the story: Worf stands trial for being in command during a mission in which innocent civilians died.
what it's all about: Court drama is such a familiar Star Trek trope that if attempted, it had better have something interesting to say. Unfortunately, "Rules of Engagement" really doesn't.
It's one of the few episodes of the season to have something, even tangentially, to say about the Klingon war, but it's also an episode that could've been told regardless of it, in an earlier era of the franchise. It's almost like Enterprise's revisiting of the period where the Federation and the Klingon Empire were definitely rivals, which was a running theme of the original series as well as their six films. Even with the war going on, it seems it would've been more a Deep Space Nine story, or even a franchise story in general (think "Balance of Terror") if there had been an episode this season that tried to demonstrate that war couldn't really shake the bonds of friendship that had been forged in the more recent past.
And it's one of those curious episodes (like the later "Change of Heart") that the series inexplicably did, whose only real effect was to call into serious question Worf's command ability. Why was this such an easy thing for the series to do with the character? I don't know if anything else Worf ever did really justifies such storytelling.
And yet, "Rules" still has some things to say, the general alienation Worf will continue to experience among his people until he finally bonds with Martok later, and the uses of propaganda and show trials in wartime (and election seasons). It becomes clear that the whole point of the trial is to discredit the Federation. But the effectiveness of Founder manipulation is better represented, among Klingons, in the fifth season premiere, "Apocalypse Rising," in which this particular war reaches its conclusion.
So this is definitely one of the season's misfires.
- franchise - The best reason to watch this episode is a general look at continued Klingon/Federation differences.
series- It doesn't really have that much to say about the Klingon war happening around it. character- Or anything particularly useful to say about Worf. essential- Pretty much the opposite of what a Deep Space Nine episode should be.