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.”
Dr. McCoy records something unusual in his medical log (a rare log entry from the good country doctor) –Captain Kirk has been uncharacteristically irritable lately. Is it because the Enterprise has spent too much time on patrol? Or is something else agitating the captain? Suddenly, 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 cloaking 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 to 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 has suffered a mere technical malfunction which caused the Neutral Zone crossing. However, when Spock is interrogated, he suggests that 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 Tal –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 inside 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 is now dressed in the garb of a Romulan soldier and he 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. Hoping to escape capture, Kirk sneaks around the Romulan ship where he narrowly confiscates 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 (apparently, 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 are 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.
My Thoughts on “The Enterprise Incident”
“The Enterprise Incident” offers a welcome return to form after the silly season three 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 Spock’s apparent treason or madness is quickly revealed to be a carefully laid out plan. We would do well to remember there is always method to Spock’s madness. Nothing is as 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 in this episode 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 then cross into the Neutral Zone in the future? Or do the Romulans possess the ability to de-cloak their own technology thereby revealing ships who cloak themselves? Will all Federation starships now be outfitted with this cloaking device? Introducing world-altering technology into Star Trek can sometimes be a thorny issue.
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.
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.
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Good points Mike! I am a sucker for episodes that feature the Romulans, but your point regarding deception is well taken. Thanks and hope you are doing great-
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You’re welcome and I’m doing fine after a farewell party for a job that I just completed.
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