Monday, May 6, 2013

Deep Space Nine, Season 3: Civil Defense

 Deep Space Nine, Season 3
"Civil Defense"
Airdate: November 7, 1994
52 of 173 produced
52 of 173 aired

Introduction

While working to convert the station's ore processing facility, Sisko, O'Brien, and Jake accidentally trip an old Cardassian security program. Believing the station to be under attack from Bajoran workers, the station's computer begins using increasingly lethal tactics to the subdue the ersatz rebellion. Eventually, the station's self destruct device is activated and the crew seems powerless to stop it. And just when things can't get any worse, Gul Dukat arrives.

It... is green.





Writing

Kevin: To start with, this episode is just plain fun. It's a pretty straightforward take on the "technology trying to kill you" trope of science fiction, and we'll pick it apart in a minute, but there is an energy and a build to the episode that really makes it sparkle. Also, I think it manages to throw in enough really good character moments to keep the episode on track. The obvious highlight is the joy of watching Dukat and Garak in the same room, just hating each other. The snippets of the past and the posturing are dramatic gold, and honestly, I just could have watched that for 45 minutes and been happy.

Matthew: I think the inherent problem with this story is that it relies upon secret, hidden, undiscovered dangers on the station to deliver its peril. How in the heck did a Starfleet survey crew, including someone as competent as Miles O'Brien, not notice vats of fatally poisonous gas hoked up to every ventilation port, ready to kill all the residents of the station if something went awry? I'm willing to believe that a computer program could remain hidden in a Cardassian system. But why is the Cardassian system even still present? Why wouldn't the Federation have installed their own system, or the Bajorans for that matter? You know, a system without secret death programs? OK, that said, I agree on the fun factor. Similar to TNG's "Disaster," we get several perilous situations that different groups of cast members have to deal with, with enjoyable results. I think of the four plots, the Sisko/O'Brien one is the least compelling, because they're basically just stuck in a room. The other plots have more bite and more character development.

Kevin: The tone the episode sets is quite good for me. Dukat's face appearing everywhere at once is a really upsetting notion. There are layers to it as well, when you realize Dukat had to spend the better part of a day recording all the iterations of this program in his office. How many takes did he need, I wonder? So you end up with this sort of macabre humor where this pompous, preening man is talking to hear himself talk, underlied by the very real threat he is going to kill you. It's just plain fun to watch. I know Matthew has criticized the slightly over-complicated Cardassian plots before, but I like said, I kind of like that they trip over their own deviousness. It provides a plausible reason for why such a skilled Empire should always come up short. They distrust each other ad infinitum and it actually hamstrings them. Also, the look on Dukat's face when he gets trapped on the station is priceless.

Matthew: I think the actual Dukat arriving on the station during this crisis is just a bit too cute. Isn't his traveling to DS9 an act of war? Wouldn't Bajoran security forces try to stop him? Obviously,we can see why the writers would want to do it, because it gives us a great chance to see Dukat hoist on his own petard, and to have he and Garak lock horns.

Kevin: What saves the episode from being merely a disaster/technology gone awry tale is the solid character interactions. Quark and Odo provide comic relief of the highest caliber. It is (1) actually funny and (2) relieves tension without breaking it in two. The fade out conversation was hilarious. The Dukat/Kira scene was also awesome. You could see on her face she would be willing to die rather than give an inch to Dukat but also that she would not consign a thousand people to die to do the same.

Matthew: I definitely agree on this, despite any narrative creakiness. The characters are well developed enough by now for their conflicts and interactions to be interesting in their own rights, as long as they're written well. And they are written well here. Garak especially is interesting, since he seems to sort of acknowledge his role in some sort of military capacity, given that he has codes and detailed knowledge of the station. The Odo/Quark connection is emphasized. They are both outsiders to a degree, and need each other as much as they antagonize each other. It is becoming the Kirk/Spock aspect of this show, though with different character motivations.

Acting

Kevin
: Everyone really brought their A game. Shouty Kira is a distant memory and Odo and Quark were at their best here as well. I really bought Dax's pain after the force field scene and it always freaked me out a little as a kid. The Siskos and O'Brien did a good job too. I always like seeing father and son together.

Matthew: Personally, I found most of the main cast just adequate. Shimerman and Auberjonois had the best comic scenes, so they were naturally the most enjoyable. Nana Visitor had a good scene with the Dukat character, but it was pretty brief. Like "Disaster," mostly this was characters responding to plot peril as opposed to really stretching their character.

Kevin: The guest cast was also stellar. Dukat and Garak make everything better and they both did a great job tearing into each other. I liked the guy who played the Legate in the recording. "Your personal access codes have been...rescinded," was just a great line. I can still hear him say "rescinded," and it always delights me.

Matthew: Andrew Robinson still hasn't had an off note in his appearances. His character appeared somewhat petty while insulting Dukat, but it fit his downtrodden status. I did feel like Alaimo was a little too smarmy in his "real life" appearance here, but a big part of that is what's on the page, since his appearance is so artificial.

Production Values

Kevin: Other than the ore processing room, this was a bottle show, but certainly a good one. The ore processing facility itself was good. It had lots of stuff and places and angles, and the camera trick to imply Jake moving through the pipe was cute. The curiously heavy gas was weird, though. The other sets were well used and the angles and lighting were good. I've always liked the pit in Ops, and lighting and pyrotechnics for the replicator phaser scene were well done. Gotta feel sorry for the red shirt (shoulders?) though.

Matthew: The shootout made it clear how much detail is in the Ops set, with all the computer panels open. When the crew was diddling with computer chips, everything looked "convincing." You know, like a real Cardassian computer system. The phaser death was neat looking. I found ore processing a bit drab personally, but I did like how it had multiple levels.

Kevin: The effect of the energy being shunted through the shields was good enough for its day, it just wasn't the best plot point underlying it. The isolinear rods read a lot like "The Naked Now's" isolinear chips and the fire was just fire clearly tinted green either in the camera or in post-production. Not bad, just meh.

Matthew: I think when you talk about a reactor that could destroy the whole station, you should show it, instead of just a computer panel of chips. Even a matte composite with Sisko  on a catwalk would have been cool.

Conclusion

Kevin: This is fun episode and always a treat to watch. Acting is top notch and the episode has real momentum that carries through most of it. The setup is a touch contrived and solution far too pat to make it a "great" episode, but it remains a good one. This gets a 3 from me.

Matthew: The 3 I give is an indicator of how average I think everything is. It's an average plot melded to average acting and average production. And that's not a bad thing at the end of the day. It wasn't boring, and it wasn't dumb. It was solid. So a total of 6 seems appropriate.

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