|||[Boldly Going]||| Star Trek: The Original Series—Season One: Ep. 1.14 “Balance of Terror” – (Original air date: Thursday, December 15, 1966)

TrekBalanceofTerror

Welcome to my rewatching of the original 79 episodes of the series that launched the franchise. Below are the bulletpointed notes I jotted down while watching “Balance of Terror.”

  • This day in history: Walt Disney died on the same day “Balance of Terror” first aired. He was in the middle of producing “The Jungle Book” cartoon at the time.
  • Both Frank and Nancy Sinatra were on the U.S. Top-10 singles chart at the same time. Frank with “That’s Life,” at #6, a few slots up from last week, and Nancy with “Sugar Town,” at #9. I had forgotten this Nancy song until I just listened to it. Now I hope to forget it again.
  • Valley of the Dolls, by Jacqueline Susann, hits the bestseller list and reaches more than 31 million copies sold by 2016. I know it has something to do with pill-popping, but I’ve never read it. I seem to recall a copy of the paperback sitting on my parents’ nightstand for a while, though.
  • The teaser of this episode opens in what appears to be the chapel of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Gene Roddenberry famously had a humanist vision for the future, so I am surprised at the few subtle nods to religion we sometimes glimpse.
  • Kirk is officiating a wedding between two members of the crew. They are Angela Martine and Robert Tomlinson. We know this because Kirk says their names as he begins the ceremony.
  • Just prior to the ceremony, we learned that Spock has been unable to raise Earth Outposts 2 and 3 on long-range communicator. They are heading towards Outpost 4, so we know something is up when Kirk asks Spock to keep him informed.
  • Which Spock does, of course, interrupting the wedding ceremony before it can be completed. Earth Outpost 4 is under attack by an unidentified vessel.
  • Condition red. Battle stations. End of teaser.
  • Then opening credits and theme music. I like the pinging, four-note opening before Shatner begins to talk, probably more than the theme music itself. It’s really that soprano caterwauling that makes my back teeth ache.
  • During the Captain’s Log, Kirk mentions that the Enterprise is patrolling outposts guarding the neutral zone between planets Romulus and Remus and the rest of the galaxy.
  • Romulus and Remus, the fabled founders of the city of Rome. Romulans. It’s no secret that the Romulans represented an entire alien civilization based upon the Roman Empire. I’m not certain if how this could have happened is ever overtly addressed.
  • Spock puts a map of the star sector on the screen. It’s like the world’s worst PowerPoint presentation. Something about the graphics seems very Fallout 4 to me as well.
  • Spock, as Chief Exposition Officer, informs us that the Earth outposts were established on asteroids to monitor the Neutral Zone, and that they were established by treaty a century ago after the Earth-Romulan conflict, fought with primitive atomic weapons and primitive space vessels (Spock’s words, not mine).
  • According to Spock, these weapons allowed “no quarter, no captives.” Also, there wasn’t even any ship-to-ship visual communication, so humans and Romulans have ever seen each other up to this point.
  • A century before TOS was around the time of Star Trek: Enterprise. They had ship-to-ship visual communication, and photonic torpedoes were around at some point during the series, if I recall correctly. I don’t recall if humans and Romulans saw each other face-to-face, though.
  • Kirk announces on ship-wide comms that his command orders are precise and inviolable. No act, no provocation will be considered sufficient reason to violate the zone. The Enterprise may defend itself, but if necessary to avoid interspace war both the outposts and their ship are considered expendable.
  • This seems like a good reason to move their ship away from the Neutral Zone.
  • The crewman sitting at the navigator’s station is named Stiles. It’s not Farrell. Or Riley or Bailey . . .or. . . I’m beginning to wonder if there was a regular navigator before Chekov. It seems like they were always changing actors in that position on TNG as well.
  • According to his painfully presented backstory, Lieutenant Stiles has a family history with the Romulans. During the Earth-Romulan Conflict, there was a Captain Stiles, two commanders and several junior officers, all lost in that war. Stiles seems to harbor a lot of animosity towards the Romulans over his dead ancestors. Let’s see. 100 years ago for me would have been 1918. WWI would have been going on. I may have had family members killed during the war, but, if so, I don’t know it. I guess I can’t relate. A century is a long time.
  • Stiles knows that Romulan spaceships are painted like a giant bird-of-prey.
  • They discover Outposts One and Two are gone. Spock says their asteroids have been pulverized.
  • Kirk calls for Stiles to energize main phasers. Stiles contacts the phaser control room to order them to energize. We get a shot of Phaser Control. The young couple who were about to be married moments ago are stationed there, we find out.
  • I don’t think we ever see such efforts made for phasers in the future. Usually everything seems to be managed from the bridge.
  • Outpost Four is still there as they arrive. They manage to raise Commander Hansen on Four. Hansen says Outposts Two, Three and Eight are gone. Soon after, Hansen and Outpost Four are gone as well. Hansen manages to appear on the ship’s vidscreen for a couple of minutes before he’s destroyed. The Romulan warbird appears on-screen as well, firing some sort of red energy blast before vanishing from sight.
  • Kirk speculates that the alien ship must become visible when firing its weapons. The Romulans have some sort of invisibility screen. It hasn’t been called a cloaking device yet.
  • Kirk orders Stiles and Sulu to set a parallel course with the Romulan ship. He wants the Romulans to believe their ship is an echo. He adds that, under no circumstances, are they to go into the Neutral Zone unless Kirk commands it.
  • Stiles suggests that there might be Romulan spies on board their ship. Sulu agrees and suggests that all decks maintain security alert. Kirk agrees to this precaution. Why we suddenly give in to rampant paranoia is anyone’s guess.  It almost seems like this is a work of fiction written by a team of writers who need to cultivate paranoia for some upcoming drama in this episode.
  • Uhura picks up some sort of communication from the Romulan ship. Spock is somehow able to use this to get a lock on the Bird-of-Prey’s location and bring up a visual of the ship’s interior on their own vidscreen.
  • Why is Sarek commanding a Romulan starship? Okay, not Sarek, but this is Mark Lenard, who would be Sarek at some point in the future. Except for the uniform, he wouldn’t look much different than he does here. Same ears.
  • That’s what everyone is noticing from the Enterprise bridge, as well. The ears. Romulans look a lot like Mr. Spock. Everyone’s favorite new bridge crewman, Stiles, notices this especially. You recall his backstory, don’t you? Several of his ancestors died in the Romulan Conflict over a century ago. And Stiles was the first to suggest they might have Romulan spies on board.  Guess who has ears that look identical to those of the Romulans?  Hmm . . .
  • This seems like a good spot for an act break. On to Act 2.
  • Stiles suggests that they let Spock attempt to decode the Romulans’ transmission. Kirk says that he assumes that Stiles is complimenting Mister Spock on his ability to decode, to which Stiles says, “I’m not sure, sir.”
  • This angers Kirk. I genuinely like this scene. Kirk says: “Well, here’s one thing you can be sure of, Mister. Leave any bigotry in your quarters. There’s no room for it on the Bridge. Do I make myself clear?”
  • I like how Kirk uses the word “Mister” as an insult. It’s like saying “buddy” or “pal” to someone who isn’t your buddy. Or pal.
  • Uhura has made a tape of the transmission, which she gives to Spock, while Kirk orders Sulu to stay with the Romulan ship as it changes course.
  • Next, we get an entire scene on board the Romulan ship, which seems an odd choice at this stage of the series.
  • The Romulan uniform looks like it might be some sort of gold chainmail. Many of the Romulans also have some sort of shoulder drape as well. The Commander and Centurion have a shoulder drape that appears hot pink on my monitor.
  • The episode takes an interesting turn here. Not-Sarek expresses a distaste for their mission, which he believes is politically motivated. He confides in his Centurion the same way Kirk interacts with Spock, his first officer. The Romulan Commander doesn’t want to start a war any more than Kirk wants to.
  • Not-Sarek isn’t fooled into thinking that the Enterprise is a sensor echo just because they’re matching their course. He knows they are being followed. The Romulans are heading back towards the Neutral Zone.
  • Back on the Enterprise, Kirk and many of his bridge crew (Uhura is not invited) examine wreckage from Outpost 4 in the briefing room.
  • Spock has a hunk of the outpost’s protective shield, made of cast rodinium, the hardest substance known to science at the time.
  • Rodinium is as real as adamantium, vibranium, Nth metal, scrith, mithril, and supermanium. All of which qualify as Bolognium.
  • This hunk of rodinium, however, has become fragile enough for Spock to crumble in his hand. The current theory is that the Romulans’ crimson death beam is some sort of enveloping energy plasma that forces an implosion. So, the Romulan weaponry is superior to Starfleet’s, and they have an invisibility screen that was called a cloaking system by the Romulans earlier (maybe the terminology will catch on). Kirk wants advice on what they should do now.
  • Scotty says that the Romulans don’t have warp capability, so the Enterprise is faster. Stiles, whose attitude is getting on my nerves as much as it obviously is on Kirk’s, asks if they plan to use this speed to chase the Romulans or to retreat from them. If this were a Klingon vessel, his insolence wouldn’t be tolerated.
  • Kirk invites Stiles’ opinion, however. Proving, once again, that he is a wise and fair captain.
  • Stiles, predictably, thinks they should attack the Romulan ship while they’re still on their side of the Neutral Zone. They are the ones who broke the treaty, after all.
  • Sulu ridicules this course of action. How are they going to shoot at something they can’t see? Good point, helmsman.
  • Stiles remains passionate about his position in this argument, however. He loses points when he insults Spock again because the Romulans look like him. But, Spock surprises everyone by agreeing with Stiles. He thinks they should attack as well. Brushing aside Stiles’ casual bigotry, Spock says that if the Romulans are an offshoot of the Vulcans, which he thinks is likely, then attack becomes even more imperative.
  • Wait.  What?
  • Vulcan, like Earth, had its own aggressive colonizing period which was savage, even by Earth standards (sick burn, Spock). Spock thinks that if the Romulans still have a martial philosophy, as the evidence suggests they do, then they shouldn’t show any weakness in dealing with them.
  • Spock is suggesting that they should get medieval on the Romulans’ collective ass.
  • Fascinating.
  • But, how will they know where to attack? Well, it seems that there is a comet dead ahead, and when the Bird-of-Prey passes through it, the ship will leave a visible trail. The ship might be invisible, but its trail will not be. Brilliant.
  • Kirk calls the comet EYE-carus Four. Until I saw the word written out, I didn’t realize it was Icarus. I’ve always heard it pronounced ICK-carus, which I do believe is the accepted English pronunciation. Maybe they say it differently in Canada.
  • As we’re heading into Act Three, we’re reporting to battle stations.
  • Kirk and the Romulan Commander gain mutual respect for each other as they both attempt a similar maneuver to intercept the other. Both fail.
  • The Enterprise damages the Bird-of-Prey with a barrage of phaser fire. The Romulan Commander’s second-in-command, the Centurion, saves his commander by pushing him out of the way. But, the Centurion is fatally wounded by falling debris that appears to be made of foam rubber. 
  • The phaser circuits on the Enterprise are temporarily burned out. The Romulans fire their crimson death ray. Kirk orders the Enterprise to go backwards really, really fast. Fortunately for our heroes, the death ray has a range limit, after which it dissipates almost harmlessly.
  • After the phaser circuits are repaired, Kirk goes on the attack again. Then, choosing to ignore all previous orders, including his own, he orders them into the Neutral Zone. The Romulan ship is damaged by more blind phaser fire. The Romulan commander uses that hoary old submarine trick of jettisoning debris, and the Centurion’s body, through a disposal tube.
  • Spock isn’t fooled, though. Insufficient mass for a vessel. It’s a trick.
  • Both the Enterprise and the Bird-of-Prey are running as quietly and stealthily as possible, each trying to wait the other out. This is a battle of wills between Kirk and Not-Sarek. The ship has been powered down for nearly ten hours during this waiting game.
  • Yeoman Rand offers to get Kirk something to eat from the galley, but he wants only coffee. This is Grace Lee Whitney’s final episode of the original series. “The Conscience of the King” was actually the final episode in production order, but it aired a week before this one. This wasn’t her final appearance in the episode, though. That’s coming up.
  • Kirk is experiencing some self-doubt. He talks things over with Dr. McCoy, who gives him a windy pep talk that involves a lot of large numbers and ends with the assertion that there is “only one of each of us. Don’t destroy the one named Kirk.”
  • Spock ends up giving away their position by accidentally activating a panel. The Romulan ship is moving in to attack, but Kirk anticipates this and fires on the Romulans. The Romulan commander orders more debris into the disposal tubes, this time including a nuclear warhead.
  • Spock sees the “metal-cased object” on his sensors and they blow it up before it can reach them. The Enterprise is damaged.
  • The Romulan Commander decides to head for home without destroying Kirk’s ship. One of the Romulan soldiers reminds him that it’s the commander’s duty to crush the enemy. Not-Sarek reluctantly gives the order to attack.
  • Stiles has gone to help Tomlinson, the groom from the wedding at the beginning of the episode, in Phaser Control. There is a coolant leak that knocks both men out, so Kirk doesn’t have phasers when he’s ready to use them on the Romulans.
  • Spock gets down to Phaser Control in time to fire the phasers and severely damage the Bird-of-Prey.
  • Kirk and Not-Sarek FaceTime each other. Not-Sarek is wounded, defeated. Kirk offers to beam him aboard, but the Romulan Commander says that’s not how they do it.
  • Not-Sarek’s final words: “I regret that we meet in this way. You and I are of a kind. In a different reality, I could have called you friend.”
  • Then he self-destructs the Bird-of-Prey.
  • It turns out that Spock also rescued Stiles after firing the phasers. Unfortunately, Robert Tomlinson—the groom—didn’t make it. He was sacrificed to the plot gods. McCoy tells Kirk that the man’s fiancée is in the chapel.
  • Stiles may as well have been killed, too. We never see him again in the series. He had to live, however, so that he could get over his bigotry against Spock.
  • On his way out, Kirk shares Yeoman Rand’s final TOS scene. She has finally received word from Command base, supporting whatever decision Kirk feels he has to make. So, Kirk won’t face any repercussions over his side-trip into the Neutral Zone.
  • Goodbye, Grace Lee Whitney, who we won’t see again until she makes cameos in three of the Trek movies. I will miss Yeoman Rand’s cosmic beehive.
  • Kirk goes to the chapel and consoles Tomlinson’s fiancée, Angela Martine. Angela assures the captain that she’s all right. She bounces back quickly.

I always liked “Balance of Terror,” even before I realized it’s a WWII submarine drama in science-fiction trappings. Seems like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was cut from similar cloth, and it is one of my favorite Trek movies.

This episode introduces the Romulans, and Spock’s future dad. It establishes the Neutral Zone and a war between Earth and Romulus a century before Kirk’s time. It also suggests a shared history between Romulans and Vulcans. In addition to an exciting story with a somewhat sympathic antagonist, this episode added a lot to the Star Trek mythos. Yeah, this one’s on the All-Time Best Trek list as well. 4 out of 5 stars.

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