Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Will Put Captain Pike Back in the Saddle, Literally
The newest teaser art for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds suggests that perhaps Star Trek is about horses.
Captain Pike is riding a horse. Why is he riding a horse? In a newly released promotional image for the upcoming series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, we see a cowboy in the saddle, looking out at the USS Enterprise as though he’s fixing to put a bumper sticker on it that says “my other starship is a horse.” If you’re only kind of into Trek, this may scan as weird. But, putting Captain Pike on a horse, is specifically, very classic. Here’s why this seemingly brazen image is actually layered with several Easter eggs. Giddyup!
“Wagon Train to the Stars”
As many documentaries and Treksperts will tell you, Gene Roddenberry originally pitched The Original Series as “Wagon Train to the Stars,” a reference to a western TV series called Wagon Train. This anecdote is complicated slightly by the fact that Roddenberry stole that pitch from someone else (Samuel Peeples) and not everyone in the Star Trek production team (Herb Solow) liked the pitch. (There’s more to it than that, and — shameless plug — I cover this a lot in my forthcoming non-fiction book Phasers On Stun!, specifically in a chapter called “Space Cowboys.”)
ANYWAY. Here’s the TLDR: Star Trek: The Original Series was heavily influenced by TV westerns, and Gene Roddenberry himself wrote for many westerns, most notably the show Have Gun, Will Travel, which is about a badass named Paladin who is like The Mandalorian but not in space. Yes, apologies to all of you Favreau stans, but Star Trek was doing westerns in space way before Star Wars. Even the phrase “Final Frontier,” was an allusion to the “frontier” of westerns. So, this is why this new promo has the phrase “the frontier is waiting.”
Pike has always loved horses
The other thing about this image is that it intentionally honors the character and background of Captain Pike from The Original Series, specifically the idea that Pike, like Kirk, Picard, and Archer, loves horses! As Mariner said in Lower Decks Season 2, “Yee-ha! A Starfleet classic!”
But why? Well, before Pike was rebooted as Bruce Greenwood in 2009, and more recently as Anson Mount in Discovery and now Strange New Worlds, he was played by Jeffrey Hunter in the first TOS pilot, “The Cage,” later retconned as a flashback in the classic episode “The Menagerie.” And, in all versions of the Jeffrey Hunter performance, we learn that Pike had at least two horses when he lived in Mojave; Tango, and Mary Lou. Important: Tango liked sugar cubes.
Fun fact, like William Shatner, Anson Mount loves horses in real life. After his epic work as Cullen in the western Hell on Wheels, it sort of made sense that Mount would play Pike, another dude who knows how to ride horses. When I interviewed Mount back in 2019, right before Discovery Season 2 aired, I asked him if his Pike would ride horses like the original Pike. His response at the time was, “I wish!” and added that although he loved acting on the Enterprise bridge, he always preferred to “act outside” whenever possible.
Assuming that the image of Pike on the horse isn’t just a metaphor, it looks like Strange New Worlds will grant Anson Mount his wish. There he is, outside and on a horse!
The Talos IV angle
Okay, so in addition to the thematic Easter eggs, and the endless debate that is certainly raging somewhere about which canonical Star Trek horse Pike is riding (Mary Lou or Tango????!) there is one other interesting wrinkle here. In Discovery Season 2, we learned that Pike is aware of his future accident which will result in his mind being cut off from his body. This endgame, which occurs in “The Menagerie,” resolves itself when Pike goes to live with the Talosians and exists in a world of telepathic dreams.
This leads us to the strange realization that although Star Trek loves horses, we rarely see REAL horses within the context of the stories. In “The Cage,” Pike’s horses were telepathic recreations of horses, but not really there. Ditto the dream-horses Kirk and Picard ride in the Nexus in Star Trek Generations, not to mention the holographic horse Picard rides in “Pen Pals,” or any of the holographic horses people ride in “A Fistful of Datas.” Basically, other than the horses in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (“hold your horse, Captain!”) and Archer’s horse in “North Star,” literal horses are weirdly rare in Trek, even though there are horses all over the place.
This is a long-winded way of saying that the image of Pike on a horse might represent his future on Talos IV with Vina. If Pike isn’t riding a real horse, then that means he’s riding a telepathic, simulacrum dream horse. And there isn’t anything more classic Star Trek than that.
Strange New Worlds hits Paramount+ on May 5, 2022.