The Corbomite Maneuver
|Show||Star Trek: The Original Series|
|Episode Title||The Corbomite Maneuver|
|Air Date||November 10, 1966|
|Written By||Jerry Sohl|
On a mission to explore the furthest reaches of space – the final frontier, you might say – the Enterprise encounters a mysterious object that presages an even stranger vessel. With a bizarre creature named Balok (Clint Howard) at the helm.
Plot-wise, there’s not much here, but that’s not the point. Instead of a complex plot or strange machinations, “The Corbomite Maneuver” explores the interpersonal relationships of the Enterprise crew as they face a situation increasingly difficult to fathom. A no-win scenario.
Let’s Dig Deeper into The Corbomite Maneuver
Captain James T. Kirk and his crew rarely encounter things that so intensely and thoroughly outstrip them as the Balok of the First Federation does. This episode takes its time to watch the crew interact with one another during a crisis. A crisis they’ve trained for, been commissioned to handle: first contact. Yes, that first contact comes in the form of something appearing out of the darkness of unexplored space and standing in their way. Kirk, Spock, Sulu, Scotty, and Uhura are paragons of efficiency. Knuckling down to work the problem presented to them.
I have often had difficulty with the navigator, Lt. Bailey (Anthony Call), because he’s just so frantic, so jittery. Young and untried Bailey has a difficult time getting a grip on himself. Sulu has to do his job for him when a situation distracts him. He snaps at Spock when reprimanded for not having a report ready for the Captain, sarcastically stating that, “I happen to have a human thing called an adrenal gland,” which made him shout. Spock, taking no guff from his subordinate, shoots back, dryly: “It does sound most inconvenient… have you considered having it removed?”. Throughout the crisis, even Kirk struggles to control Bailey. This is while playing a game of wits with the imposing vessel.
Okay, what else happens?
While Kirk is still attempting to get a grip on the non-threatening cubed space buoy, Bailey is ready to simple lash out and destroy it. “We’ve got phaser weapons; I vote we blast it.” He just wants to go in, guns blazing, rather than working as hard as he can to achieve true, successful first contact. Kirk quickly puts him in his place. “I’ll keep that in mind, Mr. Bailey, when this becomes a democracy.” What’s worse, Bailey actually flips out when the Fesarius’ countdown begins. “Are you all out of your minds? End of watch? It’s the end of everything! What are you, robots? Wound-up toy soldiers? Don’t you know when you’re dying? Watch and regulations and orders… what do they mean when–”. Kirk then cuts him off and dismisses him from the bridge.
It’s a wonder that Bailey got through the academy. What about his Kobayashi Maru? Maybe it’s just that he took a lesson from old Cadet Kirk and cheated. Now that he actually faces the no-win scenario he has no idea how to react.
Everyone else, on the other hand, perform splendidly, making their captain proud. The crew does its job well. Not divided and placed on an alien world, no battling androids, no godlike beings or whiny teenagers. They’re simply working the problem and acting like trained professionals. A fairly well-oiled machine, with Bailey the sole squeaky wheel.
What happens to Bailey in the end of The Corbomite Maneuver?
What I do like is Bailey’s end. Let’s set aside for a moment the fact that he shouldn’t have graduated from the Academy, let alone be assigned to the flagship of the Federation. He’s xenophobic, paranoid, and hot-tempered. And then Kirk brings him aboard Balok’s ship to see the thing he’s been so afraid of, eventually assigning him to become the ambassador to the ultra-powerful First Federation (where were they during the Dominion War, I wonder). It’s good comeuppance in many ways. It lets us imagine how he’s going to continue to grow and become more tolerant. I just wish one of the series down the line would have picked this thread back up and explored it more.
Random Thoughts on Star Trek
Again, I love that this episode strips away all the excessive strange rubber costumes or weird devices that many other episodes become preoccupied with. It simply looks closely at the relationships between the crew. Kirk and McCoy spend a long scene in Kirk’s quarters, discussing Kirk’s decisions, not insubordinately like Bailey, but as friends and longtime colleagues. Kirk keeps jokingly throwing McCoy’s aphorisms back at him. None that we the audience have heard him say, but that we completely believe could have come from the good Doctor. McCoy even forces Kirk into eating salad, pitting Yeoman Rand against Kirk, as she’ll shame him into eating.
Despite Bailey’s nerves that reveal him to be utterly green, Kirk is generally very patient with him Correcting but not berating him, until he truly becomes distracting. He’s training the younger crew. Something we really don’t see much of until Voyager (“Learning Curve”). This is really a solid character study.
Clint Howard as the big bad guy! I’ve always loved this bait-and-switch. Kirk, McCoy, and Bailey beam aboard Balok’s vessel Fesarius, assuming that they’re about to face a great and terrible creature. It turns out to be a benevolent, humorous child-like alien who serves them drinks.
When I was a kid, watching this episode, I would get Orange Kool-Aid ready to drink when Balok offers them the tranya.
For the last time, we see Uhura in command gold. I’m going to say one of two things happened: 1. She had a career crisis and changed her service track, or 2. The ship’s cleaners keep losing her uniform. It’s definitely not a continuity problem.
This is the most brazen use of Shirtless Kirk that we’ve had thus far. Maybe for the entire series? No. There’s much, much more.
“What am I, a doctor or a moon-shuttle conductor? If I jumped every time a light flashed around here, I’d end up talking to myself.”
– McCoy, being curmudgeonly and basically giving the first utterance of his famous “I’m a Doctor, not a…” catchphrase
“I’ve already got a female to worry about. Her name’s the Enterprise.”
– Kirk, another moment in his love-affair with his vessel
Yes! The next review will be a bit strange, and I hope not too long. The Original Series revisits “The Cage,” but through a different lens that I’m really excited for.
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Tyler is a teacher, librarian and the Co-host of The Geek Card Check Podcast. He has been a Film Critic for Ready Steady Cut since 2018.