In the twelfth episode of the third season of Deep Space Nine, Sisko navigates the increasingly challenging task of protecting history. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For police brutality, homelessness, poverty, mental illness.
I don’t think all the pieces come together perfectly here, but I still believe this is a hell of a story. I can recognize the flaws and also state definitively that AVERY BROOKS IS ONE OF THE FINEST ACTORS TO EVER GRACE THE SCREEN IN STAR TREK. Oh my god, he is SO INCREDIBLE here!!! GIVE HIM ALL THE AWARDS. Anyway, let’s get down to business. (Defeating the Huns or something.)
I realize that the second half of “Past Tense” had a lot of ground to cover, and because of that, it gave the writers little room (and probably less of a budget, honestly) to devote time to the secondary plot of the story. Unfortunately, I thought that Kira and O’Brien’s scenes suffered a lot because they were so silly and simplistic. I get that they only had sixty seconds in each time, and there’s not a whole lot you can convey in that short span. We only get a glimpse of two moments in San Francisco, and the short gags are only good for a chuckle and not much else. Then, we only hear about 2048 after they’ve visited it, so we don’t even get to see what it is that made that time so awful. Thus, I couldn’t really get into this scenes because they felt so rushed and insignificant. Though I admit that it’s pretty funny to know they were beamed away in front of two hippies in the 60s. I’m sure those people were convinced they were just super high.
The Hostage Situation
This is where the script really excels for me. There’s so much attention paid to developing practically ALL of these characters, even if they’re on the screen for only a few scenes. Lee gets an arc about having diabetes, which is practically the only time I’ve ever seen this depicted in a science fiction show. Webb is seen bonding with his son and becoming more involved in the process of using the hostage situation as a form of activism. Gods, even B.C., who spends most of this two-parter being a trigger-happy jerk, has character development! He re-examines his feelings on gimmes and ghosts, and he begins to see Sisko’s ultimate point: that for the world to get better, we need to start thinking about other people.
I’m gonna rush to the end of this episode and then back up because I think it’s important in dissecting “Past Tense.” Julian ponders how this whole affair could have happened. How, he wonders, is it possible that these people could have let things get so bad? All of Jadzia’s scenes with Chris are a perfect way to help understand that. While most were in the first half of “Past Tense,” you can still see how complacent and uninterested the rich were when it came to issues of poverty and mental illness. Even when the riots broke out, Chris could watch them from a distance. He remained in his office, safe and sound. Granted, he does provide the protestors the means to broadcast their stories, but it took the hostage situation for him to even care.
Look at Bernardo, too. Now, it’s certainly not fair that he should have to fear for his life, but I found it ironic that he wasn’t even aware of what he was saying to these people. He kept telling them that he wanted to go home, entirely unaware that he had the option to go to a home. He wasn’t as acerbic as Vin, of course, who truly believed that these people held no real value to society at all. That’s probably the scariest behavior here because he actively devalued these lives. Actually, I don’t even know if I can “rate” the behavior because there’s so much frightening shit here that’s a little TOO real. I mean, what about Preston’s treatment of Webb and Sisko? She honestly thought that offering them REDUCED SENTENCES would be appealing! She had no real interest in helping these people, though she did think sending the National Guard in was terrible. Okay, one step in the right direction, and a million steps back. And you know, I even appreciated that the governor was a nameless, faceless person. That kind of political detachment is our reality, y’all! How often do people in power make decisions that negatively affect others without doing any sort of consultation or outreach? To the governor of California, the people of the Sanctuary districts are nothing more than a nuisance.
And you know, I expected a very predictable ending to this story. Sisko would save all the hostages and somehow “die” in a way that would allow him to return to the present. Despite that Sisko had told Julian that this fight would be bloody, I wasn’t ready for how intense and sad this would be. It’s truly awful to watch, and it’s a chilling example of how law enforcement values “criminal” lives. All of those National Guardsmen operated under a shoot-to-kill order, and thus, an untold number of people – even children – are murdered. And for what? If the government wanted to accuse these people of a crime, they could have done so without murdering them first. For me, that’s why extrajudicial executions are one of the most important issues of our time. This episode aired over twenty-one years ago, and we still have nightmares like this unfolding weekly. Daily, probably. Why has a contingent of our society decided that it is moral to extinguish life because of a situational appearance of a crime?
That’s how this happens, Julian. You begin to see people as numbers, statistics, ideas. You never see them as deserving of life, of food and water, of a roof over their head. You label them so that you can deny them the things they need to survive, and then you demonize them for the very label you assigned them. You reframe an entire society’s understanding of these people so that they look the other way when they’re suffering and dying.
The video for “Past Tense, Part II” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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