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WARNING: Caution: low-flying tribbles ... er ... spoilers for DS9's "Trials and Tribble-ations."

In brief: You will believe a tribble can ... um ... eat. And you'll probably laugh your head off, too.

Brief summary: A Klingon agent's action sends Sisko and the Defiant back in time, where they must prevent disaster from befalling Captain Kirk and the original U.S.S. Enterprise.

George Takei has to be really, really ticked off right about now.

Not only did he not get to appear in the original "The Trouble With Tribbles", but now come the 30th anniversary of Trek, he's stuck appearing in Voyager's "Flashback" and put to no good use, while everyone else from the original series gets to see themselves on DS9 used to exemplary comic effect. There just ain't no justice in this world.

Putting that aside, though ... "Trials and Tribble-ations" was one of those shows that was setting itself up either to work beautifully or to fall on its face with an earth-shattering thwunk. With the integration of Sisko et al. into original series footage and the plethora of in-jokes, virtually the entire episode is a tongue-in-cheek offering --
so depending on your sense of humor, it still could fall flat on its face. However, I have to say that I've yet to find someone who didn't think it was an absolute scream -- and I did, too.

The best one-word review of the episode is "clever". The original idea of "hey, let's take DS9's cast back in time to meet the original characters" was perhaps clever, but it was also something that would live or die by execution. It was in the specifics that the cleverness really kicked in. Framing the entire affair as Sisko's report to two gentlemen from Temporal Investigations? A hoot; I've always wanted to see what kind of statement Federation officers had to make after strange things like this. Using an Orb as the mechanism to travel back? Sure; why not? Having Darvin be behind it all? You betcha -- hey, if Koloth could survive to this time, why not him? Everything was done with just a light enough touch that it felt like a tip of the hat -- which is, of course, exactly what it was meant to be.

The plot itself was not exactly substantial: Sisko et al. have to stop Darvin from changing history without impacting history themselves. A bit worn around the edges, perhaps -- but then, the plot of the original episode wasn't overflowing with depth either. "Trials and Tribble-ations", at its core, really knew it wasn't much beyond an excuse to joke about Trek's thirty-year history -- and that knowledge let it succeed far more brilliantly than it would have had it taken itself more seriously. (Look at "Flashback" as an example: dull, ponderous, and making no sense at all. No, thank you.) As such, there's not much to do in a review beyond comment on the jokes themselves and particular moments that did or did not appeal.

Let's start with the two Temporal Investigations agents. I liked 'em. I particularly liked the discussion about Sisko's logic: "So you're not contending it was a predestination paradox? A time loop -- that you were meant to go back into the past?" "No." "Good. We hate those." That exchange, combined with Bashir's tortured logic on the Enterprise turbolift about potentially being his own great-grandfather, managed to neatly sweep away a lot of the usual time-travel issues and concentrate on having fun. (That Bashir/O'Brien scene was one of the highlights of the show; it may have been one of DS9's ten funniest scenes ever.)

No, wait; strike that. An even funnier scene was probably the one addressing the age-old fan question of "why do the Klingons look different now than they did then?" Given that the real answer was, is, and ever shall be "budget reasons; deal with it", I've always thought the raging debates about the subject were pretty silly -- as such, the "answer" we got here from Worf of "They are Klingons, and it is a long story" was exactly what I wanted to hear. Note the fact, let O'Brien and Bashir spout off weird theories for a second, then very publicly refuse to discuss it. I absolutely adored that. (Worf's reactions to tribbles weren't as brilliant as this bit was, but they were still amusing.)

From a character standpoint, though, the person who was put to the best use was Dax. That's no surprise; since, as she said herself, she was the one person who'd actually lived in that era, she was reminiscing more than most and having more connections to the era than anyone else. As such, she got to comment on the appeal of the very cheap-looking 23rd century technology; she got to observe that Spock was "much more handsome in person" (and in slighting Kirk, re-create fan reaction of the late '60s, which I'm sure was 100%
intended); she got to tell Sisko "but ... but ... it's James KIRK!"; she got to remark on McCoy's "hands of a surgeon"; basically, she got to knock Sisko off his guard again and again and again. It was just marvelous. (From a hormonal standpoint, I also have to say that Terry Farrell is definitely easy on the eyes in an old-style uniform. My, but it's warm in here...)

Several of the other jokes were a lot faster and a lot more throwaway, but there really wasn't a single one that fell flat for me. I liked the present Darvin's passing himself off as a "trader of gemstones, kevas, and trillium", just as Kirk and Spock tried to do in "Errand of Mercy". I liked O'Brien's reaction to Scotty's repair jobs, being so similar to everyone else's reactions to his. I liked Bashir's "I'm a doctor, not an historian" -- see, this one had context, unlike the umpty-ump times we've seen Voyager's doctor use it; there, it was funny the first time.
I liked Bashir and O'Brien not knowing how to use the turbolift, and Bashir being told "your flap's open". I liked Dax remembering being told about Koloth's encounter and thus realizing the ship posed no threat. I adored the bar brawl. I liked O'Brien and Bashir in Kirk's lineup, and O'Brien being forced to flat-out lie to a legend. I liked
Dax coming up with the same tribble count as Spock (even more so since the number's right given their constraints :-) ) I liked Sisko's repeating the words "storage compartments", just as Kirk did originally. I liked the tribble menace making its way to the 24th century. There may be other in-jokes that I missed ... but based on the track record so far, if I find any more I imagine I'll like them too. (Truth be told, one of the weakest jokes of the show wasn't an in-joke; it was the whole "lilac" issue about how Klingons smell. Even that was an awful lot of fun.)

As for the technology putting Sisko and company into the scenes ...quite nice. It was difficult not to tell the difference in film quality, but I imagine that's only because I knew what they were doing and was looking for differences. I'd be very interested to show this to someone who'd never seen any of the original series (and who didn't know enough to be able to be sure what the main characters looked like; you know, like someone trapped in orbit around Pluto for the last three decades), and see if they could tell. The attempts were impressive, however: the quality of shots on the station and the Enterprise were a bit grainier than the usual DS9 footage to try to blend in better with 30-year-old film stock, and the space shots were as crisp as DS9 usually is, making the situation seem more real. Nice job. (About the only jarring difference was the music during the brawl scene; it wasn't nearly as playful as the original score was.)

There's not much else to say. The plot was sufficient for what the show wanted to do, which was take a nostalgic turn while poking fun at itself; the dialogue was well beyond snappy (hell, my "memorable quotes" section for this episode at season's end may well consist of half the script); the characters were true to themselves; the effects were quite nice; the whole thing was just entertaining. I wouldn't want this kind of goofiness on a regular basis, but it's awfully fun as a diversion once in a while.

A few other notes, then:

-- I still love that Bashir/O'Brien scene. I know I mentioned it before, but it was a blast. "You can't just dismiss this!" "I can TRY." "All right. Fine. But I can't wait to get back to Deep Space Nine and see your face when you find out that I never existed!" Er, Julian...

-- Long-time Marvel Comics readers will understand what I mean when I say that one of the Temporal Investigations reps really should have looked like the late Mark Gruenwald. :-) (Man, Gruenwald would probably have loved the whole idea...)

-- "James T. Kirk [...] the man was a menace." Hee.

-- An ad for "First Contact" also aired during the episode. I think the combination was a little weird, as someone on Friday mentioned a very strange concept to me. Two words: "Borg tribble." 'Nuff said.

That about covers it. Wrapping up:

Writing: If "clever" is too repetitious, how about "deft"? This was a cute way to work a risky idea, and engaging as all hell.
Directing: Delightful.
Acting: Another display of the cast's lighter side -- but it worked, unquestionably.

OVERALL: Ah, what the hell -- let's call it a 10, at least for now. We'll see how it ages later.

NEXT WEEK:

I know the "Baywatch" cast has been striving for a little more diversity, but Trills and Bolians somehow seem to be pushing it a little...

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
tly...@alumni.caltech.edu <*>
"In the old days, operations officers wore red, command officers wore gold --" "And women wore less." "I think I'm going to like history."
-- Sisko, Dax, and Bashir

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