Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Rules of Engagement"

**1/2

Air date: 4/8/1996
Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore
Story by Bradley Thompson & David Weddle
Directed by LeVar Burton

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"The truth must be won... I'll see you on the battlefield." — Ch'Pok to Sisko

Nutshell: Some interesting director's techniques and a marvelous ending, but the story and courtroom scenes are completely routine.

Klingon prosecutor Ch'Pok (Ron Canada) heads an extradition hearing against Worf (defended by Sisko), who he wants to bring back to the Klingon Empire to answer for a severe charge. The charge: Worf is accused of wantonly destroying an innocent Klingon commuter ship which suddenly decloaked in the middle of a battle between the Defiant and some hostile Klingon vessels. It was a tragic accident in any case—441 defenseless Klingons were killed. However, the details are clear and confirmed: There were only seconds to react, and Worf's order to fire seemed justifiable under the circumstances of the battle.

Ch'Pok, however, does not intend to argue the facts. He intends to "put Worf's heart on trial"—to prove that because Worf is Klingon, his boiling blood got the best of him, causing him to open fire without thinking things through. In turn, Ch'Pok argues that since Worf's heart is Klingon, he should be extradited.

"Rules of Engagement" is an episode like many in the second half of DS9's fourth season have been. It's a small, mostly-contained story that tries to work in elements of the larger-consequence, long-term story arc of the Klingon/Federation political situation. Consider "Return to Grace" and "Sons of Mogh," for example. Both had something worthwhile to add to the canvas, while neither were really that pressing on their own. "Rules of Engagement" is another that falls into this "relevant but not compelling" category, but it's probably the least urgent and impacting of the three because its plot really doesn't have very far to reach.

It's simultaneously a Trek Courtroom Drama, a Worf Episode, and a Web of Conspiracy. And while it's a decent, solid episode with the expectedly up-to-par performances and some nice director's flourishes, these elements simply don't come together to become anything more than an average episode with flaws that are evident, even if they're not particularly clumsy.

Really, the biggest problem with this episode is that we've already dealt with most of the issues in "Sons of Mogh." Again, we have the Federation and the Empire clashing their agendas, and, again, we have Worf on the fence, proclaiming to be a Klingon at heart with duty and loyalty to the Federation. Again, we have Klingons coming forward and telling Worf that he doesn't fit in anywhere, and, again, we have Worf proving that he can indeed maintain ties with both sides, even if he and others aren't happy with the fact.

Meanwhile, we have the extradition hearing, in which Ch'Pok uses sensational tactics to pressure Worf into active loss of his temper, much to the ire of Vulcan T'Lara (Deborah Strang), the extradition arbitrator who ultimately holds Worf's fate in her hands. The courtroom situations are adeptly written by Ronald D. Moore, and director LeVar Burton (who is becoming prolific these days) successfully pulls off an interesting technique in which flashback is used in a cross between diegetic and non-diegetic senses, as the characters in the flashback actually speak to the camera as witnesses on the stand. Still, despite these strengths, Star Trek is not Law & Order no matter how hard it tries; and sometimes "Rules of Engagement" seems to be trying almost too hard—Sisko shouts "Objection!" a little bit too emphatically on occasion, making the drama feel just a tad overly theatrical.

There's also the problematic ending, where it seems Ch'Pok may be on his way to a victory until along comes the reliable deus ex machina—Odo finds a record that proves, in fact, that the ship destroyed was not carrying innocent people; the passenger manifest is identical to that of a ship that crashed months ago. What does this mean? It means that the entire situation was staged by the Klingons in an attempt to force Starfleet from abandoning its relief effort of escorting Cardassian convoys. Uh-huh. This "revelation" is awfully unlikely and contrived for starters, and also seems rather dishonorable and "un-Klingon-like" to me. It's also an all-too-easy way of resolving the episode—using a conjured plot manipulation instead of basic story strength or character truths. At least it gives Sisko the chance to put Ch'Pok on the stand and grill him with a hypothetical situation game, which turns out to be an absolute delight thanks to Avery Brooks' delicious performance as a bombastic lawyer.

There's also a very welcome reflection scene between Sisko and Worf after the hearing is resolved. Sisko points out that Worf did indeed make some big mistakes in his command decisions, and he offers some advice. I particularly like Sisko's response to Worf's brooding behavior: "Part of being a captain is knowing when to smile." (I think it's about time Worf lightens up.) The final exchange is also nicely put:

Worf: "Life is a great deal more complicated in this red uniform."
Sisko: "Wait until you get four pips on that collar."

But one last annoyance that I want to bring up (even though it isn't crucial to the plot) is the question of Kira's rank aboard the Defiant. Even if I still don't understand the justification, I'd be willing to grant that Worf would take command over her (if, for no other reason, because Sisko ordered him to command the mission). But then the story declares that if Worf was injured, O'Brien would take command of the ship. Why is this? (Besides the obvious fact that the plot here requires it?) What is Kira's purpose on the bridge? O'Brien isn't even an officer—he's an engineer. Yet, according to this episode, he would be fighting the Klingons while Kira follows his orders. This makes no sense at all.

I like Worf's addition to the cast, but I don't like what has been happening with Kira. Her role as a strong character has seemed slighted all this season, and the way the producers seem to dance completely around the established chain of command without so much as a passing reference to it does not sit well at all.

Previous episode: Accession
Next episode: Hard Time

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29 comments on this review

EP - Tue, Feb 24, 2009 - 11:16pm (USA Central)
That there can be Klingon lawyers is as funny as the notion of Klingon scientists (see J'Dan, TNG's The Drumhead).
I can see a whole gaggle of Klingon lawyers getting off of work, drinking blood wine and talking about the glorious sub-paragraphs of Proposition 17: Rules and Regulations regarding Tribble contamination.
Dull, dull, dull.
At least Ron Canada has a great time playing the hammiest Klingon ever.
Mart - Tue, Mar 3, 2009 - 12:36pm (USA Central)
It's rather obvious why an officer in the Bajoran militia is passed over in the chain of command of a Starfleet vessel...

Well, at least it makes sense to me that Kira is not in the chain of command.

Mart
Durandal_1707 - Sun, Oct 4, 2009 - 5:57am (USA Central)
Except that we saw Kira in command of the Defiant just a few episodes ago in "Sons of Mogh."
gion - Tue, Feb 16, 2010 - 5:32pm (USA Central)
Indeed, Kira probably shouldn't even *be* on the Defiant, except as a passenger, nor should she have an authorisation code as seen in "Defiant". DSN sometimes tends to "forget" the distinction between Bojaron Militia and Starfleet for the sake of the story.
Hapworth - Thu, Apr 1, 2010 - 12:48am (USA Central)
Wow does Jammer know his stuff. I teach film, so I was impressed with how Jammer throws out terms like "diegetic" and "non-diegetic" (fancy terms for the elements that literally occur within the fictional action of the story and those elements that occur outside the storyline (such as when Dax breaks with the fictional world and speaks to the camera). I too was impressed with Lavar Burton's decision to take such a risk, which is rare in television (at least in the 90s, unless your name is David Lynch). I wonder if Burton was influenced by the Scorsese films, such as "Goodfellas," which came out a handful of years before "Rules of Engagement." There's a moment in the trial scene of "Goodfellas," near the end of the film, where Ray Liotta disrupts the diegesis (the fictional world of the film) to speak directly to the camera. Anyway, sorry to hijack this thread (as if anyone will really read this). I am in the habit of watching a few episodes of any given ST series and then rushing to Jammer's Web site to read his reviews. After I finished with "Rules," I ran here to see if Jammer too were impressed with director Burton's moves in this episode. Kudos to Jammer! The man knows his stuff! This man is the man!!!
Lihtox - Sun, Jun 13, 2010 - 10:50pm (USA Central)
O'Brien's taking command was a hypothetical situation so I wouldn't read too much into it. It's true, though, that it would have been better if the Defiant wasn't always crewed with DS9's entire senior staff; who was in charge guarding this highly valuable space station? If Kira (and Odo) had regularly stayed on the station (unless there was a specific reason for them to be on board), then it would have made more sense. Ah well, the challenges of putting on a TV series, with appearances required by contract, etc.

I wish Ron Canada had had the opportunity to say, angrily, "I am a Klingon Lawyer!" Talk about a Klingon with something to prove. :)
Doug - Thu, Nov 11, 2010 - 4:49pm (USA Central)
Well, they've had Klingon scientists on The Next Generation and someone has to develop the guns and ships, so it shouldn't be surprising that some Klingons don't get to fire the guns or man the helm
Travis - Fri, Feb 18, 2011 - 5:46am (USA Central)
One major plothole in the story that wasn't pointed out here. At different points of the episode Worf is accused of accidentally destroying the ship and willfully destroying it. These are huge legal differences.
Dave - Tue, Feb 22, 2011 - 11:07pm (USA Central)
Jammer, your reviews are on point most of the time. But this one isn't. This episode deserves a minimum of 3 stars. Is the story standard stuff? Yes it is. But the direction and acting alone makes this a 3 or more star show easily.

I get that Kira is your favorite character, but giving this show 2 1/2 stars because you don't like the role she plays in it doesn't work. I am retired military, so I can see the reasoning why they're are times when Worf is in command of the Defiant and not Kira. Worf is new to command, so I see it as the writers are using this time to provide Worf with a mentor with Sisko. Works for me. Kira has gotten her time to shine more than any other character except Sisko. I love Kira but I am glad they changed her a little this season. She is still a tough b***h when she needs to be, but now she has mellowed out. She can't play the role of a resistance fighter forever; people change(and to be honest I was sick of hearing about the bajoran resistance by then).

Also think about this. Kira being a bajoran officer most likely shouldn't even belong in the command seat of a federation ship. England is an ally to the the United States but do you think we would allow a english officer to captain one of our aircraft carriers? When you see it from that angle it becomes a lot easier to understand.
Nathan - Thu, Mar 10, 2011 - 8:51am (USA Central)
The situation with Bajor is unique but not unprecedented in US history. In WWII and Korea we had American Generals commanding British troops. Even some units at the platoon level were combined for brief times. DS9 is a joint command. A combined unit of Bajorian and StarFleet personnel. At the time it made sense. Star Fleet was willing to mix and relax it's standards in order to bring the back water world of Bajor up to par with the Federation. Then they found the wormhole and suddenly this backwater was now the front line. THEN war breaks out and it really gets out of hand. Kira gets pushed behind because the Federation is being forced to take a more proactive role.

I never much cared for Worf being added to DS9. I thought he hurt the show by diluting the cast with one more character to hog screen time. He was always well portrayed. And his character got far more development then he could get on static TNG. But his development was at expense of all the other characters but most heavily on Kira, and lesser so on Odo and Sisko. It also didn't help that he really didn't have a job on the station that wasn't replacing someone else that did the same job be it Kira, Sisko, or Odo.
Justin - Sat, Mar 17, 2012 - 8:10pm (USA Central)
Sisko had no reason to chew Worf out, IMO. Any ship de-cloaking in the middle of a battle should be considered hostile. The premise behind this entire episode was preposterous and ill thought out.
Duge - Thu, May 17, 2012 - 11:34pm (USA Central)
I agree with the last post. It was pretty clear that what happened was an accident and that pretty much anybody in command of a starship CURRENTLY ENGAGED WITH a hostile enemy, particularly one engaging in hit-and-run/cloak tactics, would likely have made the same mistake. Why would Worf or any other starship captain expect a simple unarmed transport to suddenly de-cloak in front of them in the middle of a battle with hostile forces in the first place? O'Brien would have made a different decision if in charge? Really? Interesting episode but I think that Worf's case for acting as he did was stronger and more obvious than what it was made out to be in this episode IMHO. I don't honestly know how anybody would've reacted differently under the same exact circumstances.
Paul York - Thu, Jun 7, 2012 - 4:40pm (USA Central)
Kurn and Alexander got the worst of the deal, in terms of Worf's on again off again relationship with the Klingon Empire. Kurn ended up suicidal and had to adopt a new identity, and Alexander ended up an inept Klingon warrior, laughed at by others, living in the shadow of his father (though at least he had human culture to fall back on if he wanted). Nonetheless, as O'Brien states, Worf is honourable. At least, in the end, he is vindicated by Martok. He is a very interesting character, caught between two worlds (very similar to B'elana Torres, who actually is split into Klingon and human selves in one episode of Voyager).
Gaius Maximus - Sat, Jul 21, 2012 - 9:31pm (USA Central)
My big problem with the episode is that I cannot believe that even the Federation would by goody-goody enough to consider extraditing one of their officers to a power that they're basically in a state of undeclared war with. Punish Worf themselves, sure. Give him to the Klingons, no way.

Also, putting O'Brien next in line on the ship is just absurd. This is a guy who pointed out that he's have to call Nog sir as soon as he graduated. The only time he should take command is if everyone else is dead. The anonymous ensign at the helm should have been in line ahead of him. Also, I really felt that Sisko or O'Brien should have pointed out that for all the combat situations O'Brien has been in, he's trained as an engineer, not a ship commander.
John - Mon, Aug 20, 2012 - 7:38pm (USA Central)
There are certainly plenty of plot holes and contrivances here.

But Ron Canada, like Tony Todd a few episodes earlier, is such a compelling Klingon that I was still very much entertained.

I also think it was timely for for the show to explore the inherant contradiction between Worf's warrior ethic and his desire to become a command level Starfleet Officer. On TNG they pretty much shouted him down for every suggestion he made on the bridge, it makes sense that he's going to run into some issues here.
Sintek - Fri, Sep 7, 2012 - 3:27am (USA Central)
The Klingons by this point are such a two dimensional, one-note culture that I wasn't bothered by the lawyer. The writers over the years wrote themselves into a corner by never giving the race any depth. Their stories never went beyond "Argh! Honor! Me tough smash you! Good day to die (doesn't die)!" Too black and white.

The Cardassians are much more interesting as an aggressive species because they have multiple motives for their actions. They don't fight just for the sake of fighting. Realistically, the Klingons would have either gone extinct long ago or concquered the alpha quadrant. The way they are presented is as an expanding empire, but they don't seem to have expanded in a century. Oh well, maybe the rebooted universe can make them interesting again.
Travis - Fri, Sep 7, 2012 - 12:26pm (USA Central)
Sintek, that's one of the reasons I love watching DS9. The Cardassians and Bajorans were fully fleshed-out ideas and believable unlike most of the species in Star Trek. They tried to give the Ferengi some depth on the show but couldn't get past "greed! Stupidity! Comic relief!" With the Bajorans and Cardassians their species wasn't all about one thing.
Cail Corishev - Tue, Sep 18, 2012 - 7:39am (USA Central)
As odd as Klingon lawyers and scientists are, Klingon spies, as we see later, are even stranger. How on earth does spying fit into the in-your-face idea of Klingon honor?

I never was convinced that Worf did anything wrong. Even if the ship had been filled with civilians, as someone said earlier, a ship that suddenly de-cloaks in the middle of a firefight is fair game. If it gets destroyed, that may be a tragedy, but it's no one's fault (but that of the pilot who flew it there). The idea that a Federation officer in the middle of a battle against ships that can cloak is always going to wait for confirmation that the target in his face is still the same target it was moments ago is silly.

The great Kirk destroyed a cloaked Klingon ship by shooting at its exhaust. So if a civilian ship had flown in the way and attracted the torpedo, Kirk would have been a murderer instead of a hero? Nonsense.
Arachnea - Tue, Nov 20, 2012 - 1:27am (USA Central)
This is an episode I disliked because of its script. It has interesting visual settings, something different.

But there are so many things that don't work !
- Why would a Klingon lawyer reveal the reason he's here to Sisko ? (because we viewers are so dumb as to not understand ?)
- Ds9 is ruining the Klingon's lore that's been so well developped on TNG.
- O'Brien is a mechanic and a soldier, not a decision maker: why Sisko agrees for him to be an expert in commanding decisions ? Then, it's also completeley out of character; we've seen Miles making rash decisions during the heat of battle.
- There was a pattern in the cloaking/decloacking route of the Klingon ship and Riker would have been praised for his cunning to recognize it. But Worf is being reprimanded by self-righteous Sisko for firing on a suddenly decloacked ship during the heat of the battle ?
- Sisko says: it's the search of the truth. He defends Worf during the hearing, but he believes Worf is guilty... Talk about the truth :p
- If Sisko thought Worf should'nt have taken the assignment, why did he give it to him in the first place ? If he believes that Worf is too Klingon to take command, then he is at fault, not Worf.
- To conclude, why would the Federation agree to a hearing for an extradition ? Klingons rejected the peace treaty, they are no longer allies, almost at war.

Well, with another premise, this episode could have been great, but the writing is too poor and flawed to make it even good.
T'Paul - Thu, Jul 11, 2013 - 10:40am (USA Central)
I don't think DS9 is trashing Klingon canon or law.

Why? In TOS, the Klingons shown to be underhand and dishonourable, in STVI also they were involved in intrigues, and such things also occurred in the oft-vaunted TNG.

For me, honour in the Klingon empire is an ideology, often praised but seldom practiced, just as the Federation values (the so-called "Gene's vision") are often not put in practice as much as the lofty speeches would have us believe, once again, even in TNG.

I think it is wrong to say that DS9 is somehow a departure from previous depictions of the Klingons, I think it is very true to what they have previously been shown to be.
Josh - Thu, Jul 11, 2013 - 7:25pm (USA Central)
Yes, insofar as Klingon "honour" goes, "Sins of the Father" (only the third major Klingon episode of TNG) had the High Chancellor arranging to falsely accuse Worf's father of treason for political expediency. In "The Mind's Eye" and "Redemption", Klingons conspire with Romulans, and the same occurred in STVI also involving elements of Starfleet.

So I don't really get the objections with respect to Klingon "lore". We've also seen repeated examples of Worf's being pretty unrepresentative of his culture.
Kotas - Wed, Oct 23, 2013 - 6:07pm (USA Central)

Another so-so episode. The second half of season 4 is a major lull compared to the first half.

5/10
Jons - Mon, Feb 3, 2014 - 5:52am (USA Central)
I can't stand Klingons. I think they're the stupidest invention in Star Trek. Both originally (where they're just SO obviously just space soviets... I mean they even have Russian accents for Gods sake! so subtle) and in post-TOS where they are just caricatural "MANLY MEN" presumably supposed to get 100 pounds 14 year old nerds to vicariously feel masculine. Or something.

I don't know, but they're so dumb and representative of everything I despise (violence, "honor", mysoginy, machismo...) that I just can't stand episodes with them as the main plot. Worf excepted, of course, since he's about as Klingon as Picard (obviously, since Klingons as they're written on this show could never be actual main characters since they're so shallow and stupid).
Dusty - Mon, Feb 17, 2014 - 3:35am (USA Central)
This one has the most attention-grabbing teaser I've seen in a long time. Then it plunges us right into the courtoom. We all know Worf is not an indiscriminate killer, and a civilian ship that suddenly decloaks in the middle of a space battle does so under its own peril. The real question is how the battle actually happened and whether the Klingon lawyer (funny concept huh?) can prove his case to the judge and give the Klingons an excuse to increase their hostilities. But since when do they need one? Oh, well.

I liked the mix of actual testimony and fourth-wall breaking; it's something we don't see very often. The problem is, the writers tried way too hard to make it seem like the Klingons had a good case when they didn't at all (hello?! it's called a war!), and to create uncertainty and doubt over Worf's decision--an angle most of the audience wouldn't go along with. The lawyer's tactics were ridiculous and completely out of order in any court. Even without the revelation that it was all staged, it's hard to believe Worf was in any danger of being convicted of...what? War crimes? Sisko chewing out Worf at the end was just wrong. He chose Worf to lead the Defiant on the mission, and he wasn't in command when the battle happened any more than O'Brien. He wasn't even there.

This episode rubbed me the wrong way from start to finish. I have yet to see a Season 4 episode since the premiere that makes really good use of the Klingons.
Vylora - Mon, Feb 24, 2014 - 7:31pm (USA Central)
The Federation didn't put Worf on trial to just "give him away" to the Klingons. It was an extradition hearing from the Klingons to bring Worf to the empire. Obviously likely to stand trial in their judicial system.

I did find some plot points a little on the tidy side, but nothing glaringly bad and actually quite plausible considering the circumstances. As for the hypothetical scenario of O'brien being in command, it was simply to question what he would have done in Worfs position. Nothing more, nothing less. Whether Kira was there or not or if it was because of Worf hypothetically being injured or not is really a non-issue. I understand the confusion of Defiant command structure and I have my own thoughts on it. But in this case it is irrelevant within the context of a "what-if" scenario put forth by the questioning.

Concerning the combat situation, I 100% agree with following certain rules for the protection of innocent life. The Defiant was on a convoy mission in an area of space known for shipping traffic. Despite its unlikely-ness that a ship would choose that particular time to appear, it is the right thing to do to be aware of that possibility and adjust your tactics accordingly. It is no different than real-life conventions of war that steps to protect civilians are taken.

Of course war in and of itself is never a good idea, but sometimes it happens. When it does, then you do what you can to make the right decisions. This episode shows that situation for Worf. It does a great job of portraying the decisions during the heat of the battle versus the hindsight of it all.

I've always liked this episode overall, though. It's not Law & Order and I don't really think it was trying to be, though I do understand the comparison. A lot of the direction was unique enough to me within its own setting to enjoy it on its own terms. The story being about an extradition trial against Worf on DS9 that delves into the difficulty of command decisions in a combat situation during a time of shaky political relations (to put it mildly).

One of my favorites of the season and enjoyed it quite a bit more than Jammer. But, damn it, I do love his reviews. And I appreciate the sounding board he's allowed for us. (:

3.5 stars.
Yanks - Tue, Jul 29, 2014 - 2:11pm (USA Central)
Sisko (Avery) making the drama feel just a tad overly theatrical.

Really, just a "tad"? Ya think? Just like every other time he is required to show emotion...

While I'm on the Avery acting thing, it was just HORRIBLE, when Sisko is crossing Ch'Pok, he seemingly has the breath in every 3 words or so to get a frakin sentence out. Jesus, does anyone direct these things? Is this the best he can produce?

But back to the trial.

Loved the flashback actor talking to the "judge" presentation. Very well done.

I LOVED Ron Canada in this one. Loved the "Klingon approach" to trying to get Worf. .... and he DID!! If it wasn't for Odo digging up the truth here, Worf was TOAST!

Also loved it when Sisko asked Ch'Pok "Care to step onto my battlefield?" You just knew he couldn't turn down this challenge.

Great personal drama in this one.

Now to Sisko and Worf in Worf's cabin. This line was pretty funny from Worf:

"...I did not realize it until I stood there looking down at him, blood trickling from his mouth..."

Just loved the delivery on that one. You know, that guy I just planted on the floor :-)

I think Sisko goes from the proper ass chewing - to making Commander someday too quickly. Worf screwed the pooch here, he didn't identify the target before he fired, in an environment rich with civilians. That's no minor transgression folks; that might even be ground for demotion. If I'm Sisko, I make Worf prove to me that his tactical judgment and the ability to set aside his Klingon urges have improved before all but telling him he's going to make commander.

Great statement here from Sisko:
"Worf. We don't put civilians at risk or even potentially at risk to save ourselves. Sometimes that means we lose the battle and sometimes our lives. But if you can't make that choice, then you can't wear that uniform."

Wipes tear from face.

Was there even a "B" story?

3.5 stars. (4 had Avery been able to act… Jesus)
Zuriel Seven - Wed, Aug 20, 2014 - 3:12pm (USA Central)
To many people's point about O'Brien taking command, there is a possibility that O'Brien's years since we've seen him on the Enterprise have been as a senior non-com, which may be often classified under enlisted service. O'Brien has been fond of his discussion of being enlisted since his discussion with Worf's father... Given that he's addressed as "Chief", he likely has reached the advancement of "Chief Petty Officer" or its senior or master designations, which, in Naval tradition, provides for his technical job specialization as well as his command experience despite his lack of officer's status.
Jeffrey Jakucyk - Wed, Nov 19, 2014 - 5:30pm (USA Central)
For some reason, that bell the arbitrator rings irritates me to no end. It's being gently rapped by a soft rubber mallet. You call that ringing a bell?
dlpb - Thu, Dec 18, 2014 - 6:54pm (USA Central)
Entertaining, but as usual full of holes. The biggest one is that the trial would not be allowed to proceed in this fashion. Firstly, having one judge is unlikely to happen, and even if that was the case, "as far as logic dictates" is plainly ridiculous. Court rooms work by law and strict rules. A judge would work within those confines (Starfleet rules in this case), not Vulcan "logic".

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