Tribunal (#StarTrek #DS9 Rewatch, Season 2, Episode 25) O’Brien Must Suffer: shore leave interrupted for a Cardassian show trial

Rewatching ST:DS9

O’Brien annoys everyone in Ops with last-minute instructions. On his way to join Keiko on a runabout for their vacation, he runs into a former shipmate from the Rutledge. Boone says he’s left Starfleet and is now settled on the Cardassian side of the demilitarized zone. The two promise to check up with each other later. In private, Boone suspiciously plays back part of a recording he just made of O’Brien’s voice.

On the runabout, Keiko is annoyed that O’Brien has left behind the “holocam” he was supposed to bring and instead brought some technical manuals. He softens her up by asking the computer to play music, and gives her his full romantic attention. “Do these chairs recline?” she asks — but this is an episode of O’Brien Must Suffer, so the romantic moment is interrupted by a Cardassian patrol ship. Gul Evek, courteous and efficient, informs O’Brien that he’s been arrested for an unspecified crime.

In a prison on Cardassia, O’Brien keeps repeating his name and rank; guards rough him up, but a sympathetic woman who introduces herself as “Makbar, Chief Archon,” assures him that he’s been assigned the best legal counsel, but she still won’t tell him what he’s charged with.

Sisko updates an anxious Keiko, but it’s early in the episode, and he has little to go on at this point. Odo manages to get himself appointed to O’Brien’s legal team. Knowing that O’Brien is not fond of Cardassians, Kira wonders aloud whether he actually did something.

The low-key, rumpled and folksy defense attorney Kovar (is that a tweed jacket with a suede collar?) is not actually interested in proving O’Brien’s innocence, just in getting him to confess, to reassure the Cardassian people that justice prevails.

On DS9, we find that two dozen photo torpedoes are missing, and a recording seems to implicate the chief’s voice.

In the Cardassian jail, Odo professionally grills O’Brien, which occasions another low-key speech from Mr. Decent Space Guy: “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 up in the morning and look up at me and see a man she can respect.” Odo says he wants the Cardassians to look into the eyes of an innocent man, which seems to help O’Brien a great deal.

Dax concludes the recording of O’Brien’s voice was faked, and Kira reports a suspected Maquis member was seen talking to O’Brien. In custody, Boone won’t talk, but a stranger, presumably a Maquis, tells Bashir that Boone “is not one of us.” When Sisko questions Boone again and orders a medical exam, the suspect tries to bolt, but he’s forced to undergo a medical exam.

The show trial features Makbar speaking in reasonable, sincere, empathetic tones, but what she’a asking O’Brien to do is admit he’s guilty of a crime she hasn’t even named. Odo begs the court’s indulgence on many occasions, asking procedural questions, but the judge refuses to admit new evidence.

During a recess, a defeated O’Brien tells Keiko he doesn’t want her to be present for his execution, but Keiko insists this isn’t over. Kovat asks O’Brien whether he was abused as a child, or whether his wife was causing him psychological stress, but O’Brien won’t play along.

Makbar then asks O’Brien how many Cardassians he killed during the war, and gets him to admit he’s made a public statement that “the bloody Cardies can’t be trusted,” but O’Brien proudly defies the court.

Kovat is flustered, but Makbar seems satisfied. When Sisko brings Boone into the courtroom, she gives a quick speech praising the Cardassian legal system, and suggests that because O’Brien’s family ties suggest he could be rehabilitated, and in the interest of good relations with the Federation, she releases O’Brien to Sisko. 

At this turn of events, nobody is more surprised than the defense attorney.

Kovat: What happened? What?
Odo: You won.
Kovat: ?? They’ll kill me!

In an infodump on the runabout, we learn that the real Boone was captured and replaced by a Cardassian who’d been altered to appear human. Supposedly the fact that the fake Boone was missing a molar was one of the clues, but couldn’t a society that can surgically alter a Cardassian to look human could easily supply a false molar to avoid suspicion?

Despite the investigation b-story being what one of my literature professors would have called “too clever by half,” I’m really enjoying how nuanced and empathetically the villains of DS9 play their roles. Yes there’s posturing and sadism and scenery-chewing and mustache-twirling, but there’s also sincerity and consistency in their motives and their world-view. I never liked the dour, militaristic Cardassians as much as the campy barbarous Klingons, but this is a great O’Brien episode, showing him pivot from being a micromanaging, doughy nerd into a Lothario who gets his angry wife to melt into his arms is just golden.

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