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Star Trek: The Original Series - Episode 08 - Balance of Terror

Original Airdate: December 15, 1966

Behind the Scenes

This is one of the good ones, so it's going to be hard to wring a lot of humor from it. This is a story of two flagships, the Federation's and the Romulan Star Empire's, and their two captains, both possessed of excellent strategic minds. It's the first time we meet the Romulans, and while I'm sure they were initially meant to be nothing more than a one-off villain of the week, the story, transplanted well from old World War II submarine movies, and the guest star's compelling acting, made the Romulans a memorable enemy and one of the most important and deadly Federation adversaries throughout the entire Trek universe. This will be even lengthier (!! I know) than usual because there is so much to cover in this one that ends up getting used later on. This episode is very heavy on the mythos-making. Also, it's just plain good.

In the future I shall endeavor to make them briefer. And funnier.

Synopsis

And can you believe I made my own headpiece?
We open in a room we've not seen before, a community room in which Rand is lighting a candle in the front and Scotty is jiggering a speaker on the wall. Guess what? It's our first Trek wedding! The Captain, obviously the officiant, no sooner walks in than Bones tells him the bridge is calling for him. Smiling, Jim walks over to the intercom and calls Spock. "Still no answer from Earth Outpost #2," he says. Jim's smile fades. "And now number 3's gone silent." Jim sees the bride, Angela Martine, arrive in his peripheral vision and says quietly to stay on course for #4 and to let him know when they arrive. He ends the conversation.

The bridal march begins and Scotty takes her arm and walks her down the aisle. Interestingly, given Roddenberry's beliefs about religion, she kneels for what sure looks like a moment of silent prayer when she gets there.

Awww, the groom, Robert Tomlinson, is a cutie. The bride, however, has a ridiculous Christmas tree garland as a headpiece. Before Jim can get much more than the beginning out, they are interrupted by an alert. Jim hails Spock, who explains that outpost 4 is under attack by an unknown vessel. They go to red alert, and the wedding is put on hold.

star map
In the captain's log, Kirk mentions planets Romulus and Remus for the first time, explaining that we are out near them … which means trouble. Despite being within visual sensor range of whatever vessel is attacking outpost 4, no amount of magnification can detect it. This week's navigator, Lt. Stiles, says tartly that there's no real doubt about who's attacking, and Jim shoots him a look. Spock puts the map of the sector on the viewscreen and we see a line drawn down the middle, separating the Federation side from the Romulan Star Empire side; their location on said map is getting closer to the line.

Jim opens a shipwide communication, and gives the floor to Spock. He tells the entire crew that, as they can see on their maps (so everyone's work area has an automatically commandeered viewscreen? Cool! Of course, as we are shown people stopping and listening in corridors, that doesn't really help them much), they are getting closer to the line of Earth outposts, built on asteroids, that monitor the Neutral Zone, which was established by treaty after the Earth-Romulan War of over a century ago.

The war, Spock reminds the crew, was fought with primitive atomic weapons and on primitive ships that allowed no visual ship-to-ship communication, therefore everything was done via subspace radio and they don't know what the Romulans look like. As Spock talks, the blinking light on the map representing the ship grows closer to outposts 1 & 2. When he surrenders the floor to Jim, Shatner starts a tiny bit, just as you do in a meeting when you're thinking ahead and are brought back … nice work.

Kirk addresses the crew that his orders are precise and inviolable. No act will be considered enough provocation to enter the Neutral Zone. They will defend themselves – but to avoid interstellar war, the outposts and the Enterprise will be considered expendable. He ends the transmission abruptly.

Stiles blurts out that they know that Outpost 4 is being attacked, and that if they move quickly they can intercept the Romulans. Jim interrupts him, pointing out that since there's been no contact in over a century, they don't know what a Romulan ship looks like.

"You'll know sir – they'll be painted like a giant bird of prey," says Stiles. Many, many of his family members were involved in the war, and none of them came back, he goes on to explain. Oh good. I'm sure Jim's delighted that his navigator is going to be completely objective and unbiased throughout this situation.

"Their war, Mr. Stiles. Not yours. Don't forget it," he reminds him. Stiles is not happy. Jim softens the message a little by putting a friendly hand on Stiles' shoulder as he passes.

Spock announces then that they are within sensor range of outposts 2 & 3; his readings tell him that they've both been destroyed, the asteroids they were on pulverized. Jim tells Sulu go to battlestations.

There's an interesting bit in engineering between the engaged couple; he says sarcastically, 'happy wedding day" and she tells him he won't get off her hook that easily – she's going to marry him. He says that for now, he's still her superior officer, so get busy, "mister."

So, they get married and she loses her position. Granted, they don't come right out and say whether it is or isn't her decision. Also, I hadn't caught this before; much was made at the time TWOK came out of Saavik's being a female referred to as "mister," but evidently it isn't the first time for that.

The Romulans really just got tired of intercepting their radio signals and hearing Stairway to Heaven

They reach Outpost 4 and raise Commander Hanson on visual; he tells them that Outposts 2, 3, and 8 are gone. They've been attacked by an unknown weapon, hit by enormous power that cut through their maximum shielding, and has nearly destroyed them despite their being nearly a mile underground. All around Hanson, wounded and covered in soot, is destruction and fire.

He says he has something on his sensors, coming fast. Jim tells Uhura to warn off the other ship, and she tries, but they refuse to acknowledge.

The attacking ship fires; there's a brilliant light and when it vanishes, the attackers have vanished, and Outpost 4 is destroyed. Spock notes that they became visible for a moment and Jim guesses that might they have to before they can fire. Spock thinks it's possible – they could become invisible by bending light, but the power cost would have to be enormous. The attackers don't seem to see the Enterprise, and Jim theorizes that the invisibility may work both ways with that kind of power consumption; their sensors may be hampered while they're invisible.

I might have known Dad would find a way to ruin this gig for me

The invisible ship changes course just then, and, working it out, Spock realizes that it's the exact course a ship would take to get from its current position to the Romulan homeworld.

Jim orders a parallel course, and Stiles bursts out with "don't you mean an intercept course, sir?" Oh, man. You are crossing a line, buddy, and I ain't talkin' about the Neutral Zone. Jim says no, that's not what he meant. He wants Helm and Navigation to match the ship's course heading and speed –he wants the Enterprise to appear to be a sensor reflection. He also adds, seeing that he clearly has to, "under no circumstances are you to cross into the Neutral Zone without my direct orders."

Stiles is upset and has the gall to say "may I respectfully remind the captain what has happened?" and goes on about crossing the Neutral Zone, perpetrating a sneak attack, killing men, and destroying bases.

"Stiles, are you questioning my orders?" Jim asks. Stiles smartly answers no, but then, out of the clear blue spy, er, sky, announces that he fears there might be spies aboard. And then Sulu agrees. WTF? Kirk all but rolls his eyes and agrees to an all decks security alert.

Spock took the last cup of coffee and didn't make more

Uhura is finally able to get a visual of the interior of the intruders' ship, and unbelievably, the intruders look just like Spock. Poor Spock gets an expression of resignation to a lifetime of hassle across his face.

Practically everyone on the bridge stares angrily at Spock's back including Sulu. Spock turns, feeling their eyes on him, and Jim looks at them with what appears to be irritation. He walks around the Helm/Navigation console, and without looking at Stiles, taps emphatically on the panel in front of him as he moves past.

Uhura tells Jim that she's got cryptography working on their transmissions and Stiles mumbles
"Give it to Spock." Jim walks back and says, "didn't quite get that?" Stiles says, rather weaselly, "nothing sir."

I will turn this car around
"Repeat it," Jim answers, in no mood for this bullshit.

"I was suggesting that Mr. Spock could probably get it for you sir," Stiles says disingenuously. "I assume that you're complimenting Mr. Spock on his ability to decode," Jim hints dangerously.

Stiles goes on, heedless. "I'm not sure sir." Oooh, no you didn't.

Jim pushes his chair around and looks down at him. "Well, here's one thing you can be sure of, mister, leave any bigotry in your quarters. There's no room for it on the bridge. Do I make myself clear?"

"You do, sir," Stiles responds. This guy is a court-martial waiting to happen. Gee, I wonder why we never see him again.

Uhura gives Spock the chip with the coded message so he can take a crack at it. Sulu sees the ship change course.

On the Romulan ship, the Commander and Subcommander disagree … the subcommander says he thinks the ship they see just within sensor range is nothing more than a reflection. The Commander says he thinks it's an Earth ship. A centurion asks if it's an Earth ship, why is it not attacking them? If it were him, says the Commander, he would study them first, and then attack.

The subcommander informs the Commander that he sent a message to the Praetor informing of him of the outcome of their glorious mission. The Commander is pissed that he broke the silence for such a foolish reason as that, and tells him that his message might have ended this glorious mission. He then busts him down two ranks, just like that. Daaaaamn. And you wonder why the Romulans have such a reputation for cold-blooded cruelty.

The Commander and the centurion have a conversation, with the Commander weary of the stupidity of this mission – the inevitable engaging of the other ship in war. The centurion wants to know what's so awful about that; the Commander is sick and tired of adherence to obedience and duty leading to more and more death.

Stiles tells Jim "we'll be in the Neutral Zone in less than an hour sir, assuming we don't turn back." Oh, no you didn't again. I think we're maybe supposed to see that even with a man so like Kirk in the big chair on the Romulan ship, they're much more hardass than humans; you get busted down two ranks for acting the fool over there, but Jim – by extension, humans – are more forgiving. Or something. Anyway, I'd love to see Jim demote this guy to yeoman third class right here, right now, but it's not going to happen.

are they still talking?
The bridge crew – minus Uhura – head to the conference room for a briefing on Outpost 3. Spock gives them all a dramatic demonstration of what Romulan plasma weapons can do to futuristically hard alloys, and then discussion ensues. Bones takes the time to exhibit some out-of-place pissiness about Spock's dispassion, and Jim ignores him. I feel bad saying this, as I adored Bones when I watched the show growing up, but he's really getting on my nerves as I rewatch these.

Bottom line, Jim wants to know, "Can we beat them?"

Scotty says there's no question; all they have is impulse power. Jim is comfortable that they can outrun them at least, and then Stiles opens his big mouth and mentions that their warp engines can be used to outrun them … or retreat. Jim says, "all right, go ahead, I asked for opinions."

"Sir," he says, "we have to attack immediately while they're still on our side of the Neutral Zone. It will be obvious that it was the Romulans who broke the treaty." Damnit, he has a point there.

Sulu scoffs, "Attack? Without a visible target?"

Stiles says they can use their sensors to find them. As they're discussing this, Jim shoots Spock a weary look. Stiles throws out, "what if they get home and report that we saw them and ran?"

And then Sulu says in a crisp, snotty tone, "…. And if they could report they destroyed us?" OOOO ICE BURN. Trust me; the delivery was high-handed and insulting. As Sulu does not normally get like this, I can only assume he's also sick of Stiles' shit.

Stiles has had enough of being opposed! He stands up and rants "These are Romulans, they'll be back, war war, blah blah blah" Everyone looks kind of bored or maybe it's just me. He also says that Spock's the expert in these people but always left that part out and he wants to know why.

Jim coolly appraises him the whole time, his face registering Stiles' little digs and he quietly, firmly tells Stiles, "sit down mister."

Spock says quietly, "I agree. Attack."

Bones responds hotly and sort of nonsensically. At this point I can't quite tell what side of the argument he's on. On the other hand he outranks Stiles and is heatedly refuting his logic, so go on, Bones.

Stiles gets in another little dig; "well, we know what they look like."

Spock again agrees. "Yes. We do. And if they are an offshoot of my Vulcan blood, then it becomes even more imperative that we attack."

"War is never imperative, Mr. Spock!" Bones replies.

"It is for them, Doctor." He explains that the Romulans may be an offshoot of his race that never grew past the race's violent tendencies and embraced logic; if so, then weakness is something they dare not show.

Bones gets really hot now. "Do you want a galactic war on your conscience?"

Jim lets that go, and then snaps into action. He asks questions of Uhura on the bridge & Spock and finds that the Romulans are changing course toward a comet in the area. They will leave a vapor trail after going through it, leaving them visible for a short time.

Good enough for the captain. He gives the order to prepare to attack and the meeting is over.

The Romulan ship goes through the comet, and the subcommander notices that their reflection is finally gone. Too late, the Commander realizes that it was no reflection, just as they're hit.

The Enterprise waits to take a second shot, but nothing more appears, and Kirk realizes that the Commander caught on. He gives the order to fire blind, and the Romulans are hit.

The centurion shoves his Commander out of the way of falling debris and is hit with it himself. Enraged, the Romulan Commander orders that all power be diverted to weapons, and they decloak to strike.

On the Enterprise bridge, there's a control circuit burnout, and just as Spock pops open a panel to get the phasers back online, the Romulans decloak. Sulu has enough time to ask if they're surrendering before he realizes how far from the truth that is.

WTF

The Romulans fire, and Enterprise can't evade quickly enough. If they had phasers, they could detonate the weapon before it got any closer, but of course, at the moment, they don't. Kirk hands something to a redshirt, telling him to get it into the space recorder and jettison it immediately, so you know things are serious. Indeed, Rand even shows up, asking if she should bother to continue logging something.

As the weapon gets closer, and Jim stares straight ahead at the viewscreen, she creeps up behind and rests her chin on Jim's shoulder like she's a puppy. Janice, honey …. no. Adults don't do that to their bosses, ever, and not during crises. Now go sit down. Oh, wait a minute, now she's actually grabbing hold of him.

IMPACT! Whoo, that was a rough one. And only now does Spock shut the panel and announce that phasers are operational.

pissing contest

They can't find the Romulan ship after all that discombobulation, and Spock thinks they may have thought Enterprise was destroyed and moved on, but Jim says warily, "I wouldn't assume that." Spock walks up to and leans over Stiles, and really invades his personal space, but when you're first officer, I guess you get to do that sort of thing. Stiles looks up at him challengingly and Spock gives him a challenging look right back.

On the Romulan ship, the Commander is tending to his wounded friend when the subcommander tells him that the sensor reflection has returned. "Activate cloak!" he responds, and when the subcommander protests that their fuel is low, he bellows, "Quickly!" Too late – as they're hit, the Commander braces the centurion.

We no sooner arrive at the Neutral Zone than Bones immediately asks, "Do we violate the treaty, captain? Once inside they can claim we did – it's a setup." One thing you gotta love about Bones, he never misses an opportunity to bust someone's chops.

Jim wants to get them before it goes that far and orders a phaser strike. It hits the target, and the increasingly desperate Commander orders all the debris from the destruction – and the body of his now dead friend – into the tubes to be jettisoned.

The Enterprise comes into the debris and at first the ruse works; they think they must have destroyed the ship, but Spock quickly realizes there's not enough debris. Unfortunately, they've lost them.

Both ships run silent for almost ten hours as they look for each other. In his quarters, Jim is interrupted by first Rand and then Bones. Jim tells the doctor that he'd like to be off on a nice long cruise somewhere, no deck tennis, no frantic dancing … just rest (and that was an interesting turn of phrase there, one I quite like.) He is getting stressed out and worn out. Bones answers him with a speech that's become frequently clipped and quoted:

"In this galaxy, there's a mathematical probability of 3 million earth type planets; in all the universe, 3 million million galaxies like this. In all of that - and perhaps more - only one of each of us. Don't destroy the one named Kirk."

On the bridge, Spock is silently working under his console, when he accidentally hits a button that sends up a loud noise. He turns it off quickly, and everyone, no one more so than him, looks stricken.

Meanwhile on the Romulan ship, they caught that noise, and the Commander has a look of triumph. They move to strike.

Stiles is still glaring at Spock a little later, when Jim says thoughtfully to turn all the power back on and reverse course; he has an idea about what the other captain is thinking. He orders phaser fire, and sure enough, his hunch was right; they score a hit.

There is frustration on the Romulan ship as the Commander calls Kirk a sorcerer and a mind reader. He orders more debris jettisoned, along with one of the old style nuclear warheads they are carrying, armed with a proximity fuse.

The Enterprise keeps firing, and hitting, when they notice the debris. The good news is that Spock finds the warhead; the bad news is they are still close enough to set it off. From McCoy, a report of 22 casualties from radiation burns, from Spock, a report of mostly minor damage.

"Glorious! Glorious!" a young Romulan says, to the Commander's irritation. His idea of celebrating that is to go home, but the subcommander reminds him that his duty is to finish them off. Without a word, the Commander gets across that he's too old for this and is tired of it, but agrees to fire.

Tomlinson is alone in the phaser area, and Stiles has experience with weapons, so he goes down to help. Spock heads down soon after to see if they need help and get a damage report, but Stiles just gives him the stinkeye and lets him know they won't need any assistance from the likes of him. Of course, Tomlinson looks at Stiles like he's crazy.

tra la la

Moments after Spock leaves, there's a sudden coolant leak in the room, and Tomlinson passes out. Stiles is nearly out too, so when Kirk yells repeatedly "FIRE!!!" over the intercom, (having seen the Romulans decloak again) and no one fires, Spock heads back at top speed. He fires the phasers, and then drags the men to safety.

Spock, incidentally, runs like a little girl.

On the viewscreen, the Romulan ship spins powerlessly, and at an odd angle, neatly suggesting a broken neck.

dead in space

Jim tells Uhura to open ship-to-ship communication, and soon sees the Romulan Commander onscreen. He tells him they're prepared to beam aboard all survivors, but the Commander tells him no; it isn't their way. "I regret that we meet in this way; you and I are of a kind. In a different reality, I could have called you friend," he tells Kirk. Jim asks him what purpose it will serve to die, and the Commander explains that they are creatures of duty; he has lived his life by it, and there is only one more to perform. He leans over his control panel, and destroys his ship.

In sickbay, Stiles is on a biobed, as Bones takes readings and Spock looks on. Jim enters and Stiles acknowledges that he wouldn't be alive if not for Spock, and starts to go on about what a jerk he's been to Spock when he's cut off. "I saved a trained navigator so he could return to duty. I am capable of no other feelings in such matters," Spock says (but a tiny bit smugly).

Jim asks how many they lost, and the answer is – of course – only one. Tomlinson.

Angela Martine is alone in the darkened chapel room when Jim enters quietly and approaches her. She walks over and embraces him sadly.

He says, "it never makes any sense," and tries to comfort her, but she tells him reassuringly "I'm all right," and leaves. Jim, looking sad and disturbed, follows her.

Notable Moments

he's *magnificent*
  • The Romulan Commander is played by Mark Lenard, who will later go on to play Ambassador Sarek, Spock's father. Lenard is, in my opinion, the number 2 best actor to ever play a Vulcan (and as I think that only three actors ever did a terrific job at it, and he's behind Nimoy, understand that I am giving Enterprise's Jolene Blalock high praise when I place her at number 3). Lenard pulls off an awful lot without needing to speak, or, when he does speak, needing to raise his voice. And what a voice! Right up there with George Takei's.

  • Ok, granted, even the male actors playing Vulcans & Romulans were given a lot of makeup to suggest their alienity, but they went way overboard on the centurion. Between his Romulan bangs and the makeup, he comes off like a drag queen. It doesn't help that the actor's attempts at "admiration" and "friendship" for the Commander came off more as "can't help lovin' that man of mine."

  • Martine & Tomlinson's would-be wedding isn't the only Trek wedding we'll see. Over the years and the series, we'll see the weddings of Miles O'Brien & Keiko, Worf & Jadzia Dax, William Riker and Deanna Troi, and probably more I can't remember just now.


  • Best Line of the Episode
    The Romulan Commander's words to Jim at the end:
    "In a different reality, I could have called you friend."

    Midcentury Design Moment

    The podium behind which Jim would have carried on the wedding.

    $19.99 at Ikea, it's the Smarghuj podium

    Gorgeous Visuals

    Again with the colored light - it works miracles to give scenes that might otherwise seem flat some visual interest.

    Mark Lenard

    Trek 101

    So, the Romulans. We've established in this episode most of what we know to this day about them. Their empire (or should I say "empire," as I don't believe they've ever bent more than their neighbor Remus to their will) is sometimes, though not always, called the Romulan Star Empire. They are (it's speculated and assumed in Balance of Terror, but confirmed/taken for granted from now on) a passionate, violent offshoot of the Vulcan race, who never took part in the societal reformation and embracing of logic over emotion that saved Vulcan from blowing itself up. They are a race that values duty, and are usually shown as being as cruel as it takes to achieve supremacy in any situation.

    They are also usually shown - even the civilians - as having the typical severe Vulcan haircut and wearing ugly, bulky, nubby wool clothes. I can think of exactly one Romulan who wore anything nice, and we'll meet her third season.

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