Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Original Series

"The Trouble With Tribbles"

****

Air date: 12/29/1967
Written by David Gerrold
Directed by Joseph Pevney

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

They sometimes say comedy is harder to pull off than drama, and if that's the case, this episode shows a cast and crew at the top of their form. But what can I say about "The Trouble With Tribbles" that hasn't been said over and over? It's a classic, it's hilarious, it's got unforgettable scenes.

There is of course the great western-inspired bar brawl sequence that goes all out. And the scene where Kirk opens the door and thousands of tribbles fall down on him. And a light plot that knows better than to make any real threats. And classic confrontations with the Klingons, including a Klingon officer setting off Scotty by telling him the Enterprise is a garbage scow. But it's the cast interaction here that shows itself as really coming together. It occurred to me after again watching "The Trouble With Tribbles" that the natural chemistry evident in the original Trek cast is truly something special that hasn't been truly matched since.

Whether it's Kirk demanding "Who threw the first punch?" or the ending sequence where Kirk gets the runaround when trying to find out where all the tribbles went, the dialog and delivery is at top-notch sharpness. "Tribbles" is perhaps the best, most enjoyable comic piece the franchise has ever put out.

Previous episode: Wolf in the Fold
Next episode: The Gamesters of Triskelion

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4 comments on this review

Alex - Mon, Dec 23, 2013 - 9:01pm (USA Central)
I'm the first commenter on this really?

I originally saw this episode as its DS9 makeover, I believe. So I remembered some of the plot, but not all of it. It was nice to see the actor who plays the squire in the Squire of Gothos, which I believe is the first time a guest actor appears as a different character in a Star Trek episode — something that happens quite a lot in spinoff series. I think he does quite well in this role. I also enjoyed the Cyrano Jones character, who reminds me a bit of Mudd.
Moonie - Sat, Jan 4, 2014 - 4:30pm (USA Central)
I watched this episode and Trials and Tribble'ations back to back and those were two of the most entertaining and enjoyable hours I ever spent in front of a TV!
Andy's Friend - Sat, Jan 4, 2014 - 6:28pm (USA Central)
@Moonie: So true! The only problem I had with "Trials and Tribble-ations" was that after Dulmur and Lucsly I was basically half-dead of laughing for the remainder of the episode :)
William B - Mon, Aug 11, 2014 - 11:18am (USA Central)
As ever, I find the especially famous, iconic, and high-quality Trek episodes some of the hardest to write about, because I want to do the episode(s) justice and also not just repeat what others have said. Fortunately for me, sometimes a particular framework for looking at an episode with fresh eyes strikes, like inspiration. So here's what I think: part of what drives this episode is the idea that nature cannot be fully tamed or controlled -- and the humour derives mainly from the way those people who value control most are brought down, embarrassed, and defeated by Nature.

We start by learning that the Federation and the Klingons are competing over who can develop Sherman's Planet, and we further learn from Baris that the planet is so arid that the only thing that will grow there is specially-designed, genetically engineered quadrotriticale. Baris is the ultimate control-freak, so desperate to get his own way that he uses the Number One channel to bully the Enterprise into getting to the station ahead of schedule, so that he can have Kirk put guards on his genetically engineered grain which is the only thing that can possibly grow on this planet. Everything has to be tightly controlled -- or everything will fall apart. Along similar lines, we see the bartender's desire for an orderly bar; we see the Klingons' pride and militaristic might; and we see Arne Darvin's plot designed to steal Sherman's Planet for the Klingons, which relies on Darvin's careful deception in posing as a human.

The tribbles -- which eat everything, reproduce madly, and are "useless" in every way *except* that they are cute and are powerfully directed toward life -- foil everyone. They have no plan at all, no desire for control -- they just *are* and are bursting with uncontrolled energy, eating and multiplying without any kind of pretense. In the process they eat Baris' grain, mess up the bar, reveal the Klingons' military might to be undermined by harmless furry creatures (Klingons get them so anxious they burst into rage whenever around them), and expose Darvin.

And most delightfully, there's another control-freak the tribbles end up undermining: James T. Kirk. OK, so I don't think that the Klingon is exactly right when he refers to Kirk as an arrogant, tin-plated dictator with delusions of godhood, but, like Scotty, I kind of don't think that line is worth fighting over. I share Kirk's annoyance with Baris, but I also suspect that some of Kirk's annoyance with Baris is that Kirk's own authority is supermanded; Kirk likes doing things his way, and his attempt to do even mild power-plays to show Baris who's boss -- i.e., posting exactly two guards -- end up biting him when Baris goes straight over his head to the admiral.

In addition to Kirk's dislike of Baris (and Koloth, too, I think) *maybe* being seeing a bit of his own reflection in the guy, I think there is something dictatorial in the way he tells Scotty to go take some R&R on the space station when he *knows* that Scotty would rather stay on the ship, and when this request that Scotty go have fun is *ultimately* an order that Scotty supervise the other officers having fun. I think this is part of the pleasure of the big fight that breaks up. When Kirk questions the officers and learns that their loyalty to each other outstrips their loyalty to him, he finally gets it out of Scotty that the fight broke out because Scotty punched the Klingon. When he learns that *he* was insulted, Kirk is rather glad to find that Scotty attacked after that point, and then disappointed that Scotty really needed to defend the Enterprise and thought Kirk wasn't worth that defense. The fight probably would have broken out anyway -- stopping Starfleet and Klingon crews from being at each other's throats seems to be, well, like stopping tribbles from multiplying -- but at least if Kirk hadn't ordered Scotty away from his actual relaxation activity to "have fun" in a supervisory capacity, Kirk would have had the comfort of knowing that it was him that Checkov et al. were fighting over.

Which is all to say that Kirk's eventual panic that his ship is taken over by tribbles, that there's a tribble in his captain's chair, and eventually the iconic image of Kirk buried under tribbles up to his neck, with more tribbles falling every moment, are all a delight because Kirk, for all his considerable good qualities, maybe does need to be taken down a peg. He's not as much of a control-freak as Baris or as much a strength-obsessed militaristic strongman as the Klingons, but he's got traits of each, and there's some pleasure in seeing these lowly tribbles cut him down to size a little bit. What makes Kirk admirable and heroic here is that he ultimately maintains a sense of humour -- when he uses the tribbles to solve the mystery, and when he says, wryly, "First, find Cyrano Jones, and second...close that door," he is able to set his pride aside and recognize, at least a little bit, how funny the situation is. Really, that’s the ticket: for all Kirk and Koloth, Baris and Darvin, etc. fight for dominance, it’s the furry, guileless tribbles who win in the end; and the best that the Enterprise crew can do is to divert the tribbles to the more dominance-obsessed Klingons to escape. 4 stars.

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