Synopsis: After accidentally triggering an automated counterinsurgency protocol left over from when the station was under Cardassian control, the crew must find a way to shut it down — before the station self-destructs.
I have a confession to make.
Remember back in August, when I first switched to a two-episodes-per-week format? I’d been thinking about it for awhile, because I had very little faith in my own attention span and figured that going twice as fast would make it more likely I’d actually stick with it. But the reason I did it then, rather than, say, waiting another month or so, until I’d built up more of a rhythm, was that I looked at the schedule I’d mocked up and discovered that the discussion post for this episode would be on my birthday.
Which is to say: I love this episode so much. I just friggin’ love it. It’s one of my absolute favorites — I know it may not be one of the best (not that it’s bad, it’s just no “In the Pale Moonlight” or “Far Beyond the Stars” — though few things are, let’s be real), but “Civil Defense”, like “Bar Association” or “The House of Quark” or “Looking for Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places”, is one of the episodes I go to when I’m feeling sad or sick or grouchy and just need something to cheer me up. It just always makes me so happy.
I love, structurally, how everything escalates — specifically, I really love that every step the characters take to try and solve the problem, or even just to buy time, only ends up making things worse. (My esteemed colleague Liz once tweeted that it feels like the only episode of Star Trek written by someone who regularly uses a computer, and she is not wrong.) The cascade of problems means the pacing is great, too; the episode just zips along from one problem to the next.
I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy the recurring issue of trying to make Federation software run on Cardassian hardware and a Cardassian operating system, so of course I love an episode where the main conflict stems from that. O’Brien and Jake are literally trying to reformat the hard drive and install a new OS when they accidentally set off the counterinsurgency program, which I find…just weirdly funny? Perhaps simply because I’ve run into so many problems when trying to, say, clone a hard drive or install an OS on a new machine that this episode is 100% believable to me as something that might happen. I’ve mentioned the Bajoran government and/or the Federation being cool with giving Odo security clearance is one of those little things I have trouble suspending disbelief for (while being, you know, totally willing to go along with FTL travel, transporters, and replicators), but “whoops, just set off an anti-worker-revolt program on my space station while trying to reformat the hard drive” is basically the opposite of that, where I’m like “ah, yes, that makes sense and frankly I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before”.
My only criticism of the plot, really, is that the denouement just ends up feeling a bit boring because Sisko, Jake, and O’Brien are…kinda the least interesting part of the episode once it gets going and their communications are cut off from everyone else. But even that’s not bad, it’s just kind of flat in comparison to the rest of the episode — the action isn’t what makes this episode so much fun, it’s the characters and their interactions.
Speaking of which…
OK, so the Quark-Odo bits are a shocking amount of fun, even given how much I typically enjoy Quark having extensive one-on-one scenes with other characters. Auberjonois and Shimerman are absolutely fantastic together. And, as someone who’s been pretty hard on Odo as a collaborator in the past, the fact that we find out Dukat didn’t really trust him all that much actually makes me like him a bit more.
As for the Sisko-Jake-O’Brien bits, even though I mentioned the denouement falling a bit flat for me, Sisko and Jake’s interactions in their scenes are, as pretty much always, just wonderful.
But let’s be honest: the real meat of the episode is in the Ops scenes, with Bashir, Kira, Jadzia, and, as the episode goes on, Garak and Dukat. And I love those scenes so, so much. I love that everyone dunks on Dukat, including his own bosses from years in the past. I love that Garak and Dukat are complete bitches at each other. I love that Garak seems pretty intrigued by Jadzia, and Julian has to be on task but you know in a little corner of his mind he is playing the “Make Me Feel” video with himself in Janelle Monáe’s place, just full-on bisexual freakout because his two crushes are flirting with each other. I love that when Jadzia gets injured, Julian is a professional about it.
I actually feel like this episode works as a good introduction to the characters for someone fairly new to the show. In terms of characterization everyone is just the pure distilled versions of themselves, and perhaps as a result, their interpersonal dynamics are, too: you’ve got everything from Sisko’s concern for Jake, to Kira’s instinct being to shoot something with a phaser, to Quark and Odo’s rivalry and occasional grudging respect, to Garak and Julian flirting even as Garak is being evasive, to Dukat being smug and horny and nowhere near as important or powerful as he thinks he is/wants to be.
“It’s not going to work, you know.”
This is also where it’s first established that Dukat has a thing for Kira, when Garak calls him out on trying to impress her. And good lord, the way Alaimo and Visitor play that scene is just perfection. Visitor has said that she didn’t love how the moment was played for laughs in this episode, pointing out that if, just a few years earlier, Dukat decided he wanted Kira, she wouldn’t really have had a choice in the matter.
Even given that the moment is mostly played for laughs, though, I feel like the difference in Dukat and Kira’s respective reactions works perfectly: Kira immediately avoids eye contact, even removes her hands from the table they’re both leaning on, and sort of pulls back from it, so that they’re not even touching the same surface. Meanwhile Dukat’s just embarrassed, and alternates between trying to get Garak to shut up and sneaking a couple of glances at Kira to gauge her reaction, because Dukat is the personification of “haha just kidding…unless..?”
Which makes sense! Because, like, as I said in “The Maquis, Part 2”, with how appalled he was when Sisko thought he might have hurt Jake in part 1, I absolutely believe that it would never occur to Dukat to try to force anything…now. Kira is, now, someone whose respect he’d actually have to earn for him to have any chance. (Which he still wouldn’t, but in theory.)
My friend B.N. Harrison once summed Dukat up quite well:
Dukat is so desperate to be loved and admired by people he finds admirable that he'll do anything–ANYTHING–to win their favor, except make any meaningful changes whatsoever to his behavior. It's so weird yet SO REALISTIC.
— Brittany Nicole Harrison (@bnharrison) February 3, 2019
That said, let us not forget that Dukat makes a point of establishing that he knows how Sisko takes his coffee. “Jules,” you may be saying, “the Cardassians have an incredibly powerful intelligence machine, you are overthinking this,” and you would have a point — if we were discussing any Cardassian besides Dukat, because when it comes to Dukat, the horniest explanation is usually the correct one. As Jason said way back when we started this whole project, “Dukat’s horniness has transwarp drive.”
Other random moments I love
- O’Brien saying that he might be able to come up with something if he had some tools, and Sisko proceeding to pry the handle off a cart and give it to him, is just…I LOVE BEN SISKO SO MUCH, PEOPLE.
- Julian is such a professional with Jadzia after she’s injured! They seem to have largely dropped his thing for Jadzia at this point, thank goodness, but I’m still not taking it for granted.
- Sisko and O’Brien using the sleeves of their shirts to make mittens is weirdly funny to me? Like, I kind of get it, but it’s also just funny.
- Possibly my favorite moment in the entire episode: when Dukat attempts to beam out after his ultimatum to Kira and the final failsafe kicks in. Dukat becoming immensely interested in the wall beside him as it sinks in that he’s not only lost the upper hand but actually made things worse, and Garak’s general air of grim satisfaction because they may all be doomed but at least someone he loathes is going to go down with them, are just absolute perfection.
- Also perfection: Armin Shimerman’s delivery of “That means a lot to me. Now…can I have the phaser back?”
- I mean, was there any question that this list would begin with Dukat? His horniness for Kira is explicitly called out, but IMO he remains pretty horny for Sisko, and frankly, he seems at least a little horny for Jadzia when she’s the one who figures out what he’s getting at with the neutralization emitters.
- Even in the middle of disaster, Julian and Garak find time to flirt?
- Pretty sure Garak is kind of into Jadzia, too, if his “what a creative idea” is any indication? Jadzia and Garak are definitely kindred spirits, at the very least.
- Me, for this episode, probably. Am I gonna go watch it again right now? Maybe. (Yes.)