I remember when Best Beloved and I first watched North by Northwest. We'd heard it was a classic, but we were seriously unimpressed, because, okay, yes, many interesting scenes, but nothing novel or ground-breaking; everything had been done before. A lot.
And then, halfway through, we realized that when the movie was made, none of it had been done before, and everything we had seen had been imitating or referencing this. It really changed our perspective.
Watching Star Trek is kind of like that. I keep seeing things that have been done a million times - clichés from science fiction TV that even I recognize, clichés that you see again and again in military SF, and clichés that have been beaten into the ground, reshaped, and then beaten into the ground again in fan fiction.
So I spend part of my time being like, "But we've SEEN this. A million times! It's all been done before!" And then I remind myself that, no, this is the original; when it aired, (presumably) none of it had been.
It's mind-boggling. What if Star Trek had been different? Would all of SF TV now look different? How much of military SF would be different? I love AUs, and I would love to see that one, I tell you what.
The Trouble with Tribbles: Or, Kirk Is Almost Certainly a Robot
(I decided to watch this episode after I got a look at the tribbles, which do not trigger my animal harm squick because they are so very clearly fluff balls. Yet another advantage of crappy props and no special effects budget! Although Best Beloved has forced me to add here that I did tear up the first time I watched this. Fine, I did. I'm not ashamed.)
What the fuck is up with the introduction segments? I can't ever figure out why they are what they are. This one is - Chekov's performance review? Really? I guess it's nice to see that they still have bureaucracy in the future, but it's not what I would choose to spend screen time on.
Uhura interrupts with a priority one distress call. Kirk leaps up, hoping something more interesting than performance reviews will fill the rest of his day. Anyone who has ever done one feels immediate sympathy with him.
Credits, during which Best Beloved reminds me once again not to get hung up on science facts, and then - Kirk is excited, because battle's a-comin': everyone to action stations. BUT WAIT. Everything is fine! That's not what Kirk likes to see! Apparently!
Kirk, by the way, is wearing a fetching lime green wraparound polyester tunic, and it seems to be making him grouchy. (It's definitely making me grouchy. I thought I understood the color scheme in Starfleet, and now the captain is wearing GREEN. Green is not an approved Starfleet color, people! Get with your own primary-color-based program! Although it helped somewhat when I started thinking of it as a blend of his usual color and Spock's shirt color. They're maaaaaried, is what that means!) Also, he came in with his guns primed and so ready for action, and he's desperate to unload them in a worthy target, but now there's no worthy target. Nothing Kirk hates more than a fucking fighttease.
They meet some agricultural dudes and a station manager who is wearing a prisoner's orange jumpsuit, forcing us to pause while we discuss what this probably means about the station.
When we hit play again, we learn that Kirk is so frustrated that his speech module has developed a malfunction, causing him to repeat his sentences, very rapidly and without any alteration in inflection, so it sounds like this: "Storage compartment storage compartment?" "The what the what?" "Memory checksum invalid memory checksum invalid." "Please call support please call support please call support."
There is a truly scintillating discussion of a grain hybrid. Spock looks riveted. Kirk looks like he got into space precisely so he would never have to hear about grain again.
Apparently agriculture is not such a challenging field in the future, because the undersecretary of it is dumb enough that he impugns Spock's knowledge. (Seriously, if you were high up in the Federation, wouldn't you have met a Vulcan before? Or at least know something about Vulcans? Maybe they still have mail-order diplomas in the future.) Spock responds by providing just a few of the 350 minutes of information he has on tap about the grain, until the undersecretary mans up and swears he will never, ever ask for information from Spock again.
Kirk, still pissed off about the fighttease, doesn't want to supply the requested grain guards, but Spock gives him the Pointy Ears of Please Reconsider, Captain, for My Sake, so he tosses the undersecretary a bone.
(And I just have to interject here that you need a whole new standard of slashiness to watch this show. This scene, in which Spock changes Kirk's mind without saying a word, is so very married and slashy that it would be a pivotal slash moment in a modern fandom. You would see it in all the vids. There would be several thousand stories written about exactly how that moment came to be, and featuring other versions of that moment. People would draw pictures of Spock doing this with Kirk at, um, other times. Here, it barely registers on the TOS Slashometer. Mostly because of course Kirk and Spock have married moments. They're married!)
Kirk uses a communicator that is clearly made out of the same material as his bed from Amok Time, and that he apparently has to hold very carefully or it will fall apart. (Also, it's clear they didn't want to show the bottom at all, since it is shot so that you never see what's in his hand.) But he makes up for it by being really, really pissy at the undersecretary. "I have never questioned the orders or the intelligence of any representative of the Federation. Until now." Best Beloved and I applaud him. Pissy Kirk is my new favorite kind of Kirk!
Leaving victorious but still aching for some action, Kirk takes Spock to a bar, because, you know, that's where you take your Vulcan when you're on a space station and you're all riled up. Even though Vulcans apparently don't drink. The back of the bar contains a random assortment of junk, as bars often do; in this case, it's exactly what you find on that shelf at the thrift store that contains random hideous stuff that no one ever buys.
Uhura and Chekov have come to the bar. To shop. I guess the showrunners didn't want to move the furniture around again to make a store?
Aaand here come the tribbles! Or, in this case, just one tribble. There is a prolonged and wholly unnecessary negotiation scene, and then Uhura gets a free tribble.
Spock and Kirk - Kirk still in his fetching green I'm So Married tunic - get a message from an admiral. KIRK MUST SUBMIT TO THE UNDERSECRETARY. He's not pleased, especially since apparently he's now Captain in Charge of Some Grain.
Red alert! Red alert! Klingons right over there! Red alert! Every time they go on red alert, my brain goes right back to Red Dwarf: "Are you sure? It does mean changing the bulb."
Kirk is really ready by now, but AGAIN it's a fighttease. Kirk can't get no satisfaction. Instead, he gets Klingons, who wear outfits that will no doubt win them great acclaim on the men's figure skating circuit. I spend the rest of the episode distracted, waiting for one of them to whip out a triple axel.
The Klingons are here to get laid, which is of course why they're wearing their figure skating outfits, since there's nothing that gets a potential partner hotter than sequins, and Johnny Weir will tell you the same if you ask him. We pause to have this conversation:
Me: I guess that's really the message of Star Trek.
Me: Wear sequins. Be shiny.
BB: I thought it was tolerance.
Me, looking at the screen, where Kirk, who wears gold braid around his wrists, is arguing with a man wearing a gold lame blouse and sparkle pants: No, it's definitely be shiny.
The Klingons apparently have the women of Starfleet confused with camp followers, which, seriously: WHAT? Why was that necessary to throw in there, David Gerrold? Except this Klingon appears to be seeking something other than women, and is somewhat defensive about it: "What we choose as recreation is our own business," he says, eyeing the furniture with an unseemly amount of interest.
We meet Scotty, who apparently relaxes by jerking off to his technical journals. I am not at all surprised. We are, apparently, in the rec room, which is so depressing I am surprised suicide is not the most popular pastime on board. I develop a new theory, which is that the future has perfected anti-depressants to such a degree that people can live all the time surrounded by grey walls with only a single chess set for entertainment and never lose their joi de vivre.
Of course, these people have something else bringing them joy: tribbles. Lots of tribbles. Kirk, who is still yearning for some action, does not like tribbles. And this is the moment when I become sure that Kirk is a robot, because they make the point several times that all humans like tribbles because they have an effect on their nervous systems. Kirk obviously is not affected. KIRK IS NOT HUMAN. Take that with his earlier malfunction, and what do you have? Robot AUs, I hope to god. I desperately want some TOS robot AUs right now.
Spock really really does like tribbles, but denies everything. McCoy also likes tribbles, but in a more scientific sense. You'd think a doctor on this ship would leap on the anti-depressant qualities like Clark Kent on Lex Luthor, but apparently he wants to test it first or something.
The undersecretary is back, and still cross (someone give this man a tribble!); he and Kirk engage in some light debate about the collective noun for Klingons. Spock, using extremely persuasive eyebrows, manages to keep Kirk from calling the undersecretary a big doo-doo head right to his face, in another one of those throw-away, "Why yes, gay marriage is totally accepted in the future" moments.
Kirk has a headache, so he goes to sickbay, where we discover that this is the second episode of Star Trek that I've seen - out of two - that revolves around reproduction. In the future, everything is about babies, apparently.
Later, Scotty, Chekov, and some other dude are on shore leave in the space station bar. The salesman is back, with tribbles. And we discover that tribbles don't like Klingons. This, I am betting, will be significant later.
A Klingon tries to pick a fight. Chekov is upset, but Scotty talks him down.
And then we get a speech in which the Klingon explains that "there's one earthman who doesn't remind [him] of a Regulan bloodworm." Because, see, the bloodworms are soft and shapeless, and Kirk isn't soft. (And he's also shapely, we have to assume.) Kirk is very, very hard. Yes, hard.
Best Beloved and me, in unison: Holy shit! Kirk porked a Klingon!
We go back and watch it again, but it still comes out the same way. We are stunned by this news and wonder if Spock knows.
Maybe it was a programming error.
Anyway, this Klingon apparently pretty fondly remembers the time he spent with Kirk, and we have to conclude that Kirk managed some very impressive stickwork there. But then we learn that Kirk never called after, and the Klingon is still really, really pissed off about it. More insults. Scotty talks Chekov down again. But! The Klingon insults the Enterprise, and it is ON. Scotty won't hear a bad word about his lady.
Rumble! Really prolonged rumble! With really bad fake fighting! I guess this is before there were fight choreographers, because the whole thing looks like the director said, "And right here, guys, just do your best. Like, wave your fists around or something. But don't hurt anyone, for god's sake - we aren't insured for that. And don't damage the bar; we'll be out most of the scenery we need for the rest of the episode." So Chekov does some traditional Russian dances, Scotty throws punches that start in a different room, and the third guy does acrobatic Judo-esque throws. (Presumably he was cast for his ability to do this.)
Back on the Enterprise, Kirk is doing a lineup to find out who started the fight. I wait eagerly for someone to say he is Spartacus.
And if you thought we had lots of tribbles before, they're now everywhere. Spock and McCoy are working together on the Weigh All the Tribbles on the Ship Project and engaging in banter that is really quite awesome, and thus must be reproduced here only partly paraphrased:
McCoy: Humans like tribbles! Because we are human! Which is better than being Vulcan!
Spock: I am well aware of human characteristics. I am frequently inundated by them, but I have trained myself to put up with practically anything.
McCoy: You suck donkey dong.
Spock: I know one good thing about tribbles: they do not talk too much.
Best Beloved and I cheerfully declare Spock the victor in this battle of wits and award him a million points, plus extra for having such great ears.
Now we see the dark side of tribbles: tribble addiction. You know that alcoholism checklist? People are stashing tribbles everywhere, all over the bridge, even. They can't get through the day without a tribble. It's starting to affect their job performance. The Enterprise has a problem. A tribble problem.
McCoy explains that tribbles are born pregnant, and also that they're bisexual, which McCoy defines as "reproducing at will." Maybe McCoy should ask Kirk, who I am sure has a much better definition of bisexuality than that.
We go back and forth between the station and the Enterprise a couple more times, apparently for no other reason than to allow Spock to fire off a bunch of zingers, but then comes the realization: TRIBBLES. (During this episode, and certainly during any writeup of this episode, you eventually use the word enough that it has no meaning. See? Tribble tribble tribble tribble.) There are tribbles in the grain. And then there are tribbles on William Shatner! All over William Shatner! It's a tribblepolooza! A tribble circle jerk with Shatner in the middle! During the rest of the scene, one occasionally comes down and bonks him in the head, and I bet there was a lot of desperate behind-the-scenes fighting to be the person who got the tribble-throwing job. Seriously, if I could travel in time, this set would be on my top ten list of destinations, just to do that.
And now we discover that Kirk is actually covered in DEAD tribbles. If there's a worse place to be in the universe - well, actually, they'll probably visit it in a later episode.
There's a sort of inquest, in which the Klingons demand an apology, the undersecretary demands Kirk's head on a platter, and Kirk decides this is the perfect chance to carry a tribble around for a while and do some flirting with Spock:
Kirk: The tribbles don't like Klingons, but they do like Vulcans. Why, Mr. Spock, I didn't know you had it in you.
Spock: Most nights, Captain, you are the one who has it in you.
But all this tribble-toting is not in vain; OH NO SECRET KLINGON. And OH NO POISONED GRAIN.
And then Kirk tribble-tortures the secret Klingon, causing me to make the big frowny face of disapproval at him (they don't have regulations about torture and the treatment of animals in the future?) while the Klingon breaks like a piece of Pocky.
Kirk is now having a much better day, especially after he takes out some of his pent-up frustration on the salesguy. And then he learns that the Enterprise is tribble-free, after a truly weird conversation in which everyone insists that someone else explain to the captain what happened to the tribbles. (Not mentioned: how they gathered all the tribbles up.)
All is well in space again. Except Kirk still hasn't gotten to release his guns.