Before watching this latest episode, I was considering whether or not I needed a break: I’m personally not in a good space and last week’s Quark-centred episode was a serious trial. Deep Space Nine to date has not been the experience my recollections of twenty years gone led me to anticipate, and perhaps it might serve a purpose to suspend this series of posts after season 3 is completed. Let me refresh myself, regain a bit of enthusiasm.
Needless to say, at that point the series delivered up a stone cold winner that absorbed me from start to finish, that was superbly written and acted brilliantly by its principals, and which did not once allow me to second guess its course or outcome.
An unusually lengthy open started in media res, with Chief O’Brien having just taken a mild radiation jolt and being confined to light duties. It’s a busy time, with a Romulan delegation just arriving to collect every scrap of Federation intelligence there was about the Dominion (and being very Romulan about it, of course), whilst a damaged Klingon ship fetches up at DS9 for repairs.
Enough meat in there for a story in itself, but that wasn’t what ‘Visionary’ was going to be about. With everything thus set up, we wound up back at the Chief, trying to get darts established at Quark’s before slipping into a fugal vision, of himself in the future, arguing with Quark on the promenade. That this wasn’t just an hallucination was evidenced by the fact that Future Miles could see Current Miles…
This was only the first time-shift. Bashir and Dax, between them, determined that the Chief was suffering from a minor degree of radiation poisoning that was being activated by temporal surges emanating from an invisible quantum singularity in orbit about DS9. As science goes, it was plausible and authentic sounding (a nice change) so let’s ignore the mechanics and follow the timeshifts, because these started to multiply.
Each jumped Current Miles five hours forward, to wherever Future Miles was, and each time Current Miles was physically transferred temporally, in fugues that lasted only seconds in Current time. Each one grew increasingly dangerous for Future Miles: badly beaten and threatened with a knife in a bar brawl at Quark’s, killed by a laser concealed behind a seemingly innocuous panel, dead and autopsied after an unexpected radioactive isotope raddled him, and evacuating DS9 in a runabout whilst witnessing the station exploding into smithereens.
And each jump caught up with itself five hours later, with the effects of each jump either avoided or eradicated by Current Miles’ enhanced knowledge.
Meanwhile, what might have been used as an A plot continued. The Romulans treat everything and everybody with suspicion, appearing to suspect that all manner of collaboration with the Dominion is going on. The Klingons bullock about drunkenly. The Romulans, purely without evidence, suggest Odo fancies Kira, the very idea of which sends the Major into an undiplomatic fury, expostulating to the Constable about how ridiculous the accusation is: fortunately, Odo is spared answering by a security crisis.
But this is no A plot. Everything is woven skillfully together. The Klingons are an intelligence squad, sent to spy on the Romulans, and are neutralised by Odo. The Romulans…
Ah yes. O’Brien returns from the fugue that reveals to him DS9’s imminent destruction. He has no information as to how, why or who, but with Bashir’s assistance in preparing a precisely calculated radiation dosage – a much higher, pain-inducing and potentially fatal dosage – O’Brien makes a calculated, sacrificial shift of only three hours.
In ever increasing pain, he and Future O’Brien get to the bridge, just in time for it all to be revealed: a Romulan Warbird uncloaking, attacking the station. The desperate throw has succeeded, but there is a fatal flaw. The radiation has proved fatal. Current Miles is dying, too weak for the reverse trip. In a beautifully executed twist, a wonderfully ironic step, Current Miles saves Future Miles a final time, by forcing on him the device. It is Future Miles who returns to the Current moment, to save the station, and to take over Current Miles’ life.
The Romulans are escorted off the station, under threat of a 50 photon torpedo assault on their cloaked Warbird. Their motive was entirely rational: if the Dominion are the greatest threat to the Alpha Quadrant in centuries, then that threat can be eradicated by removing their access to that Quadrant. Attack and collapse the Wormhole, destroy DS9, which can be painted as a victim of accidental collapse, end of threat.
If there was a flaw in this episode it was, paradoxically, not in this episode. Future O’Brien feels out of place, as if he is living a life different from the one he should be doing. Bashir, common-sensically, points out that he is Current Miles, only with a few extra memories, memories that he doesn’t bother pointing out extend less than five hours hence.
It’s a moment of strangeness that draws us into contemplation of what O’Brien has gone through, with his strangely convoluted timepath, with its succession of false starts, each witnessed but then overturned. No wonder Future Miles feels out of place, and ever so slightly unreal: after all, since he went through being Current Miles, he has seen himself die three times, and even though it belongs to a fractal timeline now removed, he knows that the third time was real. Who couldn’t help but be disoriented?
But the closing credits run, and we know that that utterly fascinating state runs away with them, never to be referenced again. Such a shame.
However, that’s next week’s episode. I have a week’s reassurance that this is all worthwhile, still, and thoughts of a sabbatical go onto the back-burner. Excellent all round.