Mark Lenard appeared in two classic Star Trek episodes, and both are among my favorites. I’ve already talked about “Journey to Babel”, so now let’s talk about “Balance of Terror”
The Federation has two alien races as enemies: the Klingons and the Romulans. While the Klingons eventually became allies by the start of Next Generation, the Romulans remained enemies throughout both Classic and Next Generation. While both are warlike, they approach conquest in different ways. The Romulans are such a threat that they set up a “Neutral Zone”, an area of space which the Federation is forbidden to enter. The Romulans can come and go as they please, but if the Federation crosses it, it could start an intergalactic war.
What I truly enjoy about this episode is the parallel between the unnamed Romulan Commander and Kirk. Both are well-respected by their crews. In fact, the Commander, despite being the villain, is a father to his men. His crew believes it unwise to question any order he gives. They trust his judgment completely. The Commander knows very little about Kirk’s background, but he sees Kirk as an equal. Despite the fact that they are enemies, the Commander respects Kirk.
The episode plays out like a game of chess. Any time either of them seems to advance, the other counters his strategy. It’s a plot that keeps you guessing from start to finish.
I especially like the final scene of the episode. Kirk finally lands a critical hit on the Romulan Bird of Prey. Rather than surrender and give up the cloaking device, the Commander hails Kirk, yielding to his victory before hitting the self-destruct sequence. His final words are “You and I are of a kind. In a different reality, I could’ve called you friend.” The Romulans would rather die than give up their cloaking device.
This is one of the all-time best episodes of not only classic Star Trek, but the entire franchise. Next time, we take a look at one of the most controversial episodes of Star Trek, “Plato’s Stepchildren”.