The Good: Characters, Acting, Plot, Direction
The Bad: The suspension of disbelief necessary for the hyperbole
The Basics: A close-enough to perfect episode that puts O'Brien on Cardassia on trial, “Tribunal” is a stirring piece on the importance of due process and legal protection in the judicial system.
At the end of the second season there is "Tribunal," the penultimate episode of the season. Star Trek Deep Space Nine here has quite the milestone to live up to. The prior season's penultimate episode was the most perfect hour of television ("Duet," reviewed here! ) ever. Attempting to live up to the daunting task of making a memorable finish to an inconsistent season, the series puts forth "Tribunal."
Miles O'Brien is finally going on vacation and he and his wife are off for a few days. And what a relief! It's always a pleasure to see middle aged people in loving relationships on television. Too often television portrays the very young and treats relationships with a juvenile twist. It's agonizing to those people who seek adult relationships portrayed. So, O'Brien is having an adult relationship moment with his wife when his Runabout is stopped by a Cardassian patrol ship. Arrested and imprisoned, O'Brien is brought to Cardassia and is put on trial. With no apparent cause and his verdict seemingly already determined, O'Brien takes on the Cardassian legal system with the only one able to get close to aid him: Odo.
What the episode is truly about are the rights so many of us take for granted. O'Brien isn't told the charges of his crime, the verdict is literally decided before the trial begins. He is given counsel by the Cardassian State which is only involved to help O'Brien make a confession and help bring catharsis to millions of Cardassians. He is stripped, interrogated, evidence is not allowed to be admitted into his case.
While O'Brien undergoes the horrific experience of imprisonment (one might recall this is not O'Brien's best year as he has been beaten by a Klingon, infected with a biological weapon, captured by an alien race, and stranded with religious fanatics) and the beginning of an obvious show trial on Cardassia, Sisko and the crew are working to prove his innocence. The trail leads them to a possible connection to the new splinter group, the Maquis and O'Brien's possible tie to them.
The great parts of this episode are that the characters are believable. Especially our usual heroes. Sisko is characteristically inscrutable, Bashir leaps to O'Brien's defense and the most consistent is Kira, who suggests what no one else wants to admit: O'Brien's hatred for the Cardassians may have actually been a motive for him to commit a crime against Cardassia. The show is stolen by O'Brien's character. He's forced to acknowledge both his humanity and his hatred.
The episode would easily have fallen apart had it not been for the actors. Rene Auberjoinis is excellent as Odo, who joins O'Brien on Cardassia as part of his defense team. Fritz Weaver is wonderful as O'Brien's "lawyer" Kovat. Weaver creates a confused, lethargic Cardassian who seems more appropriate to a retirement home than a courtroom. But the episode hinges on Colm Meaney's portrayal of O'Brien. Meaney plays O'Brien as vulnerable and shocked and hurt and strong. He gives a great amount of his range illustrating his quality as an actor.
Avery Brooks directed this episode and he adequately uses angles to his advantage, keeping O'Brien small in the enormity of the Judicial System. This is an episode that inspires the viewer to appreciate and treasure the depth and security provided to our citizens by our judicial system.
While the end becomes something of a summary, it's not that major. The legacy seems secure, at least for a second season. Part of the essential Star Trek Deep Space Nine for its importance to the Cardassian plot.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete Second Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the sophomore season by clicking here!
For other Star Trek episode reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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