Star Trek Re-Watch: “The Enterprise Incident”

The Enterprise Incident
Written by D.C. Fontana
Directed by John Meredyth Lucas

Season 3, Episode 2
Production episode: 3×04
Original air date: September 27, 1968
Star date: 5431.4

Mission Summary:

On the bridge of Enterprise, Captain Kirk snaps at Chekov and Spock for no apparent reason. But it’s not just a case of the Mondays–Doctor McCoy explains that Kirk’s been short-tempered and (in scientific terms) acting like a total jackass to just about everyone onboard for days now. There’s no getting around it: Captain Kirk has come down with a severe case of douchebaggery.

Kirk turns to Sulu and orders him to change course.

KIRK: Come about to one eight five, mark three.
SULU: But Sir, that’ll lead us directly into the Romulan Neutral Zone.

Sulu, Chekov, Spock, and Uhura all look around at each other nervously. Mr. Scott and Uhura discuss very loudly that no order has come through from command to take this measure, and Kirk sharply instructs them to shut their pieholes.

But it’s too late. In the Neutral Zone, two–no, three–Klingon-designed Romulan ships appear from the ether, surrounding Enterprise.

The Romulans must have cloaking technology now. The Enterprise crew goes to red alert and they receive a signal from Subcommander Tal, the humorless and smug leader. He takes a curious interest in Spock’s presence, but quickly orders Kirk to surrender or face certain destruction. Kirk has one hour to decide.

Kirk convenes a senior staff meeting to discuss their options, but things are grim: they can fight and be completely destroyed; they can surrender (giving Romulans access to “everything there is to know about a starship”); or they can destroy the Enterprise themselves to keep it from the enemy. When McCoy points out they wouldn’t even be in this situation if Kirk hadn’t gone penis-waving around the Neutral Zone, the captain dismisses him from the meeting.

Back on the bridge, Tal has redialed to tell Kirk that the Commander wants to speak with him personally. He invites Kirk and Spock aboard their ship and agrees to transport two Romulans as hostages in exchange for the meeting. The captain is reluctant, but he agrees.

They beam aboard and are introduced to the Commander: a sexy lady-Romulan in a requisite miniskirt and thigh-high boots. But she’s got a core of steel:

KIRK: Commander. I’m honoured.
COMMANDER: I don’t think so, but we have an important matter to discuss. And your superficial courtesies are an overture to that discussion.

Well, yes! Er, um…

She immediately demands to know why they went into the Neutral Zone, and Kirk offers the fabrication that they had a navigational error. She doesn’t buy it and accuses him of spying. She then brings Spock in for his account.

COMMANDER: There’s a well-known saying, or is it a myth, that Vulcans are incapable of lying?
SPOCK: It is no myth.
COMMANDER: Then tell me truthfully now, by your honour as a Vulcan, what was your mission?
SPOCK: I reserve the privilege of speaking only when it will not violate my honor as a Vulcan.
COMMANDER: It is unworthy of a Vulcan to resort to subterfuge.
SPOCK: You’re being clever, Commander. That is unworthy of a Romulan.

Ouch. Spock lets slip that he is keeping the truth to himself, which delights the Commander. She knows she can’t torture the truth out of Spock, but she can hurt (kill) Kirk–and promises to do so if Spock doesn’t give up his secrets. Spock decides to spill the beans and tell the Commander that Kirk has not been himself lately.

KIRK: That’s a lie!
SPOCK: As you can see, Captain Kirk is a highly sensitive and emotional person. I believe he has lost the capacity for rational decision.
KIRK: Shut up, Spock!
SPOCK: I’m betraying no secrets. The commander’s suspicion that Starfleet ordered the Enterprise into the Neutral Zone is unacceptable. Our rapid capture demonstrates its foolhardiness.
KIRK: You filthy liar!
SPOCK: I am speaking the truth for the benefit of the Enterprise and the Federation. I say now and for the record, that Captain Kirk ordered the Enterprise across the Neutral Zone on his own initiative and his craving for glory.
KIRK: I’ll kill you, you filthy traitor! I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you!
SPOCK: He is not sane.

And the Understatement of the Year award goes to Mr. Spock! *polite clapping*

The guards drag a raving Kirk out of the room and throw him into the brig. He tries to fling himself through the forcefield (because that always works…), but recoils in pain.

Meanwhile, the Commander is asking Spock the usual first date questions and Spock explains he’s been working in Starfleet for 18 years, Kirk is an OK boss, and he likes logic and 3-D chess. She points out that he should have a command of his own by now, something he seems to feel rather plainly without her help on the matter. The Commander, with an impressive degree of grace and subtlety, makes it clear that if Spock were to reconsider his loyalties the benefits he would reap would be magnificent. More than that, though, she tempts him with the promise of being around his own kind–sort of?–again.

Kirk’s injuries from the forcefield force Dr. McCoy to make a house call to the Romulan flagship.

COMMANDER: Captain Kirk’s condition?
MCCOY: Well, you can see for yourself, he’s mentally depressed, physically weak, disoriented, displays feelings of persecution and rebellion.
COMMANDER: Then by your own standards of normality, this man is not fully competent.
MCCOY: No, not now.

The Commander seizes on this as reason enough to make Spock captain of the Enterprise. Spock gladly accepts the reins, but Kirk won’t go down quietly. He lunges at Spock, and Spock throws his hand out on Kirk’s face, fingers splayed out. Kirk, in obvious pain, falls unconscious to the floor.

MCCOY: What did you do? What did you do?
SPOCK: I was unprepared for his attack. I instinctively used the Vulcan death grip.
MCCOY: Your instincts are still good, Mister Spock. The captain is dead.

In sickbay, Kirk’s dead body lies on a biobed. Nurse Chapel comes in to look at him, but notices the heart monitor pattering. Shocked, she calls Dr. McCoy over, who is angry she violated his prohibition on entering the room. Kirk is not in fact dead–the “Vulcan death grip” was a lie, and a lie that the Romulans didn’t catch on to. Kirk slowly regains consciousness and McCoy explains to Chapel that he didn’t know it was a charade until he was onboard the Romulan ship. Kirk and Spock have kept the entire thing to themselves to ensure that the Federation is off the hook no matter what happens to them.

And now for Phase 2.

Later, on the bridge, Mr. Scott is called down to sickbay. He says he can’t possibly leave the bridge while in command but Dr. McCoy is very insistent that he head down to see something. (This actually makes sense, because historically no matter what it is Bones never actually tells anyone what it is they need to come down for.) Mr. Scott arrives to find Kirk “surgically altered” to appear Romulan, complete with pointy ears and eyebrows.

SCOTT: Well, you look like the devil himself, but as long as you’re alive. What’s it all about?

Kirk asks for one of the Romulan prisoners onboard to spare a uniform and he prepares to beam over to the Romulan flagship. Unfortunately, since Spock hasn’t yet reported in (for some unknown reason, I mean why, we don’t know, could be anything…), Kirk has to beam in blindly with no coordinates.  “Just don’t put me inside a bulkhead,” he tells Mr. Scott. Sure enough, Kirk manages to appear smack dab in the middle of a hallway. He quickly dispatches a patrol guard.

Meanwhile, Spock is having an agonizing mission. The Commander has invited him for food (I guess that’s supposed to be food, anyway), and drinks (what looks like wiper fluid, followed by some Tang).  She instructs Spock that all he has to do is beam back to the Enterprise with a Romulan landing party and take command of the ship, then haul it to the nearest Romulan base. But she has more to offer than simply the Enterprise:

COMMANDER: Romulan women are not like Vulcan females. We are not dedicated to pure logic and the sterility of non-emotion. Our people are warriors. Often savage. But we are also many other pleasant things.
SPOCK: I was not aware of that aspect of Romulan society.
COMMANDER: As a Vulcan, you would study it. As a human you would find ways to appreciate it.

Best mission ever! She then teases him for not asking her about her first name–which she seductively whispers in his ear.  “How rare, and how beautiful. But so incongruous when spoken by a soldier.” She promises to make herself a little less soldier-like and slips out to change into something more comfortable.

At this point Kirk finally manages to get through to Spock and Spock explains that the cloaking device is in a secured area near the Commander’s quarters. Because Spock is “occupied,” Kirk volunteers to get the device himself as long as Spock things he can sneak out alive afterwards. He’s not sure, but tells Kirk to go anyway. Unfortunately, a peon of Subcommander Tal has intercepted the transmission and goes to find the source of the signal.

Just then the Commander returns–in a slinky, over-the-shoulder black-and-white number. She looks less comfortable, actually, but certainly stunning. Spock agrees that this will help “stimulate” the conversation. Staring at one another, they make the Vulcan sign with their hands. Ever so gently, they begin to touch and caress their hands against one another. They touch each other’s faces intimately. And of course, because even that is much too erotic for ’60s television, the doorbell rings.

It’s Subcommander Tal and he has traced the signal to this room. (Surprise!) The Commander immediately snaps back at Spock. She knows exactly what he’s up to and is sure that they’re after the cloaking device. Unfortunately for them, it’s too late, and Kirk has managed to bring it safely to the Enterprise.

COMMANDER: Why would you do this to me? What are you that you could do this?
SPOCK: First officer of the Enterprise.

She then slaps him, and not just for the cloaking device. He takes it stoically but before his execution demands the Right of Statement. Great, a monologue? She assents, turns on a camera, and lets him ramble away about all the ways in which he doesn’t feel guilty.  This is good, because it buys time for Enterprise to get the cloaking device working to get the shit-hell out of there. They manage to lock onto Spock, though, and beam him back to the ship–but the Commander latched onto him in the process and came over, too! Kirk is delighted. He contacts Tal to let him know that his Commander on board and he should hold his fire. But she steps into view:

COMMANDER: Destroy this vessel. I gave you a direct command! Tal!

Now that’s a commander.

Scotty, who has been scrambling to get their new toy online, thinks he has finally managed it. He’s very nervous about its stability but Kirk orders him to throw the switch, and just in time! Tal is too late, and Enterprise disappears from view. Relieved, Kirk turns to his new prisoner and asks Spock to escort her to her quarters.

SPOCK: It is regrettable that you were made an unwilling passenger. It was not intentional. All the Federation wanted was the cloaking device.
COMMANDER: The Federation. And what did you want?
SPOCK: It was my only interest when I boarded your vessel.
COMMANDER: And that’s exactly all you came away with.
SPOCK: You underestimate yourself, Commander.
COMMANDER: You realize that very soon we will learn to penetrate the cloaking device you stole.
SPOCK: Obviously. Military secrets are the most fleeting of all. I hope that you and I exchanged something more permanent.

The Commander is visibly moved and she vows to keep their wandering hands “our secret.”

Back on the bridge, Kirk receives a call from Dr. McCoy to return to sickbay and undo his Romulanization.

MCCOY: Well, are you coming, Jim? Or do you want to go through life looking like your First Officer?
KIRK: I’m on my way.


I get the feeling this is sort of like my last meal…

“The Enterprise Incident” is outstanding. It should have led the third season, though I suppose that might have been a misleading indicator of the season’s overall quality. It feels almost like a Cold War Bond flick: sort of silly, but tense, sexy, and exciting regardless.

What really works here is Fontana’s dialogue, and it all centers around the Romulan Commander. When she speaks with Kirk, Scotty, Tal, or any of her subordinates, she is forceful, direct, and ruthless in pursuing her goals. I loved it when she dismissed Scotty’s bravado: “You humans make a brave noise.” When Kirk feeds her lies, she confronts him directly and calls him a spy. And when he of course denies it, she playfully suggests: “Your language has always been most difficult for me, Captain. Perhaps you have another word for it.” Their entire exchange is brilliant, really, as she challenges Kirk to accept his own flimsy explanation: “Captain, if a Romulan vessel ventured far into Federation territory without good explanation, what would a starbase commander do? You see, it works both ways. I hardly believe you are the injured party.” Not even Kirk can argue with that. She is a confident and powerful leader and, in other circumstances, might have made a worthy adversary.

But when she speaks to Spock, her language changes markedly. She has a poetry to her that softens the edges, and you can see how Spock’s presence has upset the balance. At first she demands he attend her at dinner, and then she changes her mind and invites him politely instead. She abandons her previous bluntness and their discussions manage that Austen-like feat of talking around the issues–but you know exactly what they really mean (and they do, too). They play off one another, from their jibes about lying being unworthy to a Vulcan (and Spock’s response that cleverness is unworthy to a Romulan) to Spock asking if the guards are invited to dinner, too.

All that said, I don’t buy that she would have fallen for Spock’s ruse. When Tal informs her that a transmission has come from her room, she knows immediately what it is Spock and Kirk were after and pursues them. Where was that presence of mind before? She says that she is part of a warrior culture, but it’s clear that in this world being a warrior is incompatible with being a woman. She has to remake herself–literally1–into a woman, in order to pursue her, ah, other intentions, with Mr. Spock. The kind of intelligence and leadership we see in the beginning can’t coexist at the same moment as her desire for Spock, and so she winds up conned and humiliated before Tal. And this is why women can’t be in charge.

As noted in the Trivia section, originally Spock and the Commander’s fingerplay was going to be conventional kissing. I really just can’t picture that at all. The gesture they chose to go with was brilliant–perfectly Vulcan in its stoicism, but undeniably intimate (and yes, even erotic). The camera lingers on their hands for several moments and it seems alien, even odd, and yet their desire is compelling and unmistakable. In the end, when the Commander confronts Spock about using her, he makes it clear that his affection was genuine and he will keep the experience with him always. Is that the human side of him?

I found it interesting that like “Balance of Terror” this one broaches suspicion of Spock as a traitor, and from both sides of the equation. McCoy thinks he has sold out the Federation; the Commander thinks he has sold out his people. One of the first questions the Commander asks him is to whom he owes his allegiance. Whose side is he on? Being mixed-race carries with it this assumption that he can’t be trusted. His motives are unclear. He can’t really be Starfleet, he couldn’t possibly, she assumes. When she asks what he is that he could do this, the answer isn’t that he’s Vulcan or human: it’s that he’s the First Officer of the Enterprise. He’s a Starfleet man, with a duty and a mission. It makes the case that the Federation is able transcend race. It is bigger, and greater, and more inclusive and important than that one thing, than any one thing, and that a common ideology can unite all these disparate people and their histories. She may share a heritage, but she’s an enemy to those who share his mission and ideals, and that’s more important. She understands that, too, though. They are doing what they must in the line of duty to queen and country, so to speak.

I know people have pointed to this episode to prove that Vulcans can lie, but I think it’s worth a closer look than that. Spock adheres to his own honor code (“It is not a lie to keep the truth to oneself”), so he does omit information, but I believe that everything else he says is truthful. His admission that he’s considered the lucrative temptation of turning traitor is probably true; his flattery of the Commander is almost certainly sincere. He manages to deflect some questions deftly, like whether or not he will flip sides: “It would be illogical to assume that all conditions remain stable.” But none of those are lies. Can anyone point to something they think Spock lied about?

As for Shatner, I think he delivered a great performance. His behavior in the opening was uncomfortable; his violence in the first act (trying to attack Spock) was outright upsetting. I was sure it was going to be some kind of virus, or mind control, or external stimuli. That Kirk, such a joker!

Final thought: the idea that Kirk’s makeup fooled anyone is deeply disappointing.

1 I loved that dress, though.

Torie’s Rating: Warp 5 (on a scale of 1-6)

Eugene Myers: After last week’s brain wreck, “The Enterprise Incident” comes off as a masterpiece. Actually, it’s a great episode, period. As plodding and humorless as “Spock’s Brain” is, the second episode of the third season is tense, clever, and well paced. Having an interesting plot and fine acting doesn’t hurt either.

Kirk’s aberrant behavior hooks the viewer immediately, especially in conjunction with the ambush by three Klingon cruisers under Romulan command that appear out of nowhere. I imagine the ruse played out by Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock must have fooled or confused some people the first time they saw this; for me, Kirk calling Spock a traitor is always a sign that his surliness is an act, though Starfleet captains are awfully prone to insanity. (Of course, Kirk also easily could have been replaced by an evil counterpart, or been split into two by a transporter, or had his mind swapped out by another consciousness, or simply gone too long without getting some action… I wonder why the rest of the crew didn’t immediately suspect some alien influence given the precedents?)

Their spy mission and the lengths they go to keep their orders a secret seem authentic to me, or at least plausible. This is Cold War espionage in space, complete with prisoner exchanges via transporter, a secret agent who uses sex to get what he wants (Spock, surprisingly), and stolen secrets. In addition to giving us more details on Romulan and Vulcan culture and the schism between their people, it’s great to see how the enemies gather intelligence and try to gain an advantage on each other. The Romulans know Enterprise and that Captain Kirk was “last known to be in command.” Starfleet knew about the Romulan-Klingon alliance and their development of a cloaking device.

This episode marks a rare romance for Spock, one of several we’ll see this season (which I suppose makes his love life not-so-rare). It’s easy to attribute Spock’s interest in the female Romulan commander as mere subterfuge, but there does seem to be genuine mutual attraction. Hard to say when she first became interested in him, but it seemed to be more or less at first sight. Interestingly, before she “invites” Spock to dinner, she tells him, “Attend me,” which is reminiscent of Sarek’s line to Amanda in “Journey to Babel,” also penned by D.C. Fontana: “My wife, attend.”

Having Fontana at the helm for this episode allows for other wonderful bits of continuity, like the reappearance of the Vulcan/Romulan fore(finger)play, which still weirds me out a little. In fact, I was surprised at just how far she and Spock went on their first date—most of their shocking flirtations went over my head the last time I saw this. (Am I the only one who thought the soldier already looked plenty womanly in her uniform?) There’s also that intriguing comment on Spock’s choice to betray the Romulan commander:

SPOCK: It was the only choice possible. You would not respect any other.
COMMANDER: It will be our secret.

“The Enterprise Incident” introduces a few Star Trek firsts. We learn that Vulcans can’t lie, though asking a Vulcan if this is true seems somewhat naïve. We see Romulan ale and those fancy square glasses for the first time, even if the liquor isn’t yet named. And of course there’s the cloaking device, which figures heavily in the movies and later series, and prefigures TNG episodes “The Pegasus” and “Unification.”

I only found a few minor flaws in this episode, such as the fact that Enterprise can hit warp 9 easily when it really has to, completely alien technology can be installed and work perfectly after only fifteen minutes of Scott’s tinkering (and he probably only needed five minutes really), once again they pretend Kirk is dead to get him out of a tight spot, and the Romulans kept their top-secret device “hidden” behind a door lit by red spotlights. Otherwise, this is one of the best episodes of season three. It’s about to get really bad, guys.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 5

Best Line: MCCOY (in response to the Commander’s request to beam over to the Romulan ship): I don’t make house calls!

Syndication Edits: An establishing shot of the Enterprise surrounded by the Romulans; the Commander disbelieving Kirk’s assertion that an instrument malfunction led them to the Neutral Zone; the Commander asking Spock to dinner; the shot of Kirk’s “dead” body in green light on the biobed; the Commander handing Spock some wiper fluid–I mean Romulan ale–and telling him that she has “other inducements”; her follow-up pour of the Tang and line that Romulan women are “not like Vulcan females. We are not dedicated to pure logic and the sterility of non-emotion. Our people are warriors. Often savage. But we are also many other pleasant things”; a shot of them walking down the corridor; and Chekov telling Kirk that they’ve entered the Neutral Zone on their way back to Federation territory.

Trivia: D.C. Fontana cites the Pueblo Incident as her inspiration for this episode. Just a few months prior to her first outline, a U.S. Navy intelligence ship was captured by North Korea while spying on Soviet communications in contested waters. One man died and the rest of the crew was taken prisoner for nearly a year.

In the original draft, both Kirk and McCoy dress as Romulans to capture the cloaking device, which is merely a prototype and not a functioning part of the ship. The original draft also had Spock shower kisses on the Commander–talk about weird. Both Nimoy and Joanne Linville felt that was too “human” and came up with the hand gesture instead. Either way this angered fans who, because of “Amok Time,” thought Vulcans only had sex every seven years. Fontana argued that the pon farr was a fertility cycle and Vulcans could have sex outside the scope of pon farr whenever they wished.  Because this is all very important to Star Trek geeks.

Photographic effects duplicated the model of the Romulo-Klingon ship to create the illusion that there were three surrounding Enterprise.

This is the second (after “Balance of Terror“) and final appearance of Romulan characters in Star Trek. The Romulan symbol that looks like a spoked color wheel is never again seen in any iteration of Star Trek.

The Romulans use Klingon disruptor pistols.

The cloaking device was made from part of NOMAD‘s head and Sargon’s sphere from “Return to Tomorrow.”

Other Notes: Joanne Linville was asked to reprise her role in TNG’s “Face of the Enemy,” but she was unavailable.

Previous Episode: Season 3, Episode 1 – “Spock’s Brain.”

Next Episode: Season 3, Episode 3 – “The Paradise Syndrome.” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

About Torie Atkinson & Eugene Myers

TORIE ATKINSON is a NYC-based law student (with a focus on civil rights and economic justice), proofreader, sometime lighting designer, and former blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books. EUGENE MYERS has published short fiction in a variety of print and online zines as E.C. Myers. He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. When he isn’t watching Star Trek, he reads and writes young adult fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is available now from Pyr.