WARNING: This article contains large amounts of spoiler information for DS9's "Past Tense", Part II". Anyone not wishing untoward knowledge of the future is advised against proceeding on.
In brief: Thud. That's one ball dropped...
Summary: While Kira and O'Brien search the timestream for their missing comrades, Sisko finds himself forced to recreate history, lest it be forever changed.
At the end of part 1 of "Past Tense", I found myself thinking that we were in good shape: here was a good time-travel story with a nice, very pertinent moral. I was looking forward to how things would get resolved.
Unfortunately, part 2 brought a duller edge but a flatter head to the moral, and threw any pretense of "realistic" time travel out a side door. As a result, though part 2 still had some nice moments and the vast majority of the actors involved did nice jobs, I came away feeling that the show really didn't pay much attention to details like
a coherent, intelligent plot.
Let's start with the "changing the past" issue. The main premise of "Past Tense" is that Sisko has to take Bell's place in order to make sure the hostages are kept safe. Fine; that much of it was kept intact. But Sisko, Bashir and Dax made so many other changes in the course of keeping this one event safe that it's extremely difficult to believe nothing else in that volatile period of history was affected. Although the scale isn't quite the same, it's akin to saying that as long as Kirk let Edith Keeler die, there's no problem if he happens to
bump off Charles Lindbergh in the process. Um ... I'm afraid I disagree. (It's also worth pointing out that even in more modern Trek, a somewhat small change in the battle at Narendra Three in "Yesterday's Enterprise" brought about the existence of Sela, which may have in turn contributed to the Klingon civil war.)
What changes, you may ask? Well, let's see...
First, there's a minor one: Bashir helped Lee (the hypoglycemic hostage) and comforted her. Now, it's admittedly arguable whether that would have made a difference in the end -- but given how wary Sisko was of letting Bashir look at Danny earlier in the story, it's noticeable that no objection was made to potentially saving this woman's life here.
Second: Without Sisko-as-Bell, it's unlikely that Michael Webb would have been at the processing center for the final confrontation. He obviously didn't know the real Gabriel Bell, for otherwise he'd have wondered why this stranger was running around with Bell's name. As such, he certainly would not have been one of the chief negotiators with the police alongside Bell, and might well have lived to be reunited with his family. His presence and death could conceivably have had a significant impact on the course of history.
Next is a technological issue. Sisko and Bashir's combadges were never found, which presumably means they were left behind for good (unless, of course, two poor schlubs who got them ended up beamed onto
the Defiant when Kira and O'Brien finally got there :-) ). As such, this means that if they ever ended up in research hands, miniaturization technology and subspace technology could advance by centuries at a stroke. NOT a good idea, methinks.
Lastly, there's Chris Brynner. While I liked the character quite a bit in part 1, the fact remains that he was a solidly entrenched member in a particular part of society, and Dax's actions altered that very, very significantly. For one thing, his outlook has been changed a lot, which is very likely to alter the way he conducts business from now on; and for another, it's unclear whether he will get to conduct business from now on given his actions in aiding the residents. A major player in the part of society that, for good or ill, ends up involved in a lot of major decision-making has had his role fundamentally changed as a result of Dax's appearance in his life --
and if that's not a big deal in the timeline, then I don't know what is.
Some might argue that all of these were "supposed" to happen -- that Bell was Sisko all along. If it weren't for the very end of the show, I could almost be argued into believing that. But seeing a picture of Bell in the historical records makes that very, very difficult to believe. Some Federation historian would have noticed that Bell was a dead ringer for a Starfleet commander -- and surely, Sisko himself might have realized it. Had that picture not been present, I might have been able to swallow more of the implausibilities than I actually could.
In fact, when Bashir came in at the end wanting to show Sisko something, my guess was something very different. My hunch was that they had ended up changing history in some of the details -- and that for instance, instead of the Bell Riots, San Francisco circa 2024 now had an outbreak of violence termed the Webb Riots. That's what I was guessing -- and frankly, I think it would have worked better. There would have been an acknowledgment that something changed, however small, and Sisko could have been comforted by the fact that the brave soul whose death he essentially ended up causing would be remembered. That makes a hell of a lot more interesting an ending to me than the quick "timeline's restored, gee thank heaven no one was hurt, wasn't that terrible, let's hit the viewers on the head with the moral" ending we did get.
So, in terms of any plausibility, I can't deal with the show very well. How about in other facets?
As I said at the outset, I was very pleased with the acting, in virtually all cases. The weak link in this case, regrettably, was Jim Metzler (Brynner), who unlike last week seemed to have little purpose other than to be lectured to, and it showed in the performance. On the other hand, I enjoyed very much all the guests playing Sanctuary residents and workers, particularly Dick Miller, and Frank Military even managed to make B.C. a bit less cartoonish than he originally appeared to be. (Given lines like "I'm thinkin' Tasmania", this isn't as easy as it seems. :-) )
Avery Brooks in particular did one hell of a job this week. Once Sisko had decided he needed to become Bell, it sometimes was hard to tell whose desperation we were actually seeing in the tensest moments: Sisko's, or "Bell's". The lines blurred so amazingly well in those moments that the distance between "enlightened" 24th-century humanity and 21st-century humanity shrank to nearly nothing: and that, I think, is a major point of and a major strength of the show. Much praise goes to Brooks for that.
On the Kira/O'Brien side ... well, I don't want to say too much, for the less said the better. The interludes, while a little telegraphed, were generally cute (particularly the '60s one, though I think an ill-timed Vulcan salute to the peace greeting would have been hilarious as well). However, the "oh, no, we're down to our last dose
of technobabblions" thread was about as tired an idea as one could have come up with here; and more to the point, once it was established that they could tell history had changed after arriving in a particular period, O'Brien continuing to guess randomly at possibilities was a foolish move. Being able to say "well, they arrived before/after this period" is like being able to tell if a random number is higher or lower than your choice -- and as any decent math student could tell you, if you always pick the middle choice you narrow it down very quickly. O'Brien shouldn't have been down to his "best guess" [or really his fourth best, one hopes :-) ] at the end; he should have known which one it had to be.
Other than that, the show had its moments, Dax's "pretending" to be an alien to the "dim" being among them. All in all, though, the show didn't live up to what it could have been or should have been.
Some shorter points, then:
-- Why is it that the governor was the one asked to reinstate the Federal Employment Act? Seems to me that that's the national leader's job. (Perhaps it was, and the U.S. at the time was run by a governor, but I tend to doubt it.)
-- Dax's convincing Brynner to help was not only problematic in terms of time, but potentially unnecessary. When it became clear that Sisko and Bashir needed a computer whiz, I immediately thought Dax, not Brynner. This is a character who's already proven she can play with Interface enough to get herself a fake identity and access to the sewers; she could have at least tried to do it herself first.
-- Boy, those National Guardsmen were dumb. So far as we could see, they left the building with absolutely no proof it was secure without their presence aside from two people in guard uniforms claiming they could handle it. Sure, they said they were hostages, but did they verify that in any way? No; and they were helping "Bell" as well. Not bright, folks.
-- I liked the scene between Dax and the "dim"; highly amusing. (Incidentally, the "dim" in the scene was played by Clint Howard, also known as Baby Balok in TOS's "The Corbomite Maneuver" from long, long ago. I kept expecting the guy to offer Dax tranya. ;-) )
That's about it. "Past Tense, Part II" had its compelling moments here and there, but if you want to enjoy it I suggest a strict no-brain regimen first. So, wrapping up:
Plot: Absolutely by the numbers. In terms of proceeding from moment to moment, it was okay, but it lacked any and all plausibility.
Plot Handling: Frakes did a decent job keeping this one moving, but even with that bits dragged at times.
Characterization: Silly motivations occasionally, but terrific acting.
OVERALL: Call it a 5 or so.
NEXT: Reruns for two weeks to give "Voyager" breathing room. See you
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Probably raining in Tasmania anyway."