Past Tense, Part 1 (#StarTrek #DS9 Rewatch, Season 3, Episode 11) Plot contrivance particles strand Sisko, Dax & Bashir on Earth in 2024

Rewatching ST:DS9

The Defiant is ferrying Sisko, Dax and Bashir to Earth for a Starfleet symposium. 

After a nice bit about how “There’s no place like home, no matter what color the water is,” and some social comedy about tonight’s formal dinner with an admiral, we get a video call from Quark that fills out the teaser but has little to do with the rest of the plot — except perhaps helping to establish the social pecking order — the Federation is calling the shots, Bajoran militia members Kira and Odo are along for the ride, and Quark is back on the station begging for favors.

When Sisko, Dax and Bashir beam off the transporter pad, we are told that Plot Contrivance Particles have struck. Sisko and Bashir are lying on a street, without their combadges, being prodded awake by pair of uniformed cops straight out of central casting — Vin is a grizzled, jaded veteran cop and Bernardo is his fresh-faced family-man partner.  

Sisko looks shocked when the cop mentions they are in a “sanctuary district.” As the cops take Sisko and Bashir for breaking a law against sleeping on the streets, the camera pans down a flight of steps to where Dax is unconscious near a subway exit. The young businessman Brynner assumes she’s been mugged (though she still has her combadge), and offers to help her get a replacement ID card.

Brynner seems to think he’s just had a romcom meet-cute, and even jokes about rescuing a “damsel in distress.”

“Brynner Information Systems? You know, Interface Operations, Net Access, Channel Ninety?”

Dax pretends to recognize him, and uses his computer to order herself a “replacement” ID card (we know Dax is smart but this is the first time we’re asked to believe she can hack a 21stC Earth computer), and later shows up wearing a fancy dress at his party, so that the story can cover the perspective of the elite class. 

In the C story, O’Brien explains the techno-nonsense to a blinking, confused Kira and a more than usually blank Odo, and bless their hearts the actors do their best to sell their scenes, but we don’t actually feel like Sisko and the others are stranded in the past, because we see the rescue party making steady progress.

Sisko and Bashir find themselves in a crowded government relief office, where the veteran cop who arrested them mechanically recites instructions, but the office is understaffed, many of the clients are mentally ill, and Sisko is increasingly distracted, having realized from a calendar that they’ve gone back in time to a few days before the “Bell Riots,” which he describes as a violent civil rights uprising that started, or will start, here in San Francisco. Sisko infodumps that he knows sanctuary residents will kidnap some guards, rumors will spread that the hostages are dead, hundreds of residents will be killed, but because one resident named Gabriel Bell sacrificed his life to protect the hostages, the public will eventually side with the protestors, starting a movement that leads to lasting social change.

This is a two part episode, so we have time to learn that so-called “sanctuary districts” in major cities across the country are where the homeless/unemployed (known as the “gimmies”) and mentally ill (“dims”) are corralled, given subsistence food and the promise of basic healthcare and job training, but in practice they’re forgotten and left to fend for themselves against gangs of “ghosts” who prey on everyone else.

Bashir is horrified by what he sees out on the streets, and wonders if something were to happen to the Federation to make humans scared and desperate, would we behave any better than the Cardassians or the Romulans.

Sisko’s plan is to get away without corrupting the timeline, so he orders Bashir not to interfere when a gang beats up another resident. (We meet a “ghost” we’ll later learn goes by the name BC.)

After sleeping in a basement stairwell, Sisko says he wants to get to the roof of a building to look around. After apparently trading their uniforms with the guards as barter, Sisko and Bashir are walking up a stairwell to the roof when they encounter a terrified but otherwise respectable-looking middle aged men, tending to his injured teenaged son. Bashir offers to help, and the plot advances a bit because Webb invites Bashir and Sisko to join his efforts to organize and work together. 

Sisko declines, since his goal is to get away without affecting the social uprising he knows is due.

That evening, in the food line, BC starts to bully Bashir, and when Sisko tries to break it up, a fight starts. A random person walking by decides to get involved, and BC ends up stabbing the newcomer.

Sisko is horrified when he realizes that the man who stopped to help them was none other than Gabriel Bell. Now that Bell is dead, Sisko’s plan is no longer to get away from the riots; now his goal is to stay so that he can protect the hostages, as Bell did in the timeline he wants to preserve.

On the Defiant — in the present, from the viewpoint of the DS9 characters — all signs of the Federation have disappeared. O’Brien reasons that something Sisko and the others did in the past must have altered the timeline, preventing the Federation from existing.

Webb wants to organize a rally, and this time Sisko is willing to help. But before the rally can happens, riots break out; Sisko finds a crowd beating up the young cop Bernardo, and we find that BC and his gang have already stormed the processing center and taken hostages, including the processing clerk Lee.

BC is wiling to accept what he perceives as Sisko’s help, and calls him “new boy.”

Sisko stands tall and, with all the gravitas of a trained Shakespearian, corrects him: “The name is Bell. Gabriel Bell.”

To be continued…