Friday, September 8, 2017

Episode Review - Balance of Terror (Original Series, Season 1)

For those who are new to my episode reviews, you can find the post where I establish my point criteria here

Overview – While preparing for a wedding between two crewmen, the Enterprise is called to an area of space along the neutral zone with the Romulan Empire. Not much is known about the Romulans as there has been no contact with them since the Earth Romulan war of a century ago. As the Enterprise approaches the neutral zone it becomes apparent that something is amiss, with several of their outposts having been destroyed. As Kirk and his crew learn more about the identity of the aggressor, and it is indeed a Romulan ship, they discover that the Romulans bear a striking resemblance to Mr. Spock. As the Enterprise begins a cat-and-mouse game with the Romulan ship, tensions rise on both vessels, culminating in an epic showdown.

Score: 10/10 – This is one of the best episode in all of Star Trek. I could end it there, but let’s examine that a bit further. The story is well-paced, mixes triumph and tragedy, and introduces us to the Romulans. The Romulans will become a significant adversary to the Federation, but unlike the Klingons, their build will be slow and deliberate. Mystery is their greatest weapon. The first Romulan we see, the unnamed Romulan Commander, is played by Trek legend Mark Leonard, who will later become famous as Spock’s father, Sarek. He brings such a dignity to the role, that you almost can’t help yourself and cheer for him. His performance is among the best acting in the series, and a delight to witness. The Romulans have developed a devastating weapon and are attempting to see how it measures up against the Federation, which should make the Commander menacing in and of itself. Yet between Mark Leonard’s acting and the writing you actually see a sympathetic and noble side to this veteran military officer that has us feeling sad for his ultimate defeat and demise. The side story of Tomlinson and Martine’s wedding does get token treatment for much of the episode, but it provides us with a painful denouement that sends us home with a bittersweet sense of victory. The themes of honor in combat and bigotry are woven into the story with skill, giving us more than just a fun fight story. The tactics used by both Kirk and the Romulan commander are logical and easy to understand, yet still brilliant. It is truly a match between two equals where, as the Commander says to Kirk at the end, we are believing that in another life the two could have been friends.

Relevance – 3 points. A point is scored for the introduction to the Romulans. The Romulans would continually be developed in small doses over the course of all the television series, and that adds to their effectiveness of a foe for our heroes. Their similarities to Vulcans leads to the establishment of being distant cousins, and will come into play in future episodes as “The Enterprise Incident” and “Unification”. Another point is scored for the pre-wedding Captain’s speech, which is almost word-for-word repeated by Picard in the TNG episode “Data’s Day”. A final point is given for the first mention of the Earth-Romulan war, which is responsible for the establishment of the Neutral Zone and is mentioned in “Star Trek: Beyond”.

Continuity – 3 points. Everything checks out here. Universe continuity works easily as this episode establishes the Romulans, and they have stayed more or less true to form ever since. Story continuity works with a well-paced battle between two tough foes. Character continuity is also good, especially with Kirk and Spock.

Character Development – 3 points. There are two main characters that receive the bulk of the attention: Spock and Kirk. Spock shows that when he is confronted with prejudism he stills remain logical. It was obvious that Stiles’ suspicions and accusations did trouble him a bit (credit to Nimoy’s acting), he confronted it in a way that is both admirable and effective. He just did his job. He made no excuses for his actions, especially when he saved Stiles life at the end. Kirk, meanwhile, shows us why he is an extremely effective captain. He demonstrates intelligence, compassion, courage, nobility, wisdom, and true grit in this episode. Really, it is hard for me to think of a better showcase for James T. Kirk than this episode. He takes chances to win the battle, and when the end is decided and his adversary defeated, he extends an olive branch to prevent further loss of life. Kirk may not be your favourite captain, but in this episode he earns everyone’s respect.

Social Commentary – 3 points. Two important themes are woven through this story. The first, honor in combat, shows itself in great fashion as Kirk and the Romulan Commander engage in battle. They do all they can to emerge victorious and defeat their opponent, but they do so not out of a love for bloodshed or glory, but out of duty and respect towards their adversary. In a life-and-death high stakes game, both commanders approach the battle in a way that is devoid of hatred. This is even more impressive as various members of each crew express their own hatred and bigotry towards their opponents. This brings us to the second theme: bigotry. Lieutenant Stiles is well versed in reasons to hate Romulans, stemming from the losses his family was dealt a century ago. That hatred has been passed down, and when it became known that the Vulcans and Romulans were likely of the same genetic stock, his distrust of Spock grew. While it is a common trope used in these types of stories to have the object of one’s prejudice save their life, this is done well here. I found it most interesting that in the scene where Stiles was telling Kirk about how untrustworthy Romulans are, how they can hide among us and that spies could be everywhere, he is sitting next to Sulu, played by George Takei. Takei had spent much of his childhood in relocation centers just a few decades prior to this episode during WWII when many Americans expressed similar distrust towards Americans of Japanese heritage. To have Stiles saying those hateful things beside an actor who personally experienced similar bigotry adds a delightful taste of irony that makes the message much more personal. How Kirk responds to Stiles is also telling and applicable to our day as much as back then. “Leave any bigotry in your quarters. There’s no room for it on the bridge.” No lecture on tolerance, no follow-up discussion, just a quick reminder of the lieutenant’s duty and move on from there.

Cool Stuff – 2 points. The weapon used by the Romulans is very cool. An energy weapon that can make the strongest of materials weak and fragile. I liked that it had limits which allowed Kirk to defeat it, but still a cool weapon. Mark Leonard is so good in this episode that it has to count as a cool factor. To take a dangerous enemy and make him beloved and respected means something. I cannot even classify him as a villain because of his honor and nobility. Adversary, yes, but he is too honorable to be a villain. Villains typically have a treacherous side, and this Commander lacks that.

Rank – Admiral (24 points). A near perfect episode. I occasionally scour the internet looking for Top Ten lists, and I have yet to find one for the Original Series that doesn’t rank this among the very best. I typically find it jousting for the top spot, and it is easy to see why. The battle between the two ships reminds me of a future Trek battle, and one that is always going to be among my favorites, and that is the Enterprise vs the Reliant in Star Trek II. The character of the Romulan Commander is among my favorites in Star Trek. The tackling of important social issues in the way that only Star Trek can is at its best here. Overall, a beautiful work of art in Star Trek.

If you would like to read other reviews from the Original Series, click on the link here.

If you would like to read an episode review from any of the Trek series, click the following link to get to the series catalog. If the episode you want reviewed has not been done yet, then feel free to request it in the comments and I will see what I can do.

No comments:

Post a Comment