Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season 3 Episode 11

Past Tense (1)

Aired Weekdays 11:00 AM Jan 02, 1995 on Syndicado

Episode Fan Reviews (5)

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out of 10
167 votes
  • One of my favorites.

    At its heart, Star Trek is an exploration of and commentary on the evolving social interaction of mankind. As individuals, we are essentially the same as our ancestors who lived hundreds or thousands of years ago, born with the same genetic makeup, sharing the same potential, and feeling the same emotions. As a society, however, we are ever learning and changing, going through horrid phases such as slavery and the holocaust and other times rising above our bigotry to put social structures in place to better protect people from selfishness and hate. With the nature of Star Trek being essentially a study of how we treat each other, the shows are at their best when its characters are facing the worst.

    Instead of borrowing bad circumstances from history or creating an allegorical copy, "Past Tense" invents its own setting: a homeless ghetto in the 21st century. The genius of the idea is that it's such a natural extension of human history, fitting snugly into our social patterns, it feels like a real (and heartbreaking) future. Like most bad ideas that become reality (and unlike fictional dystopian futures that don't), the scenario in this episode is grounded with good intentions. The homeless need food and a place to live. The rest of us would like to walk down the street without being bothered. So why not give the homeless a sanctuary with a job placement program and kill two birds with one stone? Then again, the roots of the holocaust are essentially the same.

    Through a time travel accident, Sisko, Bashir, and Dax are tossed into this setting, their rank and technology rendered moot. The two men get the A story, giving us a look at life inside the Sanctuary. (They are homeless after all). Sisko, the history buff, serves as our guide while Bashir becomes the audience surrogate, learning the basics of the situation. Dax, avoiding the same fate (despite being an illegal alien,) gets the B story, meeting a wealthy man who takes a liking to her. She gives us a set of eyes to see the perspective of those on the other side of the walls. (O'Brien and Kira, still in their own time period, get the C story; they try to figure out what happened to Sisko and company and what to do about it).

    Part 1, reminiscent of the original series episode "The City on the Edge of Forever", resembles a documentary, proceeding quietly for the most part and introducing elements and characters to set up Part 2. Featuring location shooting at Paramount's "New York Street" backlot and a flash flood of extras, the episode has a much different look than what the series usually presents... and a convincing reality. This uniqueness is enhanced by the absence of music, with only a few minutes of audible score.

    The premise plays on an existing stigma attached to being homeless; that it's the result of being stupid or immoral. To see Sisko and Bashir (the furthest thing from) dealing with this prejudice provides an insightful exploration into the social patterns of our present. (Seeing Sisko and Bashir deal with a DMV style queue is doubly interesting because we like to see how the two react, and we like to see how our contemporaries react to them. This is why fans have always enjoyed watching the Star Trek characters interact with the people of our time).

    As the episode comes to its conclusion, Sisko makes a decision that's a watershed moment for the character and the series. In this writer's opinion, the choice (and the way it's made) finally vaults the Commander into the same leading man status as Kirk and Picard. Making Sisko Captain later on is just a formality.
  • Interesting episode, but mostly setup for part 2.

    "Past Tense" was an interesting choice for a story. Time travel had of course been part and parcel of the Trek universe since the original series, but most of the stories involved journeys to the distant past (which includes our present). Here, we get some of our present / their past filled in.

    The story is inevitably preachy and moralizing, which may turn some off. But the contempt for the past we tended to get in TNG is replaced by a sense of regret. And hey - for many people, even in this wealthy country of ours, life is difficult. In that regard, this episode just shines a mirror, whether you agree with the moral or not.

    Of course, this episode is mostly setup for the more interesting events of Part 2, and it's not until the cliffhanger ending that we really get excited.
  • Time travel episodes have become one of the halmarks of Star Trek. This episode ranks among the very best.

    A transporter accident sends Sisko, Dax and Dr. Bashir back to a turning point in Earth's history. A time in our near future where the downtrodden, the unemployed and the mentally ill are locked up in sanctuary zones for thier own protection. Out of sight out of mind, these people are forced to suffer simply because society doesn't wish to see them anymore. Although they are forbidden by Starfleet's temporal prime directive from interefering, our heroes inadvertantly cause a paradox and must take action to save the future.

    This is one of the first DS9 episodes that really caught my attention. Until this episode, the show was pretty much a hit-or-miss affair as far as I was concerned. This show really resonated with me, however, and I think it really catches the spirit of the original series. I like the fact that the writers took the time to show us one of the steps on the road that takes us from the present into the positive future that Star Trek seeks to portray. This show truly is exactly why I watch the series.
  • One Of My Favs

    This two parter is one of my fav episodes of DS9, especially the first episode. When I first watched it I was so engaged in it, I thought it was really well done. I thought this was one of Siddigs best performances in the first few seasons and I thought Brooks was equally as great.
  • Time travel again for Trek

    The thing about Star Trek, you wonder about these tough guys who can battle Cardassians and Vulcans in hand-to-hand combat. But then you throw at them a guy in a long coat and a fedora who keeps his eyes open too widely, and they crumble.

    Let's face it, this tough hood from the "Sanctuary" is nicely scrubbed and about as threatening as the photocopier guy Rob Schneider plays on Saturday Night Live.

    I remember liking this ep when it originally aired, but part one at least hasn't aged all that well.

    Still, it's aged better than the Bill Gates clone's hairdo.