In this episode, Kirk gets himself and his crew out of a tight spot with a liberal application of bullshit.
We start, as we usually do, on the bridge. Spock tells the crew to stand by to photograph something, after which a crewmember pushes a button. After this, said crewmember (who we find out later is named Bailey) moves towards Spock and proceeds to complain that they’ve been at this for three days, and there must surely be another ship that can map this area. Spock responds that there aren’t, since no other Federation vessel has ever been this far out before. And thus we have the first of many complaints from Bailey.
At this point, a red light on the helm console starts blinking, and Sulu reports that their sensors have made contact with an object of some sore. In response, Spock orders the deflector shield brought up as he moves towards Sulu. Sulu, in turn, adds that whatever’s out there is currently on a collision course with the ship.
Spock tells him to take evasive maneuvers, but it’s still coming right at them. Uhura reports that there’s no signal coming from it, and this episode must have been early in the show’s production cycle, since Uhura is wearing a gold uniform rather than her customary red one. At any rate, Spock moves over to the captain’s chair as Bailey adds that the object is still on a collision course, and the deflector’s don’t seem to be stopping it.
Spock says to sound an alarm, but rescinds that order when Sulu tells him that whatever it is is slowing down. He then tells the ship to stop, and we see a brightly colored cube-shaped object on the screen.
The crew stares at the cube for a bit, and Spock tells Sulu to try and navigate around it. This does not work, as the cube just follows them. Bailey yells out that it’s blocking the path forward, and Spock reprimands him by saying it’s not necessary to raise his voice. He then tells Sulu to sound the alarm. He does so, and calls Kirk up to the bridge.
After the opening credits roll, we get a captain’s log basically explaining the above. We also learn that the reason Kirk wasn’t on the bridge was because he was in sick bay getting a physical. Which appears to involve a rather impractical piece of exercise equipment.
He stops pushing on the upside-down Stairmaster for a moment, and McCoy tells him to keep going for a few more seconds. McCoy jokingly adds that it would do Kirk some good to work up a sweat. He then notices that the red alert light is going off, but doesn’t mention it to the captain. Rather, he checks some reading as Kirk, also somewhat jokingly, tells McCoy that he’s killing him.
McCoy then tells the captain to stop, and asks Kirk if he’s winded. Kirk shoots back that McCoy’s the last person he’d tell if that was the case, then notices the red light flashing. He then goes to a monitor and calls up to the bridge to figure out what’s going on.
Spock appears on the monitor, and says that he wants Kirk to take a look at something before showing him the cube on the monitor. Kirk asks Spock what he’s looking at; Spock responds that they haven’t figured it out yet, but it’s currently blocking the way forward.
Kirk asks if it’s a vessel, and Spock replies that it’s seems more like some kind of device. Kirk tells Spock that he’ll be right there, and asks McCoy why he didn’t say anything about the device before he heads out. McCoy replies that this was the first time he’s been able to actually finish a physical on the captain. After Kirk leaves, McCoy adds, “If I jumped every time a light came on around here, I’d end up talking to myself.” To himself, I should add, as he’s now the only person in the room.
We cut to a shot of Kirk heading through the hallway towards the lift, where he starts heading for the bridge. He calls Spock on the way and asks him if there’s been any changes. Spock replies that whatever it is, it seems to just want to keep them there. Kirk asks him if there’s been any indication that the cube is hostile; Spock says thus far there has not. Kirk says that he’ll grab a change of clothes before heading up in that case, and changes course for his quarters.
Back on the bridge, Spock tells Bailey that Kirk will wants a report on the cube; Bailey tells him that he’ll have it ready by the time the captain arrives. He then brings the conversation back to Spock’s admonishment from earlier, pointing out that his outburst didn’t mean he was scared or couldn’t do his job, but “it means that I happen to have a human thing called an adrenal gland.” Spock, deadpan as usual, responds, “It does seem most inconvenient, however. Have you considered having it removed?” Sulu, laughing, basically tells that trying to have a battle of wits with Spock is pointless.
We then cut to Kirk’s quarters, where he finally puts on a freaking shirt. He calls to the bridge and asks Spock if there are any signs of life coming from the cube. Spock responds that there are none, and Kirk asks if they’ve tried hailing it. Spock says that they tried all frequencies, but did not get a response.
Kirk tells Spock to have all department heads meet him on the bridge, but Spock already has them all on standby. He heads out, and the scene shifts back to the bridge, where Kirk has now arrived. Spock reports that the cube appears to be solid, but is composed of materials that are completely unknown to them. Uhura reports that she’s kept hailing frequencies open, but it’s still not responding. Bailey reports that the object is currently 1,593 meters away and holding its position, and Sulu adds that each edge is 107 meters long, with a mass of 11,000 metric tons.
Kirk then heads over to Scotty, who reports that he has absolutely no idea how this thing’s moving. Kirk says he’ll take speculation at this point, to which Scotty responds, “I’d sell it if I had any,” and that he can’t even begin to speculate on how it’s able to track their movements.
The captain then moves over to McCoy, who says that he reports pretty much the same. Bailey then decides to open his cake hole, asking if they’re going to just let this hold hold it there and suggesting that they blow it the fuck up. Kirk tells the trigger-happy idiot that he’ll take it under advisement as soon as the ship becomes a democracy.
The scene transitions to a meeting room, where the senior staff plus Bailey have gathered. The meeting seems to be wrapping up, and Kirk asks if there’s anything else. Spock surmises that are two possible things the cube may be: a buoy of some sort, or “flypaper.” Kirk adds, “And you don’t recommend sticking around.”
Jokes aside, Spock agrees, and Kirk decides that it’s time to take some action. He starts to give an order to Bailey, who quite literally jumps the gun and calls the phaser crew over the intercom. Kirk interrupts, and says that he’ll be the one who decides which action to take. Question: how does Bailey, who has so far been openly insubordinate, still have a job here?
Anyway, Bailey does try to explain his reasoning here, but Kirk cuts him off again, stating that he didn’t ask Bailey to explain. He continues, ordering Bailey to plot a spiral course to try and break away from the cube. The meeting then adjourns and everyone starts leaving but Sulu, who is giving the plan to the rest of the crew via intercom.
We then cut back to the bridge, where Bailey reports to the captain that the course has been set. We get another shot of the cube on the viewscreen, and Kirk has Sulu go ahead at quarter speed. This doesn’t do much good, as the cube is still blocking their path. Kirk responds to this by having Sulu up their speed to half. At first it looks like they’re going to break away, but the cube catches up again.
At this point Spock reports that the cube is starting to give off radiation. Kirk orders a full stop, and Bailey says that the cube is now only 196 meters away from the ship. The radiation levels are still rising, and are almost at the highest level the ship would be able to tolerate. Bailey reports that the cube is getting even closer, and Kirk tells Sulu to go ahead at full speed.
The cube starts glowing and spinning really fast, and Spock says that the radiation that the thing’s giving off is still increasing, and have hit the tolerance levels. Kirk has Sulu increase speed again, going from warp one to warp two, but it’s still following them. Spock adds that the radiation is now approaching lethal levels. Seeing no other alternative at this point, Kirk has the cube destroyed.
The scene fades out, and then back onto the ship. There’s a captain’s log explaining that the ship was damaged, but it was minor. Also he now has to decide whether to investigate where the cube came from, or to go back.
The scene transitions back to the bridge, where the crew is working to make repairs. Kirk goes up to Spock, who reports that there aren’t any other objects nearby. Kirk asks what Spock thinks they’d find if they forged ahead; Spock responds that “logically” they’d find whoever had made the cube they just blew up.
Kirk elaborates, asking if Spock thinks that the intelligence that created the cube would be superior or at least different from theirs. Spock thinks that both would be quite likely, and asks Kirk if he’s asking him what decision to make. Kirk says he’s not, and points out that their mission is to find new alien life and make contact with it.
Spock, somewhat annoyed, asks, “Has it ocurred to you that there’s a certain inefficiency in constantly questioning me on things you’ve already made your mind up about?” Kirk, smiling, responds, “It gives me emotional security” before ordering the ship ahead at warp one.
He heads toward the lift, but before boarding points out that the phaser crews and engineering were both a bit slow to respond during the earlier crisis. He tells Sulu and Bailey to start running a series of simulated attacks and then gets on the lift, joined by McCoy.
McCoy is not super pleased by the order Kirk just gave, telling him that he has lousy timing for this and and that the crew are tired. Kirk responds, “Aren’t you the one that always says a little suffering is good for the soul?” McCoy says that he never says that. The conversation is interrupted momentarily by Bailey announcing the start of the simulation, and McCoy tells Kirk that he’s particularly worried about Bailey, and that the “navigator’s position’s rough enough for a seasoned man.” Kirk responds that he thinks Bailey will be fine, and McCoy retorts that it’s because he reminds Kirk of himself. Kirk, derisively, accuses McCoy of hitting his textbooks again, and McCoy retorts that he doesn’t need textbooks to know that Kirk might have promoted Bailey too soon.
The scene then shifts to Kirk’s quarters, where McCoy is pouring the two of them a drink. Over the scene, we can hear the drills being run on the intercom. McCoy sits and and Kirk asks, “What’s next? ‘They’re not machines, Jim?'” McCoy says that of course they’re not and that because of that, they need a rest. Kirk interrupts him, and says that he’s always saying that people are superior to machines; McCoy says that he’s never said that either.
The conversation is interrupted by Spock reporting that the raiting for the drill was 94%; Kirk says to run it again and try for 100 this time. McCoy does not agree with this, and asks Kirk what he’ll “do with that 6%.” Kirk tries to give an answer, but is cut off when Yeoman Rand arrives with his dinner. Which, much to his chagrin, is a salad.
Rand explains that McCoy had ordered a change to Kirk’s diet card, and McCoy says that it’s because Kirk’s gained a fair bit of weight recently. Kirk, not happy about this, tells Rand to stop “hovering over him.” Rand responds that she’ll change it if he doesn’t like it, and Kirk responds that she should bring some for McCoy too. Mccoy, dodging a bullet, reminds him that he doesn’t eat until the rest of the crew does. Defeated, Kirk just thanks Rand as she leaves the room. After she leaves, he bemoans whoever at HG assigned him a female yeoman. How dare she obey orders and bring you food you don’t like. Fuck you, Jim.
McCoy, teasingly, asks him if it’s because he doesn’t trust himself around her. Kirk replies by basically saying that the Enterprise is the only woman he has time to worry about. The level of anthropomorphism that Kirk gives the ship is a little disturbing.
The drill can be heard over the intercom throughout this exchange, but it’s interrupted by Sulu calling all hands to battle stations for something that is most definitely not a drill. Kirk calls the bridge, and Spock reports that they’ve found another, much larger object that’s heading for them.
On the bridge, Spock says that they haven’t made visual contact with it yet. He continues saying that the spectrograph indicates that it’s made out of whatever the cube was, but it has a way higher energy reading. Sulu then points out a glowing sphere on the viewscreen.
Kirk orders evasive action. As Sulu complies, something rocks the ship, and Spock reports that the sphere has grabbed onto them with a tractor beam. Kirk tells Sulu to cut the engines, and has Bailey tell the phaser crew to stand ready. As this is happening, the sphere starts coming closer, and we get a shot of it from outside the ship. Spock remarks that it’s “fascinating,” because of course he does. Kirk asks him for the sphere’s mass; Spock responds that it’s off the scale, and it’s about a mile in diameter. So, in other word’s, it’s fucking enormous.
Kirk tells Bailey to reduce magnification on it so they can see the whole thing. Bailey, apparently dumbfounded by what’s he’s looking at, just sits there, so Sulu reaches over and pushes a button on his console to zoom it out. Kirk has Uhura open a channel to it, but it doesn’t reply. Bailey, in the meantime, gets a signal on his own earpiece, over the navigation beam. Kirk tells Uhura to broadcast it over the speakers.
There’s a message saying that the Enterprise is trespassing, and whoever it is introduces himself as Balock, commander of the First Federation ship Fesarius. So, it turns out that the cube they blew to smithereens was a warning buoy, and the owners didn’t take too kindly to its destruction. So now they’re trying to figure out what to do with the Enterprise.
Kirk has Uhura hail the Fesarius again to explain that they didn’t know what the buoy was, but is interrupted by a loud burst of static. After this, Spock reports that all of their systems are being probed.
Balok then comes back on and says that thy won’t accept any further communication from the Enterprise, and that they’ll be destroyed if they make any hostile movements. The Fesarius then starts shutting down the Enterprise‘s systems. Spock expresses admiration for these tactics, calling them brilliant. And I really don’t think now’s the time for that, Spock.
Anyway, Kirk asks Spock if the recorder’s been picking up what’s going on, and Spock says that it’s recorded enough to warn other ships. Kirk has Bailey send off the recorder marker, but Balok destroys it. He then tells them that he’ll destroy the ship, and they have 10 minutes to make peace with whatever deity they worship.
Spock, saying that it might be interesting to see what Balok looks like, starts trying to get a visual on the interior of the ship. At this point, McCoy and Scotty come onto the bridge, and McCoy comments that Balok’s least message was heard by everyone. Kirk goes back to his chair and addresses the entire crew:
Those of you who have served for long on this vessel have encountered alien life forms. You know the greatest danger facing us is ourselves, an irrational fear of the unknown. But there’s no such thing as the unknown, only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood. In most cases, we have found that intelligence capable of a civilization is capable of understanding peaceful gestures. Surely a life form advanced enough for space travel is advanced enough to eventually understand our motives.
He then tells all decks to stand by and has Uhura open hailing frequencies again. He tells Balok that they’ll just turn around and leave as a show of good will, but is interrupted by a loud, persistent humming noise. Kirk tells Bailey to lay in a course, but Bailey seems to be a bit out of it so Sulu does it for him. However, this ends in failure, because Balok has disabled their weapons and engines.
At this point, Spock gets a visual on Balok and throws it up on the viewscreen:
Barely moving his mouth (because this is quite clearly a puppet), Balok says that they’re wasting their efforts, there’s no escape, etc., etc. Kirk then looks over to Spock, who says that he was curious to see what their foe looked like; Kirk responds that of course he did. And, at this point, Bailey starts to lose it.
He starts yelling about how he doesn’t understand what the crew is doing, and that they have to take some sort of action. McCoy tries to calm him down, but fails as Bailey continues, ranting about not know what Balok wants them to do. Kirk says that Balok wants them to panic, and Bailey responds that they only have 8 minutes left. Sulu, not at all helpful, corrects him, saying that they now have 7 minutes 40 seconds. McCoy makes a comment about “end of watch,” which, amazingly, does not calm Bailey down. He pushes McCoy away and says the following:
What, are you all out of your minds? End of watch? It’s the end of everything! What are you, robots? Wound up toy soldiers? Don’t you know when you’re dying? Watch and regulations and orders! What do they mean?
So, I know that I’ve been giving this character some shit throughout this post, but he does kind of have a point. I understand letting cooler heads prevail in a crisis, but you’d still think that there would be a sense of urgency here, seeing as how they’re all going to die in just a few minutes.
Kirk, also understandably, relieves Bailey of his duties and has McCoy escort him to his quarters. McCoy does so, but shoots the captain a bit of a glare as he leaves. Kirk has Uhura try to reach out to the other ship again, but with the same result as before. This time, though, Balok is kind enough to let them know that they have seven minutes left.
The scene fades out and then back in on the bridge, where Sulu announces they have about four and a half minutes to go. Scotty then tells him that he has an “annoying fascination for timepieces.” During this, Kirk is pacing, and Spock approaches him as Balok updates the countdown to four minutes.
The captain tells his second in command that the other ship’s crew would have to know by now that they don’t mean them any harm. Spock replies that they know that now the Enterprise is incapable of inflicting it. Kirk goes on, saying that there has to be something that they’re missing. Spock then makes an apt comparison: he says, “In chess, when one is outmatched, the game is over. Checkmate.”
Kirk, not pleased by this answer, asks if this is his best recommendation. Spock regretfully informs him that he can’t think of any way out of their predicament. At this point, McCoy comes to the bridge, and he wants to talk about Bailey. He tells the captain that, assuming they get out of this alive, he’ll attribute Bailey’s outburst from earlier to fatigue. Kirk, rather brusquely, says that’s his decision to make, and McCoy says that he’s making a mistake.
McCoy continues, saying that Kirk overworked Bailey. Kirk tells him to drop it, and that he doesn’t have time for McCoy’s “quaint philosophies.” Undeterred, McCoy says that he plans to challenge Kirk’s assessment in his own log. Didn’t he do that in the last episode too? Weird. Anyway, he says that he’s going to state that Kirk had been warned about Bailey’s condition, “and that’s no bluff.”
The use of the word “bluff” seems to give Kirk an idea. Balok announces that they have three minutes left, and Kirk tells McCoy to put their argument on hold for a moment. He then says to Spock, “Not chess, Mr. Spock. Poker. Do you know the game?” before having Uhura open the channel again.
What follows is the bullshit that I mentioned at the beginning of the post: he tells Balok that, due to their own respect for life, he has to warn him that they have a substance called corbomite on board. And that if he destroys the Enterprise, then the corbomite would blow them straight to hell too. He ends the transmission, and they wait for a response.
After this, Spock tells him that gambit was well-played, and wishes that he could have learned more about Balok, since he reminds him of his father. Scotty says, “Then may heaven have helped your poor mother.” Spock quips back that his mother “considered herself a very fortunate Earth woman.”
McCoy then approaches the captain, who says, “Sorry. McCoy responds, “For what? having other things on your mind? My fault. I don’t know how the devil you ever kept from punching me in the face.”
Sulu looks down at a clock, showing they have one minute left. We get some shots of the bridge crew looking pensive, and Bailey enters as Sulu announces they have thirty seconds left. Bailey asks for permission to return to his post, which Kirk grants. Sulu starts counting down from 11 seconds. And…nothing happens. Amazingly, Balok seems to have bought it.
Spock responds to this with, “Very interesting game, this poker,” to which Kirk responds, “It does have advantages over chess.” McCoy says that he’ll teach Spock the game sometime.
Balok then hails them, and announces that they’ve decided to delay blowing them up. He then adds that they’ll still destroy the ship unless they can offer proof that corbomite is a thing. Uhura goes to reply, but Kirk stops her, saying, “Let him sweat for a change.” After a few seconds, Kirk has Uhura open the channel to tell Balok that his request is denied. Balok responds by saying that they will have to discuss what to do with them now, and will call back when they reach a decision.
Ran then comes onto the bridge with a cup of coffee for the captain. McCoy expresses surprise at this, since the power in the galley was off. She explains that she was able to warm the coffee up with a hand phaser.
The camera cuts back to the sphere for a moment, and Sulu tells the captain that there’s something going on with it. A smaller ship emerges, and Balok announces that they’ve made their decision. Basically, they’re still going to destroy the ship, but they’re going to at least dump the crew on a habitable planet first.
The engines come back on, and Balok explains that he’s unlocked the systems so they can maintain life support and gravity as he pulls them in with another tractor beam. He also states that the smaller ship can still destroy them, so trying to break away would be ill-advised. He then starts towing the Enterprise away.
The scene shifts, and we get another log where Kirk explains that the tractor beam must be a drain on the smaller ship. On the bridge, Bailey says that the other ship has pulled ahead a little, indicating that the beam is losing its grip. Spock adds that Balok has cut his power slightly, and Sulu says that they’ve slowed down.
Kirk tells Bailey to set a right-angled course and to try and shear away from Balok’s ship, and adds for Sulu to give him maximum acceleration on his mark. The crew then waits for a few moments as Balok’s ship starts to get further away, then Kirk gives the order to engage.
At first, nothing seems to happen, except that the engines start overheating. Kirk orders more power to the engines, and Spock announces that said engines have started superheating. The temperature keeps climbing, eventually hitting 8,000 degrees; Balok, however, still has the ship in tow. This continues for a while, until Kirk tells Bailey to shear off and Sulu to go ahead at impulse power two. This causes the ship to shake a bit, but they manage to break free from Balok’s tractor beam.
After this, Kirk tells them to cut the engines, which Scotty says are in need of repair. He asks them to hold their position for a few hours for said repairs, but Spock points out that’s not a great idea, since Balok managed to signal the Fesarius.
Uhura then says that they’re receiving a fairly weak signal, which appears to be a distress call from Balok. Apparently his engines are dead and his life support is failing. Kirk asks if there’s been any reply; Uhura replies that she doubts the signal was strong enough to reach the larger ship.
Kirk, in true Federation fashion, tells Bailey to set a course for the smaller vessel, as Spock looks at him like he’s out of his mind.
Kirk the reiterates his order, before addressing the crew again, telling them the plan and adding: “There are lives at stake. By our standards, alien life, but life nevertheless.” He then tells Scotty to prepare the transporter room and Sulu to bring them closer.
McCoy questions this plan, but Kirk reminds them of their mission: to seek out alien life and make contact with it. He then has McCoy and Bailey come with him: the former in case the crew on the alien vessel needs medical attention, and Bailey because he feels he owes him a look at “the face of the unknown.” Spock requests permission to come with, but Kirk denies this, saying he needs Spock on the Enterprise in case something goes horribly wrong.
We then transition to the transporter room, where Scotty reports that beaming onto the other ship’s going to be risky, since they’d have to beam right to the main deck. Kirk asks about the air on the ship, and Scotty reports that it’s breathable before handing the captain a communicator and phaser. Kirk asks McCoy if he’s ready. McCoy quips back, “No, but you won’t let that stop you.” Scotty then tells them to bend over bit, since the ship’s a bit cramped.
They beam aboard, and Scotty was not lying about how cramped it is. The three explore their surroundings a bit and come across what appears to be Balok, but what Kirk says is actually a puppet of some kind. So it wasn’t just an unconvincing special effect, but actually meant to be a puppet in-story. Huh.
Anyway, the crew eventually comes across the real Balok. Who is meant to be a small humanoid alien, but is clearly a small child with his voice dubbed over.
He welcomes them aboard and Kirk starts to introduce himself, but Balok reveals that he already know their names. He then asks them to sit, and offers them a drink called tranya, which he hopes they like as much as he does. Kirk then asks about, well, everything, but Balok suggests that they drink first. They do so, and Kirk asks about the puppet. Balok responds, “My alter ego, so to speak. In your culture, he would be the Mr. Hyde to my Jekyll,” and explains that they wouldn’t have found his real appearance very intimidating.
He also says that he needed to test them, that he wanted to see what their real intentions here were. Kirk points out that he probed their memory banks, but Balok responds that they could have falsified their records. McCoy then asks about his crew, and Balok responds that he doesn’t have one, and that he runs everything from this one small ship.
He then adds that he’s lonely, and would welcome a member of the crew to spend some time with him for a little while, as a kind of cultural exchange. Kirk agrees, which I’m not sure is particularly wise at this point, and smiles at Bailey before asking him if he knows someone who would volunteer. Bailey, as I’m sure Kirk knows he would, decides to take up the task.
Balok says that Bailey must be an example of Earth’s best; Bailey, echoing some of my thoughts, says he’s not, and that he’ll most likely make some mistakes along the way. Kirk adds, though, that Balok would learn more about humanity that way.
Balok then decides to give the three of them a tour, saying that he and Kirk have a lot in common: both are very proud of their ships. And thus ends the episode.
This episode was OK. I get what they were going for with the message, though I think they trusted Balok awfully quickly at the end. For all they knew, he planned to eat Bailey as soon as Kirk and McCoy left.
There’s also the whole test that he puts them through, which is something of a cliche in science fiction (though I’m not sure if it was such when this episode first aired). I would think that, mostly, what Balok would have learned would be that humans will lie through their teeth to save their own asses, but that’s just me.
The next episode is “The Menagerie: Part 1.”