The latest Star Trek: Short Trek has beamed down from CBS-All Access. “The Trouble With Edward” marks the fourth Star Trek story centered around writer David Gerrold’s famed creation, the tribbles (TOS’ “Trouble With Tribbles”, TAS’ “More Tribbles, More Troubles,” and DS9’s superlative “Trials and Tribble-ations”). The tribbles themselves are a species of fast-breeding fur-balls first introduced 52 years ago in Gerrold’s original “The Trouble With Tribbles.”
Star Trek itself has a long and uneven history with broad comedy. Some Trek comedies are fairly successful (TNG’s “Q-pid”, DS9’s “Our Man Bashir” & “Trials & Tribble-ations” ), but Star Trek’s funniest bits tend to come organically from its character interactions (the ongoing Spock/McCoy feuding, for example). “The Trouble With Edward” offers comedy with a heavy helping of “Gremlins”-style darkness. The result is…well, mixed.
The USS Enterprise’s charismatic captain Pike (Anson Mount) is saying goodbye to one of his science officers, Lynn Lucero (played engagingly by Rosa Salazar) who is being promoted to captain of a research vessel, the USS Cabot. Pike offers her a fond farewell in the transporter room, and she’s off.
Onboard the Cabot, the young Captain Lucero holds a briefing with her science department heads, and with a creepy, middle-aged protein specialist named Edward Larkin (H. Jon Benjamin), who is neither technically adept nor a good officer. Larkin is the ship’s problem child…like TNG’s Reg Barclay, minus the social anxiety. How he ever graduated from Starfleet Academy is an utter mystery. Moving on…
Edward is doing extensive but dead-end research on a species called ‘tribbles’ (we know how this will end). He hopes to breed these creatures he describes as “all meat, like scallops” as a potential colonist food source (why anyone would need livestock in a future with protein-resequencing replicators doesn’t make much sense). Capt. Lucerno tells him to put a pin in his somewhat aimless tribble research and help out in the ship’s climatology department instead. Edward mumbles objections, saying he’s a protein specialist. Lucerno tells him that since they’re all scientists here, he should try something new.
We see Edward griping about the new captain to his disinterested crewmates, who casually dismiss his complaints as just so much noise. Lucerno later confronts the passive/aggressive Edward about his baseless grumblings regarding her leadership, which he’d submitted (anonymously) to Starfleet Command. His lame attempt at a defense goes nowhere, and he is dismissed.
Against orders, of course, Edward continues his research with the tribbles, mixing these previously “slow breeding” creatures with his own DNA, somehow resulting in creatures that explode with replicative force…literally bursting with offspring the moment they’re born. Thus, the fast-breeding creatures we see in TOS’ “Trouble With Tribbles” are born. It’s never explained exactly how human DNA speeds up their life-cycle, but sure… whatever.
Soon the USS Cabot is overrun with tribbles, and an angrily defiant but doomed Edward is literally swarmed to death with the creatures as the rest of the crew escape the vessel, which suffers structural containment and is lost (!).
Facing a board of inquiry following the loss of Larkin, as well as her vessel, Capt. Lucerno is asked if she has anything to say in her defense. Lucerno meekly offers, “He was an idiot.”
More Tribbles, More Troubles.
Written by Graham Wagner, and directed by Daniel Gray Longino, “The Trouble With Edward” isn’t nearly as successful as last week’s “Q&A”, which was an intimate, illuminating focus on two TOS characters. “The Trouble With Edward” offers nothing really new for the Star Trek tribbles, other than a retcon that suggests Cyrano Jones’ tribbles (in TOS) were somehow products of Edward Larkin’s genetic manipulations (the original tribbles bred quickly because they evolved from a predator-filled environment, not because they had human DNA).
The new tribbles seem to have a reproduction rate that is more frightening than comedic. TOS already established that tribbles were ‘born pregnant,’ and that they produced new generations every 11 hours or so. They didn’t furiously pop out offspring like a malfunctioning pitching machine hurling fastballs in a batter’s cage. Writer Graham Wagner apparently does a hand wave around this, unlike the far superior DS9 episode “Trials and Tribble-ations” (written by Ron Moore & Rene Echevarria), which worked within the parameters of established tribble lore.
The ’solution’ of this Short Trek falls apart as well. Was the message supposed to be that the seemingly bright and energetic Capt. Lucerno wasn’t ready for the job, since her first (and presumably last) command led to both a dead crewman and the loss of her ship? That idea isn’t terribly funny. TOS’ “Trouble With Tribbles” and DS9’s “Trials & Tribble-ations” worked as comedies because no one in those episodes died (except for a bunch of poisoned tribbles, whose deaths saved the lives of the Sherman’s Planet colonists). For me, death and lighthearted comedy don’t really mix.
I also find it odd that these creatures, which already cost Starfleet a ship and the life of an officer (however useless), would somehow remain completely unknown by the time Captain Kirk assumed command of the USS Enterprise only a few years later. Wouldn’t there be surviving logs detailing the tribble incident aboard the Cabot? How would Kirk and company know nothing about this interstellar menace?
Lucero’s screwup also reflects badly on Pike’s judgment for recommending her for the job, since she failed so spectacularly. Sad part is, I really liked Captain Lucerno; she was nicely played by Rosa Salazar, and seemed like someone who should’ve had a bright future in Starfleet for many years to come. The story would’ve been better served if this young captain used this crisis to think on her feet and save the day, instead of surrendering her ship to a plague of exploding hairballs.
“Trouble With Edward”, with its “Gremlins”-style horror approach to the tribbles just doesn’t work. A light comedy about cooing, rapidly-breeding fuzzballs shouldn’t involve a dead crewman and the loss of a starship. I love Star Trek, but its comedic episodes are still a mixed bag.