Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Defending The Security System On Deep Space Nine: "Civil Defense"

The Good: Good acting, Nice character development, Wild special effects
The Bad: Unoriginal plot
The Basics: While very similar in plot to a prior episode in the Star Trek library, "Civil Defense" succeeds at using the actors and characters well enough to support itself.

The penultimate unoriginal Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode in a string of episodes that were easily viewed as reworkings of previous episodes is "Civil Defense." Before this, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had "Second Skin" which was an impressively different reworking of Star Trek The Next Generation's "Face Of The Enemy" and "The Abandoned" which was essentially "Charlie X" from Star Trek remade. After "Meridian" - the episode that follows - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine returns to highly original programming which does what it does very well. "Civil Defense," however, clearly harkens the viewer back to the Star Trek The Next Generation episode "Disaster."

While working in a near-abandoned section of Deep Space Nine, Chief O'Brien and Jake Sisko trip an old Cardassian security program. Suddenly locked out from the rest of the station, the computer becomes convinced there is a Bajoran worker rebellion in progress and when Major Kira and Dax in Ops are unable to provide the correct codes to override the system the situation escalates. Within a short time, the crew is cut off from one another, the automated security system is firing at all non-Cardassians and the entire station's compliment is on the verge of being killed. To make matters worse, Gul Dukat arrives in response to his own computerized emergency distress signal to demand that the station be returned to the Cardassians.

What makes "Civil Defense" a worthwhile remake episode in the end is that it does not simply feel like a cheap reworking of "Disaster." Instead of focusing on the various calamities around the station, the solutions employed on each level are what the episode is truly about. So Jake Sisko becomes responsible for getting his father and O'Brien out of the now-dangerous ore processing center, Kira's administrative personality is pushed back in order to deal with a threat more like the former terrorist she is, Garak reveals minor details about his computer clearance as he moves throughout the station, and Odo and Quark, fearing death, provide comic relief by reminiscing about Quark's criminal activities.

The point is that like "Disaster," "Civil Defense" works best in the moments when the characters are interacting, especially the ones who are not used to interacting with one another. Jake Sisko is put in a very different role as O'Brien's assistant. The real pleasure - and the reason to come back to this episode over and over again - is the tense relationship between Garak and Gul Dukat. Here we finally learn the source of their conflict and it's a wonderful crumb into Garak's past.

What stands out even more than the wonderful special effect of the automated security system that kills people in Ops is the acting. Cirroc Lofton rises to the occasion as Jake, caught in a crisis that makes very realistic the important character choice that is forthcoming. He plays Jake wonderfully as less certain than his StarFleet father. Instead, he is a realistic anchor in a story with a lot of menace. In a way, Lofton plays Jake as the ordinary man forced to do the extraordinary in a tight spot.

In the command center plot, Nana Visitor and Marc Alaimo infuse their characters with confusion and pomp, respectively. Visitor plays Kira wonderfully with desperation and frustration that is very genuine for her character. Alaimo makes Dukat both pompous and disappointed which works very well when circumstances fall out of his favor. The real scene stealer here is Andrew Robinson, who makes Garak desperate, angry and observant all at once. It goes beyond the words in the script in his case; he delivers some of the most simple lines with a passion that belays all of those underlying feelings.

In the end, "Civil Defense" has little to offer the non-fan, outside of a fairly taut emergency/disaster-type thriller where for forty minutes we're on edge wondering if all our people are going to survive the episode. Those who don't know Star Trek: Deep Space Nine will find the pace too slow to be an effective thriller, whatwith all of the character development. While just about every episode with Dukat is part of the essential Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, this one manages to not be. But that's all right; there's enough to entertain and "Civil Defense" does that just well enough to make us feel like we've gotten our money's worth, as opposed to fed a recycled dish.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete Third Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the breakout season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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