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Rules of Engagement

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WARNING: You will be grossly negligent if you expose yourself to spoilers below for DS9's "Rules of Engagement" without identifying them.

In brief: A nice teaser and a killer last scene -- unfortunately, everything else is really, really dull.

Brief summary: Worf is faced with an extradition hearing after being accused of massacring a transport filled with hundreds of Klingon civilians.

Sigh. That could have been better.

Trek has done a lot of excellent courtroom dramas in its day, from TOS's "Court-Martial" to TNG's "The Measure of a Man" and "The Drumhead", and even DS9's "Dax". Unfortunately, "Rules of Engagement" utterly lacked the spark of passion that made those shows work -- and while not exactly a bad show as a result, it's a show that has you looking at your watch waiting for something interesting or unexpected to happen.

I mean, come on. After a nice hallucination sequence and in media res introduction in a very brief teaser, things go downhill fast. We find out in very short order what Worf's accused of, which is all well and good -- but when we also find out that the consequences of being found guilty are severe both for Worf and for the future of
Federation/Klingon relations, it's not like the eventual outcome is of even the slightest doubt for a moment. And, when one considers the improbability of the "judge" actually refusing to extradite Worf if she considers him guilty, the obvious response is that the entire accident was some kind of Klingon frame of Worf. Ten minutes in, we'd predicted virtually the rest of the show: evidence mounts that looks worse and worse, Worf is goaded into doing something stupid, and then at the last minute Odo finds something out which lets Sisko save the day. I've seen this before many times, and usually better done -- I don't need to see it here.

On top of that, the histrionics during the hearing were also unwelcome. Trek's past courtroom dramas have had their melodramatic moments, to be sure, but they feel different -- perhaps because the stories underlying them were stronger, or perhaps because I found Ron Canada's performance more than a bit wanting. (It didn't
help that the last time we saw Klingons acting in a legal capacity was "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country", and that Ron Canada isn't even in the same state as Christopher Plummer when it comes to getting a reaction.) In any case, the scenes felt extremely off. I live in Los Angeles, currently the Cheesy Show Trial capital of the world, and much of what happened in that courtroom felt over-the-top even by LA standards.

About the only tactic G'Pok used in the courtroom that didn't seem out of line to me was his entire line of questioning to O'Brien about whether he would have given the same order to fire in those circumstances. O'Brien was quite right in that the question wasn't entirely "fair" in that it was asking him to evaluate a decision in hindsight, but it was a "fair" question in most other senses of the word, I think. Everything else ranged from the irrelevant to the way out-of-bounds: G'Pok's illegal search of Worf's private data files should have gotten things dismissed more or less immediately (not to mention that the entire holosuite debate was more than a bit irrelevant), and his haranguing of Worf, rather than creating any particular tension, only made me think that Admiral T'Lara was a truly miserable example of a judge. (G'Pok's late claim that Worf said he would never "attack an unarmed man" is also totally false; Worf said he'd never attack "a defenseless opponent", which is different.)

Some of that ground was made up for, however, by the final scene. Despite all the jumping through hoops we had to watch earlier to make the episode play out to its predictable conclusion, it was extremely impressive afterwards to have Worf realize that some of his motives may not have been so pure as he'd hoped, and to have Sisko lay into Worf for it. Is Sisko being hypocritical for defending Worf so strongly during the hearing, then treating him as guilty of that same negligence later on? Perhaps to some extent -- but I'd say it's more a
case of being human. I think most people, to take a slightly different tack, would yell at a friend far more quickly in private than they'd tolerate some mutual enemy harping on the same issue in public -- and to see Sisko fall prey to the same tendency feels real to me. Worf's realization that life in the "red uniform" of a command position is more complex than he'd thought was an excellent one -- not worth the entire hour of tedium it came packaged in, perhaps, but it certainly helped.

The question of whether Worf's actions truly were justified is also an interesting one, and one I wouldn't be surprised to see debated for a while. As a military maneuver, I think it made perfect sense: civilians would have no particular reason to be running cloaked through this area or to decloak in the middle of a battle, and if Worf
had good tactical reasons for expecting the Bird of Prey to be where he fired, I'd call that justified. Sisko's statement that it wasn't will be bit more controversial, I'd imagine: for myself, I can see it as part of Starfleet's current "rules of engagement" given that the Federation's mostly at peace, but would expect debate to begin in the Federation over its continued appropriateness if a full-scale war were ever to break out. Strange as it sounds, I tend to agree with both Sisko and Worf, and it's nice that enough ambiguity is presented to make that possible.

Now, a few short takes on the rest of the show:

-- This struck me as a classic example of a "bottle" episode. There were only two guest stars (one of them fairly minimal), virtually the entire episode was shot on about two sets (the Defiant bridge and the "courtroom"), and the effects were minimal -- note that for all the talk about the battle, we actually saw very little of it. There's nothing particularly wrong with a bottle show -- "The Drumhead" was one that worked beautifully -- but it's worth observing. I wonder what blew DS9's budget to make one so necessary.

-- The guest stars did not particularly wow me this time around. Deborah Strang (T'Lara) was decent but ineffectual; Ron Canada, on the other hand, was no better than he was when I saw him in B5's "A Voice in the Wilderness". In some of the scenes with Sisko, G'Pok did everything but twirl his mustache and tie Kira to a railroad track; please, this can be much better.

-- I'm not sure whether I agree with the decision (Burton's, perhaps?) to present the testimony as someone talking to the camera in a partial-flashback mode. I can see that it would break the monotony of yet more scenes in the courtroom, but something about it also seemed extremely off-putting, and in ways that I doubt were intentional.

-- I'm wondering how it is that Odo has contacts in the Klingon Empire. Back when he might have had the opportunity to make some, he wouldn't have had much reason to expect needing any.

That's about it. "Rules of Engagement", while not gut-churningly bad, was lifeless in all but a very few spots, and not something that seemed particularly worth the hour. The last scene helped a lot ... but not enough. So, wrapping up:

Writing: The plot was Snoozer Central; the Worf/Sisko scene was excellent, but too little too late.
Directing: Spotty; the pseudo-flashbacks were a little off, and some of the closeups during the many courtroom scenes felt forced as well. Burton's done much better.
Acting: Dorn was good; Brooks was a bit over the top, but mostly had to be to compete with Ron Canada's melodrama.

OVERALL: A 4, I think. Iffy.

NEXT WEEK:

O'Brien gets memories of a prison he's never been in, as sentence for a crime he didn't commit. I hope he doesn't put on weight for all that food he never ate...

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
tly...@alumni.caltech.edu
"Wait 'til you get a fourth pip on your collar. You'll wish you had gone into botany."
-- Sisko

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