A temporal accident flings O’Brien into the near future, where he witnesses his own death and the destruction of the station.
Plot Summary: Just after O’Brien is injured in an accident that gives him radiation poisoning, a group of Romulan officers arrives to study Starfleet intelligence on the Dominion, which they had been promised in exchange for the Defiant’s cloaking device. The Romulans are aggressive and rude, and Odo is concerned about hostilities because a Klingon ship is also docked at the station. While Sisko negotiates with the Romulans about how much information they’re entitled to demand, O’Brien finds himself jumping backward and forward several hours in time – once to join a brawl on the Promenade, then to witness his own death by an energy blast. Dax hypothesizes that his radiation exposure is triggering the time shifts. After examining the wall panel where O’Brien saw himself being killed, Odo sets up a surveillance field, but when he sees no one arriving to booby-trap the panel, he checks the sensors and discovers that someone has beamed a weapon directly into the panel. In another forward time shift, O’Brien sees own his dead body in the infirmary, where Bashir tells him to ask the Bashir in his own time to run a basilar arterial scan. Unnerved, O’Brien travels back for the life-saving scan and learns that his time shifts are being caused by a quantum singularity orbiting Deep Space Nine, which affects the radiation he absorbed. During the next time shift, O’Brien finds himself on a runabout from which he witnesses the destruction of the station and collapse of the wormhole. Desperate to save the lives of his colleagues, O’Brien asks Bashir to irradiate him so he can travel to the future before the disaster. There, he and his future self discover that the singularity is in the engine of a cloaked Romulan warbird targeting the station. As the radiation kills the forward-traveling O’Brien, he sends his future self into the past to warn the others about the coming attack. Sisko guesses that the Romulans intend to protect themselves from the Dominion by collapsing the wormhole, destroying the station to prevent Starfleet intervention. Though they admit nothing, the Romulans leave, and O’Brien tries to adjust to feeling out of time.
Analysis: Poor O’Brien – first he’s replaced by a replicant, now by a future version of himself! Despite some redundancy both with previous O’Brien storylines and with similar Next Generation time-jumping disaster episodes (“Parallels,” “Time Squared,” “Cause and Effect”), “Visionary” works very well, in large part because everyone is in character and the pacing makes the storyline dramatic even if we know perfectly well that O’Brien isn’t going to die and the station isn’t going to explode. The stakes get higher every time the Chief jumps through time – first it’s a brawl he witnesses, then his own death, then the deaths of thousands – and the consequences for his health get worse as well. Plus, although the time travel seems gimmicky and unexplained at first, the emerging explanation creates a further sense of menace…it’s a hallucination, no, it’s a quantum singularity, no, it’s a cloaked warbird! The personal and epic crises reach a climax at the same time, merging what originally appear to be A and B storylines – O’Brien’s health and the Romulans’ demands – into a single narrative. This is solid science fiction storytelling, enhanced by the fact that the technobabble is kept at a minimum despite a lot of tech driving the plot – the radiation accident, the weapon hidden in the wall, the temporal displacement mechanism. There are even some very funny bits, like Quark (apparently not having learned his lesson about time-tampering from the Grand Nagus) asking O’Brien to check out who’s winning at the dabo tables, Odo telling Kira that the Romulans were prying into his supposedly nonexistent feelings for her, and Bashir’s droll “Well, who am I to argue with me?” when advised of his future self’s warning to run a scan on O’Brien.
If Bashir seems a bit detached and devil-may-care at facing the possible death of a good friend, he is, at least, very much in character with the Bashir who refused excessive measures to keep Bareil alive. It’s laugh-out-loud funny when he offers to show O’Brien his autopsy results, and nearly as amusing when he seems hurt by O’Brien’s outrage that Bashir didn’t do more to save him. Plus Dax is very much on top of the scientific conundrums, Kira is aggressive and take-charge with the Romulans (though I want to know why she wasn’t informed that moving their quarters to the spot where O’Brien foresaw a hidden weapon would not be a good idea), and Sisko is in full take-no-nonsense irritated mode, which he does very well. It’s a bit odd that he’s making all the decisions, since I’d think Starfleet would have sent him a very thorough briefing on what he should and should not share with the Romulans; for that matter, I’d think Starfleet would send a few higher-ranked officers to make decisions about how much of the Defiant should be open to the visitors and to protect officers from Romulan interrogators, who have no more respect for privacy than they do for classified information. I also wish we would get more of an idea what they hope to learn from and about Odo when it seems they plan all along to destroy him when they blow up the station, thus stopping his people from ever coming through the wormhole. The Romulans might have wanted to pay more attention to Federation weapons because a few people are sure to survive an evacuation, as we see in the alt-future, and the Bajorans as well as Starfleet would be out for blood when inevitably they realized that the wormhole’s collapse was not caused by natural forces. I’d expect Sisko to be more threatening about the consequences should the Romulans return to the region.
The Klingons in the episode are pretty gratuitous, as is the bar fight (both red herrings to suggest that perhaps the Romulans aren’t the villains here). Kira’s suggestive exchange with Odo is a red herring as well; it’s all right now in retrospect when I know that they will ultimately find happiness together, but when the third season first aired, it all felt like a cruel tease, with the possibility that she would figure out Odo’s feelings being overplayed to such a degree that it started to feel like Odo never thought about anything BUT Kira. I like seeing her laugh with him even for such a reason, but I really love her snapping and talking back to her Starfleet commander after too many weeks of fawning over the Emissary. I could use some temporal education from the Prophets because I don’t understand why early O’Brien can occupy the same timeline as later O’Brien without violating the laws of matter and energy, and I particularly don’t understand why sometimes time travelers can interact with the “wrong” timeline while at other times the presence of a future-self creates a quantum fissure that can implode universes, but like Captain Janeway, I get a headache from all the temporal dilemmas (or, to quote a different franchise, from the wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff). The station doesn’t blow up regularly the way the Enterprise did, so I don’t mind an instance of alternate-future that we know will be rewritten, and I like it when O’Brien gets to live out his martyrdom fantasies from the Alamo in real life, though I share his existential dilemma about whether it’s really “him” living his life. It’s a shame his wife and daughter are never around these days to see his superhero side.