There’s a point in “The Corbomite Maneuver” when Kirk finally states the purpose of the mission of the Enterprise. He says, “The mission of the Enterprise is to seek out and contact alien life.” In this moment, “Star Trek” finally gains much of the traction and promise that I’ve been waiting for. There is finally a purpose. There are goals that need to be met, and, ostensibly, governments that send ships out on these missions. There is a world all around the crew of the ship, where anything can happen, and often does.
The series has finally been gaining a sense of increasing weight. In a recent episode, we finally learned a little more about the Vulcans and their constant desire to avoid emotion. It does wonders to know a little more about Spock as a character and to realize that there are many civilizations out there that we, as viewers have not seen and experienced yet. It really helps to add on to the sense of the space western, where the Enterprise is charging into the unknown, finding a new world, and having to come to terms with the threats and cultures that it meets.
The meeting of cultures is really what drives “The Corbomite Maneuver,” and it is a superb hook. While charting stars, the Enterprise comes across a giant glowing cube that blocks them for days, after destroying it when it exposes the ship to radiation, the Enterprise comes across the imposing Fesarius, a giant yellow and black planet sized space ship, and its imposing commander, Balok, who determines that the Enterprise is to be destroyed for trespassing and destroying the beacon. It’s a misunderstanding, but made difficult by Balok’s insistence that the Enterprise will be destroyed, regardless of the pleading of the quickly hysterical Kirk.
It’s a great episode for driving home the idea of the space western. Both ships are at an impasse, and nothing Kirk will say can save his ship from utter annihilation. It’s a tense episode, full of gripping dialogue as the characters try to escape their fates, as well as deal with the minutiae of the crew and the problems at hand.
This episode was (according to the internet) one of the first produced, which shows that the writers were all for this kind of tense storytelling from the beginning. It’s nice to see their devotion to the crew having to deal with aliens and the unknown in equal measures, and it is equally refreshing to finally see Sulu and Scotty again, as well as Rand. And it’s nice to have these characters here, because for the first time since maybe (sigh) “Mudd’s Women,” we finally have a need for the crew to work together to solve a life-threatening problem.
And they all (for the most part) get to shine. Sulu is great, having to cover for random crewmember of the week, Lieutenant Bailey on the bridge. McCoy has a couple of fantastic antagonistic moments with Kirk about Bailey and manages a couple of great exchanges with Spock, which has increasingly become some of my favorite moments of the series. Spock probably gets the best parts, in a few of his exchanges with Kirk, his insistence that he get to see Balok, and his insistence that they will probably die, because that is the most logical course of action that the events can follow. The only characters that really take the shaft are Scotty, who just doesn’t really get that much to do besides make fun of Spock, and Rand, who is just there to be Rand, and bring coffee while they await Balok’s reply to their bluff. Other than that, the whole crew manages to really help lend some additional weight to the events.
It helps that Balok is a pretty fantastic threat as well. He ignores the Enterprise’s pretty legitimate plea for mercy, and is insistent that the ship will be destroyed. He is an unmoving force, and the script does him proud by having him speak as little as possible. That fact, along with his few mighty and sinister proclamations make him a great villain, but some of his line readings are just great. “The destruction of your ship has been delayed,” had me laughing and sighing in relief in equal measure.
There’s tons of great moments in “The Corbomite Maneuver” that I can’t really do justice to, but the last thing that really needs discussed is the ending. I’ve never really said it, but one of my biggest problems with the series is their inability to wrap things up in a really significant satisfying way. “What Are Little Girls Made Of?,” “Charlie X” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before” had really great endings, but for the most part, no other episode has really wrapped up in a way that is particularly interesting or satisfying. “The Corbomite Maneuver” sadly does not offer a great ending either, with an odd revelation of Balok being baby Clint Howard, and just wanting to test the moral mettle of the Enterprise, which is an interesting, albeit frustrating finale. It makes sense that another civilization would want to test the humans for the likelihood of coexistence, but the stalemate seems like an odd way to get this done. For the most part though, it’s a solid finale, with a nice uplifting note about cooperation and the meeting of cultures.
I still would have liked to see some real aliens though…
“If I jumped every time a light came on around here, I’d end up talking to myself.”
I understand that Bailey is there to show that he isn’t ready for command, but everyone is a real dick to him. I would think that they might be a little more accommodating, but he should really know not to fuck with Spock.
As far as a sense of mounting hysteria goes, this might be the best episode for it.
I’m really glad to get that one “Futurama” Kip/Balok joke now.
Next Up: “The Menagerie” in one super special double write up. Read it with someone you love.