Star Trek: The Original Series

"The Corbomite Maneuver"

2.5 stars

Air date: 11/10/1966
Written by Jerry Sohl
Directed by Joseph Sargent

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Traveling into uncharted space, the Enterprise encounters a mysterious alien probe. When the probe poses a threat, Kirk is forced to destroy it, much to the ire of the apparently superior alien race that created it. The alien commander, Balok, subsequently sentences the Enterprise to destruction for trespassing in their space.

Every element is in place to make "Corbomite" a big winner: The mysterious alien ship is intimidating through its immensity and its implacable commander; watching Kirk under such a high-pressure situation gives us the chance to learn a great deal about his poker-game tactics; and crewman Bailey (Anthony Hall) cracking under pressure is certainly a relevant story piece. Unfortunately, it all goes on just a little too long. Under Joseph Sargent's uneven direction, the initial suspense gives way to repetition until the whole crisis runs out of steam. The games with the tractor beam just can't sustain the energy level that the initial countdown to annihilation promised.

The ending, where it turns out Commander Balok (a 7-year-old Clint Howard) was testing the Enterprise crew, is still a neat twist—but it can't quite make up for the pedestrian execution in the latter passages of the plot.

Previous episode: Dagger of the Mind
Next episode: The Menagerie

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26 comments on this review

Fri, May 11, 2012, 4:23pm (UTC -5)
I have to disagree here, this is one of my favorite episodes. Not quite 4 star, but at least a strong 3. I think it manages to maintain its steam throughout, and the plot twist / ending sequence was very good. And of course seeing Kirk under pressure and coming up with the "corbomite" trick, nicely paralleling Balok's own tricks. Very well done.

Sure some parts fall into the cliche category (It Was All A Test and Countdown to Doom, for instance), but they're *good*, well-executed cliches, which are different from bad clich├ęs.
Wed, Jul 18, 2012, 10:48am (UTC -5)
This is one of my favorite episodes as well. The only real weakness I see is the last sequence with Baby Balok (although Clint Howard is always a treat).

I've read reviews commenting that the pace was too slow, but "slow" is a pretty relative term. There's not a lot of action in it, but there's a lot of tension, and a decent amount of humor. In addition, there are many excellent Kirk-Spock-McCoy moments, and those are ultimately why I watch so obsessively.

And I like to see Kirk being bold and taking chances, even counterintuitive ones. I always feel like Spock is watching and learning and with every move Kirk is solidifying the love and trust the crew has for him. Compare the reactions of Bailey and Sulu in this episode, for example. Sulu demonstrates complete trust in Kirk, while Bailey doesn't have the experience to know that he can count on Kirk's leadership.

And I bet that Spock would be the world's best poker player.
Fri, Mar 7, 2014, 4:03pm (UTC -5)
This episode really made me notice the trend in this series of providing gratuitous closeups of actors faces to show their response to a given situation. I don't know if this was unique to star trek or common to other shows of the era, but by today's standards it seems a bit silly.


While the crew is trying to break free of Balok's tractor beam near the end of the show, increasing the engine power to dangerous levels, we get a closeup of Kirk's face, then of Scotty's face, then of Spock's face, then of Bailey's face, then of McCoy's face, then back to Kirk. . . etc. During this series of closeups, nothing is really happening or changing in the plot. We are just staring at a series of intense faces looking at the view screen. This happens a lot in Star Trek, and seems to be time-filler or an attempt to build tension. But I find it annoying. And the later Star Trek spinoffs didn't really do this.
Fri, Mar 7, 2014, 4:34pm (UTC -5)
"This episode really made me notice the trend in this series of providing gratuitous closeups of actors faces"

It wasnt actually common in the era, but still, the editing was very much a product of its time.

Part of the pleasure of The Original Series, though, is the over-the-top melodrama. It didn't really go for realism.
Fri, Mar 14, 2014, 9:52pm (UTC -5)

Sorry, just had to get that out of my system :P The music in this episode was really, really irritating. And the tension was rather exaggerated. Oh no, a spinning cube!!! Condition: Alert!!! Music to full drama power!!!

Poor Bailey. Everyone basically picked on him and treated him relentlessly like an idiot until he cracked under the pressure of their judgement and made mistakes, thus seeming to prove them right, and feeding his sense of self-doubt into itself. I know how he feels, I've been suffering that myself with my manager at work; though oddly, recognising it may have helped me there.

I find it interesting how "purely Trek" this is, where rather than firing everything they've got, they sit and think, and don't even resort to it in last second desperation (if you're gonna die anyway..), instead just keeping calm. A couple of hundred years later with Janeway or Sisko, they probably would've blown that sphere thing to millions of tiny pieces the moment it showed the slightest hint of aggression. Makes you think.
Fri, Mar 14, 2014, 9:55pm (UTC -5)
"Sorry, just had to get that out of my system :P"

My first line was:


but I used pointy brackets, and the comments form seems to interpret HTML literally. Tut tut.
Mon, Sep 1, 2014, 11:53pm (UTC -5)
To me this episode feels like the true pilot for Star Trek. I get the sense that the crew are only a few days into their five year mission. The crew seems like regular, relatable, and professional people instead of highly evolved human incapable of normal human impulses. The big reveal at the end does give it a Twilight Zone feel. If Twilight Zone had a sense of mystery than Star Trek had a sense of adventure while Next Generation was more of a drama.

My favorite scene was the Bailey freak out. It's not often you see something like that on Trek. He is kind of like Lt Barclay. I did enjoy the whole cast, but Doctor McCoy, Spock, and Kirk are the break out stars in this episode.

Only the second episode of the series and it didn't take them long to move most of the pieces in the right place like changing the communication officer to a woman, moving Sulu to helm, and making the Doctor younger. I love the international flavor of the crew. I'm glad they were able to remaster the special effects, but it's a shame they couldn't show more alien crewmembers. Despite the fact they were able to produce a few episodes with many different alien races in one that is one of the few things Star Wars had over Trek that made it endearing.
Peter Grantham
Wed, Sep 3, 2014, 7:03am (UTC -5)
Yeah, I agree with your review.

I loved watching Kirk bluff his way to a flop, but the end of the hand came far too slowly.

It was interesting seeing Clint Howard appear at the end. I recently saw the Twilight Zone episode Walking Distance, in which a very young Ron Howard appeared.
Sun, Nov 23, 2014, 12:15am (UTC -5)
What happens with Baily after the Enterprise leaves, I wonder? How long does he stay? Will he rise to power in the First Federation? Kill Balok and run the mothership to Earth? Better yet: Bailey is Borg-Alpha. Explains the cubes...
Tue, Mar 3, 2015, 9:41am (UTC -5)
Strength: Showing the crew coherence among the prime bridge staff as it attempts to keep things together in the face od certain doom. (well, it wasn't, but they didn't know that.)
Weakness (and one for me that is especially galling in that it mars the strength, above) -- scene-stealing and line-counting.
I mean, one of the underlying tasks throughout this situation is to establish and maintain contact with Balok's ship. And every time Kirk gives an order that logically would have Uhura proving spectacularly that she's more, much more, than the Enterprise's Ernestine, Spock jumps in. Excuse me. Mr. Science, don't you have some sciencing to do? At your science console? Let the lady do her job. In my head, those scenes makes much more sense when Uhura speaks some of the lines that go to Spock, and I wonder if it was, in fact, that way in the first drafts ...
Sun, Oct 18, 2015, 10:57pm (UTC -5)
I liked the character building moments early on between Kirk and Spock and Kirk and Bones.

The crew members in the corridor when Kirk addressed them were walking around way too calmly.

Bones bringing up his plans to enter a complaint about Bailey in his medical logs when they had three minutes left was bizarre. Same with Scotty smiling at two minutes left, and Yeoman Rand bringing coffee. Bailey was right: everyone was way too calm and casual.

What were those belts for, that they put on just before transporting over?

Some cool directorial/camera effects in this episode.
Tue, Dec 1, 2015, 4:22pm (UTC -5)
Yes, a hit, I do not like giving stars but I enjoyed this very much. This is the Star trek that I remember from my childhood. Unless that I then, at the age of 8th, was not so fascinated of Yeoman Rand's and Lt Uhura's spare-some uniforms. It was funny, it showed daily aspects, the teamwork, that violence, also when proper selected according to the situation, may not solve your problem, list and cunning will do and that compassion gave the success.
Thu, Feb 25, 2016, 10:27am (UTC -5)
Agree with most people here, a good solid episode. Although I am confused how the ten minutes until destruction plan fitted with the test. How would that reveal their intentions? What would he do if they just standed there and didn't do anything? Would that mean to him they are not hostile? What if they just took their chances? Because defending yourself against unjustified agressor in the face of a certain death (as far as they knew) is wrong?

Maybe it's just me, but Bailey's freakout definitely explains why would Kirk see himself in him, because that's some quality Shatnering.
Thu, Jun 16, 2016, 6:49pm (UTC -5)

"Sulu demonstrates complete trust in Kirk[.]"

I didn't get that, actually. Near the end, when they're trying to pull away from the scout ship, Kirk says something like "Now, Mr. Sulu. Impulse drive too" and Sulu turns around and gives him a look like "Seriously?" before he carries out the order.
Wed, Jul 6, 2016, 8:14pm (UTC -5)
It was a good episode but I agree with Cloudane in that the music was irritating. I watch this series with headphones and had to turn down the volume when the music raised.

Still, the plot was fine but a bit too stretched out, as Jammer said. The face close ups are pure padding shots, they remind me of Dragon Ball Z scenes. In that anime, every single time somebody did anything of significance you had reaction shots of every...single...character remotely related to the plot, going as far as showing characters half a continent apart.

But I digress, in general I liked this episode. The final revelation works well for me and Spock and Kirk has some nice scenes together.

Spock: "Has it occurred to you that there's a certain...inefficiency in constantly questioning me on things you've already made up your mind about?"

Kirk: "It gives me emotional security."
Tue, Jul 19, 2016, 8:50pm (UTC -5)
Well, I liked it. I know a lot of people complain that the tension is just a bunch of closeups of faces and all, but I think it still worked overall. This isn't TNG, where it is expected that the crew will find some odd problem in the universe and have to puzzle their way through to solve it. This was really the first true obstacle the ship had. Sure, you had the disease in Miri and other random issues, but this is the first real threat to the Enterprise itself I think. And because of that, I was able to accept what was going on, even if others found it cheesy at times.

I can understand Jammer's complaint that the rest of the obstacles the Enterprise encounters after the famous bluff can be seen as a let-down compared to the tension there. It certainly makes sense for that part to be the climax. Not only does it show the crew at their most stressed (people sniping at Sulu for his countdown, Kirk losing his cool momentarily), but it also seems to be the most dangerous element of the episode (countdown to doom) and definitely the most gripping part. But in the end, it is revealed that Bartok is testing the crew's reactions, rather than being a true showdown. Thus, from that perspective, Kirk showing mercy is the climax of the story, and needs to be at the end to tie this whole episode together. So while the ending may not have been as tense, it still was needed I thought. Besides, it drove the point home that one great bluff isn't all you need. Kirk and the Enterprise were tested to their breaking point, and that includes throwing more calamities at them even after they barely escaped the big one.

(It occurs to me that this episode is pretty similar to TNG's Where Silence Has Lease, both in the sense of a new species testing the Enterprise and the use of a big bluff. So if you want the bluff to be the climax of an episode, you can watch that one.)

One thing I don't get, though, is Bailey serving as mankind's ambassador to the First Federation. Or even why he was brought over there in the first place. The sub-plot of him cracking under pressure on the bridge and then asking to take his station again, to at least meet death with dignity, was fine. And I guess if Kirk was really grooming him for command it makes sense to bring him on this away mission, and possibly leaving him with Bartok makes sense too. But then, I thought the point was that Kirk was pushing him too hard? So shouldn't he have eased off on Bailey and not pushed a first contact mission on him? Furthermore, Bailey's breakdown had nothing to do with fear of aliens or anything of that sort, so his redemption by becoming best friends with Bartok also seems out of the blue. It doesn't ruin the episode for me or anything, but it does feel somewhat muddled unfortunately.
Tue, Sep 13, 2016, 7:47pm (UTC -5)
While this is an enjoyable episode to watch for a variety of reasons, it occurs to me that the twist at the end fundamentally ruins the whole plot: it reveals that Balok has lied about everything up to that point, which shows bad faith, but Kirk and Co fail to ask the obvious follow-up question, namely, what if they had failed the test Balok set?

If there was never any intention to destroy the ship, the whole exercise becomes embarrassingly pointless, and Balok is basically a cosmic prankster. If he DID intend to destroy the ship for failing the test, he's an amoral killer no better than Dr Mengele. Rather than share a drink and a laugh with the guy, Kirk should make one of his trademark speeches about the value of human dignity and storm off in high dudgeon.

Otherwise a fine episode. :)
Mon, Jan 23, 2017, 3:27pm (UTC -5)
Not a huge fan of this episode as I found it dragged on, very slow paced. All the bluffing etc. is an interesting plot that shows another side of Kirk's command abilities. Yes, it's good to see the intent and actions of Kirk as he shows his peaceful nature when Bailey is more inclined to jump to aggressive action.
Bailey is a central figure here and adds a needed human element to the countdown to destruction. It's fine if Kirk wants to let him return to his position given that he sees the situation as hopeless (before his bluff).
I haven't seen this episode since I was a kid in the 80's - somehow I don't think I feel differently now about it than I did then.
Just as a comparison, "Balance of Terror" later in Season 1 does a better job of the tension.
If Balok is actually looking for some type of interaction with another species, he does go about it in an odd way. He could have announced peaceful intentions at first, but then we wouldn't have an episode.
For me, 2/4 stars.
Mon, Feb 13, 2017, 12:23pm (UTC -5)
I thought it was funny to hear Spock smugly telling Bailey it was unnecessary for him to raise his voice at the site of the big spinny cube thingy, when Spock has spent the first several episodes shouting on the bridge for no particular reason.
Fri, Feb 24, 2017, 10:03pm (UTC -5)
I always thought this episode had a certain charm. It is somewhat hokey and dated, but everybody knows this is a story from the 1960s, so I just give a pass to the cheesiness of the props and sets, the overly-dramatic musical score, and the histrionics and over-acting at times by the cast. I thought Bailey was an incompetent moron, and was surprised that he got the plum assignment to stay on Balok's ship and learn about the culture...but at least we got rid of him that way. Three stars.
Thu, May 11, 2017, 10:24pm (UTC -5)
Did anyone but me want to shout, "you people get out of that hallway!" as they were thrown back and forth? Pretty funny "special effects"!
Daniel B
Sun, Jul 9, 2017, 2:24am (UTC -5)
stallion:{ To me this episode feels like the true pilot for Star Trek }

Well, it is the last of the four episodes that could be called the "first" one.
The Cage - rejected pilot
Where No Man Has Gone Before - accepted pilot
The Man Trap - first episode ever aired
The Corbomite Manuever - first episode created after show was greenlit
Wed, Aug 16, 2017, 2:53pm (UTC -5)
A terrible review - this is one of the best episodes. Obviously the reviewer prefers the transformers' franchise.
Sat, Sep 16, 2017, 4:42pm (UTC -5)
This episode introduced much of the daily living aboard a starship, the relationships in the crew, (both humorous and testy), the fact that alien life was a scary concept, and that real alien life might differ dramatically from our previous "martian-like" images. (real Baalok vs. the puppet he used to be "scary"). It also furthered our understanding of how weapons and the transporter system on the Enterprise would work. I think Jammer's review is limited by his youthful age and does not take into consideration how early in the series this was. It really is classic, and the episode which made me completely buy in to Star Trek as a teenager when it first aired. Yes, the episode is slow, but TV shows and movies were much slower back then. The current pace of action adventure in TV and movies is a recent development.
Trek fan
Fri, Sep 22, 2017, 11:02pm (UTC -5)
Star Trek's first shipboard tactical adventure remains a visually involving and fairly tense story. Directed by four-time Emmy winner Joseph Sargent, the lighting and camerawork in this one is particularly interesting, and the plot is classic Star Trek. Indeed, there's a real sense of probing out into the unknown to encounter alien life in this one that distinguishes it form the "rubber mask of the week" aliens on later Trek series, and the well-scripted characterizations make this a good ensemble piece for the main cast. I give it 3 or 3 1/2 stars.

There's a fairly realistic sense of shipboard life on a deep-space mission in this one. We see the cast struggling with fatigue, confusion, and fear as they work together to face a problem that quickly escalates from an annoying obstacle into a Kobayshi Mary "no-win scenario." Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, Uhura, and Rand all get little personality moments here, and some of their interactions build the characterizations in key ways -- Kirk's patience in exhausting every peaceful option before being forced to bluff, Spock's early inability (which will soften over the course of the franchise) to go beyond the strict logic that tells him they are doomed, McCoy's concern for the welfare of the crew, Scotty's earthy practicality, the cool professionalism of Uhura and Sulu, Yeoman Rand's ongoing tension with Kirk, etc. And with all of these developing characterizations we still get room for the deftly woven subplot of guest navigator Bailey, whom Kirk has promoted too fast and whose freakout brings a welcome sense of emotional honesty (i.e. regarding Sulu: "He's starting a countdown!") to what everyone else on the bridge is holding in. Kirk's command style emerges vindicated in this episode as he cheats death (good foreshadowing for Wrath of Khan) and eventually finds a better use for Bailey than bridge crew, giving him a chance to develop and mature as an ambassador to gain some confidence. There's a lot of character stuff happening in this deceptively simple space showdown plot, but all of it feels effortlessly earned through cast chemistry.

While the scenes of the Enterprise facing off against the little cube and later negotiating with the enormous sphere start to feel repetitive and go on perhaps a bit too long as buildup to the titular bluff, knocking this one down a peg for me because of the uneven pacing that peaks early, the ending reveal of Clint Howard remains one of the most memorable and creative endings to a Star Trek episode of any series. Not only do we get adventure and the curiosity of facing the unknown in this episode, but an unusual first contact that results in both sides growing closer together through a "game recognizes game" scenario where they respect each other's ability to bluff in facing the threats of the galaxy's unknown. It's intriguing how the Enterprise crew never succumbs to the temptation to judge Balok negatively or lash out at him in fear even at the moments when he's threatening them or appears vulnerable to counter-attack; they seem to hold out hope of finding a peaceful solution to the misunderstanding even when things seem bleakest. And it all ends with them drinking Tranya with the tiny little alien in his tiny little ship. It's not one of my absolute favorites, but this is classic Trek idealism at its best.
Sun, Oct 15, 2017, 10:05am (UTC -5)
Those with bad memories of this episode might want to visit the remastered version of it. Updated with slick CGI visuals, this remains - even for modern viewers IMO - a tense and fast based episode, which showcases life on the ship, Kirk's unconventional "poker tactics", and features a neat twist, albeit one (Godlike aliens testing humans) which would quickly become a cliche. Best of all, are the gratuitous shots of a sweaty, muscular, topless Kirk, walking about with his shirt over his shoulder. Shatner was hilariously macho.

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