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Old April 26 2013, 11:17 AM   #50
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Location: On Risa with a Eurasian version of Carolyn Nelson or Barbara Anderson.
Re: Joel Revisits TOS....

Balance of Terror

Story:Robert Tomlinson and Angela Martine are about to get married. Unfortunately, a distress call from Outpost 4 near the Neutral Zone puts the wedding on hold. The distress call concerns one lone Romulan vessel that is destroying outposts, gauging Starfleet’s weakness before it returns home with information that could spell war between the Romulan Empire and Earth.

Ideology:War is hell. Sometimes there isn’t a “good” or “bad” side, just people on either side doing their duty. War affects everyone, and doesn’t discriminate between gender, or race.

Plot Holes: I couldn’t find any.

Miscellaneous Thoughts: All the TOS episodes are classic, but this is one of those “classic” episodes that stands above the rest. This introduces us to the Romulans, and gives us a tale that speaks on racism, duty, and morality without being preachy; we also get some action to boot. We also get introduced to two actors in particular, Mark Lenard and Lawrence Montaigne, who portray Romulans here, and would later portray Vulcans. Of course, Lenard would become the prominent character Sarek.

Paul Comi as Lt. Styles is our guest navigator for this episode, and reveals himself to be a bigot against Vulcans, in this “progressive” future. Well, we’ve already seen evidence of sexism, so there’s obviously racism. Even Kirk would show himself to be a bigot against Klingons later in the franchise....and Captain Benjamin Sisko (a century after Kirk) would grow upset at the racism faced by black-Americans in the 1960s after learning of a fictional, light-hearted holodeck program taking place in that era, having us wonder if even he (in the 24th Century) faced racism due to his color or ethnicity.

Lt. Styles is descended from a family who fought in the Earth-Romulan war of previous years, so he has a certain by-the-book attitude that, interestingly, the “Captain Stiles” of Star Trek III has. He is also a different type of patriot. Instead of him being proud of his country, Styles is a proud Terran, and doesn’t seem to want to be around those who differ from his idea of Terrans. This is interesting since, at this time in the Star Trek universe, there would be so many mixtures of people in Starfleet and on Earth. It is not stated on whether Styles is particularly racist against Vulcans, or aliens overall. However, it would be a bit silly to be in Starfleet where, as aforementioned, there are different races and ethnicities intermingling. Nonetheless, the idea of Styles learning to not judge people is related pretty well in the episode’s climax when Spock saves him from the coolant leak that occurs in the phaser room.

Styles has a minor commonality with Jonathan Archer. Yes, that guy from Star Trek: Enterprise. Archer is a flawed character who has his own racial biases against Vulcans, and possibly against fellow humans...yet, he is chosen to explore “strange new worlds” and make “first contacts.” Note: Archer is from the 22nd Century, a century before the Kirk-era, but is shown stating the Earth has evolved, particularly in terms of race. Hence, the Star Trek universe isn’t as evolved as the characters believe.

The episode’s battle with the Romulan warbird is reminiscent of the nautical-like Enterprise/Reliant battle in Star Trek II. Both opponents are trying to outsmart one another: Kirk, to stop a potential war that will be waged once the Romulan warbird gets word of Starfleet’s strength; and the Romulan Commander, who wants to return to his home planet alive with the information for the Praetor. Both seem to be playing a game of chess; usually the case when Kirk is going up against another commander. That is probably the explanation as to why both crews are simultaneously ‘whispering’ on their respective bridges: For example, the Enterprise is idle, the engines turned off, and the crew stressed. When Spock inadvertently hits a button on his console, ‘power’ is detected by the Romulan vessel - also stressed (particularly the Romulan Commander and the Centurion) speaking softly as the crew monitors an enemy they might have underestimated.

Again, the “lower decks” (i.e. non-regulars) are emphasized with the soon-to-be married couple Robert Tomlinson and Angela Martine, as well as the goings on in the phaser room. The character Angela Martine, who is one of my favorite Starfleet females, would show up two more times in the series. As aforementioned in previous reviews, these ‘guest characters’ show us the Enterprise is a lived-in vessel with characters that, even if they show in one or two episodes, we may grow attached to.

No overacting Shatner in this one. A close-up of Kirk when Commander Hanson of Outpost 4 is describing the death and destruction, is silently emotional. It’s all in his facial expressions. Shatner’s Kirk - in this episode - also is one who asks for options to see if they should follow the Romulan ship or leave them alone; he isn’t impulsive. The final scene of him walking out of the ship’s chapel, after consoling Angela Martine for the loss of her fiancé shows that the loss of any crewmember is felt. He wears a somber expression as he walks the corridors, the closing instrumental plays on the soundtrack, a few crewmen and women in the background joke with one another, as the ship slowly but surely gets back to normal after previous events.

Uhura takes the navigation console when Styles heads to the phaser room to help the doomed Tomlinson. Sulu gives her a little grin, which Uhura doesn’t notice. It would have been nice to see her ‘take the conn,’ as well as see what the writers would have done with those subtle hints from Sulu....which were probably unconscious, subtle hints. The J.J. Abrams universe has made Uhura a major ‘player’ in the films: Very tough and strong-willed, and very sexy; and, in a relationship with Spock. Some of those attributes are apparent in the series (e.g. especially the upcoming ‘Mirror, Mirror’) but it’s taken to another level. Still, given the time period classic TOS was produced, it’s nice to see the character - not only as a black female, but the primary female character in this series - a multi-tasker, as well as someone gazed upon as desirable by a non-white, non-black individual. Of course, it's also showing that an Asian male - whose sexuality is usually repressed in the media - can enjoy the opposite sex; in this case, enjoy gazing at the opposite sex while keeping it professional.

I love the Romulans of TOS. They obviously are inspired by the Romans - hence the similar name - and they have just as much mystery as the Vulcans. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the mystery, sexiness, and exotic appeal of the Romulans is gone from TNG onward. They become stiff in the way they act (or at least the way they are portrayed) and in the way they physically look. They become boring. They are somewhat interesting and ‘cool’ again in the 2009 film by J.J. Abrams.

Lastly, there is a scene when the ship goes to red alert, and the officers/department heads - save Uhura, who probably is in command on the bridge! - leave the briefing room after finalizing their options in dealing with a stealthy enemy. Sulu is waiting at the door for Kirk to leave, and as Kirk exits...we cut to Kirk walking to the bridge at a brisk pace. Focused. Sulu is not too far behind is taking in his fellow crewmen and women hurrying to their stations. The incidental music makes it clear, 'things just got real.' (A cool little sequence I've always liked from this episode; and is a good contrast to the aforementioned final scene - one I also like - with Kirk walking a much more calmer corridor).

Score: 5/5. An episode that embodies the idea of Star Trek. An episode that is very well-written and well-acted. Note: I wouldn’t say this is a good introduction to the series, since you have to go through previous episodes to fully appreciate ‘Balance of Terror.’

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