WARNING: This article contains heavy spoiler information for DS9's "Tribunal". Those not wishing to provoke serious and immediate consequences of being spoiled are advised to remain clear.
In brief: well, it was a decent show, but it's definitely a step down from the last half-dozen or so. It was mostly "there".
"Tribunal" felt less like a story needing to be told and more like a script providing an excuse to show off the Cardassian justice system. In fact, were I less aware of how far in advance episodes are produced, I'd think this was put together after the positive response to things like "The Maquis", where the justice system is given prominent mention.
Now, there's nothing wrong with a script designed to show off a particular idea. There have been lots of examples in the past that have worked very well. However, after half a dozen shows that tended to leave the viewer in a mangled heap on the wall afterwards, a show that follows the tried-and-true but simpler idea of "problem seen, lots of angst, problem solved, no harm done" begins to pall a bit by comparison.
In addition, I had something of a problem with the way in which Cardassian justice was shown. When the premise is so substantially different from Federation (i.e. current U.S.) justice, I would expect the actual trial
itself to take astonishingly different forms. To the show's credit, I think Bill Dial tried to do that when writing "Tribunal", but that's not how it came off where I was sitting. I didn't see a court: I saw Bizarro Trial, with every detail we might think of to describe our trial system turned on its head. ("You can't testify against yourself? You can here. You know the charges ahead of time? Not here. New evidence is always welcome? Never here.") I couldn't quite buy into it.
However, I don't want to give off the impression that I disliked "Tribunal". I didn't. It may not have been the best show DS9's made lately, but it definitely held my interest. In particular, Colm Meaney got the chance to give one of his better Trek performances; this was probably the best chance he's had since "Whispers" to show off, and he did a nice job with it. In particular, the speech about how he has never had his loyalty questioned and never acted in a way that his daughter couldn't respect was one of the most powerful moments in the show. I'm more and more impressed with his work.
Fritz Weaver was also good as Kovat, though I'll admit to being thrown for a loop at how different he was than I was expecting from Weaver's past work (of which the most prominent coming to mind is the "Holocaust" miniseries from over a decade ago, in which he was superb). Weaver is someone who I've usually seen in "noble but tragic" roles, and Kovat was far from tragic. In fact, maybe it was just my mood at the time, but Kovat seemed almost like comic relief to me, with his "winning isn't everything" and "well, I tried" responses when called upon to actually help O'Brien in some way. I liked it well enough once I got used to it, but it came as quite a surprise.
Character-wise, the other person to be really well handled besides O'Brien was Odo. His knowledge of Cardassian law (but only up to a point; I strongly doubt he was lying when he pleaded ignorance about details upon reaching the trial) proved effective to keep the plot moving, but more to the point his reaction to O'Brien's imprisonment was extremely interesting. He, surprisingly, seemed the most sympathetic to how Keiko was feeling, which came as a big surprise. It seems Odo is starting to learn a fair amount more mercy; despite all his claims about how much safer things were with the Cardassians, he doesn't agree with the way they get things done. That's a new development, but one I think works just fine.
The rest of the regulars were pretty much par for the course, though I thought Bashir was a bit too flamboyant when rejecting Kira's thoughts about O'Brien. As for nonregulars ... well, aside from Weaver, I have to say I'm not all that impressed. Caroline Lagerfelt was erratic as Makbar: occasionally she seemed impressive, but most of the time she seemed more petty and annoying than anything else. Her "I thought we went through this
yesterday" and "this is already the longest trial in history" were virtually stock phrases, and the delivery was pretty stock as well. She wasn't awful, but was nothing worth noting either.
Unfortunately, the same could be said of Keiko. Keiko gets a lot of flak from fans so far as I can see, and I think much of it is unfounded -- but it's tough to defend the Keiko/O'Brien scenes when they're on the level of
the one we saw in the runabout early this show. Ouch. Could the idea of "oblivious workaholic husband" be any more pounded in? I think there may be one neuron-impaired viewer somewhere who missed it. :-) Add to that her screaming when O'Brien was arrested, and you had a scene I almost had to turn away from. That's not good.
It may even be a case of Keiko not working with O'Brien, as her scene with Sisko et al. on the station worked well, and many of her classroom scenes have been fine (particularly in "In the Hands of the Prophets" last year). Somehow, though, the scenes of the O'Brien family often fall flat, and I'm not sure where the responsibility lies for it.
Plot-wise, "Tribunal" was pretty standard, but was executed fairly well. Boone was a cipher, but had a nice air of casual sliminess about him that worked just fine, and the plan to frame O'Brien in particular seemed
realistic enough. I do have to wonder, though, why the Cardassians would choose to target anyone from DS9 for this particular frame. Given all the problems Sisko's managed to cause Dukat (among others) in the past, isn't the station close to the last place you want to go looking for gullibility? [Lisa also had problems with the convenience of a prisoner being O'Brien's old friend, but I thought that was pretty sensible.]
The slight question of "what if O'Brien DID do something?" went nowhere, but there were enough twists going on with exactly what did happen that I'm willing to forgive it. In particular, the plot scene that really smacked my
attention around had to be Bashir being given information by the Maquis. The voice sounded suitably menacing (and familiar, too; anyone know who it was?), and simply the idea that the Maquis is well organized enough to nail the medical lab on the station proved fairly chilling, at least for me. Nicely done there.
I have the impression this review is starting to get substantially less coherent than usual :-), and "Tribunal" really didn't leave me with much to say anyway, so I think it's time for the usual short takes before I go. Onwards:
-- O'Brien's "processing" sequence was brutal; nearly too much so for me, in fact. Ouch.
-- Forget Cardassian justice as a mockery of our current justice system: I saw a fair amount of indictment of the current state of the news media as well. "We'll put on a good show," indeed. The lyrics to Don Henley's "Dirty Laundry" were floating through my head for a good time after, as were numerous quotes from the late, lamented "Max Headroom"...
-- Kovat's sudden abuse questions towards the end were suitably weird, but I think Makbar's questions to O'Brien might have been better used towards the very start of the trial, not its end. That might have established a good deal more than the legal wrangling just how bad O'Brien's situation was.
That should just about do it. "Tribunal" isn't bad, but it is somewhat disappointing after a long string of solid wins from DS9. Hopefully next week's season finale will be a return to form.
So, wrapping up:
Plot: Fairly good; a fairly routine setup, but some nice twists here and there.
Plot Handling: A good debut from Avery Brooks, if not a great one. He kept things moving.
Characterization: Good O'Brien and Odo, okay Kovat and most of the regulars, problems with Keiko and Makbar.
OVERALL: Call it a 6. Not bad, but not great.
The long-awaited arrival of the Dominion.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Since when has news been entertainment?"
"Since it was invented?"
-- "Max Headroom"