TOS: S1E14: “Balance of Terror”

In which we get our first glimpse of the military and political intrigue that makes Star Trek actually worth watching, we see wartime prejudice, and I stop writing these reviews to watch all the WWII submarine movies. All of them.

Of course, maybe he just can't see with that light shining directly into his eyes.

Of course, maybe he just can’t see with that light shining directly into his eyes.

Some sort of ceremony is being performed in which candlelighting is integral, but what’s this? Several outposts are going dark. This is bad news. The Captain won’t let him stop that from performing this wedding, however. Nor will he let Yeoman Rand’s significant looks phase him. But when the alert comes in, he doesn’t even rattle off a hasty “You’re married, in case one of you gets hospitalized responding to this crisis and need next-of-kin status.” Seems kind of remiss to me.

Romulus and Remus have not yet been mentioned on-camera before, but now we know a state of very careful diplomacy exists between them and the Federation, in the form of a Neutral Zone between the two political entities. Several outposts on the border are going dark. In as much of a vacuum as

Because who calls the sector their capital is in "Z-6"?

Because who calls the sector their capital is in “Z-6”?

possible, let’s consider what we know already just from his log entry and what we’ve seen so far. Fact: when faced with an existential memetic threat to the entire Federation, Starfleet enforced a quarantine of its own citizens against Talos IV, rather than take the potentially more expedient measure of glassing the planet. From this we determine that the Federation would prefer not to wage war even when it has the possibility of winning decisively. So it seems likely that the Romulan Star Empire is hostile to the Federation but weaker, or at least more poorly positioned, and thus can’t run roughshod over  a few dozen colonies of a few thousand people each. Furthermore, from the map it looks like the Federation did much better than the Romulans in the conflict between the two. Perhaps only “better” if that red dot is Earth, but I don’t think it is. Spock fills us in on a few details. The Romulans and the Federation clashed back in the 2200s when both ships were using atomic weaponry and unsophisticated ships. No side has ever seen the other because video transmission didn’t exist, apparently. Apparently we’ve exchanged codecs with them lately.

The Stupid Crewman of the week will be Stiles, whose family fought in the Earth/Romulus war. It would seem prudent, at this point, to ask the loudmouth with a family grudge to vacate the tactical console, but I guess they don’t have the crew to spare on spur-of-the-moment shift exchanges. But at least now we know that the Romulans paint their ships like birds. I’m not entirely sure why – it’s not like any species that makes it to space is going to be afraid of a bird, and any planetary culture they try to subjugate will be more afraid of a bird than of a spaceship appearing out of nowhere to spit plasma that can melt through a mile of solid iron.

So Stiles and Sulu believe there’s a spy on board for some reason that is not adequately explained, and fortunately we get to intercept their transmissions home just in time to see that Romulans look like Vulcans. And we get to see a little internal view of the Romulan ship. Highly militarized, which isn’t actually surprising, given the budget of a spacecraft. But more militarized than the Constitution-class. And from some of the dialogue, the society is big on cronyism, to the point where a crewman who broke radio silence while in enemy territory and reduced in rank for it is likely to have his powerful friends cause problems for the Romulan captain.

Apparently, the Romulans have superior weaponry and they have cloaking technology, but only sublight speeds. I’m going to be harping on the “Where No Man Has Gone Before” plan of bombarding a planet with the cancer-beam plan for a while, so shouldn’t it be possible to bait the Romulans into sending a huge fleet, at which point the Federation could flank them and bombard the planet, if it came to total war. The Romulan commander doesn’t appear to be a monster, though, so it’s hopeful it won’t come to that, and we won’t see the Federation have to resort to that until late in Deep Space 9.

"A red eye, lidless, wreathed in flame..."

“A red eye, lidless, wreathed in flame…”

The Romulan ship appears and the Enterprise goes to warp in reverse. They must have caught the plasma ball in the warp field because the alternative – that it’s gaining on them when they’re going superluminal speeds, is not consistent with anything we know about how warp works. Clearly, this weapons is more powerful than phasers, or Kirk wouldn’t be shocked at its destructive power. Then again, ship-to-ship phasers would have hit already, instead of ranging out. The Enterprise phasers hold up better over range. Plus, if they’re trading weapons blasts, at least the crew of the Enterprise has chairs.

"Commander! How do you expect us to get any work done at this shitty console?"

“Commander! How do you expect us to get any work done at this shitty console?”

The Romulans are ejecting chaff. Including corpses. I think it’s time to watch Operation Petticoat again. Kind of a hilarious movie, if I recall. And also full of sexist attitudes, which I should really watch while I’m still inured to them from TOS. We’ve switched into a submarine movie anyway, with both ships running silent. Maybe I’ll watch The Hunt for Red October instead. Sean Connery as a soviet sub commander with a scottish accent. Also, Spock is being kind of a fuckup this episode. This is actually a very good submarine movie wrapped up in half an episode, and is the first real fight the Enterprise has been in. It’s an excellent establisher for the military capabilities of the Constitution-class, which include shrugging off a nuclear device at a hundred meters.  This, in turn, gives us (that is to say, people who are good at physics, which is not me) an idea of the kind of energy output needed to actually penetrate the Enterprise’ defenses, and makes warfare in the 23rd century that much more terrifying.

2 thoughts on “TOS: S1E14: “Balance of Terror”

  1. Pingback: Worlds in a Blender | TNG: S6E14: “Face of the Enemy”

  2. Pingback: Worlds in a Blender | TAS: S1E10: “Mudd’s Passion”

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