Monday, March 25, 2013

Deep Space Nine, Season 2: Tribunal

Deep Space Nine, Season 2
Airdate: June 5, 1994
44 of 173 produced
44 of 173 aired


Miles O'Brien, on the cusp of his first vacation in 5 years, finds himself under arrest and on trial for his life in a Cardassian court of law. Unfortunately for him, all defendants are guilty, and the state never loses a case. Will this vacation be his last? 

Oh, Miles, you sweet, pasty, doughball of an Irishman...


Matthew: With this episode, I think "Let's Dump On Chief O'Brien" has officially become a thing. And, gosh darn it, it's pretty clear why - stripping him down to his skivvies and taking everything away from him is just good clean fun, isn't it? What's nice here is that there is also a very solid story that gives us lots of insight into an alien culture, and by contrast the Federation, too. So I may as well start with that aspect of the story. I really liked how both Keiko and Miles kept saying "We're citizens of the Federation!" It creates a story about a clash of cultures, how someone used to a certain level of comfort and respect may feel completely bereft when they are torn from that milieu. I think it's something that we as members of "Western" industrialized democracies definitely wonder about when we think about the "non-free" world. So I think this story qualifies as allegorical sci-fi.

Kevin: This ties into my larger thesis for DS9, what are Federation people like in non-Federation situations? His insistence that his status as a Federation citizen be respected hearkened back to "Chain of Command," intentionally I imagine on the part of the writers. I like that the story, in addition to the allegory, also expanded the political and character arcs for several other people. We see the Maquis have not disappeared and are creating real consequences for the crew (finally) and I liked Odo's past with the Cardassians being an asset. The scenes of Keiko and Sisko were good, too. She obviously wants all of Starfleet to get Miles, but Sisko knows the situation is more complicated.

Matthew: The wringer that O'Brien is put through sheds light on both his character as well as Keiko's. We learn that his bigotry hasn't really abated. He's not some sort of violent, virulent racist. But he was scarred by his time during the war against the Cardassians, and he can't help but see Cardassians through that lens. Keiko loves her husband, but knows his flaws. She stands by him because, despite these flaws, she knows his inner character. I really liked the complexity on display here. O'Brien could have been a straw man good guy who was wronged. Instead, he is a flawed person whose flaws leave him open to attack. That's much more interesting.

Kevin: They picked the perfect character for this story. Not only is his everyman quality an asset to the episode, but no other character, save Kira, has such an obvious grudge . My only complaint here is that the "chance" meeting with the agent and his displaying the recording of his voice lets the cat out of the bag that he is obviously not guilty. I would have liked, while not another "Whispers" style plot, maybe a little more explicit doubt by the crew, or it not being made flatly impossible for the viewer quite so early. And it's a little odd they could so expertly recreate a human but not put back the tooth that would be a dead giveaway. Little too neat.

Matthew: The portrayal of Cardassia is the most robust since "Chain of Command" in TNG. First, let ask: does this indicate something amiss with the preceding two seasons of DS9? I think it does. Finally, we are given a bit more insight into Cardassian culture. Just setting the story on Cardassia Prime does a lot. Seeing a culture in its own space tells you so much about them. Seeing their judicial system? Even more. Of course we've gotten hints of this stuff before, with Dukat talking about their education system, Garak talking about their literature with its omnipresent theme of devotion to state. But it's finally dramatized here.

Kevin: I agree. In particular, I loved the portrayal of the Cardassian legal system. It may be the tightest and most consistent legal system in the franchise. In any legal system, you eventually have to answer a simple question. Where are you more comfortable making mistakes? Assuming perfection is impossible, you are either going to convict the innocent or acquit the guilty. The American system explicitly prefers always acquitting the innocent, even at the expense of occasionally freeing the guilty. Here, we see the reverse. From Dukat's few lines in "The Maquis" about Cardassian justice, we see a fully developed procedure that works toward that goal. Rather than merely being a vehicle for the actors' impassioned speeches, I really felt like Cardassian jurisprudence was thought out, and it revealed something meaningful about Cardassian society.


Matthew: Kevin and I have waxed rhapsodic about both Colm Meaney and Rosalind Chao on many prior occasions, so it's no great surprise that an episode featuring them extensively will achieve high marks for acting. Meaney is the everyman par excellence, which means that running him through a Kafka-esque torture routine will be loads of fun to watch. He does a great job. Chao also excels - she was never shrill or annoying while protesting the treatment of her husband, which is a danger in this sort of story.

Kevin: How many times can we say we love these two? I always love the little domestic scenes. The way Keiko delivers the line about Molly liking the family she's staying with more than them was really cute and authentic. They also have really good chemistry. They read like a happily, albeit not perfectly, married couple, and their physical chemistry reads well too. It's not over the top or out of place, but still believable.

Matthew: I really liked Caroline Lagerfelt as the Archon. A story like this can't abide a moustache-twirling villain. Lagerfelt plays the Archon as someone who devoutly believes in her system of government.She isn't mean at all, in fact she's rather nice to O'Brien. When she smacks someone down in court, it is due to their lack of respect, not her nastiness. Fritz Weaver brings the same quality to Conservator Kovat. He veers this close to over the top, but stays on the happy side. Kovat seems to believe in the system, not just to be a fop or a patsy.

Kevin: I was thinking a lot about Cardassian society, and while the Romulans and their Senate are obvious Roman references, I think the Cardassian culture we get has a bit more meat in a comparison to Imperial Rome. The power machinations and devotion to the state above all read as much more Roman to me, and this is all by way of saying that Lagerfelt felt very "patrician" in her part, and it reads really well. As with other great Cardassian stories, the actors seem to respond to having a solid comparison to base themselves on, and I could easily see her in a production of "I, Claudius" or something. Weaver also did a good job of portraying an unironic sincerity. He genuinely believes his system is good and he is helping it along, and especially in the face of the Archon's obvious complicity in the plot against O'Brien, it helps maintain the internal believably of the system.

Matthew: The main cast members get some good scenes here and there, whether it's Dax, Kira and Sisko trying to get O'Brien to leave on vacation, or it's Odo acting as Nestor for O'Brien. I think Rene Auberjonois in particular was solid here (heh heh). I wish we would have seen more of Armin Shimerman, I think Quark's perspective on justice would have been welcome, and Shimerman would have brought a nice edge to it.

Kevin: DS9 will never have the warm, glowing, warming glow of TNG's ensemble, but the teaser did a great job of making the station feel like a real place. I really like the portrayal of Odo's "trust, but confirm" stance on O'Brien's innocence in his initial scene.

Production Values

Matthew: Well, the courtroom was dark. Yeah, I know, it fits the Cardassian profile, they want things warm and dark. But not only doesn't it film particularly well for us, I have to wonder how it could be televised effectively. I think at least there should have been some more effective spotlighting of the people with the background remaining dark.

Kevin: I like the highlighted witness box. It reminded me of the scene from "The Undiscovered Country." I'm curious how the scenes would play in a (hopefully) eventual Blu-Ray release. I did really like the shot of Cardassia with the screens playing the trial. I liked the interrogation room a lot. They really nailed the feel of what everyone thinks a Kafka novel would look like.

Matthew: Costumes were really nice. From O'Brien's prisoner S&M gear to the civilian Cardassian wear, every outfit was really effective. I also liked the matte shots of Cardassia. I wish they could have afforded some more extras to populate them, because it seemed awfully strange to have such monolithic fascist architecture, but no people being dwarfed by the buildings.

Kevin: I liked the Archon's hair. It was dramatic and of a piece with other Cardassian women we have seen, but had a stately air to it.


Matthew: I want to give this a 5, but I just feel like something holds the episode back. I think the machinations behind the plot, i.e. discredit a patsy in order to effect change in Federation policy towards the colonies, didn't make a ton of sense, especially in light of the events of the Maquis two-parter, in which the Cardassians are actually supplying weapons. I'm not saying the idea is fatally flawed, but I just felt it was missing something. Boone was a cipher, too. Did he get surgery and wait for 8 years for just this mission, or is he a sleeper agent? Anyway, I think a bit more detail could have really rounded out the story. But as it is, it's a lot of fun and a definite highlight. It's just not perfect. That's a 4 for me.

Kevin: I agree on the four. A little longer of a wait on unequivocally establishing O'Brien's innocence for the viewer, and a little more development of the plot would have taken it up to a 5. Alternately, a really novel narrative approach, like finding a way to tell the entire episode in the trial, might have upped it as well. But don't get me wrong. This is a really, really good episode. That make a total of 8 from us.

1 comment:

  1. Throughout the show (with the exception of Profit and Loss) Cardassians are all shown to be proud of and devoted to their country - to Cardassia.

    But from a psychological standpoint I have to wonder what kind of a person could love and be proud of and be loyal to this obvious sinister dictatorship. I mean even Garak is always praising Cardassia. But what is so great about it.?

    Look at just the way this court is run and the enthusiasm of everyone about how wonderful, just and merciful it is. And it doesnt appear as if they were acting. They truly believe it. It is baffling to me.

    Now there is the distinct possibility that Caradassians truly happen to enjoy horrible, oppressive shitholes. That it warms the cockles of their hearts etc. That said, I have a hard time believing it. I just cant imagine this level of oppression and living under surveillance where, as Garak said, the obsidian order knows what every Cardassian is eating for dinner, being something anyone can be voluntarily proud of and devoted to.

    I can imagine novels like "The Endless Sacrifice" being state propaganda (which is not unusual in dictatorships) that people have to pretend to love and enjoy outwardly to avoid getting in trouble with their Gestapos but Garak clearly wasnt being watched, yet he embraced it and talked about how much he loved it and how popular that novel is all over Cardassia. Which tells me that Garak wasnt just acting - he DOES love Cardassia and he does believe sacrifice for the motherland is the highest honor etc etc.

    Anyway, seeing that level of jingoism, bordering at fascism (if it isnt already) normalized like that is both disconcerting but also creepy.