Captain's Blog pt. 53: Balance of Terror

Taking its inspiration from submarine movies like Run Silent, Run Deep and The Enemy Below, season 1's "Balance of Terror" introduced the Romulans to an unsuspecting American TV audience on the night of December 15, 1966.

Title: 2 pts.

Script/ Theme: 8 / 9 pts out of 10/10. Pretty solid stuff all around. Our idea of life aboard the Enterprise expands:

And the sad fate of the groom-to-be is handled well.
Given the way the rest of the episode plays out, ending on this note (somber discharge of duty) was a good choice.

The Romulans are rarely used effectively outside of TOS, and their introduction here is arguably their finest portrayal.


This first glimpse of the Romulans leads to the episode's other theme: fighting the enemy within for fear of the enemy without.

Given Takei's experiences growing up in an internment camp, I imagine Trek's exploration of this particular theme struck a chord.

The old writing adage Show don't Tell is on good display here. We get plenty of lines from each commander about how worthy an opponent the other is ("He's a sorcerer, this one!" etc.) but we also see for ourselves exactly how Kirk slowly outmaneuvers the (unnamed - a nice touch, I feel) Romulan commander. And vice versa; Kirk's growing respect for the commander is evidenced well by both the actions he sees and the actions we the audience see, i.e. his private, unheard-by-Kirk conversations.

Beyond that, it's just a good script. Great character lines, good development and use of tension, and I always liked the nuclear-warhead-in-the-trash-debris trick.

Internal Consistency: When the two ships are playing dead, why are people whispering? Are they worried the other ship might hear them if they speak too loudly? (If so, someone should remind them that sound can't travel through a vacuum.) This has always bugged me, but it doesn't overwhelm the material the way similar SMH moments do, say, in STVI: TUC. Ditto for some of the inconsistencies re: sub-space or linear-battling. 1.5 out of 3.

Kirk and the Gang: 25 out of 10 pts. Everyone does fine work here, and Shatner especially. There's that moment in "The Corbomite Maneuver" where he cracks under the tension. ("ANYTIME YOU CAN BLUFF ME, DOCTOR...!") and we don't see anything like that here. The flash of genuine anger when he discovers one of his bridge officers has bigotry issues is handled well.

Kirk's not just pissed that such a thing might jeopardize the mission and safety of the crew, he's pissed because this guy's insulting his friend.
This is the high point of the whole do-they-or-don't-they business.

Guest: 4 out of 3 pts. Mark Lenard pretty much showed all future actors what a Romulan is like. (Someone should have told John Logan.)

As for Stiles and Decius:

Also effective. (Decius isn't even really too much of a character, but since it's the same guy who played Stonn from "Amok Time," it's worth a mention.)

Stiles is more essential to the script, i.e. the bigot who is saved by the object of his bigotry. We never see him again on the Enterprise. Presumably this was Stiles' big shot, and he blew it. He spends the rest of the 5-year mission keeping track of the Captain's judo-equipment in one of the lower deck gymnasiums.

One guest star we do see again is Angela Martine aka


As mentioned above, this episode aired December 15th, 1966. The next one to air was "Shore Leave" on December 29th. Angela's in that one, too, but whereas we see her ready to  marry in "Balance of Terror," then grieving at episode's end, she spends "Shore Leave" chasing after the guy Esteban.

What a space hussy! Actually, what happened was: "In her second appearance, the character was named "Mary Teller" in the script, but when the same actress was cast, the name was changed to Angela. Since she was referred to as "Angela Martine" in one episode and "Angela Teller" in the other, her credit for her later appearances is sometimes quoted as "Angela Martine-Teller," with a hyphenated last name." By the time she appears in "Turnabout Intruder," she's been promoted to lieutenant and goes by the name "Lisa." (No word on whether she and Esteban ever hooked up.)

Visual Design: 2 out of 3 pts. Tight quarters, plenty of close-ups, moody shadows, and lightning-flashes and strobes for the Plasma Weapon.

The Romulan costumes are better in TOS than they are anywhere else.

And ditto for their ship design:

Something I was happy to see Byrne follow so faithfully in his IDW work.

Some particularly energetic thrown around the bridge in this one.

Memorability: 2.5 out of 3 pts.

Total Points Awarded: 54


  1. This is another of my favorite episodes. I'd place it at least in my top 5, maybe even top 3.

    I figured Stiles was rotated completely off the Enterprise. You inadvertently bring up a good point about the five-year mission: I always assumed they dropped off and picked up new personnel at the various starbases and Federation planets they stopped at. The US Navy rotates crew on ships on extended cruises, as an example of what I'm getting at. This would be especially necessary when they lost crew, or had crew that needed punishment, I would think. Someone like Stiles, who is not only openly bigoted but also violently insubordinate, would be lucky to not end up in a Fed stockade somewhere.

    Anyway. This episode was the very first one I ever bought electronically, via iTunes, some years back. That's how much I like it. It's one of the episodes that really seemed to show that the Federation and Romulan Empires were real, organized entities. The story is taut and engrossing. Yeah, there are some gaffes, like the whispering you mention; makes sense in a wet navy context, but not in space. I'll bet, though, that somebody out there has formulated some type of rationalization for it.

    1. Agreed on all counts. I imagine a line or two about the sightline/ whispering stuff could easily have been added and just as easily cut for time or something.

    2. Along the lines of additional crew/ rotating personnel, I'm always amused at how on TNG the number of crew compliment is fixed eternally at 1014 persons. The number never changes.

  2. Yeah, the whole "let's be quiet or they'll hear us" bit always bothered me. I get that the Enterprise can't see the Romulan ship, but the Romulans seem unable to see the Enterprise at times, too. This fits in quite well with "The Enemy Below" motif of the episode but it doresn't make much sense within the confines of Trek.

    You also have to love (unless you don't) the graphic of the Enterprise when Kirk is playing dead. She's shown *listing* in space like she's taking on water. It's preposterous and I knew it when I was 7 years-old. There's no up and down in space so tilting the Enterprise graphic should mean nothing. Yes, it looks kinda cool but it still defies logic.

    I wonder if Stiles is supposed to be the same character we see as captain of the Excelsior in TSFS. No indication is given that he is but I always wondered that.

    This is still one of the best episodes of the series, in my top 10 for sure.

    1. That's interesting re: TSFS. I looked him up on Memory-Alpha and the character (the Excelsior captain, that is) had quite a bit of non-canon follow-up:


      Here's the entry for Stiles; I'm with you, though, why not just combine 'em?


    2. And good call on the listing! Very silly.

  3. I always liked this one because it really featured Kirk as a strategist and warrior.

    But I must ask why Kirk never took McCoy to task for his overt bigotry. He made fun of Spock's ears, his green blood, his culture, etc. I know we were supposed to believe that the two were actually close friends, but who would put up with that kind of ragging from a friend?

    1. You don't have friends that you rag and are ragged by? I find that aspect of their relationship fairly believable and not offensive. But, it's a fair question. In the case of "Balance of Terror," re: why Kirk snapped on Stiles and not on McCoy for similar remarks, my answer would be McCoy's ribbing seems differently motivated than Stiles', more the grumbling between people who work together / are secretly friends behind their bluster (I mean, it's not like Spock doesn't take every opportunity he can to extol the inferiority of human culture, etc.)

  4. I love this episode, but I have always had a hard time buying the whole "nobody's ever seen a Romulan" thing. That's just dumb. I have to exert serious mental energy on ignoring that plot point.

    Otherwise, though, it's pretty damn great.

    1. Yeah, it is a bit dumb.

      Probably more than a bit, to be fair.

      But I've ignored dumber. I can see the appeal of the theatrical reveal and swaddle myself in a fuzzy afghan of 'twas-a-simpler-time.

    2. Yeah, it's clearly all there for the reveal. The reveal is really well-handled, and the fallout from the reveal is superbly-handled; those are good enough to make me capable of forgiving that one weak point.