Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Rules of Engagement   Rewatch 
March 5, 2016 8:40 AM - Season 4, Episode 18 - Subscribe

The Klingons try to extradite Worf after he accidentally destroys a transport full of Klingon civilians. Thrill as Worf shouts: "You can't handle the vIt!"

Another late one from me! Sorry! All information from the Memory Alpha page on "Rules of Engagement."


"I say this: You live with Humans because you're afraid to live with Klingons."

"I fear nothing. And if you would like to pick up a bat'leth and face me with a weapon instead of words, I will prove it to you."
- Ch'Pok and Worf

"441 people somehow survived a crash on Galorda Prime. And then a few weeks later, they all decide to take another trip. On the same day. On the same transport ship. Under the same captain and crew. And then that ship is destroyed too. This is a very unlucky group of people, wouldn't you say?"

"I am not an expert on luck."
- Sisko and Ch'Pok

"Life is a great deal more complicated in this red uniform."

"Wait 'til you get four pips on that collar. You'll wish you had gone into botany."
- Worf and Sisko


* The origins of this episode are to be found (indirectly) in Ira Steven Behr's love for the films of Sam Peckinpah. In 1994, Behr read a new Peckinpah biography written by David Weddle. He was so impressed with the book that he invited Weddle down to the Paramount lot to have a look around. While touring the DS9 sets, Weddle suggested to Behr that he pitch a show, and Behr was thrilled with the idea. Weddle then contacted his film school writing partner Bradley Thompson and asked him if he'd like to join him in putting a show together. At the time, Thompson was studying computer failures and what happens when major computer systems don't work the way they are supposed to. A particularly good example of this was the Iran Air Flight 655/Vincennes incident of 1988 in which the US Navy vessel USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian passenger aircraft, killing all 290 passengers and crew. The US government claimed that the computerized missile system mistook the aircraft for a fighter jet because it wasn't where it was supposed to be and because the pilot wasn't listening to the frequency on which the Vincennes broadcast a warning notification, and it was upon this incident that Weddle and Thompson based their story: a Starfleet vessel destroys a civilian ship because it enters a combat zone. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion)

* According to Ronald D. Moore, this episode was written exclusively to "slap Worf around. "Sons of Mogh" had told him, 'You're not as Klingon as you thought you were, and you're not going back to the Empire.' But inside, Worf thought, 'Well, I've got Starfleet.' Now, I wanted to put that into question, to shake up the character and really make him question where he was, who he was, what he wanted, where he belonged." (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion)

* It was Ira Steven Behr who came up with the concept of having the characters speak to-camera, effectively breaking the fourth wall. He was determined not to do "just another trial show" like "The Measure Of A Man" or "Dax", and while trying to decide what to do to make the show stand out, he saw the 1995 Spike Lee movie Clockers. During that film, in a flashback, a character played by Harvey Keitel speaks directly to-camera. Behr thought this was an excellent idea and suggested it to Ronald D. Moore, who concurred, and who wrote it into the teleplay. Moore describes this device as "sort of breaking the fourth wall, but sort of not, because the actors aren't talking to the audience, they're actually talking to someone in the courtroom." (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion) In the sixth season episode "In the Pale Moonlight", this stylistic technique was taken even further, with Sisko dictating an entire log directly to the camera and audience.

* LeVar Burton commented, on directing, "That device the writers employed was, for a director, a lot of fun to play with. When I read that, I got excited, because it's not often that you break that fourth wall and have characters directly address the camera. Certainly, I don't think it has ever happened on Star Trek before. It rarely happens in one-hour dramas. So, it was a lot of fun, and very, very challenging because we had so much take place in that one-room courtroom set. My approach to the three major sequences in that room were all completly different in terms of the way we moved the camera. That's what I love about directing. It's an absolute challenge". ("Directing DS9: LeVar Burton", The Official Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Magazine Vol. 20)

* Despite the interesting structural devices in place, the producers were less than thrilled with the finished product. Ira Steven Behr laments, "We got totally focused on structure, and how it was gonna work, all the nuts and bolts. Big mistake, but it happened, and now it's a show that just didn't work. We did a show that is based on the intent of the defendant, just as the American legal system is, but we left the defendant out of the show. Worf just sits there, staring into space. It's clever on a certain level, but ultimately, it's pretty hollow as drama. When we watched the final cut, our collective jaws just dropped. Our basic response was, 'So what?'." Ronald D. Moore agrees, "We got blinded. I was really intrigued by the writer's device. What went by the wayside was Worf: Worf doesn't speak for chunks of the show. The guy on trial is barely in the episode." (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion)
posted by Slothrop (12 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I disagree with Behr, that it wasn't effective because Worf didn't have a bigger part in it, because the real standout in the episode is Ch'Pok, who both subverts and reinforces the Proud Warrior Race trope simultaneously by being every bit as cunning and ruthless verbally as most Klingons that we see are with a blade or disruptor. And, really, the way that he forces Worf to acknowledge that sort of primal conflict that he has, between being the ideal Klingon warrior and the ideal Starfleet officer, is just masterful. The episode really is all about Worf, but it's done by having other people sort of color in around the edges, helping to define him by how he's not like them.

I also liked very much the epilogue to the legal battle, with Sisko telling Worf that, regardless of his wanting to do his typical brooding loner bit, he has to nut up and put on a happy face for the people who were rooting for him. It's easy to forget, with the numerous conflicts that various members of the crew have with Worf, that a lot of the crew can really relate to him on different levels, as with Worf and Odo both being protective of their private time in "Crossfire."
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:02 AM on March 5, 2016 [6 favorites]

The plot doesn't hold up to any scrutiny, but the technique they lifted from Clockers was a really great trick.
posted by oh yeah! at 1:06 PM on March 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I disagree with Behr, that it wasn't effective because Worf didn't have a bigger part in it, because the real standout in the episode is Ch'Pok, who both subverts and reinforces the Proud Warrior Race trope simultaneously by being every bit as cunning and ruthless verbally as most Klingons that we see are with a blade or disruptor.

Yeah, that was how I felt about this too. Really, my main takeaway from the episode was that if I'm ever in legal trouble, I want a Klingon lawyer.
posted by mordax at 11:35 AM on March 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

I have two issues with this episode:

1. Why is Starfleet even considering turning Worf over to the Empire when the incident in question was precipitated by Klingon ships firing on a Starfleet cruiser without warning or provocation, essentially an act of war? (I have similar reservations about the next episode, where kidnapping a Starfleet warrant officer, subjecting him to a secret trial, and sentencing him to punishment contrary to Federation standards does not result in the punitive bombing of one or more major cities)

2. Ch'Pok's first conversation with Sisko on the promenade, where he essentially says, "Yeah, we're totally setting Worf up, and here's why..."

Other than that, Ch'Pok is excellent during the rest of the episode, and Quark's testimony had the practiced obfuscation of someone well accustomed to giving evidence in legal proceedings.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:25 PM on March 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

And if you would like to pick up a bat'leth and face me with a weapon instead of words

Words are his weapons.
Someone, maybe here, once noted that in a ST novel, there was a Klingon science survey, where the scientists were scanning stars and sampling nebulae FOR THE GLORY OF THE EMPIRE and DEFEATING SCIENTIFIC MYSTERIES and BRINGING FURTHER KNOWLEDGE AND HONOR TO THEIR FAMILIES.

I'd like to see more of Klingon culture.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:53 PM on March 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

Why is Starfleet even considering turning Worf over to the Empire when the incident in question was precipitated by Klingon ships firing on a Starfleet cruiser without warning or provocation, essentially an act of war?

A wizard Changeling did it. I like to think that otherwise inexplicably useless judge ("Sure, go ahead, hurl random insults at a witness; it's not like it's my job to control my courtroom.") in this episode is also a secret Changeling.
posted by creepygirl at 9:00 PM on March 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Considering how many Star Trek episodes are centred round court cases, it's weird how no one involved in the show seems to know how court cases work, or even possibly what they are and what they're for.

This also applies to children in Star Trek, who always appear to have been written by people who've never seen a child but once heard a tale of one from a distant acquaintance many years before, and is now writing down some garbled fevered memory of what these strange creatures are and how it is they behave.
posted by dng at 4:44 AM on March 9, 2016 [14 favorites]

Yeah, yet another courtroom drama episode, and it has Worf sat doing pretty much nothing. Really way away from the best Trek can do.
posted by marienbad at 2:44 PM on March 16, 2016

There was a lot of good in this episode, enough to make it a joy to watch even though there are huge flaws.

The good:
The Klingon advocate was phenomenal. Every now and then we get a glimpse of Klingons who carry themselves with every bit of bravado and self-assuredness as a hardened warrior, but whose chosen vocation is elsewhere than the battlefield. It's always interesting to watch, and the actor here was fantastic. (Also worth noting: Sisko, Worf, and Ch'Pok are all played by black men! DS9 gave meaty roles to people of color, particularly black people, more regularly than most Trek franchises managed to do.)
The "camera trick" with characters addressing the viewer/courtroom directly in the environment they were recalling on the stand was done really well! Congrats to LeVar Burton for directing!
The dialogue outside of the courtroom, especially among Sisko, Ch'Pok, and Worf, is mostly superb. Much of the dialogue inside the courtroom between/among those three was similarly excellent.
In particular, the character beats with Sisko mentoring Worf were wonderful--well written and acted. Sisko explicitly naming that he sees Worf as command material, while kicking his ass a little about the mistakes he made and sharing some hard-earned wisdom about responsibilities of the job... that was well-done.

The bad:
Quite a lot of the trial doesn't hold up to scrutiny. The useless judge, the bizarre trial format (I don't expect it to be identical to contemporary western trial procedures, but it was strange by any standard), and of course, the inevitable deus ex machina of magical evidence, the fact of which was obvious to any half-astute viewer from early in the episode, even if the form the magical evidence would take wasn't obvious. But now that I mention it, the form that the magical evidence took was dumb as hell too. You're telling me those whiz-bang 24th century computers wouldn't have flagged those 400+ names? What the hell kind of AI do they have at their disposal in the year of our lord 23whatever? What kind of analysis tools didn't catch the Klingon empire's deception until it was almost too late?

Like I said at the start of the comment: enough good in here that it's a good watch (and rewatch) despite its flaws. WIthout those flaws, this could easily have been a great episode of Trek.

Additional note: Worf holds the record for number of appearances throughout Trek (being a regular cast member on two of the franchise's longest-lasting shows, plus a few movies, will do that). It took TNG a little while to figure out where it wanted to go with his character (as with most TNG characters, early episodes are super cringey). The "house of Mogh" plots were generally great, but Worf wasn't often given much room to grow outside of "Klingon episodes." When I think of Worf as a character these days, I tend to think of DS9 first. One, there are a lot more "Klingon episodes," such as this one, on DS9 (especially with the war arcs). Two, and more importantly, DS9 provided a lot more room for Worf to grow outside of "Klingon stories." His relationship with Dax was an engine for some of that, I suppose--and she made more sense with Worf than Troi ever did, anyhow. But I ramble.
posted by sugar and confetti at 5:14 PM on February 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

It's funny that the writers didn't like the episode. I thought it was pretty good. I generally enjoy a star trek courtroom episode.

If the advocate didn't know about trick ahead of time, I bet he has some choice words with someone back home in the aftermath.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 1:03 AM on April 7, 2023 [1 favorite]

Continuing my incredibly late rewatch of episodes followed by checking out what mefites thought of them a generation ago.

This is a bad episode. Which is unfortunate really.

So many absurdities in the basic premise. Some already discussed. The Klingons' whole plot makes no sense. For this to work, not only did they have to know Worf would be in command of the Defiant, which I guess I can buy, but they'd also have to somehow ensure he would actually do what he did and fire blindly the moment their decoy ship started to decloak. It's the sort of thing you can try to exploit after it happens, but there's no way you can set it up beforehand.

Why is Worf in a holding cell at the beginning? He's not been charged with anything by the Federation. Do they imagine he's a flight risk? Like he's going to steal the Defiant and take off for the badlands or something?

Too many courtroom cliches applied to a situation that isn't a proper trial. At one point the Admiral threatens to hold Ch'Pok (and Worf) in contempt. Huh? What, is she going to throw the Klingon representative in a holding cell too?

And yeah, it's kind of dull. They try to spice things up a little with the flashbacks and with Worf's otherwise pointless dream at the beginning. But that stuff only goes so far.

There is (maybe used to be?) a subreddit called r/ATBGE for Awful Taste, but Great Execution. This is a prime example. It's a static, boring, largely nonsensical episode that sadly drags down some very fine writing and acting.
posted by Naberius at 8:48 AM on June 19, 2023

> Sisko, Worf, and Ch'Pok are all played by black men

I noticed that, and also that it was directed by a black man. Three black men in an episode being black male characters, not Black Male Characters! Pretty cool.

I loved the Klingon lawyer and want to see more of him. It's interesting that he dresses less Klingon, as we know Klingons, and has tidier hair. I wonder if that's how he dresses to impress the judge and that on weekends he kicks back in leather and spikes.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:08 AM on February 4

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