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The opening monologues of both the original Star Trek and The Next Generation mention the idea of exploring “strange new worlds.” But what was the first alien planet the USS Enterprise ever visited? Well, in terms of when Trek stories were written, the very first alien planet was Talos IV, first visited in 1965 pilot episode “The Cage,” and then again in the classic 1966 two-parter, “The Menagerie.” And now, in the newest Star Trek: Discovery episode, “Light and Shadows,” the Trek franchise is going back to Talos IV for the third time, but for Spock, it’s actually only the second time. Here’s why the Talos IV thing is a big deal, and why it’s also ... fascinating.
**SPOILER WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery, Season 2, Episode 7, “Light and Shadows.”**
At the very end of the latest episode, after Michael Burnham has rescued Spock and stolen a shuttlecraft, she determines that the numbers Spock has been repeating are actually coordinates to a planet. After she puts the coordinates into the computer, the ship tells her that this is the location of Talos IV. Startled, Michael asks, “Where are you taking us, Spock?”
At this point in Trek history, it makes sense that Michael wouldn’t know about Talos IV, and that’s because all knowledge of the planet is theoretically totally classified. In terms of the fictional chronology, Pike and the Enterprise visited Talos IV in “The Cage,” which happened in 2254, three years prior to 2257, which is when Discovery is happening right now. By 2267, during the original series, Talos IV will be totally off-limits for any spaceship, because, presumably, the mind-powers of the Talosians who live there are just too damn strong. In “The Cage,” we learn that the Talosians are such strong telepaths that they can actually make people hallucinate all sorts of things. Imagine what Thanos can do with the Mind Stone in Avengers: Infinity War; the Talosians are like that, only like times a hundred. In “The Cage” they convince the crew of the Enterprise that an entire encampment of spaceship crash survivors is on the planet, when, in fact, no one is there at all.
In “The Menagerie” Spock hijacks the Enterprise to take the hopelessly crippled Captain Pike back to Talos IV because he knows the Talosians will likely take care of Pike and allow him to live in a world of illusion where he can imagine that his body functions again. However, all of this stuff is in Discovery’s future. Right now, as far as we know, Talos IV is where Captain Pike’s story eventually ends. According to Anson Mount, Discovery is showing us “Act II Pike,” meaning “The Cage” is Act I and “The Menagerie” is Act III. But the fact that Spock is going to Talos IV in Discovery right now is interesting, because it means something else — outside of “The Cage” and “The Menagerie” — must happen with the Talosians to make Starfleet super-afraid of the planet.
In the original series episode “The Menagerie,” Commodore Mendez tells Captain Kirk that visiting Talos IV is the only way Starfleet will give anyone the death penalty. Weirdly, Mendez cryptically says, “Not even this report explains why.” Prior to Discovery, the assumption most viewers made was simply that the report didn’t include all the crazy mind-control stuff from “The Cage.” But now that Spock is going to Talos IV with Burnham, it seems like Discovery is poised to explain this whole death penalty thing a little bit more. And there’s another wrinkle: In “The Menagerie,” Kirk hangs out with Commodore Mendez for a long-ass time, only to find out Mendez himself is also the result of the Talosians messing with everyone’s mind.
So, if Discovery is bringing back Talos IV, that also means the series is reintroducing aliens — the Talosians — who are capable of making characters believe they are seeing things that aren’t actually there. Potentially, this could end up meaning that a few key details about this season of Discovery have, in fact, been hallucinations. Neither “The Cage” nor “The Menagerie” fully explains the range of the mind-powers of the Talosians. But, if Spock’s brain is getting messed with, and the Talosians are behind it, it’s possible they can send signals from across the galaxy.
Beyond what we saw in the original series, the Talosians have never actually appeared in any version of Star Trek again. This makes Burnham and Spock’s trip to Talos IV a kind of Trek homecoming. But it’s also a moment for revelation. Before now, we knew almost nothing about Talos IV and its history, which, depending on what happens next, could totally change Trek's history and what we know about canon forever.