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Star Trek: Discovery brought back a beloved lifeform as an important Easter egg

Nothing too troubling just yet

(L to R): Captain Lorca and Michael Burnham aboard the U.S.S. Discovery Michael Gibson/CBS

In its war with the Klingon Empire, Starfleet officers aboard the U.S.S. Discovery may have introduced a much needed weapon to defend themselves.

[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery’s third episode.]

Last night’s episode of Discovery brought back a delightful little tribble, who fans of The Original Series will remember as the adorable balls of fluff capable of asexual reproduction that can get out of hand and dangerous if not stopped. Those who haven’t seen The Original Series (or the fantastic “The Trouble with Tribbles” episode) may still know tribbles as the little creatures who covered James T. Kirk in this infamous photo taken from the episode’s most memorable scene.

Captain James T. Kirk being overrun by tribbles.
Captain James T. Kirk being overrun by tribbles.

Eagle-eyed (and eared) viewers caught the tribble sitting on top of Captain Lorca’s desk during an early scene in this week’s episode of Discovery, as he talks to former first officer Michael Burnham, recently brought aboard after her prison transport vessel was rescued by the Discovery.

(L to R): Captain Lorca and Michael Burnham aboard the U.S.S. Discovery
(L to R): Captain Lorca and Michael Burnham aboard the U.S.S. Discovery
Michael Gibson/CBS

The tribble may just seem like a throwback to The Original Series and an Easter egg for those paying close attention, but there’s another reason the lifeform may have a place on Lorca’s desk. Tribbles, which are largely considered incapable of harming conscious beings on their own, do present a danger to the Klingon race.

The small creatures reproduce and eat at an astonishing race — and once posed a significant danger to the Klingon Empire as a famine-causing pest, much like Earth’s locusts. The Tribble homeworld was destroyed by Klingons in an attempt to eradicate the species, and that is perhaps why Tribbles seem to have a loud, instinctual fear reaction whenever they are in close proximity to a Klingon. In their introductory episode in Star Trek: The Original Series, their ability to identify a Klingon — even one who had had significant cosmetic surgery to appear as a human — was a key element of the plot.

In Discovery, the sign of a tribble could hint at what’s to come down the line for Starfleet’s attack on the Klingon. Jason Isaacs, who plays Captain Lorca, told Indiewire the tribble wasn’t just a set dressing, either.

“I saw someone online saying a tribble is cheap set dressing,” Isaacs said. “Not this one. It had a bunch of operators, and a bunch of muscles, and moved, and made a noise, a little cooing when you stroked it, and purred. It’s really something.”

Isaacs didn’t elaborate on whether tribbles would play a continuous role in Discovery, but admitted he wasn’t a fan of the goofier episodes. Isaacs said that if actors like William Shatner couldn’t pull off making the tribbles look terrifying, he didn’t think he would be able to.

“But even they, with their gargantuan skill set, couldn’t make a bunch of merkins into something that felt dangerous,” Isaacs said.

Hopefully the tribbles will return this season — multiplying and popping onto screen with each passing minute.

Star Trek: Discovery airs Sundays at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBS’ streaming service, All Access.

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