Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Respectable Comedy That Combines The Greatest Trek With The Original: “Trials And Tribble-ations”

The Good: Funny, Charming, Excellent special effects, Intriguing concept with a good execution, Acting! Character elements
The Bad: The Orb of Time is problematic, Cheap jokes, The Klingon cop-out
The Basics: In a humorous episode that nevertheless maintains the seriousness of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "Trials and Tribble-ations" provides an enjoyable viewing experience for all audiences.

When the 30th Anniversary of Star Trek came around - it's almost hard to believe that event was over ten years ago! - the two existing Star Trek series's at the time wanted to commemorate the event (for the 25th anniversary of Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation had presented a two-part episode featuring Spock). Star Trek: Voyager did a flashback episode featuring George Takei as Captain Sulu (ironically called "Flashback"). On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the cast and crew got even more ambitious; they returned to one of the most popular episodes of Star Trek and recreated it with the characters from Deep Space Nine. After much debate, the episode they chose was the humorous "The Trouble With Tribbles," which involved Captain Kirk foiling a Klingon attempt to sabotage an agricultural venture through the aid of the furry, ever-multiplying Tribbles. The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine take is "Trials And Tribble-ations" and it utilizes footage from the Star Trek episode and integrates characters from Deep Space Nine in in order to tell a new story in the same time and place.

When the U.S.S. Defiant takes on a human passenger when the Cardassians surrender one of the mysterious Orbs of the Prophets, they soon find themselves inexplicably in the past. It turns out the Orb was the Orb of Time - which has the properties to allow the one who activates it to translate a ship or person to a different place and time - and the passenger was Arne Darvin, the surgically-altered Klingon spy who Captain Kirk exposed as a spy almost one hundred years before. Darvin is revisiting the time of his exposure in order to kill Captain Kirk and regain his honor (his life took a turn for the significantly worse when he was exposed by Kirk). So, Captain Sisko, Dr. Bashir, Chief O'Brien, Dax, Odo and Worf set to finding Darvin and stopping him from killing Captain Kirk. While Bashir and O'Brien scour the lower decks of the U.S.S. Enterprise, trying to keep a low profile, Worf and Odo find Darvin aboard the nearby space station K-7 and learn that his assassination attempt is intended to be ironic . . . and unstoppable.

"Trials And Tribble-ations" is a fun episode, but like most all Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes, it manages to be fun while being smart and advancing an overall plot. "The Trouble With Tribbles" was a fun episode, but there were never consequences for the episode in terms of either the Klingon conflict or the problems of terraforming the colony on Sherman's Planet - which is where the grain the for the agricultural venture was headed. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is all about consequences. Arne Darvin's disgrace at being outed by a little ball of fur would be humiliating for a Klingon warrior and spy. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine deals with the consequences that the original series neglected. Darvin's rage festers for years and when his opportunity comes, he strikes.

It's a clever concept and the execution of that concept is fairly brilliant. Using the special effects technology pioneered in Forrest Gump (reviewed here!), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine integrates characters and footage shot in the mid-1990s with the existing footage from the late 1960s. And while the footage had to be culled from various episodes of Star Trek, the net result is clever and seamless. The special effect of putting Dax and Sisko on the bridge of the Enterprise with Spock and Captain Kirk is incredible. When Sisko interacts with Kirk, the process is astonishing and enjoyable to watch.

None of that would have been possible without the quality of actors from this particular series of Star Trek. In order to engineer the effects that put Dax and Sisko on the Enterprise bridge (for example), the actors had to work against a greenscreen, which meant for the most part they were working opposite nothing, no one. They are required to interact with individuals who are not present and Terry Farrell, for example, does a flawless job of appearing to make eye contact with William Shatner's Captain Kirk and reacting to him. Knowing there wasn't even a stand in for the scene makes this acting impressive. Even more impressive is that such concerns never come up during the actual viewing of the episode. It seems so well put together that this sort of evaluation only happens on retrospect.

"The Trouble With Tribbles" was a funny episode with the point being to produce an amusing hour of science fiction humor. "Trials And Tribble-ations" takes the story to the next level and makes a dramatic presentation - stopping an assassination - with a number of jokes tossed in. And from the opening moments, Dax makes a joke about the officers from Temporal Investigations always being on time, this is a drama with jokes thrown in as opposed to an outright comedy. And with this series, there are subtle jokes that only fans who are looking for them will find. For example, the officers from Temporal Investigations are Dulmer and Lucsly, anagrams of Mulder and Scully, as this series' tribute to The X-Files.

The enjoyable thing here is watching a very serious cast, like the characters on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine finding themselves in such outrageous circumstances like having to deal with multiplying bunches of fur. It's the science fiction comedic equivalent of when the cast of The Practice did a crossover with the nutballs of Ally McBeal.

There are problems with "Trials And Tribble-ations," but most of them are big picture issues. So, for example, the device that makes this whole adventure possible, the Orb of Time is an extraordinarily powerful artifact for the Cardassians to give up willingly. It seems odd that none of their scientists figured out what the special power of this Orb was. It's plot convenient, but problematic in the big picture. Even when it returns, at the end of the sixth season, the mechanics of the artifact are unclear. For those of us who loathes Star Trek: Enterprise, "Trials And Tribble-ations" contradicts its existence by defining the number of ships called Enterprise in the history of StarFleet and the Federation.

Even more problematic for a series that is usually so direct is that the opportunity arises to directly deal with why the Klingons from Star Trek look different from the Klingons in the Trek movies and beyond. Worf provides a pat answer and the show goes on with an unsatisfying resolution to this problem.

But those are big picture issues. For the most part, casual watchers of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and fans of Star Trek are likely to find this a real treat. Watching O'Brien and Bashir bumble around the Enterprise is fun and seeing Dax in one of the outfits of the time is also fun for fans who remember that in the original series "women wore less." Actress Terry Farrell seems to have a real sense of humor about it.

The nice thing is, this little science fiction romp with a lot of comedy is very accessible to people who aren't fans of the Star Trek series'. Everything the viewer needs to know is encapsulated in the episode. For those who think science fiction tends to be a stuffy genre, this is the perfect response.

While not essential to the long-term story of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, this is an essential episode for fans and a delightful "thank you" from the producers for the devotion of the audience. This is great with a bowl of popcorn and friends with a sense of humor.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete Fifth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the perfect season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek reviews, please be sure to visit my Star Trek Review Index Page by clicking here!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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