Monday, January 30, 2012

When Reliving The Past, Try Not To Be The Ones Who Get Executed: “Things Past”

The Good: Interesting character work, Good plot, Nice acting
The Bad: Scientifically weak, Derivative of "Necessary Evil"
The Basics: When Odo and a Runabout crew find themselves aboard Terok Nor during the Occupation, truths long buried will come to light in “Things Past.”

In Star Trek Deep Space Nine's second season, the series produced a perfect episode entitled "Necessary Evil" (reviewed here!), which told the story of Odo's first case on Terok Nor, wherein he meets Dukat, Kira and Quark in a murder mystery the Constable is unable to solve. Attempting to capitalize on the success of that episode, in the fifth season came a similar episode entitled "Things Past."

On their way back to the station from a conference on Bajor about the Occupation, Sisko, Dax, Odo and Garak lose consciousness. They awaken on Terok Nor in the past and it becomes immediately apparent that no one recognizes them for who they truly are. The Quartet appear to be Bajoran to those around them, so they do their best to try to blend in. On Deep Space Nine, the runabout carrying the four is brought in by remote as the quartet is discovered unconscious and Bashir is unable to do anything to rouse them. On Terok Nor, Odo realizes he recognizes the names of the people they are supposed to be: they were individuals who were executed for attempting to kill Dukat . . .

"Things Past" is a remarkably inconsistent episode, probably because it is about an inconsistent situation. That is, Odo soon recognizes who they are supposed to be and that they will be accused of the assassination attempt and put to death, but he knows the case because he was Chief of Security when the incident happened. However, in the place the quartet finds themselves, Thrax - Odo's predecessor - is still Security Chief. All sorts off actual differences like that pop up and the characters address those. What they don't address is the inconsistency of the script and plot pacing. Moments are very engaging and then suddenly, the episode will slow down significantly.

Moreover, when the explanation of the phenomenon comes about, it is disappointing. It is basically a foreshadowing of things to come, but the science of it is weak and unimpressive. It does not take much for a viewer to realize the phenomenon is inspired for Odo, but being that he is human, the explanation is strange and suggests some form of psychic phenomenon that Odo possesses.

What is not inconsistent is the acting and character work. Odo is on something of a spiritual journey/confession in "Things Past." We learn why he became such a dogged investigation beyond the simple racial need his people have for order. Instead, we learn what happened the one time he was not thorough. It's a caprice of the writers and producers, then, to have the last scene be a mirror of the finale to "Necessary Evil."

But Odo is not alone on the journey and Garak actually has some intriguing moments of character development. Opening the episode with complaints about being labeled a "Former Cardassian Oppressor," Garak has the opportunity to learn firsthand how messy the Occupation was for the Bajorans and as a result, he gains some perspective in a very convincing way.

Such character work could not be done without great actors. In "Things Past," Andrew Robinson once again lends his acting genius to the character of Garak. Garak is cunning and somewhat surprised in this episode and that gives Robinson something new to work with, which he does quite well. Similarly, Marc Alaimo once again brings Gul Dukat to life with a sense that the character truly has more facets than originally thought. The other Cardassian in the episode is Thrax, the security chief of Terok Nor who preceded Odo. Thrax is played wonderfully by Kurtwood Smith, who plays Red Forman on That 70’s Show. He proves his acting ability here by being so completely different from his sitcom (and Star Trek Voyager) character.

In the end, though, the episode does come down to Rene Auberjonois and despite the technical flaws in the episode, Auberjonois makes "Things Past" work. Auberjonois plays Odo with a desperation and foreknowledge that makes his story sadly empathetic. Odo's impassioned pleas to Thrax try to get him to actually investigate the crime is one of Auberjonois' most memorable performances.

"Things Past" has a bit of science fiction explanation that is likely to put off those who are not already fans of the series, though it is otherwise a somewhat twisted crime drama. Anyone who likes weird, surreal stories will find something to enjoy here. This is the closest Star Trek: Deep Space Nine ever got to Twin Peaks. Part of the essential Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for the way it sets up the next major event in Odo's life.

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

For other works with Kurtwood Smith, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
Cedar Rapids
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
The Deer Hunter


For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page by clicking here!

© 2012, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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