The introduction of actor Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike to the cast of Star Trek: Discovery was one of the highlights of season two. But what made him standout? Gaynrd breaks down how Pike may be the greatest Starfleet captain in the history of Trek.
Pike’s character has only appeared in a handful of Star Trek stories before Discovery, notably the first pilot of TOS, that was rejected by NBC.
Trekkies everywhere, whether they despise or adore the latest (and most successful) reboot of the Trek franchise, all agree that the latest occupant of the Captain’s chair represents perhaps one of the best iterations in the series half-century legacy. He’s so beloved that there has been an outpouring of support for a possible Captain Pike on the Enterprise spin-off, a series that would finally fulfill the promise of The Original Series un-aired pilot.
To be fair, Ethan Peck’s Spock and Rebecca Romijn’s Number One captivated fans, but none had the screen time that actor Anson Mount’s Pike did on this season.
Why has Captain Pike so captured the hearts of the fandom?
Certainly much of credit goes to Mount’s charismatic and nuanced performance. But the rest lies with how Pike represents a modern example of masculinity and leadership.
Today, there seems to be an endless discourse about what makes a positive leader, or how to showcase a version of masculinity that eschews toxicity. An undercurrent of dissatisfaction with how those in power, regardless which end of the political spectrum they hail from, tend to be working for themselves, rather than those they serve. We have also become much more critical of those who are self-centered, who seek only power, influence, and results at any cost. It’s certainly not uncoincidental Discovery’s first season, which was much more directly influenced by today’s political and social climate, featured a captain who represented this much more authoritarian style.
So both within the show’s world and in our own, Captain Pike is a breath of fresh air. He’s personable, yet maintains an appropriate professional distance. He welcomes discourse and opinion, but knows when to take charge. He knows when to push back against authority, but doesn’t let it become habit like some other Captains [cough, cough, Captain Kirk].
Captain Pike isn’t fueled by ego. He doesn’t lead for glory, or for career advancement. He doesn’t believe that he deserves to sit in the Captain’s chair, but believes he has to earn that right each and every day. And he does so by trying to embody the ideals that it, and Starfleet, stands for. So let’s dive into how Pike’s lack of ego makes him makes Captain Pike a model of leadership worth aspiring to.
One of the first qualities that make’s Pike a good leader is his ability to create an air of positivity and familiarity. Within the first few minutes of stepping on Discovery’s bridge, he makes jokes and smiles at his crew. He learns each of their names, and remembers them instantly. He even begins to use nicknames, [first episode Owosekun, third, Owo] creating a more casual bridge structure. By doing so, he creates an working environment that feels more open. This stands in direct contrast to Captain Lorca, who demanded unquestionable loyalty, and who was the only one who got to make decisions on the bridge.
As a result of this more open feel, Captain Pike enables there to be room for discourse, conversation and dissent on his bridge. A good leader knows that they are not the best at everything. Instead, the listen to their advisors who may know more about a subject at any time, but is able to channel those conversations into something productive. He guides by giving his crew clear goals to accomplish, then listens to the options they offer. And by enabling these conversations, he allows his crew member come up with ideas together that they never would have realized by themselves.
However, this has led to one of the biggest criticisms leveled at Captain Pike; that he allows too much dissent to the point of having no backbone. While I made a whole video diving into this whole topic, I’ll simply leave that idea here. A good captain knows when things become unproductive, and when dissent becomes insubordination. It’s a tough line to toe, but he walks it with aplomb.
Despite that, Captain Pike also knows when to take charge. Sometimes discourse and opinion can lose track, or become counterproductive. Pike knows when to jump in, to pick a path or make a decision.
On top of this, he also respects his crew mental health and well-being. When Burnham states that she isn’t ready to talk about her relationship with Philippa Georgiou, Pike doesn’t push the situation and instead he asks her to come to him when she is ready, instead of forcing her to open up. Later, he gives the crew time to say goodbye to Burham when she decides to get stuck in the future. He also asks Saru to take care of himself during his vaharai. All this goes to show a captain who expects the best from his crew, but never pushes them beyond their comfortability.
Another aspect that shows Pike’s lack of ego is his willingness to admit to mistakes. This moment is perhaps the moment at that first endeared me to Pike. When Pike comes aboard the Discovery, he knows that the crew has be working under the thumb of a much more militaristic, authoritarian captain. So when listening to the crew, he comes in with the assumption that they might be more willing to compromise their values, something that he doesn’t believe should ever happen. So he makes it very clear where he stands. Yet, Burnham corrects him to tell him that the crew wasn’t trying to be defeatist, but was trying to solve the problem. Many leaders would often double down on their mistake, or take out their mistake on someone else, such as yelling at Burnham. Instead, Pike realizes the mistake in the moment, and moves on. The same thing happens with Ash Tyler. Pike believes the worst in Tyler, and almost acts on it. Yet, when faced with the truth that Tyler is just as Nobel an officer as any other, he doesn’t hold onto his prejudice, he releases it.
Another one of Pike’s best qualities: He deals with what he can see, rather than reputation. Burham is, perhaps, one of the most disgraced officers in Starfleet. Despite redeeming herself, she still carries a lot of baggage. Yet, Pike trusts her because she constantly shows him who she is. Also, at the end of the season, we learn that Pike knew that Georgiou was from the mirror universe the entire time [a close up of Pike’s face mid-transport shows him winking at Georgiou].
Yet, Pike never treated her without respect or presuming that she was evil. He includes her in discussion. The only time we see him presume someone’s intentions is with Leland, calling out the tactics and worldview of the morally-grey Section 31, which goes against the values he holds dear. Yet, even here, he admits his prejudice and works to give Leland the benefit of the doubt.
What makes Pike possibly the best captain depicted in the Star Trek franchise is his vulnerability.
Every captain before Pike has been distant, closing themselves off because they believe it makes them an effective leader. Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway, and Archer all closed themselves off to their crew because they thought it was necessary. And certainly, there is a need for a professional distance in a leader that Pike respects. He had to be strong for those around to inspire them.
Pike’s trust allows himself to be vulnerable, both to those closest to him and to his crew. He shares his faith and hope for humanity. He opens himself up to love with Vina. He also wears his faith on his sleeve around Burnham, opening himself up to new possibilities, even if it means that he may be wrong.
Speaking of morals, Pike holds himself to an unwavering standard of morality. He calls out Starfleet’s use of mines, recognizing that it goes against the core values of what it means to represent the best of humanity. He knows what we need to always hold ourselves accountable, no matter the situation. He can’t waver, even in the face of incredible adversity. When Pike witnesses his future when he touches the time crystal on Boreth, he witnesses unspeakable horror.
This is moment, more then any other, shows the strength of Pike’s character. Discovery make’s Captain Pike’s injury not an accident, but an intentional choose. He choose to accept his fate because it’s what needs to be done to save others.
People have criticized the revelation that Pike knows that he was going to have that accident, it’s bad writing that he doesn’t try to avoid. Certainly, Pike could quit Starfleet and avoid ending up disfigured and disabled. Yet, think about what causes him to end up in the chair. He ends up there saving cadets lives. I think it’s the exact knowledge of what is to come that makes it impossible for him to avoid it. His future becomes inescapable because to escape it would mean betraying everything that makes Pike himself. Not just in the present situation of defeating Control, but because by sacrificing himself for the cadets, he saves others. Pike follows his destiny because he makes his own destiny. He can’t avoid his fate because he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Yet, he doesn’t seek to be morally good because advances his career or self-imporantance. We learn this because when it’s pointed out to him that he emblemizes humantity’s best, he’s truly thankful and surprise. It’s the surprise that is the most important. He truthfully didn’t realize that he had come to represent these ideals. It was just part of who he was.
In the end, Discovery’s Pike represents what Star Trek has always been about; showing us what we could become it we strove to actively pursue and cultivate the best parts of ourselves. The reason Captain Pike resonates today is because he is exactly what all of us wish we got to see more of out in the real world; a leader without ego, who truly believes in our better nature, and always fights for it. A man who stands not for himself, but for everyone else who can’t stand where he is.
He believes in service, sacrifice, compassion and love, and as a result, comes to be an emblem of all of those ideals.
He is humanity at our best.
Watch the video below, dedicated to the decency of Captain Christopher Pike.
Jessie Earl is a video producer for Microsoft Unboxed and runs her own LGBT geek focused YouTube channel.