Star Trek Rewatch

Star Trek Re-watch: “The Enterprise Incident”

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The Enterprise Incident
Written by D.C. Fontana
Directed by John Meredyth Lucas

Season 3, Episode 2
Episode 62 of 79
Production episode 3×04
Original air date: September 27, 1968
Stardate 5027.3

Recap: Dayton Ward

Question: What do you think of my new look, Spock?

Answer: You remind me of my uncle, Captain. The one nobody ever liked inviting to dinner.

The Enterprise is cruisin’ along, all by its lonesome, and we’re treated to a rare log entry by Dr. McCoy. It seems the good doctor’s worried about Captain Kirk, who’s been acting pretty much like a big ol’ butthead as of late. His normally top-notch crew is pretty much running around with their tails tucked between their legs, and it only gets worse when Kirk orders a course change that will take the Enterprise into the Romulan Neutral Zone.

Yeah, because that always works out.

Mr. Sulu enters the course correction, as Chekov looks on in irritation. Isn’t he the navigator? What’s he doing during all of this? Probably updating his Facebook status. (“Pavel Chekov is feeling unappreciated, and just wants a hug.”—Alfred Bester likes this.) Anyway, it doesn’t take long for the Enterprise’s detour to be noticed, as a Klingon battle cruiser appears as if from thin air. Say what?

SCOTTY: That’s a Klingon ship! But it couldn’t be; not in this area.

SPOCK: Intelligence reports Romulans now using Klingon design.

Wow. That was a heck of a memo not to get, eh? Anyway, two more ships appear from nowhere, and in short order the Enterprise is surrounded. Kirk orders a message dispatched to Starfleet Command. (Which I can only assume reads something like “Dear Headquarters. I should’ve made a left at Omicron Ceti III. Awaiting instructions.”) An incoming hail is received from one of the enemy ships and we’re treated to the sight of a pretty snobby-looking Romulan with a bad perm who orders Kirk to surrender or be destroyed. Yeah, that was predictable, just like the subsequent, “They should’ve blown us to hell already, so they must want something.” Capturing the Enterprise would be a feather in any Romulan commander’s cap, right? Kirk tells the Romulan to pound sand, and that he’ll destroy the Enterprise himself rather than have it boarded.

The Romulan, Subcommander Tal, turns his attention to Spock, looking as though he might ask him his sign or what a nice Vulcan like him is doing in a Neutral Zone like this, when he’s interrupted by a call on his Batphone. Apparently, his boss is on the other end, and when the call’s over, Tal tells Kirk he should take some time to check his attitude before deciding on rash action. “One hour, yo,” Tal says, “and I’m checkin’ my watch.”

Checking out some pics of the Enterprise and a Klingon cruiser from Matt Jefferies’ Flickr page, Kirk asks Spock why the sensors didn’t pick up the Romulans’ approach. “Well, as you might remember from the last time we encountered Romulans,” Spock replies, “the Romulans have cloaking devices. I mean, for crying out loud! Do you even watch the show?”

Oh, wait. That’s not what he said. Instead, Spock says it was because the Romulans are using new-and-improved cloaking devices (“from Blamm-O!”). The way Kirk sees it, they can fight, blow up the ship themselves, or surrender. Spock points out that if it wasn’t for Kirk’s brilliant course change that resulted in the Enterprise crossing into enemy space, they wouldn’t be yammering about this and instead could be down in the rec room watching hot Orion porn. (Way to ruin the evening’s festivities, Captain.) When McCoy reacts to the revelation of the odd orders, Kirk tells him to bounce.

Subcommander Tal calls back and tells Kirk his boss wants the captain and Spock over on their ship for a sitdown to hash this out. Kirk, understandably, wants to know if he’s being set up to be punk’d, but Tal offers to let two of his officers beam to the Enterprise to be held as hostages/collateral to ensure Kirk and Spock’s safe return. Once on the Romulan ship, Kirk and Spock are escorted to the private chambers of the vessel’s commanding officer, who’s wearing the typical Romulan uniform that looks as if it was made from one of those oval area rugs you might’ve found in your grandparents’ house in 1977. She wastes no time seeing through Kirk’s charm and “Aw shucks” act and engages the captain in a conversation that essentially boils down to:

ROMULAN COMMANDER: You were spying!

KIRK: Nuh-uh!!!

The commander makes a big deal out of how she…uh, she means “they”…have been keeping an eye on Spock for quite some time. He’s a Vulcan, you see, which means he’s got some of the same sump’n sump’n that makes Romulans such studs. They’re like family! I smell a setup, don’t you?

The Romulan Commander speaks of a myth that states Vulcans are incapable of lying. Spock confirms it’s the real deal (No, honest!), so when she asks him why the Enterprise is in Romulan space, Spock responds by saying it’s not a lie to keep the truth to himself. This makes Kirk squirm to the point where I’m thinking he’s gonna rupture an organ or something. The Romulan Commander once again accuses Kirk of espionage, perhaps even of being on a mission to learn more about the cloaking technology. She considers torturing Kirk (perhaps by making him watch a DVR’d copy of last week’s episode, “Spock’s Brain”), but Spock tells her that won’t be effective.

He opts instead to throw Kirk under the bus—or shuttlecraft, if you prefer—and describes how the captain’s been acting like a big honkin’ tool the past few weeks. The strain of command’s been wearing on him, boo hoo, and all that. According to Spock, Kirk alone made the decision to cross into Romulan space, which means he’s a moron and therefore a prime candidate for promotion to commodore. Kirk, ever the rational one, threatens to kill Spock for his disloyalty.

The Romulan Commander contacts the Enterprise to let them know she’s not holding the Enterprise crew accountable for Kirk’s actions, but they’ll be taken to a Romulan base for interrogationanal probing…“processing” before being released back to Starfleet authorities. On the Enterprise, Scotty orders their two Romulan hostages in the brig, and tells the Romulan Commander to sit and spin. Kirk’s proud of his ship and crew, asking Spock if he hears the sound of honor and integrity as he stands there, having collaborated with the enemy. I’m guessing this means Kirk’s really irked with his old pal, and that no K/S slashfic will be generated by this episode. Damn.

Guards hustle Kirk away to a holding cell, leaving Spock with the Romulan Commander, who asks how he can stand working with humans. I mean, they eat with their fingers, which they then use to dig stuff out of their noses and ears, right? Spock admits he’s half-human and prone to digging for the occasional golden nugget himself. Still, he identifies as Vulcan, and only does that kind of self-prospecting for the most logical of reasons. The Commander sees greater things for him, if he wouldn’t mind opening his mind to the idea that Starfleet and the Federation aren’t the only games in town. (Plus, they’d get to be “comrades with benefits,” if you know what I mean.)

Elsewhere, Kirk is thrown none-too gently into a security holding cell with a door blocked by some of that fancy forcefield action. Since the brig on his own ship has pretty much the same thing, you’d think the captain would know better than to try running at the door, but of course he doesn’t. Running headlong into the forcefield knocks him out, and the Romulans call to the Enterprise for assistance.

Hey, you don’t think that was staged, do you? A setup? Nah.

McCoy grudgingly consents to beaming aboard the Romulan ship, where he examines Kirk and finds that, medically speaking, the captain’s a frappin’ trainwreck. This info is relayed to the Romulan Commander, who wants to see this for herself. Dragging Spock along with her like one of those fancy, overpriced, high-maintenance poodles, she informs Spock that she’ll be expecting him for dinner, because there’s “much to discuss.” Spock’s all like, “I was planning to stay home tonight, and wash my hair,” but finally he accepts the so-called invitation. When Spock asks if the guards will be there, the Commander sends them away. Now working with that bit of earned trust, Spock promptly dorks that up by turning the wrong way down an intersection in the corridor.

“Whoa!” exclaims the Romulan Commander. “Uh-uh, nobody can go there, except me and my most-loyal butt-kissers.”

“Whoops,” Spock replies. “My bad.” Of course, the Romulan Commander says she hopes there will come a day when no such restrictions will apply to Spock. How sweet.

Arriving at the brig, the Romulan Commander asks McCoy what bug’s up Kirk’s ass, and the doctor says the captain’s pretty much gone totally emo, backing up Spock’s earlier comments. Spock states he’ll assume command of the Enterprise due to Kirk’s loose screw, but he’s so totally not doing it because the Romulan Commander’s pulling on that ring she put in his nose. Kirk’s not happy with this new turn of events, calling Spock a traitor right before lunging across the room at his first officer. Spock goes all ninja-fu, putting his hand to the captain’s face and unleashing some super-cool Vulcan mojo on his ass. Kirk drops to the deck in apparent agony, and McCoy wants to know what the hell just happened:

SPOCK: I instinctively used the Vulcan Death Grip.

McCOY: Your instincts are still good, Mr. Spock. The captain is dead!

Uh-oh.

Back on the Enterprise, Kirk lies on a patient treatment table in sickbay (rather than, you know, in the morgue or a freezer, or wherever else you might store a dead body). Nurse Chapel comes into the room to look at him and the captain’s eyes pop open, no doubt eliciting an involuntary yet totally understandable release of liquid waste from the startled nurse. She shouts for McCoy, and the doctor confirms what we all knew from the previews aired during last week’s episode: the Captain’s alive. He’s alive!!! Spock gave Kirk a special kind of nerve pinch that put him into such a deep coma that it simulates death. (We have those on 21st-century Earth, but we tend to call them reality TV shows.)

It seems Kirk and Spock have been operating under Federation orders this whole time, the sneaky bastards, working an espionage scheme against the Romulans in such a way that the Federation and Starfleet can be held blameless. So, what’s the plan now that Kirk’s been declared dead? Well, it’s like this….

A bit later, Scotty’s on the bridge, pacing like Vanna White hoping for somebody to buy a vowel, when McCoy calls and asks him to come down to sickbay. “Not now, honey, I’m working,” the engineer replies. The doctor insists, so Scotty gives in like the whipped dog he is and bops down to sickbay, where he finds….Captain Kirk! But, wait! There’s more: the good captain’s had a little makeover, you see, and now he looks like Spock’s unloved stepbrother. He needs a uniform from one of the Romulan prisoners. Oh, this is a dastardly plot the captain’s hatching, eh? A plan to get a Romulan naked! Brilliant!

Kirk—now dressed in his Romulan Halloween costume, beams aboard the Romulan ship. He bluffs his way through an encounter with a Romulan guard before setting off to…where? Some plan, genius. Oh, and not for nothing, but how come nobody detected the transporter beam from the Enterprise? For that matter, weren’t the ships running with shields up? Hmmm….

Meanwhile, the Romulan Commander continues her efforts to woo Spock with a variation on the time-tested “coffee, tea, or me” stratagem. She wants him by her side, you see, and hey…Romulan women can get rowdy if you let ’em, especially once they put away a couple of drinks. You don’t know what you’re missing, Spock! She tells him that the way to success is to help her secure the Enterprise for transfer to a Romulan base. He’ll lead a small party of Romulans to take the ship so that the transfer can happen peacefully. “No prob,” Spock replies, “but hold up. Why rush it? Can’t we go in…oh…an hour or so?”

[GeorgeTakei] “Oh, myyyyyyyyyyyyyy.” [/GeorgeTakei]

Spock persuades the Romulan Commander to hang a sock on her door and slip into something more comfortable. Does that work? YES! The formidable commander of at least THREE state-of-the-art battle cruisers can be manipulated like a child’s toy. Really? By the way, since it appears that this entire scheme depends on Spock being able to distract the Commander long enough for Kirk to do his thing, what exactly was the contingency if she’d been a dude?

Rather than allow my head to explode as I contemplate the fanfic possibilities of that scenario, let us continue.

Spock uses his communicator (Why didn’t the Romulans take that away?) to contact Kirk. He tells the captain where to find the cloaking device and that it’s heavily guarded. Kirk figures he can handle it but wants to know if Spock will be able to get away. Spock’s unable to answer that before the Romulan Commander returns, dressed in one of those hot little off-the-shoulder numbers from the Sex and the City Castoff Collection. Whew! That was close. Now what’s he supposed to do?

Eh. A little Vulcan foreplay to stall for time should do the trick, right?

While that’s going on, one of Subcommander Tal’s flunkies in the ship’s control center has detected the communication between Spock and Kirk (took them long enough), and a trace is initiated. As that’s happening, Kirk makes his way through the oddly deserted corridors of the Romulan vessel until he finds the high-clearance area housing the cloaking device. A quick bit of Kirk-fu later, the captain takes down the lone guard with little effort, clearing the way for some cloaking device snatchin’ and grabbin’.

As the Romulan Commander continues to get hot and bothered (apparently, Spock has some mad skillz), the festivities are interrupted by her door buzzer and the arrival of Subcommander Tal. (Dude, didn’t you see the sock?) Tal reports they’ve tracked an unauthorized signal to the Commander’s quarters, and Spock hands over his communicator. The Romulan Commander realizes she’s been suckered, and everybody heads off to check on the cloaking device. D’oh!

Kirk gets inside the room holding the cloaking device, but because his “Good morning, Mr. Phelps” spy packet didn’t include a photo of the thing, he has no idea what it looks like. Could it be that console swiped from Harry Mudd’s android planet? What about that sphere-looking thing from Sargon and his followers? Oh, wait, is that Nomad I see sitting in one corner? What to do, what to do? Thank the Great Bird of the Galaxy that a Romulan guard chooses that moment to show up and challenge Kirk. The captain, always known for thinking on his feet, tricks the Romulan into identifying which of the room’s oddball components is the cloaking device. This, of course, prompts another round of Kirk-fu before the captain grabs the cloaking device and calls the Enterprise for beam out. Once back on his own ship, Kirk orders Scotty to install the device, and to make it snappy, because there’s a rollicking climax coming!

On the Romulan ship, the Commander and Tal find the unconscious guard and discover that the cloaking device is missing. The Commander orders a search, but Spock tells her, “Too late, yo! It’s done got gone!” Oh, and Spock adds that he’s been playing her all along. And maybe he slept with her sister. Yeah, that’s gonna go over real well.

As Scotty works to install the cloaking device, Kirk decides that screwing with his crew is in order, so he leaves his Romulan ears, eyebrows, and other stuff on and pops in on his bridge peeps. To his surprise, none of them are sleeping or surfing porn from the ship’s library computer, and he puts them to work preparing to rescue Spock and to get the Enterprise out of Dodge.

Meanwhile, the Romulan Commander gets ready to attack the Enterprise, but not before she takes some bloody vengeance on Spock. The first officer demands the “Romulan right of statement,” which might also be called the “Romulan right to blather on endlessly about whatever” (we tend to call this a filibuster, or perhaps a Jay Leno monologue), which in reality is a stalling tactic. Spock’s hoping he can buy the Enterprise time to install the cloaking device and beam his butt out of there.

As Spock drones on and on (and on and on and on and…), Chekov uses the Enterprise’s sensors to try and locate him. No sooner does he do that than Scotty reports the cloak’s installed. “Beats me if it’ll work,” the engineer says, “and why is it that whenever I put something together like this, I always have parts left over?” Kirk orders Spock beamed off the Romulan ship, and the Romulan Commander jumps on him as the transport starts. Wow, that was dumb, huh? With Spock safe and the Commander a hostage, Kirk orders Sulu to hit the gas. The ship beats feet at Warp 9 with the Romulans in hot pursuit. Kirk wants the cloak activated, but Scotty obviously didn’t RTFM because it’s not working.

Kirk contacts the Romulan ship and tries to make them back off by showing them their Commander is his prisoner, but she orders Tal to destroy the Enterprise. The enemy ships bear down, weapons and tempers hot. Kirk starts thinking this might’ve been a lousy plan, after all. Scotty trying to jumpstart the cloak, which’d be a lot easier to do if Kirk wasn’t on his case about it every two seconds. As the Romulans draw close enough to open fire, Kirk orders Scotty to activate the cloak:

KIRK: Throw the switch.

SCOTTY: It’ll likely overload!

KIRK: Throw the switch!

TOS. We know drama.

Scotty hits the magic button, and the Enterprise fades into…nothingness. Kirk orders an immediate course change, figuring the Romulans will be too stupid to do anything but open fire along the Enterprise’s last known course heading. He’s right, because that’s just that Tal does. D’oh again!

With the Enterprise safely away from its pursuers, Kirk takes the high road and asks Spock to escort the Romulan Commander to guest quarters. We can only hope the captain’s learned his lessons from past adventures, and not allowed any computer terminals or other means of taking over the ship to be left in such rooms. Once together in private, Spock tries to smooth things over with the Romulan Commander, but he strikes out. No hand-jive for him tonight. Not with a woman, anyway.

After Spock returns to the bridge, McCoy calls up from sickbay, telling Kirk it’s time to remove those pointed ears of his. “You wanna go through life looking like your first officer?” Kirk leaves to get his ears bobbed, and the bridge crew yuks it up as he exits. I don’t know why Chekov’s in such a good mood; it’s not as if Sulu isn’t sitting right next to him, demonstrating the utter redundancy of the navigator position. You might wanna consider a career change, Pavel, my boy….

Dayton’s Rating: Warp 5 (on a scale of 1-6)

 

Star Trek episode

Analysis: David Mack

Right off the bat we get a cool continuity nod as the Romulans’ use of Klingon ships is acknowledged by Scotty and Spock. The subtext of this discovery is that there is an alliance or at least a degree of collusion between the Romulans and the Klingons to oppose the Federation. Of course, this actually was done to amortize over several episodes the cost of building new Klingon starship models for “Elaan of Troyius,” the first episode produced (but 13th to be aired) for season three. It’s a classic case of budgetary limits influencing an episode’s story and the overall continuity in unexpected and intriguing ways. Though the link between Klingon and Romulan politics isn’t revisited within the original series or even the first six feature films, it later became a cornerstone of Klingon-focused stories during Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The opening log by Doctor McCoy is a fun bit of misdirection: the audience is being set up just as the Romulans were, although McCoy believes his report to be the truth at the time (he isn’t brought into the loop about the mission until he’s later summoned to Kirk’s aid aboard the Romulan ship). The deception continues as Kirk ponders aloud why the Romulans have hesitated to destroy the intruding Enterprise: “It’s my ship they want.” His comment is ironic, considering that his incursion into their space was designed to lure them into this confrontation so that he might have a chance to steal their recently upgraded cloaking device prototype. The misdirection of the audience continues into the first briefing-room scene, when Kirk curtly dismisses McCoy after the doctor insists Kirk overstepped his authority by taking the Enterprise into Romulan territory.

The Romulan Commander’s claim that it would take three weeks for a subspace message from the Enterprise to reach Starfleet Command seemed unlikely to me, but I assumed this to be yet another example of how things in Star Trek always move “at the speed of plot.”

Another interesting note is the variation in Romulan hairstyles, both for men and women, from those seen in the era of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Neither the Romulans nor the Vulcans were depicted as having helmet-hair as a species trait in the original series or in the first six movies, and it seems a terrible shame that it was later forced upon them and retroactively grafted onto continuity in the Star Trek: Enterprise era.

It seems odd that Kirk’s plan hinged on being invited aboard the lead Romulan ship. The only reason they were invited aboard was that the female Romulan Commander—who, in a particularly lazy bit of writing, was never given a proper name—had an ulterior motive in wishing to meet Spock. What if the senior Romulan officer had been a man? What if the female Romulan Commander had been a lesbian?

Still, let’s chalk this up to a success of Starfleet Intelligence. Perhaps Starfleet learned of the Romulans’ deep interest in the Vulcans. Could there have been seeds of a desire on the part of the Romulans for reunification with their “distant brothers,” the Vulcans, even then? To hear the Romulan Commander talk, it would seem that the Romulans knew of their link to the Vulcans, despite the Vulcans being seemingly oblivious of the Romulans’ heritage until the season one episode “Balance of Terror.” In fact, Spock’s subsequent invocation of the Romulan tradition of the “right of statement” would bear out that theory. How else did Starfleet go from knowing next to nothing about the Romulans in the first season to Spock invoking their own laws against them two years later? It all smacks of a massive, behind-the-scenes covert intelligence action by Starfleet, most likely initiated as a direct consequence of the events in “Balance of Terror.”

One curious bit from this episode that I think has been blown out of all proportion by the fans and by later writers of the Star Trek spinoff series was the exchange between the Romulan Commander and Spock in which she asks whether it is true or a myth that “Vulcans are incapable of lying,” and Spock replies, “It is no myth.” Inexplicably, this moment has been cited again and again as proof that Vulcans never lie—except that, as this episode clearly shows, Spock was lying his ass off when he told her that. He lied in order to seduce her and he lied about the “Vulcan death grip.” Vulcans can lie, and they do so when circumstances call for it. I’ve never understood how anybody can cite this episode as proof of the contrary. Sure, one could argue that Spock is half human, but he says in this episode that he self-identifies as Vulcan—a statement consistent with the rest of his on-screen characterization throughout the series.

William Shatner’s performance in this episode is truly top-notch. Sure, he chews scenery like a 500-pound termite, but he plays the part of an unhinged madman superbly. Leonard Nimoy likewise is pitch-perfect. His preternatural calm and dignity are an excellent counterpoint to the subtle seductions of the female Romulan Commander (Joanne Linville). McCoy’s line, “I don’t make house calls,” is a standout moment, delivered with equal parts pride and defiance by DeForest Kelley. The best moment, though, is the romantic liaison between Spock and the Romulan Commander. The depiction of their attraction and affection was kept suitably “alien” at the insistence of Leonard Nimoy, who astutely suggested the now-classic “Vulcan finger-jive.” Joanne Linville is also wonderful and does a great job of selling her irresistible fascination, bordering on obsession, with Vulcans in general and Spock in particular. Her pain and rage upon discovering Spock’s ruse is also spot-on.

Another nice touch is when a Romulan sentry gets the drop on Kirk in the cloaking-device control room, and Kirk tells him a spy is after the device—prompting the sentry to look right at the top-secret component, thereby informing Kirk which one to steal.

The theft of the device is far too easy, of course. Its incorporation into the Enterprise’s shield grid is even more absurd, and is one of this episode’s few serious flaws. It is compounded by the Romulan Commander’s failure to immediately board and search the Enterprise; there is no plausible justification for her delay in doing so. I also found her decision to throw herself into Spock’s arms as he is transported back to the Enterprise somewhat baffling. Spock just betrayed her, so why does she risk making herself a high-value hostage for the enemy? Was his hand-jive really that good? Her actions become even more perplexing when she orders her second-in-command, Tal, to destroy the Enterprise with her aboard. Frankly, her motivations in the final act are a mess.

I had a curious thought while listening to Spock record his “right of statement.” He begins, “My crime is sabotage; I freely admit my guilt.” I wonder if that crime is still on record in the Romulan courts a century later, when he goes to Romulus to foster reunification. Could there still be an open warrant for Spock in 2368?

And how, exactly, does the Enterprise make its warp-nine bid to escape the Romulan ships when only moments earlier it dared not move? After all, they don’t engage the stolen cloaking device until after they’ve fled. That sequence feels like a classic example of trying to pitch a flawed conclusion past the audience by rolling it out with such speed and flair that we buy it based on its bravado alone.

The final scene between Spock and the Romulan Commander is one of the most tantalizing in all of the original series. In just a few minutes of screen time, it is suggested that she made a genuine emotional impact on Spock, one with lingering effects. Likewise, she seems to harbor continued feelings for him, and it is implied that there was more to their assignation aboard her ship than what we were shown. I remember wondering, the first time I learned that Saavik in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan had been imagined as half Romulan and half Vulcan, whether she was the illegitimate child of Spock and the Romulan Commander. It would certainly have explained a lot, wouldn’t it?

Overall, it’s a well-paced episode. The cinematography is good, the editing brisk, and the fight choreography is far from the worst in the show’s run. Despite its final-act flaws, I think it’s one of the most solid, memorable, fun, and consequential episodes of the show’s third season.

David’s Rating: Warp 5 (on a scale of 1 to 6)


Next episode: Season 3, Episode 3 – “The Paradise Syndrome.” U.S. residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

Check the Star Trek Re-Watch Index for a complete list of posts in this series.


Dayton Ward used to be a Marine, which means he can kill you with the remote he used to watch this episode. He’s the author of numerous Star Trek books and three original novels: The Genesis Protocol, The Last World War and its sequel, Counterstrike.

David Mack is not, as has been erroneously reported, an alcoholic—he is a drunkard. He is also the author of several Star Trek novels and the original urban fantasy The Calling, as well as the cowriter of two episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

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