Part I: The Defiant has arrived at Earth and Cmdr. Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks), Dr. Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig) and Lt. Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell) are beamed to the surface, where they will address the Starfleet Symposium in San Fran on the situation in their area (the Gamma Quadrant). But they never arrive! Chief Miles O’Brien (Colm Meaney) has no clue what happened; it was a transporter accident (very common in the ST universe). Meanwhile, the three find themselves in San Fran, but the time is 2024. Bashir and Sisko are arrested and put the Sanctuary District (a ghetto where homeless, jobless, and mentally ill people live). Sisko notices this is a few days before a major riot breaks out (a pivotal moment in history). Lee (Tina Lifford), a woman working at the processing center, gives them ration cards (for food) and explains how things work. Dax is assisted by Chris Brynner, a wealthy businessman, who helps her get an ID and hotel room (assuming she was mugged).
Part II: Sisko has taken the place of the revolutionary Gabriel Bell to ensure the hostages at the processing center stay safe. He needs to keep the trigger-happy B.C. (Frank Military) and security guard Vin (Dick Miller) calm and away from each other. Bashir fears for the captain’s life, as the original Bell died in the riots. When their new friend, Webb (Bill Smitrovich), manages to reach the processing center, Sisko asks him to find some stable men to guard the hostages. Dax decides to take action, frustrated w/ just watching the news on the riots. On the Defiant, Major Kira (Nana Visitor) and Chief O’Brien decide that their only option is to go back into the past, though Odo (Rene Auberjonois) looks a bit worried. (This ep as directed by Jonathan Frakes, who played Riker on TNG.)
Sisko: By the early 2020s, there was a place like this in every major city in the United States.
Bashir: Why are these people in here? Are they criminals?
Sisko: No, people with criminal records weren’t allowed in the Sanctuary Districts.
Bashir: Then what did they do to deserve this?
Sisko: Nothing. Just people, without jobs or places to live.
Bashir: Ah, so they get put in here?
Sisko: Welcome to the 21st century, Doctor.
Bashir [after a day at Sanctuary]: Causing people to suffer because you hate them… is terrible. But causing people to suffer because you have forgotten how to care… that’s really hard to understand.
This is the first Star Trek production to feature scenes set in the 21st Century. Ira Steven Behr’s inspiration to create the Bell Riots was the 1971 riot in New York’s Attica Prison (where inmates demanded better living conditions). While this ep was being shot in LA, the city was deciding whether they should set up a separate area for the homeless. This is the kind of story that Roddenberry would’ve approved of, as it tackles current social problems under the guise of sci-fi. If you (or a friend) are new to Trek, these might be up your alley.
Chris: Don’t worry, your friends are fine. That’s the whole point of the Sanctuary, to give people in trouble food and a place to stay.
Dax: If that’s all it’s for, then why is there a wall around it?
On the Women at Warp podcast (May 8, 2016), they discussed these eps in depth. Sisko and Bashir (both men of color) are quickly taken away and arrested; Dax (who landed in a different area) and is a beautiful white woman was the one who got rescued. Though Dax is not human (she is a Trill w/ hundreds of years of knowledge), she easily explains that her markings are tattoos. Later on, we see her at a party w/ Chris’ upper class friends; one couple is annoyed that protests in Europe led them to cancel their vacation. Dax knows just how to charm Chris and uses her privilege to help her friends. Sisko decides that Webb (an even-tempered white man w/ a family) should be the public face of the riot; this is a clever move. While police surround the area, Webb gets on the call w/ Det. Preston (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) and states the demands of the Sanctuary residents. Bashir, young and coming from a sheltered background, learns much from Sisko and experiencing hardship. Kira and O’Brien provide a sprinkling of humor in the dark story by hopping through time periods.