Episode number: 10th episode aired, 2nd episode produced
Written by: Jerry Sohl, a sci-fi writer who penned three Treks and also Frankenstein vs Baragon. I’m assuming he wrote the English dialogue for the dub
Directed by: Joseph Sargent, whose long and varied career includes The Taking of Pelham 123 and Jaws: The Revenge
Captain’s Log: Going where no man has gone before isn’t always green alien babes and phaser battles. Sometimes it’s taking pictures of star systems for maps. That’s just what the Enterprise is doing; Spock has command on the bridge as the bored, restless crew keeps taking SpaceKodaks of this unexplored sector of space.
That boredom is broken when Sulu announces an object is heading towards them at the speed of light on a collision course. Spock calls for evasive action but the object, which looks like a lit up version of a baby’s big cloth block, moves with them. The Enterprise finds itself unable to navigate around this object, and since the Enterprise can apparently only move forwards, sideways and backwards in the gravity-free, directionless expanse of space, they’re fucked.
Captain Kirk is in sickbay getting a check up. This seems to involve him laying shirtless and oiled while pumping two big blocks with his legs as McCoy stands uncomfortably close to him. McCoy doesn’t tell Kirk that the ship’s gone to red alert, trying to make sure that our workaholic captain finishes his physical. When it’s finally done Kirk notices that he’s needed on the bridge and he strides out into the corridor, barechested and covered in a heavy sheen of sweat. Star Trek remains one of the dampest shows I have ever watched, and I watched all the episodes of The Snorks.
Kirk calls for a meeting of all the department heads; meanwhile on the bridge Ensign Excitable is getting all worked up. He gets annoyed when Spock is looking over his shoulder, and later, at the meeting, he gets all aggressive and wants to blast the cube out of existance. Spock tells Kirk that the cube is one of two things: a bouy or flypaper. Kirk decides it’s time to take action, and Ensign Excitable almost single-handedly opens fire on the cube. But that wasn’t what Kirk meant.
He wants to do a spiral path away from the cube, but the cube keeps following. Kirk then gets curious and has the Enterprise head towards the cube – which immediately begins emitting deadly radiation. Finally somebody thinks of GOING BACKWARDS, but now it’s too late because the cube is following them and is able to keep up with them at maximum speed. The radiation is getting lethal and Kirk finally gives Ensign Excitable the chance to open fire.
The cube blows up, but Ensign Excitable was a total schmuck the whole time and didn’t do anything right. Kirk demands drills for the whole crew so that the next time they’re trapped by a glowing infant toy that irradiates them they won’t fuck up so badly. He does not, however, order himself to look into the fact that there is no ‘road’ or ‘sea’ in space – his goddamned spaceship can go in any direction at all.
McCoy thinks Kirk is being too hard on the Beaver, and he tells the captain that he think Excitable Ensign was promoted too fast because he reminds Kirk of himself. But if Kirk was ever as much of a dickwad as Ensign Excitable it was a spacemiracle that he ever made Captain. As that’s all going on, Yeoman Rand brings Kirk his food, and he expresses his discomfort with having a female yeoman. Bones is like ‘Because you think with your dick, playa?’ and Kirk is like, ‘Don’t hate the playa, hate the NBC suits who aired this, the second episode, so far out of order that everybody has to be wondering why I am not tight with Rand after all the adventures, clinches and meaningful looks we’ve shared over the last nine weeks.’
As things seem to come back to normal, the Enterprise is suddenly met by another vessel – this time it’s a sphere a mile in diameter, and covered in other little spheres. It doesn’t answer hailing frequencies, but Ensign Excitable discovers that it’s broadcasting on the navigation frequency, whatever that is. The ship is The Fesarius, flagship of the First Federation (oh snap! That means our Federation is second… or perhaps even lower. What a blow to our spaceego), and the captain is Balok, pronounced a number of different ways, including ‘I want to steal the gold idol from Indiana Jones.’ The Enterprise is informed that Balok has decided that their destruction of the warning bouy means the Earthlings are warlike, so he’s going to blow them up. Which is such a convoluted bit of morality and philosophy. He gives them ten minutes to make peace with whoever they need to make peace and then he’s going to blow them up.
Ensign Excitable now totally flips his shit. Kirk orders him confined to quarters while he tries to talk Balok out of killing everybody. They get Balok on the view screen and he seems to be a big blue evil puppet inside of an aquarium with especially turbulent waters. Kirk keeps trying to talk him out of blowing them all up, but Balok is a tough man to dissuade. But as the bridge crew banters and Spock makes a reference to chess, Kirk comes up with an idea.
The captain tells Balok that every Starfleet ship contains a substance called corbomite. Corbomite will return the force of any destructive beam to the source. Blowing up the Enterprise will mean blowing up the Fesarius. Kirk is, of course, totally bullshitting, but Balok buys it. He decides to tow the Enterprise to a planet where the crew will be interned and then the ship exploded by a crack First Federation bomb squad. The Fesarius flies away, leaving behind a smaller ship that will tow the Enterprise.
Kirk keeps thinking outside the box. He realizes that the tractor beam is a big drain on that little ship, so he has the engines going full power against the beam. The engines begin to heat, and the whole ship is on the verge of going kablooey when the plan works and the little ship overheats and floats aimlessly in space.
The Enterprise is about to go back about its busines when Uhura picks up a distress call from the little ship. The ship has no power and its life support is running out. Uhura says that the signal is so weak there’s no way the Fesarius heard it. If the Enterprise doesn’t help, Balok is gonna die.
Kirk decides to beam aboard the ship, and he takes Bones and Excitable Ensign with him. They’re told the ship is cramped, so they have to beam over in a hands-on-knees, taking-it-in-the-pooper position. Once they get aboard they see that what appeared to be a puppet is, in fact a puppet. The real Balok is Clint Howard as a baby. Now that giant infant toy makes more sense.
Baby Clint tells them he uses that puppet because nobody would take him seriously otherwise. He runs the whole ship all by himself, although it never is explained why it’s so goddamned big. He offers the landing party some tranya and says that he’s not actually in trouble – this was the only way he could test their true intentions.
After a glass of tranya, which appears to be pineapple juice, Kirk agrees to leave Excitable Ensign behind to engage in a cultural exchange with the First Federation. To my eyes this seems to be the equivalent of giving Balok a smallpox blanket. And can you imagine being trapped in a ship where your only companion is a weird looking baby whose voice is dubbed? Surely this is the cruelest punishment of all.
Review: I’ll never understand why this was played so far out of order. This episode sets everything about the series up much better than The Man Trap, and it has a better story. The tension during the ten minute countdown is palpable, and the way that Kirk bluffs his way out of the situation is classic, creating the aspect of the character that would end being revealed as having cheated on the Kobiyashi Maru test.
The episode also has some good action, great sci-fi concepts and a twist ending that works, even if it is pretty silly. I’ve always remembered this as the goofy Clint Howard episode, but in reality The Corbomite Manuever is one of the better episodes of the series, and the goofiness and straight-faced campiness only enhances the good.
Kirkin’ Out: While bluffing the Fesarius is textbook classic Kirk, the best Kirk moment is when he’s strutting through the corridors topless. Can you imagine having to see that as a crewman? Is there no decency on the Enterprise?
Spockmarks: Just because Spock has no emotions doesn’t mean he won’t take you down in the dozens. When Ensign Excitable explains that he freaked out due to his human adrenal gland, Spock cooly replies, “It does sound most inconvenient, however. Have you considered having it removed.” Snap!
Redshirt: Nobody dies! Ensign Excitable wears gold and he gets left behind with a baby, but that’s a fate worse than death.
Dilithium Bullshit: There’s a whole bunch of nonsense spouted about the engines overheating and stuff. It all works in context, though.
Support Staff of the Week: Yeoman Rand is so good at her job that, even when the power is out in the galley, she brings Kirk hot coffee. Her secret? She shot it with a phaser!
Continerdity: This is one of two episodes where Uhura wears a gold uniform. We learn that Kirk was a young, brash crewman eleven years before, which sort of clashes with information we got from Gary Mitchell in Where No Man Has Gone Before and from Kirk himself in Shore Leave, where we’re led to believe he was studious and serious. Kirk calls the Enterprise the United Earth Ship Enterprise, which never happens again.
Set Phasers to Quote: “We therefore grant you 10 Earth time periods known as minutes to make preparations.” – Balok
Four and a half Positive Baby Clint Howards Out of Five
Star Trekkin’ – Introduction
Star Trekkin’ Day 1 – Where No Man Has Gone Before
Star Trekkin’ Day 2 – The Man Trap
Star Trekkin’ Day 3 – Charlie X
Star Trekkin’ Day 4 – The Naked Time
Star Trekkin’ Day 5 – The Enemy Within
Star Trekkin’ Day 6 – Mudd’s Women
Star Trekkin’ Day 7 – What Are Little Girls Made Of?
Star Trekkin’ Day 8 – Miri
Star Trekkin’ Day 9 – Dagger of the Mind