Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Episode Title: The Visitor
Episode #: 74
Star Date: 49011.4
Original Airdate: October 9, 1995
Written by: Michael Taylor
Directed by: David Livingston
It may sound cryptic, but this one will be hard. Please bear with me. Having been someone who started watching Star Trek (the original series) as a kid, a lot of my memories got tied up with what I’ve seen on TV. Especially those that intrigued my imagination. When they disturb upon other memories, though, they begin to make an impression on my psyche. Moving from one series to another (whether it’s sci-fi related or not) caused not so much disconnects, but cross circuits in my remembrances. When Star Trek: The Next Generation came to an end in May 1994, Paramount had its replacement already in play. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was introduced on January 3, 1993, and was one of the last things conceived before (ST originator) Gene Roddenberry’s death.
A spin-off of ST:TNG, DS9 was centered around a space station (a leftover of the former Cardassian Occupation) rather than another Federation starship gallivanting its way around the galaxy. Having a wormhole nearby, through which a new and unknown section of the galaxy (the Gamma Quadrant) came within reach, there were plenty of story opportunities for science fiction exploration. Both the personal and the political varieties (including opportunities for commenting on current conflicts) opened up right along with the new series (byway of its new blank slate).
What I found fascinating with this new series back then in the 90s, besides the ensemble nature of how it used its cast, was that the command chair was now manned by a father. This was a first for the head in a Star Trek series. In this case, he was someone who not only had to lead and attempt to solve the issues of close-quarter politics, religion, and the clashing of multiple cultures (along with their hatreds and schisms) on a frontier outpost, but serve as a guide and lone parent to his son on the journey to adulthood.
The back story was both the father and the son lost the wife/mother unit to The Borg at The Battle of Wolf 359. This dynamic made Benjamin Sisko (and his son, Jake) quite memorable. And one episode in particular really brought that home. When I wrote my earlier, personal blog post which reviewed the Remember Me episode on Star Trek: TNG, my sub-conscious knew that I’d have to approach the flip-side of that parental memory in exploring another episode in the Star Trek anthology. Secure Immaturity’s DS9 Week made me face up to this latency. This was a good thing. In some ways, though, it was just as painful.
“It begins, many years ago. I was eighteen. And the worst thing that could happen to a young man happened to me. My father died.”
Synopsis: many years in the future (one way beyond his time on the Deep Space Nine space station), an elderly Jake Sisko is confronted at his home by a young writer by the name of Melanie. She asks, as a fan of his works, why he stopped writing years ago. He goes on to relate the story of how as a late teen he escorted his father Benjamin on a trip to watch a rare wormhole inversion. While on the Defiant, he then witnessed a warp core accident that caused a temporal displacement which resulted in Captain Sisko’s disappearance from this dimension. His father’s subsequent, but brief, reappearances through time and back into Jake’s life (and their affect upon him) is the central storyline of the episode.
Why It Sticks With Me: if DS9 was known for anything, it was for the inter-personal nature of their stories. Even the villains had a side, whether you related to them or not, and were fleshed out over the course of the series. The conflicts and choices of the various characters led to many difficult situations and unexpected outcomes. If there was a color scheme for the diverse plots of the series, surely it would have been painted in shades of gray for the results and consequences in its many story arcs. This was in contrast to what Star Trek:TOS and ST:TNG presented overall in their episodic story-lines during their initial television runs.
ST: The Next Generation clearly tried to carry on what the original series pioneered on the small screen — with varying degrees of success. DS9, on the other hand, seemed to want to try a different tact, altogether. Those who are fans of the series laud this distinction. Count me as one. What came almost three decades after ST:TOS doesn’t affect my appreciation for the original, or what came right before it in ’93.
The Visitor episode was as inter-personal as it gets, and worked on a couple of levels. Intellectual and emotional. Still, it should be noted there are no politics, religions or grudges involved in this narrative, as some see as a mainstay of this particular program. Jake’s relationship with his father, like other sons, was complicated. Both before and after the accident. First, being 18 he’s about to leave childhood — after the mishap, he’ll have no choice but be a man. Second, he’s the offspring of a gone too soon hero and left to walk into those giant footsteps… totally alone. Third, he was ultimately a child who blames himself for the loss of his dearest parent.
All of this was revealed like few other chapters in the show. The story tugs at so many heart-strings… all at once, it seems. And as much as the space station crew and his mates gather around to support the orphaned Jake, the ensemble cast was merely backdrop, here. The account solely centered on father and son. Uniquely, through each other’s eyes. Actors Avery Brooks (as the Captain), Cirroc Lofton and Tony Todd (as the teen and adult Jake) gave heartrending performances through the course of the episode. I tell you, I can’t to this day keep a dry eye when I watch this installment, and always see the parallels (and coincidences) that came to light.
The power in Michael Taylor’s story, as it jumps back and forth in time, was held in its dialogue, the nature of father-son relationships, and those outstanding regular and guest performances. Each of the scenes in the tale were allowed to be so daringly intimate, especially so among males, young and old, because director David Livingston kept the story grounded not in space, but in those places men traditionally kept locked away. Sometimes, those emotions are even kept secluded from their owners. No hiding here, however.
For me, this story was analogous to my situation and relationship with my father. Having dad walk out (on his wife and kids) when I was four years old made me relate with Jake’s trauma of watching that warp core breach unexpectedly take his dad away. At that age, it made the same amount sense in my mind. Watching this decades later, made it even more immediate. Too close for comfort. Likewise, seeing him off and on again through the subsequent years of my growing up (without him around most of time, given his infrequent visits) seemed too uncomfortably near to The Visitor‘s story-line. Still, I learned over time (and through this episode) that hating the real-life situation, and/or the man didn’t prevent the child in me from loving his own father. Damn it.
“To my father, who’s coming home.” ~ dedication in Jake Sisko’s last book
This exemplary Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode was simply one of the best in the series, and in my opinion, one the best in the entire Star Trek line (television and film). I believe it was especially affecting among the males fans of the show, and even those who weren’t devoted followers, because all of us were somebody’s son at one time. If we were lucky, grew to assume and accept the transition to that of a father. I’m just the latest male to add my name to the long list of The Visitor admirers — see Jamahl Epsicokhan’s review, and most recently, John Kenneth Muir’s, as an example of this.
You could say Benjamin Sisko (and others) along with my dad formed the principal role-models I based my paltry parental attempts upon. The DS9 captain would be a positive, and the one who gave me my first name as the negative. Nonetheless, this show draws upon the mystifying meaning of being both father and the son in our own lives. I can’t help but recall a piece of dialogue (from Superman Returns) that captured it best in my life:
“You will be different, sometimes you’ll feel like an outcast, but you’ll never be alone. You will make my strength your own. You will see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father and the father becomes the son.”
Like the Remember Me episode from ST:TNG, there was a resolution, and a reunion, by the show’s end. But in my opinion, neither are pat, and still manage to bring a flood of emotion by their close. Each, though, explore the sense of loss in that way which remains unique to the best of science fiction stories. They are fantastic and extraordinary in their ideas, scope, and terrain while remaining oh so very close to the human heart. While I’ve covered the parallels with my own experiences, I’ve only alluded to the coincidences in these two unique series installments (besides being Star Trek programs that had allusions to my parent experiences). As best as I can gather these are (but not limited to):
- each episode occurred in the fourth season of their respective series (and it could be argued the fourth for each was one of strongest seasons for those particular programs)
- each had simple two-word titles that could have various meanings in the stories they presented
- both episodes suffered warp core accidents that caused the loss of a parent (somebody should really do a root cause analysis for those things; they keep cropping up)
- both shows’ son characters were involved in the accident, and found or enacted the solution that returned the lost parent home (I can hear it now in my head, “Pick up your room… and be sure to stay away from the warp core. ¿Me entiendes?“)
However, there was one coincidence that would only be recognizable by me, and my dear spouse. It represented that cosmic kick in the pants that makes me wonder about it all, and was why this episode struck such a chord with me. Circling back to my relationship with my father. If I had to give one, the best example of why this show got it pitch perfect occurred when the episode reached its next to the last scene. Notice how Sisko just gazes upon his sleeping (and now elderly) son in their last meeting. I’ve repeated that exact same act in real life, countless times over the years, with my own children.
Okay, no more delays. My singular remarkable concurrence was the show’s original airdate. It just so happens to be the same day my life changed forever. It was my son’s birthday…the day I became a father.
“For you, and for the boy that I was. He needs you more than you know. Don’t you see? We’re going to get a second… chance.”