3.22: “Explorers”

Synopsis: Sisko builds a ship using centuries-old Bajoran designs, and he and Jake set out to prove it’s capable of travel to Cardassia. Meanwhile, Bashir has a minor personal crisis when a rival from medical school visits the station.

This episode is just…really charming? It’s not particularly substantial, but it’s very enjoyable in spite of that. It feels, in terms of plot alone, like something from the first or second season, a bit earlier in the show, except that it’s happening at a point where the characters are better established and more distinctive, so it’s got more personality than a lot of those earlier episodes.

I’m also grateful that it’s pretty light in tone, because that moment when they can’t reach the station and don’t know where they are is…basically my #1 horror scenario. Space is terrifying! Like, that’s the single situation in which I would actually be glad to see Gul Dukat, that’s how much of a nightmare scenario “adrift in space” is for me. I can deal with Dukat, I cannot deal with the madness-begetting expanse of The Void.

A few introductions!

I always forget that Kasidy is introduced a lot earlier than I think of her as joining the show. (Well, “early”, we’re…good lord, nearly done with the third season!) I always think it’s at least another season or so before she’s introduced. I also always manage to forget that Leeta isn’t introduced until this episode — the character fits so perfectly with the ensemble that she feels like someone who’s been there since the beginning. She was in fact intended to just be a one-off character, but Chase Masterson’s performance was so much fun that they decided to bring her back a couple of episodes later, for “Facets”, and ultimately, of course, she becomes a rather lovely supporting character.

Leeta’s a character that I wish they’d done more with in general — much like Mardah, who I mention partly because Masterson had initially auditioned for that role in “The Abandoned” (Avery Brooks, who was directing that one, felt that she looked too much older than Cirroc Lofton to be appropriate for the role), but also because, like Mardah, I feel like she must have a pretty interesting story of her own, and it’s a shame that most, if not all, of what we learn about her is in relation to male characters. Hell, we never even learn Leeta’s family name.

(If you need your emotions for the day, a tie-in novel apparently explains this as being because her the Occupation left her orphaned at a very young age and she doesn’t know her family name herself, which, OOF.)

But Masterson, much like Armin Shimerman, does a really surprising job, elevating a character who could’ve been very one-note — and one pretty aggravating note at that — to something more vibrant and enjoyable than it seems should be possible.

Also, this is the first appearance of Sisko’s beard! It’s…really incredible what a difference it makes? Especially with the fourth season, when he shaves his head as well. Ira Steven Behr had apparently fought for some time for Brooks to be allowed to grow his beard and shave his head, which had been his preferred look for some years before the show and has remained his preferred look since, but which the network felt made him look “too street”, which, uh, yikes. The look gives him a great deal more gravitas, I think; he looks more mature and seems lot more at ease in general, though that may be less the look itself than the fact that Brooks was more comfortable. Multiple writers and other actors remark, in The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years, an oral history of Star Trek, what a difference it made, simply giving Brooks the freedom to play the character as he envisioned him.

Sisko <3 Bajor

I noted a few episodes ago that this season really seems to be where Sisko becomes more comfortable with his place in Bajoran culture, even begins to embrace it, to learn more and to celebrate it.

It’s really interesting to me to see him learning more about Bajoran history and celeberating Bajoran achievements — it strikes me, as a Jewish woman, as a lovely way for him to honor Bajoran beliefs about him as the Emissary even though he, himself, doesn’t consider the Prophets to be gods. In my religion, belief in a deity is…not really necessary, at all, for active religious practice or for being culturally Jewish. I have a lot of issues with the idea that humans have ~grown past~ religion (and would note that even before Discovery walked that back a bit in its second season, there are hints that religion still exists among 24th century humans: Data notes that it’s Diwali in “Data’s Day”, and in the seventh season of DS9, when Kasidy and Ben discuss marriage, she remarks that her mother will be disappointed if a minister doesn’t perform the ceremony). I don’t, however, have any particular problem with the idea that any given character might not be religious or believe in any deities, and Sisko wrestling with his role as a major figure in an alien faith is a really great character arc.

(My roommate said that Sisko was becoming a weeaboo for Bajor, which is…also not totally off-base.)

The B plot

This is, frankly, pretty forgettable, but it’s got enough fun moments that I don’t even mind. I can hardly keep track of what, exactly, it is that Julian’s so riled up about from one scene to another, I’m just enjoying watching him freak out, and watching his friends look on with varying degrees of amusement, because everyone on the station is a messy bitch who lives for drama.

Apparently Siddig El Fadil and Colm Meaney were a bit nervous about the drunken hangout scene, because it was really the first time Star Trek had done something like it, with a couple of Federation officers hanging out in someone’s quarters being sloppy drunks. Behr apparently pushed to include the scene for just that reason, that he felt it was one of those scenes that really helped to establish Deep Space Nine as its own creature, distinct from other Star Trek series. It’s a fun scene, and I’d agree that it’s fun for exactly those reasons; the characters on DS9 are generally messier — and more willing to be a bit messier with one another, a bit more vulnerable — than was typical in other series.

A few other notes

  • The way Sisko says “Hammock time!” never fails to delight me.
  • O’Brien and Kira’s confused faces when Sisko says he wants to try building the ship “because it’ll be fun” are great.
  • “Ah, a story! That’s why you kept putting this [PADD] away every time I walked into the room.” Ben definitely just figured Jake was looking at porn, let’s be real.
  • Benjamin why do you have zero-gravity rations, let alone a zero-gravity toilet, when you have gravity???? I mean the rations, fine, I guess, but the toilet?

Horniness rankings

  1. Dukat and Sisko aren’t actually in the same room at any point during this episode, but Dukat manages to be deeply horny at Sisko nonetheless.
  2. Sisko is primarily horny for space travel and, increasingly, Bajor…but also, he is definitely flirting back with Dukat during their calls. Like, even my mother, who tends to make 🙁 faces at me when I talk about Dukat’s horniness for Sisko, was like “oh god, you’re right, they were both flirting”. I was gonna say Jake only thinks his dad’s not getting any action because he hasn’t heard him talking to Dukat, but actually, hearing the way his dad talks to Dukat may actually be why Jake wants to find him a girlfriend, because he figures Ben must be getting desperate.
  3. Bashir and Leeta are so cute and so dumb and so horny for one another, bless them.
  4. Everyone else on the station is horny for drama. Even Odo.

3 thoughts on “3.22: “Explorers”

  1. I don’t, however, have any particular problem with the idea that any given character might not be religious or believe in any deities, and Sisko wrestling with his role as a major figure in an alien faith is a really great character arc.

    Yeah, this! I really love that Picard is straight-up an atheist, especially in material written in the ’80s and ’90s — I just hate that it comes with a side of “and that’s because I, like all my people, are JUST SO ENLIGHTENED NOW.” Fuck you, Jean-Luc, we’ve all seen your Dickensian Christmas fantasy!

    I always like the idea of Leeta, but so much of the writing for her feels like it comes from men who have maybe never actually met a woman. (See also: Keiko O’Brien.)

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    1. I always like the idea of Leeta, but so much of the writing for her feels like it comes from men who have maybe never actually met a woman. (See also: Keiko O’Brien.)

      Right? As with Chao and Keiko, a lot of what frustrates me is that Masterson does a far better job than anyone had a right to expect, given the material she was working with, so if they’d actually given her something substantial, I suspect she could’ve done some really cool stuff. :\

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  2. This episode is just a delight. It’s such fun to take a break from all the heavy plot nasties of the last few episodes and just focus on Sisko and Jake, and in a way that provides for a great evolution of Jake’s character, while also giving us a lot of hilarious Dukat moments in a much lighter-than-usual context.

    In watching the montage during which Sisko constructs the solar ship, I went back in my mind to the intricate saucer-shaped clock he made while possessed by an alien in “Dramatis Personae” in season 1. Maybe his building-vintage-things habit has always been there and was just amplified in that episode, the way the alien possession amplified everyone else’s existing attitudes and suspicions. (Although in that episode his explanation for why he built the clock is a flat “I have no idea,” so, maybe not.) Anyway, usually I hate a montage, but this one worked, I think just because it’s Sisko and he’s so earnest and the show doesn’t use them very much, if ever.

    I also have a soft spot for plots that center on ancient civilizations doing things that later and ostensibly more “advanced” cultures never could stomach giving them credit for. The Kon-Tiki expedition and all the evidence of Polynesian settlement of the Hawaiian Islands and throughout the South Pacific has always fascinated me, along with the 20th century “discovery” by Europeans of Admiral Zheng He’s voyages to Africa and the Middle East. (Probably not North America; although there are some books that say so, apparently most of them have been debunked.) In the DS9 context it works perfectly to have the Bajorans in that role and the Cardassians (and the Federation!) as skeptics. I also just loved the transparency of Dukat’s admission at the end that, hey, look, turns out “ancient contact” *was* a thing! And no one can convince me that Central Command ordered him to do the fireworks. That was all him.

    B plot? There was a B plot? I literally barely registered it. Even as a vehicle to do nothing more than advance the blooming Bashir-O’Brien bromance, it was barely functional.

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