And after the misstep of the first episode of the third season, here’s a great episode! The Enterprise Incident not only marks the return of the Romulans who appeared in Balance of Terror in the first season, but it can be said that it’s the progenitor of all those splendid TNG episodes in which Jean-Luc Picard confronts the cunning and devious Romulans! There’s also another thing that would become a sort of cliché in subsequent incarnations of the brand: the doctor changes one character’s appearance to make him/her look like another race. In Deep Space Nine we saw this trick a lot!
But let’s go to the plot. Captain Kirk is stressed out and treats everyone badly. When he orders to violate the neutral zone and enter Romulan territory no one has the courage to contradict him. Of course, in no time the Enterprise is surrounded by three Romulan warships (which for some reason have the shape of Klingon D7 Cruisers), and Kirk has to negotiate a way out with Sub-Commander Tal (Jack Donner). Except that Kirk doesn’t seem in good shape for a negotiation, and does nothing but threaten to destroy the ship at the first sign of aggression by the Romulans. After a while, an agreement is reached to transport Kirk and Spock to the Romulan flagship to meet the officer in command of the operation, the charming Romulan played by Joanne Linville whose name is never disclosed.
So begins a battle of intellects with a lot of double play and deception that includes Kirk faking his own death only to return on board of the Romulan ship in disguise, and Spock letting himself be tempted by the beautiful Romulan woman in very tense scenes from the point of view of both suspense and eroticism. This is somewhat surprising given that we are talking about the half-Vulcan and not the incorrigible Captain Kirk! When the real mission of Kirk and Spock is revealed, there’s a race against time to escape to Federation territory and try to save Spock who has completed what was essentially a suicide mission.
The Enterprise Incident is truly phenomenal. The Star Trek universe is enriched once more with the development of those Romulans briefly seen before as enemies of the Federation but of whom we knew little about. For example, it’s revealed here that Romulans and Vulcans are distant relatives, one race long ago but then separated pm two different evolutionary paths. Also, here comes the cloaking device that would be found in all subsequent Star Trek series (and that eventually the Romulans would then lend to Starfleet for the USS Defiant during the war against the Dominion, in the episode The Search, third season of Deep Space Nine). Another interesting thing is the fact that a woman is in command of the Romulans, who are not presented as pure villains compared to the Federation heroes , on the contrary! The latter are those entering Romulan space and violating the treaty that created the neutral zone. Sure, they do it to prevent some destructive use of the new cloaking device, but I was pleased to note that the story is not presented as a conventional battle between right and wrong. By the way, this is another element that we would often find in subsequent series, especially in Deep Space Nine.
So what else to say? The Enterprise Incident is certainly among the top 10 episodes of the original series, which gives me hope for the rest of the third season whose reputation is far from good. So, ahead with (moderate) optimism! Ciao!
PS: I suspect that this episode is the inspiration for Unification (fifth season of The Next Generation) in which the now ambassador Spock works for a reunification between Romulans and Vulcans.
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Next episode: The Paradise Syndrome