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The Trek Nation - The Trouble With Tribbles

The Trouble With Tribbles

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at March 31, 2006 - 7:45 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Trouble With Tribbles' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: When the Enterprise is summoned to space station K-7 by an paranoid Federation administrator who wants to be certain of winning the rights to develop Sherman's Planet, Kirk is irritated to find himself responsible for guarding the quadrotriticale grain stored on the station. The Federation officer, Baris, is convinced that the Klingons will try to sabotage the project, yet Kirk must comply when the station administrator agrees to allow Captain Koloth and a shipful of Klingons shore leave on the station. Meanwhile, Uhura brings aboard the Enterprise a small purring creature called a tribble that reproduces extremely quickly. The tribbles are harmless, but have voracious appetites and become agitated around Klingons. Spock suspects that the rapidly multiplying tribbles might have infiltrated the grain on the station. This proves to be the case, but McCoy discovers that most of them are dead because the grain was poisoned. When the surviving tribbles react in a distressed manner to the presence of Baris' assistant Darvin, the Enterprise crew discovers that Darvin is a Klingon agent. He is arrested, and Scotty rids the Enterprise of its thousands of tribbles by beaming them all into Koloth's engine room.


Analysis: What's left to say about "The Trouble With Tribbles"? It's probably the best-known Star Trek episode even to people who've never paid attention to the show; it's a staple of clip shows about the original Star Trek, particularly the scene where Kirk opens the storage bin and thousands of tribbles fall on his head; it spawned the animated sequel "More Tribbles, More Troubles" and the classic Deep Space Nine episode "Trials and Tribbleations", in which Sisko's crew interacts with Kirk's; and scene for scene, it has more laugh-out-loud moments than any other Star Trek episode, from Kirk's lament that his crew didn't fight to defend him to Scotty's assurance that the beasties will be "no tribble at all." The episode's writer, David Gerrold, even wrote a book about the making of the episode (it can be downloaded for free from Gerrold's publisher here).

One would think that this episode might have dated, become predictable or even grown annoying, given its prominence in Star Trek lore; instead it's as funny as ever and has the added value of sweet nostalgia, watching wonderful comic performances from two Star Trek actors who are no longer living. Scotty is in relatively few scenes in "The Trouble With Tribbles" but his lines are unforgettable, and McCoy gets in several classic moments sparring with Spock and delivering news about his discoveries. Poor Captain Kirk is left in the position to playing the straight man to each of them and to Chekov, whose passion for Russian culture goes overboard (to an unintentionally funny degree now that we know the Soviet Union and Leningrad won't have survived long enough to justify Chekov's insistence that scotch was inwented by a little old lady there). At moments one can see the antecedents of Denny Crane in Shatner's Kirk, the sense that his accustomed control is slipping from his grip and he must learn to laugh at it with his friends or risk a breakdown.

The episode starts cute, with Spock's insistence to Chekov that he can't smell the Klingons because odors cannot travel through the vacuum of space, then Kirk and Spock correcting Chekov's nationalistic pride about who first mapped the region. They are interrupted by a priority one distress call, establishing the balance of wit and plot that is paced perfectly throughout the episode. Poor Baris doesn't have a chance - Kirk is insulting him and Spock talking him down from the first moments - and before Spock has finished convincing Kirk that the Klingons may pose a real threat, Cyrano Jones and his tribbles have entered the story. Jones is Harry Mudd without the nasty edge, interested only in money and liquor, which makes him somewhat more forgettable but also more sympathetic. While Uhura is bringing the first tribble onto the ship, Kirk is dealing with the insufferably cheerful Koloth, and by the time Baris has registered a complaint about the station swarming with Klingons, McCoy has already adopted one of the baby tribbles to study.

Then, while Spock and McCoy are sharing priceless moments aboard the ship such as Spock petting a tribble he claims has no effect on the Vulcan nervous system and McCoy declaring that he likes them better than he likes Spock ("Doctor, they do have one redeeming characteristic...they do not talk too much"), Scotty and Chekov are listening to insults from a boisterous Klingon who calls Kirk a a swaggering, overbearing, tin-plated dictator with delusions of godhood. Chekov's mad enough to hit someone. Scotty holds him back. Then the Klingon compares the Enterprise to a garbage scow and says the ship should be hauled away as garbage, and it's too much for Scotty to take. Back on the ship, Kirk demands to know who threw the first punch (I found myself looking for O'Brien and Bashir in the lineup) and seems sort of impressed when Scotty explains that he just couldn't take the insults. But of course, he adds (while teasing faux Scottish music plays in the background), it wasn't the insults to Kirk himself, but the ship. To add insult to injury, when Kirk goes to take his seat on the bridge, he sits on a squeaking tribble in his command chair.

The remainder of the episode laces action with nonstop funny moments: Baris insisting that Jones is a spy, Kirk finding tribbles in his chicken sandwich, the fluffy avalanche from the storage compartment, McCoy bursting in to declare that he knows how to stop them from breeding now and Kirk threatening to hold Baris in irons if he doesn't shut up. The last scene on the station is a competition to see who can upstage whom, with Baris preening about his expectation of having destroyed Kirk's career while Koloth demands an apology and Jones insists upon his innocence. The tribbles upstage everyone, unmasking the Klingon agent who somehow managed never to trigger a medical scanner before McCoy examined him, which shuts up Baris and pleases Kirk even though, in fact, the very thing he was sent to prevent has happened right under his nose and the grain has been destroyed. It's having been right about Baris' idiocy, Jones' meddling and the Klingons' treachery that matters.

The Klingons are never a real threat here: in extreme contrast to the thugs from "Errand of Mercy", they never rise above the level of comic adversary...and the Organian Peace Treaty that's supposed to render weapons and fists alike inoperable in case of conflict between humans and Klingons somehow doesn't kick in, allowing the bar brawl to proceed with no serious injuries but a lot of sliding over tabletops and counters. The episode ends on yet another comic note as Scotty announces that he beamed all the tribbles onto the Klingon ship, making Kirk relieved to hear that he didn't send them into space, but what did he expect the Klingons to do with them? It's not supposed to be deep. It just happens to be flawlessly executed, showing off the original series cast and its chemistry to the best possible effect.


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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.