Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Rules For Making A Courtroom Drama With Klingons Are Presented In “Rules Of Engagement!”

The Good: Interesting character development, Intriguing attempts at narration, Some acting
The Bad: Guest actor Ron Canada, Courtroom drama attempt, Narrative failure
The Basics: In a disappointing courtroom drama, Worf is up for extradition for destroying a ship of Klingon civilians in an episode with poor narrative experiments.

One of the most successful episodes of The X-Files, and arguably its very best hour, was "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space.'" It was a groudbreaking episode where the narrative technique was experimented with to keep the pace face and the episode intriguing. Unfortunately, Star Trek Deep Space Nine's attempt at the same in "Rules Of Engagement" had far less success.

When Worf has command of the Defiant for a mission escorting a convoy of freighters, he mistakenly fires on a ship of civilians that decloaks during a Klingon ambush and kills their entire crew. Worf is put on trial by the Klingons for extradition to receive punishment in the Klingon Empire. With Sisko defending him and an arrogant prosecutor named Ch'Pok vying for extradition, exactly what happened that day is reconstructed by the members of the Defiant crew. As Ch'Pok nears victory, Sisko seeks other sources of information and Worf illustrates his discontent with the Klingons in the courtroom.

What manages to work in this episode is the character development. Some kudos must be given to the writers for trying something different with the series, but what the episode does best is explore who Worf is at this point in his character development. He's a Klingon who has been screwed over repeatedly by his own people and, indeed, the highest levels of government in the Empire. His place in the galaxy is forced upon him rather than a choice he willingly makes. In "Rules Of Engagement," his anger at once again being an outcast among Klingons is explored and detailed quite well.

As well, some of the acting is top notch, most specifically that of Michael Dorn and Terry Farrell. Dorn makes Worf conflicted and uses his facial expressions and body language to have Worf go from cool to smoldering with incredible precision. When Worf snaps, Dorn sells it quite well. Surprisingly, the one to watch in this piece is Terry Farrell. Her brief scene is incredible for her acting. Farrell makes Dax conflicted and hurt by being forced to testify in a way none of the other actors manage to.

Beyond that, the episode is a dismal failure and a real disappointment coming from LeVar Burton, who directed the piece. Instead of being compelling, this courtroom drama lacks any real sense of menace and even as the prosecution seems to bury Worf, the viewer has the sense that something will come to help Worf and when it does, it feels like something rather miraculously appearing out of nowhere to help Worf. That is, the sense is "we need to save Worf, so what can we do?" And then they picked one of the many possibilities and said "That will do."

The real stinker of the episode is Ron Canada who plays Ch'Pok. Canada is playing a Klingon like an arrogant, loud Romulan and the portrayal is consistently annoying. He's momentarily subservient, momentarily ingratiating, then angry and vicious as he presses for a bit of testimony. The unfortunate aspect of this is that Ch'Pok moves the entire episode forward with his relentless quest for the truth and as a result of the annoying portrayal of the character, it makes the episode almost entirely unwatchable.

The Star Trek franchise is filled with courtroom episodes. In Star Trek, there is "The Menagerie" followed immediately by "Court-Martial." In Star Trek: The Next Generation, one of the best episodes is "Measure Of A Man" where Data is put on trial and "The Drumhead" where an admiral starts a witch hunt in the court room. Early in Star Trek Voyager, there is "Ex Post Facto" which continues the tradition. And on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "Dax" starts the tradition in this incarnation and it nears perfection in "Tribunal," which is O'Brien's trial on Cardassia. Even "Dax" is better than "Rules Of Engagement" and it's disappointing that such a noble tradition in Trek is forsaken with such a poor episode.

And while it is worth of acknowledgment that "Rules of Engagement" attempts to experiment with narrative voice when having the different crewmembers tell their side of the incident in the courtroom, the attempt fails and many of the stories - like O'Brien's - come across as laughable as opposed to intriguing. And Quark's, which is supposed to be funny, comes across as obvious and disappointing.

There are better courtroom dramas both in and out of science fiction and I highly recommend anyone who wants to see a decent one, view "Measure Of A Man" or "Tribunal" in the Star Trek universe. But those who love a decent courtroom drama will be disappointed by this one and there's little to make one want to sit through it a second time.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the turnaround season by clicking here!

For other works with Ron Canada, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Weeds - Season Two
The West Wing - Season 7
The West Wing - Season 6
The West Wing - Season 5
“The Masterpiece Society”


For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my Star Trek Index Page!

© 2012, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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