2011.12.16 in The Original Series
The crew of the Enterprise encounters a mysterious cube which they must destroy before it destroys them. The owner of that cube tracks down the ship and captures it; he will destroy our heroes for their malice. Kirk must convince the captor not to destroy them, to give him a chance to escape.
Stardate 1512.2 – Welp, any sense of chronology established in the last few episodes is kaput. This episode seems to take place concurrently with The Man Trap, the first episode that hit the air. Later stardates given during this episode are 1514 point something, and that episode took place on 1513.1. Hey Star Trek writers, I GOTCHA! Sorry.
Picture time on the bridge! They’re mapping this unexplored sector, and some lieutenant is bored with the process. Contact is made with an object on a collision course, and Spock sits in the captain’s chair. Of course he wouldn’t if Kirk were there, but there’s probably a cute new yeoman Jim wants to get with.
They can’t get around whatever the cubic object is flying in front of them, so Spock and Sulu put the ship on Condition: Alert! or whatever the punctuation there should be.
Ah, Kirk’s in Sick Bay, shirtless again, getting a physical. Spock pages him to show off the impediment, which is tracking along with the Enterprise. McCoy utters the first incarnation of his doctor/other line, in this case phrased as a question.
Kirk is still shirtless in the turbolift. Well, not shirtless, but he’s wearing the shirt draped over himself instead of how it’s designed to work. He gets to the bridge to meet the “department heads” which seem in this case to be the regular bridge crew plus Scotty and this mouthy lieutenant (Bailey, apparently). They rattle off some data, and Bailey wants to destroy it. Shut up, Bailey. Board meeting time: Kirk decides on a spiral course to evade the cube.
This brings up an issue I’ve always had with most spacebound sci-fi: three dimensional travel is possible but rarely ever used. Even in old world war two fighter plane films you get the sense that the pilots knew how to use up/down in addition to right/left and front/back. Here, specifically, how do make a spiral pattern in three dimensions? Flying around a thing and changing course could be so much easier. Fly… “up.” Anyway.
As they try to get around the cube, it begins giving off radiation, and it keeps tracking and nearing no matter how fast they retreat. Finally, they have to destroy it. Hands wiped clean, they continue on their merry star-mapping way. Not a chance is that going to come back to haunt them, nope.
McCoy stresses concern for Bailey, he’s too young for his position. Oh, is that what it is. Nothing about his attitude, or his proficiency. I know this Bailey character isn’t important in the long run. It’s just odd that they’re spending so much time developing this redshirt’s backstory.
Yeoman Rand brings Kirk his dinner – a salad. He protests like my farm-raised, machinist uncle, basically saying if it ain’t meat he don’t want it. Nice to see that attitude last so long in the future. Since you can’t see my face, you’ll have to trust me when I tell you that when I typed that sentence, I rolled my eyes so hard it hurt.
Sulu suddenly blasts “this is not a drill” and Kirk is all “sgwhuh?” into the comm. From the bridge, we learn contact has been made and boom there’s a dot and whoa it’s getting big fast and HOW big is it? And now our Enterprise is in a tractor beam and good christ this episode went from dragging to thrilling in a couple seconds.
So Kirk tries to talk to it. Look dude you just blew up some small thing you’d never seen before, and now you’re tractored by some huge thing you’ve never seen before and pretty close to where the up-blowing happened. You really think you can talk your way out of this? Come on. The return message comes through Bailey’s navigation feed, because that makes sense.
The voice we hear is from Balok, telling them they’re under arrest, basically, and that they might be destroyed. Then Balok takes over the ship’s systems to shut some of them down. Bailey launches a recorder marker, which Balok immediately destroys and says “Your recorder marker has been destroyed.” How the hell does Balok know what an earth ship’s recorder marker looks like or what it’s called or what it is. He gives a time limit of ten minutes before he destroys the Enterprise.
Jim keeps contacting Balok to attempt to reason with him, because it’s worked so well so far. Bailey can’t do his job for some reason. Sulu tells Kirk that the engines are all dead. Spock finds a new signal and pops it on the view screen, and we see an alien face, not terribly well-made. Bailey freaks out when he hears that they’ve got eight minutes before they die. The actor’s got to be close to thirty, how old is the character supposed to be, like nineteen? Kirk pleads again for reason, and all Balok replies with is seven minutes.
After the commercial break, we have four minutes. Kirk is looking for an escape. Spock brings up chess, admitting to having been checkmated. Kirk tells McCoy that “nobody’s given up yet” which kind of contradicts what Spock just told him. Bones wants to talk to Jim about Bailey, something about his report. Kirk calls out McCoy for trying to bluff him, and realizes he can maybe bluff his way out of Balok’s grasp.
He relates to Balok a convoluted tale about Corbomite, a substance-slash-device which reverses any and all attacks on the Enterprise back toward the attacker. He tells Balok “we grow annoyed at your foolishness” and shuts off the comm. The balls on this guy, sheesh. Carved out of steel.
Bailey reappears on the bridge with thirty seconds left, and he looks like he’s been crying. Jimmy “Li’l Bitch” Bailey. Sulu counts down from …eleven? I guess I’ll allow it. He reaches one and nothing happens; it seems Balok can’t tell a lie from the truth. He tells our crew that destruction is delayed until proof of Corbomite can be ascertained. Kirk denies his request, maintaining his bluff. Balok has taken a miniature ship from the giant, to drag the Enterprise to a planet where the crew will be killed and the ship destroyed. This dog has an awfully big bark, and the crew is probably coming to understand, along with the audience, that the bite probably doesn’t compare.
Kirk and Sulu attempt an escape, at a “right-angle course” that bugs me again with the 2D space travel; it’s a little more bearable since they’re in a tractor beam. They finally get away, but have nearly burned out the engines, so must stop. Uhura intercepts a distress signal from Balok: the escape of the Enterprise has destroyed Balok’s engines and life support systems. Instead of abandoning the enemy to die, Kirk decides to live up to the high ideals set forth in the ship’s mission. He chooses Bones and Bailey to accompany him to Balok’s vessel, Bones since he’s a doctor, and Bailey because …he needs a redshirt?
They beam over, and see the alien face they’ve come to know as Balok – but it’s a dummy. Then there’s a smaller voice than the deep booming one we’ve heard all episode. Balok is sitting there, chilling out – it is a six- or seven-year-old Clint Howard, with fake bushy eyebrows and what I hope are fake teeth but maybe he could get braces after those ones fall out. The ship is fine and the act’s been a total Wizard of Oz move on his part, meant to test the Enterprise’s intentions and capabilities. The real Balok is just lonely and wants to trade information and companionship. Bailey volunteers to stay with Balok for a while, at Kirk’s suggestion. Two birds, one stone.
The contest of wills and wits on display here is an allegory for the cold war, and the denouement is in addition to a clever twist ending Roddenberry’s hope for the best outcome of the cold war. In 1966, the Bay of Pigs fiasco was still a pretty recent event. Schools still taught children to crawl under their desks in case a nuke landed somewhere regional. Tensions were just about at their highest, maybe not quite as high as a few years prior. Still, it was another twenty-five years before the cold war would end, and half of civilization worried about the imminent threat of nuclear winter. This episode’s contest examined the cold war as purely as it can be represented: a puffing of chests over the promise of mutually assured destruction. Ending on the hope for friendship and swapping tips and knowledge is as optimistic as a person could be about the end of the cold war, and a heartwarming joke on the kids in the audience watching without any awareness of the allegory.
The episodes aired previously varied from good to middling, with a lot of potential on display along with some really fantastic scenes and concepts. This episode, though it has fairly bad pacing reminiscent of some of the worse episodes of The Next Generation, is probably exactly what Roddenberry was looking for out of his efforts: a true human story with a serious message about the state of the world he saw around him. It’s reminiscent of the story in the pilot in that way, though not in any other detail. I think this is a good episode but I’d rather stress that it’s the first capital-i Important episode of Star Trek.
Shame about that stardate collision.