Past Tense, Part 2 (#StarTrek #DS9 Rewatch, Season 3, Episode 12) Sisko must channel social unrest on Earth in 2024

Rewatching ST:DS9

After the recap of Part 1, Sisko, in the persona of Gabriel Bell, reminds loose cannon BC (from the “ghost” gang) that they have to keep the hostages safe as their bargaining chips. Just when BC starts showing Sisko some respect, the veteran cop Vin tries to be a hero, and Sisko has to save his life.

The “gimme” organizer Webb shows up, and agrees to Sisko’s request that he recruit more people like him — ordinary people who fell on hard times — to help guard the hostages. 

BC is thrilled by the attention the newscasts are giving the uprising. When Dax sees the same program with her techbro benefactor Brynner, she announces her intention to enter the sanctuary district. (What exactly she intends to do is a little vague, but the script just asks us to run with it.)

After a brief visit to the Defiant for an infodump to benefit those who haven’t seen Part 1, Kira and O’Brien start the process of beaming down to possible time periods where Sisko and the others might have been sent. Their first stop, in the 1930s, features a classic car and a tipsy couple leaving a speakeasy. 

BC still thinks of himself as the one in charge, and gives Sisko some grief, but ends up consenting to Sisko’s practical suggestions, which include using a public terminal to make Webb the “guy next door” spokesperson for the group. 

Webb’s public speech is soon cut off, and tensions mount when Vin the veteran cop taunts BC and the other “losers” behind this ad-hoc movement.  

A sincere-looking woman who identifies herself as a detective connects by private video call, and starts the negotiation process. BC barely controls his temper, but seems to want Sisko’s approval — asking his opinion about how he should wear his hat.

Detective Preston agrees to bring the group’s demands to the governor, and even arranges to deliver food, even though Sisko (who knows how the situation needs to play out in order to restore the proper timeline) refuses to release any hostages.

Vin’s attitude towards Bashir softens just a bit when he realizes Bashir is helping the clerk Lee, who confesses that she feels bad doing her job without acting on the guilt she feels for being part of the system that condemns the sanctuary residents.

Later, Vin tries to sneak out, but BC threatens to shoot him. Sisko, for his part, threatens to shoot BC, and Webb asserts himself on Sisko’s side. BC relents.

An angry Sisko has an intense heart-to-heart talk with Vin, who we learn is also conflicted by what he sees.

Kira and O’Brien beam down in front of a VW, and quickly establish that Sisko is not in this timeline. Hippies hand out flowers, flash the peace sign, and watch in awe as Kira and O’Brien beam back to the Defiant.

Webb’s teenage son shows up. Bashir gives Lee an injection. Bernardo shares pictures of his family. They talk about their families and the future. It’s preachy, but totally on-brand for Star Trek’s optimism. 

Meanwhile, Sisko and Webb talk tough to convince Preston they are serious. 

A manhole cover opens, and Dax crawls out.  Before long, she’s brought to the center of the crisis, because of course she is, and BC introduces himself grandly as “Biddle Coleridge.”

Sisko tells Dax in private that even if she could get him out, he wouldn’t leave — he feels he needs to stay, to protect the hostages, so that history can play out as it would have if his arrival hadn’t altered the timeline.

After a distracting side-quest to retrieve Dax’s com-badge that was (off-screen) confiscated by a “dim” (mentally ill person), Dax leaves the sanctuary to ask Brynner to help the residents publish their stories. He refers to her request to “turn my channels over to a bunch of criminals,” which reminds us that in 1993 when this episode first aired, most viewers would have never heard of the Internet or graphical web browser, and the terminology suggests Brynner runs a cable TV company.

At any rate, residents of the sanctuary line up to tell their stories to the outside world, and things seem to be going well.

We see detective Preston on the phone sounding worried, and learn that the unseen governor is sending in an attack force.

Kira and O’Brien arrive in 2024 and make contact with Dax, and make escape plans.

To pass the time, the two hostage cops are having a friendly baseball argument. To break a tie, Vin calls out to Sisko.

Webb, sensing the end is near, orders his teenage son to leave; BC even gives the boy his hat. 

Riot police storm in, and Sisko manages to protect the hostages, notably Vin, who is mistakenly targeted by a riot cop’s targeting laser.

After the dust has settled, the timeline is restored to normal, but Bashir finds a historical record that features Sisko’s face, only it’s captioned Gabriel Bell.

The production values of this episode were just okay. The Golden Gate Bridge is mentioned in dialogue, but there’s no matte painting of what it looks like in this imagined 2024. 

Lots of extras, and plenty of speaking parts, and plenty of time to develop even the thug BC, the low-level clerk Lee, and even a hit of the negotiator Preston as flawed humans shaped by their circumstances. Webb the nice-guy everyman and Vin the jaded cop were just tropes, Dax’s relationship with Brynner was undeveloped, a scene where Dax and Bashir have an allegedly comic encounter with the mentally ill man (see, it’s funny when Dax tells him she’s an alien) is cringeworthy in an episode that supposedly advocates for treating the mentally ill with respect. And the random misadventures of Kira and O’Brien were filler. (Couldn’t they just beam down a bunch of tricorders in “scan for plot contrivance particles” mode, then beam them back to see what it detected? No, the script requires a party of two people, one to do the scanning and report it to the other person, because TV.)

There are a bulletin boards with papers in several scenes, but they look like multiple copies of the same flyer printed in different colors — neither a totally random community bulletin board full of advertisements and random notices, nor a curated didactic display designed to reinforce a specific dystopian message. 

We sometimes see people using a wand-like stylus to interact with a graphic computer interface, but the displays are tiny, and curved like old CRT screens. (The ubiquitous bright, flat displays that fill every vertical surface on the station or on Federation ships of this era still look impressive today. I can see making the underfunded local government office look drab, but Brynner’s supposedly high-tech office also looks pretty dated.

I enjoy the preachy episodes, because they’ve been part of Star Trek since the beginning; but even though the message is earnest and topical and the performances are admirable, the time travel premise is weak, the production values are just okay, and the character development is uneven.

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