Review - DS9 Past Tense S03 E11&12
When Sisko, Dax, and Bashier beam down to San Francisco, a freak accident throws them back to 2024. Once there, Sisko and Bashier are taken to a ‘Sanctuary District,’ where anyone in society without a job or ID is taken. The Sanctuaries had been intended to be a place where the unfortunate in society could get help; aid in finding a job, food, and shelter. In reality, due to lack of funding, lack of personnel, and maybe also lack of empathy, the Sanctuaries had become a convenient place for undesirables to be hidden away. Sisko recalls from history that a famous riot is about to take place, where one of the Sanctuary resident named Gabriel Bell is going to save hostages lives. Upon seeing the heroism of Gabriel Bell, human society will begin making the changes that result in 24th century Star Fleet society.
Dax, who was separated in the transport, makes an acquaintance with a media company owner and hacks an ID for herself while she looks for Sisko and Bashier. In the Sanctuary, the riot breaks out. Sisko and Bashier are attacked, and a man jumps in to defend them but is killed. That man is Gabriel Bell.
Sisko takes on the moniker of Gabriel Bell and begins looking after the hostages and keeping them safe. Dax finds a back way into the Sanctuary and hacks a link to the media company so that the residents can get their story out. By telling their story to the world, they are humanised to society.
The Governor sends in an attack on the hostage-takers, claiming that the hostages are already dead. The military force their way into the compound and kill many of the residents. Sisko is wounded keeping the hostages safe. By seeing both sides of the conflict, and the truth; the first steps of dismantling the Sanctuaries begins.
Dax, Sisko, and Bashier transport back to their own time, as Miles and Kira have been working on getting them back.
A somewhat basic self-fulfilling time paradox, Past Tense shows how great scifi writes enjoyable stories with a strong moral. Instead of lecturing directly to the screen (I’m looking at you, Doctor Who), they weave a narrative where an idea can be explored from both sides. From a moral perspective, because both (or more) sides of an idea are examined, the narrative choice of the characters should be based on their preferences and not the preferences of what the audience, or the writer, might think is morally right. Another excellent example of this is ‘About a Boy,’ an episode from The Orville. That story explores the idea of gender identity, but the outcome is based on the will of the predominant society, not what the audience might think is the right thing to do.
Past Tense provides a look at class in society but has plenty of moments where we get to explore the characters. It is character exploration that makes episodical stories like Star Trek so watchable. An individual episode might explore some aspect of science fiction, like a time paradox, but it is learning about the characters and their choices that draw in the broadest audience. Drama can be created by story catastrophe, like in this episode where an essential figure in history is killed before his time. Still, it is the moment when Sisko decides to take on the mantle, even though he knows he might die, that creates the deepest drama.
DS9 often gets a bad rap for being based on a space station and not being as flexible as other Star Trek series. I think that people had the luxury of having had 15 seasons of Star Trek airing on TV, by this point continuously for a decade, that fatigue had set in. On re-watch, DS9 as a whole, and Past Tense in particular, is a fantastic watch.