In the third episode of the fourth season of Deep Space Nine, I’m a mess. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
More than any other episode of the Star Trek universe, “The Visitor” makes me feel like what I do is trite. Sometimes, a work of fiction is so powerful, so evocative, and just so damn good that critical analysis becomes an act of evisceration. It’s like the adage that explaining a joke always strips it of its funniness. If I try to break down the reasons why this episode hit me as hard as it did, I feel like I’m tearing it apart. Pulling it at the seams. Stretching it too tightly. That elasticity will break, and then I’m left with the pieces of something that, as a whole, was brilliant. Beautiful. Moving.
At the same time, I hope that the existence of this site and Mark Reads has shown that through analysis, we can find new ways to love the things we love. I know that my reviews have, over the years, given some folks a new appreciation for shows they already adored. But how do you do that with “The Visitor”? I don’t know shit about the fandom, and I’m certain that many of you list this as one of your favorites. After I tweeted about it, I learned that it was one of the most beloved episodes in the entire Trek canon. That’s not surprising to me. This is such a bold and heartbreaking story, and there’s nothing else like it. (That I know of! I’ve got lots of Voyager and DS9 left, as well as all of Enterprise.) I’m sure that there’s been much written of the acting of Cirroc Lofton, Avery Brooks, and Tony Todd. This was a fantastic script to begin with, but these three men took it to another level.
I’m sure much has been written about how far Michael Taylor took this story. It travels like… sixty years into the future? Longer? And all the while, Taylor’s script eases us with the sheer scope of what he’s done to the Deep Space Nine universe. We learn of the abandoned station, the Klingon takeover of it, the lives that Jake, Dax, and Bashir have all lived since Sisko’s first disappearance. And we see just how much Sisko’s “death” affected Jake. There’s the loneliness, the isolation, the depression; then there’s Jake’s attempt to live a normal life; then Sisko’s return years later in Jake’s home in New Orleans precipitates Jake’s unraveling. Jake devotes his life to rescuing his father, losing his wife Korena in the process. He stops writing. He stops writing.
It was one of a number of details that ruined me: Jake gave up his passion to save someone else. I just finished my first novel and I’m already planning out my second; I can’t fathom stopping now. There is a comfort I’ve found in this form of expression. Yes, I’ve been writing for years. LET THIS BLOG STAND AS EVIDENCE OF THAT. But the act of creation is so powerful and renewing to me that I wouldn’t dream of giving it up. That’s why it hurt so much to know he stopped. The trauma of having his father revisit him undid his progress. At the heart of this episode is a grief so powerful and all-encompassing that I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by it all. I don’t think I’ve cried this hard since I finished Friday Night Lights. Or maybe Fringe. WHO CARES, LOTS OF TEARS.
And yes, this episode is designed for waterworks. And while I don’t think I’m being unique or original here, I’d like to propose a justification for such an emotional episode and the use of a trope I routinely complain about on this site.
All of this matters because it happened to Jake and Benjamin Sisko.
If you divorce this story from these characters, it most likely would not feel so special. This is not a traditional love story because it’s solely about a father and son, not a married couple or some other pairing. That familial love is an integral part of Deep Space Nine as a whole. Up to this point, we’ve watched their relationship develop and grow. We’ve watched Sisko foster his son’s interest in writing, which makes it all the more heartbreaking when Jake gives it up. The affection between these two, spread out over the three previous seasons, completely informs what happens here. We’re used to seeing them together, so it becomes traumatic to have them separated so violently and suddenly.
However, it also matters that they’re black, that Jake returns to his home of New Orleans, that we get to see two black men love each other, so much so that one of them dies so that the other may live. I cannot sit here and tell you of another science fiction show that has ever given me something like this. (Though I’m now reminded of Penny/Desmond on LOST because… reasons. Not the same point, but I can see a similarity in the story.) These are the kind of stories we mostly see white characters get. The world of science fiction is overwhelmingly pale, so it matters that a story this monumental and huge rests on three black men. THREE. Yes, Tony Todd and Cirroc Lofton are playing the same person, but it’s still important. It’s important for black SF fans to be able to see themselves in this world, to be able to see that they deserve love and good writing. And it’s important to me because I want stories like this, too. I want to see a world that Roddenberry promised and often didn’t live up to himself. This is a sign that Star Trek is a whole lot closer to that.
The video for “The Visitor” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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