Sisko and company rescue a Bajoran who is being pursued by the Cardassians; subsequently, they learn the man is Tahna Los of the Kohn-Ma, an extremist faction of Bajoran terrorists who have continued their war with the Cardassians (and any Bajorans they consider “collaborators”) despite the Cardassian withdrawal from the Bajoran system. Kira, who knows Tahna personally from her days in the Bajoran resistance, is eager to see Tahna and others like him repatriated, to the point that she goes over Sisko’s head to complain to his superiors about his reluctance; Sisko, for his part, grants Tahna asylum after Tahna assures him he is tired of the fighting. To Kira’s dismay, however, it is eventually revealed that Tahna intends to collapse the mouth of the wormhole, thus removing the Federation’s reason for maintaining a presence in the Bajoran sector. Meanwhile, Bashir becomes acquainted with Elim Garak, a cagey Cardassian “tailor” who guides Bashir to discovering clues as to the Kohn-Ma’s true mission on DS9.
Overall: 8.7 – A very strong early episode.
The first season is strongest when it addresses the Bajorans’ ambivalence – and sometimes hostility – regarding the Federation presence in their system. In episodes such as this, the writers demonstrate their keen insight into the difficulties that are an inherent feature of humanitarian military missions, particularly those missions into regions in which the cultural assumptions are radically different from the modern Western point-of-view. And this particular episode gains further strength when you put it beside the opening three episodes of the second season: Tahna’s stated desire for a “Bajor for the Bajorans” becomes, in retrospect, a delicious hint of the ideology of the Circle. Hooray for foreshadowing!
Past Prologue also contains some excellent character work. We see, for example, a Kira who has not immediately adjusted to her role, thank goodness. While she recognizes that the wormhole has changed the playing field and says as much, I think it’s key to note how she insists to Tahna that the Federation’s presence is temporary. At this point, she does not consider Bajor’s absorption into the benign Federation hegemony to be an option. And, of course, we also see her hesitation to close the book on her old life; this will become the dominant theme of Kira’s early character development. Moreover, Past Prologue introduces the viewer to one of the series strongest recurring characters – Garak – and right away establishes his ambiguity.
There’s a marked quality jump in the acting between the pilot and this episode. Nana Visitor is throttled back here and seems more comfortable in Kira’s skin - and Andrew Robinson of course adds a few points all on his own by instantaneously mastering the art of subtext.
This episode very carefully makes it clear that repatriation to Bajor requires the abandonment of terrorist tactics on the part of former resistance fighters. And, as mentioned previously, it does an excellent job of addressing the very real resentment felt by a society that has been forced to depend upon a “superpower” for its defense while still portraying said "superpower" as a force for good.
“Go over my head again, and I’ll have yours on a platter.” – Sisko asserting his authority over Kira.
“It was so much easier when I knew who the enemy was.” – Kira to Odo as she struggles with her ambivalence.
“I think, doctor… that you could definitely use a new suit.” – Sisko encouraging Bashir to pursue Garak’s lead.
It’s interesting how quickly Odo suggested to Sisko that he lock up Lursa and B’Etor before they’d actually done anything criminal. It’s interesting, too, that in the same scene, Odo pines for the “simpler” days of the Cardassian occupation. Speaking of foreshadowing, isn’t this a rather interesting suggestion of Odo’s lineage?
Also interesting is O’Brien’s conversation with Sisko about the Cardassians: “You wouldn’t want to turn a man – any man – over to their tender care, sir.” Moments like this really make me pine for more exploration of Kira and O’Brien’s common ground.
Edited to Add: - that I forgot something crucial, and that is our first glimpse at the bond between Odo and Kira. (Let us chalk that up to the current arthritis flare in my knee, shall we?) That scene in which Odo plays sounding board to Kira's stream of consciousness and gently guides her down the right path is a gorgeous early moment between the characters that showcases the ways in which Kira and Odo are capable of bringing out the best in each other. There are darker sides to this relationship that will be explored in depth later, true, but I don't think this foundation should ever be forgotten even as we add on complications.