Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Tribunal   Rewatch 
September 22, 2015 8:45 PM - Season 2, Episode 25 - Subscribe

The Cardassians arrest Miles O'Brien for working with the Maquis. In the Cardassian judicial system, the accused's guilt is already established and the trial is only an Orwellian formality.

Trivia (Cribbed from here and here)
* This season's second "O'Brien Must Suffer" episode, -- the first was "Whispers" -- a running joke from the show's writing staff. According to executive producer/writer Ira Steven Behr, "Every year in one or two shows we try to make his life miserable, because you empathize with him." Robert Hewitt Wolfe further explains, "If O'Brien went through something torturous and horrible, the audience was going to feel that, in a way they wouldn't feel it with any of the other characters. Because all the other characters were sort of, I wouldn't say larger than life, but nobler than life, but O'Brien was just a guy, trying to live his life and so if you tortured him that was a story.".
* According to Behr, "O'Brien is everyman. In a show about humans and aliens, he's as human as you get." Similarly, Behr's writing partner for the first four seasons of the show, Robert Hewitt Wolfe, says, "He's just a regular guy, a guy doing his job. He's just the most unlikely of all heroes because he's a family man with a daughter and eventually a son and a wife and they have arguments and a real relationship, and he's just a working class schmo, I mean obviously he's a really bright guy and very good at what he did, but basically, a working class schmo just trying to get through his day."
* The first episode directed by Avery Brooks, and a sequel of sorts to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, "The Wounded", where we first learn Miles' backstory regarding the Cardassians.
* Cardassian trials are meant purely as propaganda theatre. They never try an innocent person, only people who are found guilty, and the sentence is read before the trial even starts. The offenders also don’t get to find out what they’re accused of until the trial starts. Cardassia Prime is littered with viewscreens that play propaganda all the live-long day, and they also broadcast the trials so that the people can see justice at work.
* Andrew Robinson (Elim Garak) has likened the Cardassian brain to the reptilian portion of the Human brain, which, in Robinson's words, "knows what boundaries are ... [and] how to take care of itself so that the species survives." Consequentially, Cardassian philosophy places order above both freedom and equality, resulting in an Orwellian society where the good of the state is placed above that of the individual. Kovat epitomizes this philosophy in his defense of the legal system: "Whatever you've done, whatever the charges against you, none of that really matters in the long run... This trial is to demonstrate the futility of behavior contrary to good order."
* Sending the USS Enterprise-D to the DMZ was a tribute to Star Trek: The Next Generation, as "Tribunal" was the first Star Trek episode to air after TNG's series finale, "All Good Things...."

--
O'Brien: "I've been in service to the Federation – Starfleet – all my adult life. No one has ever questioned my loyalty. No one in my entire life has ever had cause to ask, 'Miles O'Brien, are you a criminal?' I took an oath to defend the Federation and what it stands for. I don't steal from them, I don't lie to them... I'm no angel, but I try to live every day as the best human being I know how to be. I need my little girl to wake in the morning and look up at me and see a man she can respect! Until now, she always could."
Odo: "Being accused of a crime is not a disgrace, Chief. Some of the great figures of history have shared the honor with you."
O'Brien: "I didn't figure on dying a martyr."
Odo: "Not all of them were martyrs. Not all of them died. Some of them were just innocent men, like you."
--
posted by zarq (23 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
One of the nice things about the world building on DS9 was that when they finally took you to the worlds of their various alien races, everything felt right. When you went to Cardassia Prime, it totally felt like the world the Cardassians would come from. Same thing with the Ferengi home world. The more you learned about their cultures and their cities and their homes, the more they felt like real, complex civilizations.

People knock Trek for making entire races with one defining characteristic, but I suppose to Cardassians or Ferengis we might all blend together too. The Trek aliens (on DS9 anyhow) felt like believable cultures to me... but I always wished they did a little more to suggest that we were seeing a specific culture from their world. Like, maybe there were Klingons from one continent who were like, "Sorry, the Klingons from that continent over there are a bunch of aggro maniacs who basically rule this planet. But we're not all like that, though!"
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:48 AM on September 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


The thing that makes this episode memorable IMO is that they balanced the really scary situation with a surprising amount of humor. The casting of the Conservator probably helped a lot in that regard. Absent that ingredient, it might have felt like a weak remake of "Chain of Command."
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 5:23 AM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I always wanted to see more of normal Klingon society, like, is there a Klingon Cheesemonger somewhere who aspires to stock the widest variety of delicious mInHor nIm Sub and also to die a glorious death in battle?
I want to know how that society works!

This is the sort of question (though sadly not that specific question) DS9 tried to at least ask sometimes that none of the other treks really did.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 7:52 AM on September 23, 2015


Not a cheesemonger, per se, but there's a Klingon restaurant on the Promenade. In terms of non-aggressive subcultures, probably the closest that we see (aside from various civilian Klingons here and there) are the dissidents from the Voyager episode "Prophecy", although most of them are wearing the military armor and they get into the whole duel thing; at least they're defectors from mainstream Klingon society.

Also, I'm intrigued by the link to the Tor rewatch, as they're written by Keith R.A. DeCandido, who's written some Trek books (and other things). K-Rad makes the point that O'Brien's background makes him a very plausible candidate for the Maquis or at least a Maquis sympathizer.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:26 AM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the Klingon society never made much sense to me once I started thinking about - because there have to be people who are the engineers or the farmers or the doctors or kindergarten teachers or the librarians or opera writers or social workers ("Today is a good day to collect benefits!"). Because I'm not sure how they get to be a space-faring, warp-driving society without those roles. (Well, maybe they don't need the social workers. Full disclosure - I am one). Anyways, #NotAllKlingons can be the warriors seeking a glorious death in battle is where my mind is at on their society. So I expect there's a huge Klingon underclass that gets hidden from the view of outsiders, busy toiling away and making everything function. To mix universes, all we see of the Klingons is House Gryffindor, but there's a House Ravenclaw and a House Hufflepuff behind the scenes that no one knows about/talks about.

Anyways, DS9 did try to examine some of those aspects of other Trek cultures, which I did appreciate. I think it might be because the show was essentially set next to Bajor; they had to develop that into a full culture over the course of the series, and maybe that influenced the thinking about how they were portraying other alien cultures. Plus they had multiple alien species as part of the main and recurring cast, so more depth gets added via that channel, so again the writers might be thinking a bit deeper about these things.
posted by nubs at 9:37 AM on September 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I kinda figured that the Klingons had basically an IDF setup, where everyone's in the military for a LITTLE while and then most people go off and do something else, but they still have that background. Otherwise, yeah, it doesn't make a ton of sense.

but I always wished they did a little more to suggest that we were seeing a specific culture from their world. Like, maybe there were Klingons from one continent who were like, "Sorry, the Klingons from that continent over there are a bunch of aggro maniacs who basically rule this planet. But we're not all like that, though!"

God, this is such a problem with most sci-fi.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:05 AM on September 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


There's a nice summary on TvTropes here

"In one episode of DS9 we heard a snippet of a Klingon science vessel's log where the captain spoke of winning battles against ignorance, and bringing home vast spoils in the form of new knowledge."

there are many examples, not just of klingons, but other planet of the hats races doing not hat related activities.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 11:24 AM on September 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Klingon Scientist: Today is a good day to learn!

I did do some poking around on Memory Alpha, and it does seem that the rise to prominence of the warrior culture of the Klingons is a relatively recent development in their history, though now I want to know what societal and economic factors contributed to the warrior caste becoming predominant in Klingon society, and then I realize I'm probably getting a little overboard in my fandom.

So, poor O'Brien, eh?
posted by nubs at 11:59 AM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


is there a Klingon Cheesemonger somewhere who aspires to stock the widest variety of delicious mInHor nIm Sub

"We have no mInHor nIm Sub today. Our supplier was killed in battle defending the Glory of the Empire!"
"Ho'QItlh uvaD?"
"There was a run on it for the Bajoran Wind Chime Festival."
"Ingach tu'chegh?"
"Fresh out."
"You dishonor your family by calling yourself a cheesemonger! Prepare to die."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:20 PM on September 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


Shut that bloody HurDagh off!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:39 PM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also, the Federation diplomatic corps seems really fucking useless.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:42 PM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also, the Federation diplomatic corps seems really fucking useless.

Agree completely. If this is how the Federation responds when the Cardassians kidnap and plan to execute one of its Starfleet officers, I can see why the Maquis didn't trust the Federation to protect them. (It doesn't make it ok for them to start killing people, of course, but I can see where they're coming from)

This is my favorite of the DS9 episodes that involve trials, mostly because it's a show trial and all of the yelling and grandstanding is the entire point of it.
posted by creepygirl at 7:14 PM on September 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, I never serve Ho'QItlh uvaD during the Bajoran Wind Chime Festival. It doesn't go with hasperat at all. I usually like a nice Stilton or Roquefort to set off the springwine.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:26 PM on September 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have never given thought to this before this moment, but if I had to guess I'd figure that the Klingons did what the Spartans and the Mongols did --- focus on the warring and plundering themselves and use the slaves captured and/or peoples conquered to do the chores and run the bureaucracy.
posted by Diablevert at 8:17 PM on September 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


There's a line in the DS9 Companion, I think it's Ron Moore, and he says something like, "How do these guys resolve a dispute over a plumbing contract?" So behind the scenes they were aware of the problems of how the Klingons could function on a day to day basis, at least.

I can see the Klingons of Kirk's era having slaves, because they were mostly just muwah-ha-ha evil guys. But the Worf-era Klingons were so into honor... I picture them being more likely to kill a vanquished foe, rather than enslaving them. They (maybe) wouldn't be into humiliating and overworking their foes, they'd just want to kill 'em quick and clean and then boast about it later.

Certainly some very, very macho and warlike societies have existed on Earth, and they managed to function somehow. I suppose it might also be like how we work it in America: we exalt our celebrities and rich people and don't think much of the people who care for our elderly or pick up our garbage, even though without those people society would be screwed. So the Klingons are all about the warriors, while (maybe) the scientists and the schoolteachers and the doctors get no glory even though they keep the whole society functioning.

It is a lot easier to picture how Cardassian culture works, though. It's basically Totalitarianism, but on a global scale. The Ferengi culture seems sadly familiar too.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 12:47 AM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


To make the obvious point, the DS9-era Klingons seem vaguely based on medieval samurai (with some Viking thrown in), but without, y'know, all of Japanese feudal society to support them. So their warrior caste is quite organized and their values are clear, but from what little glimpses we see of Kronos, it's probably a bit of a mess.

This episode and "The House of Quark" complement each other well; if the Cardassian trial exhibits a sophisticated cynical use of bureaucracy to obfuscate and preserve the existing order, the Klingon trial demonstrates how chaotic power structures can become without a functional bureaucracy.
posted by thetortoise at 1:34 AM on September 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


So their warrior caste is quite organized and their values are clear, but from what little glimpses we see of Kronos, it's probably a bit of a mess.

I seem to recall characters criticizing the Klingon Empire in exactly that fashion somewhere along the line. Was it Jadzia during the wedding episode?
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 7:12 AM on September 24, 2015


if I had to guess I'd figure that the Klingons did what the Spartans and the Mongols did --- focus on the warring and plundering themselves and use the slaves captured and/or peoples conquered to do the chores and run the bureaucracy.

Isn't this explicitly acknowledged in TOS, such as in Errand of Mercy?
posted by juiceCake at 8:51 AM on September 24, 2015


So, poor O'Brien, eh?

I think that may have been the most un-sexual nudity I've seen in a while. Not to disparage Colm Meaney's looks, I think it's part of his Joe Shmoe Everyman appeal that he doesn't have superhero physique under the uniform. I mean, I don't think I've seen the TNG episode with Picard's naked interrogation by Cardassian David Warner, but I'm pretty sure there was a little bit of titillation and Austin Powers-esque strategic placement of props. But this seemed more straightforwardly brutal, impersonal, and humiliating.
posted by oh yeah! at 7:40 PM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't think there was supposed to be anything even slightly sexy about Picard's torture. I suppose some people were a-tingle about Patrick Stewart being nude, but to feel that way I think you'd kind of have to not be paying attention to what's happening onscreen and just be all about seeing Picard without a shirt. Because damn, that episode went to really dark, grim places.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:07 PM on September 24, 2015


I don't think there was supposed to be anything even slightly sexy about Picard's torture

Right, I know, I don't think they were trying to shoot him as sexy, I just mean that his having such a great physique worked against the scene at the start, especially when they had the shot so carefully framed to show everything but his full frontal bits. I just have a vague memory of finding that part kind of...distractingly stagy?
posted by oh yeah! at 8:42 PM on September 24, 2015


Oh, you may be on to something there. It's been a while since I saw the episode, but they would have had a tough time depicting him as naked without showing that he was naked and it may be that there are some awkward shots because of it. The description of it as Austin Powers-y made me think of something deliberately coy and sexy, but it sounds like that's not at all what you meant.

That episode was a real shocker for the time. You just didn't expect to see full-on torture in Star Trek, or anywhere on TV, really. O'Brien's torture was really grim stuff too, but it didn't stretch across the whole story like Picard's did. Between the Borg assimilation and the torture, Picard got kicked around on TNG a lot worse than I remembered!

(Thinking about this made me realize that that whole TNG/DS9 business model of syndicated TV seems to have gone away. There are no more Treks or Xenas or anything of the sort airing on Saturday afternoons. I kind of figured Sam Raimi would be cranking out cheesy syndicated TV until he croaked.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:19 PM on September 24, 2015


Because I've criticized the O'Briens' marriage in the past I have to say that I thought their scenes in this episode were really adorable.
posted by chaiminda at 2:25 PM on September 27, 2015


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