Retro Review: Trials and Tribble-ations

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A vengeful Klingon forces Sisko and crew to travel back in time to space station K-7, where Captain Kirk’s Enterprise and lots of tribbles once discovered a shipment of grain poisoned by the Klingons.

Plot Summary: Required to testify before the Department of Temporal Investigations about his recent time tampering, Sisko explains that the crew of the Defiant was inadvertently drawn into the past while transporting the Bajoran Orb of Time back to Bajor from Cardassia. A seemingly innocent trader caught behind enemy lines in the Klingon-Cardassian conflict took advantage of his proximity to the Orb to drag the ship back in time to the space station K-7, where he had been living as Arne Darvin, a Klingon spy who poisoned a shipment of quadrotriticale and was unmasked by Captain James T. Kirk with some help from the tribbles that had spread all over the station. Darvin became obsessed with the idea of assassinating Kirk and rewriting history, so Sisko sent Odo and Worf to the station while beaming himself, Dax, O’Brien, and Bashir onto Kirk’s Enterprise to search for Darvin. They discovered that Darvin had planted a bomb inside a tribble and beamed the explosive safely into space, though not before Bashir and O’Brien became involved in the fight with the Klingons that Scotty started on K-7, nor before Worf was forced to explain his people’s shame over this era when Klingons had smooth foreheads. Ultimately, Sisko insists, they preserved the timeline rather than tampered with it, and the investigators conclude that they too might have taken advantage of an opportunity to meet Kirk. Sisko does not mention that the crew inadvertently brought back some tribbles, eradicated in their own century by the Klingons, and the Promenade is now covered with them.

Analysis: A fixture on Top 10 lists not only for Deep Space Nine but for the entire franchise, “Trials and Tribble-ations” is perfect Star Trek in all its hokey, nostalgic glory. The writers had already proven their chops at borrowing from the original Star Trek with the “Mirror, Mirror” crossovers when they wrote this 30th anniversary episode for the franchise and they outdid themselves, creating a twist on “The Trouble With Tribbles” that was fun when it was first broadcast and has since become a classic. My only complaint about it when it aired was that it highlighted how humorless the second generation Star Trek series seemed in comparison with the original, but looking back from a couple more decades on, it also illustrates how a joke written to explain a seeming continuity error can lead to a serious yet entertaining two-parter on a prequel series created long afterward, since Enterprise took it upon itself to explain the cosmetic differences between 1960s and 1990s Klingons alluded to by Worf. Retconning complications aside – this episode aired too early to call it Jossing, though the temporal investigators are named Dulmer and Luscly in honor of The X-Files‘ Mulder and Scully – “Trials and Tribble-ations” is pretty much perfect Trek. The use of intercut footage, restored before the original series was remastered for DVD release, rivals anything seen in Zelig or Forrest Gump, and the framing narrative gives us an all-too-rare indication that the writers have the same reverence for the campy aspects of the original Star Trek that they do for the military structure and alien conflicts.

It’s particularly wonderful to see a crew we know and love fit themselves in among the crew we knew and loved first. Unsurprisingly, Dax does so exceptionally well, because she lived in that era as Emony – even had a brief fling with McCoy when he was a student. How hilarious is it that Jadzia spends as much time checking out the opposite sex as Kirk always did, and she’s not even interested in James Tiberius because she’s too dazzled by Spock’s eyes and her memories of McCoy’s hands. She may be Worf’s lover now, but that hasn’t dimmed Dax’s appreciation of all the hot men in Starfleet, nor her disdain for the uniforms women were stuck wearing in the 23rd century. I’m sorry we don’t get to hear her shriek when she sees Koloth in his prime, as she tells Sisko she longs to do; the hideous secret of the Klingons to which Worf alludes, which we will later learn to be a result of Dr. Soong’s stolen Augment DNA, has left Koloth of this era with the same flat forehead as other Klingons. Meanwhile, Bashir flirts with a pretty lieutenant whom he suspects may be his grandmother, and wonders if he needs to impregnate her to resolve a time paradox by which he’d be his own grandpa – an idea later explored on Futurama – and O’Brien finds himself having to lie to Kirk to cover up the fact that he knows Scotty threw the first punch in the brawl with the Klingons. One might question Sisko’s sanity in sending Worf on the away team in an era when Klingons were enemies of the Federation, but it’s necessary for the gag in which the tribbles take one look at Worf and start shrieking in alarm, just as they did with Darvin in “The Trouble With Tribbles” to give the game away.

As for Sisko, he’s never better. He manages to be both menacing and very funny when the Department of Temporal Investigations comes calling, giving Kira and Dax his most put-upon expression, though the man who once had to become the hero of the Bell Riots and is familiar with the Prophets’ manipulation of time refuses to be intimidated. He’s no more competent than O’Brien at pretending to be a 23rd century engineer, yet for once he seems to be having fun on the job, joking with Dax and rolling his eyes at the absurdity of the tribble infestation despite the potential catastrophe they represent. He’s extremely Kirk-like in this episode, which I mean in all the best ways, even when he takes the place of Marlena Moreau during his last moments on Kirk’s Enterprise. Who can blame him? Even in the green wrap-around shirt, covered in tribbles, we get to see everything that makes Kirk what he is – his command presence, his sense of humor, his diplomacy, and the devotion he inspires from his crew. It’s too bad there was no way Sisko could have a conversation with him about the Klingons of his own era and the problems of his own command, but “Trials and Tribble-ations” is a wonderful break from the gritty politics and social situations that I appreciate on DS9. It’s also a chance for the cast to show off their full range of talents and get entangled in situations we’d never have guessed we might see them in. It’s a delight.

What do you think? Chat with other fans in the Star Trek: Deep Space nine forum at The Trek BBS.

Michelle Erica Green

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Michelle Erica Green

Writer, mother, reader, traveler, teacher, partner, photographer, activist, friend, fangirl, student, critic, citizen, environmentalist, feminist, vegetarian, enthusiast. TrekToday staffer for many years, former news reporter, current retro reviewer.

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