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To prevent a war, Kirk goes to war

  • Feb 1, 2005
As the Federation expanded out into space, they encountered a race called the Romulans. A vicious war ensued, where no prisoners were taken, so no Federation member has ever seen a Romulan. The peace treaty that ended the war was negotiated via subspace radio and one of the points of the agreement was to set up a neutral zone of space. Any movement by either side into the neutral zone would be considered an act of war. To monitor the neutral zone, the Federation set up a series of listening posts along the Federation side of the neutral zone.
Those outposts are under attack by an unknown ship that possesses a weapon of tremendous power. It easily penetrates the defenses of the Federation outposts, systematically destroying them. The Enterprise is the ship sent to investigate and they become involved in a cat and mouse game with a Romulan ship. Spock is able to penetrate the signals of the Romulan ship and obtains images of the Romulan bridge. It turns out that they look like Vulcans, so some people on the Enterprise suspect that Spock is a spy.
In a strategy meeting, Spock recommends that the Enterprise attack the Romulan ship, noting that they most likely have a Vulcan heritage, which means that they are very warlike. If the ship were to return to base with a report that they were able to destroy at will, then a full scale attack would follow. Kirk decides to attack the Romulan ship and they take shots at each other, with damage but nothing decisive. The Romulan commander proves to be a Shakespearean personality, unhappy with the consequences of his actions, but too steeped in duty to do otherwise. Kirk and the Romulan commander match each other move for move until the Enterprise manages to get off a few phaser shots that fatally damage the Romulan ship. The Romulan commander cannot surrender and destroys his ship.
This episode introduces the Romulans, a species that made far too few appearances in the original series. Having them share a common heritage with the Vulcans was a stroke of genius and Mark Lenard, who played the Romulan commander, should have won an award for his performance. The only problem is when the crew members of both ships talk quietly and make little noise so that the other ship will not hear them. This mimics the actions of submarines, but since sound cannot travel through the vacuum of space, it is thoroughly useless. Also, while the Romulan ship has a cloaking device and could hide from other ships, the Enterprise does not, so they would always be visible.
While this episode is not as original as many of the others in the series, it makes up for it in the quality of the performances. Both Kirk and the Romulan commander know what must be done, are in command, yet freely express their doubts. When the battle comes, neither hesitates and Kirk proves to have the superior tactical skill. The reality of war is also brought home by the only battle death on the Enterprise. At the beginning of the episode, Kirk is about to perform a wedding ceremony, and it is interrupted by the call to war. The episode ends with Kirk comforting the woman who was to have been the bride.

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review by . January 04, 2012
Balance of Terror is certainly one of the best episodes of the original series.  It featured the first major action scenes with the Enterprise in space, it introduced the Romulans which would become one of the most popular aliens in the series and it dealt with racism in the form of an Enterprise crewman who thinks Spock is in league with the Romulans-the Romulans who killed his family in a war almost a century before hand.  It's a loaded deck, has a bittersweet ending and it's …
Quick Tip by . January 04, 2012
Kirk and the Enterprise must follow a Romulan ship which breached Federation space to test it's new weapon as a investigation of Federation strength. Kirk and his Romulan equal must outguess each other in a tense battle, and the first major space battle the series had seen up to that point.
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Charles Ashbacher ()
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Charlie Ashbacher is a compulsive reader and writer about many subjects. His prime areas of expertise are in mathematics and computers where he has taught every course in the mathematics and computer … more
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"Balance of Terror" is a terrific drama that was essentially an outer-space version of a 1950s submarine movie. Writer Paul Schneider introduced both the Romulans and the concept of a "neutral zone" toTreklore, wrapped up in this story about the first encounter between a Federation and Romulan ship in 75 years. The resulting face-off between two vessels and their strong, noble captains--Kirk (William Shatner) and his Romulan counterpart (Mark Lenard, who later played Spock's Vulcan father, Sarek)--is directed and edited with suspense worthy of the classic sub movieThe Enemy Below. It's an example of how the originalTrekseries took lots of risks and constantly invented itself, in contrast to the more codified look and feel ofThe Next Generationand subsequent series.--Tom Keogh
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Studio: CBS Paramount International Television

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