By far, one of the best episodes of STAR TREK TOS is the suspenseful, tightly-paced “Balance of Terror.” It’s my personal favorite.
This is where viewers are first introduced to the fascinating warmongering Romulans, distant descendants of the Vulcans, of which Science Officer Spock is half of through his father’s line.
The narrative plays out like a short war movie of cat and mouse, with the U.S.S. Enterprise facing off against a Romulan warship. Responding to a group of Federation outposts mysteriously being destroyed, the Enterprise comes to the edge of the Neutral Zone, a demilitarized zone in which a peaceful alliance of many worlds (i.e., the Federation) has agreed to keep its vessels clear of in order to maintain a tense truce with the Romulans. These warlike, pointy-eared humanoids have long refused to join the Federation. A trespassing Romulan vessel is identified as the attacker of the outposts, instigating a hot pursuit by the Enterprise. Captain Kirk must apply his shrewd military strategy skills. His brave leadership yet compassion come through very believably here. The commander (movingly played by Mark Lenard) of the Romulan ship proves to be Kirk’s perfect match as an enemy, albeit a reluctant one. Tragic, gripping drama ensues.
It is too bad that more high quality episodes like “Balance of Terror” were not produced for STAR TREK TOS, particularly in regards to pacing, plot/logic of storyline, character portrayals, and even special effects. All of these suffered to varying degrees in several of the shows, especially after the series’ first season. Still, it is gems like this particular episode from the first season that remind me why I so enjoy this classic 1960s sci-fi television drama. At its best, the original STAR TREK was able to draw from older movie genres, specifically Westerns and war films, to create something truly ground-breaking, compelling, thought-provoking, and entertaining.