“Balance of Terror”
Production Order #9
Airing Order #14
Directed by Vincent McEveety
Written by Paul Schneider
I know Harry Mudd is set to return but not only was he a human and written as not being a true villain (he was though), he was also a complete ponce. So far the only notable alien race in a series well known for them to have debuted has been the Vulcans in the form of the half-Vulcan Spock. As I noted last week, Doctor Who had already debuted it’s definitive alien threat in fantastic cliffhanger for the first episode (fifth overall) of “The Daleks”. While Star Trek’s definitive opponent has yet to debut, it’s still quite nice to see another of the most famous races pop up in the Romulans.
The episode opens with a wedding being performed by Captain Kirk (with about a dozen, bored attendees) and yes, I know the whole ship captains being able to marry thing is a myth but I guess it would be an honor for it to be handled by the captain over some other random person (since these people clearly don’t have friends amongst the crew). It’s seeming randomness to start off sets off a ton of alarm bells for the safety of the couple but we’ll get to that later. The ceremony is interrupted by a red alert due to an attack on Outpost 4 which is suspected to have been done by the Romulans. The Romulans are a little known but hated alien race who long ago went to war with humanity but now exist in a Korean set up with a DMZ (the Neutral Zone) serving as a buffer between them.
The destruction of the outpost along with three others threatens the century long truce between them and it is up to Kirk alone to decide how to proceed. It’s a fascinating and entirely believable situation as Kirks action affect the lives of countless others beyond those on his ship. If he attacks the Romulan ship before they return to their territory (and it has been made clear to him by superiors that his ship is to be sacrificed over starting an attack) then it could mean war and the deaths of untold others in the ensuing war. If they don’t attack, then they lose the evidence it was the Romulans who will then escape scot-free and be empowered to make more attacks on innocents. It’s the stuff of even modern military tactics and the discussion that arises every time the possibility of intervention arises.
Of course, since this was made in the 1960s, the interventionist side wins. Spock takes up the pro-attack side while McCoy surprisingly takes up the avoid war side considering how much he’s proven to hate Spock’s kind (see below), but it does track with the whole doctor thing. McCoy even gets a rare moment of insight in his regard for how unique each person is and the sanctity of human life as if the episode sought to try and redeem him a bit in my eyes while he’s supportive of his friend even after he goes against his advice.
The episode returns to “The Corbomite Maneuver”’s technique of having unseen before the episode navigator (Lieutenant Stiles) on the bridge being a giant asshole, this time one racist as a result of the death of his ancestors and since the Romulans resemble the Vulcans, this offers the opportunity for racist shithead Stiles to act like a dick to Spock (for once Kirk stands up for him instead of just condoning the endemic racism). While the rest of the crew looks vaguely suspicious of him (of course including McCoy) nothing really comes from this and if there is one gigantic missed opportunity of the episode, it is the chance to examine the racism that has been brewing not so subtly throughout the series to this point. It’s brought up but aside from Spock later saving Stiles’ life, nothing really comes of it. There is a Japanese internment like subtext where he believes Spock is helping the enemy because he looks nearly the same but the episode almost seems to convey that Spock is “one of the good ones” as Spock just takes the abuse quietly.
Kirk has a clear reluctance to fight and for the first time I truly got the sense of McCoy and Spock offering the different and arguably equally valued opinions. You can see the burden of command weighing down on him with each decision and when the groom inevitably kicks it, Kirk has to comfort the grieving near wife of the man whose death he is responsible for by making the decision to attack. The scene hurts to watch if not nearly as much as it could. It’s underplayed and that may be for the best but I still get the sense they softened it up instead of leaving a depressed, unforgiven Kirk.
The episode truly stands out in the ways it differs from the typical Star Trek though. We actually get a deeper look Romulan side of things instead of just having the Enterprise’s view of events with quick check ins on the villains. They are on a mission to draw the Enterprise into attacking and crossing the Neutral Zone and also report on the defensive weaknesses of the Federation. The Romulan leader is an intelligent, patient commander who does not seem eager to start another war but still determined to follow orders regardless of his opinion on them.
The strategy of this episode is easily the most interesting part as the episode essentially becomes a sub movie (specifically the classic Dick Powell directed The Enemy Below and the Robert Wise directed Run Silent, Run Deep with the episode coming out years before The Wrath of Khan) with both commanders taking turns in attempting to outthink and out maneuver each other, a mutual respect forming between them without them ever truly meeting. There is even the old standard of both sides going quiet to draw the other out and a cloaking mechanism that draws comparisons to the later The Hunt for Red October. The Enterprise attacks but is unable to destroy the Romulans while able to keep themselves intact through some skillful maneuvering. They eventually are force to head into the neutral zone after them with the Romulans destroyed after much back and forth and the two commanders only conversing at all via viewscreen once just before the Romulan commander dies, choosing to go down with his ship.
There have been a few great episodes before this, but “Balance of Terror” is the first classic episode in the series. It’s excellent from beginning to end and the few missteps can’t take away from the overall quality and maybe even a bit of hope that future episodes will deal with the issues it touched on more. The Romulans are also the first great villains of the series even if I get the feeling that so much of that has to do with commander and his contrast with his civilization as a whole.
– I’ll try to keep future episode talk out of these reviews but it’s hardly like I have a lot to talk about there. I will say though, in many ways, this feels like a dry run for the aforementioned The Wrath of Khan with its similar set ups and certain episode beats.
– Honestly, I think the attendees were excited to be freed from that ceremony.
– The planets names of Romulus and Remus certainly foreshadow bad times ahead for Remus but despite clearly hearing (and it making sense for the name to be Remus), the episode insists on calling it Romii.
– Obviously the Romulans are modelled after the romans but aside from some vaguely centurion type clothing (if you squint), the name, and the fact that they like war there isn’t much to the comparison yet. Heck, I’d say at this point a better comparison would be to the Spartans.
– Why the hell does Rand show up randomly and seemingly only so she can hold Kirk? She never can get a fair shake on this show.
– “In a different reality, I could have called you friend”
– Stiles gets knocked out and Spock saves the day (multiple times but finally with the killing blow) and his life. This is enough to get Stiles to believe he was wrong about Spock (no word on whether he has realized yet that racism is bad)
– Roddenberry is really optimistic about people learning from their mistakes and human faults which I guess I noble because I’ve lost that ability.
“What Are Little Girls Made Of?”
Production Order #10
Airing Order #7
Directed by James Goldstone
Written by Robert Bloch
Nurse Chapel returns and we get a bit of backstory on her which is unceremoniously dumped on the audience in the prologue. Her fiancé (and teacher…), an acclaimed medical archaeologist (whatever that is), disappeared five years ago on a planet and she joined Starfleet in the belief that one day they would be reunited despite no evidence of him having been found before. This time however he manages to contact the Enterprise and request that Kirk alone beams down (who does so with Chapel and later two security personnel/redshirts).
They meet an assistant of Dr. Korby who seems suspicious as all get out, not recognizing Chapel (who he knows) and hardly concerned with the death of one of the random security officers (not that anyone makes too much of a fuss) who falls down a bottomless cavern as a strange, large, bald Richard Kiel looking man slinks away unseen (the other is unceremoniously killed by the man shortly there after). He takes them to a Dr. Korby eager to show off his great discovery. It’s the process of producing life-like androids and that revelation is the point where you can basically shut off the episode since you anyone who’s seen something with androids knows how this all plays out.
It’s a discovery that’s made when Korby turns on Kirk for trying to contact his crew and holds him at gunpoint leading to his assistant being shot and revealed to be a robot. I don’t know what to say to you if you didn’t immediately guess Korby, his hulking goon, and his scantily clad female assistant were androids as well but that doesn’t stop the episode from acting like it is supposed to be a surprise as it slowly reveals each. He offers immortality in the form of transferring the “souls” into the androids and even editing certain personality traits but it really behoove him to start by convincing Kirk on the android thing before you start talking about upgrading the humans. It’s like two lacking episodes got shoved together and the show loses focus on which one it actually cares to deal with leaving a messy and confused tone.
Once the large man captures Kirk and lies to the crew (mimicking Kirk’s voice) saying he’s okay, it also becomes clear this is going to be an episode carried by William Shatner as no regular makes more than a brief appearance and Chapel is a nonentity, a charisma black hole with no real personality. I like Shatner on the show and all but he’s so much better when he has someone to play off of and Korby is too lame to make for an interesting counterpart. Once again though, we get another character to be played by William Shatner, this time in the form of an exact android duplicate. Well exact aside from the fact that he doesn’t eat, he doesn’t have a “soul”, and behaves just a bit off. Spock not noticing something was up with android Kirk in approximately five seconds just feels ridiculous. Then again, it was such a terribly executed and half assed plan that it seemed hardly worth the bother. He just beams onto the ship to retrieve some plans and leaves drama free.
Kirk saves the day with some logic bombs on Andrea (the female android) but I think they worked on me too because they were so poorly thought out, I was left lost by how it worked. There was some message in there about love and I think they were trying to convey that the robots were meant to be incapable of it but actually were and yet there’s no real indication of love present. I’ll acknowledge that the flat acting all around doesn’t help but as a whole it just feels like an episode long expansion of the end of “I Was Made to Love You” (albeit one made 35 years before that episode) without any of the emotional impact. It should have been a showcase for Nurse Chapel and yet it left me colder to her than I was before. It’s a real nothing of an episode and Kirk’s remark that “Korby was never here” felt apt since it felt as if neither was the episode.
– The answer to the title per the nursery rhyme is “sugar and spice and everything nice” (Chemical X optional).
– We have our first redshirt death! Well two of them anyway.
– I criticize the outfit Andrea is forced to wear but it’s not like the short skirts for the uniform that women have to wear for Starfleet is so much better.
– Kirk really does love to be shirtless.
– At one point Kirk rips off a rock (stucco) that looks an awful lot like a giant phallus. I hope that was intentional.
– There’s a reference to “old ones” which hints at a much cooler Lovecraftian theme that could have been done.
– I know this is a network show in the 60s but having the people disappear into nothing when blasted by the phaser gun is pretty lame and far too clean.
– Korby’s female assistant looks real hurt when he starts making out with Chapel and considering her outfit which is a cross between overalls and something out of a video game along with the creepy way Korby describes her and her having to do whatever he says (“I’m not programmed for you [Kirk]”…), I’m guessing that she was an android designed with a very specific and unsavory purpose in mind. Chapel gets some good lines in about this too so it’s not just me who thinks he was attending to her personally.
– I know he was trying to prove a point about something and turn her against Korby but Kirk takes time to sexually assault the female android and it’s almost too easy to call this show monumentally sexist. There isn’t an episode that goes by where the female characters get the shaft (phrasing!) and writing/plotting concerning them has dated horribly.
– We really are continuing this pattern of first episode of the day being significantly better than the second one.
Next Up: On Monday we close out season four of Doctor Who with the return of the aforementioned Daleks in “The Evil of the Daleks”. On Friday, Star Trek: TOS will be covering “Dagger of the Mind” and “Miri”.