In the seventh episode of the third season ofÂ Deep Space Nine, everything is still messed up, in case you were concerned it wasn’t. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watchÂ Star Trek.
YES, THIS EPISODE RULES. I love bottle episodes. I love tense thrillers. I LOVE IT WHEN PEOPLE WHO HATE EACH OTHER ARE TRAPPED IN THE SAME ROOM AND CONFESS THEIR RESPECT FOR EACH OTHER, ONLY TO BE FREED AND THEN PRETEND THEY DIDN’T SAY ANYTHING NICE TO ONE ANOTHER. Gods, I’ve read so much fanfic with that premise, I swear. LET’S TALK.
You know, there’s a deceptively simple premise at the heart of “Civil Defense,” and it’s so impressive to me how the writers are able to take this idea and make it complex and full of depth. Through an accident, O’Brien sets in motion a security program meant to discourage Bajoran workers from revolting against their Cardassian overlords. From a distance, this episode is basically, “Everything continues to get worse and worse until literal annihilation is the last option.” I’m perfectly fine with that. I love escalation, and this episode CONTINUALLY ESCALATES THE RISKS AND THE TENSION. Rooms are locked down. Then, poisonous gas nearly kills O’Brien, Sisko, and Jake. Then, force fields restrictÂ everyone’sÂ movement, trapping Odo and Quark together and preventing the rest of the crew in Ops from leaving. From this point on, this episode never stops being utterly ridiculous. By the time Gul Dukat arrived, I was already done. Spent. Overwhelmed.
And that’s when this truly gotÂ good.
At the beginning of the video for this episode (right around where my boyfriend interrupted me out of anger because he’s reading my book), I noted that there’s pieces of the Cardassian philosophy towards occupation embedded in Deep Space Nine. Now, I did not state it that eloquently, but that was the point I was trying to make. Deep Space Nine was designed for control and sacrifice. The engineers tried to imagine every possible scenario where the Cardassians might lose control, and then they devised a method for power to shiftÂ backÂ into their hands. In the first lockdown, you’ve got a very simple attempt to appeal to the Bajoran fear of the Cardassians. The unsaid in Gul Dukat’s threat is that obviously, the Bajorans will die if they don’t surrender. (And even if they do? Death is a possibilityÂ anyway.)
But I found it eerily fascinating to see how the security program reacted to further efforts to escape or by any refusal to surrender. The Cardassians utilize fear to gain disobedience, and that means that people are merely pawns to them. Thus, when O’Brien, Sisko, and Jake continue to move out of the ore processing room, the Cardassians basically have a plot that’sâ€¦ okay, bear with me, I think I know how to describe this. (Perhaps it actually has a name? TELL ME IF YOU KNOW.) Back in elementary or grade school, did you ever have one of those teachers who got angry when someone misbehaved and they’d institute a class-wide punishment in order to get the one person to confess they’d done the bad deed? Which is perhaps the WORST possible way to coax a person to a confession because now everyone gets to suffer the punishment instead of just them? I always hated it, and I thought it was the laziest way imaginable to deal with someone misbehaving.
It’s also cruel. In this context, the Cardassians hope that purely out of panic and fear, someone will turn on the group and sabotage any uprising. This episode may speak of the Bajorans and Cardassians in abstract terms, but make no mistake. This is violence, pure and simple. It’s about controlling people! It’s decontextualized in the moment since there are no workers and only two Cardassians aboard the station, but as I said, they’re reminders. The whole security system is a remnant of the Cardassians brutal treatment of the Bajorans.
While I guessed (sort of???) that at some point, Gul Dukat would have to be a part of this, but NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS WOULD I HAVE ANTICIPATED HIM USING THE SITUATION FORÂ LEVERAGE. Y’all, that scene in Sisko’s office between him and Kira is UNREAL. I could not believe how bold he was except thatÂ he is totally bold enough to do something like that. I definitely want to knowÂ whyÂ he believes that Deep Space Nine needs a Cardassian garrison present. While that’s not addressed at all, it’s still a chilling moment. Even when the Cardassians have lost Bajor and Deep Space Nine, they still can devise ways to manipulate others into giving them what they want. Granted, Kira refuses Gul Dukat’s deal, which leads to my favorite plot twist in all of “Civil Defense.”
When Gul Dukat tries to transport off the station, the final safeguard is activated because CENTRAL COMMAND DIDN’T WANT GUL DUKAT TO LEAVE DS9 IN CASE HE LOST CONTROL OF THE STATION. Even right up to the end, the Cardassians are consistent with their ideas. If it wasn’t such a tense scene, I’d offer that it’s the funniest moment of season three thus far. To steal a line of Dukat’s, the look on his faceÂ aloneÂ was worth the price of admission, especially after he spent so much time insulting Garak. Which makes me wonder: WHEN WILL WE LEARN MORE OF THEIR PAST? What happened at Gul Dukat’s father’s trial? Why was Garak involved? AHHHHHHH, WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?
I never expected that “Civil Defense” would last more than a single episode, but it was still a well-executed story. Bravo,Â Deep Space Nine.
The video for “Civil Defense” can be downloadedÂ here for $0.99.
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