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Recap: Star Trek S 1 E 14 Balance Of Terror
The USS Enterprise is on duty near the Romulan Zone border, and things are calm enough that Kirk can preside over a wedding between two crew members. An urgent call from an Outpost interrupts the wedding, and the ship discovers that a series of outposts have been destroyed by a new energy weapon. A lucky interception of a message from an unseen space ship allows Kirk and crew to find out who they are up against: The Romulans. Using a single cloaked ship firing the most lethal weapon ever witnessed. And The Enterprise
is the only one who can stop them...
This one is commonly regarded as one of the very best Star Trek episodes, of this or any other series.
This episode contains the following tropes:
- Big, Badass Bird of Prey: The Romulan symbol.
- The Chains of Commanding: Kirk reflects on this at one point with Bones.
- Due to the Dead: The Romulan commander orders the dead Centurion's body dumped into space along with a bunch of debris to make it seem that his ship has been destroyed — but he is clearly distressed about it, and asks his late friend to forgive him.
- Early Installment Weirdness:
- Scotty states that the Romulans' "power is simple impulse." This caused many people (including the writers of the Star Trek Encyclopedia) to assume that the Romulans only had Impulse engines and not Warp Drive. However, considering it would take decades for the Romulans to travel space without Faster-than-light travel, it would be nearly impossible to fight an interstellar war. Eventually, this was retconed by having the Romulans have warp capabilities in Star Trek: Enterprise. Although Star Trek: The Next Generation DID establish that Romulan vessels were powered by artificial singularities as opposed to a warp core familiar to Starfleet. One of the EU novels, set in Captain April's era, explains this by having birds of prey capable only of sublight be deployed to their duty sectors by a warp-capable mothership. Impulse engines on Starfleet vessels are powered by fusion reactors. Knowing this and that a fusion-powered ship would have much shorter range than an antimatter-powered one, just like the Bird of Prey, it's probable that Romulan ships of the era were powered by fusion reactors and that Scott just meant that, and that artificial singularities (that would ensure pretty much unlimited range) were still to be developed.
- The Enterprise fires phasers in short bursts which detonate at a specified interval, in reference to depth charges. This could have easily been done by Photon Torpedoes had they been invented by the writers sooner.
- Fantastic Racism: Lt. Stiles. From a long line of Stiles who fought in the first Romulan War. When he finds out Romulans and Vulcans look alike (and Spock himself confirms the possibility the species are related), he starts viewing Spock as a traitor. Spock saves his life during the final attack, and Stiles learns his lesson.
- Give Away The Bride: Scotty does the honors.
- Honor Before Reason: The Romulan subcommander taunts the Commander into one final attack on a wounded Enterprise, even though the Commander knows that his Federation opponent is too dangerous to be viewed as an easy kill.
- Mauve Shirt: Tomlinson, so that his death at the end will be meaningful. (And no, he doesn't wear a red shirt.)
- Not So Different: "In a different reality... I could have called you friend."
- Outrun the Fireball: In this case, outrun a warp-speed plasma ball. While not fast enough, the plasma energy dissipates enough to weaken its deadly effects to little damage.
- If only their phasers had been operational at the time. Star Fleet Battles assures us that every 2 points of phaser damage reduces a plasma torpedo's warhead yield by 1 point.
- Punchclock Villain: The Romulan Commander turns out to be one.
- Recycled In Space:
- The 1957 WWII submarine movie The Enemy Below IN SPACE! Even the bearing of the unidentified initial contact and the captain's maneuvering orders to the helm are copied nearly verbatim. The Romulan ship is cramped and has lots of piping and conduits in all background scenes. The Enterprise's phasers act like depth charges, and at one point the Enterprise and the Romulan ship both go to silent running, fearing to talk loudly lest the other vessel hear them.
- The Romulans, in this episode at least, were The Roman Empire IN SPACE!, as exemplified by Mark Lenard's dignified Centurion character.
- So Much for Stealth: The Enterprise and the Romulan warbird are both attempting Stealth in Space until Mr. Spock accidentally activates a control, giving their position away.
- Space Is an Ocean: A bit more even than usual, what with all the submarine movie tropes.
- Stealth in Space: The Trope Codifier for Trek, if not all of Science Fiction. And yet, an Unbuilt Trope: it is a plot point that while under cloak the Romulan ship has the same problems with detecting the Enterprise as the Enterprise has detecting the Romulan ship.
- That's What I Would Do: Kirk about the the Romulan Commander. "He did exactly what I would have done. I won't underestimate him again."
- Wave Motion Gun: The Romulan plasma torpedo.
- Wedding Smashers: Not directly, but the Enterprise is called into battle during the wedding.
- Widowed at the Wedding: Poor Angela Martine.
- Worthy Opponent:
- The Romulan Commander. He's only attacking Starfleet bases because he was ordered to test a new weapon (and to test the Federation's vulnerability). He'd rather not start any more wars, and just wants to go home.
- The Commander quickly recognizes Kirk as one: "He is a sorcerer, that one. He reads my thoughts."
- In a deleted scene, right before destroying the Bird-of-Prey, Kirk salutes the Commander, who replies with a solemn bow.
- You Look Familiar: Mark Lenard, who plays the Romulan Commander here, would go on to play Spock's father in "Journey to Babel" and a Klingon Commander in Star Trek The Motion Picture.