Episode: Balance of Terror
Stardate: 3012.4
Episode number: 14th episode aired, 9th episode produced
Written by: Paul Schneider, who also wrote The Squire of Gothos
Directed by: Our old pal Vince McEveety, who has already directed a number of Treks

Captain’s Log: Captain Kirk is performing a wedding in the Enterprise’s non-denominational chapel (he’s smiling because the concept of prima noctum exists in the Federation) when they get word that Earth Outposts 2 and 3 are under attack. These outposts are part of a chain along the Neutral Zone that separates Federation space from the Romulan Space Empire, so this is a big deal. Outpost 4 makes a distress call and then gets cut off.

The wedding is called off as the Enterprise rushes off to investigate. Kirk has Spock deliver a bit of exposition to the crew via intercomm – the Romulan Neutral Zone was set up after the Earth-Romulan War a hundred years before. No one has ever seen a Romulan because there was no video back then, and because the primitive space battles didn’t leave survivors to be taken prisoner. The Federation believes the Romulans are cruel and warlike, but Kirk is aware that they’re on the cusp of a intergalactic incident.

It turns out that the helmsman, Mr. Stiles, is an expert on the Earth-Romulan War because his great-great-great grandfather died in it, and he’s somehow totally butthurt about some bullshit that happened a fucking century earlier. He’s itching for a fight.

When they get to the Outposts they discover that not only have the bases been destroyed, the asteroids on which they were built have been pulverized. The bride and groom to be are down in weapons control, getting the Enterprise ready for battle. The fact that we keep coming back to them bodes ill for their future.

The Enterprise gets to Outpost 4, which is still there, but barely. They’ve been attacked by an invisible ship with an amazing weapon – the first shot took out their shields, and the next one will destroy them. The ship returns, appearing from nowhere to blast Outpost 4 to bits, and the poor Outpost guy dies on the Enterprise screen while Sulu tapes it for a new Faces of Death.

Kirk realizes that the ship has an invisibility field, but it must be dropped to fire weapons. Spock figures out that while they can’t see the ship when cloaked, they can get it on their motion sensors. The ship is making a course that will take it back through the Neutral Zone into Romulan space. Kirk decides to follow them.

Mr. Stiles is bugging the fuck out, because nobody has ever seen a Romulan and there could be one on the Enterprise right now. His tirade is well timed becuse just at that moment, Uhura picks up a signal from the cloaked ship. They intercept it and Spock says he can get a picture of their bridge. And what do you know – the Romulan Commander looks just like a Vulcan. Just like Spock’s dad, in fact. And in case you didn’t notice this, he stares into the camera for seven and a half minutes.

On the Romulan Bird of Prey everybody is wearing nice knit sweaters. It must be cold in there, and there are no chairs – Romulans don’t place a premium on comfort, it seems. They notice that there’s someone following them. The Romulan helmsman thinks it’s just a sensor echo (they have limited sensor abilities while cloaked), but the Romulan Commander isn’t so sure. He then gets mad at a crewman who sent the message the Enterprise picked up.

The Commander talks with his Centurion (seemingly second in command), saying that this mission sucks. They’ve come through the Neutral Zone to test the Earth defenses, and finding them weak he knows there will be a new war. For a bloodthirsty Romulan the Commander is pretty weary of battle. The Centurion is like ‘Shut up with that shit, dude.’

On the Enterprise nobody wants to talk about how much Spock looks like the Romulans, and nobody even makes a ‘They all look the same to me!’ joke. They’re an hour from the Neutral Zone, and Scotty says there’s debris from Outpost 4 they can examine. Everybody goes to check it out; a piece of castrodinium, the hardest substance in the universe, has been turned to brittle styrofoam. At this point they get the Stile Report, which is that he is totally sure that the Romulans are a bunch of warmongering cocksuckers and that they have to attack them here and now, on this side of the Neutral Zone, or all is lost. Kirk is like ‘I do NOT want to play Sun City, motherfucker’ but then Spock busts out with his version of Chris Rock’s ‘Niggas vs Black People,’ where he says that if these Romulans are logic-free versions of Vulcans, they will certainly whip the Federation’s asses and then want a cookie when they raise their babies. Swayed by Spock’s sober appeal to blowing shit up, Kirk decides an attack is the way to go.

The Enterprise follows the Bird of Prey towards a comet, and since the show treats space like it’s got a horizontal plane you must follow, the Bird of Prey just flies right into the comet instead of adjusting course and going around it. For the Enterprise this is the goodness: they’ll be able to see the ship when it’s in the comet tail. They decide to go around the comet and gank the ship when it comes out,and then possibly teabag its corpse before it can respawn.

Meanwhile, the Romulan Commander shows just how unfit for duty he is by remarking that the comet is so pretty, but he quickly figures out that the Enterprise is going to use it to attack him, so he tries to outsmart our heroes. There’s phaser fire and Kirk shouts “PWNED!” as a huge piece of plastic moulding falls from the cieling onto the Centurion, crushing him under three to four pounds of weight. This shit is so light it almost comes off him when the Commander breathes on it. Pissed off, the Commander fires his plasma weapon at the Enterprise. Since the Enterprise can’t go up or down in space to avoid the plasma, it starts backing up really fast. The plasma ball, which turned a mighty space outpost into styrofoam, is getting closer and closer and Spock is about to admit his love to Kirk when it turns out the weapon has a range before its energy dissipates. They take a hit, but it’s not so bad, and they come back swinging.

At this point the Commander does something pretty cool – he dumps a whole bunch of debris and the Centurion’s body out of his ship’s garbage hole (an exit, not an entrance!) to fool the Enterprise into thinking he’s blown up. The Enterprise isn’t that dumb, though, and they figure there were more than one Romulan on the ship. Both vessels sit quietly, waiting each other out, invisible to each other. At this point everybody starts whispering and being quiet despite the fact that there is no sound in space, so you could have a Who concert in the Enterprise hangar bay and the Romulans would be none the wiser. But it’s a tense submarine movie moment, so you let it go.

But then Spock fucks up and makes a banging sound and Stiles is like ‘Son of a bitch, I knew it!’ and everybody’s shooting again. The Commander seems less smart this time because he does that debris trick a second time… except he put a nuke in a shiny metal box out there too. The Enterprise, unable to resist shiny things, fires on it and gets nuked.

The good news is that the Enterprise mostly shrugs off the nuclear blast, but the phaser station is damaged and is only manned by that dude who was going to get married earlier that day (you just know this shit is not gonna end well). Stiles is like, ‘I used to phaser wamp rats back home’ and he runs down to the phaser station to help out, and the Romulan starts running home. But then a Romulan officer reminds the Commander that the number one credo of the Romulan Space Empire is ‘Thou Shalt Not Be A Big Pussy,’ and they turn around to attack the Enterprise again.

Spock shows up in the phaser room and Stiles is like, ‘Whites only,’ but as soon as Spock leaves purple haze starts coming out of the wall – phaser coolant is leaking! This shit fucks Stiles and Marryin’ Man up real bad and cripples the phasers. Spock runs in, fixes it, and Kirk fires on the Bird of Prey before they can fire on him.

The Romulan Commander comes on the screen. His ship is crippled. He tells Kirk that in another life they could have been BFFs and hid under the covers and sent each other text messages all night, but alas, he’s going to have to blow up his own ship instead.

Kirk heads to sickbay and discovers that not only did Spock fix the ship (shades of Wrath of Khan) but that he saved Stiles. Marryin’ Man wasn’t so lucky (or was luckier, depending on your view of wedded bliss) and is corpsed. Stiles is pretty baffled that Spock saved him, but Spock says that he is a valued crewmember, and apparently Marryin’ Man was way expendable.

The fiancee is in the chapel, all sad. Kirk shows up and offers to console her. He does a good enough job that she shows up on shore leave in the very next episode. The end!
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Review: What a great episode. Undoubtedly one of the best Trek episodes of all time – definitely in the top 5. Writer Paul Schneider said that he based the episode on the sub-hunting movie The Enemy Below, and its naval warfare aspects helped mold the show into a navy program (as opposed to an Air Force one, which is what the new movie looks to be)(Harlan Ellison, ever a cranky git, apparently unfriended Schneider on the Facebook of 1966 (known as IRL today) when he discovered he lifted the episode from a movie). While the whole idea of being quiet in space is stupid, it does add some excellent tension, and the cat and mouse game that Kirk and the Commander play is excellent. Like The Conscience of the King, this is an episode that shows the versatility of Star Trek – murder mystery, naval battle, trippy scifi, this show does it all. This episode also reinforces the idea that Kirk isn’t just a run and gun cowboy – he’s thoughtful, smart, tactical in thinking and open to the ideas of his staff.

And for nerds this is a cool episode because it introduces the Romulans, villains who are probably better than the Klingons because they never quite got as overexposed. Personally, I like the Romulans because of how they fit into the show’s Cold War aesthetic: the Federation is the US, Vulcan is Japan, the Klingons are Russia and the Romulans are the Red Chinese.

Kirkin’ Out: Kirk doesn’t really so much Kirk Out in this episode as he Kirks Up To The Plate. This is an episode where he’s totally in control, totally cool and totally engaged in what’s going on. He also gets to do a little Martin Luther King anti-bigotry talking, too.

Spockmarks: Sure, he’s a super smart, very logical Vulcan, but that doesn’t mean Spock won’t accidentally bang some metal plates together when he’s fixing shit. D’oh!

Redshirt: The Marryin’ Man bites it hard when what looks like some leftover Joker Gas from the 1960s Batman show fills the phaser control room.

Dilithium Bullshit: The Romulans can make big spaceships invisible, but the show is almost admirable in how it handles it – Spock talks about the selective bending of light, which means they wouldn’t have visual ability, which they don’t. And they do leave some telltale signs. This episode does have some wonky ship tech – for the first and only time we see that phasers get fired after a long string of commands from the bridge going down to engineering. This is meant to replicate how things go on naval destroyers, and in all other episodes phasers seem to get fired when the helmsman presses a button, not after an order is relayed to phaser control.

Support Staff of the Week: I like Stiles because he’s still so hung up on a war fought 100 years ago. And it wasn’t even like the Civil War, where there was bitter rivalry, since nobody so much as met a Romulan. It was like the Boer War because everybody’s like ‘What the fuck is a Boer?’

Continerdity: First appearance of Romulans! We learn that they are related to Vulcans, and this is a surprise since no one has seen them before (remember that when Romulans are running around JJ Abrams’ Star Trek). There was a war between Earth and the Romulans a hundred years ago, at a time that apparently pre-dated video. And the guy who later plays Spock’s dad plays the Romulan Commander. Total typecasting. 

Set Phasers to Quote: “You and I are of a kind. In a different reality, I could have called you friend”  – Romulan Commander


Five Positive Baby Clint Howards Out of Five


Previously
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
Star Trekkin’ Day 10 – The Corbomite Maneuver