Deep Space Nine: s04 e18 – Rules of Engagement

Lawyers, ugh!

The last time I remember having a courtroom drama on Deep Space Nine was way back in season 1, episode 8, when Jardzia Dax was put on trial for ‘crimes’ committed by Curzon Dax. Considering just how utterly bad that episode was, I wondered if three seasons and ten episodes was enough space before trying it again, but in keeping with the general standard of season 4, this was another quietly excellent episode, with a far higher standard of writing, and a damned sight more respect for the form.

The open was brief and to the point: Worf is in the middle of a battle on a spaceship. That’s he’s dreaming is instantly conveyed by the cinematography, all angles and drifts and jerky transitions between scenes. There are dead bodies all around, Starfleet and Klingon, Kilingons celebrating with bat’leths and Worf waking with a jerk.

He’s in the cells, being watched by Odo. It’s 4.00am. His hearing starts in four hours.

The episode got straight to the point. Worf has commanded the Defiant on a humanitarian mission, escorting Cardassian medical convoys through a system close to the Klingon border. There has been a battle with a Klingon Bird of Prey and an older battlecruiser, during which a civilian cruiser decloaked abruptly in the middle of the battle, and was destroyed on Worf’s orders. The hearing’s on whether or not he should be extradited to the Klingon Empire to face trial as a traitor and murderer.

It’s all dress uniforms, Sisko as Defence Counsel, Dax, O’Brien and, at the end, Worf, giving evidence in a clever process by which, without any trick photography, evidence in court was woven in with flashbacks to the battle. Basically, the Bird of Prey was cloaking and decloaking at will: Worf worked out the pattern and ordered fire on the ship as it emerged from cloak – only for it too be the transport. 441 dead, crew, passengers, children.

Advocate Ch’Pok (a finely slimy guest role from Ron Canada) made no bones about it outside the courtroom. The Klingon Empire was out to humiliate the Federation, destroy its reputation, set it back, whilst they expanded further. Sisko suspects a set-up, but every piece of evidence Odo collects only supports the main case: that these were complete innocents, and this was an horrific tragedy.

Personally, I thought Worf was right, though the episode brought O’Brien in to challenge his decision, albeit in retrospect, with full knowledge of the outcome. My attitude was, there’s this Bird of Prey hopping in and out of cloak in a pattern I’ve spotted so if there’s a ship decloaking, what’s it likely to be: my enemy or some completely random ship out of nowhere in one hell of a coincidence?

Apparently, I’ll never make a Starfleet Captain.

Ch’pok’s case was based entirely in Worf being a Klingon, and thus a Warrior with a heart full of blood lust, and that when he struck, he thought only of Klingon battle and the desire to kill one’s enemies, whoever they be. Worf countered by claiming that his Federation training enabled him to override his Klingon instincts, even as he claimed to be wholly a Klingon Warrior at heart. There is no honour in defeating a defenceless opponent: yet Worf was eventually provoked, under the Advocate’s calculated insults, into attacking Ch’pok, a defenceless opponent.

It’s all looking back but, as I said, this episode showed proper respect for the form, which meant the classic Perry Mason gambit: Odo comes up with the goods and Sisko forces Ch’pok to admit that if exactly the same 441 people – crew, passengers, children – apparently ‘survived’ a spaceship crash three months earlier and then, to a man, woman and child, decided all to get on another spaceship which gets destroyed again, that yes, it’s is possible the Klingon Empire is trying to deceive the Federation for its own purposes.Case for the Defendant, Y’r Honour.

So there’s a party to celebrate, even if Worf isn’t in the mood for it. Ch’pok has forced him to realise that he did feel like he had a point to prove when he took command and that he was looking for a fight. And Sisko bollocks him good and proper for firing without identifying his target first, to be sure it wasn’t the wrong vessel. Starfleet officers do not shoot first and ask questions later, not when civilians might get hurt: they will let themselves be defeated, or even killed, before that happens.

As for the party, Worf is going to attend whether he likes it or not. A Captain is there for his crew, and they need this release. And Sisko reckons Worf has it in him to become a great Captain. Though when he gets that fourth pip on his collar, he’ll wish he’d taken up botany instead!

Excellent stuff.


4 thoughts on “Deep Space Nine: s04 e18 – Rules of Engagement

  1. You gave it a pretty solid review, while Jammer considered it average 2 and half out of four stars in his review. This would be one that never really stuck with me and it would be another one interesting to watch again. And I don’t mean that in a bad way, just that it’s an episode I don’t think of off the top of my head. And it could just be the courtroom setting and the fact that there were a bunch of Klingon episodes in a short span over Season 4 here…
    The biggest thing I can recall I’ve mentioned before is that I always want to flip the titles with this one and Crossfire, which after seeing this one you can see why even though it wasn’t actually crossfire.

  2. I get what you mean. One of the reasons I was impressed by this episode was that it did respect the constructs of a courtroom drama, unlike the abysmal Dax, and everyone behaved seriously and logically. This is a strong spell of episodes.

    1. The only thing as far as courtroom setting, after reading up and various reviews, (And it could have been mentioned) was I still don’t see how the Federation wouldn’t provide a trained lawyer or JAG equivalent or the senior staff wouldn’t get some legal help…
      But indeed a decent string of episodes in a strong season.

  3. Absolutely right. Legally, sound and logical, dramatically, takes too much out of the hands of the cast. It didn’t bother me,I could accept the Commanding Officer in the role without demur.

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