The Tribbles, one of Star Trek's most infamous alien species, just got a surprisingly dark, hilarious origin story. The deceptively cute little fur balls are featured in the "The Trouble With Edward," the latest Short Trek installment. Set in roughly the same era as Star Trek: Discovery, the episode introduces us to Captain Lynn Lucero (Rosa Salazar), the Enterprise's departing science officer and the brand new commanding officer of the USS Cabot, a small research vessel tasked with assisting a planet suffering from an ecological calamity. However, after a nice pep talk from Captain Pike (Anson Mount) himself, it turns out Captain Lucero's biggest obstacle isn't a potential planet-wide famine - it's a guy named Edward.
Lieutenant Edward Larkin - played with the signature dry wit of Archer and Bob's Burgers star H. Jon Benjamin - is a talented but unorthodox scientist onboard the Cabot who believes he can genetically modify Tribbles to essentially serve as a never ending food source for not only the current crisis, but potentially many more across the Federation. To say his plan is met with resistance would be an understatement.
Before we get into the nightmarish specifics of Edward's plan, let's take a look back at the Tribbles' established place in Star Trek lore, and how this new Short Trek slots elegantly into that existing canon and lays some important groundwork for another upcoming Star Trek series.
The Tribbles Debuted In The Original Series
The Tribbles made their first appearance in the much loved Star Trek: The Original Series episode, "The Trouble With Tribbles." The Original Series played a bit looser with genre and tone than most iterations of Star Trek that followed, and "The Trouble With Tribbles" is arguably the most overtly comedic episode in the franchise's history. The image of Tribbles raining down on a bemused Captain Kirk from a cargo hold is one of the most iconic in all of Star Trek, if not television itself. The episode has some intrigue with Klingons and an early deep space station, but it exists largely for laughs.
The Tribbles wouldn't re-appear in live action until the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Trials and Tribble-ations." That episode served as a 30th anniversary celebration for the Star Trek franchise, and saw DS9's crew travel back in time to take part in the events of "The Trouble With Tribbles." "Trials and Tribble-ations" featured some remarkable green screen trickery for 1996, not only weaving the DS9 crew into the TOS episode's background, but allowing for some truly jaw dropping moments, like when DS9's Captain Benjamin Sisko gets to meet TOS-era Captain Kirk.
Outside of some passing references in Enterprise and Discovery, the Tribbles have largely been absent from Star Trek ever since. The fact that they're such a lighthearted threat has obviously played a factory in their limited usage - just how menacing can a handheld ball of fur really be? The writers of "The Trouble of Edward" seem to have taken that question as a challenge, and it's one that they've answered with gusto.
The Dark Origin Of The Tribbles
It was never really explained in Star Trek how the Tribbles could reproduce so rapidly, beyond the assumption that it was part of their basic biology. "The Trouble With Edward" flips that assumption on its head; after his ideas were rebuffed by Captain Lucero, Edward pushes forward anyway, conducting unauthorized experiments on the Tribbles. Edward injects his own DNA into one of the Tribbles, which is actually what prompts the exponential reproduction in them. A Dr. McCoy joke line from "The Trouble With Tribbles" takes on a far ickier connotation in "The Trouble With Edward" - the augmented Tribbles are, in fact, born pregnant.
Unable to stop their reproduction, the crew of the Cabot is forced to abandon ship as the Tribbles fill every available inch of the ship. Too busy patting himself on the back for his own genius to notice the calamity, Edward is overwhelmed by a wave of Tribbles, crushed to death by his own horrific creation. The Tribbles eventually break free of the ship, making their way to the planet below, as well as into nearby Klingon space, setting up the events of "The Trouble With Tribbles." When questioned by Starfleet Command about the loss of her ship and failure of her mission, Captain Lucero can only offer the truth - she was waylaid by an idiot.
Is This A Star Trek: Lower Decks Test Run?
While all the previous Short Treks had been direct spinoffs of Discovery - three of the first four ended up playing important roles in the proceeding season of the show - "The Trouble With Edward" feels decidedly more standalone, both in purpose and tone. The Discovery-centric Short Treks have had that show's inherent earnestness and warmth baked in, whereas there's a black comedic heart at the center of "The Trouble With Edward."
It's easy to wonder if CBS All Access decided to use one of their Short Treks this year as something of a test run for their third Star Trek series, Lower Decks. That series - spearheaded by Rick and Morty writer Mike McMahan - has been promoted as an adult oriented animated comedy, featuring a crew that is far from the best and brightest of Starfleet. Loosely based on the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode of the same name, Lower Decks will chronicle the adventures of the non-senior staff aboard the USS Cerritos as they try to keep their heads above water in the late 24th century.
The similarities between "The Trouble With Edward" and Lower Decks are hard to ignore - the minor Federation starship, the reliance on ostensibly unimportant officers, the dark comedic tone. And while the former may be live action, Edward himself is played by one of the most prominent voice actors of the 21st century in H. Jon Benjamin, giving the whole thing a distinctly Adult Swim flavor. The two entities are sure to have more differences than similarities - Lower Decks will take place about a century after "The Trouble With Edward," for one - but this feels like Star Trek's current production regime convincing themselves and their fans that there's a space for comedy in the Star Trek universe.
It could be effectively argued "The Trouble With Edward" was the least anticipated of the six Short Trek installments this year. "Q&A" and "Ask Not" continue the adventures of Captain Christopher Pike and his pre-Kirk Enterprise crew that gained massive popularity during Discovery's second season. "The Girl Who Made The Stars" and "Ephraim and Dot" are still shrouded in mystery; all we know is that they're animated installments and will tie back to Discovery. "Children Of Mars," the final Short Trek this season, is a Star Trek: Picard prequel, and will likely be the most anticipated Short Trek ever.
But "The Trouble With Edward" may end up being the most enduring and important installment for Star Trek's longterm future. Not only is it proof of concept for Lower Decks, it shows how CBS can still honor the legacy of what's come before while modernizing and updating the franchise for 21st century audiences in new and surprising ways. Perhaps most crucially, it showed that audiences will still respond to Star Trek stories even if they don't include franchise icons like Spock or Jean-Luc Picard...though audiences do probably deserve a bit better than Edward.