Editor’s note: This review is part of an ongoing series by blogger, Joshua, who is reviewing the Star Trek Original Series.
Episode: The Corbomite Maneuver — Season 1, Episode 10 (1966)
Director: Joseph Sargent
Writer: Jerry Sohl
On a routine mapping expedition in previously unexplored space, the Enterprise encounters a massive craft that sentences the crew to death for a border infraction. Kirk talks his way out of it, then learns that the aggressive alien persona is just a charade. The “Corbomite Maneuver” is a nearly perfect example of the old school franchise running on all cylinders.
Lt. Dave Bailey (Anthony Call) and Captain Kirk frame the primary dichotomy in this episode. Bailey is your classic overly excited loose cannon type, and Kirk has promoted him too rapidly. Don’t blame the Enterprise’s lawsuit-worthy HR department; Kirk sees a little bit of the ol’ Jim Junior in Bailey, what with all his foaming at the mouth in panic and wanting to disintegrate everything. The audience is meant to identify with Bailey early on, and when he cracks under pressure, to ask ourselves Could I do better? “Corbomite” is an exploration of this grand question: How shall we face fear and death? In this context, Bailey’s panic and subsequent exile from the bridge is a moment of maximum shame.
The climax of the episode is of course Kirk’s invention and deployment of the Corbomite Maneuver itself, and it’s a wonderful illustration of the Bizarre Love Triangle in action. Spock perceives the threat of destruction in rational terms, like a chess game where – if you’re gonna lose – you may as well resign. McCoy wants to bitch and settle scores. But because Kirk is some kind of crazy-ass space magician, he decides that the governing metaphor of this situation is poker:
Kirk: Since the early years of space exploration, Earth vessels have had incorporated into them a substance known as…corbomite. It is a material and a device that prevents attack on us. If any destructive energy touches our vessel, a reverse reaction is created, destroying–
Balok: You now have two minutes.
Kirk: – destroying the attacker!
Shatner really does his job on this one, you can almost see him reach down and pull the bluff straight out of his ass. No one on the bridge knows what the hell he’s talking about, except maybe Scott. You can totally see it on the chief engineer’s face: “You magnificent bastard! You fucking clown!”
Buying the crazy subterfuge, the aliens try to tow the Enterprise somewhere for internment, but our heroes manage to disable the alien craft. Because he’s James T. Fucking Kirk, the captain decides to go over and rescue its crew. Literally decades later, when Kirk says at the end of Star Trek: Wrath of Khan (1982) that he’s always managed to cheat death and pat himself on the back for his ingenuity, this is what he’s talking about, this moment right here.
As long as we’re talking Khan, I should mention Kirk’s most passionate line of the episode, delivered to Spock when the first officer tries to accompany him on the landing party:
If I’m wrong, and it’s a trap, I want you here.
This isn’t practical necessity, this is love – You are the only one I can’t afford to lose – and it prefigures the Gilgamesh and Enkidu arc of their relationship, culminating in Spock’s destined, necessary sacrifice in the second movie.