Director: Vincent McEveety
Writer: Paul Schneider
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Mark Lenard, Paul Comi, Lawrence Montaigne, Deforest Kelley, Grace Lee Whitney, George Takei, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, Stephen Mines, Barbara Baldavin, Garry Walberg, and John Warburton
Composer: Fred Steiner
Air Date: 12/15/1966
Production #: 6149-09
In this classic episode, a Romulan Bird-of-Prey crosses over to the Federation side of the Neutral Zone and destroys four Earth outposts without provocation. Realizing that failure to act in a timely manner could result in another full-scale war between the Federation and the Romulan Star Empire, Captain Kirk pursues the invisible vessel into its home territory.
By combining the structure of a World War II submarine film with riveting space battles, “Balance of Terror” earns its reputation as one of the greatest Star Trek episodes ever made. In addition to its outstanding Cold War commentary, this installment features phenomenal performances from William Shatner and Mark Lenard in their respective roles as Captain Kirk and “Romulan Commander.”
Once again, Kirk demonstrates his ingenuity by implementing a series of military and psychological tactics to best his opponent whenever the opportunity arises. Even when pitted against an alien starship armed with plasma torpedoes and nuclear missiles, the clever captain succeeds in bombarding, bluffing, and blasting the enemy from start to finish.
What makes this battle exceptionally compelling is the Romulan captain’s ability to anticipate Kirk’s every move. Unlike the ridiculous Balok from “The Corbomite Maneuver,” the alien commander in “Balance of Terror” thinks and reacts in a similar fashion to Kirk, leaving no room for error on the part of either captain. Of all the foes encountered by the Enterprise throughout its five-year mission, Mark Lenard’s wonderfully portrayed character presents the greatest challenge to Kirk for this very reason.
Also worth mentioning is the animosity that exists between Mr. Spock and the prejudiced Lt. Tomlinson (Stephen Mines), which develops as a result of the former character’s likeness to his Romulan cousins. While Star Trek fans have often rightfully interpreted this subtle conflict as a statement on racial bigotry, it should be noted that Tomlinson’s behavior parallels typical Cold War paranoia in many ways. In particular, his suggestion regarding potential Romulan spies on the Enterprise resembles past concerns over Soviet infiltration of United States government and military agencies. Overall, the aforementioned subplot adds an additional layer of complexity to this thought-provoking story.
Although many episodes in this series toy with the concept of a hypothetical war between two superpowers, “Balance of Terror” marks one of the few Star Trek offerings in which the carnage of such a conflict is depicted in harrowing detail. In contrast to the off-screen casualties caused by the Federation-Klingon War in “Errand of Mercy,” the death and destruction that ensues from the Neutral Zone Incursion is not entirely sanitized for the audience’s sake. The consequences of Kirk’s decision to engage the Romulans are perhaps somewhat softened by the fact that the Enterprise comes out relatively unscathed, though director Vincent McEveety should nonetheless be commended for executing such gripping battle sequences.
With its blend of social commentary, intriguing dialogue, and exciting action scenes, “Balance of Terror” will undoubtedly appeal to science fiction enthusiasts and war movie buffs alike. Star Trek fans should appreciate this episode for its thrilling introduction to one of the original series’ most infamous adversaries, while others may enjoy this piece for its fascinating insights into the minds of two brilliant starship captains.
Overall Quality: 10/10
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