Hardcore Star Trek fans know what happens to Captain Christopher Pike in the original series. In the 1966 episode “The Menagerie,” we learn that Pike is confined to a wheelchair and only able to communicate via one flashing light. That ultimate fate begs the question why, exactly, he's now being featured in Star Trek: Discovery, which is set 10 years before the events of that 1966 episode. So, if we know what happens to Pike in the end, does that make everything that happens in Discovery the prelude to a tragedy? Actor Anson Mount, the fourth actor to play Captain Pike, says no.
**SPOILER WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, Episode 1, "Brother."**
In the opening moments of the new Season 2 premiere, Captain Pike takes command of the USS Discovery after the starship Enterprise goes offline for mysterious reasons. Mount’s Pike tells Saru that “the best way to get into a cold stream is to jump right in.” As a longtime Star Trek fan, Mount was totally prepared to jump into this particular space stream.
“I was introduced to Star Trek by my mother,” Mount tells SYFY WIRE. "I was around 7 or 8 when the original Star Trek started running in syndication and my mother said, ‘Oh, you have to watch this.’ I don’t think I understood what science fiction was at that age. And it just grabbed me. I must have seen every episode of the original series at least three times each.”
Because he’s a longtime Trek fan, it’s easy to picture Mount going back and poring over the performances of earlier Pike actors Jeffrey Hunter, Sean Kenney, and Bruce Greenwood to prepare for the role. And yet Mount defies expectations. He actually didn’t want to emulate what had come before, because he wanted his Pike to feel fresh for one specific reason — because this was a younger, fresher version of Pike.
"I’m a big believer in stealing as an actor, but I don’t see the benefit of being that on-the-nose," he says. "If I was going to play Hamlet, I wouldn’t watch Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet in order to do it like him, I’d want to do my Hamlet. I kind of wanted to feel it out the way I would have if it was a character who was still being established.”
Still, because Mount is a longtime and experienced TV actor — he was on Hell on Wheels and Inhumans before landing the Trek gig — he thinks it’s important for audiences to remember the purpose of television and science fiction in particular. In the new episode, Pike says, “Sometimes it’s wise to keep our expectations low.” But in real life, Mount thinks the way to approach TV is to remember it's all a metaphor.
“The point of a television show like this is not to be documentary. The point of a television show is to exist on a metaphorical platform which we as a society can have a particular conversation [about],” he says. “And science fiction so completely removes us. Before this point, the clearest path to escapism was to look toward the past. Because we had horses, we had ranches, we had land. We could make westerns happen. Now we have CGI, which lets sci-fi be pure escapism. The platform is less polluted by the things we think we know.”
Pike is paradoxically a character Star Trek fans know a lot about, and yet he hasn’t been fleshed out all that much. We know he’s brave. We know he was the captain of the Enterprise before Kirk, and we know that in “The Cage” he was really thinking about quitting his job as a starship captain. It's likely he was a little depressed and looking for a way out, and in the new episode there’s even a tense moment in an asteroid field where Pike tells Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) to leave him to die. Burnham heroically saves Pike, of course, inverting an old adventure trope and allowing the captain to briefly be the damsel in distress. Still, what was going on in Pike’s mind at this moment? Is he still carrying around his sad-sack baggage from the very first Star Trek ever?
“No,” Mount says. “I think more immediately what’s going on in that moment is he realizes he shouldn’t even be in that situation as a captain,” Mount explains. “It’s an insecurity issue, that is stemming from the fact that he and his crew and the Enterprise were held out of the Klingon War. And they lost a lot of their fellow Starfleet officers in that war. And so there’s something in him that’s trying to make up for it.”
Of course, Mount can’t reveal where all of this is leading exactly, or how far Pike will go to make up for his guilt. Still, he hints that all of his decisions as an actor are connected to a twist on what Trek fans think they know about Pike.
“We had first-act Pike established in 'The Cage.' And we had third-act Pike established in 'The Menagerie.' My job was to make the second-act Pike,” Mount explains, confidently. “Those are very different Pikes. If there was anything that I was trying to keep in mind in leading up to the third-act Pike, it was how do we make Pike — with that inevitability of what we know — how do we make that endpoint a victory and not a tragedy.”
Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 airs new episodes on Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on CBS All Access.