TREK-A-DAY: The Trouble with Tribbles
EPISODE FORTY-FOUR: The Trouble with Tribbles
I’ve actually had an incredibly difficult time writing this one, because I was a bit initmidated, to tell you the truth. But after being on FailBlog for about an hour trying not to get at this, I realize it’s because this episode was my first point of contact ever with Star Trek. As such, it holds an incredibly deep and vaguely mythical status for me and thus has seemed almost to big to tackle.
In actual fact, it’s just an incredibly fun, incredibly well written episode about some animals that multiply like Duggars and all the problems these entirely useless little creatures cause.
But first, some context: growing up, I was always curious about stories. My family all come from a media and communications background, so I was immersed in television from before I can remember (happily not to the detriment of other interests, it was always just there in the background-I’m watching Dexter as I write this.) To this day, I write better with something on in the background. Anyway, I’d caught wind of Star Trek possibly through channel flipping at an age where I didn’t have any interest in something that wasn’t animated or Ghostbusters, and as was so often the case, I asked my Mom.
My Mom had used to be able to catch the Star Trek broadcast’s audio through the PA system in her home, and after school she would basically tune into Star Trek the radio drama and enjoy it that way (quite easy to do, given how complicated the scripts were and how much dialogue and narration there is). The episode she always remembered was The Trouble with Tribbles, which she described quite aptly as the crew being overwhelmed by fuzzy little creatures that keep multiplying. So, long before Friday nights spent watching The Next Generation in my friend Ken’s basement, or being amazed at his sister’s ability to actually figure out Stardates (all pre-internet, kids), I knew there was a thing called Star Trek and that there was a great episode in it about little fuzzy creatures interfering with a starship.
I got into Next Generation before I happened upon the episode (thank heavens for the Space Channel) and it was the first (and only) episode of Star Trek: The Original Series I had ever seen (I caught the Khan episode by chance once as well) and that was it until I started this great voyage. Consequently, this is the episode I think of when I think of the The Original Series and always will, thanks to my Mom. Yet another one of the many incredible things that wonderful, wonderful lady introduced me to.
So, The Trouble with Tribbles.
A routine trip to the toupee store goes horribly awry…
The episode manages to tread a wonderful line between the light-hearted side (including a comic bar brawl, hilarious con-man/put upon barkeep duo, and the highest amount of Chekov Russian jokes to date) and the political, with another bureaucrat hijacking authority over the Enterprise, this time to protect grain needed to establish a colony on a contested planet before the Klingons. They all end up on the same space station and are negotiating when along come the Tribbles, tiny creatures that capture everyone’s heart but also are born pregnant and multiply endlessly.
The Tribbles themselves are a lot of fun, particularly when warming the heart of Mr. Spock, but the real joy comes in the performances around them: our old friend the Squire of Gothos (one of the finest day players on the series) is back as the Klingon Captain, Scotty and Chekov get into a slapstick bar fight (old West style), leading to an amazing little scene with a guilt-ridden Scotty (already upset that he had to go ashore instead of getting to stay aboard his beloved ship) explaining to Kirk why the fight occurred (Happily available at the 1:00 mark on YouTube here). It’s basically a perfect scene between these two and has nothing to do with Tribbles…just a lighthearted episode having fun at Kirk’s expense and Scotty’s lovable earnestness.
The Tribbles plot is a lot of fun too, ultimately being resolved by beaming all Tribbles aboard the Klingon vessel, which I can only assume was followed up with a hearty “ANIMAL HOOOOOOOOUSE!”-esque exclaimation by whatever passes in Klingon for a Dean. And it’s fun. The whole damn episode is fun, while not being stupid. There’re plenty of broad moments, but at the end of the day, it’s a solid episode and a nice counterpoint to the harder sci-fi/political episodes without losing its mind (like, say, a certain episode about a wizard and a giant cat…)
And at the end of the day, I can’t help but love this episode. All sorts of moments were familiar in a way they shouldn’t have been (having only seen it once) but even at the time, I kinda knew this was a special one for me. It’s where Star Trek began, in my world.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go call my Mom.