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"Past Tense" is a two-part episode from the third season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The first segment maintains a fan rating of 4.6 out of 5 on the official Star Trek Website, while the second is rated 4.7 out of 5.

Quick Overview: The crew of the Defiant is thrown back in time to 2024 on Earth. The United States of Americamarker has attempted to solve the problem of homelessness by erecting "Sanctuary Districts" where unemployed and mentally ill persons are placed in makeshift ghettos.

Plot

When Commander Sisko, Dr. Bashir, and Jadzia Dax attempt to beam down to Earth from the Defiant, something goes wrong and they materialize in San Franciscomarker in the year 2024.

Dax is separated from her crewmates. Luckily, she is found by a passing businessman named Chris Brynner, who escorts her back to his office and takes care of her, believing she had been mugged. He admires the "tattoos" on her face and throat, and compliments the exotic name Jadzia, which he guesses is Dutch.

Meanwhile, Sisko and Bashir are having a harder time. They are awakened by a pair of police officers armed with pump-action shotguns, who believe them to be vagrants and warn them to get off the streets. They find their way to an employment office, which is crowded with unemployed workers and used as a way-station by throngs of people with untreated mental illness and nowhere else to go. Sisko sees the date on the calendar and realizes they have arrived just days before the "Bell Riots", a seminal historical event. They are in a "Sanctuary District", a fenced-off ghetto that is used to contain the poor, the sick, the mentally disabled, and anyone else who cannot support themselves. The Bell Riots happened when tensions rose to the breaking point, the residents of the Sanctuary Districts angry about the loss of their dignity and the inability of the government to provide them the means to honestly support themselves. Dozens will be killed, including a man named Gabriel Bell, the leader of the demonstration. Bell will become a hero because of his self-sacrifice while protecting hostages. As a result of Bell's heroism attitudes to the poor and sick begin to change. Sisko and Bashir want to be out of the city before this happens. That night they sleep in a stairwell, since all the buildings in the Sanctuary District are either full, or guarded by gangs.

Dax is diligently working on locating her crewmates and trying to understand what is going on. Brynner provides her with clothing and currency, and she uses his computer to get an identification card and find information about the era. When she accompanies Brynner to a swank party she visits the upper echelons of society that no one in the Sanctuary Districts can ever hope to see.

Disaster strikes when a fight breaks out because Sisko and Bashir resist attempts to steal the food cards they have been given. A man who comes to their aid is killed, and Sisko and Bashir discover after the fact that he was Gabriel Bell. They have inadvertently caused the death of the man who must lead the uprising just days from now. If the Bell Riots never occur, Earth's history will take a different course. Sisko decides he must make sure these events happen as they did, and he takes on the identity of Gabriel Bell.

Back in the 24th century, the crew left on the Defiant, Major Kira, Odo, and Chief O'Brien, lose contact with Earth as all traces of the Federation suddenly vanish; Bell's death has radically altered the timeline. They begin to perform calculations and get ready to use the transporters to zero in on the location in time of their lost crewmembers. Kira and O'Brien make several test trips, always ending up in the wrong point in time. They continue to work on the problem.

Sisko (as Bell) and Bashir return to the employment center just as it is stormed by a group of disgruntled Sanctuary Residents and its staff and police officers taken hostage. Sisko takes on leadership of the revolt, trying to ensure that no one gets hurt, and understanding that at the resolution of the revolt Gabriel Bell must die. He makes demands to the governor, insisting they be given airtime to express their grievances. He wants the Sanctuary Districts closed and he wants the people to be given opportunities to earn an honest living.

The riots are in full swing outside. Dax watches from Brynner's office, knowing Sisko and Bashir are caught in the Sanctuary District and are in danger, and heads down to find them. She sneaks through the lines via a sewer pipe and is caught and delivered to the employment center to explain herself. There Sisko and Bashir catch up with her in secret. She sneaks back out, certain that Brynner will be able to order a terminal activated at the employment center so that the leaders of the revolt can tell their stories and have them broadcast worldwide, which was the main force that turned the tide of opinion, leading to the end of the Sanctuary Districts.

With only enough energy for one more transport, Kira and O'Brien finally transport themselves to the correct time in history and contact Dax. They stand by to rescue Sisko and Bashir if they can. It is a close call as the SWAT teams move in on the employment center to end the riot once and for all. They open fire, killing the leaders of the revolt; Sisko takes a bullet in the shoulder to protect the hostages and survives. Once the riots are over, the two police officers who first confronted Sisko and Bashir agree to slip Sisko's identification (with Bell's name) onto one of the dead men, and also to tell the truth about what has happened here. The DS9 officers are beamed back to the Defiant in the 24th century and find everything back to normal, history having unfolded just as it should have. The only difference in time (as revealed at the end of the episode) is that Bell's entry in the historical records now shows Sisko's picture in place of his own.

Trivia

  • During this episode, one of the policemen says the best baseball team he ever saw was the 1999 New York Yankees. The Yankees swept the World Series that year with an overall playoff record of 11-1, more than four years after this episode originally aired.
  • The ending plot is somewhat similar to the Norrmalmstorg robbery in Stockholmmarker where bank robbers held four employees as hostages. In this case, the victims became emotionally attached to their victimizers, and even defended their captors after they were freed from their six-day ordeal. This phenomenon became known as Stockholm syndrome.
  • The city of San Francisco planned districts reserved for disadvantaged residents, according to Ira Steven Behr, eerily similar-sounding to the Sanctuary Districts in the episode, during production.
  • When Kira and O'Brien are attempting to reach the proper time period, one of their 'false starts' lands them in the year 2048 of the alternate timeline. O'Brien later speaks of what he saw there: "Earth had its rough patches, but never that rough." Since in the 'real' 2048, World War III was still going on, it is unclear what O'Brien could have seen that would be worse than that.


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