I just watched the Deep Space Nine two-parter "Past Tense" again recently. Though it's not DS9 at its very best, and it's preachy even for Star Trek, it's always affecting—and it seems like every time I watch it, it becomes more plausible.
I'm not referring, of course, to the "chroniton envelope isolating the Defiant from the changes to the timeline" business, or even the idea of "changes to the timeline" making sense. If time travel is possible, nobody but the time travelers would ever perceive "changes to the timeline," because the act of traveling into the past would spawn divergent timelines that cannot be re-merged, but instead only be made to seem identical…but that's a discussion for another time. (Maybe when I finally get around to watching Primer, that can be part of my review.)
No, the plausible part is all the 2024 Sanctuary District stuff. The last time I watched "Past Tense" was probably four or five years ago, and what felt plausible then is no less so now:
- "It's not that they don't give a damn, Doctor. It's that they've given up. The social problems facing them seem too enormous to deal with." - Sisko
"We had to cancel our trip to the Alps this year because of the student protests in France." - the female party guest
"Jobs. You guys want jobs? When are you going to figure it out? There are no jobs! Not for us, anyway." - B.C.
But on this latest viewing, I was particularly struck by the government's response to the crisis. The negotiator wants to continue talking with Sisko (as Bell) and Webb, but the governor decides not to wait anymore and sends in the troops, which obviously results in confusion and needless death. Just as it would occur in reality.
Unless the governor of California in 2024 was Arnold again, in which case he'd go in himself, presumably via choppa.
My blackly cynical side thinks that a real-life analog of the Bell Riots could have no actual impact in inspiring the U.S. to begin solving the social problems Sisko alludes to—which are, in the minds of the writers, our present-day social problems (okay, as of the mid-1990s, but socioeconomically not much has improved since then). Instead, the media would demonize the hostage-takers—and by extension, all Sanctuary residents—making their plight seem, to the general public, either unimportant or well-deserved. For helping Jadzia, Chris Brynner would be convicted of espionage and imprisoned for decades. And even if the public supported closing the Districts, how would that translate to political will to do so? I don't see Washington sorting its shit out enough in the next eleven years for that to make sense, do you?
However, Star Trek always tried to be optimistic, even in DS9's darkest moments, so let's do the same here. Maybe Sisko's right when he says, "It'll take time, and it won't be easy, but eventually people in this century will remember how to care." ("And then in a couple years, World War III will fuck all THAT up, too," he should've added, but I nerd-digress.) Maybe, when it comes to humans establishing policies to deal with other humans they don't personally know, things always have to get really bad before they get any better. It's certainly the case that we seem genetically predisposed to ignore a growing problem until it becomes impossible to continue ignoring.
The two-parter ends with Sisko and Bashir safely back on the Defiant in the 24th century, and Bashir asks, "How could they have let things get so bad?" Sisko has no answer. Maybe the answer is "it could never have been otherwise."
DS9 is on Netflix Instant and CBS.com. It's the best Trek there is, and I will fight you on that.