I don't know about the episode being a random series of events that make no sense. It made sense to me. You have a character with an objective at the beginning: a guy who wants to follow his grandfather's footsteps and take a photo of all of the sawsbuck forms together. He discovered something that was even more important than a photograph, since he seems to be fine with what he ended up with at the end. It became more of a memento since he had it framed anyway, which I thought was touching.
Or maybe I'm biased because I had to write a story once and at the end some guy had a crappy cell phone photo framed of his cat because it was the only one he had.
During the mission a bunch of complications arose. They were a series of events that help set up: a missed opportunity on account of being sick and the weather conditions. The whole episode served to point out that this place was wild and dangerous, those poison things were everywhere, and those sewaddle have a very unfriendly expression and are sneaky-looking. If he had got his perfect photograph, would the outcome have been the same? Would Robert have had a chance to realize what he did in the end? I'm not trying to answer that, but it's totally open for discussion.
If Cilan and Iris had come along, there probably would have been no convenient way to point out that there was a time discrepancy. I wonder why there had to be a time difference, maybe so Robert's sanity could be challenged, compounded by his crappy photograph that he's claiming is the real thing. At least Ash shares his insanity which makes it awesome, and probably comforting. I'm glad they got separated, because whenever Iris and Cilan come along on these types of reality-called-into-question adventures they only argue. That's been pretty well-established.