Thursday, May 23, 2013

Deep Space Nine, Season 3: Past Tense, Part II

Deep Space Nine, Season 3
"Past Tense, Part II"
Airdate: January 9, 1995
57 of 173 produced
57 of 173 aired


Sisko, Bashir, and Dax are still trapped in 21st century San Francisco and Kira and O'Brien are trying to find them and restore the timeline. Sisko must somehow manage to keep all the hostages safe and that history unfolds as he remembers. He's taken Gabriel Bell's place in history thus far. Will that include dying during the crisis as well?

At least they didn't break out into a Vulcan salute...


Kevin: Here's my problem. I wasn't really enthralled by the first part of the two-parter, so I wasn't on the edge of my seat for the second part. In fact, I'm reasonably certain that the 4 we gave Part I was the lowest the first part of a two-parter we've given. That being said, freed from having to spend the energy on set-up, we can get right to the action. The production and writing staff was channeling the riot at Attica for this, and it shows, and that's not a bad thing, overall. I think there was a good mix of characters in the hostage situation. There were sympathetic and unsympathetic hostages and hostage takers, so there were lots of directions for drama to flow from, and it gave Sisko a real chance to take charge. Watching Sisko have to manage both the loose cannon of B.C. and the relentless antagonism of Vin was fun, and it made his overt sense of frustration more believable.

Matthew: I think the first part was kind of terrible, but at least in the second part we have the virtue of all of the worst story sins already having been committed. As you say, the time spent on the horribly contrived setup is better spent here on character moments. As far as the hostage plot went, I agree that it was pretty entertaining overall. B.C. did change from the last episode to this one, inasmuch as he was kind of a total psycho in the first part, and was more sympathetic here. I really liked the idea that net access by regular people was key in raising public consciousness. It was kind of presaging (almost certainly accidentally) the impact of social media, such as in the "Arab Spring." I did have a hard time believing that Sisko's "sacrifice" would have stood the test of time. Vin being the one who turns around into a mood of sympathy was a little quick and unbelievable.In a world with universal ID cards and computer profiles, it seems like the only possible way to "fake" his death would be to swap in Gabriel Bell's actual corpse, with the addition of a gunshot wound (since it was apparently a stabbing that killed him). I just don't believe that a secret like that could be kept, especially if he became nationally famous.

Kevin: I really liked Lee's story and conversation with Bashir about the woman she let slip through the cracks and the consequences. It was a very soft touch on the overall lesson, and gave a very human face to the weariness and apathy that help social problems spiral out of control. Balancing your desire to help with your need to not get burned out is a very real problem for social service providers and it was a nice organic way to demonstrate a problem without getting preachy. The downside of this story is that the genesis of the problem and the alleged solution the Bell Riots cause is pretty nebulous. Is Dax is a rarefied upper echelon living high above Blade Runner? How bad is the economy that locking up that many people is cheaper than paying them to do anything else? What are the circumstances on the outside that give rise to the Districts and how will reinstated a jobs bill change that? The small interactions are pretty good in this episode, and the hostage crisis itself has some real energy, but it still lacks the grand story the episode is going for.

Matthew: Yeah, I think this notion of the sanctuary district was poorly developed, for the reasons you mention. I think a much more interesting story could have been told within the broad strokes of continuity laid down in TNG and TOS. How cool would it have been to have landed in the post atomic horror? Or a decaying American society (c. 2079 when the flag no longer needed 52 stars) in which all the lawyers had been killed (sorry Kevin)? Perhaps the upper crust character could have been a judge in the red robes. The basic outline of the plot could remain the same, but the setting would have been more compelling.

Kevin: The part of the episode that really annoyed me was Kira and O'Brien beaming into other Paramount backlots for no real reason. It didn't really advance the story, and the brief shots of stairwell with some period dressing is kind of a waste of time. They didn't even do anything when they got there. Dax said hello and they all decided to wait out the rest of the episode off screen. It was also full of artificial treknobabble limiting the number of attempts to get them back. I also hated HATED the last scene of the episode. It was so heavy handed that it almost caused physical pain. The only thing Sisko didn't do was look right at the camera and ask the audience "How did you let it get so bad?"

Matthew: The O'Brien/Kira stuff was bad. It was bad tonally, but the mechanics of the story idea were also bad. The notion that chroniton buildup was what allowed transport one way was bad enough. But how does this malfunctioning transporter in the 24th century lock in on stuff in the past and beam it back to the future? I felt like they were trying to introduce drama by saying that they only had a few attempts, and that they had to wait a day or something to pick them back up. If they can wait to recharge the "time machine," then don't they functionally have unlimited chances to rescue their compatriots? In fact, it might have been interesting if they had failed once or twice. As it was, it was just perfunctory and dumb. If they had wanted to inject real drama, they could have had Kira, Odo and O'Brien do some exploring in this Romulan-dominated alternate timeline.


Kevin: Everyone did a pretty good job again. Avery Brooks channeled his shouting really well this time, primarily at B.C. and Vin, where it was actually deserved. I liked Bashir this time, too. When he gets to be a sympathetic doctor and not a skirt-chaser, he's actually pretty good. I thought his scene with Lee was very nice and understated.

Matthew: Avery Brooks is actually yelling in an appropriate situation here, and it works. I very much agree on Siddig El Fadil. I think we're over the hump of his being written as a douche, and he's being much more emphasized as a doctor. It works, and he's up to the task of portraying empathy and concern.

Kevin: The guest cast was pretty good again. Somehow Vin's antagonism read less annoying this time and just more dramatic, and everyone else really did well. B.C. teetered on the brink of crazy well, and once again, Tina Lifford really nailed it. She was interesting and sympathetic and her turns of panicking and pulling herself back together made her really credible and identifiable. Deborah Van Valkenburgh was solid as the detective/negotiator. She had poise, which is pretty much all you can have in that situation.

Matthew: I loved Van Valkenburgh in the role, and I wish she had been in both episodes. She added a much needed harder edge to the higher society portion of the population. Clint Howard portrayed yet another crazy homeless person. Hey, I guess it's in his weelhouse. Frank Military was good yet again as B.C. Really, the whole guest cast was in a bit of a holding pattern here. And the pattern they're holding is "solid."

Production Values

Kevin: Jonathan Frakes directed this episode, and I think he did a good job. For most of the important action, it was all a dozen people in one room, and he really kept the hostage scenes brimming with tension and energy. The comments on the costuming and design are still in effect from the last review, other than adding I kind hated Preston's Zack Morris cell-phone. We had better stuff than that in 1990s, at least conceptually.

Matthew: Every aspect of the execution of those scenes was crackerjack and dramatic, except one: I loathe it when people cock shotguns for no reason. Folks, the only reason to do that is to clear the chamber of the weapon after it has been fired. The beaming scenes were pretty lame, sort of dressing things in the most stereotypical "period" props and costumes.


Kevin: Unlike certain other recent contributions that shall go nameless (Into Darkness), this at least tries for a big idea, and frankly one right out of the Rodenberry playbook. If it were a planet that somehow managed to have a parallel history with San Francisco and Kirk and Spock had to play dress up, this would be an episode of TOS. Maybe because of its genuine attempt at being actual Star Trek, I am feeling charitable today. The hostage scenes themselves had enough energy for me to just nudge this into a 3.

Matthew: I understand your knee-jerk reaction to the new movie. This is indeed quite a bit better. But I think the tonal and story problems keep it in the same basic territory as part 1, and I'm going with a 2 for a total of 5. The rescue was just as contrived as the stranding, and the overarching message about society was just as naive. There's entertainment to be had in watching this, to be sure. But probably not real illumination or enlightenment.

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