Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Things Past"


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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24 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.

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
R. - Thu, Jul 31, 2014 - 12:25pm (USA Central)
Did anyone else find the way Dax EFFORTLESSLY manipulates Dukat hilarious? These two characters have never had much screen time together, but she plays into his vain self-delusions perfectly.

She obviously paid attention when Kira and Sisko talked about him. :)
Quarky - Mon, Sep 1, 2014 - 7:02pm (USA Central)
Odo was a collaborator. Odo wasn't just a collaborator. He was basically a founder who just happens to be obsessed with Kira. In season 7 Las links with Odo and tells him he knows the truth. The truth that he learned when linking is that if it weren't for Kira Odo would have joined the link regardless of the war. That says a lot. He would rather be with the link regardless of if all of The DS9 crew was killed in the war. The only reason he stayed is for Kira. He didn't stay because of his morals or connection with the ds9 solids. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that he sent innocent people to death. He was just concerned with order just like his people. Too bad the show ended. I would have liked to see if Odo changed at all when he joined the link. Maybe the dominion would have just built up their forces in te gamma quadrant and went back to war with Odo's knowledge
zzybaloobah - Mon, Sep 1, 2014 - 10:52pm (USA Central)
In "The Search, Pt II", the Founders have the Defiant crew hooked up to a massive virtual reality machine. Now, we find that Odo can accomplish the same thing without any hardware at all???
Sorry, that bit of technobabble really blew it for me. Blame it on the Prophets, fine -- but it's all in Odo's head?
Otherwise fine episode.
$G - Mon, Sep 8, 2014 - 9:29pm (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."

Yeah, his Odo impression is spot-on and adds an interesting texture when re-watching this one. What's also intriguing is "Thrax's" speech about the Bajoran situation and how, if they'd just settle down and accept the Cardassian > Bajoran order, things could be so much more smooth.

I think the episode is actually a lot rougher on Odo's character than simply revealing a botched investigation. His first real interaction with humanoids outside of Mora's lab is as a Cardassian policeman - and since he's been weaned through this social order, he accepts it and just seeks to maintain it as cleanly as possible. Odo has a sense of truth and justice, but without any perspective outside of a brutal Cardassian regime his sense is limited to the letter of the law rather than social justice. Though that sense of social justice has developed in Odo, I like that the writers kept Odo's past like this. It would have been easy to create a renegade, code-of-honour cop character who is so effective the powers that be can't afford to get rid of him even though he makes them look bad, but instead Odo simply worked as best he could in the framework of the Cardassian guilty-first system - which meant, at first at least, NOT being able to grill Cardassian officers for the truth and becoming potentially complicit in farcical investigations and public "example" executions.

Question for the more knowledgeable: is this the first time a flat-out execution is depicted on DS9, or even Star Trek at all? The Bajorans on their knees getting phasered is a surprisingly brutal scene.
NoPoet - Tue, Nov 11, 2014 - 5:43am (USA Central)
This is hands down one of the best Star Trek episodes ever. For some reason, every series of Trek seems to do dark episodes well; DS9, Voyager and Enterprise excelled at them. While the idea is contrived, physically impossible and a bit stupid, it dumps some very strong characters into the ultimate shitty situation without any apparent relief. It's like a holodeck episode done right, without BS excuses like "shutting down the simulation will destroy the ship" - when my Xbox got the red ring, I sent it to Germany to get it fixed, it didn't put my entire family in peril of death or blow my house up.

Unfortunately, there is really no way to avoid the fact that Odo was a collaborator. He was a different person then and he's always been craggy, bad-tempered and obsessed with justice, and he was raised in a warring environment between Cardies and Bajorans, but he is also smart and determined. They could at least have raised the issue of him allowing Bajorans to die by saying "It was how I was raised - I was led to believe that terminal justice was the way to ensure peace" or something like that. If Kira had been present, I doubt she'd have been so lovey-dovey with Odo.

That said, this is a hugely interesting look at the dark side of DS9, miles more exciting than the jokey, silly DS9 mirror universe. There was a time when our universe was darker and more threatening than the mirror universe...
Vii - Sun, Mar 8, 2015 - 3:08am (USA Central)
Riveting, powerful and compelling episode that certainly raises a lot of questions. The major flaw here is that there aren't enough answers provided. Given that the opening scene was Garak stating that he'd tried to rationalise the Cardassian occupation of Bajor right before he was thrown into the past and made to experience it himself, as a Bajoran no less (talk about a history lesson and perspective), it would have been nice if the audience had been shown what this experience meant for him, and whether or not it changed his views on the Occupation and the role of the Cardassians.

Above from the aforementioned gripe, it was a very strong episode and ended on an equally strong note. There are so any sides to a story, and when people have lived through something as horrific as the Bajoran Occupation, no one can come out without losing some of their humanity. DS9 did a wonderful and haunting job of showing that there were terrible deeds done on all sides (Bajoran resistance, Cardassians and collaborators alike) and no one is truly innocent.
MsV - Tue, May 5, 2015 - 2:44am (USA Central)
Really loved this episode. I have to admit, I skipped ahead to watch this one, when I am just beginning season 4 for my re-watch. Anyway, I felt so sorry for Odo, he was a nervous wreck through the entire show. It really troubled him about the executions to the point he was almost crazy.
I didn't care very much for Kira's sanctimonious behavior in the end. Odo did not intentionally have those innocent men executed, at the time he thought he was right. He let the situation change him, he was more thorough when he investigated other incidents.

One of the best Odo stories in the entire series.

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