Past Tense Part 1 (original airdate: January 8, 1995)
Past Tense Part 2 (original airdate: January 15, 1995)
Written by Ira Steven Behr, Robert Hewitt Wolfe, and René Echevarria
Directed by Reza Badiyi and Jonathan Frakes
Star Trek has always lightly touched upon economics, but it never really got serious about it. In The Next Generation, Picard greets Samuel Clemens, who has been transported through time and explains how in the 24th century, there is no longer currency, and people work for the pleasure of exploring their interests. All the basic needs of food and housing have been met. It’s an idyllic future and not one that is impossible if humanity would just get their act together. It’s also something explored in this very relevant two-parter from season three of Deep Space Nine.
A transporter malfunction sends Captain Sisko, Dr. Bashir, and Lt. Dax hurtling them back to the early 21st century during a period of harsh austerity and fascism on the planet. Sisko and Bashir are discovered unconscious by armed brown shirts who escort them to a Sanctuary District. During this period, homeless and unemployed people were rounded up and placed in ghettos called Sanctuaries. They were ignored by the populations outside those walls and left to fend for themselves, eventually turning on each other. Sisko realizes they are living the days just before an event known as the Bell Riots. Protest leader Gabriel Bell would lead what would become one of the most violent civil uprisings in American history with the subsequent crackdown killing hundreds of Sanctuary residents.
Meanwhile, Dax is discovered by Chris Brynner, a wealthy information systems executive. She is swept into a life of privilege while trying to make contact with her crewmates via her Starfleet communicator. At this point, it becomes clear that the episodes are examining the economic and racial disparities that exist on Earth during our own times. Sisko is an African-American, and Bashir is a man of North African descent. Their characters being targeted by the forces of oppression signifies the continuing oppression of non-white people, mainly if they are poor.
Past Tense serves to inform the viewers of what a great journey was made to get to the optimistic and egalitarian 24th century. Humanity had to reach its lowest point before it could make the changes it needed to survive. This is also in the tradition of the original Star Trek series with its time travel and transporter malfunctions serving as hooks into thematically more meaningful stories. Though in DS9, instead of having aliens as stand-ins for metaphors of racism, the series features characters who look just like people around us. The ending is a little bit of Trek silliness in the way it plays with the timeline, but it’s definitely not like your typical Trek episode when viewed against the rest of the series.
Improbable Cause (original airdate: April 24, 1995)
The Die is Cast (original airdate: May 1, 1995)
Written by Robert Lederman, David R. Long, René Echevarria, and Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Avery Brooks and David Livingston
Interesting fact: Rick Berman, the man who took over Star Trek when Gene Rodenberry passed away, was notoriously homophobic. During the Next Generation episode The Offspring, there was going to be a gay couple in the background of a scene in Ten-Forward, and he fought it until the element was removed. In Deep Space Nine, the idea was to eventually have Dr. Bashir and Garak form a romantic relationship, and this was nixed, and suddenly the two stopped being close friends, sharing dinner together on the Promenade. It took until JJ Abrams’ Trek before we saw an actual LGBTQ couple (Sulu and his husband).
Improbable Cause came about as the payoff for a long build-up of Garak’s true motives. He was an exiled Cardassian, former agent of their covert ops org Obsidian Order. The hook of the episode is that an explosive goes off in Garak’s tailor shop, bringing Odo into the investigation. To get to the bottom of what is going on, Odo delves in Garak’s past and seeks to learn if he is genuinely an exile or a spy sent by Cardassia Prime. In earlier episodes, the seeds had been planted about the Obsidian Order ramping up operations, and this two-parter is also a payoff to that subplot.
A prominent character goal in this episode is to really explore how far Garak would go and inform us about his past life as an interrogator. There was a tense relationship established between Garak and Odo that culminates here with a reversal. Garak ends up in a power position over the constable and has his morals pushed when his former commander orders him to torture the changeling for information. The great twist at this moment is when Garak crumbles and begs Odo to submit so he can stop. We realize Garak has deep empathy for Odo despite the Cardassian’s snarky exterior. A great character development storyline.