Star Trek: Season 3, Episode Two “The Enterprise Incident”

Stardate: 5027.3 (2268)
Original Air Date: September 27, 1968
Writer: D.C. Fontana
Director: John Meredyth Lucas

“It is not a lie to keep the truth to oneself.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Dr. McCoy records something unusual in his medical log (a rare log entry from the good country doctor) –Captain Kirk has been unusually irritable lately. Is it because the Enterprise has spent too much time on patrol? Or is something else agitating the captain? Kirk makes a seemingly erratic order for the Enterprise to enter the Romulan Neutral Zone. In the Season 1 classic “Balance of Terror,” we learned that crossing into the Neutral Zone can quickly lead to a volatile situation. Suddenly, three Romulan ships de-cloak and surround the Enterprise as it sits in forbidden territory (apparently, the Romulans are now using technology borrowed from the Klingons).

Subcommander Tal of the Romulan fleet (Jack Donner) appears onscreen and demands the immediate surrender of the Enterprise. He gives the crew one hour tom make their decision, knowing that communications to Starfleet will take upwards of three weeks to arrive. While deliberating over their options, Kirk and Spock’s presence is requested aboard the Romulan vessel in order to meet the unnamed Romulan Commander (Joanna Linville) and she promptly accuses Kirk of espionage, while Kirk claims the Enterprise suffered a mere technical malfunction which caused the Neutral Zone crossing. However, when Spock is interrogated, he suggests Kirk has actually gone insane. Believing she can trust Spock, since a Vulcan cannot lie, the Romulan Commander then attempts to detain the Enterprise. Scotty, acting as Captain, refuses the Romulan Commander’s demands and threatens mutual self-destruction instead.

Kirk is imprisoned aboard the Romulan vessel, while Spock earns the trust of Commander –he is promised a ship of his own if he will only betray the Enterprise. Spock then follows her lead and even uses the “Vulcan Death Grip” on Kirk while he is imprisoned! Did Kirk go insane? Has Spock turned traitorous? As it turns out, Spock only used the Vulcan Nerve Pinch (there is no such thing as the Vulcan Death Grip) and Kirk is still alive back in the Enterprise’s sickbay. Unsurprisingly, Kirk and Spock have been enacting a ruse on behalf of the Federation in order to investigate the new Romulan cloaking technology. Kirk dresses in the garb of a Romulan soldier and beams aboard the Romulan ship, while Spock allows himself to be seduced by the Romulan Commander. She decides to slip into something more comfortable (“Romulan women are not like Vulcan females. We are not dedicated to pure logic and the sterility of non-emotion”), allowing Spock and Kirk the ability to communicate about the Romulan cloaking device. However, their signal is triangulated by the Romulans. Kirk sneaks around the Romulan ship until he narrowly captures the cloaking device (which looks suspiciously like the machine from “The Changeling”) and Spock is detained. Kirk returns the cloaking device to the Enterprise.

Shortly before he is scheduled for execution, Spock is beamed back aboard the Enterprise (Vulcans and Romulans appear nearly identical on starship scanners), but the Commander grabs ahold of Spock and is beamed aboard, as well. She is then detained as the Enterprise speeds away from the Romulans at Warp 9, but the enemy ships re in hot pursuit. Thankfully, Scotty manages to install the cloaking device aboard the Enterprise and they escape undetected.

Meanwhile, Spock privately indicates his romantic feelings for the Romulan Commander: “Military secrets are the most fleeting of all. I hope that you and I exchanged something more permanent…” What has passed between them will remain a secret for the time being.

“The Enterprise Incident” offers a welcome return to form after the silly season opener “Spock’s Brain.” In some ways it reminded me of Spock’s apparent betrayal in the Season 1 two-parter “The Menagerie” in which a method is soon revealed to his madness. Nothing is at it seems in this episode –Kirk wears the garb of lunacy, deliberately earning the ire of his crewmen, and then he disguises himself as a Romulan, while Spock feigns infatuation only to secretly develop romantic inclinations, politics be damned. “The Enterprise Incident” is about secrets, lies, and the act of “cloaking” one’s true intentions. It is a defense of realpolitik. Cold War espionage themes take center stage as if to say: trust no one! Is Kirk insane? Has Spock betrayed him? Does the Romulan Commanded truly trust Spock? Where do our allegiances lie? The irony of this episode is that the Romulan Commander was correct from the beginning: Kirk was indeed intending to spy on the Romulans. However, the Romulan Commander’s fatal flaw came in placing too much trust in Spock.

One question persists for me: Now that the Federation possesses this new cloaking device, will they replicate it and cross into the Neutral Zone in the future? Will they spy on the Romulans using their own technology. Will all Federation starships now be outfitted with this cloaking device?

Writer D.C. Fontana was inspired to write this episode based on the Pueblo incident –an incident during the Vietnam War in which the U.S.S. Pueblo, a naval spy ship, was captured by North Korea in January, 1968. The crew was tortured and eventually released later that year, but the Pueblo remains in North Korean custody to this day. Apparently, D.C. Fontana was disappointed with the final outcome of this episode after it was heavily revised.

This was one of three episodes directed by John Meredyth Lucas, writer, producer, and show director (“The Ultimate Computer,” “The Enterprise Incident,” and “Elaan of Troyius”).

Star Trek Trivia:

  • This episode marks the second and final time we see the Romulans in TOS. It also offers a rare log entry by Dr. McCoy.  
  • This was technically the first time the Klingon D7 vessels can be seen, albeit helmed by Romulans (the relationship between Romulans and Klingons is further explained in season three’s “Elaan of Troyius”).
  • The Romulans refer to their bridge as a “Command Center.”
  • The Romulan cloaking device prop consisted of part of Nomad’s head from “The Changeling” and a globe from “Return to Tomorrow”.
  • This episode is the first to feature a female commander in TOS.
  • Some fans complained to D.C. Fontana because they felt Spock’s romance with the Romulan Commander contradicted the pon farr mating cycle in “Amok Time.” However, the hand gestures offered continuity of the Vulcan practices.
  • According to Romulan custom, the execution of state criminals is both painful and unpleasant.
  • The other Romulans in this episode were played by: Robert Gentile (1938-2000), Mike Howden (1932-2010), and Gordon Coffey (1939-present). Additionally, Richard Compton (1938-2007) reprises his background role in the show in his second of two episodes. He was married to Veronica Cartwright (of Alien fame) and later directed a TNG episode.

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.

3 thoughts on “Star Trek: Season 3, Episode Two “The Enterprise Incident”

  1. This is just one episode to remind me how often unsettling military-drama episodes for the Trek universe can be. It may be just my opinion. It’s easy enough to understand why the Trek future could be a tool to educate us on our present. As for secret missions where our heroes resort to a most discomforting form of deception, certainly in Spock’s case, I feel relieved when they can go back to being explorers.

    At least I can fondly remember this one for the lovely and sadly departed Joanne Linville, who brought a wonderful feminine charisma to the command of a spaceship in classic Star Trek.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s