WARNING: The article below contains spoiler information for DS9's "The Visitor", and anyone not knowing the details of the episode is therefore advised to move on.
In brief: Superb. A DS9 analogue to "The Inner Light" -- not quite as powerful, but exceedingly good.
Brief summary: Jake sees his father vanish before his eyes, and spends the rest of his life trying to find a way to help him.
As I said above, "The Visitor" reminds me in a great many ways of TNG's "The Inner Light". In both cases, we see an alternate "what might have been" of a main character's life; in both cases, one character is left with profound emotional consequences; in both cases, the performances of the principals leaves one gasping for breath; in both cases, there are minor questions of story logic that do very little or nothing to damage the power of the story; and in both cases, the show is superb.
Let me get the logic questions out of the way first. The primary one is that Jake's analogy at the end doesn't really make sense to me. If the two were bound together by some sort of elastic subspace "cord", then cutting it when it's slack should simply leave Sisko where he is, in Jake's time, not fling him back to when it all began. I'm perfectly willing to swallow the idea that somehow severing the bond between them will send Sisko back -- it's magic, but it's good magic. It's just that the attempt to explain it didn't quite work for me. (I suppose it could be more like a spring; when they're together, it's squeezed to its limit, so that he'll be pushed back when it breaks. Maybe.) The other point is even more picky; the timing as stated in the show doesn't work, in that a Jake trying to rescue Sisko fifty years after the original accident can't be only in his early fifties, as was implied by the conversation they had. That's not a big deal at all. (I suppose another questionable moment is why the subspace link cares whether either party is alive or dead, but I'm prepared to get metaphysical about it as long as it's not emphasized, which it wasn't.)
Beyond that, "The Visitor" pretty much struck gold. Despite its similarities to "The Inner Light", it didn't feel like a rehash. Quite the contrary, in fact; it struck me in some ways as the mirror image of what had come before it. Picard's alternate life was pleasant and fulfilling, once he learned to let go, and we mourned for his loss when he "recovered" from his experience. In this case, Jake's life isn't uplifting; it's tragic. Jake, unlike Jean-Luc, never manages to let go -- and so instead of a life whose loss we mourn, Jake's loss spurs a life
we mourn instead. We've seen before in Trek what an obsession with hate can bring -- Khan among others made that quite clear. This time, Jake's love for his father is no flaw -- but the obsessive extreme to which he takes it is. Simply put, "The Visitor" is a tragedy, and an excellently made one.
Not bad for a show which started with two people we've never seen. :-) "The Visitor" is also rare in that it featured a narrator presenting the story. We've seen that before, in TNG's "Suspicions" among other places, but this is the first time I remember it really working. Part of that success is probably due to Tony Todd, who like Patrick Stewart has what can only be called "the voice"; but a lot of it's simply the strength of the material. When the main character of the story is himself a storyteller, having the episode unfold as a story Jake tells seems entirely in character and entirely natural -- and I think it made us empathize both with Melanie and with Jake himself.
A show like this could easily seem maudlin without good performances from all the actors involved, though -- and fortunately, we were blessed with top-flight work from almost everyone involved. (The only slight exception to that, in my opinion, would be Aron Eisenberg -- Nog was certainly a lot less annoying than usual, but I still couldn't quite get behind him.) Tony Todd and Cirroc Lofton were both excellent as Jake, and Todd was easy to accept as an older Jake -- almost surprisingly so. (The two have similar facial features, but that's not always enough; something in the mannerisms, however, was.) Rachel Robinson was also quite good as Melanie, the young writer-to-be; although her main function was to react to the story as it unfolded, that's not always easy, and here she managed to put all of us in her place, which was the point.
Avery Brooks was also tremendous here. I consider the real tragedy of the story to be not Sisko's untimely accident, but Jake's unwillingness to let go, and Sisko's realization over the years that that's what was happening made it all the more poignant. His repeated insistence that Jake make a life for himself ("promise me you'll DO that!") made Sisko's growing anguish an integral part of the story, and by the time Sisko "visited" for the final time, I at least found myself more concerned for how Sisko was going to weather Jake's revelation than for anything or anyone else. Brooks's choked "Jake, my sweet boy..." as Jake died in his arms brought a lump to my throat in a way that few Trek offerings have -- there's no better testament than that.
There's really no weak link here on any significant level. We had strong storytelling and strong acting, as I've mentioned, but the directing (by David Livingston) also worked nicely. One of the difficult parts to a show like this is the transitions between past and present (or future, in the case of "All Good Things", which had a similar challenge), and Livingston made those that weren't effortless noteworthy in their own right. (Two in particular that struck me were the slow dissolve from young Jake to old as Sisko vanished in the infirmary, and the way in which old Jake's eyes flicked to the door as his wife entered in flashback.) Add to that many of the little touches (such as the shadow-filled scene between Jake and Kira, which gave the scene a much deeper feel than it might otherwise have had), and the directing joins all the other facets of "The Visitor" in the "excellent" category.
Much of the dialogue was also noteworthy. The old Jake had a number of wry comments, my three favorites being his admonishment to Melanie to read more, his statement to her claim that she wasn't a writer ("sounds like you're waiting for something to happen to turn you into one"), and his note that "if you publish posthumously, nobody can ask you for rewrites." However, there were many gems throughout the show, from the repeated advice to poke one's head up and look around at life (shades of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and "The
Inner Light", yes, but good advice still), young Jake's worry that "if I leave [the station] ... I won't have anything left of him", Jake's book dedication ("to my father ... who's coming home soon"), and Sisko's observation about wanting grandchildren.
Some other small observations:
-- It's interesting to see that Jake's wife Korena was Bajoran, even though he implied he didn't meet her until he got back to Earth.
-- On a more amusing note ... good heavens, but Cirroc Lofton is HUGE now. :-) On some level, Jake had better leave the station for Pennington soon; if he doesn't, he'll burst through the confines of the station and cause all kinds of problems.
-- Another interesting difference between this and "The Inner Light" is that it was really a pair of characters drawing us in and not just one. TIL was very much a Picard story; "The Visitor" could only have been told with a parent/child pairing such as this one, and only one where we know both characters well. By the end, the tragedy was visited mostly upon Sisko the elder, not Jake -- and I very much hope we see some examination of how Sisko's approach to Jake changes as a result of this.
There's not much else I have to say about "The Visitor". It's not one of those stories that needs or even admits dissection -- just sit back and let it wash over you. It's well worth it.
So, summing up:
Writing: Okay, some minor logic problems. I don't care; the rest just shines.
Directing: The only times it called attention to itself, it was excellent; the rest of the time, it shut up and got out of the way, as it should.
Acting: Compelling performances from nearly everyone, particularly Brooks and Todd.
OVERALL: An easy 10. More like this and I might even find my basic optimism about DS9 again!
Bashir and O'Brien are taken captive by Jem'Hadar -- but is it a fifth column?
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"To my father ... who's coming home."