Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch: “Tribunal”

Written by Bill Dial
Directed by Avery Brooks
Season 2, Episode 25
Production episode 40512-445
Original air date: June 5, 1994
Stardate: 47944.2

Station log: O’Brien is going on vacation, although Sisko, Kira, and Dax practically have to kick him out of Ops as he keeps remembering things he needs them to keep an eye on. On the Promenade, he bumps into Boone, one of his former shipmates on the Rutledge, who’s now running a shipping business in the DMZ. They reminisce for a bit, then O’Brien runs off to meet Keiko and start his vacation, while Boone checks over the recording he made of their conversation while being shrouded in sinister dark light, just to make it clear that he’s a bad guy.

The O’Briens are off in a runabout to their overdue vacation. O’Brien forgot to pack a holocam, but he did remember to pack several technical updates. Realizing he’s made a bit of a faux pas, he puts on some traditional Japanese music and starts making smoochy faces with Keiko to make up for his bringing along work.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tribunal

Their sweet passionate nookie-nookie is interrupted by a small Cardassian ship on approach. Gul Evek beams on board and arrests O’Brien for crimes they refuse to name. He’s stunned and taken to Cardassia Prime, while Keiko is escorted back to DS9. O’Brien is stripped, interrogated (his only answer is to give his name and rank and remind them that he’s a Federation citizen), scanned, injected, inspected, infected, neglected, and selected. He also has a lock of hair and a molar removed (the latter is for the Bureau of Identification; all Cardassian citizens have their first molar removed at the age of ten). Once he’s processed, Chief Archon Makbar enters the room. She apologizes for how he’s been treated and escorts him into a cell. His trial will be in two days and he’s been assigned Kovat as his conservator—but she won’t tell him what he’s accused of.

Back on the station, Sisko tries to reassure Keiko, but it doesn’t work very well, as she’s heard stories from O’Brien himself about how Cardassians treat prisoners. (Odo’s blunt truths don’t help matters.) Makbar then contacts the station, assuring Sisko that O’Brien’s being treated well—but won’t let him be seen, nor will she provide the charges. As his wife, Keiko is allowed to attend the trial, but only her—however, Odo gets himself assigned as nestor, the advisor to the offender. He’s still an officer of the Cardassian court from his time as security chief under Dukat. Sisko orders Kira to investigate on their end, find out how this happened.

On Cardassia, Kovat visits O’Brien. He explains that his job is to help the offender accept the inevitable with equanimity. He tries to get O’Brien to confess, as it will reassure the public that they are safe from malefactors. O’Brien, though, refuses to admit to being guilty and finds the whole thing repugnant. Kovat actually likes that—his arrogant refusal to bow to the inevitable will make for a better show.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tribunal

On the station, dozens of photon torpedo warheads have been stolen, and the evidence points to a transporter expert doing it—also O’Brien’s voiceprint was used to open the door. Add to that the fact that the Maquis stole torpedo launchers recently, and the evidence suggests that O’Brien stole the warheads for the Maquis and was using his vacation as a cover. Sisko orders Kira and Dax to find out who he was delivering them to—there had to be someone on the other end.

Odo visits O’Brien in his cell. Keiko can’t visit him in the cell, but she will be at the trial so the public can see the offender’s family weep. Odo questions O’Brien regarding what Kira and Dax found on the station, and O’Brien passionately assures Odo that he had nothing to do with any of this, and that he didn’t go into that cargo bay no matter what the voice ID said.

Dax proves that the voice ID was, in fact, a fake from a recording, and Kira learns that O’Brien talked to Boone before leaving the station, and he lives in the DMZ. However, he insists that he’s just an old shipmate of O’Brien’s whom he was reminiscing with on the Promenade. Meanwhile, Bashir gets a visit from a Maquis member who assures him that Boone is not with the Maquis and they know nothing about the theft.

The trial starts. Makbar gives O’Brien a chance to confess and save the hassle of the trial. She then asks if Keiko wishes to disassociate from his disgrace by testifying against him, which she testily refuses. Odo then tries to convince Kovat to submit the new evidence he has that the voice ID was faked, then tries to convince Makbar to change the venue, since the crime happened on a Bajoran station, not in Cardassian space. Makbar refuses, dismissing it as Federation trickery to try to save their citizen from Cardassian justice.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tribunal

Evek is the first witness, and he uses this as an excuse to rail against the Maquis. He quotes “reliable sources” which led him to the warheads they found in O’Brien’s runabout, but can’t name them for reasons of national security, which Makbar accepts without question. (Odo doesn’t, but he’s shouted down.) Finally, O’Brien must testify, as the offender is compelled to do. Kovat asks if he was abused as a child or is abused by his wife, by way of trying to find out how he was led to this life of crime, and then Makbar asks how many Cardassians he’s killed, and if he’s prejudiced against Cardassians. She also throws his own words at him: “The bloody Cardies can’t be trusted.”

Further investigation of Boone reveals that right after Setlik III, he left his wife of fifteen years, was discharged from Starfleet after multiple poor performance reviews, and stopped speaking to his parents, with whom he had an excellent relationship. Bashir does a quickie exam to reveal that he’s missing a molar, and a further exam shows that he’s a surgically altered Cardassian agent, having replaced the real Boone, who died in a Cardassian prison.

Sisko shows up at the trial with Boone. This causes a quick heel-turn by Makbar, who sets aside the verdict and releases O’Brien to Sisko’s custody. She never actually says he’s innocent, but she goes on about how he’s a strong family man and about how it’s important to maintain good relations with the Federation, and other nonsense. The alternative is to let Sisko expose Boone as a Cardassian agent in front of everyone. They drop the O’Briens off at their vacation, as Sisko was able to extend their accommodation.

The Sisko is of Bajor: Makbar tells Sisko that Dukat told her about him, and he makes sure she knows that he will not screw around.

Don’t ask my opinion next time: Kira is the first one to point out that, given O’Brien’s history, it’s not that much of a stretch that he might get involved with the Maquis.

Preservation of mass and energy is for wimps: Odo’s time working for the Cardassians works in his favor, as he’s able to be assigned to the trial. He then delays things as much as possible, which gives his crewmates time to assemble necessary evidence. (Makbar at one point refers to the trial as the longest in Cardassian history when it reaches its second day.)

For Cardassia! Cardassian trials are meant purely as propaganda theatre. They never try an innocent person, only people who are found guilty, and the sentence is read before the trial even starts. The offenders also don’t get to find out what they’re accused of until the trial starts. Cardassia Prime is littered with viewscreens that play propaganda all the live-long day, and they also broadcast the trials so that the people can see justice at work. (I find myself reminded of Yakov Smirnov’s old joke about television in the Soviet Union. There were only two channels; Channel 1 was propaganda, and Channel 2 was a KGB agent saying, “Turn back to Channel 1!”)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tribunal

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: Keiko at one point complains that the seats on the runabout are too small for nookie, and she figures O’Brien, as an engineer, should get right on that.

Keep your ears open: “Wh—what happened?”

“You won.”

“They’ll kill me!”

Kovat being given the worst possible news from Odo.

Welcome aboard: Rosalind Chao is back as Keiko. Richard Poe returns for yet another appearance as Gul Evek, having been in “Playing God” and “The Maquis, Part I,” as well as TNG’s “Journey’s End” and “Preemptive Strike.” This is his final DS9 appearance, though he will show up in Voyager’s pilot episode.

Caroline Lagerfelt plays Makbar, John Beck plays Boone, and the great Fritz Weaver plays Kovat. And then we have kind of a Robert Knepper moment, as the Cardassian who processes O’Brien is played by Julian Christopher, who was credited as James Louis Watkins when he played Hagon, the Ligonian who was constantly knocked to the floor in TNG’s “Code of Honor.”

Trivial matters: This episode was inspired by a line of dialogue by Dukat in “The Maquis, Part II” when he described a Cardassian trial, so the writers room decided it would be cool to have a Cardassian trial be the basis of an episode.

There are multiple references to O’Brien’s time serving on the Rutledge and the Setlik III massacre, both established in TNG’s “The Wounded.”

When Evek first contacts O’Brien he mentions that “We’ve spoken before,” which happened in “Playing God” when the chief asked for Evek’s help with the vole infestation.

Sisko mentions to Keiko that three ships have been sent to the DMZ to show the flag after O’Brien’s capture, and one of them is the Enterprise. This was the first Trek episode to air following TNG’s finale, “All Good Things…

Boone is the first Cardassian agent we see altered to look like a different type of humanoid. We’ll see it again with Seska on Voyager, with Iliana Ghemor in “Second Skin,” and with Dukat in the final story arc of the series.

This is the first DS9 episode to be directed by a cast member, though it’s far from the last. It follows the trend from TNG, where Jonathan Frakes and Sir Patrick Stewart became regular directors, and both Gates McFadden and LeVar Burton took their turns behind the camera as well. Moving forward, Rene Auberjonois, Michael Dorn, Siddig el-Fadil, and Andrew J. Robinson, as well as Frakes and Burton, will direct episodes.

Walk with the Prophets: “I regret that I have no teeth to offer your Bureau of Identification.” This is almost a great episode. It’s an excellent view into a totalitarian state, through the propaganda-laced ramblings of both Kovat and Makbar, showing us a system that is ruthless and efficient and awful. Fritz Weaver in particular really makes this episode shine through his smiling histrionics, clichés and platitudes rolling off his tongue with oily ease.

Courtroom dramas are always fun, and this one’s more fun than usual. Most TV shows trample all over proper courtroom procedure in order to provide better drama, and in this instance that’s a feature rather than a bug—the point of this trial isn’t to determine the truth, because the government already knows the truth (it’s whatever the government says is the truth). What TV writers do for ratings, Cardassian law does to reinforce their power.

Unfortunately, other parts of this episode are seriously problematic. For starters, a lot of the procedural stuff back on the station doesn’t work. The evidence against Boone is pretty flimsy, based entirely on the word of a guy who broke into Bashir’s infirmary and a lot of speculation, and only confirmed because he was stupid enough to try to run away (why? he had no reason to, except the script needed him to look guilty). In addition, all Dax had to go on was a voiceprint—you’re going to tell me that the cargo bay where they store photon warheads aren’t under some kind of video or sophisticated sensor surveillance? Really? Kira mentioned a scattering field, but that didn’t go up until after the door opened—aren’t the corridors also under surveillance? (In fact, they are, as we’ve seen Odo look at video of various corridors, and I would think that the corridor leading to the cargo bay where they store photon warheads would be one such surveilled corridor, especially on a station built by people who have propaganda television on every street corner on their homeworld.)

And then there’s the ending, where Sisko just walks into the courtroom with Boone and everything is magically better. How did Sisko get into the courtroom? Why wasn’t he stopped at the border? Or the front door? And why did Makbar allow this intrusion? (Even Kovat asked that, but it was never answered.)

Still a strong episode for what it establishes about Cardassia, and a very good use of O’Brien (his past makes him perfect for this, something Makbar very effectively throws in his face at one point) and Odo. It just needed a proper ending, instead of a deus ex Sisko.

Warp factor rating: 6

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be at the Collingswood Book Festival tomorrow, Saturday 5 October 2013, in Collingswood, New Jersey. Look for him at the Dark Quest Books table (publishers of his “Precinct” series of fantasy police procedurals, including the recent short story collection Tales from Dragon Precinct).


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