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Judgement (Star Trek Enterprise)

01/06/2003. Contributed by Timothy W. Lynch

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Archer is accused of crimes against the Klingon Empire and brought before a tribunal.

"Judgment" Enterprise Season 2, Episode 19 Teleplay by David A. Goodman Story by Taylor Elmore & David A. Goodman Directed by James L. Conway

Now that's more like it. "Judgment" doesn't try to be any more complicated than it is, but it wins a lot of points for being a solid story well told.

The main characters were fairly compelling, the story was (on the whole) well thought out, and unlike most of its recent fellow episode, "Judgment" stands up to repeated viewings with very little loss of entertainment value.

Judgement review Star Trek Enterprise

As has become common in _Enterprise_ of late, we're dropped right into the action: we begin with Archer in front of the tribunal (in a very nice recreation of the courtroom set from Kirk and McCoy's trial from "Star Trek VI").

As is also common on Enterprise, that's something of a mixed blessing: it's a big plus in that people are probably likely to stick around after a teaser this striking (TNG's "Cause and Effect" being one of the most effective teasers ever in that regard), but it always runs the risk of seeming artificial when it creates the action without any groundwork.

That risk is real, because the one real issue I have with the story here is its initial implausibility. The Klingons do not strike me as people who routinely hold people over for trial - if they honestly believed Archer was guilty of crimes against the Empire, something tells me that they'd go for the shoot-then-ask-questions approach.

It's not hard to see why Archer could be an exception to that rule - after all, he's had substantial dealings with the Klingons before - but later events in the episode make it clear that no one in the courtroom knew of those previous dealings at the outset. There's something there that doesn't quite seem to click for me. (The question of how Archer got caught is one I'm curious about, but not a big deal.)

If you can swallow that one implausibility and run with it, however, "Judgment" doesn't disappoint from there on in. A great deal of that is due to the main guest character, Archer's advocate Kolos, played wonderfully by J.G. Hertzler (generally known as DS9's General Martok, though he's played many other roles in and out of Trek as well).

It may be Archer's fate being decided, but I think it's very possible to argue that Kolos is the real protagonist in this particular story: there's not much Archer can do to affect his fate, but Kolos winds up carrying more than one life in his hands.

On the face of it, most of the story's fairly simple: we hear the prosecution's version of events, Archer persuades Kolos to let him tell his side, and a verdict is reached. What's more, the two sides' stories are told in "Rashomon"-like fashion, with each side carrying around different flashbacks to show its particular point of view.

Trek has not often had much luck with that format (DS9's "Rules of Engagement" and TNG's awful "A Matter of Perspective" leap to mind as two less- than-stellar examples), but this time it works.

One reason it works so well is that both Kolos and the prosecutor (Orak, played by John Vickery) feel extremely legitimate as the Klingon version of lawyers. Klingons as a rule are so swaggering and id-driven that it makes sense that every attorney would have to be a grandstander who can play to a crowd, and both Orak and (eventually) Kolos do just that.

If you're going to play a Klingon public figure effectively, you need to embrace the side of yourself that's given to inveterate scenery-chewing, and both Hertzler and Vickery do terrific jobs playing on the crowd's emotions. It doesn't hurt that both of them are used to emoting through lots of prosthetic makeup, Hertzler primarily as Martok and Vickery primarily as B5's Neroon. I've been impressed with both men's work for years.

Another reason the flashbacks work well is that some real attention was played to make the flashbacks very realistic according to the mindset of whoever was telling the tale. Orak's witness is one Captain Duras (yes, Duras ... more on that later), who was demoted as a result of Archer's actions.

When Duras initially talks about encountering the Enterprise while searching for rebels, the work on the Klingon ship is marvelous. Purists may object that we're hearing it all in English rather than in Klingon with subtitles, but I thought the dialogue felt very Klingon regardless: no wasted energy, no discussion of motives, just a lot of one-word commands. "Intercept." "Viewer."

Something about it just captured the atmosphere quite well. (And yes, Bakula sounded a little silly talking in ways that were so clearly a Klingon's projection of what he'd say, but I think that's fine - it was supposed to be incongruous.)

At any rate, Duras's version of events suggests that Archer intentionally aided rebels, made a deliberate choice to assist their rebellion, and attacked a Klingon warbird after crying, "Death to the Empire."

Orak, grandstanding with the best of them, suggests that the tribunal has already showed lenience by not attacking Archer's ship or crew or homeworld, but says that the evidence against Archer is so clear that the verdict and punishment should both be obvious.

It doesn't look good for Archer, especially when Kolos offers no rebuttal to Orak's argument. Archer tries to defend himself, but gets a side full of pain-sticks for his trouble.

I said earlier that Kolos could be considered the real hero of the story, though, and it's after the prosecution's side is finished that we really see why: Kolos is the one with a journey to make here, not Archer. Initially Kolos puts up no real defense, preferring to come to Archer with a "merciful" offer from the magistrate, namely that his life will be spared if he turns over the rebels he's accused of letting escape.

Archer refuses to condemn people he sees as refugees, and accuses the entire court of avoiding what they don't want to hear. That's step one: Kolos refuses to be tarred with the same brush, saying that he remembers a different time when "the courts were more willing to listen."

Archer challenges him to remind the court of those better times, and "show them what a real trial is like!" Kolos is initially reticent, believing himself "an old man ... too old to challenge the rules" - but Archer is persistent. (After all, what's he got to lose?) As Kolos leaves Archer's cell, we know he'll wind up putting up a real defense, but there's enough uncertainty in his eyes that we can also tell it'll be an effort.

Once Kolos decides to act, however, he puts up a spirited defense. The magistrate asks Kolos if Archer wishes to address the tribunal, and Kolos responds that he does: "he wishes to testify in his own defense." Incredulous though Orak and the magistrate are, he asserts the advocate's right to challenge the charges (citing the Judicial Charter of Koloth) and decides to put up a real fight. Through Orak's repeated scoffs and challenges, we hear Archer's side of the story.

Archer's version of events tells a rather different tale. The "rebels" he aided were actually refugees, who set out to find help after their colony had been annexed and then abandoned, left to fend for itself without assistance for ages. There's a marvelous exchange between Orak and Archer here: Orak insists that "they were subjects of the Empire - their welfare was not your concern!", to which Archer only shoots back, "Apparently, it wasn't yours either." Ow.

Archer continues his description, painting a picture where Duras came upon them as they were aiding the refugees, demanded their immediate return, then fired on Enterprise when Archer didn't immediately comply. His "attack" was disabling, yes, but it was also self-defense, something which any good Klingon should understand.

Kolos pounces on the fact that Archer chose not to destroy Duras' ship, pushing his speechmaking skills to their limit. He asserts that Archer is guilty, yes - but of not much more than being self-righteous and meddling in Klingon affairs repeatedly, including saving the Empire from civil war back in "Broken Bow."

Orak refuses to believe this, prompting Kolos to speculate that "perhaps the prosecutor has grown complacent in his research." Kolos adds that if Archer is truly guilty, "he is guilty of nothing more than being a nuisance, and hardly worth the attention of this tribunal - and if he must be punished, let the punishment fit that crime."

I don't know if it's the most effective of legal arguments, but it's a hell of a strong dramatic one, and set everyone in the courtroom back a step or two. This wasn't speechmaking quite on the level of Picard in "The Measure of a Man" (my personal standard for Trek courtroom drama), but the fact that I can even draw the comparison without wincing speaks very, very well.

Kolos' journey isn't done, however. As he and Archer wait in Archer's cell for the verdict, they talk of Kolos' past successes, and he muses that the courts were once honest rather than "a tool for the warrior class." As much as I tripped over the wording there (with John Vickery in the next room over, I felt as though I'd abruptly been transported to Minbar), Kolos' sincerity carried the scene.

He feels that Klingon society has decayed since the days of his youth, valuing victory above all else - and awarding honor on the basis of senseless killing rather than "true courage." Archer notes that his society went through similar periods in the past, and when asked what changed, he responds simply that "a few courageous people began to realize they could make a difference." That plants a further seed in our friend Kolos ...

... which is watered when the verdict is announced. Although the magistrate recognizes that Archer was a victim of his own foolishness and did not intend to violate Klingon law, he also says that that violation must be punished. He finds Archer guilty, but in recognition of his past service to the Klingon people, the death sentence is commuted to a life sentence on Rura Penthe.

This was a mixed blessing to me. I did appreciate the fact that Kolos' argument wasn't enough by itself to save Archer - an ending which simply had Archer found innocent and set free would've felt fairly empty.

On the other hand ... Rura Penthe? Couldn't we have found something else? Using the courtroom from ST6 is one thing - using the same colony suggests that all the show's doing is letting Archer take credit for everything Kirk was once thought to do first. If next season T'Pol sacrifices herself to save the ship and is then regenerated by a device created by Archer's old girlfriend ... well, I won't be held responsible.

It didn't help that the Rura Penthe set looked amazingly cheap - after all the care taken to faithfully recreate the courtroom, Rura Penthe looked like your standard cave set painted white. Ick.

For the most part, however, the sentence works on a dramatic level. Orak, while praising the guilty verdict, protests that the sentence must be death - and Kolos spits back that the sentence is death.

Given how inhospitable Rura Penthe is, he predicts Archer will be dead in a year, and says in effect that this courtroom and its sentence makes a mockery of honor and justice. The magistrate, incensed, holds Kolos in contempt and says that he will now join Archer on Rura Penthe for a year.

Now, it's a given that Archer won't be staying on Rura Penthe for long given the constraints of the series, but I like the fact that his departure is fairly subtle. The Enterprise doesn't go in guns blazing (which I'd have found appalling in a number of ways), but instead T'Pol uses what influence she has to bribe a corrections officer and a freighter captain.

As such, after only a few days (I'm guessing), Reed appears to take Archer away. Archer offers to take Kolos along as well, but Kolos refuses. He's not sure if he has the courage to "make a difference," but he knows that he won't be able to change anything as a fugitive - he tells Archer that he'll beat the odds, as "most prisoners here have very little to live for" and he does. Archer leaves, and we close on Kolos going back about his work.

There have only been a handful of guest characters on Enterprise that I'm really interested in seeing again. Most of them are ones who've already been set up as recurring characters - Silik, for example, or Shran.

Kolos is another. He's multifaceted, he's got a purpose, and he could easily be used to let us look at how Klingon society is changing. I'd love to see him back. (Orak was fun, but he doesn't strike me as a character one could use more than once.)

"Judgment" is an unqualified success from where I sit. The conflict and the drama were real, the characters intelligent, and the resolution honest. If I had any concerns, it would be that the writers of this episode aren't on staff - between that and the focus on a non-regular character, I have to hope that this doesn't prove to be a total fluke. As the show itself goes, however, this was definitely a winner.

Some other observations and musings:

- I'm not entirely surprised that the atmosphere of the show worked so well - James L. Conway is one of those Trek directors who's been excellent at creating atmosphere in the past. He directed TNG's "Frame of Mind" and DS9's "Necessary Evil," both of which created environments that were very different from the series' norm. Here's another success for him. (We'll just forget about TNG's "Justice." :-)

- If you want to nitpick, here's one: it's hard to see why Kolos' "there is no jury" makes sense. If the concept of a jury is foreign to a Klingon court, why would Kolos even know what the term means? (Not a big deal ... just tossing it out there.)

- This one isn't a nitpick, but an observation: while it's neat to have an earlier member of the Duras clan on hand (and one who even resembles Patrick Massett, the original Duras), I'm not sure having him commanding the Bortas makes a lot of sense: if memory serves, wasn't the Bortas Gowron's ship a couple of centuries later? Popular name, I guess...

- Cute throwaway line: when Phlox shows up to examine Archer, he implies that Archer's ill with xenopolycythemia. Given that the disease is still fatal a century later when McCoy gets it (in "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky," or "For the Title Is So Long That the Show is Half Over" if you like), that's a cute choice. The demoted Duras is also sent to the Ty'Go'Kor defense perimeter, which may sound familiar to DS9 viewers.

- The dialogue wasn't only good in the Klingon flashbacks. I liked the efficiency in discussing Reed's altered torpedo. "Can you modify a torpedo?" "I believe so." "How long?" "How long do I have?"

- More good dialogue in Archer's cell. Kolos initially notes that the rebels/refugees "were subjects of the Empire: there's nothing you can say that will change that." Archer simply notes that he "haven't been able to say anything" given the rules of the tribunal. Nice.

- Kolos' decision to make a difference was somewhat reminiscent of mirror-Spock's "Captain Kirk ... I will consider it!" when Kirk urges him to turn against the Terran Empire in "Mirror, Mirror."

I don't think it's intentional in any way, but there's a thematic resonance I appreciated. (Given the B5 flashes I had here, one could also point to some of the Centauri emperor's speech in "The Coming of Shadows.")

- Kolos' father was a teacher and his mother a biologist? Damn - if he were human, he could be my kid. :-)

That should do it - this has certainly been one of the longer reviews I've written of late. "Judgment" is an episode it would be difficult to repeat, but the sort of care taken on this one stands out for me as an example of how much of the series could be. I'd like to see more like this and "Cease Fire," please.

So, wrap-up time:

Writing: Some minor questions of plausibility and location choices, but they're minor. The core of the story is very, very sound.

Directing: Staged? Oh, yeah - but it's meant to be. Nicely done.

Acting: Better than I've seen in a number of weeks.

OVERALL: Call this one a 9. More, please.

Tim Lynch

(c) Timothy W. Lynch. This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and express written consent of the author. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.

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