Monday, April 23, 2012

4-3. The Visitor.

Old Jake Sisko (Tony Todd)
and his visitor (Rachel Robinson)


In the Louisiana bayou, an aspiring writer (Rachel Robinson) comes to the home of her all-time favorite writer: the elderly Jake Sisko (Tony Todd), author of the novel Anslem, a further book of short stories, and... nothing else. She asks the old man one question: Why did he stop writing at a young age? Though on most nights he would simply send her on her way with no answer, on this particular night he decides to tell his story - a story which begins many years ago, with the death of his father.

Ben Sisko and the young Jake were on the Defiant in order to witness a rare inversion of the wormhole: a spectacle that will occur only once every 50 years. But the inversion causes a malfunction in the warp core, one which knocks out the entire engineering staff. Ben is able to save the core, but is hit by an energy discharge, one which knocks him out of time.

Now Ben only appears for a few minutes at a time at irregular intervals, always near Jake. And knowing that his father is still alive has shaken the foundations of the younger Sisko's life, leaving him determined to do whatever it takes to get him back.


Captain Sisko: He is not aware of the time that passes between appearances, so it takes a couple of these before he realizes what is happening to him. For Jake, this episode spans decades; for Ben, it doesn't even last an hour. Compressed in that time span, he sees his son wounded at his loss; he sees him grow into a successful man with a beautiful wife and great prospects; then he sees a Jake who has lost all of that to obsession before finally seeing the elderly Jake of the frame story. Our Jake won't carry any awareness of the events of this episode, but Ben will, as we see from him protectively clutching his young son to him at the episode's end.

Jake: We see the story through Jake's eyes, as he lives through every day, week, year, and decade of the time that passes. His life is shattered, but it's not because of his father's loss: It's because of the reappearances. By adulthood, he has moved on. But when his father appears again, the pain of losing him again sets him on a new course. As joyful as it was for Ben to see the successful fortyish Jake, that's how painful it is to see him later - when he has sacrificed all that happiness to an obsession with getting his father back.

Nog: The scenes in the future allow actor Aron Eisenberg to show us a more mature and confident Nog. The adult Nog becomes a career Starfleet officer, climbing the ladder to command in good time. The Ferengi whininess of "our" Nog's voice is all gone from this version, and it's clear that his career choice was the correct one for him. Now I find myself looking forward to seeing the young Nog start to grow into this role in the future.

Hot Earth Babe of the Week: Melanie (Rachel Robinson) is less a character in her own right than an audience stand-in, someone to listen to the elderly Jake as he tells his story. Robinson, daughter of Andrew Robinson (Garak), makes an appealing stand-in for the audience. Her character's enthusiasm for writing and for studying Jake's stories also makes her a strong parallel figure for Jake, allowing him to echo his father's advice to her: "Poke your head up every once in a while and take a look around... It's life. You can miss it if you don't open your eyes."


As I write these words, I'm trying to think of exactly how to summarize my thoughts about The Visitor. This is the most emotional episode of Deep Space 9 by some margin.  It's almost certainly the most emotional Trek episode ever made. Not gooey, soap opera emotional melodrama, either. This resonates not with manipulation, but with that pure, raw feeling that can only come from the genuinely heartfelt.

Everything about The Visitor works. It has thematic unity.  Ben's advice about not missing life, echoed by the old Jake, is demonstrated by Jake's "alternate" life. Jake misses his own life as surely as Ben misses it. He loses the love of his wife, his writing career, the things that gave his life as himself meaning - They all fade away in his obsession with regaining his father, and he barely even notices as it happens.

The performances are splendid. Avery Brooks conveys authority and sincerity. As he sees his son's life compressed into a handful of moments, Brooks lets the emotion stand naked on his face. He doesn't overact - He just reacts, often wordlessly, and we know his joy, his disappointment, and his regret.

As good as Brooks is, though, Tony Todd is the one who deserves the greatest praise. The scene in which Ben reappears to Jake in mid-life calls upon Todd to move with whiplash speed from the happiness of a fulfilling life, to the joy of his father's reappearance, to anguish as he realizes that he is going to lose him a third time, to despair as the inevitable disapearance finally happens.

Then there's the elderly Jake's final conversation with Sisko, with Jake now the old man and Ben now the young one. Todd's voice hits all the right notes. This doesn't feel like a fortyish actor "doing old." As he speaks, he is able to infuse his voice with the weary authority of age as he tells his father that all his obsession, all that he's sacrificing to undo that moment in time, is not just for Ben. It's also "for the boy that (Jake) was." Todd's voice, Brooks' expressions as he listens to him talk... The combination is devastating.


Deep Space 9 is a generally strong series, and at this point it's running at its height. Three "10" ratings in three episodes is something that I don't think I've ever encountered before, and I stand by all three of them: The Adversary was an outstanding paranoid suspense piece; The Way of the Warrior was an outstanding action piece.

But this, an outstanding emotional piece, is the one I'm most likely to revisit most often. The Visitor is a very special episode, in the best sense of that phrase.

Overall Rating: 10/10.

Review Index


  1. I thought this was an exceptional episode! We got to see the story of how Jake's life may have gone, and I'll bet there's some parallels with his new life when this timeline disappears*. We also saw the relationship between a child and his father. Whether you have a father, lost him or never knew him, I think that there are parts of this story that nearly anyone could relate to.

    The writing was absolutely superb. The story was emotional without being maudlin, moving without being soppy, and sentimental without being gushy. The emotions that it evoked were real, and I have to admit that I reached for the tissues more than once while watching it.

    The directing was also excellent - I remember when we saw despairing boy reaching for his vanishing father and young Jake's face dissolved into old Jake's face, whose expression was just as grief-stricken remembering the event as it was when it happened.

    All in all, I thought this was probably one of the top 3 episodes of DS9 so far, and probably one of the top 5 or 7 Star Trek episodes of all time. A terrific story.


    *re the disappearing timeline: I haven't seen anyone even mention the fact that the whole timeline that Jake lived in would probably be radically different. If Ben Sisko had lived to command Deep Space 9, that part of space may have been a whole lot different. If Jake had been a talented writer with a father's encouragement, he may have changed a lot of lives by his writing. Meh. It doesn't take away from the story, but I've never seen anyone concerned about it at all. Just an observation.

  2. I'm glad you liked it as much as I did, Helen.

    Since you've now "caught up" with me, and will now be leaving me behind on your run through the rest of the series (I simply can't do these at any faster a pace), I want to say how much I've enjoyed reading your thoughts on my reviews. Your comments have been thoughtful and insightful, and I've consistently appreciated them.

    Thank you again, and enjoy the rest of the series!

  3. I am sincerely going to miss your reviews. They are not just thoughtful but thought-provoking. You give praise where it's due as easily as you give scorn where IT is due. Thank you so much for many hours of enjoyment! I feel like I'm continuing the series alone without a friend along, and I will miss you. Have fun with the rest of DS9 and the others you're watching and reviewing; I'll check back every now and then.

    As YOU said, Thank you again, and enjoy the rest of the series!


  4. I just saw this episode for the first time about a month ago, and I've watched it several times since then, and even my wife, who isn't a Star Trek fan, agreed that it was wonderful.

    I'm fairly new to DS9. I was a big fan of TOS, liked TNG, and became a big fan of Voyager when Spike TV was showing the episodes. I've seen all of the Voyager episodes at least a couple of times. My wife called it my "space soap opera" and she may be right. I enjoyed it anyway.

    A couple of months ago I got an Amazon Prime subscription, which allows you to stream any episode of any Trek series. I watched some favorites from every series, even the animated one. Then I decided to watch some DS9. I googled lists of top 10 episodes, such as this one, watched them all, and was hooked.
    I thought about watching all of them, but there are some so-so ones, and work always gets in the way.

    So I've been using the IMDB ratings, and your reviews, JP Halt, as I roll through the seasons, deciding which to skip, and which to watch. I'm at season 4 now, and I'm already convinced that it is the best Trek series ever.

    Thanks for your reviews on every series, JP Halt. They are always great to read. I'm looking forward to several tremendous DS9 episodes that will be new to me.

    All the best, JP,