Recap: Star Trek S 2 E 15 The Trouble With Tribbles

Series:Star Trek: The Original Series
Episode: Season 2, Episode 15
Title:"The Trouble With Tribbles"
Previous: Wolf In The Fold
Next: The Gamesters of Triskelion
Recapper: Hyrin

Captain Kirk and Spock are quizzing Chekov about Deep Space Station K7 and the race to settle Sherman's Planet, presumably because Kirk knows nothing about the situation and Spock is bored of losing at 3D chess all the time. Midway through the quiz, however, a Priority One Distress Code is sounded, which surely means that the Klingons are invading Station K7's system by force. Racing to the bridge, Kirk orders the Enterprise to rush to the station as fast as possible.

Upon arrival, Kirk demands to know what the emergency is, and is informed that the undersecretary of agriculture, Nils Baris, is on the station and is scared of sabotage. Since Baris has the authority to issue the emergency call, Kirk can do little except speak in double and ask questions that should have been part of his mission briefing, like what exactly he is there to protect (the answer: a breed of hybrid grain called quadrotriticale; if it can grow on Sherman's Planet, the planet goes to the Federation, but if it can't, the planet goes to the Klingons, as it means nothing Earthlike can grow there). He authorizes two guards from the Enterprise to protect the grain, and begins shore leave for the rest of the crew. Shortly after, Captain Koloth arrives demanding shore leave for his crew. Kirk acquiesces, in part because the Organian Peace Treaty leaves him no legal reason to say no, and in part to piss off Baris.

Elsewhere on the station, Chekov and Uhura have been shopping and are taking a break in the station's bar when Cyrano Jones walks in, trying to sell useless crap to the bartender. This being the '60s, Uhura is immediately captivated by a purring ball of fur and buys it despite never having heard of the species before and probably having a rule against pets on the ship. The tribble begins breeding like mad, and the crews' first instinct is to pet and coo at the creatures, pausing just long enough to poo-poo Dr. McCoy at the thought of actually figuring out why the tribble population is increasing like Scotty's waistline.

Back in the bar, Scotty, Chekov, and another guy are trying to have a quiet drink when a drunk Klingon starts mouthing off about Captain Kirk. Chekov immediately wants to assault the Proud Warrior Race Guy but Scotty, remembering their orders to avoid trouble, keeps Chekov in line. However, Scotty throws the first punch after the Klingon makes a remark about the Enterprise, which leads to a brawl. Security restores the peace and the involved crew are dragged back to the ship. Scotty, rather than manning up and admitting the truth, gets the entire group confined to quarters.

Kirk, upon receiving his order of tribble salad with a side order of tribble and a glass of tribble, deduces that the tribbles have likely also gotten into the grain storage on the station. Upon arrival, he stands immediately under the door that is theoretically holding back several metric tonnes of blue grain and opens the door. A flood of dead tribbles buries him armpit deep, prompting McCoy to make the startling discovery that reproduction is tied to metabolism. The dead tribbles also indicate that the grain was poisoned. Back in the station commander's office, Koloth confronts Kirk about the bar brawl before demanding that the tribbles be removed, since a tribble's purr sounds like a Paris Hilton karaoke to Klingon ears. As the guards go to leave, Baris's assistant, Arne Darvin, enters the office and has the same reaction to the tribbles that the Klingons have—and vice versa. McCoy scans Darvin with his tricorder and comes up with completely nonhuman results — "Jim, this man's a Klingon!" Since this makes him the prime suspect for the poisoning, Kirk arrests Darvin and tells Koloth to scamper off.

Back on the ship, Kirk is surprised to find that all the tribbles are gone. After some runaround, he is informed that Scotty beamed the tribbles about the Klingon ship "where they'll be no tribble at all." The crew joins in a hearty laugh as they most likely suppress the thought of what the Klingons are doing to the defenseless furballs at that moment. (It's later found it's the other way around, becoming "mortal enemies" of the Klingon Empire.)

This episode was lovingly revisited via Time Travel in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Trials and Tribble-ations".

Tropes for this episode include:

  • Absentee Actor: George Takei (Sulu) was busy filming the film The Green Berets, so all his lines went to Chekov.
  • Accidental Hero: Lampshaded by Cyrano Jones.
    JONES: After all, my tribbles did put you wise to the poisoned grain, and they did help you to find the Klingon agent. You saved a lot of lives that way.
  • Ass in Ambassador: Baris isn't technically an ambassador but he's definitely an ass. The only fun Kirk seems to get in this whole episode is at Baris' expense.
    Baris: Captain Kirk, I consider your security measures a disgrace. In my opinion, you have taken this entire, very important project far too lightly!
    Kirk: On the contrary, sir. I think of this project as very important. It is you I take lightly.
  • Bar Brawl: One breaks out between humans and Klingons.
  • Berserk Button: Insult all of humanity? Scotty will let it slide. Insult Captain Kirk? You have a right to your opinion. Call the Enterprise a garbage scow? Them's fightin' words! Also, Kirk doesn't like having his chicken sandwich and coffee ruined.
  • Bullying a Dragon: The drunk Klingon is going out of his way to insult whoever he can to get a rise out of the puny humans. When he finds out Scotty's pressure point is his beloved ship, the Klingon calls the Enterprise not just a garbage scow but "that it should be hauled away AS garbage." The Klingon quickly finds out you do not enrage a Scotsman...
    • Even better: the Klingon takes on a Scottish burr after Scotty coolly asks him to "rephrase" his statement about his beloved Enterprise.
  • Casting Gag: Guy Raymond, who played the bartender, was known at the time for starring in a series of beer commercials about a bartender who was frequently bemused by strange goings-on in his bar - his casting here would have been about as big a wink to the 1967 audience as the famous blooper of then-Allstate spokesman Ed Reimers telling Captain Kirk that he was "in good hands with Tribbles".
  • Character Development: Interestingly one of the best episodes to allow each of the characters — Uhura, Scotty, and Chekov in particular — some nice development:
    • Uhura as a pet lover, being the one to bring tribbles aboard the Enterprise;
    • Scotty showing his trait of reading engineering journals as a means of relaxing;
    • Chekov getting a performance review as part of crew evaluations, and demonstrating some of the scientific background that pops up in later episodes.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The tribbles' reaction to Klingons ends up flushing out an imposter.
  • Continuity Nod: Plays off the fact there's an "Organian Treaty" requiring the Federation and the Klingons to abide by Cold War rules of conduct, ranging from settling colonization claims to sharing station facilities.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Cyrano Jones is given a most unpleasant choice of punishments: get the tribbles off the station, a task estimated to take 17.9 years, or spend 20 years in a penal colony.
  • Cuteness Proximity: Everyone (except Klingons) who gets close to tribbles.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Spock is at his snarkiest in this episode. He tells Chekov that his little joke was "extremely little". He tells Bones that an ermine violin would be more desirable than a tribble. Bones continues to go on about their redeeming qualities, Spock offers one of his own; that unlike Bones they "do not talk too much". And then there's "He heard you; He simply could not believe his ears." Even Kirk gets a bit snarky when Bones asks him what you get when you overfeed a tribble. "A fat tribble?" Kirk is also very snarky around Nils Baris; for example, when the tribble doesn't react to Baris in the same way it reacts to the Klingons, he remarks, "No accounting for taste."
  • Death Glare: Kirk shoots Bones a serious one while surrounded by tribbles. This is probably because Bones came in cheerfully telling Kirk that to stop their breeding all they need to do is stop feeding them. This is of little consolation to Kirk who is literally buried up to his neck in tribbles by this point.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: These drunken fratboys are Klingons?!
  • Enforced Method Acting: Shatner was quite genuinely annoyed during the "Tribble waterfall" scene. The people throwing the Tribbles at him couldn't actually see what they were doing and kept it up long after it should have stopped.
  • Everybody Laughs Ending: "They'll be no tribble at all!"
  • Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: Cyrano Jones tries to sell tribbles to Barkeep.
  • Evil Detecting Tribble: The tribbles don't like Klingons and the feeling is quite mutual. The tribbles even know when one is in disguise.
  • Explosive Breeder: The tribbles. They reproduce at will.
  • Fight Scene Failure: During the Bar Brawl, Scotty punches a Klingon across the room—without touching him. Edited out in "Trials and Tribble-ations".
  • Funny Background Event: While the fight is going on, Cyrano Jones takes advantage of the fact that the bar is left unattended to help himself to a few drinks.
  • Hey, It's That Guy!: Whit Bissell as the station's commander.
  • The Hypnotoad: The tribbles again. The trilling noise has a soothing effect on humans. Vulcans are ... of course ... immune...
  • Insistent Terminology: It's not wheat, it's quadrotriticale!
  • Irony: During the otherwise comedic episode, it turned out the Klingons poisoned the grain meant for a disputed planet, so that it destroyed the digestive system. When the tribbles got into it, and died from it, Kirk described the situational irony thus, "In a room full of grain, they starved to death."
  • I Will Show You X: Kirk's reaction when Baris blames him for the apparent ruin of the Sherman's Planet project:
    Baris: You have abused your authority, and you've rejected my requests. And this, this is the result. I'm going to hold you responsible!
    Kirk: Mister Baris, I'll hold you in irons if you don't shut up.
  • Lighter and Softer: Star Trek has its share of dark, tension-filled, Anvil-dropping plots. This is not one of them. Interestingly, this has made it one of the more popular episodes.
    • James Doohan has pointed out that while the episode's style may have been comedic, the situations Kirk finds himself in could have cost him his command.
  • Living Lie Detector: Not by nature, but the tribbles are able to detect a Klingon posing as a human.
  • Ludicrous Precision: Spock's calculations on the number of tribbles breeding at any given time.
    • Shown Their Work: The calculations, assuming Spock's assumptionsnote  are correct, are entirely accurate; six generations of tribble reproduction would be around 11^6, or (as he puts it) 1,771,561.
  • MacGuffin Location: Sherman's Planet.
  • Not So Stoic: Even Spock likes the tribbles, much as he would deny it.
  • Obviously Insincere Affability: "My dear Captain Kirk!" "My dear Captain Koloth..."
  • Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh...: Happens when Chekov tries to slug a Klingon in the gut.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: In his book about this episode, David Gerrold said he got the line "A tribble is the only love money can buy" from a poster in a vet's office. The "fat tribbles" line was an homage to the "fat birds" line in Mary Poppins.
  • The Reveal: Nils Baris's assistant, Arne Darvin, is a Klingon.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: The tribbles!
  • Rule of Three: In a humor-filled episode, it's bound to pop up:
    Kirk: You'll do it?
    Spock: He'll do it.
    Cyrano Jones: I'll do it!
  • Running Gag: Everyone on the ship knows what quadrotriticale is but Kirk. Chekov "helpfully" points out that it's a Russian inwention.
  • Science Marches On: Bones uses the word "bisexual" for the concept which is now referred to as "hermaphroditic."
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: How Baris justifies summoning the Enterprise using a priority-one Distress Call that has an entire quadrant arming for possible war just for grain-protection detail.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Spock v. Bones at its finest.
  • Spanner in the Works: The grain was poisoned in a way that would destroy the digestive system of those who ate it. This came to light when the tribbles got into it, and before it was due to be shipped to Sherman's Planet.
  • Strolling Through the Chaos: Cyrano Jones during the Bar Brawl, complete with wine in hand.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Koloth to Kor from "Errand of Mercy". Word of God wanted John Colicos to reprise the role of Kor both here and the later episode "Day of the Dove", but he was unavailable.
    • Also Chekov in for the missing Sulu, who as a botanist would be more knowledgeable about quadrotriticale.
  • Tranquil Fury: "Laddie.....don't you think you should.....rephrase that?"
  • Unishment: Kirk "punishes" Scotty by restricting him to quarters - which suits him just fine, as he'll have a chance to read.
    • And it's what he wanted to do in the first place.
  • Urban Legend of Zelda: Cyrano Jones is such a similar character to Harry Mudd that a story got started that he was written as Mudd, but changed when Roger C. Carmel was unavailable. In fact, the original script does have the same character (though his last name is Smith).
  • You Look Familiar: Trelane is perhaps the smarmiest Klingon ever.