“Space, The final Frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. It’s five-year mission: To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before!”
Balance of Terror
Season 1, Episode 14
Original air date: December 15, 1966
“Mawrage, Mawrage is what brings us together today.” Crewmen Angela Martine and Robert Tomlinson are about to be married by Captain Kirk, who is worried about the recent loss of communications with outposts two and three near the Neutral Zone with the Romulan Empire. The wedding ceremony, which opens with the “Since the days of sailing ships..” line that Picard also uses when he marries Riker and Troi in Star Trek: Nemesis, is interrupted by a red alert – outpost four is under attack. Kirk opens a ship wide channel and Spock summarizes the war between Earth and the Romulans 100 years before, which took place in such a way that no one has ever seen or spoken to a Romulan. Mr. Stiles, our fourth mouthy Navigator in a row, lost ancestors in that war and has a real stick up his rear for the Romulans.
Outpost four is destroyed as the Enterprise is in the middle of communications with its commander. The weapon used is tremendously powerful, able to totally pulverize the stations and the asteroids they are built on. The Romulan ship appears for a few moments on their view screens, but then disappears having cloaking technology. Spock manages to pick up a sensor reading they assume is the enemy ship, he and Kirk speculate that the energy required for the cloak must use up a tremendous amount of power and they must not be able to fire the powerful weapon when cloaked. Ohura manages to pick up communications from the Romulan vessel and Spock is able to tap into their bridge video system revealing the Romulan Commander who looks exactly like a Vulcan – Stiles gives Spock dirty looks but is admonished by Kirk to show no bigotry on his bridge.
On the enemy vessel, the Romulan Commander (and that’s the only name he gets) laments to his long-time colleague only referred to as Centurian, that he doesn’t like the prospect of restarting a war with Earth, but he will do his duty. Back on the Enterprise the senior officers meet to discuss what they should do, Spock points out how powerful the weapon is but they also discover that the Romulans can only fly at impulse speed putting the Enterprise at a huge advantage in that area. Stiles calls to immediately attack and to his shock Mr. Spock agrees. Spock speculates that Romulans are related to Vulcans, but having not moved toward logic they would be as bloodthirsty and violent as his species was in its past. McCoy is the voice for peace, but he is ignored. Kirk wants to use the dust from an approaching comet to detect the Romulan ship and open fire.
The next half hour is basically a submarine movie. Kirk stays away from the Warbird in such a manner it looks like a shadow of their own ship to the Romulans, but the Romulan Commander knows its an enemy ship. Each Captain plays cat and mouse games with the other. The Romulan Commander figures out Kirk’s plan for the comet and changes course, the Enterprise fires weapons at the direction of the Romulans while there are no direct hits the Warbird is damaged, the Enterprise’s phasers overheat in the process rendering them temporarily inoperable. The Romulans fire the big weapon (can I just call it a disruptor?) But using their warp capacity to speed away, the Enterprise discovers the weapon has a limited range and stays just outside that distance, still following the sensor blip they now know is the Romulan ship. The Enterprise decides to overtake the Romulans with their greater speed before they can enter the neutral zone, but the Romulans release debris that confuse the sensors so the Enterprise fires at the debris instead of the Warbird. Kirk decides to follow the Romulans into the neutral zone on his own authority and goes to his quarters to rest. There’s a nice moment when he expresses doubts to McCoy and McCoy gives him a sort of pep talk.
Kirk decides to play dead and go silent, hoping the Romulans come out of the neutral zone where they can destroy them on their side of the boarder. Spock accidentally hits a button on his control panel when rising from fixing something or other, alerting the Romulans to their location. Stiles gives Spock a look like he did it on purpose. The Warbird releases more debris including an old nuclear weapon, the Enterprise fires before the weapon can get near to them, but they do set it off causing limited damage. The Romulans think the Enterprise has been incapacitated and the Romulan Commander wants to just head home, but he’s reminded by Decius, apparently his second in command as the Centurion was killed in the first phaser attack, of his duty and he turns to attack even as they have limited fuel left for cloak or the disruptor. The Enterprise still has front phasers but only Lt. Tomlinson is active in the phaser room, Stiles having done that job before volunteers to go down there. Spock checks in on them and Stiles spits venom at Spock. Just as the Warbird turns to attack the Enterprise, there’s a chemical leak in the phaser room and Kirk’s orders to fire are not carried out. Spock runs back to the room where Tomlinson is unconscious and Stiles is also about to succumb. Spock fires the phasers and the Warbird is almost completely destroyed.
Kirk communicates with the Romulan Commander and offers to save him and his crew. The Commander refuses but does say “in a different reality we could have called each other friend” before self-destructing the Warbird. In sickbay, Stiles gets his comeuppance having to admit that Spock risked his life to save him. Spock says saving a talented navigator is only logical. The only death in the whole ordeal is to Tomlinson, who’s fiancée is in the chapel where she is consoled by Kirk.
Known to Fans As:
The First Romulan Episode
Notable Guest Stars:
Mark Lenard as The Romulan Commander. Lenard had many small guest spots in TV and movies dating back to the 1950’s, but he is best known for playing Spock’s father Sarek in this series, several of the Star Trek movies and on TNG where he mind melded with Picard. Lenard dies of multiple myeloma (two of my grandparents died of this as well) at the too young age of 72.
Lawrence Montaigne as Decius. More well known for playing Spock’s Pon Farr rival Stonn in Amok Time, which we’ll probably get to next week. Montaigne was also supposed to take over the role of Spock between seasons one and two when Leonard Nimoy was about to take a role on Mission: Impossible. Nimoy ended up coming back to Star Trek – but then having a two season run on the secret agent series after Star Trek was cancelled in 1969. Montaigne died in 2017 of natural causes at the age of 86.
The outposts are called “Earth Outposts” instead of Federation. This starts getting straightened out in the second half of the season.
Right here in the beginning we get the theory that Romulans are somehow related to Vulcans – this gets a lot of weight all through the Star Trek Universe, including Spock’s run on TNG.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen these episodes as I mentioned so I forgot how many TNG episodes mirror these. How many Romulan Commanders are going to lament that the Federation and Romulans should be friends before they finally become friends? It’s been like 150 years now.
Vulcan Nerve Pinches: None
Damn it Jim: Not really, just laments about the preciousness of life
Kirk’s Shirt Off: No
Aged the Best:
The Romulans, what a well to go back to. Their martial, Roman like empire, the Vulcan / Romulan split, the Romulan Commanders who disagree with the overall Empire. This provides endless storylines right up to the most recent series Star Trek: Picard.
Aged the Worst:
I know “Red Shirts” are an actual cultural short cut for expendable members of any show – the new fireman that’s not part of the regular cast, the soldier nobody’s ever seen before, etc. But so far, it’s the navigators that have been the rotating cast members of the week. They disagree with orders, have to be relieved or disciplined etc. Since when do Junior officers get to just mouth off to the Captain, and why is it always the navigator? This changes obviously when Checkov joins the crew in season two, that’s when the Red Shirt era really begins.
A, watching Kirk and The Romulan Commander match wits. Actual tactical differences that make sense; power vs. speed, cloak vs. firing ability, different levels of deception – there’s really nothing not to like.
Tomorrow’s Episode: The Galileo Seven