Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Past Tense, Part II"


Air date: 1/9/1995
Teleplay by Ira Steven Behr & Rene Echevarria
Story by Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by Jonathan Frakes

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Nice tackle, Bell. You ever play any football?"
"Baseball, actually."
"Really? I'd hate to be a catcher and see you barreling towards home plate."

— B.C. and Sisko

Gabriel Bell's death has changed history as the 24th century knows it, for as Kira and O'Brien prepare to use the transporter to travel through time and recover their missing comrades, they discover all remnants of Starfleet have been erased (aside from the Defiant, which remains in the time-line because it was conveniently trapped in a warp bubble). Sisko and Bashir find themselves about to write—or possibly rewrite—history.

Rather than working with the emotional pathos of the historical theme donned in part one, this episode concentrates more on the actual events surrounding the residents' negotiations and demands. Though it covers no territory not already explored in the first half (and contains a substantial amount of filler), "Past Tense II" sports adeptly conceived dialogue and some potent character interaction. It's not as impacting as part one, but it works very nicely on its level.

Sisko, filling what was supposed to be the role of Gabriel Bell, must negotiate with the police for a change in the way the homeless are treated while being sure the hostages remain unharmed by B.C., a thug with a shotgun and not a whole lot of patience.

Further complicating matters is hostage security guard and hero-wannabe Vin (Dick Miller), who is nothing more than a troublemaker. Throughout the episode he insults the residents, stating that he's not sorry for them and thinks they're a bunch of losers. B.C. would be content to shoot Vin and be done with it. This causes some tense moments of conflict between B.C. and Sisko, as Sisko would shoot B.C. before allowing him to kill a hostage.

In an unexpected scene, Sisko finally gets fed up with Vin and pulls him aside to attempt to shout some sense into him. I've never seen Sisko like this. He really loses his temper and lets the guy have it. ("You see how these people live, and you JUST DON'T GET IT!") While it's nice to see Avery Brooks' energetic performance to allow Sisko to display some passion, it seems a little over-the-top coming out of the blue the way it does. Nevertheless, it's one of the episode's highlights.

An interesting note about the hostage situation is how it affects all the characters. B.C. (who initially wants to negotiate himself a plane ticket to Tasmania) finds himself helping Sisko and fellow resident Webb (Bill Smitrovich) to negotiate for a change in the system. Near the end, B.C. softens substantially, as if the writers want to turn him into a good guy. Considering B.C. murdered Bell in part one, it's a bit of a reach. But it's pleasing to see the writers turn a simple thug into a dimensional character willing to change, even if his motives are questionable.

Set in the background which keeps the rest of the cast alive are two small but story-progressing subplots. Dax has to convince communications executive Brynner to help the sanctuary residents air their demands over "internet" TV. Meanwhile, Kira and O'Brien focus the Defiant's transporter beam through chronoton particles to travel back in time and retrieve the lost landing party.

The inevitable police assault on the processing center works pretty well—effectively photographed as numerous guest stars are gunned down in the mayhem. While, for obvious reasons, Sisko can't make the life-sacrificing action that Gabriel Bell was supposed to, the writers at least give him the opportunity to take a slug in the shoulder while protecting a hostage. But consequently, one thing missing in this ending is the Bell-type martyr. The closest thing to a martyr the episode finds is Webb, the story's identifiable family man, who is shot by swat officers as he instinctively reaches for a pistol to protect himself.

After securing the hostage site, the swat team goes on to "pacify" the streets as they break into rioting, leading to the hundreds of deaths Sisko described in part one. Noteworthy is how the whole incident is a big mistake, because the police storm the fort simply on rumors the hostages were killed, when none were at all.

If there's a scene that sums up the message of this ambitious two-parter, it's a thoughtful one between Bashir and hostage sanctuary clerk Lee (Tina Lifford), who discuss the problems the unemployed have in the current day. Bashir tells her it's not her fault things are as they are. "Everybody tells themselves that," Lee says. She's right.

Previous episode: Past Tense, Part I
Next episode: Life Support

Season Index

21 comments on this review

idiotghos - Sun, Sep 9, 2007 - 1:58pm (USA Central)
DS9 Companion states that this was originally written as a one-parter, and it shows. It seemed as though at least half the hostage scenes were filler.
Dan - Wed, Jan 9, 2008 - 2:53am (USA Central)
A worthy part II. Agree there is a lot of filler but its good filler. I just found Vin (Dick Mille) to be a bit OTT. Surely anyone with a gun at them and others would show a little more respect even if it was just a cover. Didn't sit right with me.
Jay - Sun, Aug 16, 2009 - 2:49pm (USA Central)
Yep...Past Tense was too big for an hour, but not quite up to two. It's too bad 90 minutes isn't an option.
Nic - Thu, Nov 5, 2009 - 10:10pm (USA Central)
It makes no sense that Kira and O'Brien would witness changes to the timeline, since Sisko was able to "set things right" BEFORE they came to get him. It also made the episode more complicated for nothing, I don't think it was necessary (there was already enough drama!)
Also, the episode IS a little preachy, and seems to be saying that one event like this can change everyone's minds, though obviously that is not the case. There have been tons of riots in our history, not to mention wars, and we are still learning these lessons. Still, it made a good point and it showed that we still have a long way to go to make Earth a "Paradise".
Elliott - Mon, Dec 13, 2010 - 7:41pm (USA Central)
I'm sorry, does no one notice bad acting anymore? Look at the scene just before the credits; Bashir says, "But we're the only ones who know that [Sisko isn't Bell]" ominously. Fade out on Sisko's face...and he's smiling like he just got to punch someone for no reason. It's not the script's fault, but if it weren't for things like this, DS9 could have been a MUCH better series. Brooks' acting never did get better. And if I have to here Kira or O'Brien say "or WHEN we are" one more time, I'm going to pull a SIsko on my TV.
The "filler" with the hostages is actually the best that either parts has to offer dramatically. It is quiet and poignant and carries the message without being preachy. As bad as the searching scenes through Time are, they're better than Part I's technobabble. I agree Sisko is a lunatic "and I don't like your hat..." okay, Starfleet commander, fantastic. Overall it deserves a higher rating than Part I, which deserves about a star and a half.
Sexpun - Sun, Mar 6, 2011 - 5:59pm (USA Central)
I enjoyed part II, not as much as part one, but it was still a well-executed episode.

I would have preferred if when 'things were back to normal' the timeline was restored, but altered just slightly.

Perhaps they would refer to the Webb Riots (instead of the Bell riots, as 'Bell' didn't die but Webb did). Or if Brynner was elected governor two years later with a campaign of reform... just, something.

It's hard to imagine that with all the interaction that the 3 characters had with people in the past the timeline would be restored exactly. It would have had to be revealed in a conceit, but still something that got things back to the way they 'should be' but with a twist, would be both more believable, and perhaps more satisfying to see that these 3 people did have some impact.

Oh the whole though, this was a well written, fun, and suspenseful action episode, with a moral message that Star Trek is famous for. 4 Stars.
AeC - Sat, Mar 26, 2011 - 8:36pm (USA Central)
I remember when this two-parter aired back in my bright college days. My then-girlfriend (a Social Work major) and I were recommending it to everyone we knew. Now, I see a bit of over-earnestness in pretty much every speech made over its two hours, and truthfully, if I saw it for the first time today, I suspect I'd be rolling my eyes a fair amount.

Even so, the points made still resonate, all the more strongly as we approach the date of the episode's setting and, perhaps, see the beginnings of the crippling of the working and lower-middle class in the day-to-day news (Wisconsin, anyone?). Beyond that, I loved the little bits, particularly the baseball-tennis-soccer exchange in part 2 that served as a nice, understated bonding moment between "Bell," Bashir, and the hostages. Even if I take fault with how ardently the message is sometimes delivered, I suspect I will always love these two episodes.
AeC - Sat, Mar 26, 2011 - 8:38pm (USA Central)
"Take issue," rather. Must more assiduously proofread before hitting "Submit."
Comp625 - Thu, Jan 24, 2013 - 11:52am (USA Central)
My thoughts on "Past Tense I" were very positive, garnering it a 3.5 out of 4 stars. Typically, the 2nd half of Star Trek two-parters tend to be more of a let-down than the 1st half, and unfortunately, "Past Tense II" continues that trend.

My main gripe with Part II is that, with all of the talk about Bell's Riots being a significant turning point in Earth history, along with the tense build-up in Part I about needing to save all of the hostages in order to preserve the timeline, the execution fell flat. The showdown depicted in Part II was not epic whatsoever.

First off, the bloodshed and riots were nearly non-existent from an on-screen perspective. In the minute of footage where the National Guard stormed the processing center and shot everyone, it was the antithesis of what I would consider "bloody but epic history." When I think of bloody and/or epic, I think: Paul Revere's secret mission, Boston Tea Party, the Civil War, Civil Rights March on Washington, etc.

More screentime could have been spent watching Bell's Riots itself unfold, especially in the streets and in other areas of the sanctuary. Doing so would have conveyed the sense of epic history. I would have preferred that over unnecessary scenes of Kira and O'Brien traveling to the 1930's and 1960's. The attempt at humor was appreciated, but awkwardly placed, since it detracted from Part I's darker tones.

Also, the ending left me a bit bothered (where Sisko walks out of the processing center with a mere flesh wound, moments after the National Guard stormed in). Seeing Vin (Dick Miller's character) have a 180-degree change of heart was implausible. It all felt too too rosy and convenient.

The political messaging, a core strength in Part I, was M.I.A. in Part II. Yes, the hostages did survive (except for Webb), and we know the Sanctuary District is later dismantled. However, the aforementioned dull ending stole much needed drama away from a supposed epic event in Earth's history.

It would have been more effective had the writers coined it as "Webb's Riots," and that Sisko, Bashir and Dax were simply trying to help advance Webb's cause (in an effort to preserve the timeline). After all, Webb became the face of those quarantined in the Sanctuary during the negotiations and after the link to Public Internet TV was established. Not to mention, Webb himself was killed during the riots. Having Sisko take Bell's place seemed "cool" on paper, but fell flat in execution.

Or alternatively, as I mentioned in my commentary for "Past Tense I," what if the DS9 crew had to address the use of the Sanctuary District (with Kai Winn's blessing) on Bajor? Bajoran society IS in the midst of being rebuilt, and it would have helped to continue developing the Bajor arc. The writers could have still created an allegory to modern day Earth, and Sisko could have still served as the 'teacher' when making comparisons to Earth's own tumultuous history.

Overall, Past Tense II is a reboot episode in disguise with only one minor consequence: Sisko's face is used in lieu of Gabriel Bell's. Nothing else in the universe became impacted. I would have forgiven the reboot ending had we seen the riots unfold in epic manner. Such "cop out" writing is what frustrates me about Seasons 1 through 3, since I know how great the writing becomes in Seasons 4 through 7.

My rating: 2.5 out of 4
Josh - Fri, Jun 7, 2013 - 12:43pm (USA Central)
Your all crazy... Avery was a great actor.... granted when he getting visions from the profits it was most likely a result from LSD hit from before (LOL) but never the less this episode is great... and if you dont think society is heading in this direction... then you have more faith then any practiced faith on this planet.

I too loved the scene when Sisko lost it and yelled at the guard. It was so appropriate for the generation... "You want me to care?" guard said.
"IT WILL BE A START!" Captains reply... uhh they don't make shows like this anymore...
Kotas - Tue, Oct 22, 2013 - 6:49pm (USA Central)

The second part of a decent two-parter with no real story impact.

MidshipmanNorris - Sun, Apr 6, 2014 - 12:29pm (USA Central)
I kept wondering why Sisko doesn't just punch BC and take away his gun? If he's that big a loose cannon, why does he get to keep his gun?
Quarkissnyder - Mon, May 12, 2014 - 10:42pm (USA Central)
Everyone in the district was so clean. It made no sense. They're living on the streets, but soap and shampoo and a safe place to shower are plentiful?

When Dax came to the district why was it deserted? Where did everyone go?

And, her hair and outfit was so ugly it was distracting.
Yanks - Thu, Jul 17, 2014 - 12:32pm (USA Central)
Predictable Part II because everything meaningful was revealed in Part I. If only Star Fleet hadn't disappeared and everything had to happen the way it happened historically so we get Star Fleet back, maybe we would have got some suspense/surprise here.

But we didn't.

Why did Star Fleet disappear again?

O'brien and Kira hitting different time periods was cute.

Anyone know why Sisko's picture replaced Bell's in the history books? Didn't they leave Bell's body there for the police to find, etc?

2.5 for me.
MsV - Tue, Mar 3, 2015 - 2:18am (USA Central)
I know its at least 6 months too late to respond to Yanks, but I also had a problem with that photo. I have a pretty good imagination and couldn't come up with even one of my ideas. Someone mentioned Dax's outfit as being distracting, well, remember that old cliche' "I just threw this outfit together," when someone comments on what you're wearing. Dax really threw that one together, from a rummage sale.

Most of the acting in this ep. was great, just didn't like Vin and BC.
Robrow - Wed, Mar 4, 2015 - 11:28am (USA Central)
I'm sorry, but this was perhaps the most irritating episode of DS9 I've seen so far. Too preachy by half, full of lazy contrivance and the scene where Dax recovers her badge from the loony was embarrassingly bad. Coming after the train wreck that was Fascination, it feels like they're in danger of throwing away all that good work from the first two seasons. Please get back to the Cardassians and the Dominion.
William B - Tue, Sep 15, 2015 - 10:06am (USA Central)
Though the two parts are different in content and tone, I think it's best for me to discuss the two parts of "Past Tense" in a single comment. Part 1 sets up the fundamental social problem (Sanctuary Districts) and Sisko tells us the solution -- the Bell Riots -- until, at the end of part 1, Bell is killed and Sisko decides that *he* must be Bell. The second part is the execution of the solution that Sisko already proposed, with Sisko playing Bell in a script that has largely been written already. The scope of the two parts is different as a result; the first part is mostly exposition on this wide-ranging social problem, and seems to encompass the whole of this particular district as microcosm of the whole of the homeless/unemployed problem in the world, and then the second part narrows focus down mostly to a single room where a single event decides the course of history, in a hostage situation.

Fans seem split on whether the two-parter, and especially part 1, is a riveting and frighteningly prescient depiction of a horrifying set of social conditions or a preachy poorly-thought-out tract which provides too little detail about its imagined world to be of any use. And, well, I have sympathies to both. I do think that the depiction of the desperation of homelessness and unemployment, and the desire for "polite society" to ignore those problems because of an inability to deal with them head-on, is believable and relevant/timely. I also think that the extreme pinpoint focus on the issue of how it's bad to lock people up and not permit them to leave (yep, I agree) means that there is not that much room for debate and ambiguity. The genuinely difficult question is how to find a way for these thousands of people to "earn a living," and what kind of social restructuring will be required given that the Districts already exist, and that is not examined in the two-parter besides assurances that the Bell Riots do deal with it. This is too big an issue for this episode, I'll grant, but especially for a two-parter I think some more details on the roots of these social issues or how they were resolved besides a vague muttering about the economy being bad and then people coming together to work out their problems would have improved the shows a lot.

Nor, frankly, is the question of when to protest peacefully and when to take up arms when one's fundamental rights are being trampled dealt with much either -- Webb wants to protest peacefully, B.C. wants to blow stuff up, and then they sort of...compromise because Sisko-as-Bell gets them to, I guess, but the friction between these two very different approaches dissipates early. Part one sets up Webb and BC as opposing types, I guess to be reconciled by Sisko in part 2, but Webb accepts that his peaceful protest idea has gone into a hostage situation pretty early and B.C. goes from murderous thug to a guy who seems about as dangerous as Okona within a few acts. I'm all for revealing the complexity beneath a person's surface, but there is something artificial about the way B.C. is a full-on villain who stabs the real Bell to death in part 1 and talks about how fun killing is through much of part 2, but is actually just a pretty likable guy who gives his hat away when given the chance. If he's a man hardened enough to stab a man to death and then lead a violent revolt the next day, it should take a little more to soften him, I think. That said, the character interactions in part 2 are fairly entertaining, in a chamber drama sort of way, and I think there is more effort to get into people's heads than in part 1.

It seems to me that the two-parter also only barely touches on one of the more interesting things about its set-up with Sisko becoming Bell, which is how hard it would be to reverse-engineer a central moment of history, particularly one which seems to be genuinely incidental (i.e. I don't get the impression Bell had particular plans on being a peaceful revolutionary). Sisko has to do so in a way that would somehow allow Sisko to have the same impact Bell did, in addition to the fact that he will have to *die* to satisfy Bell's martyr role in history. And, well, the big dilemma that Sisko will have to die is handwaved away with "Bashir is a 24th century doctor," which means that Sisko's willingness to die for history loses some dramatic oomph (though not all). More importantly, though, for me the very basic outline of "Bell's honourable behaviour during the riots let people see that there are good men among the Sanctuary District populace" sounds vaguely plausible as a short-form summary of a complex event, but the opportunity in part 2 to see how Sisko/Bell's actions affect a public watching during the events is mostly lost. I think I'm not explaining my issue well enough; I guess it's that "Bell not hurting the hostages" is a sketch of an idea for why the Riots bring public support to the Sanctuary Residents, but not quite a full, believable description, especially since the hostages were taken in the first place as a result of these Riots. If all that Sisko has to do as Bell is prevent the hostages from dying (and, I guess, eventually martyr himself), then there are not that many difficult decisions for Sisko to make.

Jadzia's eventual involvement in the Sisko-as-Bell plot, and Bashir's treatment of people there, are also curious, in that they surely would not have been possible for Bell to do, unless Bell was also a doctor who was friends with some other IT kingpin. How did Bell get people's message out, given that he didn't have Jadzia? Unless this was a paradox and Bell was *always* Sisko. For what it's worth, that interpretation has some worth. I never did get to writing about Star Trek IV, but one thing I was going to say is that the idea of the fictional, Trek-future Starfleet officers coming to our present (or in this case near-future) and dealing with some of our social issues becomes a grand metaphor for Trek itself, where the (fictional, nonexistent) Sisko represents an *idea* of a better future which can help save humans in the present from our worst excesses.

The episodes do lose a lot because of the running commentary, especially from Bashir. I get why he finds this so distasteful, don't get me wrong, but the episode may have been much stronger if it had just let the horrors of the Sanctuary District situation speak for themselves, rather than have Bashir in charge of telling us how bad they are. I also find the tag at the end, where Bashir asks how people let it get this bad and Sisko says that he does not know, particularly annoying. The Sanctuary Districts may be an extension of current policy and social structures, but they are still a fictional future. The writers made up this future; having a character declare their own future to be hard to understand is a poor substitute for them to explain how they expect their future to develop (along with the implied recognition that it's important not to make those mistakes).

Why couldn't Kira and O'Brien have done a binary search through time? Start somewhere in the middle and rather than spend thirty seconds, arrange for the transporter to take them out after an hour so they have time to get as much information as possible (newspapers; if they are in a time with computer access, get that), then bring it back to the Defiant and compare it with Earth history on file so that they can narrow down whether the changes have started or not. More to the point, I'm not clear why the future was so drastically changed anyway since Sisko succeeded in restoring the timeline. Surely if the whole of Earth was transformed before Kira and O'Brien went to retrieve them, Kira and O'Brien's actions would have had to affect the outcome of events? Maybe we're just supposed to assume that after successfully playing out the Bell Riots script, Sisko, Bashir and Dax then ruined all of Earth's history over the rest of their lifetimes. Technobabble on the Defiant is really hard to take.

I don't really know how to rate the two-parter as a whole. Maybe 2 stars for both parts? There are some things I liked a fair bit, even if I found myself less than wowed by the final product.
William B - Tue, Sep 15, 2015 - 10:10am (USA Central)
Oh right, I should also add: that the guard just swapped Bell's card with a corpse's also bothers me. Now there should be *three* images of Bell -- the actual Bell, Sisko (from pictures taken, what, by bystanders with their cellphones?) which makes it into the history books, and whatever that random corpse looks like. And all three would be different. Is the corpse so shot up by the crazy troops, or ghosts, or whoever killed him that no one can tell that he looks different from *both* the picture on Bell's file and from Sisko? Moreover, that Sisko so easily convinces Vin to pretend that he died makes it seem as if Gabriel Bell very well could have done the same (convinced people to pretend he was dead for martyrdom's sake). It's all just pretty weird.
Easter - Wed, Sep 23, 2015 - 7:25pm (USA Central)
So... a couple things with this 2 parter which I had mixed feelings about but mostly liked. First off: Did Bashir and Sisko fuck those dudes in part one? I don't... I don't understand. The guys are like "you can't come in." then one whispers in the other's ear and they're all "maybe you CAN do something for us" and the next scene they're inside, putting on clothing which is not their own with no explanation of where the original clothes went and never mentioning what they did for the clothing. Did they sell their bodies for building access and a change of clothing? The American people want to know DS9 writers. The American people DESERVE to know.

On a more serious note: Thing 2. Why didn't business guy know why the wall was there? Actually, follow up: why WAS the wall there? I mean, it didn't just appear. And it's not some ancient awful tradition that nobody thinks about because "it's always been that way." like the lottery from the short story The Lottery. At some point, in the last 20 years, they had to make a decision to build a giant fucking wall around a section of the city and then lock the doors and throw everyone who didn't have ID or a job inside. The American People had to KNOW about this right? They had to put forward a bill to allow this to happen, and pass it and then build the giant wall. Like... at least one reporter had to have been like "hey. what's with the wall?" I mean, I guess that maybe it's kind of acting as a metaphor for how once society puts you in certain conditions like homelessness and unemployment it traps you and without services to help you out you're stuck in that hell forever and it's the system's fault? Maybe? But in non-metaphorical terms. Why is there a wall that they can legally lock people behind for just being unemployed? How did that happen?

Thing 3. I was really expecting BC to end up being Bell. The ending I pictured was that instead of getting some weird psuedo character development as "maybe not ALL bad because he gave a kid a hat" they would just double down on making him an absolute piece of shit. Have him kill some of the gimmes. Maybe even kill Webb. Just clearly be the worst in humanity who is making this problem worse and deserves to suffer for it. Then the swat team breaks in and everyone's all "OK, we surrender" and BC is like "Fuck that." and opens fire, and a whole mess of sanctuary people (including him) get killed. THEN after all is said and done. the ID gets planted on BC and his face goes down in history as the face of Bell and there's statues of him and he's honored forever. And Sisko and Bashir are just looking at that padd at the end like "that fucking guy." That's what I think would have been a better ending. I mean, I kinda like the idea that this is a paradox and Sisko was always Bell and this is how it always happened, but the starfleet disappearing thing kind of negates that.
Del_Duio - Thu, Sep 24, 2015 - 11:30am (USA Central)
^^ They gave them their uniforms because they were nicer clothes than the rags they had, lol ^^
Diamond Dave - Wed, Nov 25, 2015 - 4:31pm (USA Central)
This basically boils down to a hostage drama and why it's OK to far as it goes - it's good to see Sisko kicking ass and taking names - but given we already know from Pt1 how the end will play out, if not the exact mechanism, then there isn't really a whole lot of suspense.

Add to that a number of irritating hostage cliches, some blatant moralising, and some somewhat misplaced humour it's OK but not much more than that. 2.5 stars.

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