Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Original Series

"Balance of Terror"


Air date: 12/13/1966
Written by Paul Schneider
Directed by Vincent McEveety

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

After a century of silence, the Romulans, a race with whom humans had a war long ago, appear to be on the move again—apparently testing their new cloaking technology—and the Enterprise may be the only ship to stop them from starting another conflict.

The episode is in the tradition of submarine thrillers like Run Silent, Run Deep (or The Hunt for Red October as a more current comparison), but like "The Corbomite Maneuver," it has a tendency to get too wound up in its tactical moments and special effects, which can be confusing and sometimes go on for too long. And, I'm sorry, the set design on the Romulan ship is just not convincing; unlike the Enterprise, it feels too much like a cheap set and little more. And what's with those corny helmets the Romulan officers wear? There are, of course, many strengths here; the episode takes some stabs at relevant issues, especially when the crew discovers the Romulans may be related to Vulcans and a bridge officer's bigoted aggression (aimed here at Spock) emerges.

The Cold War allegory was certainly timely, and the idea of each captains' respect for their counterpart makes for a nice theme, but I wish it had been taken a bit farther. Mark Lenard is good as a Romulan commander who begins to doubt his military's usefulness, but his thoughtfulness isn't utilized nearly as much as it could've been.

The episode's unevenness is its drawback, and it's too bad; there's the potential for greatness here that goes unrealized. Each little theme would've been more effective if given more focus. "Balance" needed more balance.

Previous episode: The Conscience of the King
Next episode: Shore Leave

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15 comments on this review

sci fi nerd - Wed, Apr 13, 2011 - 7:15am (USA Central)
i agree with you on most of your reviews, however, i MUST disagree with you on "balance of terror" i thought it developed it's themes well, and was perfectly "balanced"
Jayson - Sat, May 21, 2011 - 5:31pm (USA Central)
I've never been a huge fan of "City On The Edge Of Forever" and while it's not bad, I actually prefer "Balance Of Terror" because not only is a good old fashioned submarine story, it's also one of those could easily have been told in any of the recent Star Trek series with out losing a beat.

In fact DS9 had a similar episode "Starship Down" but to do to budgetary reasons, it didn't quite live up to the original idea. That being said, I think you should have given "Balance Of Terror" at least 3 stars.
Someguy - Sun, May 27, 2012 - 12:01pm (USA Central)
Love your website and your reviews are consistently solid and insightful. In this case, however, I have to disagree with your review! In this episode, we see Kirk at his tactical and command best, revealing why he is a legendary Star Fleet officer. The cat and mouse drama and tesion is superb, with or without a high budget set. The intro to the Romulans sets a foundation for their race that has endured across the Star Trek universe. This episode was, is, and remains CLASSIC Star Trek. Should be at LEAST 3 to 3.5 stars.
Strider - Fri, Jul 20, 2012 - 9:47am (USA Central)
Strangely, as deeply as I respect Mark Lenard as an actor, I thought he was missing a bit of an edge that I would have expected from a Romulan on such a war-provoking mission. He was so angsty. Not that Romulans don't think deeply about their missions, but they're also decisive officers and ruthless combatants. Lenard really displays more of that do-what's-necessary edge as Sarek.
Lorene - Wed, Sep 18, 2013 - 9:10am (USA Central)
"Someguy" says it best. I'd give this episode 4 stars.
SpyTV - Thu, Nov 28, 2013 - 12:39am (USA Central)
I'm a big fan of your reviews (I started reading with your early DS9 reviews). I disagree with this one. I started watching TOS in the 70's when it was in syndication. This is easily one of my top ten Star Trek (any series) of all time. I completely agree with the Hunt for Red October analogy. Easily 4 stars for me.
Adam - Tue, Feb 11, 2014 - 6:21am (USA Central)
Sorry, but this is just one review where you're WAY off base. Balance of Terror is essential Star Trek. Worthy of 4 stars, or at least 3.5
redshirt28 - Thu, Apr 3, 2014 - 9:52pm (USA Central)
3.5 at least
Shannon - Mon, Aug 11, 2014 - 4:44pm (USA Central)
I completely disagree with your assessment of this episode. First off, who cares that the Romulan bridge was cheap looking? We all know they were on a shoe-string budget, and the helmets were obviously to save on the cost of having to put pointed ears on the entire Romulan bridge crew. Star Trek has always been about the story, and this was a damn good one. Yes, the mutual respect theme was great, but they did as much with it as they could have, especially when you have to fit a lot into a 45 minute episode... No question, this was a 4-star episode!
Yanks - Wed, Aug 27, 2014 - 7:07pm (USA Central)
Wow Jammer. I can't believe this earned such a low rating from you. Easy 4 star episode for me.
William - Mon, Sep 8, 2014 - 11:20pm (USA Central)
Jammer, I've got the join the chorus on this one. I usually concur with you, but not this time.

To me, this is classic and essential "Trek." It's one of the best episodes to me off any of the five series. It stands on its own, plus it gives us the Romulans. For that alone, it gets two of its four stars.
Snitch - Wed, Nov 19, 2014 - 12:19am (USA Central)
If you like this episode I would recommend "The Enemy below"

It illustrates the hide and seek game against submarines, and respecting the enemy and their skill.
Beth - Sat, Nov 29, 2014 - 5:42am (USA Central)
2.5 stars again? (After the last ep.) Jammer, you're a tough customer sometimes. ;)

I didn't even notice the cheap-looking Romulan bridge - I was more focused on the characters and what the Romulans were doing and thinking.

And yeah the helmets are funny looking, and obviously a cost-saving measure - but Romulan wardrobe has always been funny-looking, even when TNG got a much bigger budget than TOS ever had. Perhaps alien sensibilities cannot be expected to match ours? Perhaps to Romulans, those helmets and, later on, the (to us rather goofy-looking) giant grey quilted shirts with giant shoulder pads look the epitome strength and power. They are a warlike people, after all, plus they are also rigidly heirarchical, so it makes sense that they would value a show of strength and status in their dress. Klingons were never fashion plates either, although their Japanese-inspired uniforms look more badass to our human eyes. And Cardassian fashion is no fashion at all - purely utilitarian and, to us, very ugly. A reflection of their highly militarized, and by human standards, oppressively fascistic culture.

Also: Something in the traditional robes of Vulcan culture harkens back to a common culture with the Romulans. Such clothing is also kind of funny-looking to us, and seems to be very concerned (against the logic of modern Vulcan culture) with a display of status and power (esp. in the resplendent robes T'Pau is wearing, compared with the Vulcan guards around her in "Amok Time"). Romulan culture retained some of that, but their clothing perhaps isn't as strangely beautiful as Vulcan traditional clothing because in leaving Vulcan, as much as they did take the violence and obsession with duty and power, they had no room on their ships for beauty and softness and colourful fabrics, not when riding off to conquer a new home and a new empire for themselves.

Anyway, this episode rates as a 4/4 for me. This calibre of a cat-and-mouse space battle is partly what made "The Wrath of Khan" great some 16 years later, and it makes this episode shine too. The acting on all fronts is spot-on. (And I believe much of the "angst" of the Romulan commander is due to him losing his best and oldest friend so rapidly in battle. And even before that, it might reflect a weariness of not knowing whether he can fulfill his duty while also ferrying him and his crew back to home, alive. Maybe he knows, on some level, that his end is near, and his despair shows). I also thought the b-plot of the never-to-be-married Tomlinson and Martin to be tragic, but also helpful as a window to what operations are like in the lower decks. When Kirk yells "Fire!" on the bridge, what actually has to happen to fire that torpedo? It's evidently not like it is in TNG, when presumably the computer does the firing, and more like a submarine in action. (Which helps with the submarine battle theme).

Anyway, I could go on about this episode, but for me, it's one of the best of Trek, and a real gem of Season 1.
Beth - Sat, Nov 29, 2014 - 5:46am (USA Central)
P.S. It just boggled my mind a bit that there's less distance in time between first season TOS and The Wrath of Khan than there is between the final season of TNG and now. O_O
Timothy - Fri, Feb 6, 2015 - 12:29pm (USA Central)
This episode was almost directly lifted from The Enemy Below; watch the back to back and you can almost make a drinking game out of the similarities.

Concur with the chorus of people that say Jammer had underrated this episode. This is classic Trek and Kirk right here, in fact I'm pretty sure BoT makes the essential ten episodes list for TOS.

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