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Recap / Star Trek Deep Space Nine S 02 E 25 Tribunal

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"Now tell us, Mr. O'Brien: how many lights do you see?"

It's time for O'Brien to go on vacation for the first time in five years, and he's having trouble putting aside his duties. Just before leaving, he bumps into Raymond Boone, an old comrade of his from the Rutledge. After a brief chat, O'Brien promises to catch up with him next month. But once O'Brien and Keiko are off the station, Boone sneaks into some secure location bearing a recording of O'Brien's voice.

On the happy couple's runabout, Keiko finally manages to peel O'Brien away from his work for a romantic encounter when a Cardassian ship approaches and forcibly boards them. O'Brien is arrested and hauled back to Cardassia Prime, where they remove his tooth for their record and offer him the chance to confess to his crime. Through all of this, the Cardassians have staunchly refused to tell him what he has been accused of. It will be revealed during his trial in two days.


Back on Deep Space Nine, Sisko informs Keiko that several Federation ships have been deployed to the demilitarized zone to pressure Cardassia over O'Brien's capture. They are contacted by Makbar, the Archon who will be overseeing O'Brien's trial. She explains that O'Brien's charges will be announced at the start of the trial, as is customary in Cardassian jurisprudence, and in the meantime there is no need to prepare — his guilt has already been decided. The "trial" will occur solely to explain how his guilt was reached. As his spouse, Keiko has the right to attend the trial. Odo, who had been made an officer of the court during the Occupation, is also granted permission to attend the trial as O'Brien's advisor.

O'Brien meets his "attorney," Conservator Kovat, who explains that O'Brien's trial and sentence help reinforce order and peace on Cardassia. Seeing a guilty man get caught and punished will make the people feel safe in knowing a criminal has faced justice. Kovat's role is to try and coax a confession from O'Brien, not to prove his innocence.


On DS9, Sisko and Kira find two dozen photon torpedoes missing from weapons storage. The voice print to access it is O'Brien's, and it is possible a that a transporter expert could have swapped the crates without the security scanners noticing. Weeks ago, a Maquis ship stole a supply of photon launchers, leading them to wonder if O'Brien's vacation was a cover to sell the torpedoes to the Maquis. Sisko begins an investigation into whether the Maquis were behind the theft while also raising the question of how the Cardassians could have suspected O'Brien was smuggling weapons.

Odo meets with O'Brien and explains the situation to him, but O'Brien maintains his innocence. The trial begins, and it's all as backwards as you'd expect. Makbar announces the verdict at the beginning of the trial, and Kovat does little more than ask various witnesses to explain the evidence against O'Brien. Odo interrupts to present the evidence that O'Brien was framed, but Makbar shuts his effort down. The investigation is over and verdict has already been reached, so she refuses to hear new evidence.

Dax analyzes O'Brien's voice print and realizes it was reconstructed by someone who had recorded O'Brien's voice. The crew identify Raymond Boone's interaction with O'Brien just before the chief left and bring him in for questioning, but he claims to know nothing. In medical, the lights go off, and Bashir is confronted by an unknown member of the Maquis, who claims Boone is not one of them. Sisko and Bashir confront Boone and bring up many ways in which he began to act strangely eight years ago when he was released from a Cardassian detention center. They restrain him, and Bashir conducts a medical examination.

Odo's various interruptions have dragged out O'Brien's trial to historic lengths, but it's just now winding down. O'Brien is called upon to confess, but he refuses. As Makbar prepares to sentence him, Sisko enters with Boone. Seeing them, Makbar suddenly decides there is room for compassion in Cardassia's courts, and O'Brien's verdict is set aside. He's a free man.

Back on DS9, the crew explain that Boone was a Cardassian, identified as such by the fact all Cardassians have a tooth extracted for purposes of identification at age ten. The real Boone apparently died in captivity, and a Cardassian was surgically altered to look like Boone to infiltrate the Federation. They believe this plot was to try to make it seem as though the Maquis were secretly being supplied by the Federation so the Cardassians would have cause to pressure the Federation to leave the demilitarized zone and disband their colonies. With the plot exposed, O'Brien and Keiko can go on their vacation properly this time, Sisko having pulled strings to get them an extension.

  • Abusive Parents: Kovat attempts to invoke this when trying to find "the underlying flaw" that would make O'Brien commit the theft. He asks him if his childhood was unhappy and abusive. O'Brien, naturally, is completely appalled at such a question and declares that he loved his parents.
  • Affably Evil: Kovat is a kindly, grandfatherly gentleman who genuinely seems to want what's best for his client... "what's best" being that his client gets a swift guilty verdict to prop up the myth of the infallible Cardassian state.
  • Batman Gambit: "Boone" bumps into O'Brien, trusting that the chief will stop to chat with him long enough to get a recording of his voice. It works.
  • Blackmail: How Sisko gets O'Brien released. He captures the Cardassian agent that engineered the theft of photon torpedoes that led to O'Brien's arrest. Sisko merely shows up in the courtroom with the agent, and the judge suddenly decides to release O'Brien (though still declaring him guilty) "in the interest of Federation/Cardassian relations". Sisko doesn't even need to speak a word.
  • Black Comedy: A lot of the humor in the episode comes from the Cardassians' Kangaroo Court system running on Insane Troll Logic, but the consequences O'Brien faces are very serious.
  • Butt-Monkey: O'Brien can't even go on vacation without becoming one.
  • Call-Back:
    • The way O'Brien initially gets treated by the Cardassians (forcibly stripping off his clothes, then shining bright lights into his face) bears resemblance to the Cardassians torturing Picard in the TNG episode Chain of Command.
    • O'Brien's experience in the Cardassian justice system matches how Dukat described it. In fact, Ira Steven Behr's acknowledged that line was the inspiration for this episode.
    • The entire Cardassian frame-up fulfills Gul Evek's pledge to Jean-Luc Picard over on TNG: That if Starfleet couldn't rein in the Maquis, then the Cardassian Central Command would take matters into their own hands.
  • Canned Orders over Loudspeaker: As usual for Cardassia Prime, an establishing shot shows the city is dotted with public screens spouting propaganda.
  • Chekhov's Gun: When O'Brien is processed for his trial, it's established that all Cardassians have their first molar extracted at the age of 10 for identification purposes. This is the clue that reveals Boone's true identity.
  • Chewbacca Defense: Odo's attempts to prove O'Brien's innocence are doomed from the start (and, under Cardassian law, are actually irrelevant), but his antics at least keep the trial going for much longer than intended (the judge laments it's already become the longest trial in the history of Cardassia), creating enough delay for Sisko to come in and save the day with incriminating evidence that would be embarrassing to the Cardassian State.
  • Continuity Nod:
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Kovat and O'Brien clash continually because of the major differences between the Federation and Cardassian justice systems, and the corresponding mindsets that come with each—in Cardassia, even an innocent wrongly put on trial would know what to expect (and would eventually capitulate), but O'Brien, raised in a society where "innocent until proven guilty" is the norm, cannot accept the fate that he seems to be heading toward, and is intent on fighting even if he can't win.
  • Domestic Abuse: After failing to play the abusive parents card, Kovat tries to suggest that Keiko is abusive to O'Brien. He's offended by this and says that his wife is the most caring person in the world, to which Kovat throws up his hands and says "I tried."
  • Frame-Up: O'Brien is set up as smuggling weapons to the Maquis, in order to give the Cardassians justification to enter the DMZ and attack them.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Throughout the episode, Makbar acts like a Reasonable Authority Figure, even by Cardassian standards. Then it turns out she's part of the frame job done on O'Brien.
  • Friendship Moment: After a rather rough start to their friendship, Bashir is outspokenly adamant that his buddy O'Brien is innocent of the charges.
  • Get Out!: Played for Laughs with Sisko and Kira telling O'Brien to please go on vacation already.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: The "public conservator" is more of a Good Cop than a defense attorney, while the Arbiter acts more like a Bad Cop.
  • Hanging Judge: Chief Archon Makbar. Of course in the Cardassian justice system it's impossible to be anything but this trope.
  • Hero of Another Story: The Enterprise is this for once, as TNG had already ended. They're deployed near the DMZ after O'Brien is arrested, as a show of Federation resolve. Incidentally, "Tribunal" was the first episode of DS9 to air following the conclusion of its parent show.
  • Kangaroo Court: The insane Cardassian "legal" system is on full display here. Kovat all but admits that the entire justice system is a farce to make the people feel safe and secure by seeing criminals punished, regardless of their guilt. To go over some of the absurdities on display:
    • Exhibit A: O'Brien's Conservator (defense attorney) is more interested in getting him to confess and trying to provide sympathetic reasons for his actions to get the court to be merciful in the sentencing, which would mean O'Brien's death sentence would be quick and painless. The Archon takes the role of both prosecutor and judge.
    • Exhibit B: O'Brien is arrested, processed, and held for days before ever being told what his crime is.
    • Exhibit C: Odo claims he has evidence that O'Brien is innocent. Kovat informs him that no evidence can be submitted after the verdict has been decided, which it was before the trial even started. Ergo, all the evidence was submitted, reviewed, and a verdict gleaned from it, all before the trial even began.
    • Exhibit D: Odo points out no crime was committed against Cardassia. The crime O'Brien is accused of was committed aboard a Bajoran space station and within the demilitarized zone. Rightfully, any trial O'Brien is subject to should be under Federation jurisdiction. Makbar flat ignores this point.
    • Exhibit E: Gul Evek claims that "reliable sources" told him O'Brien had the warheads and he was delivering them to the Maquis. When Odo questions who these "reliable sources" are, Evek says revealing his sources would compromise national security. The archon says this is acceptable, and his testimony is permitted.
  • Kill and Replace: The fate of the real Raymond Boone. Eight years ago.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: A major flaw in the plans of the Cardassians is that they arrested O'Brien for allegedly transporting weapons through the demilitarized zone, but there's no reason they would have suspected him of doing so, which means they knew he wasn't and it was a set-up.
  • Large Ham: Conservator Kovat. He's more of a theater actor than a lawyer.
  • Magic Plastic Surgery: This is the first episode of Deep Space Nine to establish the Cardassian excellent cosmetic surgery capabilities. It would pop up a few more times in the show and in Voyager.
  • Moment Killer: Nothing like being arrested by the Cardassians to assassinate a romantic moment between O'Brien and Keiko.
  • Mysterious Informant: Bashir is told by an unknown Maquis agent that Boone is not one of them.
  • The Needs of the Many: This is how the Cardassians justify their so-called justice system — as far as they're concerned, the important thing is that justice always be seen to be done (whether it actually is done or not) so that the general public can feel safe. Kovat lays it out for O'Brien.
    Here on Cardassia, all crimes are solved, all criminals are punished, all endings are happy. Even the poorest of our subjects can walk the streets in the dead of night in perfect safety. You're only one man, but your conviction will be a salutary experience for millions.
  • Not Himself: "Boone" suddenly went from being a model Starfleet officer to a malcontent who was discharged for poor performance. He also left his wife, but she assumed the changes in his personality were due to being tortured by the Cardassians.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • The archon's reaction when Sisko shows up with the fake Boone.
    • When Kovat realizes he's actually won a case.
  • Retirony: Kovat tells Odo that he's only a year to retirement, so he doesn't want this trial screwed up. After he in fact wins, Kovat fearfully says "They'll kill me...".
  • Reverse Whodunnit: Boone is shown with a recording of O'Brien's voice in The Teaser, so when it's revealed that photon warheads were stolen from DS9 with O'Brien's voice authorization, it's obvious who was responsible. However, The Reveal that Boone is a Cardassian spy doesn't come until later, and the real question is whether or not this will have any effect on a Cardassian tribunal that's dead-set on convicting O'Brien no matter what.
  • Sequel Episode: "Tribunal" is a loose follow-up to "The Maquis" and "The Maquis, Part 2" as it's the station's first clash with the Maquis after foiling Cal Hudson. However, it's also a more-or-less direct-follow-up to TNG's "Preemptive Strike" with Evek's return and the current state of the DMZ. Basically, if "Preemptive Strike" showed how the Starfleet was going to try and handle the now-full blown Maquis crisis, then "Tribunal" does the same for the Cardassian Central Command.
  • Series Continuity Error: While the exact date of the Setlik III Massacre was never firmly established, this sets it in 2362. Previous comments placed it in the late 2340s.
  • Spot the Imposter: All the evidence against Boone is circumstantial, until it's revealed he's missing one of his molars.
  • Springtime for Hitler: Kovat's job was never to win the case for O'Brien. He then gets quite distraught when Odo notes that Sisko's intervention means that Kovat might have actually won the case.
  • Stereotype Reaction Gag: The Cardassians use O'Brien's Fantastic Racism as evidence against him, particularly his attitude that "the bloody Cardies can't be trusted". And then it's revealed that he's the victim of a Cardassian-engineered Frame-Up, which kinda proves him right.
  • Swiss Cheese Security: Boone apparently managed to breach a station weapons locker with nothing more than a faked voiceprint — the voice log indicates that he didn't even need an access code or anything, just O'Brien's name and "Security Level 1". You'd think that photon torpedoes would be kept under tighter wraps than that, especially as Dax later has no trouble confirming that the voice was faked.
  • Think of the Children!:
    • In the establishing shot of the Cardassian capital, there is a propaganda message on the viewscreens telling the people to "look to the children, invest in their minds."
    • Kovat says those four words at the beginning of one of his speeches.
  • Ticking Clock: Because the Cardassians refused to state O'Brien's charges, the crew has to come up with a defense while the trial is already going on, and the Cardassians admit that they are fond of "swift justice." Odo manages to make a nuisance of himself in court and drag the trial out to historic lengths (a few days), just barely long enough for the crew to figure out a solution.
  • Workaholic: O'Brien, naturally. At the beginning, both Kira and Sisko have to order him (repeatedly) to go on vacation with his wife (for the first time in five years), but he keeps on coming back because of just one more detail about station operations that he really needs to bring up. His choice of reading material while away turns out to be technical manuals, much to Keiko's annoyance. At the end, after everything he's been through, his first thought is to get back to work, but Sisko has personally intervened to have their accommodation extended and insists that they go; O'Brien is bothered by the fact that he now has nothing to read while they're away... which Keiko declares to be "perfect", hinting that she can think of a few other things for them to do.
  • You Have Failed Me: It's implied that because his client was declared innocent (even though it was by factors outside his countrol), that Kavot isn't going to last long...