Today, we look at the classic Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that celebrated the power of the bond between father and son, Ben and Jake Sisko.
This is “All the Best Things,” a spotlight on the best TV episodes, movies, albums, etc.
This is a Year of Great TV Episodes, where every day this year, we’ll take a look at great TV episodes. Note that I’m not talking about “Very Special Episodes” or episodes built around gimmicks, but just “normal” episodes of TV shows that are notable only because of how good they are.
All this month, I’ll be spotlighting great Black-centric TV episodes.
One of the central aspects of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was to tell a father and son story, Commander Benjamin Sisko took over control of the Deep Space Nine space station, and went to live there with his teenage son, Jake, after the death of Ben’s wife/Jake’s mother at the hand of the Borg (it was during the period in Star Trek: The Next Generation when Captain Jean-Luc Picard was a member of The Borg).
Father and sons have long had a bit of a rough go at it in Star Trek history, so this was a great time to show a positive example of such a relationship, and as Avery Brooks (Commander Sisko) pointed out in an interview, it was particularly important to show a positive example of a Black father and son relationship, “The relationship between Sisko and his son was also very important. That was something else you still don’t often see on air, at least as it concerns Black and brown men and their sons. We got to play complicated, emotional and intricate scenes, and we got to have tender and fun moments. It wasn’t a pat relationship or an easy one, and it was very realistic. The show never took the easy way out when it came to situations, be they personal or political, and that provided us with a lot of great things to do as actors.”
The relationship between Sisko and his teen son, Jake (Cirroc Lofton) was the centerpiece of the classic Season 4 episode, “The Visitor,” the first episode of the series written by Michael Taylor, who wasn’t even on staff yet when he wrote this one (the episode was directed by longtime Trek producer, David Livingston). The episode opens with an old Jake Sisko (played by the great Tony Todd) telling a young aspiring writer why he stopped writing in his 30s.
We flashback to the “past” (the present of the series), where Sisko is taking Jake on a trip on the Defiant to see an inversion of the Bajoran Wormhole, something that would only occur once every fifty years or so. Well, something went horribly wrong, and Ben is seemingly killed in a warp drive malfunction. Jake is, of course, despondent, and we see that without Sisko around, the Federation eventually loses control of Deep Space Nine to the Klingon Empire. However, before that happens, it turns out that Sisko is not dead, but lost in subspace, with basically no time passing for him even though a year has passed for everyone else. They’re unable to save him, though, and he disappears again, and so Jake loses his dad for a second time.
Jake decides to move on with his life, and becomes a famous author, and is happily married to an artist. They’re considering having children. However, when Jake is 37, and celebrating an award, his father visits him again. This makes Jake determined that he WILL save his father, so he abandons his writing career and devotes himself to studying subspace mechanics. His obsession with saving his father alienates Jake from his wife, and he divorces. Now in his 50s, Jake and some older members of the old Deep Space Nine crew go on a mission to rescue Ben, but it fails.
It is then that Jake realizes that the next time his father will appear will be when Jake is an old man, but Jake realizes that his father is connected to him, like an anchor, and if he dies while Ben is visiting him, it will sever the connection, and send Ben back to the time of the accident. Of course, through their short visits, Ben is learning about Jake’s life, and he is distraught over his son being so obsessed. He wants Jake to live his own life. Luckily, at least, while waiting for their last time together, Jake has started to write again, and he tells the young writer who visits him that his last collection of short stories will be published posthumously.
Ben pleads with Jake not to take his own life, but Jake notes that he has no way of knowing if he will live long enough to be there for his father’s next visit (in which case, Ben would be lost in subspace forever), so it has to be now. He dies, and sure enough, Ben goes back to the original moment of the accident, now warned by future Jake to avoid the warp drive blast.
Father and son end the episode hugging, as Ben realizes he has been given a second chance by his future son’s sacrifice.
Deep stuff, right?
So much of the episode depends on adult Jake, and luckily, Tony Todd was excellent, although Brooks has some great scenes, too, of course.
Brooks was quoted about the episode stating:
The preparation for an episode like that is that every day is brand-new. You wake up every day with the full knowledge after you are awake to be grateful for this day, and therefore you go to work or do whatever it is. All I’m interested in is telling the truth. It’s so simple in another way, because I loved Cirroc Lofton then and I love him now. Most of what you witnessed in the exchange between us, and indeed Tony Todd in the assistance, most of what you saw was real.
A number of people suggested “Far Beyond the Stars” for this feature, but as good as that episode is (and it is quite good), it felt like too much of a gimmick episode (again, using no pejorative meaning behind the use of the term “gimmick” here) for this feature. The other classic Sisko-centric episode (co-written by Michael Taylor, who wrote “The Visitor”), “In the Pale Moonlight,” is good enough that I’ll feature it eventually this year, but Andrew Robinson’s Garek was such a centerpiece of that episode that I didn’t feel right calling it “Black-centric.”
Okay, if I’m going to have 326 more of these (and 18 more this month), I could use suggestions, so feel free to email me at email@example.com!