Mark Watches ‘Deep Space Nine’: S04E18 – Rules of Engagement

In the eighteenth episode of the fourth season of Deep Space Nine, this is EVERYTHING. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Deep Space Nine.



Point-blank: the script and direction for this court procedural is goddamn brilliant, and I am endlessly pleased with this show taking a familiar framing device and doing something utterly new with it. (Well, new for this show, I should say.) The flashbacks in this episode don’t feel tired and repetitive. Part of that comes from the way they’re folded into the hearing. Instead of jumping back from that opening to the past to update us on what happened on that transport ship and how Worf was involved, our entire perception of events is through the trial. Therefore, like Admiral T’Lara, we can only judge Worf’s actions through the various witnesses and the evidence provided to us.

It’s such a perfect focus, and it makes all the flashbacks way more exciting. Of course, adding in the fourth wall breaks was an even more thrilling addition. I LOVE IT, BRAVO DEEP SPACE NINE, YOU ARE DOING EVERYTHING RIGHT.


Yes, you could argue that this episode is a standalone, but you would be wrong and I am going to type emphatically at you to tell you that “Rules of Engagement” is deeply tied to Worf’s characterization this season and to the conflict introduced in “The Way of the Warrior.” ARE YOU READY.

See, here’s the thing: you can’t have this episode without the Klingon Empire leaving the Federation. You just can’t! It is heavily based on this fact, and it informs the bulk of Ch’Pok’s behavior. Without it, there’s no reason to set up Worf for failure. The “fake” transport exists specifically so that the Klingons can find a way to disgrace the Federation. That loss of reputation will allow them to creep into Federation space even more. It’s a political gamble and maneuver, and it nearly works.

But Deep Space Nine also has the challenge of building off of seven years of characterization for Worf. That’s not an easy thing to do, and yet? Somehow, the writers manage to invoke: Alexander; the house of Mogh; Worf losing prestige and honor in Klingon society; Worf’s brother; Worf being raised by humans; Worf never quite fitting into either society he belongs to. And it’s all appropriate and fits without seeming like the writers are going, “Hey, remember THIS thing???” Worf’s entire character feels like it’s on trial, and thus these references are absolutely necessary.


Which makes for interesting storytelling because this ultimately comes down to an issue of identity. That’s what Ch’Pok’s whole technique comes down to. Was Worf a Klingon in that moment, or was he following Starfleet protocol? It’s a thorny concept because… well, people don’t necessarily compartmentalize their identities that way. Our experiences and how our identities affect those experiences matter, but like… okay. I’m not writing this sentence and thinking, “This is Gay Mark writing this sentence.” That’s not how it works.

At the same time, Worf is Klingon, and his tendency to valorize violence and warfare matters. Did he fire upon that transport ship in order to prove himself? To protect his ship and do his duty? Because he couldn’t silence the Klingon part of him? Those are important questions to ask, and as “Rules of Engagement” unfolds, the writers bring us closer and closer to a very uncomfortable conclusion. Worf’s bitterness and resentment absolutely did play a part in his decision, which is ultimately a mistake on his part. And look, the big twist ending here – that the transport ship was EMPTY and the whole thing was staged so that the Klingons could stick it to the Federation – doesn’t negate Worf’s actions. That’s another major reason this episode is so satisfying. Worf’s exoneration does not erase the fact that he still fired on a ship before he identified what it was, and Sisko scolds him for that. YES. YES. YES. This is excellent storytelling, y’all. It’s complicated and uncomfortable, but it works so terribly well. This is why I love Deep Space Nine so much! We get taken on journeys like this all the time, especially in this season.

Bless this show, I swear.

The video for “Rules of Engagement” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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