Sometimes, when writing posts for this blog, I start with no clear idea of what I have to say, and only find out what it is that I think by the process of writing. So it is with ‘The Visitor’, the third episode of season 4 of DS9, which I watched with very mixed feelings but which, when I did my customary post-watch research, I find is regarded as one of the top ten Star Trek episodes of all time.
The subject is simple. An elderly Jake Sisko, played by Tony Todd deliberately echoing Avery Brooks’ speech patterns, tell his life-story to a would-be writer, Melanie. His life has been dominated by the death of his father, when Jake was merely eighteen. However, Captain Sisko did not actually die but was pulled into sub-space by a temporal disruption, from which he emerges at times to visit Jake.
After establishing a life for himself, and a reputation as a writer, Jake becomes obsessed with rescuing his father, which he calculates he can do by dying during Benjamin’s next appearance, which is the day of Melanie’s visit. The elder Sisko is aghast that his son has wasted his life in his obsession, and stricken when he learns that the injection we see the aged Jake take at the start of the episode is a suicide injection.
Exactly as Jake plans, his death closes a temporal loop, takes both of them back to the instant of the accident, only this time the fore-warned Benjamin avoids the energy surge. The Siskos get a second chance at a life.
It’s naturally a very Jake-centric episode, with Captain Sisko prominent, and primarily cameo roles for the rest of the cast, with a bit extra for Doctor Bashir and Jardzia Dax, who are aged up rather brilliantly by the make-up team to appear with a fortyish Jake at one point. The episode relies very heavily on its framing story and its two guest stars (Melanie is played by Rachel Robinson, daughter of Andrew, aka Garak).
It was there that the episode was at its weakest, for me. Because he was aping Avery Brooks, Todd’s performance throughout this was overly and overtly mannered, and kept jerking me back to this being one actor affecting the style of another. Robinson, in her turn, was altogether too gushing, and the writing, especially for her, I found to be overwrought and unconvincing. She arrives in the middle of the night, in the rain, uninvited and unexpected, full of praise, awe, disbelief and a generally cloying demeanour about meeting her hero. He, in return, is charming and twinkling, the old and wise man graciously condescending to the naive and unrealistic youngster. It was stagey, unrealistic and unconvincing.
The ‘historical’ elements, featuring Jake’s life without his father, began well, with Jake resisting leaving DS9 because it was the home his father made for him, though he was completely without direction. Then future history started to kick in. Sisko’s death, the Emissary’s death, was seen by the Bajorans as a sign that the Federation could not resist the Klingon Empire. They conclude a mutual defence pact with the Cardassian Empire, evacuate DS9, which gets turned over to the Klingons and goes into a decline. All of which is ultimately meaningless when time eventually loops back, and will doubtless have no bearing upon the remainder of this, or future seasons.
It didn’t bother me in the slightest that we ended up back at the beginning. It was both inevitable and logical, with no contrivance required, inherent in the story.
I’m being critical at the moment because, when I was looking at the episode objectively, as I try to do each week, the blogger studying his subject, these were my responses, a wide difference from the overwhelming level of response to the episode over the twenty years since it was first broadcast.
But that’s not all this was. In its heart, this was the story of a boy who lost his father too young, and who was scarred forever by that, and that is my story. When the episode went directly for naked emotion, it tore me up as well, and these were intense moments when my own feelings merged with Jake’s, and overrode them, when the episode stopped being something I was watching from outside.
These moments were punctuations, coming only when Jake and Benjamin were placed together, the impossible reunion, the one I want as much as the lost, obsessive Jake but,in this Universe, will never have. They were flashpoints. They couldn’t have been anything else, they weren’t sustainable, nobody could have lasted on that level, but their intensity for me meant that the remainder of the episode was a lightyear behind.
Ultimately, I think the very nature of the story was too close to me personally for me to be capable of a coherent response, or an assessment that has any value. Yes, I found a lot of ‘The Visitor’ flawed and overdone but it also got to me in a way that very little art, and Network Television, Prime-Time, formulated art at that, has ever done.