Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven't seen the
episode yet, beware.
In brief: I liked this story the first time I saw it ... when it was called
"Star Trek VI." (I liked it this time around, too.)
Plot description: Archer faces a Klingon tribunal for an incident the
Klingons characterize as a crime against their empire.
Airdate: 4/9/2003 (USA)
Teleplay by David A. Goodman
Story by Taylor Elmore & David A. Goodman
Directed by James L. Conway
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Rating out of 4: ***
"My father was a teacher; my mother, a biologist at the university. They
encouraged me to take up the law. Now all young people want to do is take up
weapons, as soon as they can hold them." -- Kolos
Are you an optimist or a cynic? Perhaps you can answer that question by
answering this one: Is "Judgment" a carefully detailed homage or a blatant
Watching the episode, I definitely felt more like an optimist. Much of this
episode played for me like a deja vu experience of the Klingon courtroom
material from "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country." But that's not a bad
thing. The courtroom material from "Trek VI" made for a good scene -- dark
and menacing and atmospheric. It's the sort of material that seems to
deserve its own episode, and now we get it, even if the episode covers much
of the same ground in terms of drama and performance ... which, of course,
is probably the point.
Part of the fun with "Judgment" is in spotting the familiar lines of dialog
and the similar -- even identical -- set design, camera angles, and
costumes. Indeed, it looks to me like the production designer, writer,
director, and cinematographer all studied the courtroom scenes from "Trek
VI" with great care before the sets here were built and the cameras were
rolling. The creators haven't simply borrowed the trial scene from "Trek
VI," they've re-created it completely. And well.
Besides, darn it, Klingons are just so much fun to watch, despite -- no,
because of -- all their grandstanding and histrionics. I was watching "Blood
Oath" the other day from the DS9 season two DVD set, and so much of the show
and its lovely and portentous dialog made me smile with good will and
affection. Granted, "Judgment" is no "Blood Oath," but it does capture some
of the same entertaining spirit of Klingon pride and ever-seriousness (as
well as some annoying aspects of those elements).
In what is no less than the second time in three episodes, Archer is accused
of a crime by an alien system of questionable justice. The verdict is easily
predicted: guilty as charged. The sentence is just as predictable: death.
Can Archer's sentence and/or verdict be averted by proving his innocence?
Enter Advocate Kolos (J.G. Hertzler, excellent as always), Archer's weary
and cynical defense lawyer, who has all but accepted the inevitability of
defeat before the tribunal arguments have started. The deck is clearly
stacked against him. The tribunal is little more than a formality with an
ending that is a foregone conclusion (although not as hopeless as in DS9's
"Tribunal," also in the aforementioned DVD set).
Now, as a "Law & Order" addict, I sit through television courtroom scenes
all the time and watch as plot points are related through efficient
exposition. It should be noted that a show like "Judgment" is not in the
same spirit of being about facts and exposition -- at least, not any more
than it must be. Yes, there are facts and there's dialog and also a
flashback structure that shows us how the "crime" in question unfolded (from
two different points of view, no less). But "Judgment" is more about the
idea of a courtroom that assumes guilt and greets its defendant with
hostility as a matter of course. The room is a veritable echo chamber, with
an audience that chants "enemy" in Klingon in an angry unison. The gavel is
a metal sphere that sparks when the magistrate (Granville Van Dusen) slams
it down on the table as he calls for "SILENCE!" in the echo chamber. The
defendant is not permitted to speak while the prosecutor (John Vickery)
presents his case, or the defendant will be zapped with pain sticks while
the music swells menacingly. (Side note: I'm taking a liking to Velton Ray
Bunch's musical scores, perhaps because they seem more forceful and fresh
after so many years of McCarthy, Chattaway, Bell, and Baillargeon, whose
scores have become so familiar I can tell you which one of them scored a
given episode after about 10 seconds.) Naturally, the courtroom/echo chamber
is murky and dark.
Of course, you already know all of this from "Star Trek VI." Your mileage
for these aspects of "Judgment" depend on whether you want to see them
again. I didn't mind seeing them again, because they're well presented.
The case centers on Archer having allegedly helped "rebels" (actually an
abandoned Klingon-ruled colony running out of resources to sustain itself),
and thus falling into a conflict with Duras (Daniel Riordan, whose character
is named Duras merely as a footnote reference for those who have followed
the franchise for a long time). Duras was the captain of a Klingon warship
who was sent in to "stop" (read: destroy) the "rebel" colonists. The
flashbacks show us what happened, and clearly reveal the Enterprise to have
done nothing wrong ... unless of course you are the Klingons, who as a rule
exhibit stubborn unreasonableness -- hence Archer being tried for crimes
against the Klingon Empire for his involvement in helping defenseless
colonists escape certain death. The show's biggest plot omission leaves us
wondering how and when Archer was arrested; there's absolutely no accounting
for how he ended up away from the Enterprise and in the hands of the Klingon
Oh, well. The plot details don't hugely concern me. What "Judgment" offers
as relevant material specific to this series' time frame is the fact that
Klingon culture is in the middle of a rapid decline -- one that in all
likelihood will eventually bring about the conflict between Earth and the
Klingon Empire that we know exists by the time TOS rolls around. We see the
(apparently waning) reasonable and honorable side of Klingon society through
Kolos' character, who is given enough convincing dialog to emerge as a
three-dimensional persona. Kolos, once a winning defense litigator, has been
worn down into accepting a defeatist attitude as his career has turned into
a perfunctory process and a mockery of its former self. The Klingon court
doesn't much listen to defense lawyers these days, and is quick to condemn
the apparently guilty.
This is a symptom of a bigger problem, one that Kolos explains to Archer in
the show's best dialog scene. Klingon society, once honorable, is in a
decline where a bastardized concept of honor has turned into an artificially
inflated virtue: "We were a great society not so long ago, when honor was
earned through integrity and acts of true courage, not senseless bloodshed,"
Kolos says. "What honor is there in a victory over a weaker opponent?" This
is the scene that gives "Judgment" its weight and perspective, and allows us
and Archer to see Kolos as a man worthy of real respect. (The way these
sentiments are delivered from this wise, old character also makes one wonder
if there are real-world social points being made under the surface here.)
Thanks to Kolos, Archer's death sentence is commuted and he is instead
sentenced to life at the penal colony of Rura Penthe, in a scene that uses
some dialog lifted almost verbatim from "Trek VI." Continuity buffs will
likely enjoy moments like this, as well as Kolos' earlier defense arguments
that connect Archer with having thwarted a Suliban plot against the Klingons
("Broken Bow") and rescuing a Klingon vessel trapped in the atmosphere of a
gas giant ("Sleeping Dogs"). Kolos' subsequent diatribe against the Klingon
justice system is satisfying, thanks in no small part to Hertzler's
performance, which fully unleashes the furies. If there's ever a time for
energetic histrionics, a Klingon courtroom is that time. Unfortunately for
Kolos, it gets him sentenced to Rura Penthe, right alongside Archer, for a
We then head off to Rura Penthe, an ice-cave where Archer and Kolos work
side by side as imprisoned allies. Archer's coat was either faithfully
duplicated by the wardrobe department, or pulled out of storage from
somewhere on the studio lot, because, yep, it's straight out of "Trek VI."
Some have complained that the ending's simplistic rescue of Archer from the
penal colony is too quick and easy, but I think it works okay. If anything,
it demonstrates the corruption in Klingon society that has been hinted at,
and how a prisoner's freedom can be secured for the right price by bribing
the right people. Kolos stays behind, eager to return to the law when he is
eventually released. I must say, I wouldn't mind seeing his character again.
Yes, he's essentially a lawyer version of DS9's Martok, but Hertzler is
always such a strong presence, and he'd be welcome on a series that has yet
to carve out any truly strong dramatic forces.
I liked this episode, but I'd better mention that it relies probably more on
nostalgia and cross-references than in attempts to develop original
Enterprise-specific material. (Of course, in all fairness, how original can
your prequel material be?) The strengths here are more in theatrics and
directing and performances than in revealing complex or probing ideas. But
that's not a problem so much as an observation. "Judgment" ranks as one of
this season's better outings.
Next week: A la Harry Kim, Mayweather gets his contractually promised
spotlight hour for the season.
Copyright 2003 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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