Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Things Past"

***1/2

Air date: 11/18/1996
Written by Michael Taylor
Directed by LeVar Burton

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"You were special. You were the one man who stood apart from everyone else, the one man who stood for justice. Now what?"
"Now I'm just another imperfect solid."

— Kira and Odo

Nutshell: A most intriguing revisit to the Cardassian Occupation, and with compelling character implications, too.

I said I was in need of recovery after the truly awful "Let He Who Is Without Sin...", and I meant it. But I must say that "Things Past" makes a great antidote to aid in a speedy recovery. Call it therapy, if you will.

I don't want to see any more lightweight episodes of DS9 for a while. I want to see more shows like this—strong, compelling, character-driven episodes with true substance.

"Things Past" is the best episode of Trek since "Nor the Battle to the Strong." It's a story of one man's repressed guilt and his need to let it escape into the open airs of historical dialog. The underlying theme here is incorporated into a "sci-fi" type of premise, in which Sisko, Odo, Dax, and Garak, returning in a Runabout from a debate on Bajor about the Cardassian Occupation, suddenly find themselves on Terok Nor of the past, run by the menacing Gul Dukat. They are not themselves, however; they're all Bajorans—and, as Odo observes, they're Bajorans who, based on the true events of the past, are about to be wrongfully accused of Gul Dukat's attempted assassination and publicly executed.

But wait. These characters' involvement in these past events is not due to something so simple as time travel. The episode clues us in very early on that it's all due to a peculiar mental state; Sisko, Odo, Dax, and Garak arrive at DS9 unconscious, somehow trapped in a state of subconscious mental activity. Bashir hasn't a clue how or why. So what's really going on here? That's a question that remains unanswered until the final minutes of the show, in a denouement of powerful relevance and realization.

In the meantime, the episode takes an angle of "Necessary Evil" revisited, and I can't say I have any qualms whatsoever with such a notion. "Necessary Evil" was one of the highlights of DS9's second season, and, in fact, is among the best shows of the series. "Things Past" has a similar agenda—it tells its own story while also commenting on the past and showing us effects the Cardassian Occupation had on a number of people. Once again, production and lighting have a powerful effect; the promenade becomes a mining facility for slave labor and the Bajorans are packed into dark, impoverished, unsanitary caged areas.

I liked many of the little details, like the way Sisko "contacts" the Bajoran Resistance by inverting a vase at a promenade shop. And Garak's reaction to this was interesting—it seems just like the type of thing he would find silly and simple. Simple, yes, Sisko notes, but effective. The Quark of this past turns out to be a complete condescending jerk to any Bajoran who is not a paying customer and whom he can exploit. Not an appealing notion, perhaps, but very believable and a nice touch.

Meanwhile, Dax is elected to become Gul Dukat's Bajoran "talk companion." He admits to her up front—he's a lonely man whose job rarely presents him the opportunity to talk to others. A few subsequent long-winded speeches from Dukat prove enlightening. His views on the Occupation prove as fascinating as they do distasteful—here, Dukat reveals himself as a man who thinks he has too much compassion and lenience for a Bajoran planet of "children." It's interesting to note how Dukat, then a murderous, hateful dictator exploiting a race of people for their resources is now an unsung hero in his lone fight against the Klingons. While he's definitely a man of multifaceted dimensions, it's very difficult watching him stage public executions without seeing him as anything but murderer. Yet now he's on "our" side. Strange, the way things change. These are all examples of the subtleties of the Occupation—the "old school" topics of DS9 which I hope to see more of again.

Many of these scenes, while certainly intriguing, don't break a whole lot of new ground. This is where the mystery comes in to add a new element. Odo's predecessor, the head of security from nine years ago, is a Cardassian named Thrax (Kurtwood Smith). But there's a contradiction here: the events leading up to the public execution took place only seven years ago—and at that time Odo was the head of security.

The beauty of the episode is the way it plays on this implication. As history begins to play itself out and Odo, Sisko, Dax, and Garak find themselves in a cell awaiting execution for attempting to kill Dukat, Odo painfully tries to convince Thrax to follow up on his investigation and find the evidence that proves that they're innocents who were caught up in a series of events. It's obvious that Odo is really talking to himself—that he was the man who didn't investigate properly and allowed the three innocent Bajorans to die. And later Thrax turns out to be a shapeshifter—a most telling sign. Yet the teleplay wisely plays these events down and credits the audience with intelligence, allowing us to make the connection ourselves. Very nice.

Dax breaks the four of them out of the holding cell, but their escape attempts prove futile, as they turn a corner only to find themselves back in the holding cell. As the show progresses, the rules of reality continue to bend, trapping the characters into the situation with no hope of escape. LeVar Burton's direction is perhaps his best yet on the series, as he creates some interesting imagery and utilizes cinematography techniques that have jarring effectiveness.

The only escape for the characters is Odo's guilty admission of the truth, which pulls the show together into a powerful piece of work. The final scene is a wonderful mix of truly revealing dialog and compelling imagery. Odo's disclosure is poignant—there he was, one of few people in the middle of the Occupation who was neutral and interested only in justice and order, and he still blew it. He failed to protect the innocent and unintentionally represented the side of the decidedly guilty. This is really good stuff.

Odo's admission ends the flashback charade; Bashir explains that it was caused by residue of some Changeling molecules which tried to recreate the Great Link by reaching out to other shapeshifters, but instead found only Sisko, Dax, and Garak. I wonder about the plausibility of this and some of the other technobabble used to explain it, but I'd say the ends clearly justify the means.

There's also a killer, wonderfully performed final scene between Odo and Kira which parallels the ending of "Necessary Evil" exceptionally. This time, however, the roles are reversed. Whereas in "Necessary Evil" the discovery of Kira's past actions put Odo's trust in her in doubt, this time Odo's actions put her trust in him in doubt. Most intriguing indeed.

Michael Taylor, the writer who brought us the wonderful "Visitor" last year, delivers again. "Things Past" is not quite a four-star installment. (The aforementioned technobabble genesis for the problem and the obligatory and totally unnecessary need to make the flashbacks into an environment that can physically harm the characters, thus putting their lives in jeopardy, are minor but notable flaws that could've been eliminated entirely with a little bit of script tweaking.) But this is a standout episode that approaches greatness.

Previous episode: Let He Who Is Without Sin...
Next episode: The Ascent

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17 comments on this review

Andrew - Fri, Oct 31, 2008 - 4:58pm (USA Central)
I rewatched this episode for the first time in years today and agree it was very good. I remember back to the first time I saw it and thought how it was a good nod to Necessary Evil, another episode I had liked. Also, being a big Odo fan, I enjoyed discovering even more layers to his already-deeply layered persona.

I agree with the end of your review - the technobabble guff stopped the episode becoming a true classic. Though thinking about it, changing those elements might have made the episode even more like Necessary Evil. Actually, would that be a bad thing?
Gatton - Sat, Aug 15, 2009 - 1:00am (USA Central)
Wonderful episode. The technobabble could have been excised totally for my tastes. Kurtwood Smith proves once again why he's one of the best of Trek's frequent guests (along with James Sloyan.) Good script, tight direction and perfect pacing. One of my favorites.
Alessandro - Sat, Aug 20, 2011 - 3:13am (USA Central)
Honestly, I didn't like it. Some of the Star Trek writers seem to get a sadistic pleasure from character assassination, very much like in Voyager "Fury". True, this is a much better written episode, but the taste it left in my mouth is the same as in "Fury". I suppose I like to believe in intelligent beings integrity (unless of course they are the villains), that is why.
Matt - Sat, Dec 3, 2011 - 5:09am (USA Central)
Seeing Odo in the Cardassian uniform fills me with a sense of dread. I think it's his pale skin and super thin neck contrasted with the black uniform, and the fact they always show him back-lit with hazy light. Gives me shivers.
Justin - Sun, Mar 25, 2012 - 3:10pm (USA Central)
The 3.5 star rating is spot on. The technobabble plot device could have been so easily avoided by involving the mysticism of the Prophets somehow. It could have been the Orb of Time or a newly discovered Orb that causes it all. Or they could have been traveling through the wormhole and Prophets sensed a change in Odo (his new found humanity) or whatever and decide to bring him face to face with his past.

@Alessandro, but isn't it easier to identify with characters who make bad choices and decisions - even big ones that cost lives? Bajor was war-torn and Odo was the Cardassians' security chief on Terok Nor. It stands to reason that he probably made a few other choices he'd come to regret. This just happened to be the worst of them.
Snitch - Tue, May 1, 2012 - 4:48am (USA Central)
3-1/2 Stars from me too. The technobabble stuff distracts a bit from an otherwise intense story.

It also addresses the fact that Odo had to do some dirty compromises when he was working for the Cardassians and it addresses the guilt he feels.
Cail Corishev - Tue, Sep 18, 2012 - 11:49am (USA Central)
This episode is reminiscent of Farscape's excellent The Way We Weren't, especially Chianna's line: "What have you guys been thinking all this time? What? She was out picking baskets of rolliss buds while all the other mean Peacekeepers did all the really nasty stuff? She was a Peacekeeper." (If you haven't seen the show (shame on you!), the Peacekeepers are basically Nazi/Commies who wear a lot of leather.)

Odo was a Cardassian security officer at a prison work camp. He may have had his own sense of justice and subverted the authorities a little when he had strong feelings about something; but over the years, he must have committed loads of what his new friends would consider egregious civil rights violations and much worse.
Arachnea - Thu, Nov 22, 2012 - 2:38am (USA Central)
I totally agree with Cail (about everything :P) and I'm glad that at least some of it is adressed in this episode.

Something that's always bothered me was the fact that Odo remained chief of security when Bajor won: he could not be considered a collaborator because he wasn't bajoran, but he worked for the Cardassians on a station where the word justice could not be taken seriously. Essentially, his work must have been finding terrorists or bajoran criminals on Terok Nor and he was given "carte blanche" to do so, so why is everyone so astonished ? In these conditions, he delivered people to be executed or "questionned" by cardassians - guilty or not. And when the only witnesses that count are cardassians... I'm sure many innocents died in the name of justice. And it seems very hypocritical when he said (in the episode he killed a changelling) that he never had to kill anyone since he was chief of security. At least, not by his own hands.

Don't get me wrong, I very much like Odo's character, but I wonder what he would really do if he wasn't following Federation (or bajoran ?) rules. Many times he said he could do his job better without those rules. He even disregards some of them (for example, he spies on Quark's privacy or any person he believes to be suspect).

It shows that he's a lot like his people, wanting order, with the difference that he has a bajoran education. His methods don't bother me too much because he's not a Federation officer, but a self-taught law enforcer. Nevertheless, he certainly has a darker side (from a human point a view) than most give him credit for.
Grumpy - Thu, Mar 21, 2013 - 8:13pm (USA Central)
Garak must've been on good behavior at the Starfleet stockade. He appears to have completed his 6 month sentence for attempting to hijack Defiant (in "Broken Link") in about 5 real-life months. (And there wasn't much of a time-skip during the summer break before "Apocalypse Rising.") Now that he's back, there seem to be no hard feelings. None mentioned, anyway.
Caleb - Mon, Jul 15, 2013 - 5:36pm (USA Central)
Despite the technobabble flaws, for me this is easily a 4-star episode and one of my DS9 favorites. This is the kind of stuff that makes me understand the DS9 cult - no other Trek series offers morally complex, emotionally and intellectually challenging characterization and storytelling quite like this.
Kotas - Thu, Oct 24, 2013 - 9:24pm (USA Central)

A decent episode, but the premise of the entire thing is a bit contrived (its all in Odo's head...) and nothing is particularly compelling about it.

5/10
Jons - Tue, Feb 4, 2014 - 8:35am (USA Central)
I liked it, it's right up DS9's "realistic" alley (not saying they always respect their premise, but here they do).

I ESPECIALLY loved the ending when Kira - irrationally but understandably - demands that Odo confirm this was his only lapse of judgement. And he says the truth: he doesn't know. The ending was very powerful.
Dusty - Tue, Feb 4, 2014 - 8:38pm (USA Central)
A fantastic episode with a gripping, absorbing plot and no easy answers. This ain't Voyager, that's for sure. Odo is my favorite ST character, as much for his role in this series as for how Rene Auberjonois portrayed him. The only thing missing to make this a four-star outing in my mind was an aside from Garak--and how seeing the Cardassian occupation from a Bajoran perspective might have altered his opinions on the issue.
Vylora - Wed, Feb 26, 2014 - 1:57pm (USA Central)
Another wonderful look back into Terok Nor's past with fantastic character insights and stand-out directing. Though not quite up to the quality of second season's "Necessary Evil", it's a great episode in its own right.

3.5 stars.
Q-Less - Fri, Apr 4, 2014 - 7:55am (USA Central)
I'm still not really sure what Odo is guilty of? Did he just do a very sloppy investigation, or had he given in to Cardassian pressure? I suppose he had his extraordinary sense of justice even back then, so why did this investigation go wrong? I don't think the episode elaborated on this a lot.
Quarky - Sat, Apr 12, 2014 - 1:30am (USA Central)
I just started watching DS9 for the first time. I liked this episode so much I watched it twice in one night. Just an interesting observation. The character of Thrax does a perfect impersonation of ODO. Either the actor has watched a lot of ds9 or the odo actor helped him with his scenes. Look at when he's talking to quark. All his mannerisms are perfect odo. Great episode
Justice - Sun, Jul 13, 2014 - 3:16am (USA Central)
Odo should have told Kira he didn't care what she thought at the end. She says something like this better be the only time he let innocent people die. This coming from a terrorist who has killed many people and of course some innocent people who were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Ds9 tries to show the grey areas but Kira seems to think in black and white. I mean odo works for the cardassians. He was a collaborator. Kira seems to change her definition of collaborator. This is when I long for tng. Can someone explain why Odo was on the station at all before he decided to work for dukat

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