WARNING: The time is past for spoilers for DS9's "Things Past".
In brief: A bit pedestrian and a substantial deus ex machina ending, but quite good in spots.
Brief summary: Odo, Sisko, Garak and Dax mysteriously wind up on the station as it was seven years ago, in the guide of four Bajorans -- three of whom are about to be executed.
Okay; hands up anyone who didn't see this as an attempted sequel to DS9's "Necessary Evil."
Those of you with hands down, put your hands up if you've never seen "Necessary Evil".
Those of you left with hands down ... one, two, three ... okay, all four of you. You're lying. :-)
Seriously, given the setting of the station (during the occupation) and the eventual situation (Odo having covered up an action which would have made him look bad in the eyes of the Bajorans, especially Kira),
this seemed consciously designed to even the scores set up by "Necessary Evil", to show that Odo isn't perfect either. That's certainly a reasonable idea, but the problem with it is that it invites comparisons between "Things Past" and its predecessor -- and when one does that, "Things Past" comes up pretty short.
For one thing, the method used to show us the scenes in the past was somewhat questionable. While I'm just as glad we didn't see any more time travel (the two-part Voyager, DS9's tribbles homage, and "First Contact" are quite enough for one month, thank you), I don't think suddenly creating Changeling telepathy and having it
generated spontaneously by a passing plasma storm and having it affect non-Changelings is believable in the slightest. "Necessary Evil" just had a present-day case causing Odo to remember his days from years earlier; while it might open up claims of unoriginality, I see no reason why "Things Past" couldn't have taken a similar approach. (Of course, then we couldn't have had the life-threatening psychosomatic symptoms, but that's a reasonable sacrifice in exchange for a story that makes ten times as much sense.)
The other major problem I had with the story is that it played out rather predictably. As soon as Odo starting having his visions of walking corpses it became fairly obvious (at least to me and to my wife) that Odo had actually been the one who falsely condemned these three Bajorans to death "in the name of order", not Thrax. The fact that no one else figured it out until it was revealed is not totally unconscionable, given that they weren't seeing the visions, but it was certainly tiresome from a dramatic point of view.
Apart from that, "Things Past" had a fair amount to recommend it. Yes, it's certainly true that the characters very rarely managed to act for themselves, instead letting events happen around them -- but given that they were Bajoran prisoners, there's a limit to how much they really could do, I think. The biggest thing they had to concentrate on was not doing anything out of the ordinary for Bajorans, given the likely Cardassian reaction to finding out their circumstances; as such, actions such as Dax's simulated terror to being in front of Dukat were
about their best choices.
The Dax/Dukat scenes were definite highlights of the show, in fact. Dax played along as the terrified Bajoran girl extremely well early on, and Dukat's eventual lowering of his guard seemed entirely in keeping with his ego. His statement to Dax that "You were not brought here to be abused" was also effective: while it was intended to put Dax at ease, it also managed to point out that he could abuse her if he chose, with her having no real recompense. (It also ties in with the knowledge that Dukat had a Bajoran mistress at the time, though it does beg the question of why Dukat didn't simply confide in said mistress.)
Much of the show dealt with Sisko et al. trying to fit in while also trying to find a way out of their predicament, and those came down to the execution (if you'll pardon the phrase) of the scenes, which was solid enough. The "selection" of Dax was nothing special, but Garak's pickpocketing skills and subsequent research was quite well displayed. The signal to the resistance (and Garak's scoffing at its simplicity) came off well -- and after that, there was the explosion.
The rest of the show centered on Odo facing up to the true reality of the situation -- and while it was rather predictable, Odo's slow descent into a deeper and deeper emotional well was played quite nicely. Kurtwood Smith (of "Robocop" and "Dead Poets Society" fame) had a particularly hard job to do here, as he needed to essentially play Odo in such a way as to make himself recognizable in hindsight but potentially not before the fact. I don't know if he quite pulled off the latter, but his tone towards Quark was very Odo-like (which the characters noted), and his lines in the final exchange with Odo about how "it has been my observation that..." echoed Odo so strongly that it should have given the game away to anyone who was paying attention.
Once everyone woke up, I was feeling a little nonplussed by the show, due mostly to the implausibilities I mentioned earlier. However, the final Odo/Kira scene helped: a mirror image of the "Necessary Evil" scene it may have been, but it was very necessary for almost that very reason. Just as Kira's actions in the past should have affected her and Odo's relationship in the present in "Necessary Evil", so this revelation about Odo should affect Odo's reputation. And unlike the way "Necessary Evil" demanded major repercussions (which were never really carried out, alas), "Things Past" used its predecessor to let Kira simply acknowledge that she wasn't perfect either. As such, her final question to Odo -- was this the only time Odo faltered? -- was the perfect question, and Odo's "I'm not sure; I hope so" was the only reasonable answer. I liked that scene a lot;
there's a lot of meat there. Had the rest of the episode been done that well, it'd be a killer episode.
There's not much else to say about "Things Past", really; given the opening of "First Contact" in theaters, however, I rather expect this review to get lost in the noise anyway. (Heaven knows it took me a lot more time to review that than it did this.) So, a few shorter points:
-- "I never knew we were such messy conquerors." Perfect statement from the oh-so-fastidious Garak.
-- "What I would have liked was less posturing and more debate." Quick: Garak on the Bajorans, or Garak on the recently-concluded elections?
That about covers it. Wrapup time:
Writing: The core story isn't bad, but I don't care for the method used to get at it or some of the obviousness of it.
Direction: LeVar Burton isn't James L. Conway (who directed "Necessary Evil"), but he managed to get a fair amount of atmosphere into the scenes in the past.
Acting: No complaints, though only Auberjonois really had something outside the usual to do.
OVERALL: Call it a 6.5, with one of those points added on for the ending. Not wonderful, but not bad.
Odo and Quark forced to rely on each other in a desolate wilderness. I've had days like that.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"I see I'm going to have to add the word pickpocket to your resume."
"It's only a hobby."
-- Odo and Garak