In the very first Star Trek episode ever, the original pilot titled “The Cage,” Captain Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter) fell in love with a human castaway named Vina (Susan Oliver). Thanks to the illusory powers of the big-brained Talosians, Vina took many forms, and one of them was, famously, a green-skinned dancer. Now, five decades after “The Cage,” Vina is back, minus the green skin but still rocking a killer pair of high heels.
The latest episode of Star Trek: Discovery, "If Memory Serves," dropped a huge surprise for old-school Trek fans as Vina casually strolled up on the surface of the planet Talos IV to meet Spock and Michael Burnham. In Discovery, Vina is played by accomplished actress Melissa George, famous for her work on Alias and The Good Wife.
On the eve of Vina’s big comeback, SYFY WIRE spoke with George about her super-secret role, how she approached playing such a beloved character, and why the set of Star Trek: Discovery is “the real thing."
**SPOILER WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, Episode 8, “If Memory Serves.”**
As the start of the new Discovery episode lovingly recaps, “The Cage” originally presented Vina as the sole survivor of the crash of the SS Columbia, a survey ship sent out from Earth a few decades before the USS Enterprise finds its remnants on Talos IV. Because of this crash, Vina is horribly disfigured, though her outward appearance is stunningly beautiful, a permanent telepathic illusion maintained by the Talosians' mind powers.
“My first costume was Vina deconstructed,” George says, referencing the scene in the new episode in which Burnham briefly glimpses Vina’s true appearance. “The makeup team told me we would show her badly damaged and then beautiful again.” Part of Vina’s illusion of beauty is connected to her love for Captain Pike, but in the new episode, George says it’s also suggestive of her own personal confidence. You might think Vina is a damsel in distress; George is quick to point out that nothing could be further from the truth.
“When you first see Vina with that perfect blonde hair and that perfect blue eyeshadow, you think, ‘Oh, she’s a bit off with the fairies.’ But she’s actually got such gravitas and is in fact very strong and grounded,” George explains. “So I decided I was going to embrace being a woman, with all her beauty and the hair, and those high heels, and being comfortable in my own skin. And that’s how I am in my own life, too. I think that women often get perceived in a certain way. If you’re ‘too pretty,’ you’re perceived as maybe not being smart enough. So, no, she’s not a victim. She’s everything, this woman. She’s clearly a woman in love, too. So [I] decided to be comfortable and strong with it."
Vina’s love for Captain Pike is central not only to the new episode's storyline but also to the fate of both her and Pike in the future. Back at the start of the new season, Pike actor Anson Mount told SYFY WIRE that he was out to make Pike’s tragic disfigurement in the original series episode “The Menagerie” into “a victory and not a tragedy.” And now, with Vina’s return to the Star Trek mythos, part of that starts to make sense. When Vina appears to Pike midway through the new episode, begging him to come to Talos and rescue Spock and Burnham, it’s very clear Pike is still in love with her and misses her terribly.
Of course, in “The Menagerie,” after Pike’s brain is totally cut off from his body, he and Vina actually get the happy ending they're longing for in Discovery. At the end of "The Menagerie," the Talosians give Pike and Vina the illusion that both are living perpetually in their youthful, undamaged bodies forever. Basically, the future of Vina and Pike’s relationship in Star Trek canon is exactly like Yorkie and Kelly in the Black Mirror episode “San Junipero,” only with telepathy instead of technology.
In preparing for the role of Vina, George says she watched the original performance by Susan Oliver and reveals that she actually re-recorded some of the classic dialogue from “The Cage" for the new Discovery episode. “They did put some of my voice on top of hers to kind of meld the two together,” she says. “I couldn’t recreate her acting because so much has changed the way we act today. There’s a different kind of inflection. But I wanted to watch it and pay homage to her and the way the character felt.”
Unlike the very public announcements about Ethan Peck, Anson Mount, and Rebecca Romijn returning as iconic Trek characters Spock, Pike, and Number One, respectively, George was unable to tell anyone about her role as Vina in Star Trek: Discovery. Unless, of course, you count French journalists during fashion week. She jokes that she gave “very obvious hints” to bewildered fashion journalists who had no idea what she was talking about, but for the most part had to stay quiet.
“I hated it!” she says, laughing. “But, at the same time, it is a gem of a role. When I had to walk on the shuttlecraft and I saw Spock, I had a little giggle to myself. It was so exciting to play in that world. Everything on these sets is for real. I assumed all the rocks and water for the alien planet would be added in later by special effects. But no! There were 15 trucks bringing in the boulders! And adding the water! To my eyes, this was one of the most glorious sets I’d ever been on. Everything you touched was real.”
At this point in the Trek timeline, Pike and Vina won’t meet for another 10 years, when Spock steals the Enterprise to bring his ailing former Captain back to Talos IV in “The Menagerie.” But thanks to this episode, fans now get another piece of the puzzle: Pike and Vina had been thinking about each other for years and years, and now we have proof.
Because Pike and Vina's storyline is more or less set, Melissa George doesn’t think she will return to Star Trek: Discovery again, but isn’t ruling it out either.
"So far ... this is it,” she says. “Which means nothing! Vina could come back again. But, if not, I think she’s said everything she needs to say."