Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Rare Temporal Tampering On Star Trek Deep Space Nine: "Past Tense, Part I."

The Good: Good message, Good acting, Interesting character development, Costuming
The Bad: Very predictable in structure, Occasionally heavy-handed
The Basics: When a transporter accident puts Sisko and Bashir in Earth's past, social messages come to the forefront and hook the viewer.

In the Star Trek universe, a recurring theme is time travel, where key events in human or Federation history are influenced by people from the future, usually members of whichever intrepid crew is highlighted. Star Trek Deep Space Nine uses the time travel crutch the least of the four series'. When it does, however, it produces some truly worthwhile episodes. One such outing is "Past Tense."

"Past Tense" finds the Defiant in orbit around Earth where Sisko, Bashir and Dax beam down for a meeting at StarFleet Headquarters only to go missing. As the Defiant crew searches for them, Sisko and Bashir wake up in San Francisco in the past, in what were called Sanctuary Districts. In the twenty-first century, the poor, mentally ill and simply unemployed were herded up into Sanctuary Districts where society forgot about them. Sisko calculates the date to be mere days before a violent uprising known as the Bell Riots, a historical event which brought the public to the understanding about the true nature and horror of the Districts. Dax fares somewhat better, arriving in the hospitality of a wealthy intellectual who takes a fancy to her. As Dax works to find Sisko and Bashir, the Bell Riots begin, trapping the pair inside the Sanctuary District . . .

"Past Tense," it becomes quickly obvious, is the first of two parts and as the end of the first part comes closer, it becomes equally obvious to anyone familiar with television where the episode is going. Still, it is not a bad episode.

"Past Tense" has many worthy messages. This is an episode that openly speaks out against the prejudices against poverty, mental illness and unemployment. Here is a bold episode that illustrates how one person may change the course of history. Here is an episode that even as it touts such lofty ideals presents another side, by creating a compassionate wealthy businessman. This balance eliminates the ridiculous and easy argument that all businesses and businesspeople are to blame for the conditions that give rise to the Sanctuary Districts (or in more practical terms for modern day, not all businesses are faceless and evil trying to keep the masses down).

Part of what makes the episode work as well as it does is the character development. Here Ben Sisko is forced to take a very active role in the place he finds himself. This is different from how he has been, for the most part, until now in the series. It does, however, make his more physical roles in the future quite a bit more realistic. Similarly, Dr. Bashir is able to illustrate his compassion as opposed to his simple, cool professional brilliance. Bashir here is essentially human and humane and that's an appropriate aspect to be showing off here. Similarly, Dax is able to highlight her scientific abilities.

Bringing the characters to life is a powerful cast joined by an impressive guest cast. While Avery Brooks is giving one of his best, grittiest and most human performances of the series, he is joined by actor Bill Smitrovich, who portrays a simple father, Michael Webb, who is down on his luck. Smitrovich makes us believe in circumstances beyond our control, in good, intelligent people who sometimes fail to get good work. We know they exist; Smitrovich has a "common man" feel to him that illustrates the universal sentiment of such people.

As well, Siddig El Fadil and Terry Farrell provide supporting performances that are vital to both progressing the plot and maintaining a balanced and humanistic story. Instead of simply focusing on the time travel element, they help immerse us in the issues that they find there. Frank Military convincingly plays a psychotic counterpart to Webb which progresses us to the Bell Riots and the end of the episode. Military wonderfully portrays an unstable element, using his eyes especially to create a true sense of menace to the episode.

"Past Tense" is not all preachy, though. There's humor in it as Dax muddles through 21st century Earth and O'Brien and Kira aboard the Defiant search for the Captain. More than that, there is a lot here to be enjoyed by people who are not traditionally fans of Star Trek Deep Space Nine. Everything one needs to know is adequately explained in the episode and in an entertaining way. Moreover, it sets up the second part in a way that makes one want to see it.

[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 works with Bill Smitrovich, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Flash Of Genius
Iron Man

Millennium - Season 1


For other Star Trek episode, DVD set or movie reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

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

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