Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Star Trek: Balance of Terror

Episode: "Balance of Terror"
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 1, Episode 14
Original Air Date: December 15, 1966
via Memory Alpha

Commenters on my last Star Trek post primed my expectations for "Balance of Terror."  I'd also been looking forward to it myself as the episode which introduced the Romulans, one of the major alien races of the franchise.  Having now watched it, I can understand the fuss.  Like "The Corbomite Maneuver," "Balance of Tower" showcases the moral/ethical underpinnings of Trek that I find so appealing. This one has a better ending than "Corbomite Maneuver," too.

"Balance of Terror" was inspired by submarine movies of the 1950s.  The Enterprise engages in a cat-and-mouse game with a Romulan vessel on the Federation side of the Neutral Zone, a clear treaty violation on the Romulans' part.  According to the history presented in the episode, the Federation and Romulus had engaged in a long, brutal war without ever actually having laid on eyes on one another!  Great set up.  Then the real fun begins.

Through some hocus pocus I don't quite understand, our heroes get a view of the Romulan bridge without being seen themselves.  Wouldn't you know it, the mysterious enemies look an awful lot like Vulcans.  Lt. Stiles, a one-shot character manning the navigation station, lost loved ones in the Earth-Romulan War and suddenly eyes Spock with great suspicion.  There is one extremely poignant shot of Stiles looking askance at Spock with Sulu sitting right next to him.  Sulu, of course, is played by George Takei who spent several years of his childhood in Japanese-American internment camps - impossible to miss the message there.

But that's not even the most interesting thing going on in this episode.  The Romulan Commander - played by Mark Lenard, a frequent Trek guest star over the decades - is presented as a surprisingly sympathetic adversary.  He respects Kirk and acts out of sense of duty and honor rather than hatred.  As he points out near the end, "In a different reality, I could have called you friend."

*****
via Star Trek: Vulcanology

Mark Lenard was born Leonard Rosensen, October 15, 1924 in Chicago.  He started acting while serving in the Army.  An accomplished stage performer, he made his big screen debut in The Greatest Story Ever Told in 1965.  In total, he appeared in three different Star Trek series and five different Trek films - as three different characters of three different races!  Lenard died in 1996 of multiple myeloma.

18 comments:

  1. It's been ages since I've seen this episode, but I remember it as one of the best. (I forgot about the bridge viewing hocus pocus, though.) :-)

    I think TNG kind of reversed the archetypal roles of the two main adversary races. In the original series, the Romulans were all about honor, and the Klingons were pretty much just unprincipled, treacherous black hats. They may have been going for Cold War parallels... Klingons = Russians, and Romulans = Red Chinese? But in TNG, they swapped roles.

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  2. I assumed Cold War parallels, too, but evidently the Romulans were originally based on the Roman Empire. Makes sense - planets called Romulus and Remus.

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  3. "In a different reality, I could have called you friend."
    That is one of the best ST quotes.

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    1. I absolutely agree. He's such a fantastic character, too.

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  4. What a brilliant actor Lenard was. My favorite episode was the TNG episode where he had Bendii Syndrome. Very powerful.

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    1. The Vulcans, in general, add so much to the Trek universe. Sarek's a crucial half of the yinyang that is Spock.

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    1. If you ever do go back and cherry pick your way through TOS, this episode is an essential stop.

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  6. Good old Star Trek... Do these play on TV anymore? We haven't had cable in so long, but it would be a travesdy if they're no longer on the air, even in some obscure corner of the watching world.

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    1. Through the magic of Netflix streaming, one can watch them anytime in any order they wish. That's what I'm doing. We've been off of cable and sattelite for a while now.

      It must be broadcast somewhere. Along with I Love Lucy and The Muppet Show, it will never truly go away.

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  7. Oh YEAH! This is the best of Trek! It's hard to look at Mark Lenard, though, and not think 'Sarek'!

    There are so many great moments to this episode - one of my favorites is Spock's reaction when they get their first look at what a Romulan looks like.

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    1. I agree with you on Lenard as Sarek but oh my, he is so good in this! He achieves just the right tone to make it work.

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    1. Definitely my favorite so far - an excellent showcase for what separates Trek from scifi of its own and previous eras. I'm still holding out for a full-on goose bumper. I may not find it in TOS and I'm okay with that.

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  9. Mark Lenard was a superb actor. His relationship with Spock was always interesting.

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  10. 'The Romulan Commander - played by Mark Lenard, a frequent Trek guest star over the decades - is presented as a surprisingly sympathetic adversary. He respects Kirk and acts out of sense of duty and honor rather than hatred. As he points out near the end, "In a different reality, I could have called you friend."'

    I was very struck by this moment as well. Great recap of a great episode.

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    1. Everything that is good and right about Trek is perfectly captured in that one line.

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