3.12: “Past Tense, Part II”

All right, between work and a cold, my brain just kind of…turned off while I was working on this post, so there isn’t as much depth as I typically try for. Though I also feel like this episode isn’t as strong, overall, as the first part. That may also be that, as noted, the first part hits me a lot harder with that “ah, I see, the dystopian early 21st century Star Trek predicted was in fact much too optimistic” feeling, however.

Apparently the reception to “Past Tense” at the time wasn’t all that positive; people thought it was too preachy and political. This is extra hilarious given that certain parts of the fandom have been in non-stop tantrum mode since Discovery started, insisting that the show didn’t get all political until about 2017. The more things change, I guess.

My main issue with the hostage storyline is that I just don’t feel like the actor playing B.C. is pulling off the desperation, the near-brokenness, that they were apparently going for. He seems…too composed, I guess? Less “angry and hopeless with nothing left to lose” and more just run-of-the-mill dickhead. Like, that’s what I assumed they were going for — his just being some jerk who saw this as an opportunity to start shit and/or hurt people. Apparently that is very much not what they were going for, however; he was meant to be someone who reached a breaking point, and I just don’t see that here.

With all of that said, Bashir’s conversation with Lee, the woman working in the district registration office, was definitely a “too close to home, Star Trek” moment, after Lee talked about not turning in a woman with an arrest warrant out on her:

Lee: …ever since then, I’ve just done my job, you know? Tried not to let it get to me.
Bashir: It’s not your fault that things are the way they are.
Lee: Everybody tells themselves that, and nothing ever changes.

Like. WHEW. I, and a lot of people I know, have struggled a lot with that feeling, these past few years — with feelings of burnout and hopelessness, with trying to find the ways one person can even do anything to help…and with trying to figure out what constitutes complicity.

The stuff with the hostages, in general, felt a bit underexplored — I feel like the show may have pulled its punches a bit, making so many of the people who work as part of the system so sympathetic and decent. One of the guards is kind of a dick, but still, ultimately, does right by Sisko and Bashir, even chatting with Sisko about baseball briefly. That’s not to say it would’ve been more realistic if everyone working there was a vicious sadist — but certain personality types are more likely to be interested in the title of “concentration camp guard” than others. DS9 doesn’t shy away from the horrors of the Occupation — or, on the other side, that the Resistance committed acts of terrorism. It feels like the show pulls its punches here, to some extent.

I dunno. Maybe it’s just that now, when we actually have children in concentration camps in the United States, I have a much harder time buying the idea that everyone directly involved in putting them there, and keeping them there from day to day, is a decent person who’s just “forgotten how to care”, and just needs to “remember”, as Sisko and Bashir were putting it in the last episode. I feel like that’s too easy an answer, too optimistic an interpretation. The idea that no one in the country knows what things are really like, that all that’s needed, as this episode posits, is media attention — it seems far too generous. Because of course, the truth is, a large part of the country views those camps as an unfortunate necessity…and another large part is cheering them on.

Anyway. If you’ve got a few bucks to spare this week, maybe consider throwing them toward Never Again Action. Since last summer, they’ve been staging direct actions to interfere with the daily operations of ICE and some of its corporate collaborators. The organization originated in the Jewish community and is Jewish-led, and it’s very dear to my heart.

On a less heavy note…

The writers considered this something of a turning point for the character of Bashir, as, apparently, did Alexander Siddig. This interpretation was a little surprising to me — I probably would have picked “The Wire” as the best example of how Julian has, in fact, begun to get his life right. Though I suppose, on reflection, that this is really the first episode since “The Wire” where he’s been in the center of the story without a lot of the rest of the crew backing him up.

To be sure, he handles the entire situation well, and I was struck, in the first part, by the fact that, though he professed to know little about the general history of the period (“too depressing”, ha ha ha oh god Julian you have no idea), his knowledge of medical history was enough that he recognized that adequate medical care for many of the issues in the sanctuary districts existed, but just wasn’t being provided. As he’s been from the beginning of the show, he’s more than competent when it comes to medicine — but he’s gotten a lot sharper about everything else, as well.

I did, however, find it hilarious that, when shit started to go down, he was immediately like “they’ll put snipers on the roof and pick us off through the windows”, because, like. Let’s be real, if you ranked this show’s characters in order of who is most likely to know things like that, the only person lower on that list than Julian Bashir would be Rom. (Maybe he has some action hero holosuite program that involves a hostage situation? That might explain it. Or maybe Sisko filled him in on those details and he’s just saying what he remembers.)

Other notes

  • The Clint Howard role was originally meant for Iggy Pop, but he was touring. They DID get him on later, as a Vorta in “The Magnificent Ferengi”, which was great.
  • Jonathan Frakes credits this episode with getting him the First Contact directing job, as it was one of two episodes he submitted to the studio as examples of his work.
  • Kira breaking the awkward silence during her and O’Brien’s 1930s encounter with a loud “I BROKE MY NOSE” is a delight.

Horniness rankings

Slightly more horniness in this one than Part 1, although still not much. B.C. professes horniness for Jadzia, but honestly, more believable was when Sisko tells him he needs to find some other way to work off his stress, and he…immediately puts his arm around Sisko’s shoulders? He definitely thinks Sisko is coming onto him, and he is not NOT into it. Which is #relatable, honestly.

One thought on “3.12: “Past Tense, Part II”

  1. Ehhhh… I mean, it’s *fine*, but it kind of goes from bad to worse in my opinion. Part I was loaded up with technobabble that interrupted the flow of the main story; Part II dispenses with some of that, but provides frustrating other excursions that eat up narrative time and feel like padding a script that didn’t make it the full 42 minutes. (Jadzia’s encounter with Clint Howard – a nice moment for Trek history, yes, but why does it take up that much of the episode? Endless macho posturing and pumping of shotguns to scare hostages.)

    They also clearly ran out of money when it came to trying to portray the drama with the hostages in the processing center as a microcosm of violence and unrest on a much broader scope happening outside. Of course, the series can be effective at using “people in a room talking at each other and looking at screens” as a vehicle to convey tension (“Defiant”), but it doesn’t work here, I think because the writing is lackluster and Frank Military’s performance as BC is too annoying. That leaves us with a… well, kind of original action scene for Star Trek (and surprisingly graphic for the time on showing people shot to death), but one that’s mostly portrayed through sound effects and light-flashes off-camera.

    In the aftermath, I was moved by Avery Brooks’ portrayal of Sisko’s emotions over the death of Webb. Webb’s son is about Jake’s age; I think he’s showing us that Sisko is thinking of that.

    The Defiant plotline as the crew figures out a way to time travel and search for Sisko and the others – well, I see why Starfleet turned it down, because it seems kind of insanely risky to just randomly beam yourself into different historical periods to see what’s going on. It also begs a question that the episode didn’t work with, which is: what becomes of Earth in the 24th century after history was changed by the death of Bell? No one even mentions the possibility of trying to engage with the people on the planet to see if there might be records to help find Sisko and the others, which suggests that the change had to be completely catastrophic. In this timeline, the Vulcans must have given Earth a pass, deciding that the degradation of civilization combined with World War III had resulted in a society not worth interacting with; perhaps, then, the post-atomic horror seen in “Encounter at Farpoint” expanded or lasted for longer or the whole planet fell back into some kind of technological dark age as disease and post-war factionalism went on for generations to come. (O’Brien seems to suggest there are no satellites or *any* objects in orbit of the Earth, which would support that theory.) Maybe WWIII started earlier or lasted longer or was more destructive. Maybe the whole species was wiped out – the Romulans have a colony nearby, so they may have detoured to destroy the nearest possible competitors. (But then why not colonize Earth or strip-mine it?) All of these outcomes seem extreme and way more monumental than what I’d expect to happen if a few riots in some cities in America went a different way in 2024, which is kind of why I wish the episode had given us more to work with here. They don’t even scan the surface? To see if anyone lives there? No? We’re good? OK.

    The time hijinks were fun. The ending was unbelievable. The guard has a total change of heart after being held hostage just because Sisko saves his life. I mean, maybe things like that happen, but it just seems unlikely that the whole society would have shifted itself on that. And, again, WWIII is coming, so does it really matter anyway?

    It was fun to see 1994’s estimate of what 2024’s technology would look like. I love that the computer terminals are huge and clunky and the police captain uses a giant cell phone. Paper forms strewn all over the floor in the processing center. (I would believe the Sanctuary and police technology being low-end crap, as a government employee myself – and I think the episode alluded to budget cuts in the security forces – but Brynner’s stuff is all the same way, so presumably they intended for this to be what state of the art looked like.)

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