the story: O'Brien is put on trial in a Cardassian courtroom.
what it's all about: There's a rich tradition of trial drama in Star Trek lore, from the two-part "Menagerie" from the original series to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and many other examples from every series (not the least of which being Enterprise's "Judgment," which closely echoes Undiscovered Country). "Tribunal" is one of the best examples, if for no other reason than the starkness of its presentation, the utter helplessness of O'Brien's predicament and the ruthlessness of its presentation of Cardassian culture, which after more than a few episodes in the second season might have begun to seem a little too soft for a species with such a nasty history.
"Tribunal" boils down to Cardassian duplicity, it's true, but it also forces every character who appears, including Odo, who steps in to defend O'Brien, and Keiko, O'Brien's wife, who is justifiably horrified by the whole experience, to step up their game. It features perhaps the second most successful example of a spy finally exposed at the end of an episode, after Arne Darvin in the classic "Trouble with Tribbles," featuring the rare mustache in Star Trek (hey, it's a pretty notable mustache!).
But in the grand tradition of lets-torture-O'Brien episodes, this one's probably the most literal, and so there's that going for it, too. At one point he literally has a tooth extracted as part of the processing procedures leading up to his trial. Overall, a very different kind of episode, both for the series and franchise, a real sense of urgency, which is usually hard to pull off, but then also kind of necessary when Cardassian trials usually declare their verdicts first, and of course O'Brien is announced as guilty!
- franchise - Part of a grand Star Trek tradition.
- series: Readjusts Cardassians into a less friendly light, which at this point was necessary.
- character - Maybe doesn't say much about O'Brien himself, but when he suffers we all kind of suffer along with him.
essential- Still, it doesn't say much of anything new, even if it's all very impactful.
Rosalind Chao (Keiko)
Richard Poe (Evek)