A Father’s Day Look At “The Visitor”

There are so few love stories between fathers and sons in any medium, yet Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s episode "The Visitor" is one of the best, and to this father the very best of Star Trek’s hundreds of episodes. For this Father’s Day, TrekMovie takes an in-depth look at what "The Visitor" can teach us.


"It began many years ago. I was 18. And the worst thing that could happen to a young man happened to me. My father died."
– Jake Sisko, "The Visitor"

Written by Michael Taylor (in his first writing credit) and directed by David Livingston, "The Visitor" should not have worked. The second episode of the fourth season, "The Visitor" was aired the week after the much-anticipated "Way of the Warrior" two hour telemovie which introduced Worf to DS9 in an action-adventure story that turned ally Klingons into dangerous foes. Instead of following up with a Worf or Klingon war episode, Taylor’s episode introduces a much older Jake Sisko who is visited by a young writer asking why he only wrote two books in his entire life. Older Jake tells the story of how his father was mistakenly thought to have been killed because of the inversion of the wormhole. It shows Jake grieve as a young man dealing with the loss of his father, and his later obsession in trying to retrieve his father when it is discovered that Benjamin Sisko is actually alive, yet stuck in temporal bubble. Occasionally, in some very bittersweet moments, Ben is able to talk with Jake who continues to age. Although this kind of story could have resorted to another Trek technology-themed narrative, "The Visitor" is about character and the episode has many of the elements that make Star Trek great.

Jake Sisko receives an unexpected visitor

There is a lot to admire about the visitor. There is the excellent acting of guest stars Tony Todd as "old" Jake Sisko and Rachel Robinson (Garak actor Andrew Robinson’s daughter) as the young visitor. Avery Brooks and Cirroc Lofton, who in real life are as close as their characters, have never been better as Benjamin and Jake Sisko. The set design of older Jake Sisko’s home, complete with rain hitting the windows, is one of the show’s finest. Symbolism is found everywhere, from a model of DS9, to Ben’s baseball, to an appropriate Cardassian "green" colored futuristic wall art. The music by Dennis McCarthy rivals that of Jay Chattaway’s "Inner Light" suite for beauty and pathos. Yet, none of these explain why "The Visitor" means so much to me, a father and teacher.

Maybe the following story can help explain why this episode is a favorite. Many years ago, I taught a class called "The Sociology of Death and Dying" which ended up being populated by mostly hulking male students from the college’s football team, who attended class dressed their football uniforms. One of our topics was to look at how popular culture discusses death and dying. The episode "The Visitor" was aired the week before, and I was moved to tears. I told them we were going to watch the show, with all of them never having watched Star Trek before. I assured them they would still be able to date after being exposed to Trek. I don’t know what happened in those 47 minutes, but it was something magical. By the time that Ben speaks his final line "I am now Jake,"  everyone of those 200 pound plus football players was crying, some weeping openly. Perhaps it was because all of my students were the same race as Jake and Benjamin Sisko and they connected with the characters. There were so few role models for these students in popular culture like Benjamin Sisko. Maybe it was because "The Visitor" is so amazingly written that you could know nothing about these characters yet feel an immediate bond with them. What I think, though, is that these students loved this episode for the same reasons I do. I loved it as a son. I love it now more as a father.

Lofton and Brooks as son and father

"The Visitor" is so good because it is a love story, pure and simple. It is about a love that is rarely talked about, not in our real life or our reel entertainment, the love between a father and a son. Within the first two seconds of the episode, the themes are there. We notice a picture of young Jake and Ben, followed by the baseball that used to sit on Benjamin’s desk. How many fathers and sons bond with sports? Sports are one of the few experiences by which men are allowed to express their emotions so freely without ridicule. Jake and Ben’s love story is beautiful for so many reasons. One is that they appreciate each other for their differences as much as their mutuality. "The Visitor" shows that for Jake, writing is his passion and he is happiest with proverbial pen to padd. Yet, Ben supports his son despite the fact that he will not follow him in his footsteps to Starfleet Academy and on to be a Starfleet Captain. One of the lessons about fatherhood this episode teaches is that when our sons choose their own paths, a good father supports them. The episode also teaches that good fathers know what is important. Ben doesn’t waste time when he has those brief moments with Jake at different points in his life. He wants to know about what really is important, family, love, friendship, and Jake’s happiness.

This though is the truth for me of this episode. There is are two unspoken realities between fathers and sons. The first is that a son is the only man in a father’s life who you hope bests you in the competition of things. There is no other man at work, at school, at sports, or in relationships that you hope is your better. But your son…now that is different. We don’t really tell our sons this. Yet, that moment when he knows more than you do about something, or when he is better at a sport than you are, that is the moment you know you did your job. Sons become the fathers, fathers become the sons. In this episode, this is beautifully shown by the inversion of the parent-child sacrifice theme when it is older Jake (the son) who sacrifices himself for his father. Visually, the old age makeup makes the scene read like it is a father sacrificing for his son. Yet the audience knows this isn’t what is happening. The older man is the son (only on Star Trek!). It is the son is sacrificing for the father.

Ben ‘visits’ Jake again, and meets his wife

The second unspoken reality is that fear the son has of losing his father. Of being alone in the world. Of having the responsibilities of being "the man" without the help of the father. Every father and son knows this is the order of things, yet we try to put the thought out of our minds until reality makes it impossible to do so. One day, my father will die. I will be alone. One day I will die. My son will be alone. We hope that we have given our sons everything they need to survive in the world. As Ben says to Jake, "I need to know you are going to be okay."

As our sons become men, we hope for different kind of respect than we had when they were younger. Then, their respect was based on our status as being the authority, as being older and wiser, as being the provider, and the father. But when our sons are men themselves, and if we have done our jobs, they are better than we. The respect we hope for is the kind that younger Jake shows his father in this episode. While grieving, Kira asks Jake to leave DS9 which is becoming more and more dangerous with the Klingon war. However, Jake won’t go. Everywhere on DS9, he is reminded of his father. It represents to him what Ben Sisko accomplished in his life, making DS9 a home for so many people. His father did this, and Jake is proud. He recognizes his father’s contributions. When he says that leaving would mean losing a connection to his father, it is the respect that only a son can give.

Jake has to leave DS9 (and his father) behind

I cry every time I watch this episode. I do so for my father and for my son. I do so for and with my wife Mary Jo and her father who passed away when she was a young girl, experiencing in reality what Jake Sisko does here. I think my students might have cried for their fathers and for themselves. For those moments when fathers and sons didn’t appreciate each other. For those dads who are gone forever, unlike Ben, who cannot return. For all those times we didn’t say what Ben and Jake do to each other in this episode My wife’s bond with my son is something special, yet it is different than mine. For my son is me. He is all my hopes. He is me 2.0, a better version of myself. And at the same time, he is not me. He is himself, a unique person. The tears I shed for this episode, though, are mostly tears of happiness because of this love story between Jake and Ben, between fathers and sons. The story of Jake and Ben is the story of all fathers and sons. The ultimate irony is that there has never been so real a Star Trek episode as this alternative-reality episode.

The final scene of "The Visitor"


More: “The Visitor” at Memory Alpha


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A complete freakin’ masterpiece. One of DS9’s best…

yeah, that is my favorite DS9 episode. always makes me cry when I watch it.

One of my favorite DS9s! A story like this shows with in the wild ideas of a scifi/fantasy story one can have very strong emotional story. There have been other STAR TREKS, many a TWILIGHT ZONE, etc. that showed even using strange, wonderful and outlandish plots/elements one could really have a good look at the human condition in whatever form it took. I often wonder why many in society overlook these type of stories. If they really gave them a chance they would find they are not just about strange alien creatures, laser guns, space ships, etc. This DS9 episode really was a winner for me and I am always telling friends about it to this day. Happy Father’s Day to all you great dads out there!

Excellent article. I never particularly bonded that well with the neo-Treks, but somehow I happened to see this one and was blown away by it. It says everything I feel about my dad: how, at 33, I see my dad at 71 and how part of me wishes I could be 13 again, so he’d only be 51.

I talk to my Dad every day and dread I time when he won’t be there. I also talked to my grandfather (my Mum’s dad – big age gap!) every day until January, when a series of strokes took his personality and memories away, leading to his death six weeks ago. Every day, after speaking to my parents, I have the instinct to phone him. Every day, I feel that void in my life with the knowledge that the void can never be filled and that I will simply have to learn to live with it.

Since 2000, I have lost around a dozen members of my family. The Visitor, like Blade Runner with its ruminations on old age and death, means more to me now than it ever did before. I must watch this episode again!

“The Visitor” remains by far my favorite episode of Trek from *any* of the series. It’s a powerful piece of drama that is driven by the characters, not by the technology. And it gets to the heart of a driving force within our society, one to which we don’t give enough attention – the relationship of father and son.

To quote Scotty, “Brings a tear to me eye.” Seriously, it is one of DS9’s finest moments.

Dom, it’s strange without one’s father on Father’s day… very lonesome. But fatherly duty to our sons prevents dwelling on it. We have big shoes to fill as the leader of our families. I know it’s what Dad wanted more than anything. And in his case, he’s with Mom again. Can’t blame a man for wanting that. Stiff upper lip and all that. It’s simply our turn to be the Old Man. I pray my own son will have that honor in his turn.

Joe, a new patriarch

I think the Visitor is the first Trek episode that made me cry (Far Beyond the Stars would be the second). It was and is utterly beautiful.

Wow… one of the most heartfelt articles on TrekMovie.com.

Thank you for this, John.

Best Trek episode, period.

Great ep. One of Trek’s finest. I also cry when I watch this one. Great performances by all actors involved and an excellent story.

The visitor is right up there with city on the edge of forever. Lightning struck again with this episode. In the city it was love of a woman and having to let her die so history could stay on corse and in the visitor it was love of a son to not let his father die and bring him back. Star tr5ek has had some of the best stories of any show on tv and or movies and this one makes you think about your father and realise how inportant dad truly is. I lost my dad back in 2000 to cancer and for a few years i felt like jake did lost and alone.But like jake i moved on and i more appreaciate my dad and as i will always miss him it’s also inportant to move forward as my dad would want me to. Just as ben kept trying to tell jake to move on and be married and have a family himself. For it is in doing so that we truly can honor our dads and keep the family going. To all the dads out there. Happy fathers day.

So, John, I’ll take a wild stab here and say you like this episode.

I actually didn’t see this one until about two years ago, long after DS9’s original run and countless reruns. That’s owing to the fact that the series keeps popping through the wormhole of syndication and a straight watch end-to-end is pretty tough. I grok DVD tech, but my budget does not. Anyway —

There are several ‘right’ things about The Visitor. One, the cast Tony Todd (who’s always good), rather than trying to age Cirroc Lofton (who’ll get his chance because he is good, too, but would come off as phony under tons of latex.) Two, they made the technobabble virtually unimportant. OK, time bubble-thingie. Got it. What about the people? They stuck to that rule. They also, thirdly, got Avery Brooks to wake up. I remember one reviewer saying this was the episode where Brooks began to show some caring for the series. (It frustrated me, because I knew I had missed this episode.)

So, Happy Father’s Day to all. I have my two lieutenants and my ensign to play with today. Life is good.

I too love this episode. Having recently revisted “The Visitor” on DVD with my Sister who is on a Quest to catch up on all things Star Trek (she spent the 80’s and 90’s having kids). She was in tears and so was I and I’m glad that after all these years it still has the same effect.

I must admit that every time I see Tony Todd’s name on something, I always watch it. He was great as Kurn but he got me for life with his preformance of Jake in “The Visitor”

All this has got me thinking about some of the other great and moving episodes in Star Trek history like Next Gen’s “The Off Spring” & “Inner Light” – DS9’s “Life Support” – Voyager’s “Tuvix” and Enterprise’s “Terra Prime”. When Trip and T’Pol talk about their lost baby late in the episode, I’m a mess.

I also get moved by Patrick Stewart’s emotional roller coster in “Sarek”. I’ve never seen an actor do what he did in one complete take. It’s an amazing performance. The fact he didn’t get a Emmy for it is a travesty.

All these episodes deal with human relationships and personal loss of life. Star Trek’s ability to weave these types of stories into a Sci-Fi plot is one of the reasons why it has survived for 4 decades.

John, Thank you. This is a lovingly written review of a great television episode.

I am fortunate enough to have lunch with my father and my son today. Our dinner will be incomplete as it always is, however. The daughter is married and in central Iowa and Mom’s been gone many years.
Hold your family close while you can.
Happy Father’s Day.

“The Visitor” was good. But clearly it didn’t have enough explosions or space battles, or half naked slut women in a sauna. So that kinda ruined it for me.

One of the finest Trek episodes ever produced and resuces me to uncontrollable sobs with each viewing.

Excellent article too.

I remember a few years back, after I had purchased Season 4 of DS9, I was sitting watching “The Visitor” one evening … I was living at home at the time and my dad, who was never a Trek fan himself and even occasionally picked at me about it, poked his head into the living room just as Tony Todd’s elder Jake was saying, “And the worst thing that could happen to a young man happened to me. My father died,” at the outset of the episode. After a few minutes, still watching, dad quietly crossed the room and sat down on the sofa beside me, never saying a word.

We watched the entire episode together and by the end we were both crying. For me, that wasn’t unusual — I freely admit that “The Visitor” brings me to tears each time I watch it, almost without fail — but for that to touch dad in the same manner, as a person who wasn’t a Trek fan and had no emotional investment in DS9 or any other series, it still amazes me to this day. My dad’s response speaks volumes about the emotional reach of that episode, how well it was crafted, and how it had the ability to strike a fundamental, personal chord with *anyone* and not just Trek fans — to me, that is the mark of a truly great episode … possibly the best.

Cheers from Nova Scotia.

My absolutly favorite episode ever!

I plan on being a writer, and i already have a strained relationship with my father, so this episode took on great meaning for me. I watched it with him a while back, and he and I both enjoyed it greatly (yes, I cried, and I don’t care what you think…). It was part of the bridging of the gap between us. I am thankful for Star Trek’s existence, and this episode is one of the big reasons why.

I never saw this episode as I’m not a DS9 fan. But now I will watch it, after this review. Therefore I cannot comment on the episode, but I do have a comment on the review.

I want to thank Mr. Tenuto for the heartfelt review. For me Star Trek is about the emotional chords it struck in me as a child and continues to strike within me as a thoughtful and emotional adult. Too often, on this site, and in the general media, people talk about things like special effects or “canon.” Nothing wrong discussing those topics, but in my view the proportions are wrong. We should, like Mr. Tenuto, dare to write about what ST touches on and speaks to us about. Perhaps not enough people feel the way I do; perhaps it’s just too hard to write about. Either way, thank you Mr. Tenuto for expressing what Star Trek can really do. If the episode is half as good as the review I should enjoy it very much.

If I remember correctly, this was the episode that pulled me into DS9. I was never really convinced of DS9 and Voyager was a bit of a let down for me (though not as much as Enterprise was at the beginning). So when I was flipping through channels and saw this episode on SPike TV (re-run) I couldn’t help but watch.

This episode truly touched me as I know it would probably touch a lot of people who’d give it a chance.

With any of my non-Trekkie friends, if they ask for an episode that I would recommend them watching if they were ever interested… this would be the one to watch from the DS9 series.

HAnds down, the best Ds9 episode ever and also one of those rare moments where one of the spin offs actually came up with and executed an idea worthy of the the name STar Trek.

ALso, a but off topic but the Shat was a guest on radio’s coast to coast last Thursday night and the interview can be heard at their website. Just and FYI for those who might want to hear him talk about Trek, Boston Legal, Twilight Zone etc.

It is a great episode and it’s also great that Morn finally takes over the Bar.

I rematched this episode again last night to help with editing this article and with the pics and video. Even though it was probably the 4rth of 5th viewing it still brought a tear to the eye. Thank you John for your insightful and personal analysis of this perfect Father’s Day episode.

An excellent story, without a doubt, one of DS9’s best. Very difficult to watch sometimes, especially the end. I love the Siskos’ father-son relationship. After getting to know those two characters very well over the past 4 seasons, I related most to Jake. I was close to his age when I first saw this episode and throughout watching DS9, I felt like I could relate most to him, especially with the journalism interest. Therefore I could also see Ben Sisko as a father figure. When this episode came around, and seeing what he was going through, it was very difficult to get through, very rare a Trek episode reaches someone on such a personal level. This is a great piece of work.

This was a fine episode. And it made the series ending showing Jake looking out at the wormhole waiting for his lost father even more touching!

Thanks for a superior article John! I think I would have enjoyed your class!

One of DS9’s finest hours! Happy Father’s Day to Benjamin Sisko and all the other fathers out there!!

One of the best hours of Star Trek ever produced, in my opinion. I watched it this morning and couldn’t hold the tears back.

A simply beautiful story from start to finish.

John, thank you for that beautiful essay. I’ve always wanted to thank Tony Todd for indelibly breaking my heart with his performance.

One of DS9’s many unsung triumphs was giving us a truthful father-son relationship with Ben & Jake Sisko. Jake’s character corrected the mistakes they made with Wesley — no need to make him a super genius or hyper-dimensional, just make him a real teenager facing what we all face.

Anybody know if there’s a way to watch this episode from the computer? I mean not with DVD, but either streaming or download? Thanks.

This was a very hard article for me to read today. My dad died in January, and today, a holiday that never really meant much before,, just makes it all that much harder. But I thank you for the article just the same

22. Mr. Bob Dobalina – June 15, 2008
“… one of those rare moments where one of the spin offs actually came up with and executed an idea worthy of the the name STar Trek.”


– This is another great Ds-9 episode..i think that ds-9 is great because the relationships between characters are so..natural..

This is the exploration that matters most. This is what any kind of story, a Star Trek story, should strive for: to touch people and move them heartily. Just watching that above clip made me shed a few tears. Avery Brooks was always brilliant when you could hear the pain in his voice. Even re-watching “Emissary” a year ago demonstrated that to me. He had to be dragged away from his quarters where his wife was killed.

In this episode every time Benjamin Sisko visits Jake he’s not mad at him for sacrificing his future to save his father; he’s sad and scared for that it means; he’s happy to have those few moments to look into Jake’s eyes; he’s happy that if he’s stuck in this timeless purgatory, that in the few moments he has in a tangible world are with his son. He demonstrates pure unconditional love.

If Star Trek could invest that kind of powerful emotion and high stakes with every story they tell then they can burn every copy of Star Trek canon reference work.

Beautiful article, John.

You all are probably going to hammer me now, but I’ve never been a fan of this episode. It’s OK, but hardly brings tears to my eyes. There are two DS9 episodes that has brought tears to my eyes though, those are “Duet” and the ending of “What You Leave Behind”. Don’t misunderstand me now and accuse me of only liking explosions and space battles because that’s really not true. I’ve never really liked “Far Beyond the Stars” either (sometimes Brooks’ over-acting becomes quite embarassing) but my favourite besides Duet is “In the Pale Moonlight”.

To further defend myself from possible accusations, my favourite TNG/VGR episodes are “The Inner Light” and “The Eye of the Needle”, both hardly action episodes.

Maybe this father-son love thing is something that doesn’t really move me.

I lost my father 11 years ago and that week, my friend brought over this episode and it had me bawling like no tomorrow. Was very cathartic. Still hold up very well although the old age makeup is a bit too apparent.

This episode, as well as many others is just one example of why DS9 is and always will be the greatest show that nobody watched. A true masterpiece.

The biggest and most beautiful of the many jewels in the DS9 crown

Season 4 really was a bit of a renaissance for DS9. Right after the action-packed mega-budget opener “Way of the Warrior”, they hit us with a simple, heartfelt story. It definitely renewed my interest in the show.

It is DS9’s answer to “The Inner Light”.

Not only one of the best of DS9 but one of the best of all five series (IMO). Beautifully done. Tony Todd (aka Kurn – TNG and Hirogen – Voy) was very good. Cirroc Lofton was excellent as the devasted son. Hard to watch but worth it.


Sorry – –

John — excellent article. Thank you!


Sorry —

John, excellent article — thank you!

#30. Gary Seven

Sorry, haven’t got a clue. Hope someone can help you. Maybe you should pop over to the “Chat” thread and ask.


It goes like this, City on the edge of Forever(TOS), Yesterdays Enterprise(TNG),The Visitor(DS9), and uh………………………………………………
Hmmm. Oh well, Great episode anyway.

Excellent episode.

Me want DS9 on HD.

Arguably one of the top ten episodes ever for any of the ST incarnations. Being a father and very close to my son, I can just watch this episode over and over again, this one touches the heart just as much as “City on the Edge of Forever”. Their relationship reminds me so much of the one that I have with my 14 and half year old son. Before I got married and had a son, Captain Kirk was my favorite of the ST captains, for obvious reasons Captain Sisko ranks right up there!


You might be missing “The Inner Light” which is the TNG sister episode to this DS9 masterpiece.

Hey, we all love the Trek battles and special effects etc….this is the frosting. But once in a while, we also get an episode whose heart is pure substance and character. This episode rates as one of the best Treks ever. Kudos to the writer, staff and cast for such a touching and brilliantly executed story!

After all these years, still my favorite hour of television…ever.

Probably on Eye Toons. They have scads of Trek eps for like, 1.99 each..