Corbomite Maneuver is easily one of my top five trek episodes of all time (all series, even) for a lot of reasons, right up through a relatively satisfiying ending. I had the pleasure of watching that episode again last night right after my son went to bed, and I was on in the middle of nuking cup-a-noodles when suddenly it hit me:
What would Balok have done if Kirk hadn't
bluffed him? Which leads to the real question of just how exactly Balok's "test" was originally supposed to play out, and more importantly, what was the real aim of it anyway.
Think about this: Balok had to discover Kirk's real intentions. He hadn't counted on Kirk bluffing about the Corbomite thing. So what exactly would be the endgame when the timer ticked to zero and it was destruction time? Would Balok suddenly say "I changed my mind, I will tow you away now" anyway? Or would he have faked a sudden mechanical failure on the Fesarius?
Considering this, I think we should consider a rather scary alternative: Balok didn't decide to test them until AFTER the Corbomite Bluff. He didn't want to risk that maybe Kirk was telling the truth, so he decided to test their intentions to see if their claimed "respect for intelligent life" really held up to scrutiny. IOW: Balok really WOULD have destroyed the Enterprise if not for his curiosity/uncertainty about the Corbomite Device. That has some interesting implications for Balok's character IMO: he's presented, in the end, as a sympathetic little guy with only the best of intentions, but he is in fact kind of a hardass who just happens to respect a worthy adversary.