Star Trek TOS: Unadulterated War in Outer Space

Kirk - Balance of Terror
Image Courtesy of CBS on YouTube:

Star Trek: The Original Series

Season 1, Episode 15

Balance of Terror

This was the episode that introduced marriage into Star Trek with Kirk as the emcee. However, the ceremony was interrupted by emergency, leaving Kirk to, once again, take on tomfoolery. 

Earthlings and Romulans were evidently on the brink of war, threatening a 100 year-along peace treaty. Kik was not a fan of Roumluans due to their past deeds and thus ordered Enterprise to be on full weapons alert. 

The intruder ship could not see the Enterprise, so Kirk dug in his bag for some trickery, ordering the ship’s speed to that of the Romulan in hopes of creating an echo on the radar. Video surfaced of the entities inhabiting the ship, and the plot thickened — the villains appeared to be Vulcans. This was a rough and awkward handful of episodes for Spock. 

This was a pipeline to bigotry, enabling Kirk to take one of his most powerful stances through 15 episodes. A crewmember, Stiles, implied Spock could translate any negotiations between the two ships, connecting Spock and the evildoers seamlessly. Kirk spun Stiles’ chair around and denounced the bigotry with a commanding tone. And Stiles was a White man. Kirk had no problem telling him off. The captain would not stand for prejudice — not even toward aliens. Especially his friend who was half-alien. 

It turned out on the Romulan ship its crew was grappling with the morality of war, so the entrenchment of Enterprise vs. Romulan was very much a real combat situation, laced with loss of life implications for the respective leaders. 

Stiles was a war hawk — unsurprising considering his bigoted words earlier in the episode — advocating for a preemptive strike. He even insulted Spock again, christening him “Mr. Science.” But it worked. Spock agreed as he knew the capabilities of the Vulcan species. 

Image Courtesy of CBS on YouTube:

“War is never imperative,” was the reply from Dr. McCoy — wrap your arms around that progressive-minded nugget in the Vietnam War era. Then, try to find other heroic tales in the late 1960s that mimicked the mindset. Good luck.

Nevertheless, Kirk chose a strike-first philosophy, firing on the Romulan ship. He’s not as predictable as one might think all the time. The Romulans counterattacked, rattling the Enterprise but not disabling it. 

This was all-out war in outer space.

The Romulans figured out that Kirk figured them out — they needed all of their ship’s energy to fire weaponry. The adversarial captain told his crew Kirk was shrewd. That he is, with a side dish of empathy at all times. 

Near the climax of The Balance of Terror, Kirk eerily gave a speech to Dr. McCoy that was a cookie-cutter to what Captain Pike told his doctor in The Cage. The responsibility of leaders is too vast at times for a man to stomach, at least not without talking through the fallout of his actions. That’s what Kirk did with McCoy as a sounding board, just as Pike did with Boyce.

Kirk demoralized the Romulans with his warring tactics. But not before they attempted a blaze-of-glory, last-ditch effort. They fired again — unsuccessfully. 

Kirk had a Zoom call with the leader of the Romulans where the almost-slain foe laments not meeting under different circumstances. Also, Spock saved Stiles’ life when a coolant leak broke out, a poetic and advantageous outcome for the Stiles who was grateful (and hopefully reformed).

Sadly, the groom from the wedding at the beginning of the episode perished. Kirk — like a war general — was tasked with notifying the bride-to-be. In an oral indictment of war, Kirk assures Angela, the now-widow, “It never makes any sense. We both have to know that there was a reason.”

Themes: War, Anti-Bigotry 

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. His odyssey with Star Trek starts from beginning to finish, watching ‘The Original Series,’ all the way to the present day. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).