2011.12.28 in The Original Series
Kirk and company meet the Romulans for the first time. Enterprise crew members grow suspicious of Spock due to a specific similarity.
There’s a wedding happening, and it’s Kirk’s job as captain to seal the bond between the happy couple. Scotty walks the bride down the aisle for reasons unknowable. Kirk goes into a speech and ceremony but is interrupted by a shipwide alert – an outpost is under attack and the bride and groom still aren’t allowed to kiss. Thanks for the speech, Jim. You could have just said “okay kiddos, do you? And do you? Cool, make with the kissing, the deed is done.” But no, instead one of these young lovers is going to die unwed. How do I know this? Because it’s television, folks, and whenever a marriage is interrupted in the first scene, one of the engaged will die before the hour is up. That’s a trope, I’d wager, but I promised myself not to spend any more time on that evil, evil website that would tell me. Someone braver or stupider than I please let me know in the comments.
The ship heads for the outpost under attack, one in a row that borders Romulan space. There exists a neutral zone that may not be entered by vessel, Earth nor Romulan, established at the end of a long-ago war between the two civilizations. Somehow, through all this conflict and resolution, no one from Earth has seen any Romulan. A temporary bridge officer, Stiles, has relatives that died in that war, and Kirk tells him to bottle it up.
The attacking ship has destroyed three outposts, and ruined a fourth. The weapon is a high-energy plasma, and the ship is invisible. At the fourth outpost, the commander remains alive and shows the Enterprise what his own viewscreen displays: the attacking ship becomes visible and fires straight at the camera. We see the commander again, and his environs crumble. Somehow, we see the ship go invisible again, though surely that camera would have been destroyed.
The foreign ship is, though invisible, still registering on sensors. Spock reports that it is on a course for Romulus, and therefore may be Romulan in origin, as feared. Kirk instructs Sulu and Stiles to match the course and appear as an echo on their sensors. Uhura picks up a transmission, which Spock piggybacks to steal a video feed from the bridge of the other ship. When the feed hits the viewscreen, we see …Vulcans? Actually, no, they’re Romulans, but the actor is Mark Lenard, who appeared in other episodes, series, and films as Spock’s father Sarek. Even in the animated series!
Stiles gets mouthy, accusing Spock of being a spy. Kirk demands that bigotry has no place on the bridge. I’m sure that’s why there are as many white guys as non-white guys or any ladies on the bridge.
The Romulans’ costumes are odd and interesting: tan and black woven jackets, wide black belts and long gloves, triangle-patterned shoulder sashes in pink or blue. Anyway, The commander knows it’s a ship tracing them, but his crew thinks it is the echo Kirk means to portray. He orders evasive maneuvers, and as they turn back toward the neutral zone, Kirk orders Sulu to match course. Time for a board meeting!
Spock takes some leftover shielding from the outpost they couldn’t save, the hardest substance known to man, and crumbles it in his hands. Totally not fair, he’s stronger than a human. Stiles insists that an attack is necessary, and continues to accuse Spock, because he’s racist. Bones acts the pacifist, and Spock reveals that he believes the Romulans to be an offshoot of his own Vulcan race, from a time before his people evolved past colonialism and brutality. Sounds likely enough, I’ll buy it.
A comet is detected ahead, the Romulan ship heading toward it. The hope is that the tail of the comet will reveal the position to target, since sensor readings are somehow too inaccurate to pinpoint the ship. When the Romulans enter the tail, they detect a change in the sensor echo – and the commander commands an escape maneuver. It foils Kirk’s plan, which just pisses Jim right off. He blankets the area with phasers, which act more like what later became photon torpedoes, what with a blast at a certain distance rather than a constant laser burst.
The Romulans decloak and fire their big bad boom, so Kirk orders emergency warp directly in reverse of the beam. After a couple minutes, the beam begins to dissipate, allowing the Enterprise to absorb the blast without much damage. They could have avoided all damage by turning gently while backtracking out of the beam’s range, but what do I know.
As the ships close in toward the neutral zone, Kirk decides it’s finally time to attack. You know, the ship that broke the treaty in order to enter the neutral zone so as to cross it and destroy four border outposts, only to return to Romulus. The commander knows he must outsmart his pursuer, and decides to eject a bunch of debris to fake him out that they’ve been destroyed. Spock easily detects the ploy, but the ship cannot be located on sensors.
The bridge crews whisper to each other, as though they’re on submarines in a second world war film. In space, no one can hear you scream; apparently, regular conversation carries across a vacuum.
Almost ten hours pass as each ship waits for the other to move and be detected on sensors. Spock finishes a repair under his console, and accidentally sets off an alarm that the Romulans detect. The Romulans move in to pursue; Kirk powers up and fires phasers. Now who’s mad? That bad guy commander is mad. Sucks to be outsmarted. He shoves more debris out of the ship, and includes a nuke in the field. Spock detects it almost in time, but not quite. The Enterprise is nearly disabled; twenty-two casualties includes the entire phaser crew. Stiles heads down to man the trigger. Spock suggests that the ship move away, Kirk declines. He’s determined to beat this opponent.
Meanwhile, the Romulans decide to attack again, and for outright victory. Spock checks in on the phaser crew, and Stiles rejects his assistance. Immediately after Spock leaves, a massive coolant leak occurs. The Romulan ship decloaks and Kirk orders Stiles to fire – but he’s passed out. Spock races back to help, and hits the trigger, disabling the Romulan ship in total.
Uhura hails, and Kirk offers to transport the survivors over for rescue. The commander – seriously, they never once give him a name throughout the episode – rejects the offer, following a different tradition. He laments that in this life, he and Kirk could not be friends, and makes clear the regard he’s got for our captain. And then he hits his ship’s self-destruct button.
Kirk goes to sick bay, where he meets Bones, Spock, and Stiles. Stiles apologizes for being racist, and Spock insists he had no personal stake in saving the guy from the coolant leak. McCoy tells Jim that only one crew member died and BINGO BEE EYE EN GEE OH I NAILED THAT ONE: it was the groom. Sorry, bridey, but that’s how it goes… in space.
Okay, the first thing I pick up from this episode is that crew weddings are the most dangerous time in a ship’s routine. They should be as fast as possible, so that the couple can remain together and living. There’s no need for ceremony, just get the rings and yesses and spit swapped and it should take thirty seconds tops. But that’s just an anti-trope rant.
In truth, this episode speaks toward the benefits of withholding judgment. Stiles, too quick to judge Spock, assumed based on the pointed ears and thick eyebrows, is just plainly racist. Kirk, too quick to judge the Romulan in charge, makes some mistakes that allow the chase to last until the attackers are far enough in to the neutral zone to provide plausible deniability, or to accuse our Earth space organization of breaking the treaty. Underestimating his opponent proved nearly disastrous, though the Romulan never underestimated Kirk and still lost.
Anyway, prejudice is bad and harmful. I think most of the world is aware of that now, or at least aware that one shouldn’t “be prejudiced.” I think that, unfortunately, most of the world also shamefully behaves with the very prejudices they purport not to have. There is still good news here, though: the longer we go and the better we are about acting without prejudice, and if we can keep from staining the next generation with our own prejudices, eventually it might be stamped out in full. That won’t happen for generations down the line, maybe, and certainly not over the whole world at once, but if we can’t hope for that, what can we hope for?