When an automated Cardassian self-defense program is activated, not even Gul Dukat can save Deep Space Nine.
Plot Summary: While working with Jake on converting the station’s ore processing facility to handle deuterium, O’Brien tries to delete a file and inadvertently triggers a Cardassian security program designed to suppress a Bajoran worker revolt. The two Siskos and O’Brien are trapped in ore processing while the entire station hears a recorded message from Gul Dukat threatens to use neurocine gas in the ore processing facility. Jake is able to open a hatch to an ore processing bay before that happens, but station security goes on lockdown, with Dukat’s recorded image reporting that workers have escaped. Odo and Quark are locked in the security office and Bashir is trapped in Ops with Kira and Dax – fortunately, since Dax’s hands are severely burned when she tries to override the security program. Garak uses his Cardassian access code to reach Ops but can’t override the computer program, which is now threatening to release neurocine gas in the habitat ring. He suggests destroying the station’s life support systems to stop the gas from being filtered through it, though this will leave only 12 hours of air. Kira reluctantly does so, but the phaser blast activates the next level of the security program, which turns on the station’s self-destruct mechanism, and when Garak tries to input Dukat’s security codes to override it, a replicator produces an automatic weapon which fires energy blasts at all non-Cardassians. Then Dukat himself arrives, saying he got a message about a Bajoran worker revolt on Terok Nor. He taunts the Starfleet crew and demands a permanent Cardassian garrison on the station in exchange for his assistance, then finds that he can’t leave the station, for his superiors expected him to flee from a Bajoran revolt. To protect Cardassia from his cowardice, he can’t even stop the self-destruct. Sisko and O’Brien try to reach the fusion reactor, but when they realize they won’t have time to disable it, Sisko proposes directing the explosion into the station’s deflector grid. While Jake rescues an injured O’Brien, Sisko contains the explosion, and the station survives the blast.
Analysis: The first time I saw “Civil Defense,” I felt like someone had inadvertently left off the last act, and watching it again, I feel that even more strongly. How does the crew restore life support in the few hours left to them when so many personnel have been evacuated via runabout? How come O’Brien never noticed vast supplies of neurocine gas hidden in the station’s machinery? How come Dukat gets to walk away without a word of censure? I expected to learn that the gas wasn’t really neurocine, that it was all a ploy left in place by Dukat as a means to return the Cardassians to the station, or that Garak knew full well that destroying the life support would step up the security measures but also knew it would summon Dukat, or that the self-destruct had been left in place by the Bajorans to reveal ongoing Cardassian treachery…something to give the episode some meaning besides a stupid accident that it’s ridiculous a team of Starfleet officers never saw coming in all the many months they’ve spent making the station their home, even hiding in dark corners while the Circle took control. There’s a lot of potential for this episode to have an underlying plot, or at least some significant character development, but except for a couple of scenes with Quark and Odo used primarily as comic relief, ultimately all that happens is that lots of equipment gets blown up for no good reason, not even as an excuse to change the production design for future episodes.
Apart from Quark and Odo, who have a few moments of being nice to each other – Odo assures Quark that even if he’s not the wealthiest, he is the most devious of Ferengi, and Quark sighs that Odo’s personal honor and integrity are why the Cardassians didn’t trust the shapeshifter, which is probably going to get them both killed now – all the characters are very grim and cranky except the Cardassians, who snark so gloriously that I’m sorry to admit the episode is quite boring until they turn up; it feels like a limp cousin of any of the Next Gen or Voyager stories like “Disaster” where the ship encounters [name of spatial phenomenon] and the crew tries in isolation to [perform technobabble solutions]. Sisko complains that Dukat’s voice in the pre-recorded warning messages is very annoying, but it’s what gives hope that the episode will be about something bigger than crawling through access tubes and watching computer panels explode. Then Garak walks right through a force field and for a moment there’s a real chill in the air – wow, is Garak up to no good? But he’s promptly defanged by demonstrating that he can’t fix the problem any better than the Starfleet officers, leaving Dukat to swagger into ops, chew the scenery and steal the show. I hate it when he does that almost as much as Kira hates it, but let’s face it, the writers take more care to make him entertaining than they did with anyone else! I love that he calls Garak “tailor” as if it’s a slur about Garak’s sexual orientation; it’s so very Dukat. A man who treats all women as potential conquests would likely treat “tailors” as contemptible.
So Dukat demands to see Kira alone, insists that she permit Cardassians to return in force to the station or he’ll let all its civilians die (a bluff, she must know, since his presence shortly before the station’s destruction will mean war with the Federation), lets an automated firing system nearly kill the crew including an already-injured Dax, all while strutting so outrageously that Garak accuses him of trying to make himself attractive to Kira – which Dukat has tried before and will try again, but not while he’s threatening to let her and everyone else die – not even Dukat is THAT arrogant. He is, however, arrogant enough not to realize that his superiors never fully trusted him, that they put him in charge of Terok Nor not as a reward but as a way to keep him exiled the way Garak appears to be exiled now, and they fully suspected that if a real problem arose, he might flee! I find it really hard to buy into the Cardassian self destruct routine; it’s hard to accept that they’d have blown up the station just to put down a Bajoran rebellion, especially when they have that gas available to kill the people while leaving the structures standing. I have no problem believing they’d kill all the Cardassian officers and overseers slowly and agonizingly as punishment for not keeping the revolt under control, but they wouldn’t want to wreck their fine furniture. And if they did decide it was worth blasting it all into space just to set an example, why would they keep giving the Bajorans time “to think it over” and quite possibly engineer an escape? That self destruct would go off in five minutes, just long enough to get the really important Cardassians evacuated while leaving everyone else to a brutal fate.
The real problem with all the escalating announcements of higher security protocols is not that they’re unbelievable or unnecessary, though. It’s that they waste time which could be devoted to a more interesting or complex plot. Look at both scenes in which Jake saves the day with relative ease; the entire episode would work fine or arguably even better without him, since we wouldn’t have to sit through Sisko’s predictable concern and warnings directed at his son, and O’Brien could be the engineer-hero instead of just the engineer with unpleasant flashbacks to all the times the same thing happened to LaForge while Wesley Crusher was getting the glory. I can’t tell whether Dax is calm working on computer programs because she’s a wonder at keeping her cool in tough situations or because the writers forgot all about her burned hands. I’m probably giving the impression that this episode is no fun to watch, which isn’t true; there’s a lot of snappy dialogue, the action jumps around to three different parts of the station which helps the pacing, and Dukat in all his menacing glory – particularly with both Kira and Garak as foils – is always compelling to watch. But really this is an episode that doesn’t go anywhere in terms of character development, Cardassian-Bajoran relations, the power struggle between Dukat and Sisko, or much of anything besides Odo and Quark’s love-hate relationship – and since, as always, we can be sure the station isn’t actually going to get destroyed – it ends up feeling too much like an exercise in futility.