The best part about all three legal episodes is that they function in very different ways. “Dax” was a way to get us to understand the odd relationship between current host, former host, and symbiont, while “Tribunal” was a light into understanding the weird crypto-Communist society of the Cardassian Union. This week’s hour is about what it means to be a Klingon, and the lengths to which Gowron’s dishonorable government will go to smear an enemy.
There’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll go ahead with it: Worf is on trial for a massacre. Technically, the Klingons are arguing for the right to have him extradited and tried on Qo’noS, but it functions as a trial. This might be a little racist, but if there was anyone in any Trek series who you might figure would massacre some people, it would be Mr. Warrior Race Guy. This is one of the stranger bits of Star Trek: It’s all about inclusivity and not being racist, but then every race you come across has what feels like biologically hard-wired traits. While it’s important for sci-fi species to have an identity, the relish with which the dialogue explores Worf’s biologically mandated drive to murder is more than a little queasy.
Of course, this is Star Trek, and we have a deal with the creators. Our characters are never guilty of their crimes, no matter how much the evidence is stacked against them. That’s not to say they never do anything wrong or make mistakes (This episode makes certain to explain that yes, Worf screwed up pretty badly.), but they’re never going to be monsters. In fact, you could argue that Worf’s constant struggles against his baser nature make him even more of a heroic figure. It’s harder for him not to take a life, so whenever he holds back, it is a victory.
Then again, this contrasts with Odo who has “never felt the need to carry a weapon or take a life” and doesn’t even step on ants. By now, Odo has killed, though he’ll never rack up the body count that even Jean-Luc Picard ended up with. Two very different approaches to tough-guy heroism. It probably comes as no surprise that I find Odo’s brand far more compelling.
The situation is pretty murky. A plague has broken out on a strategically important Cardassian planet near the Klingon border. They’ve asked for help, and since this is humanitarian (Cardassarian, whatever), Starfleet has agreed to send convoys. Worf, commanding the Defiant, escorts convoy number six, and this is when it all goes pear-shaped. Two Klingon ships, a Bird of Prey and a battle cruiser, decloak and attack the convoy. One keeps the Defiant occupied, while the other strafes the unarmed convoy vessels, switching off to keep the Defiant off-balance. In light of how incredible the Defiant has been thus far and will be later in the series, I find it hard to believe these two ships would have registered as anything more than a speed bump, but who knows. Maybe the hit-and-run tactics are doing a number on Worf.
The most pertinent fact is that both Klingon vessels are cloaking and decloaking as they move in and out. Worf thinks he has the pattern, and when a ship decloaks in front of him, he fires without hesitation. Turns out it’s a civilian vessel, and he’s just committed a war crime. Not only does this have Worf questioning his Klingon nature, if he’s found guilty, the Klingon Empire will have something it hasn’t had maybe ever: political sympathy.
The story comes out over the course of the episode, in the form of testimony by Dax, Quark, O’Brien, and finally Worf himself. The show leans heavily on the fourth wall, as the testimony is shown in flashback, with the speaking character directly addressing the camera to expand upon what’s being seen. It’s an effective way to make the proceedings a bit more dramatic, and ends up playing out like a noir story.
The representative from the Klingons, effectively the prosecuting attorney, is Advocate Ch’Pok (Ron Canada, doing some fine work). He’s basically exactly what you think of when you think “Klingon lawyer.” He’s allowing Worf to be tried in a Federation court, in front of a Starfleet Admiral. Why? The challenge, of course. The courtroom is his battlefield, and to win against such odds would be glorious. He even tells Worf to stop fighting this extradition hearing, and Ch’Pok will defend him in the trial. He doesn’t care about sides. All that matters is the thrill of battle.
Odo’s investigation eventually unearths the truth, as we knew it would. Sisko puts Ch’Pok on the stand, expertly baiting him by asking, “Care to step onto my battlefield?” and shows him the evidence. The people supposedly killed on the transport were on another transport that had previously crashed. It was a dummy manifest, all part of a cunning plan to discredit Starfleet and bring down a traitor to the Empire. The ship was empty, flown directly into Worf’s guns, betting he would fire without looking.
The best part is that Worf is not really off the hook. In the final scene, Sisko finds him on his cramped quarters on the Defiant and invites him to a celebration thrown in his honor by Bashir and O’Brien. When Worf is reluctant, Sisko gives him a lecture on command, something Worf needs to hear now that he’s wearing the red uniform. It’s not about you, Sisko basically tells him. The men need the celebration and you’re going.
Worf comes clean here, too. He knows he should not have fired, and Sisko justifiably lays into him. Worf fired because he believed that by not firing, he was risking the lives of his crew. This sounds like a reasonable, rational response; however, Sisko points out they knew they were in a civilian shipping lane, so a freighter decloaking in the middle of battle would be stupid, but not entirely unexpected. Then, he lays out Starfleet’s code: They don’t put civilians at risk, or even potentially at risk. If that means Starfleet officers die, so be it.
That’s a level of heroism I can scarcely comprehend. It’s probably not realistic, but I don’t care. That’s the sort of thinking I would want in the people who have weapons. Too often weapons make us careless, thoughtless, and heartless. The greatness of Star Trek is that for these characters, it does the exact opposite.
Next up: O’Brien goes to prison.