TREK-A-DAY: Balance of Terror (UPDATED)
EPISODE FOURTEEN: Balance of Terror
Dear friends, as today is Valentine’s Day (and also one of the longest workdays of my year) you’ll have to forgive the truncated post. Like yesterday’s NyQuil-fueled post, I will expand on this when time permits.
In short, this episode is one of the reasons I’m most glad to be doing this experiement; being a Next Generation fan, I’ve had plenty of exposure to Romulans as have even the most casual of Trek fans after they were front and centre in the excellent J.J. Abrams reboot/spin-off movie. But there was a time when even the Federation had to meet the Romulans and that was this episode.
The Federation and Romulans had fought to a stalemate and declared a Neutral Zone (ah, most fertile of Trek conflict zones, the Neutral Zone) which neither could mess with or mutually assured destruction. The only catch was that the humans have never seen Romulans and visa versa.
This, I did not know. And so, when they are first revealed, Spock becomes the target of bigotry amongst the crew as they realize he might be the enemy. Spock himself shows great fear toward the offshoot species, knowing that Vulcan emotion unchecked and militaristic would be highly dangerous.
It’s kinda crazy imagining a time when no one knew what Romulans looked like and it’s an awesome thing to take forward.
In the expanded version, I’ll be looking at the awesome Cold War metaphors that, while not necessarily as immediately apparent now, would have been a bold discussion of the state of the world snuck into our living rooms aboard The Enterprise (not unlike Battlestar Galactica’s ballsey 9/11 episode with the threat of The Olympic Carrier. Trek paved the way for such things, of course, but it’s my closest parallel.)
And with that, I go off to somehow reconcile my Star Trek blogging habit with Valentine’s Day.
There is no Klingon word for love…think I can get away with just singing the lyrics to the Star Trek theme repeatedly? *Sad note, these are the actual lyrics written by Gene Roddenberry for the Star Trek theme (so he could milk 50% royalties from the song). They were never meant to be performed; which never stops Jack Black. Enjoy!
So, as I said, this episode really hits the Cold War theme hard; the latter part of the show essentially playing out as two submarines playing hide and seek. There’s a great Hunt for Red October vibe to the whole thing and establishes the Romulan/Federation conflict quite heavily as the USSR/US conflict. The Romulan vessel even launches a nuclear missile at one point. It’s a fairly blunt analogy, but a timely one and incredibly well played. As Kirk fears igniting a war, feeling his decisions weigh heavily upon him, McCoy gets to give one of the most famous and eloquent speeches in all of Star Trek:
“Something I seldom say to a customer, Jim. In this galaxy, there’s a mathematical probability of three million Earth-type planets. And in all of the universe, three million million galaxies like this. And in all of that and perhaps more, only one of each of us. Don’t destroy the one named Kirk.”
This has nothing to do with the plot of the episode itself, but is a beautiful, sober moment between two friends. As I said in my first post, it’s the relationships between characters that keep this show so engaging and this is a perfect example.
The episode ends with the two commanders meeting over hailing frequencies for the first and last time, as Kirk demands surrender and the Romulan Captain muses that in another reality, they could have been friends (I’m pretty sure this exact scenario plays out again in The Next Generation, but between Picard and a female Romulan officer in the episode where they find the seed to all life. I’ll keep an eye out for it) and that he only has one more duty to perform. So saying, he detonates his ship, leaving Kirk victorious, but saddened to lose an opponent he had come to admire. There’s a nice senselessness of war melancholia to the whole affair which fits nicely into the Cold War feeling at the time (and particularly into the historical view, since nothing really came of the conflict) A great, tense episode.
A final note, I think this is ACTUALLY the final Yeoman Rand episode, but we’ll see. She keeps popping up, though her plot with Kirk seems done (there are some awkward looks and weirdness that might suggest otherwise, but we’ll have to see). We’ll miss you, Rand.