the story: A old Cardassian security program is accidentally triggered, endangering everyone in the station.
what it's all about: I consider this one of my favorite episodes, perhaps a little unreasonably so, much like "Conundrum" from Next Generation, a story that's so ridiculously clever and exceptionally executed, you can overlook the fact that it's a pretty throwaway experience in the grand scheme. Although in that regard, its singular nature is right in line with classic episodic Star Trek storytelling, just not in the ways fans tend to think about it.
It's also a kind of reintroduction of Gul Dukat, a character who had made a few appearances in the early seasons, but who hadn't really distinguished himself from other Cardassians who had appeared in Deep Space Nine or Next Generation yet. "Civil Defense" defines his charismatic arrogance to a "t." He's such a unique character in franchise lore, almost as if Q were mortal instead of insufferably all-powerful, but not really interested in what other people think about him despite how he can sometimes pretend otherwise. Q's insatiable need for approval was the secret underlying fact about him, something I bet few fans realize even now, but not just his relationship with Picard, but even the later one with Janeway, betrays this over and over again. There's no reason at all for Q to care about either of them, except he needs their acceptance, something he never gets from the Q Continuum, for example. Humanity's ability to look at his meddling with irony intrigues him.
But why am I going on and on about Q in an episode that doesn't even feature him, in a series that featured him once, and failed to establish any such connection as I was just talking about? Because of Dukat, of course, and the irony of the situation he finds himself in, which takes a "Disaster" (Next Generation) scenario and grounds it thoroughly in series lore, something that by the third season had become a trademark of Deep Space Nine, and in Dukat finds its best material.
Watching the station turn on everyone is fun enough (no, really!), but when Dukat shows up and then realizes he'd actually programmed the defense subroutines to ignore his attempts to disable it, thereby putting him in the same jeopardy as everyone else...It's classic. It turns a good episode into a great one. You don't even need to know where the character goes later in the series, his overall significance, to enjoy his role in "Civil Defense." In a way, it's an allegory for failing to realize the traps we set for ourselves in our limited thinking, which we do all the time. But even Q frequently got himself into trouble.
But I'll mention "Conundrum" one more time. Like "Civil Defense" it's all about taking what we normally take for granted, the regular operations of the crew, and throws it into delicious chaos. Reason enough to love both of them, really.
- franchise - Harkens back to fond memories of other episodes.
- series - But embedded directly in its own surrounding material.
- character - Turns into a terrific character study of Dukat.
- essential - Manages to introduce him all over again, like the whole season a new starting point.
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)