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Star Trek: The Original Series Episode 02 - The Corbomite Maneuver

Episode 02
The Corbomite Maneuver
Original Airdate: November 10, 1966

The Enterprise crew is out mapping a specific area of space – they're the first ship in the Federation to make it out this far, so they're taking notes and pictures for everyone else. Jim's getting a physical, so Spock's got the conn (in the big chair, in other words) when out of nowhere, a glowing cube appears in front of the ship and moves with them in any direction when they try to elude it.

Spock gives the command to go to red alert, but Jim has no idea; the light blinks, but Dr. Leonard H. McCoy, new Chief Medical Officer, doesn't tell him, opting instead to proceed with the physical, as he fears he'll never get the captain back down to finish it otherwise. When Jim realizes it, he chides McCoy for it after getting briefed on the situation by Spock. He gets dressed and gets to the bridge immediately.

On the bridge, a crewmember named Bailey starts getting all nervous and loud about the cube, and Spock says something mild to him about it. He backtalks Spock – seems, as a human, he has something called an adrenaline gland and it doesn't mean he can't do his job (whatever, punk – none of the other humans got all upset). Spock, of course, retains the verbal upper hand and tells him it sounds quite inconvenient; he should look into having it removed. Sulu giggles at this, and tells Bailey he might as well hang it up – Spock always wins.

Bailey, in fact, shows his ass throughout the episode, being petulant with superior officers, backtalking, interrupting, and finally at one point, throwing a wall-eyed fit and getting himself excused from the bridge. Also, several times he's given an order, and just goes tharn requiring Sulu to lean over and carry it out. McCoy thinks this is because Bailey's not ready for this responsibility, that he's been promoted too fast because Jim sees himself as a younger man in Bailey.

The cube proves inescapable, and worse, dangerous – the faster the ship goes, the faster the cube goes, and the more speed the cube puts on, the more lethal radiation it gives off. Firing on it destroys it, but then a large spherical ship immediately shows up. Its pilot locks them in his tractor beam and sends them a message; he is Balok, his ship, the Fesarius, of the First Federation, and since they destroyed the warning buoy instead of moving on, they are clearly savages and must be destroyed themselves. Jim tries to explain, but is cut off. They are given ten minutes to make their peace with their gods. In a move that any captain'd be happy with, that message was broadcast all over the ship somehow by Balok.


Spock manages to get a visual on Balok, and he looks permanently scandalized. Like something that absolutely flies in the face of good taste once came up on his viewscreen and his face froze that way.

Jim sends a shipwide message intended to calm the crew, and sends an attempt at peacemaking to Balok, but Balok's not having it. The crew tensely counts down the time, and Spock says something about chess. Right then, McCoy and Jim get into a nasty argument that ends when Jim yells, "any time you think you can bluff me, doctor - !" Between Spock's chess recommendation and the word "bluff," Jim has an epiphany – not chess, poker!

He opens a channel to Balok and bluffs the alien, saying that the ship's hull is made of an alloy called "Corbomite;" if the ship is fired upon, it will cause a reaction that will destroy anything within a huuuuuge radius. This will guarantee that the firing ship gets hoist by their own petard and blown up as well.

Bailey comes back to the bridge (and receives permission to do so) as the countdown winds down. Tense seconds pass … then minutes ... nothing. Then Balok tells them he's delayed the destruction of their ship, and wants proof of this Corbomite. Jim abruptly tells him no, and cuts off the transmission; let Balok sweat it for a bit.

Yeoman Rand shows up with coffee in a fabulously futuristic pot that I'll show you later.

The ship launches a smaller one – Balok will pilot it and lead them to a First Federation planet, where they will be interned, and their ship destroyed. He locks another tractor beam on them and pulls them along, but the strain on the little ship is too great. The Enterprise is easily able to pull away, and before they can leave the area, the smaller ship sends a distress call too faint for the mother ship to hear – Balok's in trouble, and only the Enterprise can help.

Clint Howard, perfectly cast
Jim decides that they're going to board the ship and render any assistance they can, including medical. He, McCoy, and Bailey beam over, and find that the Balok they thought they'd been dealing with is a mannequin; the real Balok is a small, childlike being (the most perfectly Clint Howard has ever been cast in his life) with a booming voice and charming sense of humor. He was just testing them to see if they were really what they appeared to be. They are, and he is pleased to invite them to share a drink of Tranya with him as they share their culture and knowledge with him. Jim volunteers Bailey to stay for some hours and participate in a cultural exchange – he feels he'll get back a better officer, one a little less afraid of the unknown. Bailey accepts with pleasure.

Notable Moments

  • We're getting closer to a finished product here – Spock's back in blue, Sulu's in gold, Scotty's in red, and Uhura & McCoy are here. Next episode, we're finally there when Uhura wears red.
  • Why is the red alert silent? Other, of course, than allowing that scene between Jim & McCoy.


  • In the corridor as Jim goes to his quarters is a crewmember who can only be OMG JADZIA DAX BACK FROM THE FUTURE TO HELP SAVE JIM FROM … oh wait, wrong episode. Seriously, it looks just like her from behind.
  • We learn a few things about our main characters this episode. Of Jim, we learn that he's no tyrant – he puts up with a lot from Bailey before relieving him of duty, and even gives him a chance to grow as an officer at the end, and he quickly forgives a nasty argument with McCoy. Of McCoy, we learn that he doesn't much care about Starfleet protocol, isn't afraid to spar with the captain, and pays attention to the psychology of the crew. Of Spock, we learn that he's a smartass. These traits are established now, and each will be seen again frequently.
  • Another beginning: the quiet discussion Jim & Spock have at the height of the tension; Jim uses Spock as a sounding board, and Spock enjoys that. It's the beginning of an important friendship.
  • Spock, at one point, says that the implacable Balok, who refuses to listen to them, reminds him of his father. At this point, it was undoubtedly meant as an amusing throwaway line, but as we come to know his father, it becomes a very interesting and apt remark.
  • Before they beam over to the smaller ship, they put on these silly looking utility belts for their phasers, tricorders and communicators.
  • Another thing about McCoy established in this episode: his distrust of the transporters. As they're getting ready to beam over, Jim asks if he's ready, and he answers "no, but you won't let that stop you."
  • Best Line of the Episode
    Jim to Balok:
    "It may interest you to know that since the initial use of Corbomite more than two of our Earth centuries ago, no attacking vessel has survived the attempt. Death has little meaning to us. If it has none to you, then attack us now. We grow annoyed at your foolishness."

    Sex Appeal Moment
    Wouldn't mind catching him alone in the turbolift

    Mid-century Design Moment

    The coffeepot I mentioned earlier. Oh, my. Ikea, why haven't you made this for me yet?

    I See You've Managed to Get Your Shirt Off
    Shirt Off

    Things Bones Isn't
    A moon shuttle conductor

    She Canna Take Anymore Captain
    Just after they break away from the small ship's tractor beam, Scotty wants them to stay put for a few hours so he can work on the engines. Yeah, that'll happen.

    Trek 101
    You'll notice that in the first paragraph, I used the phrase "Spock's got the conn." It's a naval term, meaning "has control of the engines and rudder." (Well, according to Wikipedia anyway; I've always known it meant "has command of the ship," but the actual traditional term I never knew till looking it up just now.)

    Also, Trek is full of terminology all its own. Archerite, quadrotriticale, nanites, bio beds, Bendii Syndrome, atavachrons ... if your head is starting to spin or you feel like everyone's in on a joke but you, or you're losing interest because it feels like too much to keep track of, you need a glossary. The official Star Trek site has a great multipart glossary, including technology and science and medical sections. And you can always ask me in the comments.

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