The episode begins with an old man in his home on a dark and stormy night. He takes an injection from a hypospray and is sitting down to relax, only to be interrupted by a young woman at the door. She is soaking wet and has suffered several scratches, so he invites her in to get warm, gently chiding her for being out in the Bayou on a night like this. She confesses that she was actually out looking for him. She is an aspiring writer, and she has always wanted to meet her favourite author - Jake Sisko. We realize that we are in fact decades into the future from the normal Deep Space Nine timeline. The woman tells Jake she was entranced when she read his novel "Anslem", and was very disappointed to find that he only published two books in his life. She has been curious as to why he stopped writing ever since, and decided to seek him out and ask.
Jake initially doesn't want to tell her, joking that he lost his favourite pen and couldn't write a word without it. When she presses him he says that had she come yesterday he would have sent her away, but tonight seems like the time to tell this story. Slowly he begins to tell his visitor the story of his life.
He explains that when he was eighteen years old, his father died right before his eyes. Jake had been struggling with a story for some time and Ben had decided to cheer him up by taking him along to watch the wormhole undergo a 'subspace inversion', which it does every fifty years. Jake continues to work on his story, but Ben insists that he 'poke his head up and look around every once in a while to see what's going on'. However, when the inversion begins there is an accident of some sort on the Defiant and the warp core begins to overload. Ben rushes to engineering, followed by a curious Jake. He manages to stop the overload, but just afterwards an energy discharge of some form strikes the Captain, and in an instant he has vanished.
Jake is naturally distraught, but no evidence of Sisko can be found and he is presumed dead. Slowly life on the station returns to normal for everybody but Jake, who is listless and depressed. Then, one night he is sleeping in his bed when a flash of light wakes him. He looks around to find his father sitting on the floor - but after a few moments Ben vanishes again. Dax and O'Brien run every scan they can think of, but it's clear that they are really just humouring Jake and they find nothing.
With the loss of their Emissary, the Bajorans begin to loose faith in the Federation to a good degree. The Klingons are on the warpath in the area and all civilians are advised to evacuate the station, but Jake refuses to go. A few months later his father appears again, and this time he stays for long enough for Jake to call for help and prove that he is not dreaming. But despite the best efforts of the DS9 crew, Ben soon vanishes again. Jake tells his visitor that loosing him again was even harder than the first time, she wonders how he ever got over it - and he tells her that he didn't.
As tensions continue to rise, the station is eventually turned over to the Klingons and evacuated and Jake is forced to leave. He takes up writing again, publishing Anslem and a book of short stories. He meets a Bajoran woman and falls in love, and they are married and settle on Earth. After many years pass Ben once again appears, this time in Jake's house rather than on the station. Ben's visit lasts only a few minutes, but he has time to tell Jake how proud he is of the life he has made for himself before vanishing.
Jake takes loosing his father yet again very hard, and decides to devote his life to finding out what is happening. He abandons his writing and begins to study subspace physics obsessively. His wife understands what he is doing, but nevertheless she gradually becomes alienated as Jake devotes less and less time to her and eventually they part. After many years of study, Jake realizes that the wormhole inversion was responsible for Sisko becoming lost in subspace. In order to recover him, Jake decides that they need to re-create the accident as accurately as possible. He gathers the original DS9 crew on the Defiant and they return to the wormhole, which is due to undergo another inversion soon. When Ben appears Jake attempts to rescue Ben, but is instead pulled into subspace. When Ben realizes what is going on he tells Jake he is wasting his life and asks him to give up on the rescue attempts. As Jake drops back into normal space he breaks down in tears.
Jake decides to honour his fathers request and turns to writing once again, producing a new book of stories. He doesn't quite finish them, however, so they are not published. He offers a copy to his visitor but she opts for the original manuscript instead. Jake explains that he had finally realized what has been happening; Ben was frozen in time by the accident but a subspace link was created between the two. Every now and again the link goes tight and yanks Ben to Jake's time and place, which is why he always appears near him. The only way to rescue Ben is for Jake to sever the cord between them whilst they are together - Ben will then return to the moment of the accident. As Jake finishes his story his young visitor realizes that Ben is due to arrive again soon, and that Jake intends to cut the cord when he does. Jake nods agreement, and bids her farewell.
Jake falls asleep with a copy of his new book on his knees, and wakes to find himself face to face with his father. Ben is delighted that Jake took up writing again, and the two have an emotional greeting. Jake explains that he has been dragging Ben through time "like an anchor", and that in order to restore him the link between them must be severed. Jake picks up the hypospray and explains that it will not be long now. Ben is distraught to realize that Jake has poisoned himself, ending his life in order to break the link. As Jake dies, he assures Ben that it is for the best, and that the young Jake needs him more than he knows. As Ben cries over his son the link is broken and he returns to the accident just in time to dodge the energy discharge. Ben hugs his son emotionally and the episode ends as the Defiant heads home.
Like all of the "Best of..." choices that I've made, "The Visitor" excels on almost every level. The introductory scene is well done, with the realization that this is Jake Sisko in the future coming as something of a shock and the revelation that his father has been long dead is a nicely done moment. The flashback manner of the storytelling works very well also, allowing us to skip through the decades at a fast pace. The basic story begins as an intriguing mystery - we don't really believe that Ben is going to die, because after all he is a main character. As the story progressed I thought that the writers had decided to advance the DS9 timeline by a few years within one episode, perhaps in order to separate it from Voyager or to introduce some long-term changes to the basic scenario. But as the decades passed I realized that something more far-reaching was going on - this looked like a re-writing of the entire premise of the show! Although you know in the back of your mind that some sort of reset button is probably going to be pushed, it's hard to see what it might be.
When Jake took the Defiant back to the wormhole, I thought that we were going to get a technobabble solution and it was nice to see that avoided. By now I didn't have a clue where this episode was going, or how it would be resolved. The reference to 'cutting the cord' got by me at first, and I didn't realize what Jake was actually planning to do until he said it to Ben. Over the next few moments we see one of Treks greatest tragedies played out. I don't think I've ever seen a scene as tear jerking as Jake's death and Ben's subsequent resurrection.
We have a wonderful and subtle story then, but what makes this episode really stand out is the acting. I've never been a great fan of Avery Brooks as far as this is concerned. He portrays anger very well, Sisko does a sort of 'controlled smoulder' which is wonderful, but that's about it. In this episode Brooks doesn't have all that much to do, but some of it is very emotional and he proves me wrong and shows himself well up to the challenge. Rachel Robinson is also good as Melanie, the young woman who listens to Jake's story. But this is Tony Todd's episode, and he turns in a simply wonderful performance as the older Jake Sisko. Todd is totally believable as a 30's Jake, and his talent still shines through the layers of latex which make him into a man in his eighties. Just watch the scene where Melanie wonders how he ever got over the loss of his father. Jake assures her with a smile that people do, that eventually you heal and life goes on. She asks if that is what happened to him, and his face crumples as he says no, he never did get over it.
The Visitor remains one of my most favourite episodes, and frequently makes fan lists of the best Trek episodes ever. If you haven't seen it, watch it - and if you have, watch it again now!