Captain Pike's Complicated Future Explained

Even with his origins tied inextricably with that of "Star Trek" itself, it'd be fair to say that Christopher Pike has always existed on the periphery of various movies and shows in the franchise, doomed to never truly receive extended time in the spotlight all to himself ... until now, that is. As the somewhat surprising recipient of his own spin-off series, the character of Captain Pike has navigated an historically rocky and even quite dark road on the way to serving as the lead of "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds." More obvious fan-favorite characters like James T. Kirk and the rest of the original crew first burst onto the scene with the official "Star Trek: The Original Series" pilot in 1966. Pike's beginnings as Kirk's predecessor on the USS Enterprise, on the other hand, were far more complicated — though no less intriguing.

Those coming to "Strange New Worlds" with little to no knowledge of previous "Trek" would only seemingly need to know that this updated version of the character, portrayed by actor Anson Mount, first appeared alongside Ethan Peck's Spock and Rebecca Romijn's Una (also known as Number One) in season 2 of "Star Trek: Discovery." Almost immediately, the easy chemistry between the "new" trio of returning characters led to fans calling for them to lead their own standalone series altogether. This absolute no-brainer of a move has finally come to fruition with the debut of the new spin-off series. But as early as the premiere of "Strange New Worlds," the creative team behind the show has loudly announced their intentions to delve into and further refine Pike's potent, dramatically rich backstory moving forward.

From his initial appearance in a rejected pilot to his tragic fate depicted in a later "The Original Series" episode to some nifty retconning in "Discovery" that appears likely to define his arc on "Strange New Worlds," consider this your go-to explainer for everything you could possibly need to know to untangle the history — and future! — of Captain Christopher Pike.

The Original Series introduces Captain Pike

Once upon a time, "Star Trek" could've kicked off with the stirring adventures of the pointy-eared Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and his trusted superior officer — not William Shatner's Captain Kirk, but Jeffrey Hunter's Captain Pike. And far from the emotionally-repressed Vulcan first officer that we'd grow to know and love, this version of Spock was conceived to be far more extroverted and humanlike — a conscious choice on Nimoy's part, mostly to make up for Hunter's quiet and reserved Pike. Those are just a few of the many notable differences between the actual series and the original pilot episode for "Star Trek," filmed in 1965 and titled "The Cage."

The basic plot of "The Cage" follows Pike, Spock, and Number One (portrayed by Majel Barrett) as they respond to a radio distress call from the planet of Talos IV. Here, Pike meets the beguiling Vina (Susan Oliver), a survivor of a wrecked science expedition missing for almost two decades (and a character who would recur once more on "Star Trek: Discovery"). This turns out to be a trap set by the native Talosians, a creepy-looking species of telepaths with the ability to create powerful illusions and who seek to repopulate their dying planet through Pike and Vina. When they manage to escape, however, Vina elects to stay behind — her crash having left her horribly disfigured and reliant on the Talosian illusions to maintain her sense of self.

The pilot wasn't picked up, but it did lead to another pilot, this one starring a new captain: William Shatner's James T. Kirk. This one, as you know, did lead to a series. 

A two-part episode in the first season of the actual "Star Trek" series, "The Menagerie," cleverly recycles much of the first pilot's scrapped footage and rescues "The Cage" from becoming a footnote in the annals of "Trek" history. Taking place over a decade after the events of "The Cage," Spock serves Captain Kirk on the Enterprise and Pike now uses a wheelchair after a horrific accident. This proves to be the impetus for Spock's uncharacteristically reckless actions, commandeering the Enterprise to return to Talos IV. A court martial tribunal gives viewers an excuse to watch clips lifted directly from "The Cage," though this time their return to the Talosian planet offers a sense of closure for both Pike and Vina. The two ravaged individuals are allowed to live out their days together in illusionary bliss, appearing to one another as they once did in a bittersweet ending for both.

Christopher Pike confronts his fate in Star Trek: Discovery

For decades, that was the last we ever saw of Captain Pike. After a brief alternate universe detour in the J.J. Abrams movies (in which Pike was portrayed by Bruce Greenwood and ended up with a vastly different fate), actor Anson Mount stepped into the role for "Star Trek: Discovery," which is set before "The Original Series," but after the events of "The Cage."

Throughout its early ups and downs, "Discovery" managed to slot in to a specific era of "Trek" and add some unexpected bits of context to original characters. Sonequa Martin-Green's Michael Burnham is revealed to be the adopted sister of Spock himself, which eventually leads to the appearance of Spock (along with Pike and Number One) in the second season. The overarching storyline of the season, involving time travel and end-of-the-universe stakes, backs Pike into a quintessential "Trek" moral quandary in the episode titled "Through the Valley of Shadows."

A trip to a Klingon monastery on the planet Boreth provides Pike with the unpredictable time crystals that Burnham and the crew of Discovery so badly need ... but it comes at a terrible cost for Pike himself. Guided by a sober Klingon monk who explains (if somewhat vaguely) that contact with the crystals will confront Pike with future events that he may not want to know about, Pike nonetheless forges ahead and experiences visions of the horrific accident still to come that will relegate him unable to speak and confined to a claustrophobic pod that keeps him alive. In the face of this, he must decide whether to complete his mission and accept his seemingly predestined fate, or walk away from his duty and still maintain the hope of a different outcome. Pike, selfless and honorable as always, makes the impossibly tough choice that saddles him with the crushing knowledge of what lies in store for him years down the line.

As a supporting character with only tangential connections to the main storyline, Pike's presence in "Discovery" understandably means that it doesn't have the time or space to properly explore how such an existential revelation would truly affect him. Luckily, the fan-driven campaign to greenlight what would eventually become "Strange New Worlds" offered the perfect opportunity for the writing team to sink their teeth into this thought-provoking conflict.

Captain Pike's burden in Strange New Worlds

In a refreshing departure from debut seasons of several "Star Trek" shows in years past, the premiere of "Strange New Worlds" doesn't waste any time beating around the bush. We're reintroduced to Anson Mount's Christopher Pike in the immediate aftermath of the events of "Discovery," which sees his beloved Enterprise relegated to space dock orbiting Earth and the Captain himself cut off from the world, holed up in his cabin in Montana. Sporting a scraggly beard (well, as much as the rugged Anson Mount could possibly be described as "scraggly," that is) and a profound sense of ennui over the inescapable destiny that he's now aware of all too vividly, only the unknown fate of his former Number One in a moment of crisis can snap him out of his woes and press him back into action.

Anchored by Mount's moving performance of a listless man bottling up his overwhelming burden until it poisons him from the inside out, "Strange New Worlds" sees Pike reliving his own "death" (in a manner of speaking, if not necessarily in a literal sense) over and over again, whether in twisted reflections or with burning fire pointedly framed in the foreground of multiple scenes. The dangling threads of fate are always hanging just over his head, it seems, even to the point of distracting him from everyday operations. Gazing at the Enterprise in space dock, Pike interprets his shuttle pilot's awed remark of, "All scrubbed up and as good as new" as a wistful statement on his own state of mind. Later, when enacting a ship-wide message to the crew explaining their mission, his unusually forceful statement that "Nobody dies; this mission will not be anybody's last day" motivates Spock to speak to him alone and discern his turbulent emotions surrounding Pike's own mortality. Even the tragic backstory surrounding crew member and temporary Number One replacement, La'an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong), plays a crucial role in helping Pike make peace with his own situation, still several years ahead of him.

Throughout the premiere, the knowledge of impending death poses a unique chance — as much as to the warring species of aliens the Enterprise encounters as to Pike — to either wallow in fatalism or determine their own future. Captain Pike makes the right choice, but still has a long journey ahead in "Strange New Worlds."