Star Trek: Deep Space Nine


3 stars

Air date: 6/6/1994
Written by Bill Dial
Directed by Avery Brooks

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Miles and Keiko O'Brien's vacation is interrupted when the Cardassians arrest O'Brien from his Runabout and throw him in a cell—following a brutal prisoner processing procedure. They offer him no explanation of the charges against him; they simply leave him confined to a cell for days, awaiting his trial.

This episode depicting the Cardassian legal system has shades of Orwell and 1984 everywhere. The themes running through "Tribunal" are less than subtle, but effective nonetheless. They show a man's futile plight in a society that has already sealed his fate. The Cardassians tell O'Brien that his guilt has already been determined; the trial is merely a display for the public's benefit. The notion that the trial system has been designed strictly to give the public the feeling that "justice is being served"—even in the face of blatantly false accusations—is a chilling prospect.

O'Brien's frustration is completely understandable, as is Odo's, who takes advantage of his membership to the Cardassian court by getting himself appointed as O'Brien's legal advisor. The dark lighting and decidedly Orwellian images (the high architecture of the trial room and large public viewscreens) supply the episode with large and intense visual splendor. Particularly intense is the aforementioned surreal "processing" scene, which highlights Avery Brooks' effectiveness in his freshman directing turn on DS9.

Colm Meaney delivers another strong performance, particularly in a standout scene between him and Constable Odo. Surprisingly, a few moments of unexpected humor finds its way into the darkness of the trial when Kovat, O'Brien's Cardassian defense attorney (Fritz Weaver), exhibits an ironic role of uselessness to the client but dedicated service to the state. Neat. The overall impact of the episode is blunted, unfortunately, by a rather convenient and ineffective deus ex machina ending, but the imagery and dramatic undercurrents of the Cardassian legal proceedings are far too strong to be undermined.

Previous episode: The Collaborator
Next episode: The Jem'Hadar

◄ Season Index

63 comments on this review

Thu, Dec 31, 2009, 10:58pm (UTC -5)
Jammer's description of "Tribunal" as Orwellian is dead-on. This episode is also highly indebted to another piece of modernist literature: Franz Kafka's _The Trial_, which is the story of a man who is arrested and brought before the court without being told what his crime is. Great reviews, Jammer!
Paul York
Mon, May 21, 2012, 4:16pm (UTC -5)
There are human courtrooms like this, throughout the world, performing show trials for political reasons. ST themes are based on human behaviour, needless to say.
Tue, May 22, 2012, 9:06am (UTC -5)
Rewatching this episode for the first time in years, I found the use of Odo to be very effective. Even though his character is not the main protagonist Rene Auberjonois steals the show. As he did for most of the series really.
Nick P.
Thu, Jun 28, 2012, 12:02am (UTC -5)
I just saw this episode for the first time (not sure how I missed it before) and I LOVE this episode. Until sisko walks into the courtroom. First, how did he even GET IN, second, who would this judge-lady know on sight a surgically altered human from 8 years previous in a war she supposedly did not fight in (she was a judge remember).

But I loved the depiction of the Cardassion legal system and society. One thing I love about this, is it kind of makes sense. He says the poorest poeple can walk around at night and feel safe. And is that really worse than our society where we may be free to do mostly what we want, but we have entire cities you cannot enter at night with a risk of being mugged or worse. is one innocent person blood REALLY more important than a socities safety?

That is the direction I thought this was going in, I wished it had delved further. I think of the Roman empire, and modern people tend to give it a bad rap, but they forged an empire with bronze age technology. We read about all the horrible stuff the upper classes did to others in the upper class during the Pax Romana and some of it is really bad, but don't forget the in general, the people of the empire were safe for a long time. And the roman legal system was pretty good at protecting the rights of those less fortunate. Maybe the Romans were dictators, but many societies willingly joined, at the end of the day, security does trump all. That is what I loved about Rome, and the Cardassians.
Fri, Aug 10, 2012, 3:33pm (UTC -5)
Even in an ideal situation you would be trading being safe from fellow citizens but add being afraid of everyone connected with your government, who can hand you a death sentence at any moment without any accountability. And sometimes not even safety from the fellow citizens. In at least one case in the Soviet Union, a man murdered a large number of people and got away with it because the authorities felt it was too embarrassing to admit there was a murderer at all.

It was sad to see that this evil Orwellian Cardassian empire, shocking when the show came out, now seems almost kind. The Cardassians in this episode had tons of evidence to go on, though later it was found to be fake, and his wife was notified of what was happening to him and released back home.

Many so-called democratic countries today would have taken O'Brien and his wife without any notice to anyone whatsoever. They never would have been given even a mock trial, and would have been imprisoned for life or tortured to death without any chance to prove guilt or innocence, and all this without even the need for any evidence whatsoever, beyond some official somewhere declaring him a "terrorist." It could be based on rumor, bad intel, or because the official didn't like O'Brien's hairstyle. His wife would be guilty by association. Or, more efficiently, perhaps he and his entire family and many random innocent friends would have been killed by a drone bomb, everyone declared guilty of being "militants" because they were there when the drone exploded.

Even with normal, "non-terrorist" prisoners in democratic countries today, evidence comes to light that they are innocent, the government simply does not care that they are innocent, and fights to keep them prisoners. So even in everyday situations, modern societies are now often just as bad as these TV villains.
A. Helin
Wed, Sep 12, 2012, 11:04am (UTC -5)
I'm still confused about how the Cardassians were able to effectively kidnap O'Brien from outside Cardassian space, for a crime that ostensibly took place on a Bajoran space station. Why wasn't the Federation pushing through all the diplomatic channels? Where was the official response? This was a blatant violation of Federation/Bajorian sovereignity. Is the Federation supposed to be utterly terrified of reigniting the war, so that they will let the Cardassians do whatever they want to Federation citizens? The Cardassians come off as absurdly hypocritical (an unfair characterization of them, I feel) because they keep appealing to the rule of their legal system while completely ignoring the utter illegality of the kidnapping and prosecution of O'Brien.

This aspect of the premise just torpedoed the episode for me. It didn't feel plausible in the universe of DS9 at all.
Latex Zebra
Mon, Nov 12, 2012, 3:08am (UTC -5)
OK, the premise stretches things a bit but the trial scenes are excellent and Kovat is an absolute riot.
His last line is inspired.
Mon, Jan 14, 2013, 11:41am (UTC -5)
I agree with A. Helin; the blatant act of kidnapping a Federation citizen in Bajoran space is an act of war. I wanted to see the political aftermath play itself out (even if it were addressed in a later episode).

Also, O'Brien's character came across as almost comedic since no one (not even Odo) would tell him why he was in prison. TNG's take on "being captured by the Cardassians" worked so well in Chain of Command I & II because it was 110% serious - being captured is no laughing matter.

Also, the ending IS a bit contrived with Sisko randomly appearing in court with evidence that could embarrass the Cardassian courts. Between Sisko's surprise appearance and Bashier popping into Enabran Tain's house in "The Wire," is Cardassia Prime really that easy to infiltrate?

In my opinion, the episode would have been a little darker and a little stronger if the viewer learned that O'Brien DID secretly hide a commited crime, albeit a very small one, and have the Cardassian courts try to impose Execution for that undeserving crime. Sisko/Odo/Federation could have then come to the rescue by discovering a dirty secret about the highly-regarded Kovat -- which would have tarnished his record before retirement while embarrasing Cardassia -- and trading the confidentiality of the information for O'Brien's safe return.

Knowing that imperfection plagues the main cast is one of DS9's strongest elements, a la when it is discovered that Kira is the true murderer in "Necessary Evil." This COULD have been a 4-star episode if O'Brien did commit a crime and if the ending wasn't so convenient.

My rating: 2.5 out 4 stars.
Wed, May 1, 2013, 11:25am (UTC -5)
To those incredulous comments above about why the federation would allow one of their citizens to face an unfair trial or to be captured outside of Cardassian jurisdiction rather than go to war:

As I type this, a British (and by extension European) citizen, Lindsay Sandiford is awaiting execution by firing squad in Indonesia for drug smuggling. At the moment she is struggling to raise the 8000 pounds needed to progress to her appeal. Sounds like an unfair trial to me. The fact that the evidence suggests she was blackmailed and threatened by a criminal gang to accept the drugs package on her flight, makes no difference to the court. Sounds like an unfair trial to me.

By the logic of the comments above the British should be at war with Indonesia by now. But they're not because they want to protect international relations. I see no reason why the Federation would be any different.
Sun, Jul 14, 2013, 9:48pm (UTC -5)
Kovat was played by Fritz Weaver, who some may remember from the Twilight Zone's The Obsolete Man, where he presided over another Orwellian trial of sorts. One of the best TZ episodes.
Mon, Jul 15, 2013, 12:32am (UTC -5)
Obviously corrupt legal systems exist. But that corruption, in the real world, takes place completely, or at least mostly behind the scenes. The Cardassian system as depicted here, on the other hand, is a blatant farce. In my opinion, this episode makes the Cardassian people appear either unrealistically brain-dead stupid for believing that justice is actually being carried out (how could entire species of such blithering idiots ever form a functioning society of any kind to begin with?), or collectively evil in a very cartoonish way.
Tue, Oct 22, 2013, 5:03pm (UTC -5)

Nothing is particularly interesting or memorable about this episode.

Wed, Jan 22, 2014, 5:12pm (UTC -5)
It's obvious to us that their legal system is a farce, but it may not be so obvious to Cardassians, who are used to it. In the Cardassian legal system, the crime is investigated behind the scenes. This makes corruption very easy, but in principle you could have a fair legal system based upon such procedures.

Most likely, most of the time, the system is fair: the government has a vested interest in finding out who committed crimes. It doesn't do them any good to convict the wrong person, that just lets the guilty go free and causes a lot more problems. If there is a bank robbery, the Cardassian government really does want to know who did the crime. Convict the wrong Bajoran terrorist and the guilty one goes free to make more attacks.

But when the Government just wants to get someone for political reasons, it makes it quite easy to trump up some fake charges. It also leads to sloppy investigation. One of the biggest things Odo did was to simply insist that the Cardassians actually investigate crimes.
Sun, Apr 6, 2014, 12:34pm (UTC -5)
Good episode and it highlights a difference between legal systems that make Star Trek so interesting.

I would like to point out to the argument of Socialism in Star Trek Universe and actual Communism that people seem to be unable to differentiate.

Socialism is actually democratic in its fundamental concepts, Communism is not, because it seeks to put a group of people at the top of a State rather than egalitarianism that Socialism promotes.

The United Federation of Planets can be considered the apex of what socialism can do under its best outcomes without any obvious drawbacks we see today due to advanced technology.

The Cardassian Union is what Communism ala the old Soviet Union could accomplish, a state of safety, higher resources from conquered peoples, and higher industrial production.

As for the legal systems, the Federation is closer to Western Civilization's own trial of peers and equal rather than a trial by the State as Cardassia held in Tribunal.
Mon, Jul 7, 2014, 9:54am (UTC -5)
"deus ex machina" aye Jammer.

Good episode, not great.

Obrien is a member of Star Fleet, a human that is a member of the Federation, serving on a Bajoran space station and the Cardassians basically get away scott free with obducting him outside Cardassian space.


But I do like the court scenes and the constant references to a legal system that makes my skin crawl.

Wonderful performances bt Fritz Weaver as "Kovat the Conservator" and Rene Auberjonois as Odo make this episode watchable and slightly above average.

2.5 star for me.
Thu, Aug 7, 2014, 9:56pm (UTC -5)
This episode started well with O'Brien's abduction but ended up becoming far too absurd. A disappointment for the series, which is nearly hitting its stride overall.

Some odd things that hurt an episode that ALMOST worked:

If the trial is broadcast on live Cardassian television, then why is the judge able to casually remark that the charade is just there for the benefit of the population? I get that we're supposed to see the show trial for the authoritarian farce that it is, but it still ultimately comes off as cartoonish and, well, too afraid that the audience (us, not Cardassia) won't pick up on the injustice of it all without being beaten over the head. It also makes the Cardassian population seem more foolish than it needs to me, IMO.

When the Cardassian judge is speaking with the ops crew, she lays out the judicial process for what it is, apparently oblivious to the fact that literally everyone in the room will disagree. The characters object, naturally, to the pre-emptive decision. Then she drops the bomb that execution is already scheduled and Keiko, for whatever reason, asks how it's possible before the trial is even begun. An odd reaction to the prospect of her husband's execution. Yes, technically she's right I guess, but the lack of a visceral reaction tempers an episode that really needed more weight.

The judge herself comes off as more smugly oblivious than an experienced Cardassian beaurucrat. Really, with Dukat, Garak, Maritza, Tain, and so many other cunning and compelling Cardassian characters that have been featured up to this point, the Cardassians featured here seem off-kilter. There's so much clever deception that our characters have to regularly wade through to get to the truth of a Cardassian plot, but here the Cardies just behave like a caricature of themselves - all the manipulative, totalitarian notes are there but with seemingly no nuance. They play more like a one-note alien of the week that the writers decided to make Cardassian late in the draft. It would also explain why neither Dukat or Garak are at all consulted in this situation (you'd think the conscientious Julian would try to pry any advice possible from his lunch buddy).

After all of it, the judge just lets Miles leave and the crew all but laugh it off in the runabout.
Wed, Aug 13, 2014, 5:56pm (UTC -5)
I doubt the writer of this episode did ANY research into real show-trials, and real court politics. It comes across like a high school's idea of how one would work.
Wed, Aug 13, 2014, 6:06pm (UTC -5)
As I type this, a British (and by extension European) citizen, Lindsay Sandiford is awaiting execution by firing squad in Indonesia for drug smuggling

Are you intentionally ignoring facts? She was caught SMUGGLING DRUGS INTO another country. She was not abducted. It would be like Miles O'Brien being captured as he entered Cardassia with a bomb, or at the least he would have to be entering Cardassia.

Also, that woman is as guilty as they come, and I haven't checked, but I hope she's been shot. Don't smuggle drugs.
Fri, Aug 29, 2014, 7:42am (UTC -5)

You don't think execution by firing squad is a bit excessive for a drug offense? The international community certainly thought so. Lindsey Sandiford is a middle-aged mother of two who claimed--and the evidence supports her claim--that she was coerced into helping a drug smuggling ring by threats to her family. She gave evidence that helped convict members of that ring, all of whom received lesser sentences (time in prison). The prosecution team themselves recommended 15 years in prison as her sentence. But she received the death penalty from a judge who believed her trial had threatened Bali's tourism industry (!). She has received no help from the UK government, whose representatives say things like "how very unfortunate!" about her situation. She is now on death row in Indonesia.
Fri, Aug 29, 2014, 5:19pm (UTC -5)
Drug smuggling is a serious offence that blights hundreds and thousands of lives. You clearly have no idea.

Drug smuggling kills a lot of people and it creates serious organized crime. It also ruins families and lives.

So no. It isn't excessive. You obviously haven't been the victim of it, and don't know anyone who has. Wake up.
Dave in NC
Sat, Aug 30, 2014, 11:40am (UTC -5)

Once could argue that the people DOING the drugs are more responsible for the damage caused than the lady sneaking them across the border. Saying someone needs to be "put to death" for drug smuggling is an extreme overreaction, especially regarding the case you are discussing.

By the way, this isn't really the place to grind your political axes, especially when you are arguing the pros of "death by firing squad".
Sun, Aug 31, 2014, 8:59pm (UTC -5)
@DPLB: Chris' analogy between the Sandiford case and this episode, which you dismissed so aggressively above, is actually pretty apt. If you watch the ep again, you'll see that Miles is caught with the warheads in his runabout's cargo hold. Of course, as we discover, they were planted there by a Cardassian agent--but you might well say he was caught red-handed smuggling weapons that could endanger thousands of lives.

In other words, context matters.
Tue, Sep 2, 2014, 12:56pm (UTC -5)
The woman in question was given a proper trial and found guilty. She was also caught red handed and is guilty. It's that simple. She knew the rules, and ignorance of the law is not a defence.

She should die.
Sun, Jan 11, 2015, 11:14am (UTC -5)
As soon as I saw the actor playing Korvat I knew id love this one. Just the thought by the writers & casting to use him in this role was awesome. Blind reverence for the soooo goes back to TTZ epsoide he was in. I always enjoyed that one so seeing him in it made me jump out of my seat @ the irony of it. Get epsoide all around.
Brian S
Mon, Jan 12, 2015, 6:28pm (UTC -5)
Agree with others about the hackneyed ending. How is a random judge supposed to personally know about a surgically altered spy? Even leaving the story the same, it would have been enough to just call up a high-level Cardassian official and threaten to publicize the identity of the Cardassian spy if they don't let him go. Or to threaten war.

And I, too, didn't understand why they didn't make a bigger deal of the fact that O'Brien was wrongfully arrested (kidnapped in Federation space!) and then sentenced to death under false charges.

The parallel to the Sandiford case is incomplete. I do agree that drug smuggling charges are not worthy of execution (frankly, I'm generally against the death penalty in most cases, even involving murder). But regardless of my personal stance on the death penalty, the particulars of that incident bear little resemblance to the DS9 episode beyond a foreign government issuing a capital punishment sentence.

Sandiford was arrested in Indonesia for a crime she admitted to in fact, albeit under extenuating cricumstances. Regardless of her reasons for the crime, she was smuggling drugs, and she was arrested on Indonesian soil.

For the Sandiford incident to match the DS9 episode, Indonesian government forces would have needed to invade a British territory, arrest Sandiford on British territorial soil, remove her without any extradition hearing, then convict her of a crime in their courts based on physical evidence of drugs that the British government knows was planted in her bag by an Indonesian spy for the express purposes of discrediting the British government. If THAT were the case, I'm pretty sure the Brits would have said something.
Tue, Feb 3, 2015, 9:05am (UTC -5)
In America, there is no show trial. We just hold them in Gitmo forever, therefore avoiding putting innocent men to death. Hooray !!!
Tue, Feb 3, 2015, 12:41pm (UTC -5)
Your self-hating might have some merit if it were not the case that most of those people are guilty. America should just kill those found in combat operations instead of taking them prisoner.
Tue, Feb 3, 2015, 4:19pm (UTC -5)
One persons terrorist is another persons freedom fighter.

... and who asked America to invade Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Cardassia, Libya, Egypt and Romulus.

Mon, Feb 16, 2015, 8:07pm (UTC -5)
I liked this episode a lot. Even Keiko wasn't obnoxious in this one. Odo was OK, O'brien was great and Kovat was a riot.

I loved when Sisko showed up in court with Boone and the look on the magistrates face was comical. She had to cover up fast. I just wished in "Way of the Warrior" O'brien would have been able to Na Na Na, to the Cardassian when the Klingons was wiping the floor with them.
Mon, Apr 27, 2015, 4:29pm (UTC -5)
DLPD, you disgust me. Why are you even on here? Clearly, you have not understood the message of humanism that Star Trek delivers. How could one watch this show and yet not hear what it's saying?
Tue, Apr 28, 2015, 7:40pm (UTC -5)
I understand it and reject it. That does not mean that I don't find Trek entertaining. The point at which human rights should be suspended or retracted is the only debate there can be. Severe drug trafficking is a capital crime in some places, and I am more than happy with that being so.

Trek is written by left leaning people who don't live in the real world and hardly ever have to battle with crime or the effect of drugs. Taking their stance on law and order would be ridiculous.
Tue, Apr 28, 2015, 7:41pm (UTC -5)
Also, I really don't give a monkey's if you find what I think "disgusting", that merely indicates to me that you are incapable of rational thought without being offended and/or name-calling.
Wed, Apr 29, 2015, 6:47am (UTC -5)
"Trek is written by left leaning people who don't live in the real world and hardly ever have to battle with crime or the effect of drugs. "

In this country the majority of liberals live in major cities. The majority of big time drug operations are in major cities. You're going to have to walk me through this one.

Furthermore drug trafficking disproportionately affects the poor and minorities... the majority of whom are liberal. Unless you just mean that Hollywood writers happen to be liberals who are unaffected by drugs, in which case probably... but I don't know that having the Hollywood writers who live in a bubble and happen to be conservative would make their life experiences any more useful to write about...
Wed, Apr 29, 2015, 6:42pm (UTC -5)
That tells you nothing about where they actually live in those cities, and I know for a fact that this is the case in the UK. Why would it be different in the US?

Are you suggesting Trek writers live in the heart of downtown Detroit, or some rundown estate? Haha, don't think so.
Wed, Apr 29, 2015, 6:44pm (UTC -5)
It isn't just Trek, it's the government, media and anyone who is making the decisions that ultimately effect everyone.

But my original post referenced Trek writers and, yes, they are in a bubble. It's easy to decry the death penalty when no-one in your family will ever be affected by serious crime.
Wed, Jun 17, 2015, 5:13am (UTC -5)
@Nick P. :(quote) is one innocent person blood REALLY more important than a socities safety?

I feel pretty safe in saying, based on the rest of your post, that your answer to the question you posed above would be "no".

I have to wonder if your answer would change if YOU happened to be that innocent person.

When it comes to this episode, the end is what really ruins it for me. I'm left to believe that, with concrete proof of this Cardassian plot to try and incite war, that the Federation would do nothing? Or, that Sisko finds this proof ONLY to free O'Brien and then do nothing with this information? I just can't buy into that. It's a shame, because until this ending I really enjoyed the episode.
Nathan B.
Sat, Jul 18, 2015, 2:11pm (UTC -5)
If one grants that the death penalty should be used in some circumstances rather than none, then I think that the application of it to those involved in the knowing manufacturing and selling of illicit drugs would certainly be an appropriate use of that penalty. The horrible crimes committed by gang members in the name of protecting turf and expanding it have brought a very real hell to earth in many places. They have caused untold suffering to hundreds of thousands.

If Lindsay Sandiford is of sound mind, then, quite frankly, I don't believe her story about being coerced into becoming a drug mule. If someone threatens you, you go to the police with that information. You don't become a mule. And if you were simply an ordinary tourist, what reason would you have to be approached at random by some gang member? I'm not saying the situation is impossible, but I do think it's highly unlikely. I do think Sandiford's situation is tragic for her and her family, but I can think of better causes to get involved in.
Nathan B.
Sat, Jul 18, 2015, 2:14pm (UTC -5)
As for the episode itself, it has a certain appeal, but I found Greg's comment, above, about the Cardassians in this episode behaving like caricatures of themselves to be about right.
Tue, Jul 21, 2015, 1:27pm (UTC -5)
I like this episode, but not only the Cardassians were able to effectively kidnap O'Brien from outside Cardassian space, for a crime that ostensibly took place on a Bajoran space station, but also they teleported in the runabout when the shields were up...
William B
Fri, Aug 21, 2015, 9:26pm (UTC -5)
As Jammer and the other commenters pointed out, this drafts not only on Orwell but also Kafka and also The Twilight Zone's "The Obsolete Man" (I did not recognize the actor, thanks Jason and Zprime). Notably, the "wrong man" theme -- of an everyman falling under suspicion and facing punishment for a crime he did not commit, and does not even know he committed -- runs through several O'Brien shows. But this is not Orwell or Kafka, or The Twilight Zone, nor is it "Whispers" or "Hard Time." 1984, The Trial and "The Obsolete Man" (the latter not in the same stratum as the first two, but still good) are serious, but also function as black comedies; nevertheless, they are not quite as broad as this episode's farce. There are show-trials in the real world, and some of them beggar belief as much as or more than the show-trial in this episode, but the episode's particular conceit that everyone in the court, and presumably most of the people watching at home, are in on the joke, and yet still permit Odo to continuously subvert the natural order of the state for no apparent reason makes Cardassians full-on caricatures. It's hard to say why two lines of Dukat describing this in "The Maquis" is totally effective, and seeing it play out just makes it look silly and makes it hard to understand why the populace would buy this engine, which not even the members of the court take very seriously as a real trial. The movement toward justice as entertainment is maybe worthwhile, but, I dunno, would they really release it live and let Odo Nestor his way into disrupting the proceedings again and again? (On my not buying Odo's interruptions as Nestor working: Compare this to Picard exploiting obscure rituals as Arbiter of Succession -- while Gowron and Duras found it annoying, Klingon custom and honour gives Picard power to institute these delays, whereas it seems as if the judge/prosecutor as the representative of the state should have had full power and not even bothered to indulge a lowly Nestor's continued deviations from the script.) Now that is maybe valid for satirically showing up the contradictions necessary for this conscious (self-)deception, etc., but this episode ends up having a lot more in common with middling to weak Ferengi episodes than something like "The Wire." While horror-inflected, the upside-down, crazy backwards-ness of the Cardassian justice system reduces about as much to THOSE WACKY CARDASSIANS as the purely comic upside down crazy backwards-ness of Ferengi gender relations.

To lay in a bit more, the idea that the Cardassians framed O'Brien in order to embarrass the Federation means that they must have believed that their show-trial evidence, with no official sources given, would convince the Federation at least somewhat of O'Brien's guilt, which makes the flimsiness of their demonstration worse than normal, since not only did they abduct a Federation citizen and member of Starfleet who is a chief of operations for a strategically placed space station, they are planning on using his "guilt" for massive political gain -- which, you know, is maybe a sign that someone besides just Sisko should get involved. Why did Boone hang around on the station just in order to get caught, anyway? Is it really that easy to fake a voice call?

As a character piece, O'Brien has little to do, putting a man whose resourcefulness is part of what makes him a great screen presence in a situation where he has no control whatsoever. And that maybe could have worked, but...because O'Brien clearly didn't do anything, and the episode never seriously posits he did (though the crew briefly considers it), there's no internal conflict or doubt. O'Brien's defense of himself as a righteous man is delivered with appropriate passion by Meaney, but about all this does is remind us how awful it is that O'Brien is being summarily executed for a crime he didn't commit...because he's such a great guy, rather than that it would be awful even if he's a jerk. The episode sort of gestures to that when O'Brien is almost forced to face up to his soldier-past and prejudice against Cardassians, though "The Wounded" and "Cardassians" already did a lot of work on that and there are no sympathetic, non-foolish Cardassians in this episode. Odo gets some good material fighting the inevitable, and I do particularly like his intense interrogation of O'Brien; but I even found myself getting annoyed with Odo's interruptions, which were so fully blunt-instrument when I would have hoped he could have developed *some* techniques for working within that system all those years -- and I never really bought that Odo could have succeeded at delaying the trial the way he did anyway. Odo has at least some mild plot impact in that it seems as if his delaying the trial gives enough time for Sisko to bring not!Boone to court, which, well, I don't know how much I buy that showing up with Boone is sufficient. Bashir's faith in O'Brien is good follow-up on their developing bond and Bashir's tendency to hero-worship, and I like that all manner of spies assume Bashir is the best point of contact -- as someone who is presumably credulous enough to trust what they say, and not careful enough to be able to catch them. Kira and Sisko considering the possibility that O'Brien really is guilty is good stuff too. I found the jokey tone of the Keiko/Miles stuff at the beginning and end to be pretty painful, low-quality sitcom stuff, and particularly jarring at the end. (My girlfriend pointed out, wouldn't Miles want to visit Molly at least after that ordeal?)

I guess I shouldn't mention that maybe Sisko could have used the discovery of a years-long Cardassian plant as a better negotiating tool than *just* getting his own man back. Don't get me wrong; I do think that if came down to giving the Cardassians their man back without making a public spectacle and getting O'Brien back in return, or keeping Boone as prisoner/hostage and O'Brien dying, the former is better. Still, it seems like the Cardassians replacing Boone with an impostor and killing the real one is a pretty big smoking gun, and a bigger one than O'Brien, particularly since Boone can disprove their whole O'Brien story before the Federation.

The acting is generally good and the characterization of the leads is okay but unspectacular. The plot doesn't make much sense to me and the satire is too broad to be effective for me. I think this is the real weak link in the last third of the season, which is otherwise quite good. 2 stars.
Thu, Sep 10, 2015, 10:04pm (UTC -5)
DLPB is a perfect example of how a blatant farce of a justice system like cardassia's could exist without resistance. The systems in some countries today, including America are already stepping over the line of credibility.

Far too often we find people wrongly convicted on so little evidence we wonder how it happened. Yet there is no real call for change or accountability.

Plant some evidence, have a sham trial, call it a day... All with majority public support. The more this happens, the less hidden the corruption becomes.

That is how cardassia's system could be as it is, and how ours often is as well.
Sat, Sep 19, 2015, 12:16pm (UTC -5)
@William B and others talking about how the Cardassian people would see through the fact this trial was a farce
I've been thinking about about this episode and alien ethic/legal systems and I think you might be missing something about this episode. You're assuming that Cardassians assume trials should work the way ours do, which they don't.

In our society a trial is the place where the defense and the prosecution present evidence which is then considered by the judge/jury and a verdict is reached. And if you assume that that is what a trial is supposed to be then yes, this system is obviously a giant joke. BUT THAT'S NOT HOW THE CARDASSIAN SYSTEM WORKS. The Cardassian system works much more like a cop/detective show. The officials go out, gather evidence, determine who is guilty and then arrest them at which point the show is over. We never wonder, after Columbo or the CSI guys arrest someone whether or not they're going to go to jail/the gallow. Of course they are. They were caught and are clearly guilty. And we're comfortable with this despite none of these people getting an (on screen) trial. The "Trial" is just the final scene where the cops lay out all their smoking gun evidence and the perp either confesses and looks sad or gets dragged off loudly yelling and establishes how awful of a person they still are.

In the Cardassian system the trial does not exist to DETERMINE who is guilty; it exists to DEMONSTRATE to the populace who was found guilty what evidence they used to determine this as well as to give the guilty party a chance to repent and let everyone know that they can sleep easy at night because justice was done and the system is fair. The criminal was caught and they will be punished. They know the system is fair because the gov't shows them all the evidence and explained ("within reason") how they got it.

Yes, the trial exists purely as a show for the people's benefit, but that's all the Cardassians think it's supposed to be so there's no reason they would see it as a farce or joke because they don't have the hang ups about how trials work in our society which are painting OUR idea of whether or not this trial is "Fair". I mean, yes, this SPECIFIC trial is a farce because they government fabricated evidence and set it all up, but the entire system is not one. It just serves a different purpose than the trials of the federation. So sure, let Odo babble on and interrupt. He's a strange foreigner who clearly doesn't understand this system and seems to think he can submit new evidence and complain a system never meant to be about determining guilt should have a chance for a defense LIKE THE FEDERATION FOOL HE IS. LOOK HOW STUPID THE FEDERATION IS AND HOW BENEVOLENT WE ARE TO TOLERATE THEIR FOOLISH INTERRUPTIONS AND NONSENSICAL IDEA OF HOW A TRIAL SHOULD WORK. Odo only looks good to us, the viewers, because we know and like him and he's upholding the ideal of a trial WE believe in. To the Cardassians he's not convincing anyone of anything.

As for whether or not the trial would work to embarrass the federation: They DID catch a man known for his public dislike of the Cardassians with WMDs he denied having near Maquis space which he appears to have stolen and has no good explanation for why he's carrying. If the voice print trick hadn't been figured out and we didn't know O'Brien was a morally upstanding main character then this would be a pretty good scam. That said, this episode still doesn't work for me. The whole "They took him out of Federation space" REALLY ruins this whole thing for me and the ending really stretched credibility, it should have been Sisko walking in with Boone and an embarrassed looking Gul or Legate who would tell the judge that O'Brien was being let go because "mercy/political deal/other reason" to show that someone who reasonably would know about Boone was there and really the whole trial had no tension because we knew from the start that O'Brien was innocent as well as who was actually guilty so it was just waiting for the rest of the cast to stumble around and grab the guy. Also, the Federation didn't leave it to "just Sisko" there's mention in the episode that The Enterprise and 2 other Galaxy Class ships were on their way to the Cardassian border as a show of how big of a deal they considered this but were still all over a week away so O'Brien would be dead by the time they got there requiring Sisko to act alone because he was the only one close enough.
William B
Sat, Sep 19, 2015, 4:51pm (UTC -5)
@Easter, to qualify my position, I agree that the Cardassian trial does not serve the same function as a human trial. That is part of why I said that the audience is presumably "in on the joke"; perhaps a poor choice of words, since the trial is not a joke to the Cardassians, though I think it is one to the writers/audience. I more have trouble with the court more or less allowing Odo to act like it is a real court -- though you raise a good point about this demonstrating bizarre Bajoran/Federation puppet values. You do have a point about the potential for Federation embarrassment. I will have to think about that.
Tue, Sep 22, 2015, 7:45pm (UTC -5)
Good episode.

To anybody arguing that the Cardassians and their judicial system come across cartoonish: WHAT SHOW HAVE YOU BEEN WATCHING?!?

Between the Vulcans, Klingons and Ferengi, isn't cartoonishly exaggerating specific human traits in an alien species EXACTLY Star Trek's m.o.?

Here, Cardassian law is 100% the opposite of orderly Western justice. Every single principle of a Western trial is turned on its head. It gives us an opportunity to reflect on the virtues of them.

It's these kinds of flawed, over-simplified stories that make the greatest conversation pieces among trekkies, I've found.

My only negatives about TRIBUNAL are that the setup and the resolution are weak.
Fri, Oct 16, 2015, 4:20pm (UTC -5)
Quite frankly, the cardassian system is more like ours than people realize. That's the whole point. It's an obvious farce, yet is believed in and supported anyway.

America is the same way.
Fri, Oct 16, 2015, 5:15pm (UTC -5)
America is not the same way at all, and saying it is does not make it so. The tribunal seen in DS9 is so far fetched it's laughable. Even for a show trial. Leave your self hate and American hate at the door.
Sat, Oct 24, 2015, 4:55pm (UTC -5)
@dlpb I'm not so sure that I would not say that there aren't some similarities with the United States military tribunal system. They are not open to the public, they make a presumption of guilt and allow for the use of secret evidence. While I don't imagine it's quite the over-the-top farce such as the cartoonish spectacle we see here, they most certainly do not meet the standards that American civilians believe they are entitled to under their own system of justice.

I can see valid reasons why one might support such military tribunals, as they certainly do serve American security interests. It is also possible that military tribunals are the very kangaroo courts their critics decry them as. The Cardassian court and military tribunals are not the same, but the idea of a court that violates what many (albeit maybe not you) may consider a "fair trial" is a strong parallel.
Diamond Dave
Mon, Nov 16, 2015, 3:44pm (UTC -5)
Ultimately something of a disappointment. The main problem is that the patent absurdity of the Cardassian legal system gives nothing for our leads to do. All of the courtroom debate is for naught because we already know the outcome - and we know that O'Brien is not going to be executed so there is no peril to the story.

What we are left waiting for is only the way out, and the DS9 investigation is handled so perfunctorily and the ending so rushed that it also doesn't add a whole lot to the story.

Some nice performances, but a chance missed. 2 stars.
Fri, Feb 12, 2016, 12:08pm (UTC -5)
At what point in the future does Starfleet decide that installing video security cameras is no longer useful? Odo's got a random collection of plot-serving cameras, but none in the photon torpedo warhead storage hold...
Mon, Mar 7, 2016, 8:06am (UTC -5)
Good Lord, I get it! Cardassian society is basically Orwell's worst nightmare plus Kafka's worst nightmare squared. No need to be subtle about it, I guess.

I kid. Seriously, "Tribunal" is another good outing for DS9, but definitely something of a step down from the run of episodes immediately preceding it. The acting is on-point from everyone, especially from Colm Meaney and Rosalind Chao. Even Fritz Weaver as Conservator Kovat delivers a nice performance as a defense lawyer more concerned with his loyalty to the state than to his "client." The directing and set-design are also top notch. And we get more world-building for the Cardassians, which always earns points from me - even if it comes awfully close to descending into some rather silly territory with just how much the trial is a show trial.

But, WillamB hits it on the nose - as a character piece, O'Brien really isn't given that much to do. Aside from the magnificently shot "processing" scene and his adamant declaration to Odo of his integrity, O'Brien spends most of the episode passively being acted upon. Those two scenes really allow Meaney to show his acting chops, but nothing more.

However, the biggest problem with "Tribunal" is the ending. It's not that it's a deus ex machina (I don't think it is). It's that it virtually undermines the entire Maquis story-line. With the outing of Boone and the realization of what he was up to, the Federation has rock-solid proof that the Cardassians are acting in bad faith vis-à-vis the treaty. The Central Command has been caught red-handed attempting to undermine relations with the UFP in order to force more concessions at the negotiations table. If that isn't a clear-cut violation of the treaty, I don't know what is! Even once O'Brien is returned to Sisko, the Federation should have returned to negotiations with the Cardassian Union and hammered out a new agreement. With the new information that have they could have forced concessions and gotten a new treaty that addresses the situation in the Demilitarized Zone more equitably, thereby solving the Maquis crisis. But, of course, they don't do that. After all, VOY was set to premier the next season. We couldn't have the central issue of the show resolved before the first episode airs, could we?! It does, however, make the Federation look like complete morons who don't give a single shit about the situation the Maquis are facing.

There's also the problem of how the Cardassians were able to abduct O'Brien in the first place. In that scene O'Brien flat out says that they are NOT in Cardassian space, so how in the name of God did the Cardassians have any authority to take him?! Is that even addressed at any point in the episode? Nope. Given that he and Keiko were most likely still in Bajoran space when the abduction happened, I would think that the Provisional Government would be up in arms over it! But, nope, nothing's ever said. Do we ever hear about the Federation bringing any pressure on the Cardassian Union over the seizure of one of their citizens in non-Cardassian space? Sisko says that the Enterprise and two other ships are deployed along the border (that's actually a nice little continuity bit there, since "Tribunal" was the first episode to air after "All Good Things...") but nothing more is ever said about it. Sisko and his crew basically have to take matters into their own hands to rescue O'Brien. Seriously, were they trying to make the Federation look bad?!

The acting, directing and world-building save this episode a little bit, but only just a little.

Mon, Mar 7, 2016, 8:07am (UTC -5)
*groan* It's been so many episodes since I had to include them that I forgot my counters again....

WTF HAIR - 15 (+2)
Sun, May 22, 2016, 11:45pm (UTC -5)
I sort of want to see how Sisko got the fake human to the courtroom on Cardassia prime. Think about it, Someone in the Cardassian central command had to allow Sisko to travel to the heart of the Cardassian Union(and he probably needed a reason good from Sisko) and another person Probably from the Obsidian order (who most likely planned this infiltration mission) had to give him permission to beam himself down to the planet with his prisoner and probably pass dozens of armed Cardassian soldiers in the building. Of course maybe just a glare from The Sisko was enough to frighten them into submission.

Good episode for Odo and O'brien 3 stars.
Tue, Dec 13, 2016, 5:00am (UTC -5)
Random fact, the tooth-pulling scene was edited out in the UK version shown on the BBC.
Luke S.
Mon, Jan 2, 2017, 9:14pm (UTC -5)
The issue I have with episode is the abduction and specifically the Federation and Sisko's reaction to that abduction.

The Cardassians have no authority or jurisdiction over O'Brien. Period. That the federation, Sisko, and O'Brien doesn't spend every second screaming this at the Cardassians is the real farce of the episode. I get that its fun to see the joke that is the Cardassian legal system, but you could do that while the rest of the cast are fighting the concept of the system and not respecting their ridiculous ways.

I also don't like how most of the Cardassians are portrayed here. I don't mind them acting out the show trial, but their continued reference to Cardassian law in private rings hollow when they know they are framing him and when they illegally abducted him from an area they have no legal authority in.

And the ending, while it resolves the situation, kinda makes the whole thing pointless. Like the only point of the episode was the show off the Cardassian system. There's no justice or satisfaction in the ending. Just ONCE I want the Enterprise to warp into a system and just empty the photon torpedoes into everything that moves. I know that's not very trek like, but a man needs satisfaction every once in a while.
Tue, Jan 3, 2017, 9:29am (UTC -5)
^^ It also kind of lets you know what will eventually happen to poor Tom Riker :( ^^
Sun, Jan 8, 2017, 2:28am (UTC -5)
Luke S: You have a very good point. Actually, I'd go as far as to call that a giant plot hole. Starfleet should have called it a kidnapping from the start, severed diplomatic relations, then sent a fleet to Cardassia IMMEDIATELY and unloaded a billion quantum torpedoes on them rather than play along with their show trial.

That said I still enjoyed the trial part of the episode examining the Cardassian system - basically picturing what would happen if a 1984-esque society achieved space travel, much like how TOS's "Bread and Circuses" pictured what would happen if the Roman Empire existed in the 20th century. But now I'll never be able to unsee that plot hole. There should have been a more plausible setup (i.e. O'Brien goes to Cardassia as part of a goodwill mission and gets arrested halfway through rather than getting abducted from the runabout).
Sat, Mar 11, 2017, 12:19pm (UTC -5)
The acting is superb, but the ending is quite dumb. I agree the visual style was excellent, but this episode hit us over the head with the Orwellian themes. The scene where Odo interrogated O'Brien in jail was excellent and continues to highlight one of the show's strengths, the talented cast. I give this one 785/1,054
Fri, Apr 14, 2017, 11:35am (UTC -5)
Sooo... 1 week with Keiko on vacation or being tortured by Cardassians and sentenced for a crime I didn't commit?

I'll take the Cardassian option any day.
Mon, Aug 21, 2017, 7:52pm (UTC -5)
Amazing episode--really loved it. Best guest stars ever, and exciting story.

But I was saddened by so many analogies to modern earth courts in this. The entire setup was almost entirely like what one might see in North Korea at its most extreme, but there were many aspects that might be seen in more "democratic" courts.

I know of far too many poor people who were found guilty because they did not receive proper representation, and far too many innocent people whose investigators hid evidence that would have exonerated them because they needed a conviction for the "peace of mind" of their districts.

We pretend in the United States to have such an enlightened legal system, and yet rich people very rarely have to suffer a trial. And if they do, they tend to get off. And if they don't, they get to go to luxury prisons.

The Cardassian legal system with its show trials was a joke--well, so is ours.
Fri, Nov 3, 2017, 7:12pm (UTC -5)
"The issue I have with episode is the abduction and specifically the Federation and Sisko's reaction to that abduction.

The Cardassians have no authority or jurisdiction over O'Brien. Period. That the federation, Sisko, and O'Brien doesn't spend every second screaming this at the Cardassians is the real farce of the episode. I get that its fun to see the joke that is the Cardassian legal system, but you could do that while the rest of the cast are fighting the concept of the system and not respecting their ridiculous ways." -- Luke S

^^^^ THIS all of this!

I saw those posts from 2013, people saying that the case of the British woman being arrested in Indonesia is proof of this happening in real life- but that comparison is completely wrong! O'Brien wasn't in Cardassian space, and the Cardassians were violating Federation sovereignty by extending their jurisdiction into Federation space!

I think Brian S put it best when he said;

"For the Sandiford incident to match the DS9 episode, Indonesian government forces would have needed to invade a British territory, arrest Sandiford on British territorial soil, remove her without any extradition hearing, then convict her of a crime in their courts based on physical evidence of drugs that the British government knows was planted in her bag by an Indonesian spy for the express purposes of discrediting the British government. If THAT were the case, I'm pretty sure the Brits would have said something."

You know what is a more comparable analogy? The impressment of American sailors by the British Navy.....that ended up being one of the reasons for the War of 1812! The Sandiford case is a terrible comparison.
Mon, Dec 18, 2017, 1:29am (UTC -5)
I found 'Tribunal' to be a poorly written episode that misses the mark.
Thu, Apr 5, 2018, 6:30pm (UTC -5)
Mostly about the totalitarian Cardassian regime -- very similar in many respects to the Chinese communist regime and its wrongful imprisonment / torture of prisoners of conscience, people who practice Falun Gong, Christians, Tibetans etc. The episode does a good job on that front and illustrating what "justice" is like in such horrible places. Great performances from Meaney especially, but also Auberjonois.

The early scenes with O'Brien on Cardassia are reminiscent of "Chain of Command". Really created a terrifying atmosphere for the accused. It was all pretty solid stuff until the ending just let the air out of the balloon, unfortunately. The episode could have been much more, but it chose to focus just on the Cardassian justice system to further flesh out this society.

Kovat's role is particularly important in showing how totalitarian justice is done and what his role is -- to ensure a "Utopian" society and that criminals are punished etc. But I thought it got a bit silly when he started asking O'Brien if his parents/wife abused him... Nevertheless, a worthy performance from this guest actor who was really a comic figure that showed how ridiculous the totalitarian "justice" system is.

The ending was a bit of a blur with Sisko/Boone just showing up at the trial (how?) and then the judge releasing O'Brien. The bigger plot of Cardassians trying to undermine the Federation should have been examined at greater length. Instead it's Sisko/Odo talking for like a minute about it at the end. So I didn't fully get Boone's back story -- something about him being Cardassian after the real Boone died in some prior Cardassian attack. That's a strike against "Tribunal" as an episode for me -- bit of poor judgment by the writers.

The Cardassians are playing dirty and the Federation has to respond in kind (albeit to a lesser extent). But what are the ramifications of the Cardassians' actions? Maybe it'll be dealt with in a subsequent episode. And Sisko/Bashir don't exactly respect Boone's rights.

2.5 stars for "Tribunal" -- could have been a 3 stars episode for me but for the ending. Yes, this episode is all about the Cardassian totalitarian trial and putting O'Brien through the grinder but there are bigger pieces at work here, which are just as interesting and not explored. Some comic moments too -- don't Miles/Keiko make the worst couple (mostly because of Keiko)? Can't blame O'Brien for taking his tech manuals on the vacay!
Thu, May 10, 2018, 9:24pm (UTC -5)
Loved KOVAT, What a character! So invested in his culture that he does not see different options. I like how DS9 is able to establish different cultures leaving us amazed. Makes me wonder: if 100% of the cases are solved in Cardassia at the expense of a few of them using an escape goat... Is it that bad a system?

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