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The Trek Nation - The Enterprise Incident

The Enterprise Incident

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at August 11, 2006 - 4:46 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Enterprise Incident' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: When a short-tempered, irrational Captain Kirk orders the Enterprise into Romulan space, the ship is promptly captured by three Romulan vessels that couldn't be detected on sensors until they were within firing range. Two Romulan hostages are exchanged for Kirk and Spock, who beam aboard the flagship and are accused of espionage. When Spock declares his belief that Kirk ordered the Enterprise across the Neutral Zone on his own initiative and craving for glory, the Romulan Commander accepts his explanation that Kirk is no longer sane, but a furious Kirk assaults Spock, who uses the "Vulcan Death Grip" to protect himself, killing the captain. But of course there's no such thing as the Vulcan Death Grip, and while Spock distracts the female Romulan Commander by suggesting he might be seduced to remain with the Romulans - or with her, personally - McCoy surgically alters Kirk to look like a Romulan so that, wearing the uniform of one of the exchange hostages, he can sneak aboard and steal the cloaking device that hid the Romulan vessels from the Enterprise. A transmission from Spock to Kirk with the device's location leads to Spock's capture and arrest, but Chekov is able to beam him back to the Enterprise before his execution. The Romulan Commander, who tried to throw herself into the beam to stop it, is also brought on board, and though she orders the destruction of the Enterprise, the cloaking device protects the ship until it has entered Federation space.


Analysis: This was my very favorite Star Trek episode during my youth - more than "The City on the Edge of Forever", more than "Amok Time", even more than "The Empath" - so I shall not even attempt objectivity, though there are things that have always made me roll my eyes like the fact that Romulan women's uniforms are even more absurd than Starfleet women's uniforms. Joanne Linville's Romulan Commander was my favorite female Trek character until Kira, and watching "The Enterprise Incident" again after all these years, that really hasn't changed. She's in command of a fleet of ships! She's thoroughly unintimidated by Kirk and uncowed by his charming smile! Yet she's smart and tough without being the sort of sexless maternal figure that Kate Mulgrew fought hard to turn Janeway into during Voyager's latter seasons, and her fingers-only erotic exchange with Spock is utterly scorching, all the more so because it's so understated and underplayed yet leaves them both quivering.

Something's off from the beginning, with Kirk stomping around the bridge insulting Chekov and grousing at the rest of the crew, so that by the time Spock declares him insane, it's pretty obvious we're watching something agreed upon and staged beforehand for precisely the reasons later declared - so that the Romulan incursion will be entirely on Kirk's head and the crew may be spared any punitive actions, though these are more reasonable Romulans than the vicious ones from Balance of Terror, where the commander was a reasonable man but many of his crew were bloodthirsty and brutal. These Romulans have hubris - they never appear to take the threat to their cloaking technology seriously, and the Commander assumes that Spock will be easily enticed away from his previous loyalties. It also does not seem to occur to them that, once the cloaking device has been stolen, the Starfleet officers may be able to install and use it immediately. This is their weakness, and watching Kirk and Spock play on it is highly enjoyable because unlike all the noble savages they encounter - and the just-plain-savages - these people are worthy adversaries.

And because we know more than they do, the episode manages to be funny while it's also thrilling. Shatner's over-the-top style works perfectly in this scenario, as he rants that Spock is a filthy liar and shouts, "I'LL KILL YOU!" which fits in with Romulan expectations of overly emotional, uncontrolled humans. Summoned to the Romulan ship to take care of him, McCoy announces, "I don't make house calls." Though he's apparently not in on the plot, he picks up right away on his role once aboard; when Spock "instinctively" uses the Vulcan Death Grip on the captain, McCoy manages to quip, "Well, your instincts are still good, Mr. Spock - he's dead!" (He also has the last word of the episode, reminding Kirk that he needs to bob his ears unless Kirk wants to go through life looking like his first officer.) The three main characters work in such lovely synchronicity here even though they don't quite know what each will have to do to pull off this plot. Kirk is apparently polite enough not to ask Spock how the Romulan Commander came to be wearing that negligee, and he does offer to let Spock escort her to her quarters after the mission is over.

But oh, that affair that is not to be! The Romulan Commander is clearly interested in Spock right from the start, when she notices him on the Enterprise bridge and invites him to beam over with the captain via an invitation from Subcommander Tal. She speaks of the common roots and origins shared by Vulcans and Romulans, a subject not explored on the original series and not fully explained for a generation; "We can appreciate the Vulcans, our distant brothers," she tells Kirk. Though her appreciation for Spock is decidedly not fraternal. She offers him various forms of Romulan ale; she tries to recruit him not only by insisting that someone of his capabilities should have his own ship, but by trying to appeal to his artistic and aesthetic sensibilities, using herself as representative of all that he might enjoy in Romulan culture. When he confesses that he is half-human - a rather surprising admission, since this is something he has tried to downplay on the Enterprise and which could cost him her interest - she tries to appeal to his emotional nature as well, and offers him something she considers similarly intimate: her first name.

Spock's reciprocal seduction is effortlessly sophisticated, soft-spoken, intense; I was always more of a Kirk girl than a Spock girl but "The Enterprise Incident" offers an undeniable display of his appeal. He manages to convince the Romulan Commander to slip into something more comfortable with no more than a suggestion that her beautiful name is incongruous with her military uniform, then declares almost breathlessly that her attire is not only more appropriate, but should actually stimulate their conversation, with an emphasis on "stimulate." Then he echoes the Vulcan ritual bonding finger-touching that we first witnessed between Sarek and Amanda in "Journey to Babel", but this isn't a chaste greeting between husband and wife; it's a prelude to whatever sort of emotional or mental connection they form when they touch one another's faces, and while it is possible to believe that Spock is faking it in the moment to buy Kirk time to steal the cloaking device, he makes clear at the end of the episode that he considers it neither artificial nor casual.

Kirk has a great many flings with a great many women over the course of Star Trek, but they're really never a bonding between equals: we see him either with child-women like Shahna and Rayna, with intelligent and strong but less educated women like Edith Keeler and Miramanee, or with clever vixens whom he puts in their places like Sylvia and Deela. Spock's other romances are even more painful, the pining Leila, the drippy Droxine, and Zarabeth who gets him only because he's stopped being the Spock we know. Not counting the tease of Kirk's forced kiss with Uhura, the Romulan Commander is the one truly worthy love interest all series, and it's that much more enticing because she's an antagonist, an adversary. We don't really want Spock to defect and join her, yet somehow she doesn't look foolish for believing that he might. Nor does he look foolish for appearing momentarily regretful, when she demands to know how he could betray her, that he must define himself first and foremost as first officer of the Enterprise.

Joanne Linville is unforgettable as the Romulan Commander, and her chemistry with both Shatner and Nimoy is such that her character has formed lasting bonds in Bantam and Pocket Books fiction with both Kirk and Spock. (In fact the Romulan Commander has had three first names that I know of, and three distinct backstories, in official fiction based on the series, though the fan fiction, particularly Kathleen Dailey's Unspoken Truth (one of my favorite fan novels in more than 25 years of reading them, though I cannot in good conscience recommend it to anyone underage). There are so many moments in this episode I love: Scotty's proclamation of loyalty to Kirk ("And if you make any attempt to board or commandeer the Enterprise, it will be blown to bits along with as many of you as we can take with us"), his huffy refusal to go to sickbay when McCoy demands his presence ("We're surrounded by enemy vessels ready to attack us. I don't know of anything more urgent than that!") and his delight upon seeing Kirk when he goes ("Well, you look like the devil himself, but as long as you're alive!"), the look on Tal's face when he sees his Commander dressed for the evening, Kirk demanding that Scotty throw the switch for the cloaking device...in more than three decades of watching, this episode has held up perfectly for me.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.