Top 10 Episodes of Star Trek DS9 #7: Past Tense (two-parter)
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Plot Synopsis (by the way, neither this synopsis or the episode previews do it justice)
When Commander Sisko, Dr. Bashir, and Jadzia Dax attempt to beam down to Earth from the Defiant, an accident occurs and they materialize in San Francisco in the year 2024.
Dax is separated from her crewmates. Offered help by a prominent businessman, Chris Brynner, she manages to get an ID, money, and a place to live.
Sisko and Bashir are awakened by a pair of police officers, who believe them to be vagrants and warn them to get off the streets
Meanwhile, Sisko and Bashir are awakened by a pair of police officers, who believe them to be vagrants and warn them to get off the streets. They are escorted to a "Sanctuary District", a fenced-off ghetto that is used to contain the poor, the sick, the mentally disabled, and anyone else who cannot support themselves. Sisko sees the date on the calendar and realizes they have arrived just days before the "Bell Riots", a violent confrontation in the San Francisco Sanctuary District, that Sisko recalls as a watershed moment in human history. Dozens will be killed, including a man named Gabriel Bell, the leader of the demonstration. Bell will become a hero because of his self-sacrifice while protecting hostages. As a result of Bell's heroism attitudes to the poor and sick begin to change. Unable to find a building to sleep in, Sisko and Bashir live in the street.
Attending an affluent party with Brynner, Dax realizes that Sisko and Bashir have been taken into the Santuary District, and sets about finding them.
Disaster strikes when a fight breaks out because Sisko and Bashir resist attempts to steal the food cards they have been given. A man who comes to their aid is killed, and Sisko and Bashir discover after the fact that he was Gabriel Bell. Sisko quickly realizes that due to their presence, the course of history stands to be radically changed, since Bell is no longer around to play the prominent role of hostage protection in the historical narrative. Sisko, who bears a passable resemblance to Bell assumes the identity of Gabriel Bell to ensure that history resumes as it did before.
Back in the 24th century, the crew left on the Defiant, Major Kira, Odo, and Chief O'Brien, lose contact with Earth as all traces of the Federation suddenly vanish; Bell's death has radically altered the timeline. O' Brien's calculations narrow down the time period that Dax, Sisko, and Bashir are in to a small number of possibilities, and follow up a number of them, with Kira and O' Brien transporting to the different time periods and scanning for the appropriate radiation signature.
Sisko (posing as the late Gabriel Bell) and Bashir return to the employment center just as it is stormed by a group of disgruntled Sanctuary Residents and its staff and police officers taken hostage. Sisko takes on leadership of the revolt, trying to ensure that no one gets hurt, and understanding that at the resolution of the revolt Gabriel Bell must die. He makes demands to the governor, insisting they be given airtime to express their grievances. He wants the Sanctuary Districts closed and he wants the people to be given opportunities to earn an honest living.
The riots are in full swing outside. Dax watches from Brynner's office, knowing Sisko and Bashir are caught in the Sanctuary District and are in danger, and heads down to find them. She sneaks through the lines via a sewer pipe and is caught and delivered to the employment center to explain herself. There Sisko and Bashir catch up with her in secret. She sneaks back out, certain that Brynner will be able to order a terminal activated at the employment center so that the leaders of the revolt can tell their stories and have them broadcast worldwide, which was the main force that turned the tide of opinion, leading to the end of the Sanctuary Districts.
O'Brien and Kira tried several times before they got the right time period.
With only enough energy for one more transport, Kira and O'Brien finally transport themselves to the correct time in history and contact Dax. They stand by to rescue Sisko and Bashir if they can. It is a close call as the SWAT teams move in on the employment center to end the riot once and for all. They open fire, killing the leaders of the revolt; Sisko takes a bullet in the shoulder to protect the hostages and survives. Once the riots are over, the two police officers who first confronted Sisko and Bashir agree to slip Sisko's identification (with Bell's name) onto one of the dead men, and also to tell the truth about what has happened here. The DS9 officers are beamed back to the Defiant in the 24th century and find everything back to normal, history having unfolded just as it should have. The only difference in time (as revealed at the end of the episode) is that Bell's entry in the historical records now shows Sisko's picture in place of his own.
(Plot Synopsis Courtesy of Wikipedia, copied without permission)
Why It Made this List
This episode is Star Trek at its best, displaying the true beauty of the franchise. I often try to explain to other people why Star Trek 2009 is so bad; it lacks this factor. So what is the factor? It is the ability to look at society and make a statement about humanity. While Star Trek 2009 threw this out the window and made a movie so it could be big in the box office, Past Tense embodies it. Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek to take a critical look at society. In Past Tense, his legacy is preserved. The Episode goes face-to-face about a sometimes uncomfortable subject: the homeless. In preparing for this blog post, I went over to Memory Alpha and looked at their page for this episode. It turns out, in the LA Times when this article was filming, there was an article describing exactly the same "sanctuary Districts" that were in the episode, not by that name. Quote, "While the episode was filming, an article in the Los Angeles Times described a proposal by the Mayor that the homeless people of that city could be moved to fenced-in areas so as to contain them, in an effort to "make downtown Los Angeles friendlier to business." Alexander Siddig has commented on the amazing coincidence: "The episode was almost a cinematic version of that statement by the LA council." (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion) As Ira Behr comments the plan was "to put aside part of downtown Los Angeles as a haven, nice word, a haven for the homeless." Similarly, as Robert Wolfe says, "That was what the Sanctuary Districts were, places where the homeless could just be so no-one had to see them, and literally there it was in the newspaper. We were a little freaked out." "
I also like, similarly, that the episode shows that not all homeless people are drunks who are too lazy to work. Most of them are normal people, who want work but can't find any. It reminds me of in the United States right now, where the far-right sometimes tries to depict people recieving welfare in the same way. The truth is, many of those people who say that were born into very wealthy families and haven't done a day of actual work in their life. The point is, I like how the episode shows not to make generalizations about people because they are poor or homeless.
I also like the character of B.C.
I also like the character of B.C., and the conflict between Sisko and he. Once again, I quote from Memory Alpha: "According to Behr, the presentation of the character of B.C. in this episode is the key to the overriding theme. In "Past Tense, Part I", B.C. kills Gabriel Bell in cold blood, but in Part II, it is never mentioned that he is a murderer. The reason for this, according to Behr, is that B.C. would never have killed Bell if society hadn't forced him into that position. B.C. was not inherently a killer, and Behr was determined that the episode not become all about Sisko and Bashir trapped with a cold-blooded murderer. Behr says he is especially proud of the character of B.C., who he feels illustrates the notion that "if you treat people like animals, they become animals. If B.C. had not been homeless, what would he have been? We created his backstory, stuff that would never appear on the screen, and decided he probably would have been a garage mechanic or something. Even though he's obviously a threatening, scary character, and he's on-the-edge-crazy all through both shows, we didn't define him as a murderer."
Another obvious reason for liking the episode is that we see a preview of what would become the badass Sisko later in the series. Avery Brooks shows he's not fooling around, and does a superb job acting in this two-parter.
Avery Brooks shows he's not fooling around, and does a superb job acting in this two-parter.
I usually have more reasons than this, but the simple fact of the matter is that I like this episode for one reason: the critical look at society. While I mentioned other things I liked, they alone would not be enough to make it my favorite. I said it at the beginning, and I'll say it at the end: it is Star Trek at its best.