Thursday, December 22, 2011

"The Visitor:" Perfection In The Time Traveling Tear-jerker

The Good: ACTING, Character, Plot, the whole shebang!
The Bad: None, Honestly.
The Basics: When Captain Sisko is lost on a mission, Jake is forced to grow up without him in one of the best episodes ever.

It's a rare thing to achieve a consensus on any piece of work, but universal critical acclaim for any artistic piece is even harder. Such works, where all who view the piece have the same positive things to say about it, are what any artist or series strives for. While Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has several perfect episodes (including, what I believe is the greatest hour of television ever, "Duet"), few generate such unbridled positive acclaim as "The Visitor." Who would have though an episode about Jake Sisko could resound as one of the greatest hours of television ever?

In the distant future in the Star Trek universe, an old man sits in a grand house filled with antiques and he is visited by a young woman who is out in the rain. The young woman wants to be a writer and she has been searching out this man, hoping desperately to have a conversation with a man she thinks can be her inspiration. The old man is Jake Sisko and on this cold, rainy night, he tells her the story of how his father died in an accident. Unfortunately for Jake, Captain Sisko does not die in an accident on the Defiant, but instead is lost in a subspace dimension. Sisko appears to Jake at various times in his son's life, always reopening the pain of losing his father until Jake becomes obsessed with saving his father from the interspatial dimension.

"The Visitor" is an example of television at its best. It's a shame this episode did not win a Peabody Award, which it certainly deserved. The reason this could be one of the best examples of what television may achieve is that it is written with intelligent, captivating and realistic dialog, it has a wonderful setting, it has compelling character who reveal deeper truths about humanity and it is excellently acted. This is more than a simple Tear-jerker or science fiction piece that explores a "temporal anomaly of the week." This is a precisely crafted, piece of cinematic literature that is bold enough to experiment with narration.

Central to this story are the characters and, as I've previously mentioned, it's a surprise that such a great episode could be written about what has - traditionally - been Star Trek Deep Space Nine's weakest character. But here, Jake actually has a story to tell and it's a tragic one that is almost entirely internally motivated, so it is therefore quite compelling. The elder Jake Sisko, wounded and grieving is instantly empathetic and intriguing. And this is, without a doubt, Jake's story.

Benefiting Jake's telling of the story is the fine acting that portrays the evens in his life. Rachel Robinson makes an auspicious outing as Melanie, the young woman who listens to Jake's narration. Perfectly cast as a starry-eyed apprentice, Melanie instantly becomes believable through Robinson's kind demeanor and grace with the dialog. She "reads" as a real person and it is no doubt in part to Robinson's portrayal of her. Similarly, Aron Eisenberg fills in Jake's story excellently as Nog. Eisenberg is given the opportunity to age Nog and he does a good job of changing his body language with the years in Jake's story. So creating the future Nog becomes something far greater than changing the costume; and Aron Eisenberg delivers.

The acting credit for this episode overwhelmingly goes to the two Jakes. Cirroc Lofton manages to pull together his best performance of the series in the sequences in Deep Space Nine's near future. Lofton for the first time captivates the audience with his ability to emote. He perfectly illustrates feelings of loss and need in his face and his desperate body language at the moments of Sisko's disappearances are incredible. Lofton rises to the challenge of fleshing out this previously dull character in a way that is surprising and magnetic.

But the episode could not have been pulled off without the successful portrayal of Jake by Tony Todd. In taking on the role of the adult Jake Sisko, Tony Todd reinvents the strength and charisma of the character. Todd manages to use the aging make-up to his advantage, becoming comfortable within it to help his performance as opposed to getting buried beneath it. Indeed, Todd takes on the entire body language of the very old Jake in such a way that we believe in him completely. Add to that that Todd manages to alter his voice with each age of Jake to further compound the illusion of aging. But most of all, Todd's strength is in his delivery. In "The Visitor" he tells a story in a grandfatherly way that makes the audience instantly interested in all he has to say and he manages to keep our attention once he has it.

In the end, this is a great story about how far a son will go to save his father and the emotional journey he undergoes to get to that place. It's a tragedy and a well-told story and one worthy of watching over and over again. And I mean it; if you watch it, you'll find yourself singing its praises, too. That's what universal acclaim is all about. While certainly a part of the essential Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for being the most important Jake Sisko episode ever, it is perfectly accessible to those who are not fans of the series.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the turnaround season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode, movie or DVD set reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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