In which we watch the original ‘fluff’ episode, the seeds for two ubiquitous technologies are sown, and I really want a tribble.
You know of this episode. Nobody could possibly be following this blog and not know of this episode. This episode is so popular that Deep Space Nine inserted the main cast into this episode just so they could air this episode again. When I was in middle school we all read the script for this episode as part of an English assignment and I had to pretend I didn’t know half the quotes. (It was a different time, a time when the nerd closet was very firmly closed. Shhh, it’s okay, the dark times are behind us now.) So without further ado, let’s go!
Kirk and Spock are quizzing Chekov, who’s doing his usual thing of claiming that Russians invented or discovered everything. There’s a dispute over a planet and under the terms of the Organian (fucking Organians) Peace treaty, the Federation and the Klingons are ‘fighting’ over it by proving which side is better at industrial development. Suddenly, distress call! Remastered exterior shots! If I were in charge of which episodes got the most attention, this would be the top of that list as one of the most enjoyable TOS episodes out there.
We’ve got another situation where civilian leadership is placed in the role of jerkfaces. Interestingly, this might be a popularization of some of the work Norman Borlaug did creating a strain of wheat that vastly increased food output and helped stave off a Malthusian crisis. In this case, the high-yield wheat will be used in a pissing contest against the Klingons.
Enter Cyrano Jones in the background, a two-bit hustler, nowhere near the first-rate swindler that is Harcourt Fenton Mudd. Cyrano is selling Tribbles and Uhura is buying. The thing goes straight for the grain. When the Klingons show up, it prompts an awkward video call.
The Klingons have shown up to make Shore Leave. Captain Koloth is a well-spoken, polite (for a Klingon of the era) gentleman who would look rather more at home playing a harpsichord than smiling down gritted teeth at Kirk. Maybe in a waistcoat, posing in front of a mirror… Under the terms of the Organian (fuckin’ Organians) treaty, the Klingons have the right to use Federation shore leave facilities. Meanwhile, Uhura’s tribble has had babies. Lots of babies.
All they do is eat and breed. You can see how this will be a problem when there’s tons of supergrain aboard the station. And they hate Klingons, and the feeling is apparently mutual. BARFIGHT! There’s nothing much of substance happening here, other than some stablishing that a dunken smooth-forheaded Klingon and a drunk Federation serviceman are about a match for each other so long as nobody is using weapons.
Tribbles represent the extreme end of the R-type selection strategy. I strongly advise you look it up rather than relying on my piss-poor drunken recollection, but essentially, they bread instead of having natural defenses. The closest thing to defenses they have is cooing at humanoids, sticking to walls, and getting where they’re not wanted.
Occasionally, new tribbles are bouncing down on his head. In the DS9 episode “Trials and Tribble-ations” we will see that this is because Jadzia Dax is throwing tribbles at him from inside the cargo container. There’s a reason. I promise. But the idea of a decorated science officer pelting James Kirk with tribbles is one that never fails to give me the warm fuzzies.
So the Tribble dislike of Klingons is used, in the end, to expose a Klingon spy. This establishes what will eventually become fertile ground for the gritty, conspiracy-laden later franchises. And in a cold case of frontier Justice, Cyrano Jones is sentanced to 17.9 years of cleaning up tribbles. Good thing the Enterprise has Scotty, and the seeds of what will one day become site-to-site transporter protocols.