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    A Silly Lower Decks Joke Is A Callback To Star Trek’s Goofiest Alien

    Balok was a notorious figure for young Trekkies who grew up watching the show. Thanks to a photo montage that played over the credits of “Star Trek,” kids got to see the Balok puppet’s terrifying face every single week. Given his cat-like eyes, permanent frown, and outsize head, Balok induced nightmares in many a young Trekkie, and I have personally met more than one person who admitted to hiding their eyes when they knew Balok was set to appear in the show’s credits. 

    “The Corbomite Maneuver” is an episode about military tactics, and Captain Kirk (William Shatner) did most of his careful negotiating and military bluffing with the puppet of Balok. In order to hide the puppet’s mechanical head movements and unarticulated lips, the makers of the episode added a wavy blur filter to the Enterprise’s viewscreen. The wave effect, of course, only made Balok scarier. Later in the episode, after Kirk is able to go to the Fesarius, he sees the puppet up close and finds the real Balok to be unthreatening. Both Kirk and Balok admit to bluffing one another and are happy to let diplomacy commence in earnest. 

    The Balok alien in “Lower Decks” is, hilariously, clearly only a head and torso placed on a tabletop. It, too, doesn’t have articulated lips, and can also rotate its head around 360°. To add to the mechanical puppet-ness of the creature, it also sparks and smokes from under its robe, clearly a malfunctioning machine. When Freeman, in a fit of impatience, lifts the Balok puppet above her head, it panics. Miniature arms and legs extend from under its robe. Lieutenant Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) points out that the puppet is a real, biological person.

    It’s just a puppet-like person.

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