|O'Brien sees his own death.|
After having reached an agreement with the Federation to equip Defiant with a cloaking device, the Romulans have come to Deep Space 9 to collect the information about the Dominion that they were promised. They are particularly suspicious of Odo, a member of the very race that is the power behind The Dominion. Sisko attempts to navigate a diplomatic tightrope to satisfy the Romulans without appearing weak in the process - an effort which is complicated by the arrival of a Klingon ship.
While all this is going on, Chief O'Brien receives a mild case of radiation poisoning. Bashir treats it immediately, and there appears to be no real danger. Then O'Brien begins experiencing "time shifts." He is propelled five hours into the future. First he observes a minor interaction with Quark. Then he observes a bar brawl between the Klingons and Romulans. After both of these come to pass, the entire Ops crew is taking the matter very seriously.
Then O'Brien "shifts" again and gets the most disturbing vision of all: his own death!
Commander Sisko: Tries to be patient and diplomatic in dealing with the Romulans. He wants to accomodate them as much as possible. But he won't be taken for a weakling. When the Romulans demand classified information, he makes it clear that any such information must be cleared through Starfleet Command. His strongest moment comes late in the episode, when the threads linking all these events come together and he faces down the responsible party, letting the steel that is his strongest attribute finally show through.
Major Kira: Has a highly emotional reaction when the Romulans imply that Odo might be interested in her. Her outburst, capped with a threat not to repeat those allegations to Odo, is perhaps a little too defensive. I suspect Kira is at least subconsciously aware of Odo's interest, but keeping deliberately in denial - hence her rage at having something she's trying to deny thrust right at her.
O'Brien: His reaction to the time shifts is very well-portrayed. At first, he is in denial, thinking that he is experiencing hallucinations. Then he becomes actively worried when he sees his own death. That is an image he can't entirely shake, actually seeing himself lying dead at his own feet. He very clearly wants to be saved from the consequences of the time shifts. Nonetheless, he doesn't hesitate to put himself at risk in order to stop a greater catastrophe.
Dr. Bashir: His friendship with O'Brien has clearly grown, and the two have an easy chemistry throughout the episode. Bashir starts out being very lighthearted about O'Brien's shifts. But as it becomes clear that the situation is serious and that his friend is at very real risk, his tone changes to one of genuine concern. In the tag, as O'Brien mulls over all that has happened with a certain insecurity, Bashir does his best to ease his mind.
Odo: When he figures out the means by which some surveillance equipment was beamed onto the station, he does the full Hercule Poirot in unveiling the solution to Sisko. By looking over the equipment, he has determined how it was done and who did it - and he followed up by doing enough research to prove it. When Sisko asks why Odo couldn't just tell him the who and how without the rest of it, the security chief's reply is priceless: "Sometimes I have to remind you just how good I am."
Romulans: The agreement to equip Defiant represents a major step in Federation/Romulan relations. It is the first cooperative venture that the two governments have ever embarked upon, and as such its success is very important to both parties. This cooperation is possibly only because the Romulans recognize the level of threat the Dominion represents. The Romulans' devious nature is not forgotten, nor is their deep-set enmity with the Klingons; both traits actively play into the story's unfolding.
In many ways, Visionary feels like a companion piece to Season Two's excellent Whispers. Both are O'Brien-centric episodes, and both play with questions of identity in their endings. That one felt modeled on 1970's paranoid thrillers while this one has a healthy dose of Slaughterhouse Five. But most particularly in the two episodes' resolutions, they feel at the very least like cousins.
Visionary isn't as good as Whispers. It doesn't have the same momentum, and it takes a long time for all the threads (the time shifts, the Romulans, and the Klingons) to come together. There's also a regrettable amount of Technobabble involved in the solution, both in identifying the singularity and in transforming O'Brien into a deliberate time traveler. The ending is intriguing in some of the questions it poses... but I have a feeling that Bashir's statement that it makes no difference is the show's final word on the subject and that, if this is even mentioned again, it will almost certainly be in passing.
For all of that, Visionary is still a good episode. We again see Deep Space 9's strength as a true ensemble show, with solid roles for every regular who appears in the episode. The Dominion threat continues to hang over the characters' heads, like a Sword of Damocles that may fall at any moment. The events of this episode show that, while that threat may have led to an alliance between the Federation and the Romulans, this alliance remains vulnerable to subterfuge and conflicting agendas.
The episode strongly benefits from just how likable and credible Colm Meaney's O'Brien is. This character feels entirely real and natural, and Meaney fits into it so effortlessly that he doesn't even appear to be acting. It's just about impossible not to relate to him, with all of his reactions seeming reasonable and human at every turn. It's odd. When I watched (on-and-off) Deep Space 9 at the time, I never really considered O'Brien to be anything more than a background player. On this viewing, with the benefit of several extra years, O'Brien stands out as one of my favorite characters in a very strong cast.
Not great, but good, Visionary is another solid episode in a series that has become not only the most interesting Trek series, but also the most reliable.
Overall Rating: 7/10