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Retro Review: Explorers

Posted by Michelle - 04/01/13 at 07:01 pm


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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 03 Episode: 22 (s03e22)

Original US airdate: 05/08/1995

Sisko builds a version of an ancient Bajoran space vessel in an effort to prove that centuries earlier, Bajorans landed on Cardassia.

Plot Summary: Having read that ancient Bajorans built lightships propelled by solar pressure, Sisko decides to prove that it might have been possible for them to have reached Cardassia, as the Bajorans have always claimed. He builds a ship based on an ancient model and asks Jake to travel as far as the Denorios Belt to demonstrate that the propulsion system works. Though Jake initially resists, he decides to go, concluding that the trip will be a good opportunity to talk to his father about whether to accept a writing scholarship to a school in New Zealand. Dukat warns Sisko that the Bajoran legends of reaching Cardassia are ludicrous, which is O’Brien’s feeling as well, but Kira insists that the Cardassians’ only agenda is to prevent any proof of the idea that Bajor achieved spaceflight before they did. During the smooth early part of the trip, Jake confesses that he worries about leaving his father alone and asks whether he can introduce Sisko to a freighter captain who’s interested in dating him. Meanwhile, back on the station, Bashir’s flirtation with new Dabo girl Leeta is interrupted by the arrival of his medical school class valedictorian, whom Bashir desperately wants to impress, though she ignores him entirely when he approaches her. Bolstered by a drinking session with O’Brien, Bashir tries again and discovers that she had no idea what he looked like. Sisko’s ship encounters turbulence that damages the navigational equipment, then is bombarded by particles that propel it to warp speed. Unable to hail the station, the pair are astonished when Dukat arrives with three warships to congratulate them on reaching Cardassian space. Coincidentally, Dukat adds, the crash site of a centuries-old Bajoran lightship very like the one Sisko is piloting has just been discovered on Cardassia, whose government says that Sisko’s voyage is a testament to ancient Bajorans who first ventured out into space.

Analysis: “Explorers” is a deeply flawed episode, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good one. I had to shut off my brain for the “scientific” explanation of how solar sails trap tachyon particles that propel what looks like a Leonardo da Vinci design for a spaceship to faster-than-light speeds, but the shiny steampunk interiors of the lightship and the big butterfly sails make it fun to watch anyway. Similarly, I had to turn off my brain at the notion that Bashir and Elizabeth Lense went to medical school together, were considered the two brightest students in their year, competed with each other, were presumably nominated for the same awards and honors and invited to the same symposiums and demonstrations, yet managed never to be introduced to one another even at graduation where the one followed the other onto the stage to speak, but it’s a cute gimmick to set up the only redeeming aspect of the B storyline: the scene in which Bashir and O’Brien get drunk and sing “Jerusalem” together. I’d have an easier time believing that she doesn’t recognize him because 24th century contact lenses don’t work for her (that would explain why she went off looking for biological samples rather than being a surgeon) – or that she’s lying to save face after the terrible manners of blowing off Bashir, or perhaps because she knows he hits on Dabo girls. No matter, Elizabeth Lense is not important; what’s significant is that this is yet another reiteration of the preganglionic fiber-postganglionic nerve mistake that’s at the core of all of Bashir’s anxieties, which was feeling very over-used the first time I saw “Explorers” yet takes on a whole new significance rewatching with the understanding that Bashir was sabotaging himself (and, presumably, his relationships) all along.

I wonder what it means that Bashir feels most himself around Garak, another man who’s living a lie, and O’Brien, who’s the opposite – solid and predictable even if he seems rather out of character declaring that a Bajoran solar sailing ship can’t make it to Cardassia. That seems like just the sort of challenge that would appeal to O’Brien, not make him cynical, and Kira rightly tells him off for dismissing her people’s technological triumph much the way many Europeans spent centuries suppressing the scientific achievements of the Muslim world. (O’Brien retorts that Kira sounds like a Romulan, who always claim to have invented everything first.) Okay, it is ridiculous that Sisko gets the ship built so quickly, without seeking input from O’Brien, Dax, or any of the Bajoran engineers on the station, and I’d love to know why the celebration fireworks set off by Dukat don’t send the little ship spinning on its light-powered sails (which perhaps is Dukat’s true intention: to blast them back home). On a show whose serious themes don’t always allow laugh-aloud moments, the writers deserve full kudos for Dukat’s offhand revelation that oh, guess what, the Cardassians only just discovered that the Bajorans landed on their planet centuries earlier after all. But what’s up with a pairing of storylines that seems to parallel Julian’s personal history with early Bajoran spacefaring accomplishments? I refuse to believe that the writers used “Jerusalem” to equate Bajorans walking upon Cardassia’s mountains green with Blake’s fantasy of Jesus walking on England’s pleasant pastures. As the episode makes clear in the end, the Bajoran stories are not based in fantasy, but in history.

Which brings me to my major peeve about this episode, the fact that no Bajorans are invited to participate in any way in Sisko’s quest to prove their people’s early space accomplishments. I get that the writers wanted a père et fils bonding expedition, but how hard would it have been to show Sisko working with Bajoran builders on the craft, and how much more would the journey have meant to Kira or any Bajoran who got to look Dukat in the eye and force him to own up to Bajor’s independent early breakthrough? Sisko has been making small forays into discovering what it means to be the Emissary, like attending the reopening of the historic Bajoran library in which he discovers the plans for the ancient sky sails, so maybe he feels he owes it to Bajor to make such a contribution on his own. I never object when Sisko gets to spend a lot of time with Jake, since they have one of the most believable father-son relationships I’ve seen on television (I sometimes forget that Avery Brooks is not really Cirroc Lofton’s dad). Now that he’s getting used to the idea that his son doesn’t want to follow him into Starfleet, Sisko is more willing to share his feelings about Jake’s other options. It’s a pity that the writers keep chickening out on the father-son sex talk – when Sisko tells Jake that some parts of his story seem unrealistic, he hopes because Jake hasn’t actually experienced such things, we’re all guessing at first that he means intimate matters, not joining the Maquis – yet quite funny when Jake reveals that he wants to set his dad up on a blind date, leading Sisko to lament that he’s getting romantic advice from his son. At least it’s not with a Dabo girl who has to feign neediness to catch his attention and it’s not with someone who hated him before learning to love him.

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  • SJStar

    I truly despise this DS9 episode. The claim that Bajorians reached Cardassia by such a spacecraft is plainly ludicrous. How the heck did they get from the surface of Bajor into orbit, then have enough energy to escape their planet, their star, then beyond their solar system?

    Clearly the distance to Cardassia is light-years away, which takes considerable time even at warp-speed let alone a sail-craft driven by some mysterious technobabbled wind. (Tachyons too, are supposed to be time particles not light particle (photons).)

    Even if the could get around all this, it would take millions upon millions of years to get there — dumping the relativistic limitations of sub-warp / impulse travel. Warp speed works by twisting space not by being blown along by the celestial wind. (Were it true, then wouldn’t they be using this technology as a back-up? Also if the discovery of warp speed donates a civilisation rise to prominence to space-fairing cultures in the galaxy, then why are the Bajorans still have such primitive space technologies and the Cardassians having superior ones?

    The science here is plainly stupid, where ye’ old common-sense is thrown out the window. Dukat, like any intelligent person, is right to be sceptical. (The producers of DS9 clearly think their audience is equally dumb, too, BTW.)

    I think the story here is likely a mirror (actually a parody) of the Polynesians crossing the Pacific to occupy Hawaii, Tahiti then New Zealand. Crossing the ocean is one thing. Crossing the gulf between the stars is another.

    The second thing I also really despise is the whole underlying reason behind the Bajorans claims, and is based on being the ‘presumed’ old culture having the higher ground. It is plainly like our recent modern history of the last two or four centuries (or longer) of the displacement of indigenous peoples and their claims of ownership and spiritual connectiveness to ‘their’ presumed god-given ‘Promise Land.’ I.e. Jews to Israel, the American Indians or Australian aboriginals, or even the now extinct Neanderthals. The storyline is basically to ‘stick-it-up’ the Cardassians for their illegal and immoral occupation of Bajor, all in the hope of proving some superiority over the once occupiers.

    All this story is fable, just like mostly fictional stories of discoverers; like that of pre-Columbus America, pre-Cook east coast Australia, or god’s gift of ‘sacred land.’ I hate being lectured too, and this DS9 reviewed here presents it in exactly these terms. Frankly the presumed stirring nationalistic singing of “Jerusalem” (sung like it is some Viking chant) is almost like spitting in your face.

  • Guest

    Tachyons are particles that are supposed to be limited to faster-than-light speeds. I don’t know how a “sail” would catch them, but I’m sure we could dummy up an answer involving subspace.

    As for the Bajoran ship escaping the planet’s atmosphere, it is possible it was built in space.

    “Also if the discovery of warp speed donates a civilisation rise to prominence to space-fairing cultures in the galaxy, then why are the Bajorans still have such primitive space technologies and the Cardassians having superior ones?”

    The Bajoran internal religious and political strife and subsequent devastating invasion are good reasons; as for before that, not everyone immediately builds a war fleet with their best technology. Cardassia, with its totalitarian government, did.

  • Mike

    As the guest pointed out, tachyons are real things and they operate at faster than light speeds. If you want to pretend they’re about time travel, that’s fine, but that’s a fictional attribution to a real particle…

    How did the Phoenix get into orbit on a planet that had been ravaged by the third world war? They used their limited resources and pooled them… Lily, in fact, talks about the process of getting the base components for the cockpit as she is awestruck by Enterprise-E. Additionally, the Baku are a race of people, and not the first in Star Trek, to abandon their advanced science for a more agrarian philosophy… Either that or Bajor clearly went through a series of dark ages… There were plenty of engineering marvels that the Romans constructed that were not matched until the 20th Century… Does that mean that because 16th century Europe couldn’t do what 3rd century BC Europe could do that the Romans are fictional?

    It seems more to me like you’re just threatened by the idea that some of your bedrock notions aren’t true. I mean, are you distant cousins of Columbus? What stake do you have in whether a Viking ever landed on Newfoundland or not? You seem awfully touchy about it all…….

  • SJStar

    Some good points. However, the Phoenix was technically a spacecraft designed for the rigours of launch. This sail barge was a fragile thing. It is clear the producers and writers had ocean-going ships in mind when they wrote this story and the ventures of the pioneer explorers. Perhaps it would be possible to explore their solar system, but to go to another star system using pre-warp technology is stretching this nonsense a little too far.

    Star Trek is supposed to be our possible ideal future. Treating the viewer as mindless morons is what makes me touchy. DS9 has some truly brilliant stuff. ‘Explorers’ is not one of them IMO.

    Tachyons are postulated particle in real life that go faster than light, which have known consequences for established temporal physics. It Trek they are commonly abused in their purpose, often as a plot point.

  • Enterprise1981

    Despite a lot of the obvious flaws, “Explorers” made for a semi-decent filler episode with a few pivotal points of certain character arcs–some father-son bonding, Jake offering to play matchmaker for his dad while continuing to take on a niche different from Wesley Crusher’s, introducing Leeta. It is also the one episode between “The Die is Cast” and “The Adversary” I’d recommend skipping.

    The only scene truly worth watching is the latest running joke about the Bashir-O’Brien bromance that started in “Fascination”:

    O’Brien “You’re not an in-between kind of guy. People either love you or hate you. I hated you when we first met. Now, I don’t… I mean I really do… not hate you.”
    Bashir: “Thanks. That means a lot.”
    O’Brien: “Well, it’s from the heart.”

  • Mike

    I don’t disagree with much of what you say, just some things here and there. For instance, we have a space station, it’s not unreasonable to assume the ancient Bajorans also had one, and, if the ship couldn’t have launched from the surface, it must have launched from orbit. We don’t really know that much about ancient Bajor, mind you, other than several references to Bajor being an advanced civilization while humans were still hunting and gathering… So, the idea that they’ve technologically regressed is somewhat baked in, isn’t it? Also, if they’re achieving warp speeds they’re not using pre-warp technology… they’re using a different means of warp technology. Because the greeks and others used triremes with banks of oars doesn’t negate the existence of sailing ships… To my recollection it’s never established one way or another when Bajor achieved warp travel through an anti-matter reaction. And, for that matter, it’s never really explained how this ship went to warp speeds using the Tachyons… it’s entirely possible it does create a warp effect… who’s to say? At the end of the day, you’re absolutely right, it’s meant more for the story and less for the science…

  • garak

    Has anyone else really noticed Trek’s fascination with this whole “sails in space” idea. I bet it was that Michael Pillar crap. He did it again a few years later in insurrection with that stupid “Collector”.

  • Mike

    Well, it’s not exactly a new idea… Captain Randolf was trying to deploy a solar sail to get Yorktown back to spacedock in the wake of the cetacean probe… and that was 1986 in The Voyage Home… And wasn’t there a ship in TNG that was using solar flares as pulses by which they would go to warp? Geordi even comments about being uncomfortable at the thought of no warp engines…. Hell, even Count Dooku uses a ship with a deployable sail in Attack of the Clones… It’s not a new idea, nor is it on Michael Pillar… Blame the scientists who have postulated that ships could use solar sails to collect energy in deep space. They didn’t just make this idea up… Something tells me you folks complaining about the solar sail have never visited NASA… Had you, the idea would seem less silly and more realistic, at least in concept… that it takes you to warp is the iffy part… not that it uses a sail.

  • SJStar

    Fair enough.