WARNING: The article below contains spoilers for DS9's "Explorers" -- so explore no further unless you're not worried about being spoiled.
In brief: A few silly moments and effectively zero plot, but basically a quiet, pleasant character piece.
Brief summary: Sisko builds an ancient-style Bajoran solar sailing ship to prove that ancient Bajorans were capable of such feats, while Bashir prepares for the arrival of a former medical school rival.
After the two-part episode just concluded, a friend of mine asked, "so, does this mean DS9's used up its supply of plot for the year?" While I'm not sure I'd have phrased it quite that way, "Explorers" at least would seem to suggest a "yes" in response -- for it was very long on character and short on plot. This isn't necessarily a problem -- individual episodes that are primarily character pieces can work very well. It's not something I think I'd suggest for the long term, but it serves nicely as an interlude of sorts.
Being a successful interlude, though, depends on the characters being done well -- and fortunately, most of "Explorers" managed to do just that. With only a few exceptions, everyone seemed not only to react to everything in character, but to offer us a number of insights along the way in some cases or simply to cause large doses of giggles. :-)
The latter case belonged to Dr. Bashir's half of the story, so I'll tackle it first. I was initially worried that Bashir's meeting with the doctor who beat him out for the valedictory spot in his class was going to fall flat. Certainly the teaser did nothing to comfort me in that worry, throwing things back to the skirt-chasing Bashir we saw alluded to two years ago and of whom I was never really convinced. (Then, of course, there's the fact that Leeta, his would-be paramour, struck me as nothing more than an attempt to fulfill Trek's Cleavage Quota for
the sweeps month, which I found something less than appealing.)
However, the "Bashir worries about Dr. Lense's arrival" concept ended up working well, what with Odo getting to play with Bashir's mind a bit when Lense arrives, Dax's caginess early on (including Bashir's less-than-subtle "GO AWAY" message in the teaser), and especially Bashir's reaction to being ignored. Quite honestly, seeing
Bashir and O'Brien completely sloshed and singing "Jerusalem" in O'Brien's quarters had to qualify as one of Trek's best moments of character comedy ever. I had to go back and watch that scene again later just to enjoy it again. O'Brien's "I really do! ... not hate you" is a particularly classic moment, but the entire scene does a lot to outline how far this relationship has come, and is just hilarious to boot.
(As for the end of that storyline, with Bashir finding out it was mistaken identity ... it was a little anticlimactic, but okay.)
On, then, to the main story -- Sisko and Jake sailing amongst the stars. Again, in terms of plot we had few twists and no surprises -- hands up, anyone who thought Jake wouldn't end up coming, or that they wouldn't end up at Cardassia in the end -- but it gave us a breather that let us focus on the Sisko family and how things have changed since they first arrived at the station, which is fine.
One of the first things I noticed was a subtle distinction between Sisko and, for instance, Picard as regards the ship. Picard might well have come back from Bajor just as excited about the old ship records as Sisko, and might have been as interested in building the ship as Sisko was as well. However, Picard would probably have been doing it for the thrill of archaeological discovery, as opposed to Sisko, who did it primarily out of a desire to help Bajor. I'm not sure the distinction was crucial for the show as a whole, but I found it an interesting distinction nonetheless.
One element of the show I particularly did not like, however, was the use to which Dukat was put. Gul Dukat can be a very interesting character when given the chance, and even when he's not allowed to be quite as multifaceted as he should, he still manages to be deliciously slimy. Here he was neither -- it felt as though Marc Alaimo was called up on semi-short notice and asked "here, read these lines for us". So much has happened lately that should affect Dukat (the peace treaty between Bajor and Cardassia, the Maquis, and the
recent devastating defeat of the Obsidian Order) that to use him this way is quite simply a waste of material.
However, pretty much everything else we saw in this section of the story felt right. Sisko's passion for building this ship made the character far more alive than usual (and makes me wonder how much his jaunt into the mirror-universe might have changed him), as did his interest in including Jake on the journey. As for Jake ...his dilemma could easily have been made trite, but in my opinion felt extremely realistic for a kid his age. And Jake trying to set his father up on a date so that Sisko won't be alone speaks for itself -- it says "grin". :-)
[Actually, the moment where Jake almost gets Sisko to believe he's joined the Maquis is also pretty damned funny ... but I digress.]
All in all, there's not that much left to say about "Explorers". It wasn't hugely deep, but it was pleasant -- and for want of a better word, most of it felt "true". That's enough for me, at least from time to time.
So, some short takes:
-- Nitpick time. First, we have the ending -- fireworks? Sorry, but I didn't like it twelve years ago in "Return of the Jedi" and I like it even less here. Second, it appears that communication time is serving as a plot convenience again -- we've seen before that communication between DS9 and Cardassia can be instantaneous ("Tribunal" last year), so it not working for Sisko and Jake this time smells a little funny.
-- I had to start laughing when Bashir talked about confronting Dr. Lense "flat-out", given that those words described how I expected Bashir to wind up in a few seconds' time...
-- Trivia note: when I watched the Bashir/O'Brien scene again after the show, Lisa turned to me during the "Jerusalem" song and asked "did someone say 'mattress' to Mr. Sisko?" If you know why, feel smug. :-) If you don't, try to find out -- if I get enough requests, I'll answer it in next week's review.
-- The reference Jake makes to showing a story to Keiko makes me wonder if the show hasn't been lounging around for a while. Given that Keiko's on Bajor full-time right now, I wonder how long ago Jake showed her the story.
-- Cheers to the CGI for the solar sails. The entire ship felt very spidery and "flimsy" to me, which is what most designs I've seen for such concepts tend to look like. Nicely done.
-- While I'm at it, thumbs up to Sisko's beard. It definitely looks good on him.
That's about it. So, to wrap up:
Writing: Nothing earth-shattering in terms of the story, but mostly good character work.
Directing: Sometimes the camera angles went overboard on the sailing motif, but not usually. Fine, on the whole.
Acting: Solid, particularly during the "drunk" scene and for many of the Brooks/Lofton scenes.
OVERALL: Seems like a 7 to me. Not bad.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Why not [confront her] right now?"
"Because you can barely stand up right now."
"Good point ... good point." [thud]
-- Bashir and O'Brien