Star Trek 332: Tribunal

332. Tribunal

FORMULA: Chain of Command Part II + Court TV

WHY WE LIKE IT: Cardassian's crazy-ass justice system.

WHY WE DON'T: Plot holes you could fly a runabout through.

REVIEW: There's always a danger in sci-fi when you create a society based on satire. The Ferengi were certainly initially hurt by their being a parody of capitalism, and TOS had many societies that were too extreme to be believed. That the Cardassian justice system manages to be so steeped in Kafka and Orwell and still make it believable is wondrous indeed. In part, this is achieved by using DS9's best victim, O'Brien to ground the absurdity. It also helps that the system as presented makes an internal kind of sense. The reasons for such practices are well explained and justified and everything from the perverted version of Miranda rights to the lawyer who's never won a case comes off as biting satire and very dark comedy.

And while overall Tribunal doesn't add much to O'Brien's character beyond what we already knew (his prejudice is addressed, but likely not altered), it's also a good Odo episode. Setting up Things Past in Season 5, Odo seems here to be a man haunted by his role during the Cardassian Occupation, and resolute in not letting another innocent man die. The rest of the cast is focused on getting O'Brien off the hook, which is your standard tech-assisted detective work stuff (with Bashir as a spy's preferred pawn again).

In fact, that's where the episode suffers. The Cardassian system is designed to be unfair and invincible, even to the truth, but for the episode to work, it has to fail too often. Odo shouldn't be able to interrupt the Archon that often, especially after her Nth warning. Sisko shouldn't be able to bring Boone into the courtroom. And lastly, why couldn't the Cardassians just shut the cameras off as they were about to be embarassed? It happens all the time in real life.

I do believe this is also the first time we see the establishing shot of Cardassia, with its clawed walls and Big Brother propaganda screens. It's a great look. Avery Brooks gets to direct an episode here, and he has great ideas when it comes to Cardassia's extreme lighting conditions. The camera angles play into the various power relationships and are interesting too, so I'd say good job. I could, however, do without O'Brien's goofy/creepy grin after he gets off.

LESSON: Better be careful what you say about the bloody Cardies...

REWATCHABILITY - Medium-High: Chain of Command used the dehumanizing aspect of Orwell's influence better, but it's still a well scripted and acted piece of black comedy. One shouldn't scrutinize the plot too much however, and I wonder how much it could have been fixed by mentioning dissident help just once.

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