Oct 2, 2020
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine “Visionary”
Listen: Miles O’Brien has come unstuck in time.
Yes, we’re doing “Visionary” this week. One O’Brien’s worst ordeals, this episode features the long-suffering chief catapulted through time, on each occasion trying to correct a horrible misfortune, only to return to a worse catastrophe, much like the 2004 sci-fi masterpiece The Butterfly Effect. This episode is from the third season, a point in which the show was taking tentative steps out of Next Generation’s shadow and starting to do its own thing, branching out from strictly episodic fare and dipping its toes into recurring plot arcs. This was revolutionary stuff from the standpoint of the ‘90s Trekkie, but by modern standards, Deep Space Nine doesn’t always do the smoothest job juggling short- and long-form storytelling modes. A gigantic world-changing battle will happen, and then in the next episode they forget about all that so Sisko can build an antique spaceship. Kinda disorienting.
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The episode begins with O’Brien flat on his back receiving a hypospray from Dr. Bashir.
He comes to and asks how he got here, and Sisko tells him he was regubbling a phase-mass donkulator when it blew up. He got a mild case of radiation poisoning, which in the future you can just get a shot for and walk off. Nevertheless, he’s confined to light duty by the liability-conscious commander. “I don’t want to see you crawling around in the Jeffries tubes looking for power surges,” says Sisko. “You won’t get any arguments from me, Commander,” says O’Brien, privately ruing the loss of his favorite drinking spot.
Sisko and Kira go to the promenade to meet some Romulans, and encounter Odo and some of his space cops carrying a very drunk Klingon out of Quark’s. He and his two shipmates are stranded on the station unexpectedly due to a complete systems failure on their ship. This is a problem because the Romulans are coming to share Dominion intel/shore up a plotline, and everyone knows that Klingons and Romulans are like the galaxy’s Sharks and Jets.
Meanwhile, Chief O’Brien is in Quark’s, helping Quark install a dartboard. Quark clearly doesn’t want it, but O’Brien needs to manufacture a way to spend more time at the bar now that he can’t drink in the Jeffries tube. After Quark gives the game a try (puncturing his regular customer Morn in the process), O’Brien attempts to demonstrate proper dart-throwing technique…
…but the moment the dart leaves his hand, there’s a flash and he enters an alternate dimension with lower color temperature. He looks around and catches a glimpse of himself arguing with Quark over some holosuites destroyed by Klingons. The two O’Briens lock eyes with each other for a brief moment, and then the first disappears.
Back in the bar, O’Brien groans and collapses.
We meet back up with him in Sickbay, where Bashir is sticking things here and there. He says that the pain he experienced is a common side effect of radiation poisoning, as is mild hallucinations. O’Brien protests that this hallucination was anything but mild, but Bashir says, “If all you can hallucinate about is maintenance issues, then you have a sadly deficient fantasy life.” Zing!
In the conference room, the Romulans are talking to Sisko and Kira about intel. Back at the beginning of the season, the Romulans let the Federation have a Romulan cloaking device to put on their ship Defiant, with the understanding that they’d use it to gather intel on the Dominion and share it. These Romulans don’t believe the Federation has held up their end. They particularly want to interview Odo, whom they’ve discovered is a member of the species that controls the Dominion, and whose loyalties they suspect lie in question.
Walking back to work, O’Brien runs into Quark who starts talking to him about—you guessed it—the holosuites destroyed by the Klingons. O’Brien’s a little slow (because of the radiation? Yeah, let’s go with that) and it takes him much longer than the viewer to realize that this is the same conversation he already saw happen. He stops in mid-sentence and looks across the promenade, and sure enough, he sees himself for a second before the other Miles disappears. Quark, amazingly, sees this happen too.
Luckily, in the glorious future, identifying unholy disruptions of natural law is as easy as pressing a button. Dax pulls sensor logs and figures out that there was a “minor temporal disturbance” on the Promenade and another in Quark’s which coincide with O’Brien’s visions. Dax speculates that O’Brien’s radiation poisoning might have something to do with it which is, whoa, kind of a big leap there, but we gotta keep the plot moving, so let’s go with it.
At that moment, O’Brien has another flash-forward, inside Quark’s again. The Space Sharks and Space Jets are having a rumble. Future O’Brien’s getting beaten up by a Klingon. Past O’Brien saves Future O’Brien from getting stabbed by another Klingon, then flashes back to his natural timeline and collapses again.
Back in Sickbay, Bashir says that the time-shifting O’Brien is doing is damaging his nervous system. He’s put a fresh coat of Bondo on the damaged neurons, but if O’Brien keeps time-jumping his brain may eventually explode or something.
Kira meets Sisko to tell him the Romulans want to interview everyone on the Defiant when it was captured at the beginning of the season. Sisko assents, with a warning to Kira to tell her to be nice. Cut to Kira yelling at the Romulans who have just accused her of abandoning the Defiant prematurely when the Jem’Hadar attacked it. They also want to know why she was in Odo’s room. None of this will really go anywhere. It’s just an excuse to set up a funny moment where Kira goes to complain to Odo like “They were insinuating that you were attracted to me, is that the grossest thing or what?” and he’s all like “oh um hahaha yah that’s crazy”.
Back in Quark’s bar, O’Brien is passing the time waiting for the fight to happen by losing to Bashir in one dart game after another. Bashir protests that they’ve changed the future and the fight won’t happen now. O’Brien is unconvinced. Just then, some Klingons come down the stairs and O’Brien angrily confronts Quark, who had promised not to let the Klingons into the bar anymore. “I didn’t,” says Quark, “they were in the holosuites. Besides, now they’re paying me triple.” Sure enough, the fight happens thanks to Quark’s greed.
And while improbably beating a Klingon’s ass (with his past self’s help), O’Brien has another flash-forward. This time, he’s seeing himself in a hallway jiggering a cheap toolbox passed off as a power conduit when a red beam nails him in the chest and kills him. O’Brien kneels over his own dead body.
He wakes up in Sickbay, having been passed out for an hour. He tells Julian he’s going to be dead in a few hours.
After the act break, Sisko and Odo are accompanying O’Brien to the panel he saw in his vision. Odo inspects it and says it’s not booby-trapped. Sisko remarks that the panel doesn’t even do anything important enough to warrant a booby-trap. A huge comfort to O’Brien, I’m sure. Dax then calls Sisko and O’Brien to Ops.
She says she’s picking up something with the same Treknobabble readings as a super-dense object, like a neutron star or a singularity, which could be causing temporal displacement. There’s no accompanying gravity signature, and Dax hypothesizes that it’s “buried so deep in the subspace layers we can’t find it.” Well, that’ll have to do.
The singularity affects “delta-series radioisotopes” which O’Brien got a snootful of during his accident. “So you’re saying it could be pulling the chief’s body like a magnet?” asks Bashir. “No, you boob, that’s the worst analogy I ever heard,” says nobody. Bashir can neutralize the radiation so O’Brien stops getting pulled through time, though he warns that it may take long enough for the chief to have one or two more time shifts before he’s done.
Meanwhile, Kira tells Sisko that, due to replicator malfunctions, she’s moved the Romulan delegation to the very same quarters where O’Brien saw himself dying. Since that area is under surveillance already, Sisko decides against moving the Romulans again, hoping to catch the perpetrators in the act.
In the security office, Odo informs Sisko that a surveillance device has been beamed directly into the wall in the exact section where O’Brien will die. “That’s a delicate piece of transporter work,” says Sisko. Hmm, who do we know who’s good at transporters? Odo says he’s going to investigate the Klingons first, since Klingons hate Romulans so much. And who else might have an interest in surveilling that area? They’re setting up a perfect “O’Brien did it while time traveling” reveal, but don’t take the shot.
Meanwhile, Bashir and O’Brien are in Quark’s. Bashir notes the time and congratulates O’Brien for having officially cheated death. Leaving the bar, O’Brien experiences another time-shift, this time to Sickbay, where he—yet again!—sees his own dead body. This time he’s been dead a minute; he’s on a gurney under a sheet. Quelle horreur!
Bashir walks in and he is extremely chill under the circumstances, telling Past O’Brien, “Chief! I’m so glad you’re here.” He says the delta-series radioisotopes damaged Future O’Brien’s basilar arteries (which, unlike delta-series radioisotopes, are a real thing), causing a fatal stroke. He didn’t catch it until he was doing the autopsy. He tells O’Brien that when he goes back to the past, he should immediately tell Past Bashir to perform a scan and repair the damage. They’re arguing over whether Bashir tried hard enough to keep O’Brien alive when he jumps back into the past and collapses again.
Sisko and Odo have tracked the mysterious transporter beam to an empty room. Odo says he’s determined that instead of bringing in a portable transporter, the mysterious evildoers instead kajiggered the replicator to turn it into a small transporter, which was a “very sophisticated, very professional job”. With the help of his network of spies and shady types, Odo has found out that the Klingons on the station are actually spies who were likely sent here to spy on and/or kill the Romulans. The booby trap that killed O’Brien isn’t for assassination; it’s just to keep anyone from tampering with the surveillance device. Sisko says that they know enough to hold the Klingons for questioning, and even if they don’t end up having enough evidence to arrest them, they can at least lock them up and keep them away from the Romulans till the latter leave. And so, Odo and his men scoop them up.
Later in Ops, O’Brien’s feeling ship-shape; his basilar arteries are fixed (in the future, brain surgery is outpatient, I guess?) and there’s almost no radiation left in his body. Meanwhile, Dax has been tracking the singularity and found that it’s orbiting the station elliptically and sending out temporal energy in a regular pattern. While she’s talking, O’Brien time-jumps again.
This time, he’s on a runabout where dozens of people are being evacuated. His future self is piloting the craft.
His future double says the station was rocked by a series of explosions and he only had time to get whoever he came across onto the runabout. He doesn’t know if anyone else will make it. Past O’Brien watches the whole station explode before jumping back.
Regrettably, O’Brien didn’t see enough to figure out what caused the explosion. Sisko tells Kira to quietly begin preparing for an evacuation. O’Brien proposes intentionally re-radiating his body to try to jump into the future again and figure out more details. The problem is, the length of every jump so far has been five hours, and he’s obviously already passed the point where a five-hour jump would be useful. Bashir says he can use Technology to adjust the radiation to modulate the length of his time jumps. It’s potentially fatal to O’Brien, but O’Brien wants to do it to try to save the lives of everyone on the station. Sisko reluctantly agrees.
Soon, with Bashir’s help, they’ve rigged an armband that’ll inject just enough radiation to trigger a three-hour time jump. Bashir warns O’Brien that he’ll be suffering severe radiation poisoning and will die if he’s not careful.
O’Brien jumps and wakes up in his own quarters at 0200, three and a half hours forward. He wakes up his future double and convinces him they need to go to Ops to figure out how the station’s going to explode. “You look pretty bad,” says Future Miles. “It’s the radiation,” says Past Miles.
Both Mileses are only just getting to Ops when a Romulan warbird attacks the station. In one fell swoop, the mysteries of the explosion and the time-jumps are revealed. The singularity is coming from the cloaked Romulan warbird (the Romulans use singularities to power their warp drives). Future Miles tells Past Miles he has to warn everybody, but Past Miles is stuffed so full of radiation he can barely move. Another jump will kill him before he can tell anybody anything.
“You go,” he says, slipping off the armband, which is already set for the return trip. “I don’t belong there,” protests Future Miles. “I’m you… you’re me… what does it matter?” says Past Miles.
Back in the past, O’Brien explains to everybody gathered in Sickbay that a Romulan attack will destroy the station. Bashir scans him and puzzles at the low level of radiation in his body. “There’s been a change,” O’Brien notes gravely.
Sisko and Kira storm into the conference room. They say they know there’s a warbird around the station, and they’ve guessed the Romulans are planning to destroy the station, and then collapse the wormhole, in order to be completely safe from the threat of the Dominion. They further state that DS9 has locked photon torpedoes onto the warbird. And nobody brings this up, so I guess I have to: if you can detect cloaked Romulan ships by looking for singularities, doesn’t this mean that the famed Romulan cloaking technology is officially obsolete? This must be one of those things they forget about by next episode. Man, serialized plots are hard.
You would think this would cause a gigantic diplomatic incident, but as the testimony of a time traveler from a nonexistent timeline isn’t legally admissible (at least that’s my best guess), the Romulans just get embarrassed and leave.
The episode ends at Quark’s bar, where O’Brien is taking the edge off the stress of dying several times with a couple cold beers and a dart game with Bashir. He’s bogged down in the metaphysical implications of his time leaps; he can’t shake the nagging feeling that he’s out of sync with the world and that his life belongs to the dead man he left in the other timeline. “Whether you’re living in the past or the present, you’re still Miles O’Brien,” says Bashir. “You just have a few memories the other one didn’t have.” Well, that’s one way to look at it.
Interesting that the doctor should bring up memories, because on the very next installment of The Trials of Miles, the Chief will have to contend with a most unwelcome one. Keep your eye out for “Hard Time”.