Sunday, December 4, 2011

Fixing The Social Problems Of Tomorrow . . . Today, Via Yesterday: "Past Tense, Part 2"

The Good: Tension, Pacing, Acting, Character, Message
The Bad: Very obvious ending
The Basics: Even better than the first part, "Past Tense, Part II" resolves a hostage situation and restores the timeline in one of the most interesting ways done.

If you have not already read the reviews for "Past Tense," (reviewed here!) it is fairly important to read a review of that before reading this one. After all, if one doesn't know where one has been, how can they know where they are now? This is especially important in this case where the episode is the second part of a two-parter. That need is enhanced by "Past Tense, Part 2" being a time travel story.

"Past Tense, Part II" finds Sisko, impersonating Gabriel Bell, in 2024 in San Francisco trapped in one of the most violent uprisings of that era. In the Sanctuary District's administrative building, Bashir works on keeping the hostages that have been taken by B.C. and other "ghosts" alive while "Bell" and Webb work on talking their way out of the situation and making the government realize how wrong the Sanctuary Districts are. As the incredibly tense (no pun intended) episode progresses and the hostage situation worsens, it is broken up by Major Kira and O'Brien and Dax's attempts to locate Sisko and Bashir in the past.

"Past Tense, Part II" is a triumph for Star Trek Deep Space Nine and a notable way that this series is superior to the other "Trek" series; "Past Tense, Part 1" is a good set up, but "Past Tense, Part II" is better. So often in Star Trek The Next Generation, the first part sets up the conflicts so well and leave us hanging and the second part just lets the viewer down. Here, the series delivers and it is consistent with how Star Trek Deep Space Nine delivers.

While we know how this episode is going to end, how it gets there is classic. It's sharp and the dialog is tight and more than anything, this is an episode where mood dominates. This is a tight episode and throughout the episode, we know that violence is likely to break out and who will live and who will die is largely up in the air. More than anything, that mystery, the feeling of tension surrounding the unstable mind of B.C., the primary hostage taker, is saturating the episode with a level of fear for the viewer.

Like the first part, "Past Tense, Part II" has an important social message and while it incorporates the need for understanding, compassion and help for those who are victims of poverty, under education and mental illness, it progresses that along to the next level. Much of "Past Tense, Part II" is about the need for responsibility of the downtrodden. Here we see how important it is for the victims of such things to rise up. The importance of rebellion and the responsibilities of the rebels is highlighted here.

The mood and morals are perfectly presented here by the various characters. Sisko, as Bell, makes a great character and essentially acts as an ego for the episode. The Id in the hostage situation is clearly B.C. and the super ego would seem to be Michael Webb. Together the three characters act like a human mind and an entire essay might be written on that alone. Far more interesting is watching this episode and seeing how they interact to solve a problem together using their various talents.

None of the characters would be viable without the actors behind them. Avery Brooks proves he is able to act here by very realistically portraying Sisko playing another person. He quite convincingly makes it Avery Brooks as Sisko as Bell as opposed to simply Brooks as Bell. This is what the episode needs and his portrayal sells us on this essential point. While cast regulars Siddig El Fadil and Terry Farrell give wonderful supporting performances infusing the episode with compassion and determination.

The episode hinges, however, on the performances of Frank Military and Bill Smitrovich. Military makes B.C. dangerous and clever and ultimately delightful to watch. Had he not been so convincing as a loose cannon, a rogue element, the mood would never have been maintained and the episode would have fallen flat. However, Military does not deliver a single line unconvincingly and the episode is strengthened immeasurably. Smitrovich, playing Webb, balances Military perfectly, mostly through a suppression of his facial expressions. Smitrovich recognizes quickly how to enhance the tension of the episode by contrasting Military's performance with his own and it works. Perfectly.

"Past Tense, Part II" also features a delightful cameo from Clint Howard, who Star Trek fans will know from the episode "The Corbomite Maneuver." This is a great episode and can easily be enjoyed by anyone who has seen the first part. More than classic science fiction, this is drama and it is doing all the important things good drama must: selling the viewer on important issues via compelling characters.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete Third Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the breakout season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode, movie and DVD set reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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