Saturday, March 11, 2017

Good Trek / Bad Trek #15 Balance of Terror

Intro: I’ve loved Star Trek since I was a kid. I started by watching TNG in 6th grade. I’ve been a fan since then and though I’ve spent a lot of time watching Star Trek, I’ve never watched The Original Series. So, I’m watching and reviewing them as a fan of Star Trek, but one who's never seen any of them. So I’m watching all the TOS episodes for the first time and saying whether or not they suck. At the end, I give examples of better Star Trek to watch that remind me of this episode. That’s it. 

I’m just gonna jump right in. I had a weird week. My bike passed away. It made me pretty bummed, but I’ll probably eulogize her in a  separate post later. Plus, I watched Balance of Terror this week and it’s easily the best TOS episode I’ve seen. Not just the best TOS it’s one of the best Treks ever. This is just such a good hour of TV, I urge everyone to go out and watch it right now. Because I’m gonna spoil some shit pretty quickly. So go do that. I might as well stop doing these because I have trouble believing any TOS episode is going to be better than this one. I’ve heard that City on the Edge of Tomorrow (Tomorrow or Forever, I can't’ remember and don’t feel like looking it up) is supposed to be pretty good, but this episode fucking rules. So watch it. Here we go. 


A number of Federation outposts have come under attack lately. Nobody knows who could be doing the attacking. Could it be the Romulans? It very well could be, and in fact, it very much is the Romulans. Kirk is officiating a wedding when the news comes in that yet another outpost is in trouble. 

They think it’s the Romulans. Nobody has really seen them since the war humans and Romulans had. Now they have a small DMZ that neither party is allowed to enter. They both have to stay on either side of what they call the neutral zone. Looks like a Romulan ship has snuck over and been giving these Federation outposts the business. 
The immense vacuum of space rendered in breathtaking 2-D

The outpost is destroyed. Nobody has seen the ship that did it. Turns out that's because they have a cloaking device. Cloaking devices become old hat later, but this is blowing everyone’s minds. Also, the cloaking device isn't perfect. So even though the Enterprise isn’t really able to see the Roman Warbird while it’s cloaked the Warbird isn't really able to see the Enterprise while it’s cloaked. 

I love just how much of this episode is the bridge crew of the Enterprise staring at a blank view screen. It’s amazing how much they’re able to get out of that. They can’t see the ship so they’re all just staring at blank space. I don’t know if that was due to budget constraints so they couldn’t show the Warbird that much or what, but it really works for the episode. 

While we’re talking about the cloaking device, I do like the fact that even though a cloaking device on a space ship is so many years and years ahead of this, it’s kind of neat to think of an amazing technology such as that going through a beta period. It’s almost there, but not quite.

The Enterprise taps into the Warbird’s view screen and are all surprised to find out that Romulans look almost exactly like Vulcans. This doesn’t sit well with some folks. Some people think now that they can’t trust Spock because he might as well be a Romulan on account of them both having pointing ears. I’ve read numerous things about how Gene Roddenberry hated interpersonal conflict. I don’t know if he just wasn't given access to this show or what, but the whole thing about the crewman not trusting Spock because Romulans and Vulcans share a not too distant ancestor. It works. These two species haven't been working together all that long. Of course, some humans are going to be dicks about trusting aliens. I thought Kirk being ready and quickly putting aside any racist thoughts was a good move. You could tell this wasn't the first time someone had been shitty about working with aliens. This works in relation to the Enterprise retconning of the Vulcan-human relationship. In that, they just made Vulcans the condescending kind of bad guys.
Romulan Warbird: The touching story of a boy and his bird during WWW2

They go after the Romulan ship and a cat and mouse game ensues. Each captain trying to out maneuver the other. Each ship gets their licks in, and it should come as no surprise that the Enterprise comes out on top. Kirk offers the Romulan captain assistance, which he refuses. Stating that it’s not their way. He offers his congratulations and tells Kirk had they met any other way, they might be friends. Then the ship blows up. It’s pretty fucking badass. 

You can tell Gene Roddenberry was a Navy man. This is a basically a submarine battle that takes place in space. Everything about starships in Trek is very submarine like. It’s the opposite of Battlestar Galactica. Maybe opposite is the wrong way to look at it, because I don’t think air is the opposite of water, but you get what I’m trying to say. BSG is very air force influenced. Both are neat. Both are kind of weird when you think about space because it’s neither air or water, but both kind of make sense in terms of space. 

The victory wasn’t without sacrifice, though. At the end, we learned that there was a casualty on the Enterprise. It was one-half of the happy couple who were about to get married at the beginning. Because you know. Even as obvious a setup and cheap emotional trick that was, this episode still rules. 
Come on, you knew they both had as much chance of seeing the end credits as a dog in almost any movie about a dog

Good Trek?

Hell yeah. This episode is just the best. I’ve only seen it the once and I think it might be one of my favorite Treks of all time. It’s just so good. 

This seems like a really DS9 episode. It doesn't fit in with most of the rest of the season. This episode is a tight cat and mouse war drama, and next week’s episode is one where the crew is being attacked by the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. 

Worse Trek:

If the only thing you like about this episode is that one guy being a racist douche to Spock then I guess I’d go with the pilot of Enterprise. I guess he’s not being racist, but he’s being speciesist(?). Regardless. It’s not great. Enterprise is, for the most part, a mess and this episode is no different. It’s very much a mess. But at the same time, you get to see how humans and Vulcans don’t always get along. A lot of it is a messy retcon, and it feels like it. But I guess it’s worth a watch. 

Push Trek:

I wouldn’t say it’s better Trek, but I’d check out TNG’s The Defector. It’s a badass episode. You get to see another (better) captain in a battle of wits with some Romulans. Also, you get to learn a little bit more about Romulans as a whole. They’re great antagonists. Particularly in these two episodes. They make a great alternative to the Federation. Far better than the Klingons do for the most part. I don’t really know too much about TOS Klingons because I haven’t seen them popup yet. I know they’re supposed to be a stand-in for the USSR. I guess we’ll see. But the Romulans are just great. 

I guess you could also watch the 2009 Star Trek. There are a lot of similarities between this episode and the movie. I don’t know if the Abrams movie ending was modeled after this or what, but there are a lot of similarities. Not that that’s a bad thing because again, this is a really really good episode. Next week’s episode probably won’t be. For some reason, Bones is being chased by the White Rabbit. That looks dumb and I'm sure it'll suck. But they can’t all be Balance of Terror I guess. 

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