Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Explorers"

***

Air date: 5/8/1995
Teleplay by Rene Echevarria
Story by Hilary J. Bader
Directed by Cliff Bole

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"It's not a synthale kind of night." — Bashir

Some good character moments and a general dose of positive feelings characterize an appropriately timed, calm, light episode in the wake of the past two heavy duty outings.

After reading some astounding history, Sisko returns from Bajor with an impulse to build an ancient vessel. History states that 800 years ago ancient Bajorans built space vessels that operated on solar sails. According to legend, they were able to make the trip all the way to Cardassia. That's quite a feat at sub-warp speeds—a seemingly impossible feat, really. O'Brien doesn't even believe the design is spaceworthy.

Sisko decides to build one of these sailing ships to prove that the design is spaceworthy and make the legendary trip to the Cardassian system. Using the original plans for the design, he builds the ship in a cargo bay in his spare time. If you're willing to believe Sisko would have enough off-duty time to accomplish such an undertaking by himself over just a few weeks—well, even if you're not—this episode will most likely work for you.

Set as the B-story is Bashir attempting to face Dr. Elizabeth Lense (Bari Hochwald) of the USS Lexington, to whom he lost by a nose in their medical academy Valedictorian race.

I like this episode because it does what the series needs to do every once in a while—forget about threats and plots for a week and just sit back and let the characters carry the show. That's exactly what "Explorers" is—a light-on-plot-and-tension outing which proves the cast knows how to conduct itself with the most basic of material.

Like in the first half of "Past Tense," this episode shows a very respectable trait in Commander Sisko—his feelings of the importance of history. He puts forth a passionate effort on a project he hopes will uncover further truths about the ancient Bajorans, who were exploring their star system while humanity was finally ready to cross the ocean.

Put Jake in the ship with his father for the trip, and "Explorers" becomes a welcome father/son story. This episode highlights some seldom-utilized, meaningful concerns shared between Sisko and his son. For example, Jake reveals that he has been offered a writing fellowship to a school on Earth, which is a terrific opportunity. But Jake also reveals that he's worried to leave his father all alone on DS9. He wants his father to date a little more often. "It's been over a year since your last date. A year, Dad," he says. As a rather amusing notion, Jake knows a freighter captain named Kasidy Yates whom he would like to set up with his father.

The scenes between Sisko and Jake work well; both Avery Brooks and Cirroc Lofton bring a genuine sense of believability to the relationship. And even when the plot presents the lone sailors with torn-up space sails and destroyed navigation devices, the plot wisely plays down all remnants of a jeopardy angle and keeps the focus on the core of the episode—the character elements.

What initially appears to be a mission failure as the sail ship unexpectedly and unexplainably accelerates to warp speed—presumably light-years off course—turns out to be a successful cruise into the Cardassian system due to technobabble convenience. In a very positive ending, the Siskos are met by Gul Dukat, who offers words of welcome and even celebrates their arrival with fireworks. The presentation of Dukat's lighter side comes across surpassingly well. Finally, finally the writers paint the Cardassians as something other than a brick wall.

The B-story, in which Bashir can't determine why Dr. Lense totally ignores his existence, is a prime example of the presentation transcending the material. Trite as this story may be, it all comes together when Bashir and O'Brien decide to get drunk. Many viewers may find it hokey, but this scene is funny. Colm Meaney particularly does a fine job of acting intoxicated. It's not every day we can see the head of the medical staff and the chief engineer barely able to stand up straight.

"Explorers" simply conveys its own self-maintained optimism to the audience and uses characters rather than plot to tell its story. The strength is that the cast knows how to perform.

Previous episode: The Die Is Cast
Next episode: Family Business

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35 comments on this review

Sri - Sat, May 2, 2009 - 12:04am (USA Central)
One thing I always enjoyed about this episode was the interaction between Lense and Bashir- especially when Lense comments at how Bashir must enjoy the ability to undertake long-term projects and watch them develop.

An underhanded comment about the ability of DS9 to entertain story arcs that would be unfeasible on a ship that was always travelling? I like to think so. And I think it highlights the main difference between DS9 and Voyager; Voyager was forced to use a lot of "Bottle Shows" because they never visited the same planet twice.
Brendan - Wed, Jun 17, 2009 - 11:54am (USA Central)
Nice youtube recap of this episode:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCyowQs8dEA
Durandal_1707 - Tue, Sep 15, 2009 - 2:10am (USA Central)
One thing I don't get about this one - Sisko kept talking about going from DS9 to the Denorios belt in the ship. Isn't DS9 *in* the Denorios belt? If they started at DS9, shouldn't they already be at their stated destination?
Chris - Tue, Sep 22, 2009 - 2:35pm (USA Central)
A fun episode but with two huge flaws:

1. Sisko making a starship, albeit a primitive one, single-handed in less then three weeks of his spare time from running the station. It can't have been longer because it was finished when the Lexington arrived.

2. If it's so easy to make a replica ship, why hadn't any Bejoran explorers ever tried it in the 800 years since the original voyage? After all, the original trip to Cardassia is a major part of their folklore. If they had tried, they would surely also have found the unexpected tachion wind that propelled Sisko's ship to success.
Jonathan - Mon, Apr 12, 2010 - 9:34pm (USA Central)
@Chris, at the beginning of the episode, Sisko just came back from a library opening with the greatest collection of ancient Bejoran stuff. So, they didn't know about it.

Lee - Fri, May 14, 2010 - 11:28am (USA Central)
Wow, that gotee does wonders for Sisko's character. Starting with this episode, he has a charisma and an emotional range that had previously only been hinted at. They finally let Avery Brooks spill out into Sisko.
jon - Fri, Feb 4, 2011 - 5:37pm (USA Central)
A better song for Bashir would have been world in motion, or you'll never walk alone
Robert - Sat, Jun 18, 2011 - 9:31am (USA Central)
Two comments to make on this. Firstly I agree with jammer, it was a wonderful character episode. My favourite scene is the O'Brien-Bashir drinking scene. Totally agree that Colm Meaneys performance in this is pitch perfect. It really is a milestone episode in the development of their friendship and it was beautifully done.

Second comment I would make is this. The ship is a primitive sublight vessel, constructed long before warp drive was discovered. So how can they possibly achieve lightspeed and survive? If the craft moves that fast, father and son would be killed instantly. The only evidence left would be stains on the back wall.

But regardless of that, I really enjoyed this episode. It may have been lightweight in terms of plot, but the acting and the character scenes were fantastic. The scene between O'Brien and Bashir alone merits and extra half star, making this a 3.5 star for me :)
Elliott - Thu, Jul 7, 2011 - 1:22pm (USA Central)
I'm at a loss for words on this one. Sometimes I wonder if someone is playing a trick on me. The acting? Really? If the acting on the parts of Brooks OR Lofton were anything better than amateur, I might be able to stomach the nonsensical and hokey plot. I agree that the story is well-timed given the series arc in terms of weight and focus, but the execution is dismal. How can any of you empathise with these characters given their horrendous portrayals? I've said it before and I'll say it again--the scene with O'Brien and Bashir everyone is gushing over has no business on Star Trek and is precisely that thing which I believe made DS9 attractive to so many--namely that it wasn't really Star Trek. The appeal is absolutely pedestrian and a waste of an hour. 1.5 stars from me.
Captain Tripps - Sat, Sep 17, 2011 - 6:21pm (USA Central)
I don't know what to tell you Elliott, other than commenting that calling Avery Brooks "amateur" is a bit, well, amateurish.
Jay - Fri, Oct 21, 2011 - 5:39pm (USA Central)
Considering the apparent weight of it, it's odd that no mention is made of Bashir's recent Carrington nomination...unless I missed it...
Paul - Sat, Nov 19, 2011 - 4:49am (USA Central)
@Tripps
"I don't know what to tell you Elliott, other than commenting that calling Avery Brooks "amateur" is a bit, well, amateurish."

Don't pay any attention to Elliott :)
He just repeats one and the same ad nauseam.

I mean, he has a right to his opinion just like everyone else, but man, WHEREVER I look, be it DS9 or TNG or VOY reviews, there he is, telling everyone how disastrously awful DS9 is. Jeez.
Elliott - Sun, Nov 20, 2011 - 2:23am (USA Central)
@Paul : that might give you an inkling about how I feel when WHEREVER I look, be it DS9 or TNG or VOY reviews, there I see people throwing angry detritus voyager's way and licking DS9's well...I'll keep my comment PG.

The acting from most of DS9's principle cast was in line with the average 90s family sitcom, which is to say, not very good. It did have a stellar supporting cast, I won't deny. Brooks and Lofton however are among the weakest actors we repeatedly had to see week to week.

I don't think DS9 was disastrously awful. In fact, I think I see it the way many on this site seem to see Voyager; that is, a show with a lot of unrealised potential and unfortunate tendencies to do stupid things. For example, let's take a ludicrous plot and couple it with a fruitless and unenlightening bit of character study portrayed by weak actors. In a word : dumb.
Jack - Fri, Feb 24, 2012 - 3:49pm (USA Central)
Hard to believe that a valedictorian would think an Andorian would have a name like Julian Bashir.
Justin - Tue, Apr 24, 2012 - 12:38pm (USA Central)
@Elliott, I think the reason you were at a loss for words initially is because you hadn't yet come up with an excuse to dislike this episode. You couldn't really fault "Explorers" as a story, so you reduce it to being "nonsensical" and "hokey" without explaining why, and at the same time you trot out the classic lame objection, "oh, the acting sucked." Please. Not everyone is up to Patrick Stewart's standards, so knock it off.

And how did you come up with the baffling idea that the O'Brien/Bashir drunk scene has no business being in Star Trek? Why?? Because a paddy and a paki become buddies? Because they get drunk together?

Or is it because of the SONG? That must be it. They sang "Jerusalem" and the idea of two 24th century dudes drunkenly belting out a British Empire hymn that arrogantly ponders the possibility that Jesus' feet once walked upon England's green and pleasant land just doesn't sit well with you, does it? If I'm right then your true belief here must be that irony has no place in Star Trek.
Elliott - Tue, Apr 24, 2012 - 12:48pm (USA Central)
@Justin :

The plot is ridiculous. Please don't tell me sailboats in space is anything but. It's a contrived idea to give Jake and Sisko their father/son dialogue which I totally support on principle. Really. The plot is dumb and pointless, but let's get some character work out of it. But if you're going to do 2 characters in a small space doing gritty character work, you'd better have actors that can rise to the challenge, which is why I make a point of it here. When Garret Wang acts badly it's usually not in a situation where it matters very much. Here it does.

Regarding the brits, my objection is that 2 Starfleet humans from the 24th century solve their problems by getting drunk together. That's how I solve my problems, not how Star Trek characters ought to.
Justin - Tue, Apr 24, 2012 - 3:24pm (USA Central)
@ Elliott, now you're just making crap arguments. How is the concept of sailboats in space any more ridiculous than cloaked starships or transporter rooms? This is the universe in which we've chosen to suspend our disbelief. Quibbling about contrivances may work when nitpicking the execution of some episodes, but not here. The cloaked starship was a plot contrivance to make the original Romulans more menacing and it added to the mythology of the Trek Universe. The lightship was a plot contrivance to get Sisko & Jake into an intimate and lighthearted father and son situation and it also added to the mythology of the Trek Universe (and Bajoran history in particular).

Re acting: When Garret Wang acts badly it's not much different than when Marina Sirtis, or LeVar Burton, or Avery Brooks, or even the great Patrick Stewart act badly. It detracts. So does bad writing. But none of that matters, because neither apply here. Brooks' and Lofton's respective performances were by no means "bad" in this episode. And if you're going to continue to argue that they were then you're going to have to cite specific examples.

And there wasn't anything gritty about the character work in this episode. It was lighthearted and fun, which is less of an acting challenge than gritty. So, if you're seeing "Explorers" through a gritty prism it's no wonder you think the acting was no good, because you missed the point entirely.

BTW, Brooks and Lofton have done gritty too, and they've both risen to the challenge (see "The Visitor," "Far Beyond The Stars," and "Rapture").

Re O'Brien and Bashir: I don't know about you, but I've never broken down any personal barriers by drunkenly bonding with someone. Bashir and O'Brien were pretty much buds by this point and the drunkenness was done for comedic effect. Now, if O'Brien was using alcohol as a means to cope with his marital problems, then you'd have a point.
Justin - Tue, Apr 24, 2012 - 3:29pm (USA Central)
@Elliott, one more thing. I found this over at the Memory Alpha website:

At its 1995 convention, the Space Frontier Foundation recognized ("Explorers") for exemplifying "the most imaginative use of a vehicle to travel in space," and awarded the episode the "Best Vision of the Future" award. The award was presented by Robert Staehle, the world's foremost expert on solar sails.

More information relating to the actual plausibility of the Bajoran lightship can be found at:

wiki.solarsails.info
Ian - Sun, Jul 22, 2012 - 11:58pm (USA Central)
I see I am not the only one who finds elliot to be the most annoying character in Trek.
He/she/it/them/they...whatever...whichever...is our version of Wesley.
Best ignored or forgotten...
Did anyone else pick up the little in joke between Sisko and Jake? the "Hammock time," "yo," bit?
It is things like that that prove the show is not taking itself too seriously...
Also, "Cygnian respitory diseases," is a tribute to a line from TOS. They also did that alot as well...
Peremensoe - Mon, Jul 23, 2012 - 12:30am (USA Central)
"The plot is ridiculous. Please don't tell me sailboats in space is anything but."

"How is the concept of sailboats in space any more ridiculous than cloaked starships or transporter rooms?"

In fact it's much less ridiculous. The concept has been around for a long time, and has real science behind it. Read en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_sail if this is all new to you. Only the FTL part is really on the fiction-level of those other Trek concepts.
Cail Corishev - Sat, Sep 15, 2012 - 7:12pm (USA Central)
The only problem with the ship was that a solar sail capable of carrying a couple of people and their capsule fast enough to be useful would need to have a sail miles across, not some bird-like wings. But hey, just figure it's catching some "sigma radiation" or something that we haven't discovered yet that pushes a lot harder than light.

Going faster-than-light with it is ridiculous, but as far as we know, so are all FTL methods on all sci-fi shows. If it backs up a father-son story as good as this one, I'm not going to complain.
Latex Zebra - Mon, Nov 12, 2012 - 9:07am (USA Central)
Elliot has proved that it is not just Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings that contain trolls.
DG - Thu, Nov 29, 2012 - 6:28am (USA Central)
@Jack - Hard to believe that a valedictorian would think an Andorian would have a name like Julian Bashir.


While true up front, there's a Russian Lieutenant named Worf...
Viv - Mon, Jan 14, 2013 - 2:17pm (USA Central)
I liked the design of the ship but did the ancient Bajorans have space stations? If not, how did the ship break the bonds of Bajor's gravity? How didn't it burn up in reentry? I wish they'd addressed these questions at least in a passing way.
Peremensoe - Mon, Feb 11, 2013 - 5:59pm (USA Central)
The "ancient Bajorans" terminology is misleading. Relative to the whole of their history (half a million years!!), the lightship-to-Cardassia was very recent. They had certainly had some kind of (orbital?) flight for many years already because they had recovered the Orbs.
Trent - Fri, Jun 7, 2013 - 7:20pm (USA Central)
I loved this episode. It has heaps of heart, good pace, good jokes, good acting, some nice visuals and some wonderful character moments. I wish Jammer liked Heart of Stone too, that was another low key, underrated episode.
T'Paul - Sat, Jul 6, 2013 - 5:56pm (USA Central)
A nice change of place... interesting sci-fi ideas... good to see the Cardassians eating their hats at the end.
ProgHead777 - Fri, Jul 19, 2013 - 5:21am (USA Central)
I loved every second of this episode. It's one of the shows from the first three seasons that stayed with me long after the series ended its initial run, after I rewatched it again years later, and I find now that I'm rewatching it again after another long interval, that it is one of the best episodes of Star Trek, period. That is, thanks to its honest, completely relatable depiction of close friendships (Miles and Julian) and family relationships (Sisko and his son). I believed every word of it for its entire duration. That's rare among Star Trek episodes. And all with not one single phaser or photon torpedo fired... Cardassian fireworks notwithstanding. ;) 4 stars.
JB - Wed, Aug 21, 2013 - 6:58pm (USA Central)
I like this episode. The solar sail idea is more plausible than them (and the whole ship) not being crushed from the force of acceleration to warp and back to normal space (why the ships have inertial dampers). Oh well, all the character interactions are great. As far as the science problems, they're no where near as annoying as out of phase episodes where people can still breathe (the air should be out of phase) and don't fall through the floors (I love the part in another sci-fi series where they mock that).
Kotas - Wed, Oct 23, 2013 - 9:01am (USA Central)

A watchable episode of no real consequence.

5/10
NoPoet - Mon, Dec 9, 2013 - 5:00am (USA Central)
"I'm going to build a Bajoran ship and sail it to Cardassia. What can I do to make this idea even more brilliant? Oh I know! I'll bring my son!" I need to watch this episode again (with reluctance, I'd rather be watching the more intense episodes), but it seems like such a silly idea. I mainly know DS9 from the later seasons so it seems weird for a Starfleet officer to fly a Bajoran ship right into the solar system of Bajor's deadliest enemy. But I guess these things will make more sense in the 24th century.
Jons - Sat, Feb 1, 2014 - 1:02pm (USA Central)
There's suspension of disbelief and then there's ludicrous plot.

- how can a ship made by a civilisation ready to launch something into space be so easy to make it's made in one week by a single man?

- how is a starfleet bridge officer able to construct so many things by himself as if nothing needed specialist knowledge? As if he was totally aware of 800 years old bajoran technique?

- how is this frail boat-ish design supposed to have taken off the planet?

- can i PLEASE know how a people who have to build mechanic handles to spread sails (so apparently no computers at all!) worked out anti-gravity?

- since when does Sisko have so much time on his hands?? (A trip to bajor, then building a ship, then going off in space...)

- sure the ship wasn't tested or anything before leaving. Also they can be saved in under an hour which is really a-ok since humans can survive for hours in the vacuum of space in case something goes wrong! Also, you totally take your only son along!

Why does DS9 insist on these completelly iseless filler episodes?? It's either GREAT or PATHETIC (TNG and Voyager are at least constant in their averageness...)
Peremensoe - Sun, Feb 2, 2014 - 1:19pm (USA Central)
Again, there is no reason to think that sailships themselves *ever* launched from or landed on planetary surfaces. We know that Bajorans had some kind of space travel before the original sailships.
Vylora - Sat, Feb 22, 2014 - 4:19am (USA Central)
A note to some earlier comments...it seems plausible to me that ancient Bajorans were able to build this type of vessel. I see no reason to believe otherwise.

1. It's been noted that Bajorans had ability to leave the planet and explore their system

2. If anything they could have built the ship on Bajor and attached it to another ship/rocket that can break orbit

3. They could have simply built the ship in space

I do have an issue with no explanation on how it was able to achieve warp speed without affecting everyone inside. It was explained HOW it was achieved just not much beyond that. It could've added more "dreaded" technobabble but it seems important technobabble.

The above comment about the drunk scene having no place in Star Trek is wildly misguided. It's very well known in Trek that not only is alcohol socially acceptable, but the Federation has even come up with an alternative for it called Synthale. Where the 'on-call' duty officer can enjoy the intoxication but shake off the effects at the chirp of a com-badge. Bashir an O'Brien getting drunk on real alcohol just shows to me two people having a moment together that furthers their bonding. It wasn't about 'solving problems'.

Speaking of the B-story in this ep, I did find it a little out of place that Bashir would be so upset about Dr. Lense showing up in the first place. I felt his dismay at his being 2nd in class to her was a bit out of character. Especially knowing before and after this episode that he purposely missed a question in the exams for one reason or another. Everything after Lense walking right past him in Quarks was great fodder for light-hearted material though despite being based as it is on a shaky premise.

The A-story is a lightweight father/son outing that contains well written dialogue with believable characters and taps into the romanticism of space-travel that, frankly, really hasn't been the hallmark of many episodes of any Trek series. Also, the end of the episode was rather poignant and one of my favorite moments of DS9.

3.5 stars.
Q-Less - Sun, Mar 9, 2014 - 1:19pm (USA Central)
For me this episode works better in rerun than when it aired first. When I saw it the first time, I had a WTF-moment at the end. The previous episodes, actually the whole season to date, was so action- and plot heavy that I somehow expected a bigger bang at the end of this episode. It's not that I didn't enjoy the episode, but while watching I was always anticipating something big coming up, like the solar ship getting into real trouble with life support being offline, or a space battle or something similar. Instead I saw a technical crisis that wasn't really one and Gul Dukat congratulating the Siskos for having won a bet against Cardassian pride. And that was it. I guess this was just a question of false expectations on my end. When I watched the episodes again some years later, I was able to actually enjoy the show for what it was, a quiet piece of character study.

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