Star Trek

Star Trek

Monday, September 16, 2013

Season 1, Episode 09 "Balance of Terror"

"Balance of Terror"
Production Number: 09
Air Order: 14
Stardate: 1709.2
Original Air Date: December 15, 1966



Just in case you've been hiding under a rock this week, Jo Rowling announced that she is penning the screenplay for the new "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" film by Warner Brothers. On the same day (Thursday), Universal Studios in Florida announced they will begin expanding the Wizarding World of Harry Potter section of their park. Just you wait, Orlando. That shit will spread like Los Angeles, and soon, all of Florida will resemble London. Bwhahahaha!
Legend of Korra fans are all a-twitter because a new season of their show has begun.
And Professor X and Magneto kicked it with Elmo.

It's a good time to be a fan, friends.



******

We open on an unusual scene, where crew members are gathering on the ship for a wedding officiated by Kirk. A quick check with the bridge reveals that the Enterprise is headed for Earth Outpost 4, but that the other outposts in the area have gone silent. Kirk decides to continue on to 4, but go ahead with the ceremony. Now, I have no deductive reasoning, which is why I enjoy Sherlock Holmes stories - I'm always surprised at the end. But I feel like 10 seconds into this episode and I've already got the gist of it: something bad happened to those other outposts, and will either happen to 4, or has happened already. And because two crew members are trying to get married, a red alert will interrupt the ceremony, everyone will go to battle, and one of them will die. Which one shall we bet on? Bride or groom?

This is Angela and Robert. They'll be your subplot for today.


So guess what happens? Yeah. If I can guess what's going to happen, it means you got lazy or cliche. Step it up, writing team.
Captain's Log 1709.2: There's been an emergency call from #4, and they're under attack. The Enterprise is patrolling the space between the planets Romulus and Remus, so they'll head in the direction of #4. 
Gee, isn't it funny how stars that were named after human mythology are retained by their non-human occupants? Maybe other species are just hanging out in unnamed areas of space, waiting for the almighty human to bestow upon them a name. How lovely that the human race is the Adam of the universe.

Kirk takes a look at a map which shows them approaching a line of Earth outposts on asteroids, which line the Neutral Zone between... you know, "regular" space and Romulan space. Spock broadcasts a sort of history lesson over the PA about a human-Romulan war 100 years earlier. There were no prisoners taken and no ship-to-ship visual contact, so no one knows what the Romulans look like. A treaty was created through subspace radio, and the Neutral Zone was created. All of this, of course, is being set up so that when we do see a Romulan, it will be a shocking sight to behold. We know this because they're making a big freaking deal of it. Crossing into the Neutral Zone is pretty much tantamount to declaring war. Kirk finishes the PA by saying that Starfleet has pretty much assigned a red shirt to everyone on the outposts and the Enterprise. 
 
 
 
 
The helmsman is a guy named Stiles, and you know that because he's never been seen before and he suddenly has lines and a name, that he will have a bigger part in this episode other than "course laid in, sir." And indeed he does. He blurts out that Romulan ships are painted like birds of prey (they have Terran birds on Romulus? You don't say!), and that he's familiar with the history of this war because some of his family members were killed fighting it. So dude has inherited an old prejudice. Kirk reminds Stiles that that was not his war. I'm going to predict that Stiles flips his shit at some point and either dies or learns a lesson.

 


Spock reports Outposts 2 and 3 as being gone. Kirk orders everyone to battle stations, and they cruise in with guns loaded. Angela the bride is shown at her station working the phaser-charging, and fiance Robert approaches to sarcastically wish her a happy wedding day. Then he says something about being her CO. Really? That's not totally inappropriate, to date your superior? Because it has been in every place that I've worked.
Outpost 4 rings in to say that 2,3, and 8 are gone and they are under attack by an unknown vessel. They claim that the attacker has powerful weapons and that they can appear and disappear. Speak of the devil, a ship appears. Uhura tries to warn it off to no avail. It opens fire and destroys the outpost before disappearing again.
Spock surmises that the energy needed to work a possible cloaking device is quite a bit, and that they must de-cloak to fire weapons. The now-invisible ship is detected turning and heading back toward Romulan space. Kirk cancels battle stations and tells helm to lay in a parallel course. Spock is convinced that the cloaked ship can't physically see them, but if they parallel the Romulan ship, the Enterprise will look like a reflection, located just this side of the Neutral Zone.
As predicted, Stiles flips out. In a fit of paranoia, he suggests that there might be Romulan spies aboard. Oddly, Sulu agrees. I feel like that's out of character for Sulu, but it's not my show, so whatever.
Uhura says that she is picking up signals from the other ship, and Spock says he can decode them and get a visual, so they're kind of looking in the ship's windows or something. I'm rubbing my temples, you guys. This seems like such bullshit. You can't see the cloaked ship, but you decoding a signal can let you see inside of it? A show like this couldn't get away with this kind of premise today. Too many people would call them on it. Shows today hire experts to consult them, and do some behind the scenes fact-checking, lest their electronic inboxes flood with angry letters from educated fans. But this was 1966, so they could be like "Herp-a-derp, let's look inside the Romulan ship, yuk-yuk" and nobody questioned it.
So Spock does his thing, and the inside of the Romulan ship comes up on the viewscreen for all to see. There are dudes in gold helmets and sashes and shiny patterned uniforms and - oh my god! *dramatic music and lightning flashes* They look just like Spock!
 
 
This guy looked familiar to me, so I looked him up. He's Mark Lenard
and he plays Spock's father Sarek.
 
 
Creeped out, everybody turns to look at the Vulcan, who is clearly just as surprised with his one arched eyebrow. Clearly, that shit is fascinating.

 


Uhura makes a tape of more signals, which are encoded. Stiles makes a snide remark about Spock and Kirk tells him to STFU or GTFO. Uhura gives the tape to Spock to decode.
The scene switches over to the Romulan ship where a dude in a helmet complains about the amount of energy the cloak uses, and that he thinks they are running from a reflection. The bare-headed commander is too sharp for this ruse and tells him to cloak their ship again.

 


In a conversation between the commander and the centurion (his CO? I can't really tell), the commander admits to having a Romulan existential crisis. The Romulans rejoice in "glorious war" but he kind of doesn't see the point anymore and finds himself wishing that their ship is destroyed before the get back to Romulus. The centurion gives him a "you be crazy" look, but the commander reassures him that he's too well-trained to let that happen. How about this, dude - when you get back home, retire and take up gardening. Or you could pull a Bob Ross and paint landscapes. (No, seriously: Bob Ross was a career in the Air Force and quit because he no longer wanted to do the kind of job where he yelled at people to clean latrines. I can't even imagine Bob Ross yelling.)
Back on the Enterprise, Kirk calls a meeting in the briefing room - why is Stiles going? Is he a senior officer? In the meeting room, they try to figure out the best course of action, and it becomes clear that they needed Stiles there to provide the opinion that they should rashly attack the Romulans. I suppose there's room in every strategy meeting for a prejudiced dick.

 


Shockingly, Spock agrees. He reasons that it's likely that the Romulans and Vulcans share a common bloodline and that if the Romulans retained the aggressive nature that the Vulcans rejected, then not attacking them would make the Enterprise appear weak, and the Romulans would attack them instead. Kirk orders everyone back to battle stations again.
There a comet in the area, and each ship's leader hopes to use it to trap the other ship, but it doesn't work for either of them. The Enterprise decides to blindly fire phasers in the direction of the cloaked War Bird. The phasers either hit the ship or come close enough to do some damage. The Romulan ship becomes visible and they fire their advanced weaponry, which appears to be a living Kool-Aid stain. The Enterprise reverse-warps away from it and discovers that it loses power and disintegrates after a while - it has a limited range.

 
Strawberry or fruit punch?
 
Yeoman Rand enters the bridge to ask if she should continue log entries. Kirk starts to give her a WTF? response but then says yes. Okay, I'll do it. WTF, Rand? Why are you asking about busy work tasks in the middle of battle? She cuddles up to Kirk in a damsel in distress way and it becomes obvious that her log entry question was just an excuse to enter the bridge. He lets her get away with it, too.

 


You know, I might hate Rand less if they quit trying to ship her with Kirk. I mean, they kind of ship Spock and Uhura, but is Uhura running to Spock for snuggle-time? No. She's at the comm, doing her fucking job. Just to remind us of their existence (and the subplot), we cut back to the engaged couple, and he helps her off the floor. Only they don't stop for a smooch or anything. He might just as well be helping her as her CO.

We go back to the Romulan ship, where the centurion was hurt in the phaser fire. They discover that not only was the Enterprise not destroyed, but now it is shadowing them again. The commander orders the ship cloaked, despite low fuel.
The OT3 decides to attack while the Romulan ship still in their space. Kirk tells Uhura to inform the higher-ups that he takes responsibility for going into the Neutral Zone.
The centurion has died, but the commander isn't firing back because he has guessed that Kirk knows what a giant energy-suck their weapon is. Instead, he orders his crew to load their disposal tubes with debris, and the body of the centurion. It's actually a pretty clever plan.
Unfortunately for him, Spock sees right through it, as the debris does not have enough mass to constitute a whole ship. But they can't find the War Bird, as it has gone still. So the Enterprise decides to do the same, both lying in wait for the other to move, hoping they will each find the enemy ship.
I have kind of a problem with this "you can't see me, I can't see you" cloaking device. Spock mentions a "bending of light" theory, but... how can the Romulans see anything if they can't see the Enterprise? It's implied that they're kind of flying blind here, based off the signals given off by electronic equipment. It explains how they could "see" the Enterprise, as well as the Earth outposts on the asteroids, but not that convenient comet that they tried using to their advantage. What about uninhabited planets? I just... I'll buy fake science if you make it sound plausible. I like science. I'm not good at it, and I get lost if you go too technical on me, but I like PBS science because they dumb it down for people like myself. I'll watch anything with Neil DeGrasse Tyson in it because I know he won't get me lost. But if I feel like I can poke holes in your fake science, I'm going to be annoyed. 
Having a cloaking device with limitations is a great idea. It shows that you're thinking about the fact that technology goes through a tweaking process, and that not every new thing is going to work just how you'd like it to work. On the Enterprise, they end up with transporter hiccups. Good, great. Sometimes technology sucks and the computer eats your term paper. Okay, I'm onboard with this idea. BUT - flying nearly blind? Who in their right mind would put a cloaking device on their ship that would pretty much leave them without a way to see? That's not smart. That's bad tech.
Sorry, I hopped on the Tangent Train there. Hopping off at this stop.

Kirk's supplemental log: they've been motionless for 9 hours and 47 minutes now. Kirk is lying on his bed when Rand comes in and asks if he wants coffee. Rand is a pesky fly. I want to swat at the screen when she appears by his side for no reason. She leaves and Bones comes in. Kirk goes all Hamlet and why me? and tells Bones that he'd like to take a cruise.

 


On the bridge, they're sitting in the dark in silence. I don't why everyone is whispering - surely sensors can't pick that up. Spock is getting up from repairing something under the console, and he accidentally flips a switch. It sends out enough of a signal to alert the Romulans, who fly toward them. The Enterprise fires phasers blindly again.
This time, when the Romulans shoot debris out of the tubes, they add an old-school nuclear warhead. Stupidly, Kirk orders phasers to shoot it, knocking them dead in the water. A bunch of people end up in sick bay with radiation burns. All of the phasers are worthless except the forward ones, and our engaged guy Robert is the only one running them. Stiles volunteers to go and help him. Dead man walking. This is like in the slasher films when the group of teens split up, and one girl decides to go and look for her friend.

The crewmen of the Romulan ship demand that the commander take down the Enterprise now that the earth ship is crippled. The commander says that he will do it only when he wants to do it. This is really only in response to the fact that when he refused, an underling asked if he could do it instead. That's insubordination, punk.
Spock tells Kirk that they have engines and can limp away to make repairs, but Kirk refuses. He'd rather play opossum. I think we all understand at this point that both ship leaders have gained respect for the other, and are hesitant to fire on each other out of that mutual respect. But they're not allowed to come off that way to their respective crews, and are forced to play along.
Spock goes down to the forward phaser room to ask Stiles if he and Robert need help, and Stiles is nasty and somewhat racist toward him. Spock leaves, and Stiles notices that someone has put red smoke bombs in a metal box on the wall. He yells to Robert.

 


The Romulans become visible, and Kirk orders Stiles to fire. Stiles doesn't respond, and Spock rushes back to find both men passed out on the floor in a room full of red smoke. He quickly fires the phasers, crippling the War Bird.
Uhura hails them ship-to-ship, and the commander, all banged up, comes on screen. Kirk tells him that they will beam over the War Bird's survivors, but the commander refuses, saying they're going down with the ship.
You wouldn't understand. It's an honor thing.

 


The commander gives his now-famous line "In a different reality, I might have called you friend." Then he blows the ship up.
In sick bay, Spock is fine. Stiles is recovering from learning his lesson about not being dicks to people who may end up saving your life. And guess who was the only death on this ship through this whole encounter? That's right, Engaged Boy. Remember kids - even if you're wearing command gold, if you're new on the show and you show any signs of having a future, you're probably going to die before 50 minutes have elapsed.

 
 
 
Kirk finds Angela in the chapel, and she hugs him. He tells her that it never makes any sense, and that they both needed to have a reason for Robert to have died, which is pretty astute.

 
 
 
This episode was exhausting, you guys. I got tired watching it, and tired writing about it. It was mostly a lot of cat-and-mouse games, and evasive maneuvers. The Romulans were cloaked, then they weren't. They were firing some crazy weapon, then the Enterprise was firing on them. At some point, each of them was dead in the water. They both tried crazy ploys to trick the other. No one ever seemed to have the upper hand, and I suppose that I could have written the entire synopsis as "Romulans attack some Earth outposts, and the Enterprise goes toe to toe with them. They're evenly matched, and in the end, the Romulans commit suicide. Subplots about racism and tragic love." Sounds like a TV Guide entry. Really, this episode is about finding things in common with the enemy, even if it is simply mutual respect and seeing a bit of yourself in them. It's a good moral, but it's only apparent after 45 minutes of hide and seek.
So what's up with the Romulans? Here's a dramatic re-enactment of how they came to be:

Son: Hey, dad. Guess what? We're learning about the Romans in school. They're pretty neat. Hey, you should have Romans on your show. Romans in space, doesn't that sound cool?
Writer: You're right, son. That does sound cool. I'll make my next alien of the week Roman.

I shit you not. The Romulan Empire exists because one of the writers' kids was studying Romans in school at the time and suggested it. Now, I don't have a problem with this concept. I agree with the kid in this scenario: it's kind of a cool idea. But it's a rather literal application. They're called Romulans. Their leader is the praetor, one of the crewmen is named Decius, and the ship includes a centurion. They wear gold helmets and sashes. They have Roman haircuts. They live on Romulus, in a military-based society whose neighboring planet is Remus. Remember my complaint earlier that these planets were named for human mythology rather than having names that have nothing to do with Earth? Same thing here. I suppose that the universal translator might have provided those words to the Enterprise because the words in its memory banks that most closely described those things were Roman terms, but I feel like the answer is more likely to be a shrug and the sound "meh". 
 
 
I'm pretty sure that's an eagle. On an alien ship.
 
 
I feel like I've spent a lot of time bitching about this episode, when really, it's not a bad one at all.The thing I really liked about this narrative is that it set up a race that was unlike the human or Vulcan races, but made that race a possible relation to the Vulcans. It opens up story lines that didn't exist previously, and leaves it open to exploration at later dates. Suddenly, we have questions about the schism that must have occurred between the Vulcans and Romulans, and how far back it went if modern Vulcans were unaware of it. By not making the Romulans just anybody out there in space, the writers made not simply another alien, but an interesting player on the board. I also like that we are given scenes inside of the Bird-of-Prey, where we are allowed to see the commander as a person, and not just "this week's enemy". He is shown being questioned by Decius, an underling, just as Kirk is shown being questioned by Stiles. And the commander receives advice from his friend the centurion, who I believe is that ship's McCoy (not necessarily the doctor, but a confidant to the commander). In truth, I rather enjoyed the scenes in the Romulan ship, and believe that the "balance" part of this episode comes not in discussing the Neutral Zone and how matched the leaders of each ship are, but in showing both sides of the story equally. I feel like Kirk and the commander might have had a drink together at some point. Only I can't shake the feeling that it would have taken place at the Mos Eisley Cantina.

******

This week's tea is a kombucha. In the past, I've avoided these because a fair few contain ...um, floaties. The roommate is a member of the Drinks With Floaties fandom, but me... not so much. This one, though in a dark glass bottle, appeared to have no floaties and the flavor of "Spiced Apple Kava" sounded intriguing, so I went for it. The cashier at the store asked what I thought about it, and I admitted that I was buying it out of curiosity. He said that the item was new, and that they'd had a sample tasting. 
"I wouldn't say it's good, but I couldn't stop drinking it," he said.
"Like Red Bull?" I asked. (Okay: I like Red Bull, but some people don't, so I assumed it was a fair comparison.)
"Yeah."
I was a little apprehensive as I sat down to drink my kombucha and read my book (The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison by John Emsley). It's different, I'll give you that. The ingredients listed are organic Bai Lin Gongfu black tea, organic cane sugar, ginger root, kava root, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. I expected the spiced apple part to be subtle, like many teas, but I damn near fell out of my chair with the first sip. It was like taking a big bite of apple pie, but instead of the heavier mouth-feel of apples and syrup, it was carried away by the swift, light feel of water. Interestingly, the bottle listed the number of live cultures per bottle: 2.2 billion organisms. When I read this, I can hear it in my mind in Leonard Nimoy's voice. "Each bottle contains 2.2 billion organisms, Captain. Fascinating." I also remember, upon noticing a warning to pregnant women, that kombucha is a teeny-tiny bit alcoholic because of the fermentation that occurs. It was pretty good, but it wasn't something that I would automatically reach for again. Generally, I like to give the place where it can purchased, just in case anyone is interested, but upon further inspection, it's only made and available locally. *sad trombone* I'll try not to do that again.
Going to the other end of that spectrum, my second and third cuppas this week came from Belgium. The roommate brewed up something that she'd brought home from working in Europe. The faded sticker on the package says that it's "pu-ehr" black tea, and when I went to their website, www.javana.be , it was described as a health tea from China. It's dark, like coffee, and has a strong, almost creamy taste to it. You know how chai tastes slightly creamy? A bit like that. Sadly, when I went to the website to link it back here, I could not figure out if it was available for order or not. 
Tea Fail. Sorry, friends. I'll pre-check my choices next week. Nothing is worse than discovering something that you want, only to find that it's not available to you. Just to make it up to you, you can most definitely order this Spock Oven Mitt: 

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