4.03: “The Visitor”

Synopsis: An elderly Jake Sisko explains how a terrible accident on the Defiant changed the course of his life.

Honestly, this was a really challenging post for me to write, and I’m not sure why? I like this episode a lot — it’s a solid, high-concept story that’s grounded in strong characterization, aka Star Trek at its best — but I don’t always connect to it emotionally, and this was one of the latter times, I think.

(Possibly I’m just repressing some social-distancing-induced loneliness and how much I’m missing my family, including my mom, with whom I bond over Star Trek. WHO KNOWS)

Anyway, what I’m saying is that I’m having trouble coming up with even vaguely-insightful things to say about it, so my apologies. This is widely considered not only one of the show’s best episodes, but one of the entire franchise’s, and has therefore been discussed pretty extensively by people who are smarter and more eloquent than I am, so it’s one of the ones where I’m a lot more conscious of not really having much new to say. But honestly I started this blog intending it to basically be just a step or two above shitposting, so maybe I’m overthinking this!

Both Avery Brooks (who’s said that Benjamin Sisko’s relationship with his son was one of the things that most interested him about the role in the first place) and writer Michael Taylor have remarked on how unique the show, and this episode in particular, is in its portrayal of a Black parent-child relationship. Being white, I do not feel especially qualified to speak extensively on this topic; in keeping with the “other people have said more interesting and insightful things about this than I’ll be able to” vein mentioned in the last paragraph, I will therefore defer to one of my favorite critics, Angelica Jade Bastién, who in her article “Deep Space Nine Is TV’s Most Revolutionary Depiction of Black Fatherhood” says that this episode “brings to the fore what separates Deep Space Nine from the more widely praised representations of black fatherhood: its continued dedication to revealing the emotional vulnerability of the black family at its center.” It’s a really beautiful piece, and if you want to just leave this post now and go read that instead, I won’t blame you!

Big hand for Tony Todd

They did, initially, want to have Cirroc Lofton play Jake at all stages of his life, but the makeup that would be required proved too much of a challenge, so they brought in Tony Todd to play the middle-aged and elderly Jake, instead. Todd’s performance is really interesting — I was initially not sure how I felt about it, because while his performance as Old Jake was good, Old Jake…doesn’t really feel that much like Jake? It’s not that it’s a bad performance, it’s just that it’s hard for me to see much of the Jake Sisko we’ve gotten to know over the past few seasons in it.

What made me rethink the performance was, interestingly, the moment when he tells Melanie that he quit writing because he lost his favorite pen, so straight-faced that it takes her a second to realize he’s joking — it felt like a very Ben Sisko moment, and that’s what helped the performance click for me. Part of the tragedy of this story is that Jake has dedicated his life to his father, become so consumed by this one terrible event in his past that he’s lost sight of his own goals, his own life. Watching with an eye to Todd’s performance, I noticed that as the middle-aged Jake, he seemed more recognizable, his performance closer to Cirroc Lofton’s. It was really striking.

(A couple of actor-related pieces of trivia: Todd also appeared in both DS9 and TNG as Worf’s brother Kurn, and once I knew that I couldn’t un-hear Kurn’s voice — or Jake’s, a couple days later, when my roommate and I watched the TNG “Redemption” two-parter. Additionally, Rachel Robinson, who plays Melanie, is Andrew Robinson’s daughter.)

A little more on that “tragedy” thing

I think where I have trouble connecting with this episode is that the story is entirely from Jake’s point of view…right up until the very end, when it switches to Sisko’s. I think it’s a great story! But something about the sudden switch in viewpoint characters is just sort of jarring for me? Maybe it’s just that Avery Brooks is so friggin’ good in this episode (and/or that, even though I don’t have children, I’ve come to identify more with Ben than with Jake as I’ve gotten older) that it feels like a waste not to let him be a bigger part of it. Especially in those last few minutes — I’m not totally sure why, but the shot of Benjamin Sisko, framed by sunlight, contentedly watching Jake sleep, may actually be the single most emotionally devastating moment for me in the entire episode? It just captures the whole thing so well, where Sisko has made peace with his fate and just wants his son to be happy. Like, I’m getting choked up just writing about it right now, help!!!! And then, oof, his anguish when he realizes what Jake has done!! The way he’s still crying even after the accident is undone, as he’s holding Jake!!! JUST, WHEW. Give me a second to catch my breath, please, Avery Brooks??????

But…I’m having trouble figuring out how to verbalize this (which may be part of why this post was slightly delayed; I keep waiting for the words to magically appear and they keep not doing so, weird how that works). I guess the best explanation I have is that, given that Sisko’s throughline in this episode involves encouraging Jake to live his own life, to then have Jake’s obsession, his sacrifice, pay off…feels like it undercuts Sisko’s story a little? I should specify that I like the Jake storyline a lot! I just…don’t think central the conflict of Jake’s determination to fix what happened vs. Ben wanting his son to live his own life feels like it’s resolved fully, I guess? Maybe this episode might have benefited from being a bit longer, so that we could see a little more of Sisko’s point of view, as well as Jake’s.

(Apparently Michael Taylor originally did plan for the focus to be more on Sisko and his experience of seeing years pass for his son, his friends, and his world while only a few minutes pass for him, so perhaps that last couple of minutes, where it becomes more Sisko’s story again, are just something of a holdover from that first version of the story.)

One thing, though

OK, so…the idea of a fan showing up at your miles-from-anywhere home in the middle of the night is, uh. Creepy as hell? Like. The show seems to play it as just kind of quirky rather than creepy, and…no? (It’s inspired by the high school student who, in 1980, got an interview with J.D. Salinger by simply showing up at his door. Still creepy!)

Speaking of the fan, though, I actually always find myself expecing — or possibly wishing for — there to be more to Melanie than there appears to be. There are occasional facial expressions or line readings that make me think of some kind of twist where she’s, like, an alien who was part of what happened and is now trying to make it right, or one of the Prophets, or something. Or possibly I’m just wishing for something that would just make it a little less creepy than “fannish boundary violation”? (I mean, that might still be creepy, especially if she turned out to be a Prophet, because the Prophets are jerks, but it would be a different kind of creepy, one a little further removed from the real world.)

A few other things

One thing I do love about the tight point of view for this episode is that the show really is forced to show us, rather than tell us, how much Sisko means to everyone else on the station, how truly important a person he is in these people’s lives, and how important they’ve become to each other. The packed memorial service was just this physical pang for me, and even the brief bit of Kira’s eulogy was brutal. And the way that everyone cares for Jake, the way they immediately agree to try to help him, even decades later, was so lovely, and made it all the more painful to see him alone in the end.

  • Of course, OF COURSE, Sisko’s first question, on finding out that Jake is married now, is whether they’ve had any kids. God bless the man and his baby fever.
  • It always takes me a little bit to realize that Jake’s wife is Bajoran — I would’ve liked to have learned a little more about her and their relationship; Jake marrying a Bajoran woman feels very much of a piece with his struggle to move on.
  • OK but seriously, Benjamin, you thought it was appropriate to bring your teenage civilian son along for a little jaunt into the Gamma Quadrant when things with the Dominion are progressing towards war? What????? Your judgment is usually so good, what the heck happened there?
  • Honestly, I would’ve liked to have heard more about the geopolitical effects of Sisko’s disappearance. I’m sorry, I know that’s not the point! I know! But I just really want to know. I can’t help it. The Bajorans and Cardassians sign a mutual protection agreement! The Klingons eventually take the station! There’s no war with the Dominion! I JUST WANT TO KNOW.
  • LOL Bashir’s Old Man Voice.

Horniness rankings

There’s none, which would be pretty un-DS9, except that there are a lot of emotions, so the show is still recognizeable as itself.

That said, possibly I should get an honorable mention, because as with “Distant Voices“, Old Bashir is hilarious because the show completely failed to anticipate that Alexander Siddig would age like a fine wine. Terry Farrell, too, for that matter.

2 thoughts on “4.03: “The Visitor”

  1. OK, so…the idea of a fan showing up at your miles-from-anywhere home in the middle of the night is, uh. Creepy as hell? Like. The show seems to play it as just kind of quirky rather than creepy, and…no?

    You and I think that, because we’re women. But this script was written by a man, and Melanie comes perilously close to being a manic pixie dream fangirl. I like Michael Taylor’s work on Voyager (he wrote my very favourite episode!) but this one never quite comes together for me.

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  2. I’ve always loved this episode. I’d never thought about the idea of showing it from Sisko’s perspective. That would actually be really interesting, although I think they would have had to script a greater periodicity of appearances throughout Jake’s life to really make that work for a full episode. I also, on balance, think that I like telling it from Jake’s point of view more because if you show it from Sisko’s perspective, it could be interpreted as an elaborate dream sequence that he has as a near-death experience. Showing it as a story about Jake makes it clear that this really “happened,” it was a real timeline that had its own developments and consequences. (Even though in the end, of course, it reboots and no one is really aware of any of the broader consequences.)

    It’s interesting that they chose to run this episode – a low key character drama – immediately after a huge story that took the events of the Trek universe in a dramatically new direction. (Harks back to last season’s placement of “The House of Quark” immediately after the high-tension “The Search,” although that was comedy and this is tragedy.) The geopolitics of the part of the story that explains the Federation’s withdrawal from Bajor and DS9 nests nicely inside what the series had given us to date and does pose a lot of interesting quandaries. No Dominion War – because the Founders had successfully neutralized the Cardassians and the Romulans, which provided the Federation a plausible pretext to cut and run, and the Klingons had no interest in going through the wormhole to stir up a conflict? (In “The Way of the Warrior” the idea seems to be that the Klingons want to defend the Alpha Quadrant against the Dominion, rather than start a war with the Dominion.) Presumably Bajor is annexed by the Klingons in this timeline, or at least made a protectorate – a non-aggression pact with the Cardassians wouldn’t have helped them much with the Cardassians on the ropes the way they were at the start of season 4. (A covert armament campaign facilitated by Section 31 might have helped the Cardassians and/or the Bajorans build up enough military capability to keep the Klingons at bay. It’s still called “the Bajoran sector” about 18 years later, rather than something in Klingon. Is Kira still out there fighting against yet another occupying force?)

    Anyway. All the character moments. Although Avery Brooks and Tony Todd really build the emotional core of the episode in an effective way, I didn’t feel like Todd was necessarily the best choice to play Jake as an old man – mostly because I feel the old age makeup rarely works as well as they want it to. Honestly if they had had access to today’s technology when they’d made the episode, I would have cast Brock Peters as old Jake and then de-aged him to play mid-30s Jake. Since he hadn’t yet been cast as Joseph Sisko that would have made that a great callback to this episode, in later seasons. My favorite old age moments, in no particular order, were Dax and Bashir good-naturedly carping at each other (which felt very earned and well executed and a great end chapter to their story after watching their relationship mature from seasons 1-3), and the energy that Aron Eisenberg brings to portraying Commander/Captain Nog. He takes all the mannerisms he uses as the younger Nog and smoothes them out, giving the character an understated confidence (especially in the scene where he visits Jake at home) that reminds you just how much of Eisenberg’s performance is a cultivated caricature.

    There are a lot of lines in the script that work well on a page but don’t ring true as dialogue (“my stories stubbornly refused to write themselves…” “I felt vaguely ridiculous…”), but a couple of lines really worked. My favorite was, when Melanie tells Jake he’s her favorite writer: “You should read more.”

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