*** (3 stars out of 5)
Dashing pirate Han Solo, betrayed by a friend, has been frozen in corbomite for hired goon Boba Fett to deliver to gangster Jabba the Hutt in punishment for an old debt, when suddenly...
Oh, sorry. CORBOMITE. Right. Back when Yeoman Rand was still newly assigned, the ship is trapped by a brightly coloured, hypnotically swirling, gelatinous cube. When they try to pull away, it lashes out with increasingly dangerous radiation until they are forced to destroy the thing in self-defense.
Kirk figures their reaction time was slow and starts the bridge crew running drills. He wants to turn 94% efficiency into 100%. McCoy thinks he's riding the new navigator Bailey pretty hard. (If this is Gary Mitchell's replacement, no wonder the guy's scared.)
McCoy makes Kirk eat a salad. The Captain reacts the way I often do to vegetables. "What the devil is this? Green leaves?"
It's fair to say everybody's a little on edge. This only gets worse when the mile-wide flagship Fesarius of the First Federation (WAY above Enterprise's power class) pops up.
The alien Commander Balok declares them savage and hostile for having destroyed a poor, helpless warning buoy. He ignores their attempts to explain and starts a countdown to their annihilation.
(Helpfully, the CGI boffins corrected the chronometer throughout, matching it correctly with the dialog in exactly the way it hadn't been originally. Call me a hyper-nerd, but I think this sort of thing is the best use of everyone's time. Cheers.)
Captain Kirk continues to affirm a desire for friendship and understanding and Balok keeps ignoring him and verbally posturing. Navigator Bailey has a meltdown around the 10 minute mark, jumping around and calling everybody ROBOTS! until he has to be escorted out. Even the seasoned crew are tetchy: McCoy calls Sulu's countdown annoying, Kirk calls McCoy's philosophy quaint, and Scotty casts aspersions on Spock's sainted mother.
Kirk decides Balok is bluffing... and bluffs back. Kirk "warns" the menace that when is Enterprise is destroyed, the (fictional) corbomite they carry will reflect the energy back with equal force and kack the guy what brung it!
This works. The countdown ends. Resourceful Janice Rand heats coffee with a hand phaser since the power is out. Balok drags the ship around on a tractor beam for a awhile (I guess he knew the episode needed padding), the Enterprise yanks back, and in the ensuing tug-of-war Balok's ship has a seeming overload. He calls for help.
When they beam over they find it's all been a test. A smokescreen. Balok is not the puppet they've seen, he's the FAR MORE MENACING child Clint Howard with adult Walter Edmiston's voice. He breaks out the booze and explains. He wanted to gauge how honestly peaceful they were because... you guessed it: he's LONELY. Wants conversation. An exchange of information.
That's what our guys are out there for, after all. So Kirk makes Bailey their ambassador and all ends well.
Sure. Because Bailey seems like the sort of level-headed guy you want on a First Contact mission, especially with a powerful, mercurial prankster who makes radioactive death threats. Maybe that's why the First Federation never reappears... Bailey and Balok died the next day in a drunken airlock prank that got out of control.
I guess it's true what they say: it gets harder to make friends as you get older.
Best line: Doctor McCoy's "What am I? A doctor or a moon shuttle conductor? If I jumped every time a light came on around here I'd start talking to myself."