All right, Trekkie’s and N00bs, are you ready to watch along? This episode opens on the Enterprise Crew pulling a “Google Maps.” Essentially, they’re driving around and snapping photos of outer space to create accurate star maps. With the rate things are going, I wouldn’t be surprised if Google ends up in charge of this task once we’ve got warp technology.
Rubik’s Cube Chunk of Doom
While Spock snaps pictures of the stars, the crew detects a large object hurtling toward them at an alarming speed. It looks like a piece from a Rubik’s Cube disengaged and flew into space after this epic nerd competition:
The entire crew is hella confused by this object, as you can tell by their expressions.
Wondering where the captain is? Well he’s busy getting a physical in Dick Bay with Dr. Bones. Yep.
Of course the first thing Kirk does is jump onto video chat with Spock, to show off his muscles.
Spock is Smart and Sassy
During the Rubik’s Cube approach, the chief navigator, Dave Bailey, started having a freakout on the deck. Looks like work stress finally got to him. He explains to Spock, “Raising my voice back there doesn’t mean I was scared or couldn’t do my job. It means I happen to have a thing called an adrenaline gland.”
Spock plays the tiniest violin for Bailey and replies, “It does sound most inconvenient, however. Have you considered having it removed?”
Turns out that the Rubik’s Cube piece is a whopping 11,000 tons, and it won’t quit following them around. Here are Spock’s theories about what the object could be:
1. A space buoy marking territory
2. Flypaper, another Scoobie Doo Trap
Or maybe they’re just decorative!
The Radiation Race
Spock discovers that the cube is hitting them with a low dose of radiation. Kirk decides that they need to act and test the boundaries of this Rubik’s Cube chunk. They increase their speed from low to warp, and the scary block keeps pace. It’s quite terrifying to hear Spock announce: “Radiation passing the tolerance level, entering lethal zone.”
The Enterprise blasts the cube with its weapons, obliterating it. It’s impressive to see how much the crew trusts Captain Kirk during this tense situation.
Booze and the Struggle of Women
Bones pours Kirk a celebratory drink, but reprimands Kirk for promoting Bailey. The kid seems too green, caving under the pressure and hesitating too much during the Rubik’s Cube chase. We don’t get far into this conversation before Yeoman Rand enters with Kirk’s food. He complains about his salad, and shiiieet, Yeoman Rand never asked to get stuck on kitchen duty.
Turns out Bones is responsible for the healthy menu, since Kirk’s a few pounds overweight.
Kirk turns around and gripes about Rand being a woman.
“When I get my hands on the HQ genius who assigned me a female yeoman.”
Bones replies, “Whats the matter Jim, don’t you trust yourself?”
And Kirk gets even doosh-ier, proclaiming, “I’ve already got a female to worry about! Her name’s the Enterprise!”
Phew, at least he’s leaving Uhura alone.
Poor Rand continues to serve as an example of the sexism women suffer in future societies. I continue to headdesk every time this bullshit happens.
The Disco Ball of Doom
Didn’t you get the memo about threatening shapes? This time, it’s a sphere!
Balok from the flagship, Fesarious, announces that the Enterprise will be scanned and destroyed, since they blew up their Rubik’s Cube probe.
Spock then utters one of the the gayest sentences I’ve heard all season, as the Enterprise quakes.
“Captain, we’re being invaded by exceptionally strong sensor probes everywhere!”
Balok tells the crew that they only have 10 more minutes to live, and that they should start praying. “We make an assumption that you have a deity or deities or some such beliefs which comfort you.” Interesting! Come to think of it, there’s been little mention of religion in TOS.
Someone needs to get Bailey outta there, because he’s having a full blown panic attack. He jumps out of his chair, screaming, “What are you, robots? Wind up toy soldiers? Don’t you know when you’re dying?”
The Captain finally orders Bailey out to sick bay, and Bones totally blames Kirk for putting an inexperienced crew member in such as stressful position.
Sulu keeps track of the time, announcing each minute that ticks away. With only a few minutes left to live, I wonder what the rest of the ship is doing, since they all heard the threat. Last minute shots and orgies? Gorging on desserts from the food synthesizer?
Well guess what Rand’s been up to? She got bored and heated up some coffee with her hand phaser, and serves it to the crew as a sort of last-minute comfort. That is freakin’ adorable.
Kirk suddenly has a creative brain-fart. Spock’s been comparing this entire situation to chess, but maybe they need to approach this emergency like a poker game! I wonder if he’s gonna order the crew to strip?
Kirk explains that an (imaginary) substance called Corbomite is built into all Starfleet ships, and it will reflect destructive energy back at the attacker, destroying them.
Kirk busts out his EPIC BLUFF and says, “Death has little meaning to us. If it has none to you, then attack us now. We grow annoyed at your foolishness.” Daaaaayyyymnnn!
Now it’s Balok’s turn to be confused!
Turns out the bluff worked, because the Enterprise doesn’t get blasted away.
An Annoying, Buzzing Bee
Balok’s not done with them yet! He deploys a mini space craft, which kinda looks like a cluster of Honey Nut Cheerios. It drags the Enterprise away with a tractor beam. Balok claims that he is taking them to a prison planet.
Kirk ain’t having that. He orders the crew to resist the tractor beam, which is draining power aboard the Honey Nut Cheerios. The Enterprise shears away from the tractor beam, and Balok is stuck drifting in space, with a blown engine.
Storming the Ship
Kirk reminds the crew that their mission is “to seek out and contact alien life.” In this noble effort, he decides to give Bailey a second chance. “The face of the unknown. I think I owe you a look at it.”
Kirk tells his boyfriend Spock to stay on board, in case it’s a trap. Well, isn’t that what Spock usually does anyway?
“Bend low, gentleman!” yells Scotty, as he gets ready to beam ’em over. “It’s pretty cramped in there!” No homo!
They arrive, and it turns out that the Face of the Unknown is just a dummy! See Bailey, new lifeforms aren’t so scary after all!
Oh wait. This is Balok, who looks like a scary Teletubby holding a traffic light.
Balok reveals that he’s lonely, and that he was just playing a game with the crew of the Enterprise. Hahahah! And that he totally wants them to be friends and exchange cultural ideas.
He offers them some Screwdrivers as a peace offering for, ya know, trying to kill them all.
The most ridiculous part is that Kirk and his crew DRINK IT. At this point, I started wondering if they were gonna wake up in a bathtub full of ice with organs missing.
Kirk loves Balok’s idea of cultural sharing, and Bailey volunteers to stay behind to keep Balok company. Seriously?! Were the drinks THAT good? At this point, we realize that this was all a complicated lead up so that Bailey could face his fears.
Kirk’s thrilled that he’ll “get a better officer in return,” but I think that he just secretly wants Bailey off the ship.
Kirk and Balok shake hands to seal the trade, and this bizarre, confusing episode ends.
I wonder if we’ll see Bailey and Balok ever again.
And this episode just brings us back to that look of confusion:
Growing up, I had never watched a Star Trek episode all the way through. My family members weren’t huge sci-fi fans, and they’d flip the channel whenever Star Trek came on. Now I am embarking on an epic nerd rite of passage, chronicling my reactions to every episode of Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS).
My mom says one of her older sisters used to make the “Balok” face at her at night just to scare her.
Also i am sad that this is the version where they went back & CGed all the old effects because i am one of Those People & i just like my grainy model Enterprise & stuff
Alllso this is as good a time as any to mention that those Zimbio quizzes that’ve been going around? There’s Trek ones now, one for TOS & one for TNG. I got McCoy for the TOS one! And…….. Wesley…….. for the…… TNG………. one…………………………………………………..
Uhura here; pleased to meet you!
Oh SNAP. I love these things.
I got Spock, hooray! I mean, ahem. *No emotion.*
The cube always reminded me of one of the old Windows screen savers.
Oh Leigh, you young whippersnapper, you. I’d have said, “Those old Windows screen savers reminded me of that cube from The Corbomite Maneuver!” Because I am Old.
I think of this episode as “the one that deals with fear of the unknown so that the issue is out of the way and we don’t have to keep hearing about how scary space is any more because these guys are totally used to it even though, in 1966, it’s pretty fucking terrifying to think what might be out there (think Area 51 and 1950s sci-fi sensibilities).” It also sets up the show’s point of view that we’re all brothers and sisters under the skin no matter where we come from and it’s only our fear that makes us believe we’ll encounter scary “aliens”. This was a pretty radical notion for 1966 and is another example of how unusual Roddenberry’s thinking was given the times.
Fun casting note: That’s Ron Howard’s baby brother, Clint, playing Balok. He went on to star in Gentle Ben and do small roles in all his brother’s films.
Yeah! My partner pointed out the Ron Howard connection as I was watching this, and I was like NO WAY. I was really freaked out by Balok, since they have someone else dub his lines, and it doesn’t quite match up with Clint Howard’s movements, making his scenes even stranger.
It is definitely bizarre!