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Josh Reviews the New Short Treks Episode: The Trouble with Edward

November 1st, 2019

In “The Trouble with Edward,” the latest “Short Treks” Star Trek short film being released on CBS All Access in the lead-up to the launch of the new Picard series, we meet the newly-promoted Captain Lynne Lucero (Rosa Salazar), transferring off of Christopher Pike’s USS Enterprise onto her own command, the science ship USS Cabot.  Among the Cabot’s command crew is Lieutenant Edward Larkin (H. Jon Benjamin), who proposes a most unusual solution to the starvation crisis the Cabot has been tasked with resolving: genetically engineering fast-breeding Tribbles for the afflicted colonists to eat.  When Captain Lucero rejects this plan, Larkin goes ahead anyways, and Tribble-enduced chaos ensues.

That sounds like the description of a fun romp, and as soon as I learned of this episode’s title (an obvious nod to the Original Series episode “The Trouble with Tribbles”), I was excited.  But my goodness, I thought this was terrible.  It was so bad that it made me truly question whether I should stop watching this new Alex Kurtzman-overseen Star Trek product (which has mostly left me dissatisfied).

Things start well.  I enjoyed the scene between Lucero and Captain Pike, as he wishes her well on her new assignment and gives her some advice, veteran Captain to newbie.  We got some beautiful visual effects, seeing the Enterprise in orbit on the night side of a planet, and getting a good look at the beautiful new starship, the Cabot.  I really liked Rosa Salazar’s performance as this smart, energetic young Captain.  And H. Jon Benjamin is a terrific comedic actor, and I was excited for him to bring some silliness and fun to this new Star Trek story.

But I didn’t find this episode funny at all.  It all felt surprisingly weird and mean-spirited to me.  H. Jon Benjamin’s Lieutenant Larkin isn’t a funny goofball or even a pathetic Barclay-like screw-up.  Rather, he is a total psychopath.  I can suspend a lot of my disbelief when watching Star Trek and other sci-fi — I can accept the existence of starships and aliens — but it breaks my credulity that this evil little troll (who is so incompetent that he can’t even operate his PADD computer tablet at the ship’s staff meeting) could ever become a Lieutenant on a starship.  That Larkin behaves like an internet scoundrel by sending anonymous messages to Starfleet saying how terrible his new female captain is isn’t one bit funny — it’s gross.

And Rosa Salazar’s Captain Lucero doesn’t come off that much better.  I liked her character and was rooting for her, but she turns out to be completely ineffectual, eventually losing her ship.  That the episode ends with her getting reamed out by Starfleet brass is sad, not funny.  And the episode-ending “joke,” in which her explanation for everything that went down is that Larkin was “an idiot,” makes her look petty and small to me.  (She doesn’t make any attempt to connect with or understand Larkin — she dismisses him in that first briefing, and at the end of the episode she dismisses him again.)

But the episode’s worst crime, in my opinion, was its committing the worst sin of a prequel — giving us an origin story for something we never needed an origin for.  This episode suggests that Tribbles’ rapid breeding was the result of Larkin’s genetic engineering experiments, splicing his own human DNA with that of the Tribbles.  UGH.  I did not need to know the origin of Tribbles!!!  And the story we’re given is that they were created by humans, just a few years before Kirk & co. encountered them?  It’s so unimaginative and ego-centric (that humans were responsible for them).  I hate it when prequels try to connect everything back to the main characters we know.  (Like Episode I telling us that Darth Vader built C-3PO, to reference my favorite example of this sort of thing.)  This also throws established continuity out the window (a crime that Star Trek Discovery commits multiple times an episode).  Forget the fact that a previous episode of Enterprise, set 100 years before this short, mentioned Tribbles and their habit of fast rate of breeding (in “The Breach”).  Forget the fact that genetic engineering is illegal in the Star Trek universe (because of Khan and his fellow world-conquering super-humans, as established in the DS9 episode “Dr. Bashir, I Presume?”), a fact that curiously no one on the Cabot mentions when Larkin describes his plans.  No, what most bugs me is that, when Kirk and his crew encounter the Tribbles in “The Trouble with Tribbles,” they don’t know anything about them, and McCoy has to discover that they’re “born pregnant.”  If the Tribbles were really created by a Starfleet officer only a decade before the events of that episode, wouldn’t Kirk know about it?  Wouldn’t McCoy be able to find all of the information about Larkin’s Tribble experiments in the Enterprise’s computer database?

The only aspect of this short that I truly enjoyed was the loony fake Tribbles breakfast cereal commercial that came after the credits.  You’d think I’d dislike that, because it’s not an in-universe story but rather more of a Star Trek parody.  But I thought it was brilliant and spectacularly funny!  (FAR funnier than anything in the actual short itself.)

Yech.  This was a big failure in my opinion.

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