[DS9] Lynch's Spoiler Review: "Past Tense, Part II"

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Timothy W. Lynch

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Feb 20, 1995, 12:35:36 PM2/20/95
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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
there!

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
tly...@alumni.caltech.edu
"Probably raining in Tasmania anyway."
-- B.C.
--
Copyright 1995, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...
This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net
compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the
author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.

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