Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Civil Defense"


Air date: 11/7/1994
Written by Mike Krohn
Directed by Reza Badiyi

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"I see. The auto-destruct program has begun. Well, well, well ... you are in trouble." — Dukat

An old Cardassian anti-takeover program runs amok on DS9 and locks down the entire station. As the crew attempts to regain control, they make matters worse, leading the program to attack civilians and eventually arm the auto-destruct sequence.

Although a general Trek rule of thumb states that any plot involving a self-destruct sequence is asking for trouble, the real problem with this episode lies within its uneven story structure and cliched jeopardy premise of a countdown to disaster. "Civil Defense" is a watchable but weak entry into the season.

During a routine analysis of the file system, O'Brien inadvertently sets off a programmed defense routine put together by Gul Dukat during the Occupation. Further complicating matters is the fact the program has so many fail-safe devices. Every time the crew attempts to regain control, a new subroutine takes over, with worse intent than the last. This eventually leads to a two-hour countdown to self-destruct.

This is yet another Trek example of "computer goes berserk." The premise of an old program surfacing from nowhere is hard to swallow because any computer-literate person knows that you completely wipe all old software from a used storage device before putting your own software on. Are we supposed to believe that such a hazardous program went totally undetected by Starfleet when they took control of the station?

Granting the story this detail only improves things slightly. The jeopardy premise is really worn out (although this is the first time an auto-destruct has been armed on DS9—I suppose it had to happen sometime). And structuring the story into three separate threads doesn't work. Kira, Bashir, Garak and Dax try to regain control of Ops while Sisko, O'Brien and Jake try to escape a room they're trapped in by using MacGyver-esque resourcefulness.

The A- and B-stories alone may have worked okay with a little better pacing, but the writers also introduce a C-story with Odo and Quark trapped together in Odo's security office. Their role in the narrative has no dramatic purpose nor does it contribute to the advancement of the plot. The duo is used only as gratuitous comic relief and, unfortunately, scene after scene between them falls flat. Put simply, the three plots pull each other down because each interrupts the flow of the other (and, really, the C-story should have been scrapped altogether).

Gul Dukat boards the station to gloat and strike an unreasonable deal in exchange for deactivating the self-destruct device. Mentionable is how exaggerated Alaimo's performance is. It's not up to par as was his commendable outing in "The Maquis." This time around, Alaimo spends so much time constructing his sentences and speaking so distinctly that it's distracting and almost hokey.

Fortunately, Dukat gets some worthy moments. A great touch is when he flips Sisko's baseball off the prefect's desk with his forefinger. And in the episode's best moment, he becomes a victim of wry irony when yet another fail-safe device locks him on the ticking time bomb with everyone else.

The most interesting part of "Civil Defense" is the bad blood between Garak and Dukat, who exchange insults and blather of the past through most of their scenes together. But just as with all Garak backstory, there is no backstory. It's just a lot of unexplained, half-hashed dialogue that may or may not be developed in the future.

The conclusion boasts one of those down-to-the-wire endings in which Sisko rewires the reactor core so it won't destroy the station. But there's nothing fresh about an ending where the hero saves the day with only five seconds left. It's been done too many times. Nevertheless, even this tired scene could've received an energy boost from an exciting score. Instead, we get the usual form of linear monotony.

This episode also lacks an effective coda. The biggest mistake is that the writers don't work Dukat into the ending, making his role in the episode feel disturbingly unfinished. Instead, we get a wrap-up of the Odo/Quark plotline—bordering on pointlessness.

Previous episode: The Abandoned
Next episode: Meridian

Season Index

37 comments on this review

robgnow - Wed, Aug 13, 2008 - 6:08pm (USA Central)
The real problem with this episode is the set-up. Like you, I just can't buy into the fact that this program wasn't discovered and/or deleted/overwritten by Starfleet protocols already. This is really a S1 story - when we are new to the station - that has come after this boat should have already sailed.
Jakob M. Mokoru - Sun, Jan 11, 2009 - 12:29pm (USA Central)
Although I can agree to most of your complaints about this episode, I've always really enjoyed it so personally, I would give it 2 1/2 to 3 stars.

But it's your website.. ;o)
Destructor - Sun, Jun 28, 2009 - 7:23pm (USA Central)
I loved this ep. Sometimes Trek needs a nice mindless action romp, but the appearance of Dukat on the station (and how the replicator-phaser keeps shooting around him!) really amped up the action to another level. I'm a big fan- I'd have given it three stars.
PM - Wed, Jul 29, 2009 - 10:19am (USA Central)
I completely disagree with this review. This episode rocks in just about every way. First of all, the program itself is kind of like the rake gag in The Simpsons, where it goes from slightly funny to deadly serious and then all the way back to funny again. The program turning on Dukat is completely hilarious and unexpected. Alaimo chews the set with obvious and contagious relish, especially in the program's video messages - "Attention, Bajoran workers" has proven surprisingly durable as a quote meaning things have just gotten considerably worse. The resolution is lame, but that's a pretty minor flaw in my book. This is actually one of my favorite DS9 comedies - notably, DS9 is the only Trek show that could really pull comedy off.

3 1/2 stars from me.
Jay - Sun, Aug 16, 2009 - 2:40pm (USA Central)
I liked this episode a lot...it was DS9's answer to TNG's Disaster, and I liked this one as well as that one, if not more.

As in Disaster, checking in on various parts of the ship/station is necerssary, and I wouldn't elevate it to A_story, B-story, C-story status, because the disaster is really one story that affects everyone.
Jake - Fri, Nov 20, 2009 - 9:18pm (USA Central)
"DS9 is the only Trek show that could really pull comedy off."

Does that mean you never saw "The Trouble With Tribbles" or "Deja Q"?
jilly - Tue, Dec 22, 2009 - 1:29am (USA Central)
I loved this ep and so did hubbie. We are total geeks and are pretty hard on bad sci-fi. But we thought, as a stand-alone ep, this was a worthy entry into DS9 lore. We laughed so much and really enjoyed the ratcheting of tension each time the crew tried to help matters. They simply could not win, no matter how many workable solutions they devised. I am willing to buy that the rebel defense containment program was missed somehow, just to get a fun, exciting outing like this. And I buy that the Cardies would take the time to plan this out and make their little condescending videos, with relish. It's just SO Cardassian.

When Dukat realized he was outmaneuvered by the Central Command...well, DH and I thought that was worth latinum to watch.

Yes, the "last second" saving of the station was a tired plotline and beyond old, but we enjoyed the ep so much we could ignore that. We were reminded also of the wonderful TNG ep "Disaster" ...and thought the bromance segments with Quark and Odo were charming.
Jammer - Tue, Dec 22, 2009 - 10:49am (USA Central)
A lot of people like this episode. In past years when I went back and watched this episode again, I thought maybe I would enjoy it more. But for some reason, it just never works for me. Something about the execution is off. I always think about the scene where Dukat comes on the station and gloats. It should be great. But it's not. It feels off. There's something about the execution that doesn't work.

It didn't work for me the first time I saw it, and it didn't work the last time I saw it. It just doesn't work for me, even if I try to enjoy it for what it is.
Lenny - Sat, May 8, 2010 - 1:46am (USA Central)
Don't worry Jammer I agree with you, in fact I would only give it 1 star. The idea that the Cardassians have all these programs and recordings specifically automated to stop all these possible scenarios is ridiculous, why wouldn't they just deal with it at the time like normal people. Especially the one where the higher-up Cardassian has left a recording and program IN CASE Dukat tried to escape during a self destruct. Ludicrous. That's my complaints on top of what you already outlined in your review.

Very uninspired writing all round.
Nic - Tue, Feb 15, 2011 - 9:41pm (USA Central)
This episode DOES make me laugh, but the problem is that the characters aren't in on the joke. The episode seems to be meant to be taken seriously, even though the idea of such a complex automated program (that hasn't been discovered until know) is so proposterous in itself that you can't take it seriously.

I agree with Rob - this would have been a good Season 1 episode (say, in lieu of "Babel"). So this is two seasons two late. The only thing that saves this episode from being a loser is the great dialogue between Dukat and Garak. 2.5 stars from me.
Overthinker - Tue, Feb 22, 2011 - 10:52am (USA Central)
This is one that has some great areas, but also some rather draggy bits. It helps if you skip those. And anytime Dukat and Garek are together gets an automatic one star boost from me anyway....
I'd like to Voyage her - Sat, Mar 5, 2011 - 11:30pm (USA Central)
I don't see what the problem is regarding the program remaining undiscovered, but it seems like many of you are having suspension of disbelief issues.

To me it seems reasonable that the Cardassians would have such a program, complete with pre-recorded messages. They are nothing if not obsessively anal and organized.

It also doesn't surprise me that this program remained undetected for over two years. It wasn't in the main data core, or in OPS, or the security office. The file was specifically located in the Ore Processing Control room computer/server/data center whatever. And that was an area of the station not previously used before now, and understandably on the low-priority list for one-man-repair-crew O'Brian to get around to with so much else always going wrong.

In sum, the Federation didn't find it until they started really analyzing the system it was on, and they didn't need to do that until they had time to address the ore processing facility. Makes sense. It was an unnamed file, buried deep within a system that hadn't been used in 2 years. Why and how could they be expected to find it before then?

And as to the person who said that everyone knows you wipe someone else's programs/files before you load up your own, well, that's exactly why Jake and O'Brian were down there in the first place. Jake was trying to delete the old Cardassian files in preparation for installing Federation ones. O'Brian even asked him 'did you try re-formatting the data core' or some such.

I think those who nit pick on the suspension of disbelief in this episode are just looking for problems. I agree that this episode suffered from countdown to armageddon cliches, and a slow/irrelevant Odo/Quark subplot, but the program being there in the first place just wasn't an issue for me. 4 Stars from this Trekkie.

Grumpy - Thu, May 19, 2011 - 9:18pm (USA Central)
Apart from Odo's costume, Kira's hairdo, and Bashir's line about the station finally feeling like home after so many years, this easily *could* be a Season 1 episode.

But that doesn't make it better. I liked this episode when it first aired, especially how everything they try just makes the situation worse. Watching it again last night for the first time in years, I was bored by the reams of technobabble. Dax and O'Brien, as usual, had little else to say.

In fact, the scene where Quark confesses to Odo that his life didn't turn out the way he planned... that was the richest scene in the episode. Almost made the rest worthwhile.
Lt. Fitz - Mon, Jun 25, 2012 - 2:01am (USA Central)
The whole premise of the automated lock down of the station, pour in gas, set up the autodestruct, and the SURPRISE! trap the Cardassian leader of the station for his inability to get his automated security program to work was completely absurd. Secret automation top of secret automation! Totally incredible. And, as another commenter mentioned, this should have been a very early episode - like episode 3. It was impossible for me to believe that such programs would still exist anywhere on the station.
Chino - Mon, Jun 25, 2012 - 4:14pm (USA Central)
Jammer's criticisms are fair, but I still enjoyed this one desite its flaws. The bit when Dukat is informed that he is trapped as well because he was attempting to abandon his post is priceless.
William - Thu, Sep 13, 2012 - 6:05pm (USA Central)
Sometimes, a ship/station in peril is in order. I liked Next Gen's "Disaster," and I like this. Three stars from me.
Theonethatwas - Wed, Jan 2, 2013 - 4:11am (USA Central)
I do love this episode. However this whole thing could have been averted if Dax went to the Defiant and beamed Sisko, O'brian and Jake up. The whole station wasn't locked down until Dax messed with the computers. They could have made it to the runabouts and Defiant and beamed the commander up. I do not think Shields were raised at that time.
Aaron - Mon, Feb 4, 2013 - 3:16pm (USA Central)
What? No one has mentioned the hilarious moment when Garak pointed out that Dukat was flirting with Kira? "And you a married man!" Alaimo's reaction was priceless.

I laughed out loud more than once. S1's pointless episodes were boring. This pointless episode was not. Thumbs up.
Bob - Sun, Mar 24, 2013 - 7:07pm (USA Central)
I always loved this episode even if there are problems with the plot as you pointed out.

It's a reminder as to the fact that they are not on a Starfleet star base.

In my opinion, the story developed pretty well.
For instance, when they escape from Ore Processing, a new deeper level of security would rise up from the program. This happened time and time again, action --> reaction.
T'Paul - Thu, Jul 4, 2013 - 3:50pm (USA Central)
I'm also a fan of this...

I think the nit-picking about whether or not they would have found the programme before is irrelevant... It's a hidden Cardassian programme in a Cardassian station, there's no reason for it to be found beforehand.

The Dukat recordings are hilarious too.

I think it's well done, well thought out, amusing.
Corey - Tue, Jul 30, 2013 - 1:31pm (USA Central)
I just have to echo other commenters - I enjoyed this one too - Sorry you didn't Jammer. I enjoy TNG's Disaster as well. Even if it stretches believability, it was funny to see Dukat trapped by his own program that had been altered without his knowledge.

It's good, but not perfect so 3 stars from me as well.
ZurielSeven - Sun, Aug 11, 2013 - 10:30pm (USA Central)
Jammer (and others), if you've ever tried to code or automate a complex piece of hardware, you'll know that you only replace control elements for those things that *need* replacing. To me, that premise of this episode is not only reasonable, but makes the entire premise of the show that much more grounded. This isn't a Starfleet station that has been repurposed to serve as a wormhole fortress, it's got automatic life support systems, forcefields, power, waste reclamation, etc. and you don't want to "install" Federation code over Cardassian hardware because it'll work about as well as installing Win7 on Mac hardware... Starfleet has Miles O'Brien there to be the "Parallels" that allows the two to work together.
Kotas - Tue, Oct 22, 2013 - 6:40pm (USA Central)

Quite a silly plot, but I liked it.

Jack - Fri, Jan 31, 2014 - 3:25pm (USA Central)
Couldn't Kira have just turned off life support from a switch, rather than phasering the entire station? Now they'll have 12 hours minus the time it takes to repair all that damage to get life support back on.
Jack - Fri, Jan 31, 2014 - 3:35pm (USA Central)
Plus the bit about Garak and Dukat's father, thrown out here and then never addressed again. Dukat says the "time to address it is coming", but it never does.
Jack - Fri, Jan 31, 2014 - 3:41pm (USA Central)
Dax wonders how to deactivate all the forcefields on the station at the same time, but they did precisely that in "Whispers" when they were chasing faux-Brien around.
Nissa - Tue, Feb 4, 2014 - 10:39pm (USA Central)
I actually love this episode. Well, one storyline of it. The Quark/Odo part was fine, but the Sisko/OBrien/Jake part was really, really boring. This was the episode where I noticed that the writers seem to be doing everything they can to keep Sisko from doing "Captainy" things, such as deal with Dukat or solve problems as the leader of his crew.

The rest of the crews' plotline, however, was marvelous, and a whole lot of fun. Dukat was a pleasure, and having both him and Garak working their character magic is the pinky off the teacup.
Vylora - Thu, Feb 20, 2014 - 6:58pm (USA Central)
I agree with Jammer on that the execution of this episode feels a bit off. I also found the Sisko/Jake/O'brien parts to be mostly pedestrian. However I actually quite enjoyed the Quark/Odo interactions and some of the dialogue here was refreshingly different than the norm if that makes sense.

The idea of the takeover program in this instance doesn't seem that far-fetched to me either. Seeing as it's a rogue program set to initiate from a semi-seperate computer system that was not really dealt with til now. The fact that it started overrides on a still Cardassian basic OS if you will is plausible, especially with knowing how meticulous Cardassians can be.

Neither here nor there, the way this story was told just should've been different somehow. 2 stars seem right...almost want to say 2 and a half.
Andrew Taylor - Mon, Mar 3, 2014 - 5:54pm (USA Central)
I think an average 2.5 score is fair. It's pretty much brainless fun, as thinking about things for too long will raise more questions. I agree with the notion of this being a season one episode.

I think TNG did it better with Disaster, and the fish-out-of-water problems the crew had to face. In fact, it was the kind of story that would have fit in better on TNG, as the Tech Mystery was more prevalent there.
gata4 - Fri, May 16, 2014 - 4:45pm (USA Central)
It has its moments (Dukat's recordings, his sparring with Garak), but I have to agree with Jammer, it all feels a bit off. It tries for drama at times, but would have played best as full-on farce. 2.5 from me.
Yanks - Thu, Jul 17, 2014 - 7:30am (USA Central)
I like this episode if for nothing less that we find out that even the Obsidian Order doesn't like/trust Dukat and sees him for what he is. The program turning on him was a very satisfying moment, especially when Garak rubs it in.

"GARAK: Even your own computer programme turns against you. I always knew your shortsightedness would be your downfall." ... lol

It was a fun ride, and while not important to this unimportant story, I enjoyed the Odo/Quark exchanges.

"QUARK: It's a small moon, but it's enough to live on." ... lol

3 stars from me just because Dukat's ego is slapped around quite a bit.
DLPB - Thu, Aug 14, 2014 - 11:49am (USA Central)
I don't see what the problem is regarding the program remaining undiscovered, but it seems like many of you are having suspension of disbelief issues.

Not really. We just understand when writing is lazy, and how the real world operates. You have to shut your brain off for this episode to make sense. It's entertaining but ridiculously unrealistic.
Domi - Tue, Sep 2, 2014 - 11:05pm (USA Central)
I agree with the 2-star rating, but not the actual review. I like the very beginning with O'Brien, Sisko, and Jake, and I also like the Odo/Quark scenes. The rest was either cliche ridden, cartoonish, or too much like TNG's Disaster.
Sonya - Sun, Oct 5, 2014 - 12:08pm (USA Central)
I loved this episode. As I watched, I kept thinking of how dispensable the Bajorans were to the Cardassians, and the forced labor and gassing made me think of concentration camps and gas chambers. Kira's silent looks of outrage and grim determination underscored this. (I think this was the source of Dukat's attraction to Kira - her willingness to sacrifice the lives on the station before acceding to his 'deal' for there to be a Cardassian presence on the station.) This episode more effectively conveyed what it was like for Bajor to be occupied by the Cardassians than any other I've watched so far. And despite how awful the Cardassians were, don't we like Dukat and Garak? They're two of my favorite characters. I value this episode, in part, because of the dissonance I felt by being entertained.
Carl - Wed, Feb 4, 2015 - 5:22pm (USA Central)
I think that Jammer must have been really grumpy when he watched this episode. His criticisms are all valid but there is a lot which is great about 'Civil Defence' which he didn't mention. My personal favourite moment was when Gul Dukat ordered tea from the replicator and the turret disappeared and then re-appeared after he took the tea.

This was one of the episodes which I was most looking forward to rewatching during my second viewing of the series. I am surprised that it is a season 3 episode, to be honest. I was expecting it early in season 2. I also was unhappy this time around that the plotline in Ops ended so abruptly with no real resolution to Dukat's part in the story.
Vii - Sat, Feb 21, 2015 - 11:19pm (USA Central)
I really liked this episode too. Was rather surprised that Jammer disliked the Odo/Quark plotline so much, it was one of the highlights of the episode for me - along with the scene where the computer turns on Dukat, and Garak gloats over him.

But seriously, every Odo/Quark exchange was gold. Quark's "It's because they knew you were an honorable man. The kind of person who would do the right thing regardless of the circumstances. And now your integrity... is going to get us both killed. I hope you're happy" had me laughing for a good five minutes.

DVMX - Wed, Mar 18, 2015 - 1:10pm (USA Central)
I remember at the time saying while the premise is a bit absurd (this should have happened early in season 1 (third ep tops), not in season 3, as this "civil defense" would have LONG been deleted or overwritten by that point) its nevertheless a great bottle ep. One of my favorite episodes, in fact.

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