#DS91sttime: Season 4, Episode 18, “Rules of Engagement”

July 21, 2014 in #DS91sttime, General Topics

Rules of Engagement, Deep Space NIne

So bored. DS9, Series Four, Ep. 18, “Rules of Engagement”

What’s big, brooding, and looks confused all over? If you said Michael Dorn during his tenure (as of this episode) on Deep Space Nine, you wouldn’t be half wrong. And he doesn’t seem to be the only one that’s a little lost. After an electric presence in the season’s opener, and somewhat slipping importance since then, Dorn’s Worf is now subjected to “Rules of Engagement”. The plot is, essentially, that Worf is accused of being too Klingon to belong in the Federation and on DS9. One wonders if this is a kind of Freudian slip; a reflection of the showrunners pondering if Dorn’s character belongs in the series at all.

I know, I know. Meta discussion is bad. But if there’s one character on Deep Space Nine that just keeps inviting it, it’s our favorite Klingon. I just can’t help but draw comparisons to the way O’Brien has managed to gel with the show from day one, whereas everytime Worf is on screen, he just screams “I was brought in because the show was on the rocks!”.

Maybe because O’Brien was around when everything about this show was terrible, we didn’t notice that he hadn’t yet found his place–after all, no one had in the first season. On the other hand, Worf hit the ground in an already-established series whose only real issue was that it hadn’t yet decided if it was going to be a serial or not. I don’t envy Dorn’s conundrum, that’s for sure.

“Rules of Engagement” wants to be a courtroom drama as much as it wants to reassure us how important Worf is by showing little pieces of his life aboard the station via the now-tired method of having characters in flashbacks break the fourth wall. At the center of the courtroom side of things is a dispute over a tragedy. Apparently there was a Federation-escorted convoy moving through Cardassian space when it came under fire from Klingon attack ships. A Klingon civilian transport wandered into the fray and decloaked in front of the Defiant, and Worf blasted the living hell out of it.

Let me stop right here and say that Sisko is unfair with this one. It’s not Worf’s fault that an allegedly-innocent civilian ship jaywalked into a combat zone mimicking the exact enemy that Worf was in the process of fighting. Star Trek canon has almost always shown Birds of Prey decloaking before attacking, after they’ve moved into a choice position to do so. We’re also told this is the ideal time to fire on them, as their shields are down while they’re cloaked. For Sisko to suggest later that Worf screwed up by not stopping to check the ID of the credible threat that appeared to be posturing is not just foolish, it isn’t just idealistic–its irresponsible.

Or at least, in 2014 I argue that it is. Still, I can see the argument from the other side, and indeed as I write this there’s growing furor over someone recently shooting down a Malaysian airliner over Ukrainian or Russian airspace. Our own military has clear rules of engagement as well. Perhaps I’m being too tough on the Federation.

Look, how about this? Have rules. But also have some flexibility. This wasn’t a black-and-white scenario Worf was confronted with. Cut Worf some slack for being under duress and making a reasonable decision.

Against Worf, though, isn’t the Federation. It’s some Klingon lawyer that’s put up an extradition request, making the argument that Worf is really a Klingon at heart and deserves to be prosecuted by the Klingon Justice System (Rura Penthe, anyone?) as a result. Even if Sisko is a jerk in this episode, he does at least realize that this is really all about politics, and that sets him and Odo on the track to the true nature of the event.

Taken by itself as an episode of syndicated television, this one would turn off a first-time viewer from ever trying the show again. It’s one of those sleep-inducing throwaway episodes in the Trek universe, the kind of thing your neighbor brings up when he recalls channel surfing one day, and landing on “that one with all the speeches about nothing in the courtroom”.

It’s no “Shades of Gray”, because at least “Rules of Engagement” tries, but no one’s ever going to pull this one up on Netflix and look forward to watching Worf stare at the screen like a guy stuck in a boring meeting, counting down the minutes until his lunch break.

Rating: 2/5 stars.

Wife Says: “A terrible episode.”

See the rest of the review series here.

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