TOS: S1E11: “The Corbomite Maneuver”

In which Kirk blows up a screensaver, a new officer is really bad at his job, and a change to a more sustainable schedule causes the episode featuring a flying baby to air on Valentine’s Day.

The Enterprise is now farther out that any human has ever been, and is making star maps. There are doing this by taking photographs. Photographs. I mean, presumably these will be entered into the database for parallax analysis and converted to 3D computer models, but shouldn’t this be a core function of the ship you send on a five-year mission to uncharted territory? Shouldn’t it passively gather stellar positioning data automatically? If not continually, then at least without manual input. This is like systems administration 101, guys. Suddenly! A ship approaches aggressively! We can’t evade!
"It appears to be... a screensaver, sir."

“It appears to be… a screensaver, sir.”

I’ve noticed Uhura switches back and forth between Command Yellow and Operations Red. I assume this is a production order thing and not that Uhura keeps requesting a transfer into and out of command track. Anyone have details on this?

The screensaver ship is tiny – about the size of the bridge. Spock is handling things for the moment while the captain gets his physical, and apparently McCoy is authorized to allow the captain to ignore a Red Alert. I’m not convinced this is good practice, particularly if the captain is just doing reclining leg presses. I mean, maybe if he was incapacitated with some temporal brain-worm, but not for a physical.

Crewman Baily is not having a good day of it. He’s tried mouthing off to both Spock and Kirk and presumed that Kirk wants to just blow up the cube instead of trying to evade it. I wouldn’t be surprised if he finds a red shirt instead of a gold one in his locker tomorrow morning. Was there more

Come to think of it, my cup runneth empty right about now...

Come to think of it, my cup runneth empty right about now…

terrible students in his year than they had red uniforms? The cube ship is spinning really fast, emiting ionizing radiation, and glowing too bright. Which sounds exciting, I know, but don’t let that fool you. It’s just colorful. Apparently the colors are too much for Baily, the buttmonkey of this episode. He’s just bad at obeying orders. We are, however, treated to a touching scene where McCoy calls Kirk out on promoting Baily too fast and then being too harsh with him.

Kirk is a man after my own heart. Brandy at work and horrified revulsion at a salad. This is not food, it’s what food eats. Fortunately for him, an actual ship interrupts his rumination. (Biology joke! Zing!) A sphere with a tractor beam, this time as much larger than the Enterprise as the Enterprise was larger than the cube – about a mile across. Commanded by this Balok person, who decides to eliminate the Enterprise. Trying a little to hard with the whole “ten earth time periods known as minutes” thing, though.

This is acutally a wonderful speech by Kirk. I will therefore quote it verbatim:

Captain to crew. Those of you who have served for long on this vessel have encountered alien lifeforms. You know the greatest danger facing us is ourselves, an irrational fear of the unknown. But there’s no such thing as the unknown, only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood. In most cases we have found that intelligence capable of a civilization is capable of understanding peaceful gestures. Surely a lifeform advanced enough for space travel is advanced enough to eventually understand our motives. All decks stand by. Captain out.

His mouth says 'what do they want from us' but his eyes say 'I should probably not be allowed on the Bridge any more.'

His mouth says ‘what do they want from us’ but his eyes say ‘I should probably not be allowed on the Bridge any more.’

So after this point, Balok shows up on screen as your classic long-faced no-haired slit-eyed Area 51 alien and says, basically, “You have no chance to survive make your time.” This does not go over well with Baily, which does not go over well with Kirk. Do they just pick random people off the street and offer them a place on a starship?

There’s not a whole lot of really interesting non-synopsis hooks in this episode, except that we have the rare chance to see Kirk stressed. The imminent destruction of his ship puts him into that state we see in Quirky Detective shows like Psych or Monk, where all the details come together marinated in adrenaline, and a plan forms. Don’t play poker against Kirk, and don’t try to give him a no-win scenario. These are basically his defining character traits.

Actually, let’s talk about poker for a moment. It’s used in Star Trek as the quintessentially human game. Here, Spock mentions chess as a game of logic, and when the game is over, both parties know. Kirk counters with poker, where a determined player can win on nothing. It is a game bounded by math but illogical. In Next Generation, we get to see a number of different approaches converge. LaForge and Crusher generally play Greek chorus, though they do have their moments. The game tends to be between the instinctual Riker, the emotionally analytic Troi, the numerically analytic Data, and Worf who, despite growing up human, doesn’t really get the game because it clashes with his idea of who he should be. In other words, a human insider, an alien insider, an alien outsider, and a human outsider. Star Trek uses poker like Babylon 5 uses elevators – a metaphor for raw interaction with all the trappings of civilization stripped away. On these terms, don’t play poker with Kirk. He’ll get you to fold a full house against his seven high.

Babies, man. Can't fuckin' trust 'em.

Babies, man. Can’t fuckin’ trust ’em.


Especially not if you are a tiny baby man who commands from a couch. This is one of those things the Star Trek original series just does sometimes, and you just gotta roll with it. Like time travel at the end of The Naked Time. Why is Balok a baby? Why is the whole thing a ruse to test the intentions of Starfleet? No reason. Hell with it.



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