Sep 25, 2020
Star Trek: Short Treks “The Trouble with Edward”
As I suspected at the end of my previous Short Trek recap, “The Trouble with Edward”, in addition to being the latest Star Trek tribble episode, is indeed a flat-out comedy. But it’s one that actually works; it’s a pretty fun story that even had me laughing out loud at times. When was the last time a Star Trek episode went for comedy and actually succeeded? Probably the last tribble episode, “Trials and Tribble-ations”, which was 23 years ago?
The Enterprise comes out of warp above a planet called Pragine 63, and they’re on the night side of the planet, so we get a very nice shot of the ship on dark mode.
Captain Pike delivers a captain’s log in voiceover, explaining that his “young science officer Lynne Lucero” has just been promoted to captain of the research vessel USS Cabot, which the Enterprise is currently rendezvousing with here, and it’s a much smaller ship with the saucer and nacelles merged together in a compact design.
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Pike and Lucero (Rosa Salazar) walk to the transporter room so he can see her off. Pike expositionizes that she’s being sent to help out a “civilization on the brink of starvation, on the edge of Klingon space”, which is a tall order, but Lucero thinks she’s up to the challenge. She asks if he has any advice and Pike tells her not to show weakness, “or they will eat you alive”. But he’s kidding, of course (and also providing a bit of foreshadowing). As she steps onto the transporter pad, he gives her his actual advice: Lucero may be a brilliant scientist, but she’s about to find out that “not everybody is on your level”, and hey, even more foreshadowing. Maybe he saw all these future plot points when he was playing around with that time crystal?
Lucero agrees, saying some of them are going to be “even better” than her. Which is not quite what Pike was getting at, but he appreciates her optimism. Lucero then beams out.
Cut to the conference room of the Cabot, as Lucero meets with her new crew, and they’re working on mundane experiments like trying to reduce the pH levels of the soil on Pragine 63. Lucero then asks what a crew member named Edward Larkin has been up to, and he’s played by H. Jon Benjamin, the voice of Archer on Archer and Bob on Bob’s Burgers. You might also recognize him as the “Head of Sandwiches” in those Arby’s commercials. Edward is barely paying attention, and is totally unprepared to talk about what he’s working on, and he awkwardly fumbles around with a PADD.
Eventually, he says he’s been experimenting on a species native to “Iota Geminorum IV” called “Tribleustes ventricostes”, which are better known as, you guessed it, tribbles. (And Iota Geminorum IV being the tribble homeworld was semi-canon prior to this; it shows up on a chart hanging in Keiko O’Brien’s classroom in Deep Space Nine.) Edward pulls up a picture of a tribble and the crew start cooing over how cute they are, and Edward informs them that underneath their fur, “it’s all meat. Like a scallop. Blood red.” In other words, he has the meats. Everyone looks extremely put off by this. He says they could be a food source for the “Calations”, presumably the residents of Pragine 63, and then admits he’s eaten “one or two. For research purposes,” which disturbs his crewmates even more.
He then declares that this species breeds very slowly. Wait a minute, that doesn’t sound like any tribble I ever heard of! Ah, but you see, Edward wants to use “some genetic manipulation” to speed up their breeding process and make a “ton” of them. So yes, what we’re watching is essentially the tribble origin story.
Lucero wonders if tribbles might be intelligent, but Edward says it’s a bit hard to tell, because they “don’t have a face.” Edward declares that even if they are intelligent, they still seem “easy to capture… and eat.” Lucero clarifies that she was thinking more about the moral implications of eating an intelligent species, so Edward further suggests he could do more genetic manipulation to make them all “brain-damaged” and take care of that particular issue as well. An uncomfortable Lucero finally asks him to “put a pin in the tribbles work” and assigns him to another project, and she moves on while Edward sits there seething.
In the mess hall, Edward tries to chat up another crewmember about the “new boss”, subtly adding, “Barf.” The other crewmember thinks everybody seems to like the new captain, but Edward insists they don’t. Next, Edward is working at his station where he sees Lucero hitting it off with another crewmember, who happens to be a Trill, making this the first instance of a pre-TNG Trill seen in the Trek franchise. Which kind of makes Beverly Crusher’s ignorance of Trills in “The Host” seem kind of odd, as they would have been Federation members for over 100 years by that point.
Edward pulls out a tribble in a Lucite box and sprays it with a mysterious substance, then quickly hides it as Lucero asks to see him.
In her ready room, Lucero tells Edward that her Starfleet superiors received anonymous complaints about her, which said that she’s bad at her job and she should be replaced, and that she’s “dumb”. Lucero knows it’s clearly Edward who sent the messages, but his only defense is that the messages are “anonymous” so she has no idea who sent them. She tells him he’s not a good fit for this position, and she’s having him transferred, and he’s dismissed. He asks if Lucero thinks he’s “dumb”, so she tells him the conversation is over, and Edward keeps saying the conversation is not over, and she has to repeat that the conversation is over about seven times until he finally gives up. He leaves, insisting he’s not dumb.
Later that night, that tribble he sprayed is starting to reproduce, and shooting little baby tribbles out of its body. Alarms sound and Edward stumbles out into the corridor and asks what’s happening, and the Trill tells him there’s been a lab breach. And then a wide shot shows Edward standing there in his tidy whities.
Lucero and the crew gather around Edward’s station, which is now covered in tribbles, and the captain chastises Edward for disobeying her orders. Then another crewmember walks up and says they’ve found more of the things. Cue a montage of the crew gathering up tribbles, and Lucero sits in her chair, and just like Kirk in “The Trouble with Tribbles”, she finds she just sat on a tribble. An entire corridor of the ship is covered in tribbles, and their population is now growing exponentially, and the critters are finding their way into the ship’s circuitry and causing malfunctions.
In the mess hall, Lucero wants to know how the tribbles are breeding so quickly, and the Trill officer informs her that she’s analyzed a newborn tribble, and echoing McCoy’s line from “The Trouble with Tribbles”, she says they’re “born pregnant”. Edward is here, and he nonchalantly says that “crazy stuff” like this happens when you “mix human DNA with tribble DNA”. Lucero wants to know whose DNA he used, and he tries to avoid the question, while a crewmember walks around with a giant vacuum sucking up tribbles. Edward finally admits that of course he used his own DNA, and everyone in the mess hall groans in disgust.
Lucero orders her crew to go through the corridors with phasers on stun to contain the tribble population, and we get a montage of crewmembers being terrorized by tribbles. Then there’s a shot of the ship’s exterior, and a zoom-in on a window reveals that tribbles are now swarming the entire vessel.
Lucero decides they have to abandon ship, and now the entire crew is gathered in an escape pod, but Edward stands in a corridor and stubbornly refuses to go. As a big tidal wave of tribbles starts to gather behind him, he defiantly tells Lucero that he’s not dumb after all, and he made “one of the most important scientific discoveries of our time!” And then the deluge of tribbles knocks him out and engulfs him and Lucero has to run into the escape pod and activate a forcefield in the nick of time.
The escape pod launches and we cut to Lucero being grilled by the top brass at Starfleet. An admiral marvels at how, in less than two weeks of commanding the Cabot, Lucero lost one crewmember and the ship suffered a “complete structural failure”, and now a genetically modified species has infested Pragine 63, “forcing the evacuation of an entire civilization”. Also, the creatures have made their way into Klingon space, causing a “diplomatic crisis” (and presumably precipitating the Klingons’ “Great Tribble Hunt” as described by Odo in “Trials and Tribble-lations”).
According to Lucero’s report, all of this was the fault of one crew member, and an admiral asks her to explain how that could possibly be. Lucero answers, “He was an idiot.” Cut to black.
But there’s a special surprise if you keep watching past the closing credits: a cereal commercial, filmed in the style of an old ‘80s TV ad, complete with VHS tracking lines, for a Tribbles brand cereal. Kids sit in the mess hall of the “USS Ravenous”, as an overenthusiastic announcer says that Tribbles cereal is the only cereal with “self-replication”, and a mom pours out a box of furry tribbles into her two daughters’ cereal bowls and it keeps pouring and pouring.
The kids eagerly eat the furry tribbles, with one girl declaring that its fur “tickles” her nose, and the announcer says the cereal contains vitamins and minerals and “Edward”, and the mom tells us Tribbles cereal contains “more human DNA” than the leading brands.
There’s even an appearance by cartoon tribbles (with skateboards??) who reproduce and declare, “We’re pregnant… with flavor!” And keeping in mind that the general rule with the Trek franchise is that “if it’s onscreen, it’s canon”, I’m not sure how to square away the possible canon existence of a tribble breakfast cereal. And I say this as someone who had no problem rationalizing Emmanuel Lewis as Webster spontaneously materializing on the bridge of the Enterprise.
I guess you could say this was a lot like an episode of The Orville, only funny. I realize The Orville has its fans, but I find that show more irritating than amusing, which is mostly due to Seth MacFarlane casting himself as the lead and murdering every joke with his smug and smirking delivery. In contrast, H. Jon Benjamin is great in the role of Edward, hilariously underplaying the role of a brilliant but socially awkward, emotionally stunted creep. He’s like Reg Barclay taken up to the Nth power. It defies belief that a severe malcontent like this would ever make it out of the Academy in the first place, let alone get assigned to a starship, but an episode that ends with kids eating tribbles probably shouldn’t be taken too literally.
The only real criticism I have about this mini-episode is that it does that prequel thing where they simply must show us how the things on the (chronologically) later shows came to be. I didn’t need an origin story for tribbles, that somehow involves them being a genetically modified hybrid crossed with human DNA, just like I didn’t need Enterprise to explain that Klingons without forehead ridges were also genetically modified hybrids crossed with human DNA. TOS and TAS established that tribbles reproduce quickly because they’ve been removed from their natural environment where they had lots of predators (including the glommer, which you’ll get to meet if we ever get around to recapping the TAS episode “More Tribbles, More Troubles”), so I don’t know why the writers felt the need to change that backstory. Still, it’s a solidly entertaining entry, and probably the best of the Short Treks so far.
Next on Short Treks: On November 14, we get “Ask Not”, and as of now there’s no trailer and no synopsis available. So feel free to make your wild guesses in the comments below as to what the title “Ask Not” might mean.