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.
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