So let’s be clear about something right upfront. This is a comedy episode. And it was a funny one at that! There are some folks who aren’t crazy about the idea of funny ‘Star Trek’, but I’ve never been one of them. Rosa Salazar and H. Jon Benjamin both turn in delightful performances as Lucero and Larkin respectively, and despite the sense of ambivalence I mentioned earlier, this is a fun fifteen minutes. But while I absolutely enjoy it in the moment, the cracks start to show the more I think about it.
You see, there is another ‘Star Trek’ episode that ‘The Trouble With Edward’ strongly echoes, and it’s not the one you might think. Despite the title and the swarm of endlessly multiplying puffballs, that… touchstone, for want of a better word, is not ‘The Trouble With Tribbles’. Rather, it’s ‘Hollow Pursuits’. Or more specifically, it’s what ‘Hollow Pursuits’ might’ve been if the characters were all assholes.
I’m most obviously referring to Larkin, a prideful man decidedly lacking in social graces and one who even actor H. Jon Benjamin describes as having an almost sociopathic fixation on his work. As he becomes ever more unhinged over the course of the episode, it becomes clear that he’s basically a mad scientist and a childishly egomaniacal one at that. It’s actually a nice change of pace, in its own way. Usually, in Starfleet, it’s flag officers that lose their minds.
But while I actually found her rather likeable in spite of her shortcomings (the credit for which has to go to Rosa Salazar), Lucero’s not getting a pass either. I’m not about to go on some ‘Next Gen’-era Roddenberry spiel about there being no interpersonal conflict in Starfleet. There was plenty of that in the original series, and this short wouldn’t exist without it. The issue is not the conflict but the way it’s handled. By transferring Larkin (a biologist/geneticist) to a climatology project and through her generally clumsy handling of other aspects of their interaction (and, indeed, the “idiot” line at the end), Lucero makes clear that she is woefully unprepared for at least this aspect of command.
That’s where the comparison to ‘Hollow Pursuits’ comes in. What we have in both cases is a captain who is forced to deal with an extremely awkward officer. But in contrast to Picard, Lucero’s handling of Larkin is confrontational, very nearly from the start (though to be fair, he more than returns the favor). Remember when Picard slipped and addressed Reg as “Mr. Broccoli”? Imagine if, rather than being appropriately mortified, he’d leaned into it. That’s the direction in which Lucero often seems to be erring in her dealings with Larkin.
There are also some larger issues. It’s a comedic episode, and that’s fine (we’re dealing with tribbles after all), but the way it meshes comedy with “Star Trek-ness” does have me a bit worried about ‘Lower Decks.’ While I’m interested to see what it brings to the table, the fact that Lower Decks is being positioned as a comedy Star Trek show does make me a bit nervous. As I’ve said before, I have no problem with comedy in Star Trek, but ‘Lower Decks’ is being billed as dealing with “the least important ship in Starfleet”. Granted we don’t exactly know what that means yet, and ‘Lower Decks’ mastermind Mike McMahon had nothing to do (so far as I can tell) with this short. But nonetheless, ‘The Trouble With Edward’ makes it hard not to worry that the way the current ‘Trek’ regime approaches comedy might come at the cost of the competence of the crew. Because even taking a very generous, very superficial reading of the short, the titular trouble with Edward is that Edward was, in Lucero’s words, an idiot. So best case scenario, we have one idiot who set this catastrophe in motion. My god, it is LITERALLY an idiot plot.
I grant that I’m probably getting ahead of myself with that one, but still.
On a more “fanboy” note, I’m also not crazy about the idea of the tribbles’ “multiplicative proclivities” being due to reckless genetic engineering. It certainly feels as though it conflicts with the spirit if not necessarily the letter of past continuity. And to be fair, it doesn’t explicitly contradict anything we learn about them in ‘The Trouble With Tribbles’ (as well as ‘More Tribbles, More Troubles’ and ‘Trials And Tribble-ations’), though it does conflict with a throwaway reference in the ‘Enterprise’ episode ‘The Breach’. But what’s done is done, and honestly, it’s a fairly minor nitpick and more my own personal hang-up than an actual problem with the episode. (Alternately, the possibility remains that Larkin simply meant they didn’t breed fast enough to feed an entire planet – Larkin’s modified tribbles do seem to breed even faster than those we’ve seen in the past, after all. And that’s my fanwank for this week, kids! Where’s my no-prize?)
So all that being said, where do I come down on ‘The Trouble With Edward’? Well, I’d say I had fewer qualms the second time through than I did the first, which is always promising. But at the end of the day, it’s a fun, funny fifteen minutes that’s not without its share of problems. Significant ones, at that. I hate to say it about ‘Star Trek’, but this might be one of those cases where the best advice is to simply “turn off your brain”. At worst, though, you’ll likely enjoy it in the moment, even if it gets under your skin later.
What did you think of ‘The Trouble With Edward’? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to check back in two weeks for the next ‘Final Frontier Friday’!