WARNING: These spoilers, for DS9's "Civil Defense", are protected by an automatic security system. The fully armed nuclear missiles are, of course, merely a courtesy detail.
Whew. That was fun. Could've used another two minutes for a proper ending, though.
This is definitely one of the best things of the season so far, though. More in a moment -- but first, a capsule summary:
The crew accidentally triggers an old Cardassian security program that threatens to destroy the entire station.
Now that we have that out of the way...
One of the best things about "Civil Defense" was the slow and gradual way in which everything built up. The situation, fortunately, wasn't nearly as simplistic as I described above: the program did not initially try to destroy the station, merely to control what was perceived as a minor problem. It was only when, from the program's perspective, the "rebels" had more and more success that the problems escalated. This could easily have turned into a "Disaster"-type show with problems coming out of nowhere, but instead there
was a lot of care taken to actually make the program sensible, at least by Cardassian standards. Nicely done, that.
The other major dose of plot cleverness whirled around, you guessed it, Gul Dukat. Oh, not his arrival and taunting -- cute as it was, had his role been limited to the blackmail threat I'd have protested. The way that he ended up caught in his own trap, though, was absolutely priceless, from Legate Kell's automated condemnation to Dukat's jaw landing on the floor as a result. Grim though it was for the crew, it was one of the funniest damn scenes Trek has had in a long time.
Character-wise, we had three distinct sets of characters to play with here: Miles and the Siskos (sounds like a new musical group), trapped in the grungier areas of the station; Odo and Quark, trapped in Odo's office; and
the rest of the bunch up in Ops. Of the three, I think the Odo/Quark segments were the weakest -- possibly because they had the least connection to the plot, but mostly because we've seen all of this before, and they were distractions from the main event, that being the Dukat/Garak Posturing Contest [tm]. Some of it was cute, to be sure (in particular, when Odo answered Quark's challenge to name a more devious Ferengi with "your brother Rom", it really hurt), but they were mostly filler. (As a plot issue, though, remembering that Odo should have some Cardassian security clearance was a good point.)
On the other hand, virtually everything else we saw was golden. Miles and the Siskos made a good team, for instance. Miles had most of the needed technical knowledge to get them from points A to B to C, while Sisko got to play strategizer (even if in some cases the solution was obvious, like surrendering as "ordered"). Jake's presence may not have been absolutely required, but it felt natural rather than shoved in, and the big revelation
that "yes, Jake is a big boy now and ready to help" worked just fine. (In particular, Jake's crawl up the chute to get them out of the first room rang very true; while he was willing and competent, he was clearly scared about it
and wasn't perfect.)
As for the Ops folks, I enjoyed nearly every moment of it. Two things seemed a bit off, but both were small. (They were that I thought Bashir's line about communications wasn't right for him to deliver, and that Dax's reaction to being burned was way too fluttery.) The exchanges between the regulars were a great deal of fun, but the true entertainment came with the arrivals of Garak and Dukat.
Their animosity has never been more evident -- but frankly, part of me almost hopes it's a ploy of some sort. The arguments between the two opened up lots of speculation, as it always does (Garak knew Dukat's father? Dukat tried to execute Garak?), but with every Garak show dropping hints about a different major event involving him, Garak's in danger of turning into a running gag. So ... why not turn everything around a bit? What if Garak were still working for the Cardassian government (potentially likely anyway), if Dukat and he have to occasionally coordinate their efforts (not beyond belief), and what if the two actually get along really well, but have to pretend otherwise to avoid suspicion?
(Lisa took it a step further, and proposed that their entire argument was improvised. "Your father was the same way!" [father? what the hell? okay, run with it...] "Leave my father out of this..." Unlikely as hell, yes, but highly entertaining. :-) )
Dukat's presence here also raises an interesting question. Last time we saw our friendly Gul was "The Maquis", and at that time he wasn't exactly the Central Command's fair-scaled boy. Now, all of a sudden, he says he's been out patrolling the DMZ. One wonders how his reputation is doing at present.
Personally, I think he's still less than the power he likes to present himself as. This would explain the added bluster and taunting we saw from him here -- although a substantial amount of bluster is his style, Garak was right when he pointed out just how obvious and silly Dukat's posturing was once he was stranded with the others. If he's puffing out his chest more because no one "in the know" actually gives a damn about him any more, that could explain a thing or two.
Regardless, Dukat's initial arrival was one of the best "arrival of the villain" scenes I can recall -- everyone's pinned down, trying just to stay alive, when suddenly Dukat just ... pops in. He muses a bit, chuckles over the situation, clucks out some sympathy, and settles down for a cup of tea, all without lifting a finger to help anyone else. I doubt I was the only one hoping to see him suddenly get trashed by a passing asteroid as a result of this hubris, but my word, it was entertainingly offbeat.
That just leaves the ending. Alas, this was the weak spot. It wasn't bad, really, so much as absent. The saving of the station was ... okay, but heavily technical solutions don't usually wow me that much, and for some reason the "crawling through the fiery passage" idea fell a little flat (though the plasma fire was *green*, which was really eerie). More importantly, though, we had a resolution that was basically "problem solved,
station saved, THE END" -- and that felt unsatisfying. What I really wanted to see was at least one more scene with Dukat: either with Garak, with Kira, or with Sisko (saying basically "you did WHAT when you arrived? Here, hold still for a second..."). As it is, we've no idea what explanations were forthcoming, if any -- and I think we're entitled to see them. Ah, well.
Even so, though, "Civil Defense" was terrific -- not something for the record books, but certainly something to see at least once. So, a few short takes and then I'm off:
-- One wonders if the early levels of this program were ever actually used. It certainly might prove effective...
-- That electrical cable had to be one of the silliest-looking props I've seen in a long while. Please, let's not have a repeat performance of it. :-)
That's about it -- not much in the way of tidbits this time. So, summing up:
Plot: Terrific, except for the missing three minutes or so of ending.
Plot Handling: Crisp and deft, though the Odo/Quark stuff felt unnecessary to me.
Characterization: Slight weirdnesses with Dax and Bashir, but otherwise excellent.
OVERALL: A solid 9. Very enjoyable.
Follow the blinking planet...
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Let me guess. Someone tried to duplicate my access code, mmm?"
-- Gul Dukat