Star Trek

Season 1 Episode 14

Balance of Terror

13
Aired Unknown Dec 15, 1966 on NBC
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9.1
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  • In a game of interstellar cat and mouse, the Enterprise squares off against a Romulan ship.

    8.0
    Inspired by the idea of submarine warfare (and borrowing liberally from The Enemy Below, a 1957 film set in World War II), this battle episode invents Star Trek's first recurring enemy aliens, the Romulans, with Mark Lenard giving a standout performance as a Romulan Commander locked a battle of wits with Captain Kirk.



    To create a sci fi version of a submarine versus surface ship, writer Paul Schneider gives the Romulans a cloaking device, which allows the Romulans to hide themselves and play an interstellar cat and mouse game with the Enterprise. Like the Corbomite Manuever, this leads to a lot of bridge scenes with plenty of ensemble chatter, with Kirk in the middle of it all making the decisions and trying to outthink his enemy. But with major issues like life, death, marriage, and prejudice woven into the script, Schneider's story spills off the corners of the screen and gives Star Trek a bigger than life feel its often lacking up this point. In fact, the episode is especially notable for taking us away from the Enterprise onto the Romulan ship, where we get to know its crew and learn more about the Romulans' pespective. Thoughtful and diverse (and obviously inspired by the Roman Empire), the "enemies" provide the episode with much more drama than simple, mustache twirling heavies could. (The plain truth is that Mark Lenard's war-weary Romulan Captain is downright likeable, likely a reason the actor returns later to play Spock's father).



    But while it's a lot of fun to see Star Trek finding its rhythm and see bits of Star Trek lore fall into place, there are times the episode tries too hard to channel submarine warfare, sacrificing common sense in the process. Why would the Romulan ship rely upon a periscope as a viewscreen? Why is it neccesary for the ships to run silent and to have everyone whisper when sound doesn't travel in space? In future episodes of Star Trek, they learn how to use inspiration and metaphor without going overboard.

    But with so much good, it's easy to overlook the bad. "Balance" is a classic first season episode and, in some ways, the template for the most popular Star Trek film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It is sad to me, however, that this episode marks the last appearance of Yeoman Rand until the Star Trek movies.



    Remastered Version:



    Serving as the guinea pig for CBS Digital, Balance of Terror was the first episode to be remastered. While the team's work would improve in the future, their work here is fine, with new shots of the Enterprise and the Romulan ship that at first are similar to the original shots (some of the best model work in the series) before becoming a little more creative later on. They also redo the weapons and a comet, though they leave a map of the neutral zone alone.

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