Rules of Engagement #StarTrek #DS9 Rewatch (Season 4, Episode 18) Worf is accused of destroying a Klingon civilian ship

Rewatching ST:DS9

After a nightmare featuring dead Klingon children, Worf wakes up in Odo’s security cell. He’s clearly in trouble.

A Vulcan admiral convenes a Federation hearing called to explore allegations that, while commanding The Defiant, Worf destroyed a Klingon civilian transport. A Klingon prosecutor, Ch’pok, intends to prove Worf’s negligence, thereby stoking sympathy for the Klingon Empire, which will help them strengthen their political standing.

While Sisko sees a search for the truth, Ch’pok sees a battle: “The truth must be won.”

What starts out as a talky courtroom scene, with the passionate Klingon prosecutor sparring with the Vulcan judge who values only logic, ramps up considerably with the creative use of flashbacks.

When Dax tells Ch’pok that she and Worf spar together regularly, we cut to a lively bout that seems far more than an exercise, as Dax, in between dodging and parrying Worf’s blows, continues her ongoing courtroom testimony, speaking directly to the camera. It’s very striking storytelling. 

Things look bad for Worf after Dax describes what choices Worf made in a particularly violent holodeck historical simulation, designed to end when the player gives a command to destroy an entire city.

Sisko also briefly addresses the camera during flashback, though his testimony isn’t quite as dramatic. When it’s Quark’s turn, his dramatized flashbacks are comical because he has trouble with details, and the story keeps changing, to the apparent annoyance of the characters performing the flashbacks.

Odo privately tells Sisko he has suspicions about the Klingon transport captain who strayed into a battle zone and de-cloaked directly in front of the Defiant, thus prompting Worf to attack.

O’Brien’s testimony introduces the battle scene. When Ch’pok asks O’Brien a series of hypothetical questions, the battle flashback replays, this time with O’Brien in the command chair. Over objections and with the benefit of hindsight, O’Brien reluctantly admits that, if he had been in the command chair, he would not have given the order to fire. 

Odo’s investigation in to the background of the captain and everyone on the transcript has so far revealed nothing that will help Worf. 

When Ch’pok privately offers a plea bargain of sorts, Sisko concludes that Ch’pok is worried about what Worf will say on the stand.

Worf’s testimony, once again delivered directly to the camera in the middle of the action sequences, drives a tense scene, but Worf is confident that he made the right decision, and insists he would never knowingly attack an unarmed civilian. 

Ch’pok continues needling Worf, challenging his identity as a Klingon warrior, calling attention to his status as outcast, and even bringing up Worf’s son Alexander: “You will have to tell him that he is the son of a small, frightened man who destroyed a ship full of children just to prove his own courage.”

This is too much for Worf, who attacks Ch’pok and easily knocks him to the ground.

This is, of course, the trial’s “You can’t handle the truth!” moment as Ch’pok gloats over having just proved that Worf will attack an unarmed civilian if he gets angry enough and has something to prove.

Thinks look pretty bleak, but just in time Odo learns something suspicious about the names on the casualty list. All 441 had also been passengers on a transport that crashed several months ago, which suggests they weren’t actually aboard that transport after all. For some reason Ch’pok admits that Sisko’s theory is possible, and that’s apparently enough for the judge to dismiss the charges against Worf.

Privately Sisko scolds Worf for being so quick to fire on an unidentified ship that close to a civilian trade route, but also bucks him up, telling him there’s no real harm done, he’s learned a valuable lesson that any Starfleet captain needs to learn, and the party Brien and Bashir are throwing a party for him at Quark’s is as much for everyone else as it is for him.

DS9 has already had several courtroom scenes, and to be honest I was not all that thrilled when I realized this was going to be yet another trial show, but the gimmick of blending the courtroom testimony with the flashbacks felt fresh and clever.

I don’t remember seeing this episode before, but for some reason I do remember seeing actor Avery Brooks expertly enunciate a speech that repeats the question “Isn’t it possible?” Maybe I saw the clip on YouTube?


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