A Stolen Life
"The Visitor" Plot Summary:
An accident in engineering on the Defiant blasts Benjamin Sisko out of existence. As far as anyone can tell, he's dead, though Jake refuses to accept it. He goes into a depression, staying aboard Deep Space Nine instead of going to the Academy or moving on with his life, and is finally forced to leave when war breaks out. He returns to Earth and becomes a writer, in which incarnation he is visited by a young admirer as an old man. He tells her his story.
The elder Sisko periodically reappeared to Jake; he was not killed by the accident, but moved out of phase with the rest of the universe. The tie between him and Jake, however, enables him to appear to Jake at occasional moments, first on the station, and later on Earth. While Jake becomes the famous writer he always dreamed of being, his marriage falls apart because of his obsession with the past, and ultimately he abandons writing to study science in an effort to get his father back.
The conclusion Jake comes to is that he must give up his present lifetime in order for the events of the past to recycle; he had already taken steps to end his own life when his visitor arrived. He dies, and is back at the moment of the accident, a boy again who remembers nothing. Benjamin Sisko, however, remembers everything - including the warning to stay out of contact with the overload that sent him out of phase. He hugs his son.
Avery Brooks, Cirroc Lofton, and Tony Todd (who played the adult Jake) all deserve Emmy nominations for their performances in this wrenching episode. But while I have only a single criticism of this episode -- and it's the sort that often pisses me off when other people level similar accusations against episodes I love -- it won't go away. Maybe because I had the identical criticism about a Voyager episode barely a week ago. It's very simple: when Trek does an alternate timeline episode, I like to see consequences, not just on a personal level but in terms of the series. I hate the reset button.
In "The Visitor," the ostensible theme is that every life produces reverberations in the lives of others. Yet in the course of watching a son save his father and restore the timeline he -- and the viewer -- wants, we get a frustrating glimpse of a tantalizing might-have-been: a universe in which Jake grew up to become a wonderful writer, partly because of the tragedy he ultimately circumvents. He gives advice to a young writer who may now never exist, since her mentor destroys the version of himself she admires. Isn't that time-tampering, of the sort Classic Trek ("City on the Edge of Forever") and TNG ("Tapestry," "Parallels") have warned against? Benjamin Sisko seemed to understand this. Yet he stepped back into a timeline where, as far as we know, his death will have little consequence for anyone other than his immediate family.
That said, I have nothing but raves for everyone involved. Both Jakes gave gut-wrenching, utterly believable performances; it's hard to pick moments to single out, every time Benjamin appeared and Jake reacted, I wound up in tears. That scene with Kira and Jake where she decided to let him stay on the station was astonishingly powerful considering that we couldn't even see the actors' faces, it was so dark -- I'm amazed at the things Nana Visitor can do with her voice. I wish they hadn't cut her off at the funeral service because I was dying to know what she was going to say. Ironically, since she was only in it for a few minutes, this may have been Dax's finest episode: her emotions rang entirely true, and she was particularly effective as an aged version of herself. Kudos to Terry and also to Sid, whose panic in sickbay as Sisko disappeared was believable and moving.
Although this looks like a Sisko Junior episode, it's really a Sisko Senior episode: Benjamin's the man we get the measure of, since we're not seeing the "real" Jake. And this is as good as he gets, probably as good as he's been since "Emissary." Moving as Jake's dilemma seems, Benjamin experiences the real tragedy here -- he watches his son throw his life away in fits and starts, and there's no way he can help him, whereas Jake at least finds the consolation of believing that he can bring his father back. What a life this man has had. What strength he must have, to function to steadily and so boringly so much of the time. I hope Jake manages to grow up to be the novelist he might have been, but Benjamin Sisko's the one who really should write a book.
Deep Space Nine Reviews