#DS91sttime: Season 3, Episodes 11 & 12, “Past Tense, Part I”, “Past Tense, Part II”

April 25, 2013 in #DS91sttime, General Topics

A stark welcome to the mid-21st century.

A stark welcome to the mid-21st century.

…And just when I get used to the tempo of tension leading up to the Dominion War, here comes “Past Tense”, Parts 1 and 2. Did someone invite Paul Verhoeven on-set for a few days? This kind of neobrutalism-painted dystopia is his trademark.

No, actually this is Ronald D. Moore’s characteristic grit and character-focus getting a chance to shine several years before Battlestar Galactica gets its day in the sun. Man, oh man, is it pretty.

The Bell Riots -- the historical centerpiece of this episode.

The Bell Riots — the historical centerpiece of this episode.

Preachy too, it must be said, but I’m OK with that. No matter your thoughts on the issues raised by this two-parter, it has every right to bring up these points. The homeless–particularly those bearing untreated or partially-treated mental disorders–are a hole in our society we haven’t figured out how to address.

Ghettos are one approach, and that’s just where Bashir and Sisko get thrown (eventually) after the transporter aboard Defiant malfunctions. Leading up to that moment, I had a bone to pick with the effects department, which portrays hyper-important Earth as an environment completely devoid of orbiting ships and space stations. I knew this was because of budgetary reasons, but…we couldn’t have even recycled footage? (Also, what’s Defiant doing here? Isn’t using her as a passenger liner back to Earth depriving the Dominion-threatened DS9 of a key resource?)

Let me break for a moment and admit that I generally dislike time travel scenarios in Trek. They’re overused, to the point that this episode references “temporal protocols”. But here the writers, and Jonathan Frakes (directing) provide an example of such an episode done right, doing such a great job that it blows my initial reservations out of the water. Frakes earned his First Contact certification with this episode, surely.

What I love about this episode is the sense of malaise. It’s not that the sanctuary district workers are bad people…they’re just worn down. They’re not incompetent, they’re trapped. This does lead to one point of contention: I think corruption would be far more rampant, and it isn’t mentioned at all.

Despite that, no one here, including the excellent guest actors, get through without making some difficult choices.

Sisko's difficult balancing act in "Past Tense, Part II"

Sisko’s difficult balancing act in “Past Tense, Part II”

Sisko’s choice is the hardest to make, of course, and the show does a decent job with it, but the winning element here is really the sense of scale and realism given to these episodes, which almost feel as epic as a feature-length film.

Someone should have won an Emmy for set design. What this show was able to do, with limited resources, was to make one of the better near-future environments I’ve seen in a the franchise’s history. Little details lend credibility to the entire mythos at work, such as this wonderful wall-mounted LCD clock:


The sense of repressive ambiance is everywhere, and inescapable, right down to roving searchlights, jackbooted guards, and believable augmentations of existing weaponry. A nice touch is the fact that beat cops are now carrying heavy shotguns as their standard weapon. As much as these episodes want to make homelessness and apathy their main themes, aspects of the world-building actually speak effectively on the threat of a police state at some point in America’s future–assuming we’re not dangerously close as it is.

Of the B plot, with Miles and Kira hopscotching through time–I was less impressed, and all the false stops felt like time filler. We got humor from some of the scenes, but that was all.

These episodes are a sharp achievement for the show, and continue DS9’s growing pattern of boldly going where I’ve seen no Trek show go before.


“Past Tense, Part I” — 3.5/5 stars.
“Past Tense, Part 2” — 4/5 stars.

"Beacon" Part IA miracle at the end of the Universe could tear a vast refugee fleet apart. Check out the Beacon Saga, and follow along as the end becomes the beginning.