Balance of Terror - Recap
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Kirk is officiating at the wedding of Enterprise crewmen Martine and Tomlinson. Before the ceremony begins, Spock informs him that they’ve lost contact with two Federation outposts tasked with watching the Neutral Zone. Kirk begins the ceremony and Scotty gives away the bride, but the ship goes to red alert when they receive a distress signal from the next outpost along the Neutral Zone.
Kirk orders a course toward the outpost but its distress signal is abruptly cut off. The navigator, Lt. Stiles, believes that the Federation’s enemy, the Romulans, are responsible. The Neutral Zone was created when the Romulans launched an attack on the Federation. The two sides fought for years and finally created a treaty via subspace radio with no visual communication. Anyone entering the Neutral Zone from either side would be declaring war on their opponent. Kirk confirms that he is under orders not to enter the Neutral Zone under any circumstances. The increasingly angry Stiles explains that he lost several family members during the war with the Romulans, who use bird designs on their ships.
The Enterprise approaches the string of outposts and discovers that the two earlier ones have been pulverized. They receive a new signal from the outpost that contact them, Outpost 4, and Commander Hanson tells them that the outpost is under attack. The intruder is using a high-yield plasma beam and doesn’t respond to hails. As the Enterprise bridge crew watch, Hanson redirects the cameras to show a ship with distinctive bird markings appearing out of nowhere, opening fire on the outpost, and disappearing again. Hanson is destroyed along with his outpost as the crew look on in horror.
Spock speculates that the Romulan ship is using some form of cloaking device, which requires a great deal of power. It would have to drop the cloaking device to use its weaponry. Spock manages to pick up the intruder on motion sensors and determine it’s heading back to the Neutral Zone. Kirk tells Stiles to lay in a parallel course rather than an intercept, in the hopes that the intruder will mistake them for a sensor echo. Stiles objects but Kirk overrides him. The lieutenant refuses to let the matter drop and points out that there could be a Romulan spy on board. When Sulu backs up Stiles’ suspicion, Kirk orders the crew to an internal security alert.
Uhura detects the enemy ship making a transmission to the Romulan homeworlds of Romulus and Remus. Spock manages to decrypt the signal and they get their first look at the Romulans. Most of the crew wear helmets but the commander turns toward the camera… and he looks like a Vulcan. A suspicious Stiles suggests that they have Spock continue to decrypt the transmission, hinting Spock is the spy. Kirk tells him that bigotry has no place on the bridge.
Aboard the intruding ship, the Romulan Commander receives a report about the “sensor echo.” Suspicious, he orders his crew to engage the cloak again, then chastises the officer, Decius, who sent the signal to the homeworld. The Commander’s second-in-command, the Centurion, warns that Decius has highly-placed family connections, but the Commander shrugs aside his concern. He is more concerned about what will happen once he reports back that they launched a successful series of attacks: his superiors will order war. However, he insists on doing his duty no matter what his personal concerns are.
The Enterprise tracks the Romulan ship less than an hour from the Neutral Zone. In a briefing, Spock reports that the plasma beam caused the outpost materials to implode. However, Scotty asserts that they still have superior engine capability and can outrun the intruder. Kirk plans to continue on the parallel course but Stiles objects, saying that they should attack now. Surprisingly, Spock agrees, warning that the Romulans are brutal and barbaric and will see anything other than attack as a sign of weakness. Finally, Spock reports the nearby presence of a comet and Kirk decides to use it when making his attack.
The Enterprise moves in on the Romulan ship. The Commander orders the ship through the tail of the comet as preparation for his own attack. When they clear the tail, the Enterprise changes course and the Commander orders evasive maneuvers. Kirk realizes he’s been outmaneuvered and orders a wide spread of fire. Several strike the Romulan ship and the Centurion shoves his commander out of the way of falling debris, only to be caught and crushed himself.
The phaser circuitry on the Enterprise burns out and Spock tries to fix them. The Romulan ship reappears and fires its plasma beam. The Enterprise is unable to outrun it . The blast of energy closes in but starts to dissipate. It hits the Enterprise and while they take serious damage, they avoid the full effect of the beam. With the phaser circuitry repaired, Spock detects the Romulan ship returning back to its course for the Neutral Zone. Kirk orders the ship into the Neutral Zone on his own authority and sends a message to Starfleet informing them of his decision.
The Commander cradles the dying Centurion in his arms as his crew tell him the Enterprise is still in pursuit. He orders Decius to load all available debris into the ejection tubes… and the Centurion’s corpse as well, for the man is now dead. The Commander then orders the ship to shut down all energy output to convince their pursuers they are destroyed.
Spock detects the debris but realizes it’s not enough to indicate the intruding ship’s destruction. Kirk orders the Enterprise to shut down power as well and they play a waiting game to see who will blink first. As they wait, Kirk wonders if he’s doing the right thing by potentially starting off a war, but McCoy tells him that he has made the best decision he could and to not let the guilt eat him up.
Spock inadvertently activates a circuit while making repairs, and the Romulans pick it up. They move in for the kill but Kirk opens fire first. The Commander responds by launching more debris, including a nuclear warhead. As they approach the Romulan ship, Spock picks up the nuclear warhead on sensors and Kirk gives the order to fire just in time to destroy the warhead at less than optimum proximity. The Enterprise is damaged but intact. On board the Romulan ship, Decius insists they move in for the kill but the Commander believes they should continue to the Neutral Zone so they can deliver their intelligence on the Federation defenses.
Phaser fire aboard the Enterprise is all but out, and only the forward phaser control room has power. Stiles volunteers to go there to assist Tomlinson, the only phaser officer still available. Kirk shuts down all power systems again and waits for the Romulans to attack.
Decius continues to push the issue, insisting they should destroy the Federation flagship, and the Command finally gives in.
Spock checks on Tomlinson and Stiles, but Stiles angrily tells him that they don’t need his help. After Spock leaves, Stiles spots a phaser coolant leak and Tomlinson tries to stop the leak.
On the bridge, the crew watch as the Romulan vessel appears to make its attack roll. Kirk orders an attack but nothing happens. As he tries to contact the phaser control room, Spock hears Kirk on the intercom and goes back the way he came. The phaser control room is filled with coolant fumes and Stiles and Tomlinson are down. Spock goes in and manages to activate the controls, then pulls Tomlinson and Stiles out of the room. The Romulan ship is badly damaged and Kirk hails them. The Romulan Commander responds and refuses to surrender. He tells Kirk that in another life they may have been friends, but in this life his duty is clear. He activates the self-destruct and Kirk and the crew watch as the Romulan ship is destroyed.
Kirk and Spock check on Stiles in Sickbay. The lieutenant thanks Spock for saving his life. However, Tomlinson is dead. As Kirk goes to comfort his widow, Rand informs him that Starfleet has acknowledged his decision and will support him. Kirk goes to the chapel and tries to console Martine, noting that there was a reason for Tomlinson’s sacrifice.