2/28/12

Star Trek: Asterisk "Balance of Terror"

Vital Information
Series: The Original Series
Episode: S01E14
Air Date: December 15, 1966
Written by: Paul Schneider
Directed by: Vincent McEveety

Premise
Kirk finds himself on the hunt for Red October a Romulan Commander with the ability to cloak his ship and the cunning to say hidden.

Review
It's important to note before we get into this story, that the Federation has never made visual contact with Romulans. But, there was, apparently, according to Spock, a struggle with the Romulans a decade or two before the events of Star Trek: Enterprise. Some of the first warp ships to travel into the stars from Earth met up with Romulans and fought them for a while with nuclear weaponry probably left over from World War III. The problem was that these ships didn't have the ability to tap into other ships' visual sensors, so they had no idea what Romulans actually looked like. And if Star Trek: Enterprise had used any of this crap that I just made up, instead of the retconned nonsense of what actually happened, it would have been a much better show.

The episode begins with a marriage ceremony between Angela Martine and Robert Tomlinson with Kirk presiding. Unfortunately, they are cut short when a transmission comes in from Outpost 4 along the Romulan Neutral Zone warning that they are under attack. When they get there, they see the attacker's ship... for a little while... and then it completely disappears. It was Romulans. And Spock guesses that they have an invisibility shield. They can't pinpoint their location, but they can tell that they're moving in a leisurely manner, suggesting that they can't see the Enterprise. Either that or they're trying to avoid detection from the Death Star.
Keep your distance, Centurion, but don't looklike your keeping your distance.
Kirk orders a parallel course with the Romulan ship so that he looks like just a reflection on their sensors. Lt. Stiles, today's annoying helmsman of the week, suggests that there's a spy on the Enterprise. So Kirk agrees to beef up security a bit. While they're studying their enemy, Uhura picks up a transmission, but she's unable to decrypt it. No matter: Spock is able to use the signal to tie into their sensors and get a good visual on who they are. What they see shocks everyone, but especially Stiles. They have pointed ears, just like Spock.

Well, Stiles is immediately distrusting of Spock, but Kirk tells him to leave his bigotry at home. This Human/Romulan war was over a century ago, after all. The next few scenes show a complete balance between the Romulans and the Enterprise crew. The unnamed Romulan Commander confers with his officers just the same as Kirk confers with his. A trusted first officer gives them both advice taking into account history and politics. A n00b redshirt presents his ignorance by either bigotry or pride. It's clear that these crews are evenly matched. And it's clear to Kirk that he must attack.
But first: more disapproving glances at Stiles.
Their even match is even clearer when Kirk tries to intercept the Romulan Commander on the other end of a comet that should expose its position. While they move the Enterprise out of position, the Romulan Commander notes that their "reflection" has gone and immediately falls back to intercept the Enterprise. Both trying to intercept each other, neither end up succeeding. Now that he's truly exposed, however, Kirk orders a barrage of phaser fire in the general direction of the Romulans to draw them out. This causes the Romulan ship to shake and send debris falling on the Centurion, killing him. The Romulan Commander orders that they fire the super secret disruptor weapon while the phasers burn out on the Enterprise. The Enterprise backs up as quickly as possible with the disruptor following them slowly. They find that the farther they go, the more dissipated the disruptor becomes. One phaser blast would destroy it, if only Spock could get it working again. Eventually it hits, but not hard enough.

Determined to get back home, the Romulan Commander orders some debris and the body of the Centurion to be shot out into space as a distraction. And it works. While Spock scans it, he loses track of the ship. Now they're both sitting in the Neutral Zone, powered down so neither can detect the other. But while making repairs, Spock accidentally activates a panel and the Romulan Commander picks up on it. Anticipating the move, Kirk orders phasers fired. The Romulan Command pumps more debris into space, this time with a nuclear warhead. The Enterprise fires on the warhead and damages itself. Not too severely, but Kirk decides to play dead nonetheless.

He wanted to head home at first, but the Romulan Commander is bound by duty to go back and destroy his enemy. With the Enterprise in a damaged state, Stiles and Tomlinson are the only ones in the phaser room ready to fire when a coolant leak breaks out and Spock rushes in to save them. The Romulan Commander moves in, Spock pushes the button, phasers blast at the Romulans. They are critically damaged.

Visual contact is established on the bridge. The Romulan Commander has a few last words to say to Kirk. "I regret that we meet in this way. You and I are of a kind. In a different reality, I could have called you friend," he says. Finally, he sets his ship to self destruct. And that's the last we hear of the unnamed Romulan Commander. Until he returns as Spock's father.

Later, Kirk goes to sickbay to check on Spock who was injured from the coolant leak, but was able to save Stiles life. Stiles is amazed that Spock saved him despite all the bigotry he had shown earlier. Tomlinson, however, was not able to be saved. And Kirk's final act of the episode is to go comfort his would-be-wife.

Overall Thoughts
I think the awesomeness of this episode really speaks for itself, but lets go back and revisit the Romulan canon, shall we? Star Trek: Enterprise ends before all-out conflict begins with the Romulans, but there was plenty in season four that would have lead up to such a conflict. The problems come when we understand that United Earth would have had plenty of help in the Romulan War if it had played out the way Enterprise was going. Not only that, they had much more advanced weapons than nuclear weaponry and they definitely were able to take prisoners and establish visual communications. The lesson here is that when you have a story like the Romulan War, you don't wait until season four to get it started. Put it in season one! Or if you feel you have to wait, just forget about the Delphic Expanse and put the Romulan War in season three! At the rate it was going, we would have had to wait until season five until we got some good Romulan on Earth action, but we never got a season five! And on top of that, pay attention to what "Balance of Terror" has to say about the state of technology in that time! Now Spock just sounds like a fool when he talks about the Romulan War like he knows things when it's completely different from what's set up. ::sigh::

Anyway, this was a great episode!