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Recap / Star Trek S2 E15 "The Trouble with Tribbles"

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And that's not the only bit of trouble on their hands.

Original air date: December 29, 1967

Captain Kirk and Mr. 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 Call 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.

After the opening theme, the Enterprise arrives at K7 to find that nothing seems to be happening. An extremely irritated Kirk demands to know what the emergency is, and is informed that the undersecretary of agriculture, Nils Baris (William Schallert), 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 Earth-like can grow there.) He authorizes two guards from the Enterprise to protect the grain, and grants shore leave for the rest of the crew. Shortly after, a Klingon battlecruiser arrives and its captain, Koloth, beams aboard the station 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. Uhura is immediately captivated by a purring ball of fur and buys it despite never having heard of the species before (apparently there is no rule against pets on the ship as Kirk has no objection until...) The tribble begins making babies like mad, and the crew's 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. (Answer: most of their metabolism goes towards reproduction. Also, they're born pregnant..."which seems to be quite a time-saver!")

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 calls the Enterprise a garbage scow (and then "corrects" himself: the Enterprise should be hauled away as garbage), which leads to a Bar Brawl. Security restores the peace and the involved crew are dragged back to the ship. Scotty, rather than manning up and admitting the truth right away, gets the entire group confined to quarters — and then subtly hurts Kirk's feelings by admitting that he fought for the good name of the Enterprise instead of the captain.

Kirk, upon receiving his order of a tribble sandwich 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 tonnes of blue grain and opens the door. A flood of tribbles buries him armpit deep, royally pissing Baris off and potentially putting Kirk's career in jeopardy — until Spock discovers that a lot of the tribbles are also dead, indicating 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!" A quick bit of tribble-assisted interrogation gets him to admit that he poisoned the grain, so Kirk arrests him 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 aboard 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.)

The Fan Nickname for this episode is, obviously, "The One With… the Tribbles". It may very well be the single most famous episode of Star Trek, especially among "normies", and it was lovingly revisited via Time Travel in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Milestone Celebration episode "Trials and Tribble-ations".

The Trouble with Tropes:

  • 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.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: At the bar, Scotty teases Chekov, comparing Chekov's vodka to "soda pop." Chekov fires back, saying that Scotch was "inwented by a little old lady from Leningrad." Scotty gives an approving chuckle, as if to say, "Yeah, kid, you'll fit right in."
  • Ain't No Rule: There's a law against breeding dangerous animals, but the tribbles don't have teeth, so how can they be dangerous?
  • All Take and No Give: How Spock describes the tribbles:
    Spock: They are consuming our supplies and returning nothing.
    Uhura: Oh, but they do give us something, Mr. Spock. They give us love. Well, Cyrano Jones says that a tribble is the only love that money can buy.
    Kirk: Too much of anything, Lieutenant, even love, isn't necessarily a good thing!
  • Animals Hate Him: Tribbles emit a soft, purring sound around everyone except Klingons, who they react angrily to. This aids Kirk when he has to Spot the Imposter.
  • "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's 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.
  • As the Good Book Says...: When Spock compares the Tribbles to lilies, he is referencing Matthew 6:28, which confirms that lilies indeed do not toil nor spin.note 
  • As You Know: Handwaved by having Captain Kirk grill Chekov on his knowledge of the local situation as part of his education and training as an ensign.
  • Bar Brawl: One breaks out between humans and Klingons.
  • Beleaguered Bureaucrat: Mr. Lurry, the manager of Deep Space Station K-7, who is caught up between Baris' demands, Kirk's impatience, the Klingons' requests and an infestation of tribbles.
  • Blatant Lies:
    • "Its trilling seems to have a tranquilizing effect on the Human nervous system. Fortunately, of course ... I am immune ... to its effect..."
    • Everyone says "I don't know, sir" when asked who started the Bar Brawl. Kirk knows it's BS, which is why he confines them all to quarters.
      Kirk: I wanna know who started it. I'm waiting. Freeman, who started the fight?
      Freeman:* I don't know, sir.
      Kirk: All right... Chekov. I know you. You started it, didn't you?
      Chekov: No, sir, I didn't.
      Kirk: Well, who did?
      Chekov: [nervous chuckle] I don't know, sir.
      Kirk: "I don't know, sir." I wanna know who threw the first punch. [Beat] All right, you're all confined to quarters until I find out who started it. Dismissed!
  • Brick Joke
    • Kirk finds his bridge overrun with tribbles, goes to sit down in his chair only for a tribble to squeal when he sits on it. Later, after his bridge has been cleared of tribbles he goes to sit down again, only to jump up expecting a tribble to be there.
    • Turns out you can get fat tribbles.
    • "Trials and Tribble-ations" reveals why Kirk keeps getting pelted with tribbles long after he's been buried in them.
  • 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 a garbage scow, then, after Scotty coolly asks him to "rephrase" his statement about his beloved Enterprise, "corrects" himself (in a Scottish burr) to say "that it should be hauled away AS garbage." The Klingon quickly finds out you do not enrage a Scotsman... nor make disparaging remarks to one who is the Head Engineer of said ship.
  • Butt-Monkey: Chekov consistently winds up on the wrong end of the fight during the Bar Brawl with the Klingons.
  • Call-Back: Plays off the fact there's an "Organian Treaty" requiring the Federation and the Klingons to abide by Space Cold War rules of conduct, ranging from settling colonization claims to sharing station facilities.
  • Cassandra Gambit: Darvin convinces Baris that there's a Klingon agent on board, but casts suspicion on Cyrano.
  • 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 gag shot 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 being the very creature in flushing out an imposter.
  • The Chew Toy:
    • The poor bartender is quickly overwhelmed by the tribble infestation. In his last scene, he's covered in tribbles with a silent, annoyed look on his face.
    • Kirk gets chewed out by Baris over nothing, learns that everybody — including Chekov — knows more about quadrotriticale than he does, has to tolerate Klingon visitors, gets his ship infested by tribbles, learns that Scotty considers it worth starting a bar fight over an insult to the Enterprise but not over an insult to Kirk himself, and gets buried in tribbles in what Deep Space Nine retcons as Sisko averting an assassination attempt that Kirk never becomes aware of.
  • Coat Full of Contraband: Although he's not actually breaking the law, Cyrano produces Spican flame gems, Antarian glow water, and tribbles from his many pockets. When the barkeep takes back the drink he's filched during the bar brawl, he produces another glass of booze from his pocket! At the end of the episode, his coat DOES come in handy for storing all those tribbles he's picking up. Given that Spock described him as having "never broken the law, at least not severely", it's possible that Cyrano was hiding the goods to conceal a minor infraction (not paying import duties, perhaps).
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Cyrano Jones is given a most unpleasant choice of punishments: spend 20 years in a penal colony, or get the tribbles off the station, a task estimated to take 17.9 years. However the animated series episode "More Tribbles More Troubles" reveals he managed to weasel out of this and is back to his old tricks.
  • Cuteness Proximity: Everyone (except Klingons) who gets close to tribbles. Uhura in particular is absolutely adorable when she is introduced to the Tribbles and is offered one free of charge.
    Uhura: Oh I couldn't... [pouty puppy dog face] could I?
  • 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.
  • Disappointed in You: Kirk shakes his head in disappointment at Scotty starting the fight when he was supposed to keep everyone else from fighting.
  • Distress Call: The episode starts with one. Subverted when it turns out that it was sent by an Obstructive Bureaucrat who wants Kirk to guard his grain.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • The QuchHa' crew of the Gr'oth. These drunken fratboys are Klingons?!
    • In a more minor example, the Klingon harassing Scotty refers to the Klingon language as "Klingonese".
  • "Everybody Laughs" Ending: "They'll be no tribble at all!"
  • Evil Cannot Stand Cuteness: Klingons find tribbles annoying and repulsive. Given the tribbles' shrill cries whenever near them, the feeling is clearly mutual.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: The tribbles don't like Klingons and the feeling is quite mutual. The tribbles even know when one is in disguise.
  • Exploding Closet: Kirk stands passively in a deluge of tribbles after opening a storage bin door. Certainly embodies the spirit of the trope, but also justified in that the "closet" in question was a (formerly) grain-filled cargo bay.
  • Explosive Breeder: The tribbles. They reproduce at will. "And brother have they got a lot of will."
  • Feghoot: Apparently the entire episode has been a setup for Scotty to make a terrible "tribble" pun:
    Kirk: You gave [the tribbles] to the Klingons?
    Scotty: Aye, sir. Before they went into warp, I transported the whole kit and caboodle into their engine room, where they'll be no tribble at all.
  • Fisticuff-Provoking Comment: Invoked. A Klingon who is obviously trying to get a rise out of Scotty says the Enterprise looks like a garbage scow.
    Scotty: Laddie, don't you think you should... rephrase that?
    Korax: You're right, I should. I didn't mean to say that the Enterprise should be hauling garbage. I meant to say that it should be hauled away AS garbage.
    [Scotty punches him across the table; cue Bar Brawl]
  • Foreshadowing: Bones warns Kirk that if they don't get the tribbles off the ship, "we'll be buried hip deep in them." Guess what happens to Kirk when he opens up the storage compartments.
  • 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.
    • After Spock rattles off the number of tribbles now on board the station, Leslie, standing behind him, rolls his eyes, either trying to figure Spock's arithmetic or simply thinking, "Oh God, we have to deal with 1.7 million of these little bastards?"
  • Get Out!: After the Klingon plot to poison the Federation colonists on Sherman's Planet has been exposed, Kirk decides he has had just about enough of playing nice with the Klingons.
    Kirk: Captain Koloth, about that apology...
    Koloth: Yes?
    Kirk: You have six hours to get your ship out of Federation territory.
    [the tribbles screech at Koloth, as if to say "Yeah, get outta here!" and Koloth stomps off]
  • Hidden Depths: When Kirk is giving everyone an impromptu tribble test and couldn't help but playfully observe:
    Kirk: But they do like Vulcans. Well, Mr. Spock, I didn't know you had it in you.
    Spock: Obviously, tribbles are very perceptive creatures, Captain.
    Kirk: Obviously.
  • Human Outside, Alien Inside: Arne Darvin manages to look entirely human despite being a completely different species (granted, it wouldn't take as much in this series as it would elsewhere in the franchise)... but that surgery doesn't do anything to change his vitals, so once there's a reason to scan him with a tricorder, the disguise falls apart.
  • Hypnotic Creature: The tribbles again. The trilling noise has a soothing effect on humans. Vulcans are... of course... immune...
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • After the tribbles have eaten all the grain on the station, Baris yells at Kirk for abusing his authority, among other things. This from the guy who made the galactic equivalent of a 911 call and set the entire area on combat alert just to have Kirk guard his grain.
    • Spock describes the tribbles' "tranquilizing effect on the human nervous system," declaring "Fortunately, of course, I am immune to its effect."... while stroking a tribble and looking even calmer than usual. He then realizes what he's doing and puts the tribble down.
    • Scotty orders Chekov not to let the Klingons goad him into starting a fight. A few insults to the Enterprise later, Scotty himself is goaded into starting a fight.
    • Kirk roasts his men for letting a few insults provoke them into a Bar Brawl, then gets miffed when Scotty says the insults the Klingons made about him weren't worth starting a fight over.
    • Cyrano tries to sell the tribbles to the bartender for 10 credits each. After a lot of arguing the bartender haggles him down to six, then tries to sell the tribble to Uhura for the original price of ten credits.
  • Insistent Terminology: It's not wheat, it's quadrotriticale!
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: Baris assuming that The Spock doesn't know anything about quadrotriticale. Oh, ye of little faith...
    Baris: [to Kirk] Quadrotriticale is not wheat, captain. Of course, I wouldn't expect you or Mr. Spock to know about such things, but quadrotriticale is a rather—
    Spock: Quadrotriticale is a high-yield grain, a four-lobed hybrid of wheat and rye. A perennial, also, if I'm not mistaken. Its root grain, triticale, can trace its ancestry all the way back to 20th-century Canada—
    Kirk: Spock, you've made your point.
  • Introduced Species Calamity: Here, the Enterprise first makes the acquaintance of the eponymous creatures, initially believing them harmless pets. Unfortunately, tribbles are a prey species on their native homeworld and have developed an incredible breeding speed to compensate; once aboard a spaceship with plenty of food and no predators, they quickly reproduce in such numbers that the crew is almost overwhelmed.
  • Irony: During the otherwise comedic episode, it turned out the Klingons poisoned the grain meant for a disputed planet with a toxin that blocks digestion. When the tribbles got into it, and died from it, Kirk described the situational irony thus, "In a storage compartment 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 have rejected my requests! And this! This is the result! I am going to hold you responsible—
    Kirk: Mister Baris, I'll hold you in irons if you don't shut up!
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Downplayed for Laughs — to a Klingon, tribble exposure might as well be waterboarding. It only takes a few seconds for Darvin to spill his guts.
    Kirk: Darvin, you wanna talk?
    Darvin: Well, I have nothing to say—
    [Kirk holds up two tribbles, who screech at Darvin]
    Darvin: All right! I poisoned the grain! Take them away!
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Baris may be an officious twit, but he's Properly Paranoid in thinking that a Klingon agent might sabotage the supply of quadrotriticale. He does not, however, figure on said agent being his own assistant.
  • Large Ham:
    • Stanley Adams as Cyrano Jones isn't quite as hammy as Roger C. Carmel playing Harry Mudd, but not for lack of trying. (It's a bit like saying Saturn isn't as big a planet as Jupiter.) The ridiculous mugging during the bar fight and his many "wild take" reaction shots — usually contrasted with everyone else remaining stone-faced — are good examples of this.
    • Michael Pataki (who plays Koloth's first officer, Korax) spends most of the episode silently glowering at our protagonists, but in the bar fight scene he's really allowed to cut loose, turning in a performance for the ages.
      Scotty: Laddie... don't ye think ye should... rephrase that?
      Korax: Yerright, ah should. I didn't mean to say that the Enterprise should be hauling garbage... I meant to say that it should be hauled away... AS GARBAGE! (cue Evil Laugh)
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Cyrano Jones, as punishment for introducing the tribbles to the station, knowing full well that their Explosive Breeder properties makes them very profitable, is made to pick up every last tribble on the station; a task that Spock states will take a little over 17 years to complete. Well, it's slightly better than 20 years in a penal colony!
  • Layman's Terms:
    Spock: Surely you must have realized what would happen if you removed the tribbles from their predator-filled environment into an environment where their natural multiplicative proclivities would have no restraining factors.
    Cyrano: Well, of cour— what did you say?
    Spock: By removing the tribbles from their natural environment, you have, so to speak, removed the cork from the bottle and allowed the genie to escape.
  • 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.
  • Living Lie Detector: Not by nature, but the tribbles are able to detect a Klingon posing as a human.
  • Lost Food Grievance: Kirk's exasperation with the tribbles reaches new heights when he orders a lunch tray, only for it to come out half-eaten and covered with tribbles.
    Kirk: My chicken sandwich and coffee. This is my chicken sandwich and coffee.
    Spock: Fascinating.
    Kirk: I want these things off the ship. I don't care if it takes every man we've got. I want them off the ship.
  • Ludicrous Precision: Spock's calculations on the number of tribbles breeding at any given time.
    Baris: There must be thousands of them!
    Kirk: Hundreds of thousands.
    Spock: One million, seven-hundred seventy-one thousand, five-hundred sixty-one. That's assuming one tribble reproducing with an average litter of ten, producing a new generation every twelve hours over a period of three days.
  • MacGuffin Location: Sherman's Planet.
  • Mr. Exposition: As part of his crew training, Captain Kirk grills Chekov on questions that the audience needs to know.
  • Never Give the Captain a Straight Answer:
    • When Captain Kirk demands to know what's behind the false distress call, Lurry unsurprisingly asks him to beam over and let Baris explain things.
    • At the end of the episode, almost the entire bridge crew keeps passing around the "credit" for ridding Enterprise of tribbles to an increasingly annoyed Kirk, who finally gets Scotty on the hook and refuses to let him off until he gets an explanation.
  • Not So Stoic: Even Spock likes the tribbles, much as he would deny it.
  • Now You Tell Me:
    Bones: Jim! I think I've got it. All we have to do is quit feeding the tribbles. We quit feeding them, they stop breeding.
    Kirk: [exasperated and buried in tribbles] Now he tells me.
  • Oh, Crap!: The look on Darvin's face when he's outed as a Klingon, realizing that the jig is up and his plan is falling apart.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Played for Laughs, but Kirk is a lot snarkier for once, telling Baris that he's never questioned the orders of the Federation, [beat], "until now".
  • Pet the Dog: Korax gave Cyrano Jones some of his drink as the man was trying to bargain for a spot from the bartender. It was an excuse for him to launch into a drunken rant about Earthers, Captain Kirk and the Enterprise with the intention of goading the Federation officers into starting a bar fight, but he was under no obligation to share his alcohol with Jones to do so.
  • Pseudo-Crisis: Before the Title Sequence we have the ship going to Red Alert in response to a Priority-One Distress Call (reserved for such extreme emergencies as an invasion of the Federation, which Kirk assumes is happening). When the Enterprise gets to K-7, there's nothing there except a overbearing, overly important official who can't be bothered making an official request for Starfleet assistance via Subspace Ansible.
  • Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh...: Happens when Chekov tries to slug a much larger Klingon in the gut... with very little response.
  • Rage Breaking Point: Kirk finally decides he's had enough of the tribbles when they ruin his lunch.
    Kirk: My chicken sandwich and coffee. This is my chicken sandwich and coffee. I want these things off the ship. I don't care if it takes every man we've got, I want them off the ship.
  • The Reveal: Nils Baris's assistant, Arne Darvin, is a Klingon.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: The tribbles! They're so incredibly adorable even Spock can't resist petting one. Although the Klingons react badly to the tribbles — and vice versa.
  • Rule of Three: In a humor-filled episode, it's bound to pop up.
    • When Cyrano Jones accepts his fate (includes a brilliant use of Pronoun Trouble).
      Kirk: You'll do it?
      Spock: He'll do it.
      Cyrano Jones: I'll do it!
    • Scotty ignores two insults (against "Earthers" and The Captain) but takes offense to the third (against the Enterprise).
  • Running Gag: Everyone on the ship knows what quadrotriticale is but Kirk. Chekov "helpfully" points out that it's a Russian invention. For that matter, Chekov thinking everything was invented or discovered by Russians is also a Running Gag — here he credits them with everything from the first stellar mapping of the region to inventing Scotch!
  • 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. When Kirk puts in a complaint, he's just ordered to cooperate with Baris.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: When the Bar Brawl starts, the bartender runs away and gets Security to handle things. Cyrano doesn't miss a beat and the chance to help himself to the contents of the drink replicator.
  • Shout-Out: 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.
  • Shown Their Work: The tribble population calculations, assuming Spock's assumptionsnote  are entirely accurate; six generations of tribble reproduction would be around 116, or (as he puts it) 1,771,561.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Spock v. Bones at its finest.
    Spock: There's something disquieting about these creatures.
    McCoy: Don't tell me you've got a feeling.
    Spock: Don't be insulting, Doctor. They remind me of the lilies of the field. They toil not, neither do they spin. But they seem to eat a great deal. I see no practical use for them.
    McCoy: Does everything have to have a practical use for you? They're nice, soft, and furry, and they make a pleasant sound.
    Spock: So would an ermine violin, but I see no advantage in having one.
    McCoy: It's a human characteristic to love little animals, especially if they're attractive in some way.
    Spock: Doctor, I am well aware of human characteristics. I am frequently inundated by them, but I've trained myself to put up with practically anything.
    McCoy: Spock, I don't know too much about these little tribbles yet, but there's one thing that I have discovered.
    Spock: [pricking up his pointy ears] What is that, Doctor?
    McCoy: I like them better than I like you.
    Spock: Doctor?
    McCoy: Yes?
    Spock: They do have one redeeming characteristic.
    McCoy: What's that?
    Spock: They do not talk too much.
  • Spanner in the Works: The grain was poisoned in a way that would block the digestive system of those who ate it. This comes to light when the tribbles get into it, and before it could be shipped to Sherman's Planet. The presence of the tribbles also reveals the presence of a Klingon spy, and thus the most likely person to have been involved in the poisoning.
  • Straight Man: Ah, yes... the long-suffering bartender throughout the whole episode.
  • Strolling Through the Chaos: Cyrano Jones during the Bar Brawl, complete with drink in hand. (He does dodge a Bar Slide at one point, but he's otherwise nonchalant through the whole thing.) When he gets to the door, he goes to drink it... only for the barkeep to re-enter and snatch it out of his hand. Cyrano then takes another full glass from his pocket and drinks that.
  • Suddenly Shouting:
    Scott: I gave them a good home, sir.
    Kirk: WHERE?
  • 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. This would explain why the dialogue between Kirk and Koloth implies they've met before.
  • Temporary Substitute: George Takei was busy filming The Green Berets, so all his lines went to Chekov — this is why he knows about quadrotriticale, as a Call-Back to Sulu's interest in botany from "The Man Trap".
  • Terms of Endangerment: Downplayed; Kirk and the Klingon captain, Koloth call each other "my dear captain ____" at least once. They never come to blows, but it's pretty obvious they don't mean it.
  • That's an Order!: When Scotty is restraining Chekov from responding to the Klingon's insults, he says, "Don't do it, mister, and that's an order."
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Cyrano Jones is not happy to learn that he'll be spending the next 17.9 years picking up tribbles... especially troubling for him because of their rate of reproduction!
  • Threaten All to Find One: Downplayed. Kirk has ordered that there be no hostilities between his crew and the Klingons at Deep Space Station K-7, as they do not want an incident that would give the Klingons claim to Sherman's Planet. However, a fight broke out in a bar on the station, and Kirk has assembled all of the crew, asking various people, like Chekov, who threw the first punch. When no one answers him, he tells them they're confined to quarters until he gets the answer. But he stops Scotty from leaving. As the most senior officer on the station charged with keeping the peace at the time, Scotty will have no choice but to answer when Kirk asks him which of the crew threw the first punch. Scotty sheepishly reveals that it was him, as the Klingons had called the Enterprise a "Garbage Scow". Kirk confines Scotty to quarters, which the Engineer is delighted to hear, as he can catch up on his technical journals.
  • Tranquil Fury: "Laddie... don't you think you should... rephrase that?" (Laddie happily obliges.)
  • Truce Zone: As per the Organian Peace Treaty, Station K-7 is one. Naturally, the truce doesn't hold, especially with alcohol involved.
  • Tuckerization: Sherman's Planet was named for scriptwriter David Gerrold's then-girlfriend Holly Sherman.
  • Unishment: Kirk "punishes" Scotty by restricting him to quarters — which suits him just fine, as he'll have a chance to finish the reading he was trying to do when Kirk made him go on shore leave. Kirk clearly realizes the pointlessness of this, since Scotty is almost immediately back out working again. Given how Scotty is seen carrying a horde of tribbles, odds are, Kirk had the brawlers put on tribble clean-up duty.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Deep Space Nine reveals Scotty's joke of sending the tribbles home with Captain Koloth resulted in an ecological disaster for the Klingon Empire and the Klingons driving the tribbles to extinction.
  • Wham Line:
    • "Captain, this tribble is dead. And so are these." This changes the whole mood of an otherwise comical scene and leads to the exposure of a Klingon plot and their inside man.
    • The tribbles themselves deliver one when they screech in the presence of Arne Darvin — something they only do with Klingons. This leads Kirk and McCoy to figure out what he truly is.
      Kirk: [re the tribbles shrieking at Darvin] They don't like you, Mr. Darvin. I wonder why. Bones?
      [McCoy scans Darvin with his tricorder]
      McCoy: Heartbeat is all wrong... his body temperature is... Jim, this man is a Klingon!
  • World of Snark:
    • Spock is at his snarkiest in this episode. He tells Chekov that his little joke was "extremely little". He tells Bones that a tribble is as useful as an ermine violin. 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 purrs in front of Baris instead of shrieking like it does with Klingons, he remarks, "Well, there's no accounting for taste."
    • Kirk notices that Uhura made a beeline for the station the minute he authorized shore leave, and (already in a bad mood) can't help but snark at her about it: "I see you didn't waste any time taking your shore leave." Uhura, who is very off-duty, immediately snarks back: "And how often do I get shore leave?" Kirk wisely drops it.
    • When Kirk says that Cyrano should sell an instruction manual with his tribbles, Cyrano quips, "If I did, what would happen to Man's search for knowledge?"
    • Gerrold reported in his book about the making of the episode that someone watching the episode with him actually asked if everyone was usually this sarcastic.
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: Kirk's feelings throughout the entire episode.
    Kirk: [to Baris] You issued a priority-one distress call for a couple of tons of wheat?!
    Darvin: Quadrotriticale!


Video Example(s):


Technical Journals

In "The Trouble with Tribbles" from the original "Star Trek," Captain Kirk restricts Scotty to quarters for having started a fight with the Klingons. This is what Scotty wanted, as he didn't want shore leave in the first place and it gives him the time to catch up on reading his technical journals.

How well does it match the trope?

4.93 (15 votes)

Example of:

Main / Unishment

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