Sunday, January 6, 2013

4-18. Rules of Engagement.

Worf, on trial for his life.


Worf is in command of the Defiant as it escorts a Cardassian convoy to a colony suffering a plague outbreak. The colony is in the Pentath system, a strategically significant location near the Klingon border, and it is all but a given that the Klingons will try to stop the convoy. When the attack comes, Worf is ready and even eager for the battle - until he fires at the wrong moment, destroying what appears to be a Klingon civilian vessel that had gone off course into the combat area.

The Klingons demand Worf's extradition, and Deep Space 9 becomes the site of a hearing to decide the matter. Sisko represents Worf, opposite the craftly Klingon advocate, Ch'Pok (Ron Canada). Ch'Pok does not dispute the Klingon attacks, nor does he dispute any of the official reports. Instead, he focuses on Worf's motives, claiming that Worf was possessed by Klingon bloodlust. It's an effective line of attack, with every witness seeming to confirm Worf's eagerness for battle. And all the while, as Sisko fights for his officer, he does so knowing that if Worf is extradited then the Klingons will press this as an advantage to further their aggression - possibly into all out war!


Capt. Sisko: Avery Brooks' already commanding performance has really come into its own in Season Four. This year has seen him deliver one outstanding performance after another, effortlessly dominating every scene he's in. It's hard to remember how wooden he was, or how generic the writing for Sisko was, in early Season One - At this point, he's the most entertaining of all the Star Trek captains. He defends Worf with the expected vigor, and he relishes the moment at which he finally gets the advantage over Ch'Pok. But his best scene is the episode's final scene, as he and Worf have a frank conversation about the mistakes Worf did make in the mission, and about the complexities of command.

Worf: Stands by his decision to fire on the decloaking transport. He insists that had he hesitated, he would have been negligent and would have endangered both his crew and the entire convoy. He makes his case well when put on the stand - until Ch'Pok pushes just the right buttons to make Worf angry. Worf is able to stoically respond to reminders about the treatment of his House by Gowron and to accusations that he is not a "true" Klingon. But when Ch'Pok turns his verbal assault toward Worf's son, he cannot help but lash out, seemingly proving Ch'Pok's point about his innate violence (though, honestly, he was admirably restrained not punching Ch'Pok much earlier in his rant).

Odo: "I'm always suspicious of people who are eager to help a police officer." While Sisko defends Worf in the courtroom that is the front line of this engagement, Odo investigates the background of the incident. He looks into every person on the destroyed civilian transport. He initially discovers nothing, but he indicates to Sisko that he believes there is something there. People are "too eager" to talk, which encourages the shapeshifter to keep digging. Naturally, there is something significant for him to find, a detail which Sisko relishes brandishing against Ch'Pok in the episode's final Act.

Klingons: Ch'Pok (Ron Canada), the Klingon advocate, views the Starfleet hearing as a battlefield, and looks forward to combating Sisko on Starfleet's own terms. When Sisko protests that the hearing is a search for the truth, Ch'Pok replies that "the truth must be won." He is very candid with Sisko that, should the hearing go his way, the Klingons will exploit the sympathy that this victory would bring as an excuse to annex more Cardassian space. "Any move we make against you will be seen as a legitimate response to an outrageous slaughter," he tells Sisko, with a predatory grin on his face. Canada is excellent, presenting a strong and crafty adversary worthy of Sisko.


Star Trek has a pretty good track record with courtroom episodes, and Deep Space 9 has done particularly well by the genre. With a script by writer Ronald D. Moore, bringing his special affinity for the Klingons in general and Worf in particular, it's no surprise that Rules of Engagement is another solid episode in this tradition.

It's another episode developing the Klingon strand. We have seen in previous episodes that they have not given up their aggression, continuing raids against the Cardassians and sabre-rattling near the Bajoran border. Here, we see more increased aggression, with Ch'Pok openly admitting that the Klingons are looking for any advantage to pursue against Cardassia and the Federation alike. I'm starting to wonder how much further this aggressive Cold War can be taken before it erupts into a full-blown conflict. Deep Space 9 being the show it is, I don't think the Klingon aggression is going to go away quietly or easily.

Levar Burton directs with his usual competence. One noteworthy flourish Burton uses is to have the witnesses testify from inside their flashbacks, talking directly to the camera and delivering their accounts to the courtroom as the events they are discussing surround them. This is carefully introduced, being utilized in less crucial scenes in the first half of the episode (some exposition by Dax and Sisko, a comical bit with Quark) so that it doesn't jar at all when it is used in the second half during critical dramatic moments. It's hardly revolutionary stuff, but it's well done and brings added life to the witnesses' testimony.

There is an element of deux ex machina to the final stretch, with Odo finding a piece of evidence that has not been planted at any point early in the episode. The scene in which Sisko uses it against Ch'Pok is quite good, Avery Brooks selling it for everything he's worth, and it fits with the Klingons' motives. Still, it feels a bit convenient - a sense that might have been assuaged had any mention of it been made in the first half.

This is still a good episode, though, one that shows again how well Ronald D. Moore understands both Worf and the Klingons.

Overall Rating: 7/10

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