Friday, October 21, 2011

Balance Of Terror

Note: this post is one of a series of STAR TREK episode reviews originally written for the newsgroup. For more information, please read this post.

Episode 9 of 80
December 13, 1966
Writer: Paul Schneider
Director: Vincent McEveety

Basically a ripoff of 20th Century Fox’s film THE ENEMY BELOW, which starred Robert Mitchum and Curt Jurgens, this first-season episode is one of the series’ best. It’s smart and suspenseful with crackerjack performances by William Shatner as Captain Kirk and Mark Lenard (HERE COME THE BRIDES) as his Romulan counterpart.

Schneider may have been derivative when coming up with the story, but he more than made up for it with his creation of one of STAR TREK’s most enduring villains. The Romulans appeared for the first time in “Balance of Terror”: a species that still plays a major role in the Federation’s film, television, and literary adventures 45 years later. I have always believed the Romulans were much more interesting as characters than the Klingons, which became overused by TREK creators. I think it’s because the Klingons, who are one-dimensionally evil, are a lot easier to write than the Romulans, who are honorable in their own way.

The plot finds the U.S.S. Enterprise investigating the destruction of Federation outposts near the Romulan Neutral Zone and discovering a Romulan Bird of Prey (a cool-looking model), led by an unnamed commander (Lenard), is responsible. What follows is a tense, sweaty game of cat-and-mouse between the two ships and, more importantly, two captains who develop a forced respect for each other.

Director Vincent McEveety, who must have recognized the show’s similarity to old World War II submarine pictures, handles the episode the same way. Although touches like having the crew whisper so as not to be heard and shots like the lopsided, crippled Enterprise hanging in space are not scientifically accurate, they’re nice homages to those old films and helped the audience get into the spirit of the adventure.

“Balance of Terror” contains another example of a Federation navigator freaking out. Bailey freaks out of fear in “The Corbomite Maneuver,” Riley turned killer in “The Conscience of the King,” and, of course, Mitchell became a god and tried to murder Kirk in “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” Here, Kirk has to contend with Stiles (Paul Comi), a bigot who suspects Spock (Leonard Nimoy) of treason when the crew discovers the Romulans look a lot like Vulcans.

McEveety’s sure directorial hand is demonstrated in the episode’s bookending chapel scenes. The show opens with a wedding between crew members and is shot with brightness and joy to symbolize a new beginning. The tag between Kirk and Martine (Barbara Baldavin), whose new husband has been killed, is dark and sad and brooding. I like the idea of a wedding about the Enterprise. It’s a nice reminder of one of the traditional roles of a ship’s captain that wasn’t seen very often in STAR TREK.

1 comment:

Christopher Lindsay said...

Great analysis of Balance of Terror. The Romulans are definitely more complex characters, but the Klingons, with their adherence to a code of honor and violent behavior, are more "fun" to watch.

Great observation: "Freaking out" is a regular motif on Star Trek TOS.

I wrote a short post on "Balance of Terror" called "The Doctrine of Proportional Response." If you would like to read it, I am open to any feedback:

Minor suggestion: the idea of a wedding [on] the