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.
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