Second Union

Second Union

STAR TREK REWIND: “Balance of Terror”

“Vulcan, like Earth, had its aggressive, colonizing period; savage, even by Earth standards. And if the Romulans retained this martial philosophy, then weakness is something we dare not show.”

Is this really the best time for a wedding? I know Starfleet service isn’t conducive to a long life filled with sunshine and puppies. In fact, it’s rather terrifying, this prospect of war. The ship is patrolling outposts along the border of the Neutral Zone, a no-man’s-land separating Federation territory and the Romulan Star Empire, but what the hell? The invitations went out, and everybody saved the date, so let’s have a wedding! This is an interesting secular wedding between crewmen Tomlinson and Martine. It’s not supposed to represent any religion in particular, but am I the only viewer who picked up on the fact that Kirk’s podium resembles a cross, and that Martine kneels and closes her eyes indicating she is praying?

We don’t even make it to the vows before the ship goes to red alert after receiving a report that an outpost is under attack. The Earth-Romulan conflict of a hundred years before represents an intergalactic cold war, and there are still scars, mainly on the paranoid Lieutenant Stiles, who suspects there may be Romulan spies on the ship. Writer Paul Schneider concocts a submarine thriller reminiscent of the classic Robert Mitchum movie, The Enemy Below (1957) with a “cloaking device” in place of water. Kirk must analyze the pattern of his opponent’s attack and anticipate his moves. His opponent is played by Mark Lenard, who would go on to play Spock’s father, Sarek.

When the Romulans are revealed to have a similar appearance to Vulcans, the bigoted Stiles tears into Spock something fierce. We know Spock even nine episodes in, but these days some shows like to play the “long con” – introducing good guys and then writing them to be bad guys down the line. The submarine comparison is carried even further by way of phaser controls. This is the only time we ever see the implementation of weaponry in another part of the ship. It’s an easy contrivance, because it places our young lovers, Martine and Tomlinson, in extreme danger, and we know what’s going to happen.

Martine and Tomlinson have a strange dynamic. I gather it is expected Martine will give up her commission to become “Mrs. Tomlinson (as if that’s a thing),” but also appears to be using Tomlinson for marriage. Their one bit of exposition is revelatory, as she implies that she has trapped him into the marriage. The idea of the guy being on her “hook” was a standard convention in television/film writing. Women were depicted as marriage-hungry, and the men (and sometimes women – I’m looking at you, D.C. Fontana!) saw them as castrators of their perceived “manhood.”

We also know Stiles will have to learn a hard lesson about prejudice by way of Spock saving his butt at the end of the episode. The references to The Enemy Below get a little silly sometimes with the notion of sound traveling through space. Kirk wants everybody to “work quietly.” Spock, atypically clumsy, accidentally sends a signal to the Romulan ship. What? What’s more, he has this total look of guilt on his face, like he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. When the Romulans think they’ve spotted the Enterprise, the Commander de-cloaks his ship. How many times has Kirk ordered the “play dead” maneuver?

Some reservations aside, this is an astounding episode and a phenomenal achievement for a science fiction television show in 1966. The writing adds dimensions to the Romulans. They’re revealed to have the same fears and values as any crewman on the Enterprise. Rather than the mustache-twirling Klingons, the Romulans are far more frightening because they are too similar to us. Though Kirk outmatches the Romulan Commander at every turn, he has earned his enemy’s respect. As for Martine and Tomlinson, next time, consider eloping.

Twice a week, Star Trek Rewind explores the Star Trek universe. From Archer to Janeway, Kirk to Picard, and Georgiou to Sisko — boldly read what no one has read before!

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