Star Trek TOS: Bushy-Eyebrowed Kid Is the Wizard of Oz

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Star Trek — The Original Series

Season 1, Episode 11

The Corbomite Maneuver

An ominous, perfectly shaped, and colorful cube barrelled directly toward Enterprise to begin Episode 11, landing at a standstill in front of the shop as a blockade. This is new; nothing has impeded Enterprise from its path forward to date. 

Mystery ensued — what the hell is the thing? While Kirk encountered several formidable entities through ten episodes, this one felt like the weirdest and spookiest from its onset. Normally, it was creatures, Androids, and viruses that threatened the crew. The cube was a vehicle of the unknown — which is often a lot freakier than clear and present danger.

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An unfazed and steady Kirk sent Enterprise toward the cube and its light show — always the collected leader, Kirk. For the first time, Kirk used force — lasers — from the ship to obliterate the cube, creating a “do we double back or proceed forward?” dilemma for the crew. 

Kirk asked Spock for his opinion on heading back versus continuing onward. Spock remarked that his viewpoint was quasi-meaningless as Kirk always chooses what he wants as a final decision. As a leader, however, Kirk assured Spock his input was valued, noting a captain’s “emotional security” — almost like a President and his chief of staff relationship. 

With a submarine-movie feel, another obstacle approached. This time, a humongous sphere — that wildly dwarfed the ship — blocked Enterprise. The sphere was manned by an angry group of English-speaking beings, confirming the supersized suspense evident earlier on. The leader of the sphere was hostile and threatening, so Kirk had his hands full. True to form, diplomacy was his first recourse. 

But simple resolution via diplomacy would be too easy for Star Trek, so a bizarre alien-looking creature debuted on screen to intimate Kirk and friends. And the invader responded with a countdown to destruction — 10 minutes. 

To fend off the threat, Spock suggested a chess-like strategy. Kirk, taking the card game idea, used poker-ish tactics with his diplomacy. He bluffed as the sphere leader’s countdown trickled to zero. It worked. The sphere leader broadcasted a delay. “Further proof” of Kirk’s “Corbomite” — the item utilized in the bluff — was requested by the sphere. 

The sphere countered by towing the Enterprise to a place of internment — probably enslavement — with another threat to destroy Kirk’s ship upon arrival to a new galaxy. 

Unadulterated cat-and-mouse diplomacy was the underlining gist of The Corbomite Maneuver — not unlike the United States and the Soviet Union at the time of the episode’s production. Who would blink in the Star Trek standoff?

Kirk also proclaimed the mission of Enterprise (in a stern rebuke to Dr. McCoy) as one to “seek out and contact alien life form.” If that wasn’t evident to viewers in the show’s infancy, the captain made it crystal clear. Ergo, Kirk planned to board the sphere and investigate.

Well, an eerie kid with a man’s voice was the culprit, arguably Star Trek’s most bizarre moment through 11 episodes. All he wanted was one of Kirk’s crew members to cohabit the sphere — because the kid (named Balock) was lonely and operated his ship with good intentions. Kirk’s team was rooted in exploration — not conquer — and Balock took solace in understanding the difference. The collective temperature lowered when Enterprise “passed the test.”

Dave Bailey — one of Kirk’s weakest links — was onboard for the investigation and was nominated by Kirk for the assignment. This can be interpreted as redemption for Bailey as his performance floundered earlier in the episode. 

A leader doesn’t give up on his “worst” man — even when an annihilation turns out to be a hoax-like test of wills. 

Themes: Diplomacy, Redemption, Exploration over Conquer

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).