To this end, the Captain/sperm/adam is finally rejected (although the Captain may console himself with the knowledge that there are two other females/ova from his own starship/womb.


The technique of psychoanalysis depends much upon the analogies which the mind creates to 'hide' its repressions of its psyche. In my analysis of 'The Mind Cage', I have attempted to flush out some of these intriguing analogies. An overall freudian storyline was promised before I began this deluge of 'items'.

Is this not the story of the birth, the encounter with the not- mother female, and sensual rejection of this female and the return to the Enterprise/mother/womb? Is it also not only the fantasy of the Oedepus, of killing the father for the posession of the mother? Is it not also the Captain which the male viewer will wish to identify with, and doesn't he 'show' the 'effective' way to deal with insecurity? The whole of this 'Star Trek' episode plays upon, not our reasoning mind, but upon our psyche to fulfil unconscious wishes.

Elizabeth Cowie points out that fantasy does not depict objects as they are desired in reality (they could well be anathema in reality) but rather it provides the stage or backdrop to allow for the possibilities of playing out different forms of infantile desire (Segal, 1988, p129).

In this, it partially seeks legitimation (but only as a work or genre of fiction) of a point of view which encompasses a 'view of reality'. What is most striking today about this episode, made in 1965, is how incredibly sexist it is! It legitimates the male 'revenge' complex against women; revenge for the emotional closeness which little girls can receive from their mothers which little boys are socialised to aviod.

Bibiography And Other Useful Information

  • Sigmund Freud, 1976., INTRODUCTORY LECTURES ON PSYCHOANALYSIS, Penguin Books, London, England.
  • G.W.F. Hegel, THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF LOGIC, quoted in D. Held, 1989.,
  • POLITICAL THEORY AND THE MODERN STATE, Polity Press, Cambridge, England.
  • Robert Hodge & Gunther Kress, 1988., SOCIAL SEMIOTICS, Polity Press, Cambridge, England.
  • Zoe Sofoulis, 1983., "Alien Pre-Oedepus: Penis-Breast, Canibaleyes", Qualifying Essay, Universtity of California, Santa Cruz.