#DS91sttime: Season 3, Episode 22, “Explorers”

July 3, 2013 in #DS91sttime, General Topics

I didn’t go into “Explorers” expecting to find one of the show’s best episodes yet. This was supposed to fall apart from the very beginning. After all, how exciting or plausible, really, is Ben Sisko suddenly deciding to prove a Bajoran space exploration theory by hand-building a primitive solar-sail ship and setting off toward Cardassian territory?

The lightship from S3, Episode 22: "Explorers"

The lightship from S3, Episode 22: “Explorers”

And indeed, throughout the episode, the realist in me was picking things apart. We know that the rate of acceleration for one of these vessels–if ever built–would probably be glacial, since they’re using the force exerted by photons against their “sails” to accelerate. We know that Sisko setting off in a defenseless ship on the eve of a galactic war smacks of stupidity at worst, and almost criminal recklessness at best. We don’t see how the arrival of one of Bashir’s former classmates is supposed to provide an entire B plot.

Doesn’t matter.

Because this is an episode that is just determined to make you smile, and it’s filled with respect for the raw, childlike wonder of truly old-school scifi. You can’t watch this episode and not wind up grinning. You find yourself shifting from thinking the premise is absurd, to finding it daring, then finally appreciating the hell out of whoever wrote it.

“Explorers” is different, and it is unashamed about being so. This is a bottle show, sure, but it’s a bottle show done right. This could be the only episode you’d ever watch of Deep Space Nine, and you’d come away feeling like you’d related to that Sisko fellow and his son, and that you’d sympathized with the latent competitiveness and insecurity of that Doctor Bashir. You wouldn’t even have to know who Gul-something-or-other was to get a handle on his motives, and you wouldn’t even need to know the physics behind a solar ship to appreciate the stunning set design and CGI at work in the episode (which still looks great, even all these years later).

In this sense, it’s like the best of TNG’s personal-vignette episodes. There are no explosions or interstellar conflicts stretched over its canvas; no colonies to save or aliens to contact, no sign of the Dominion. The challenges here are of the self, of the dueling drivers of family loyalty and coming of age, of regret and insecurity, of dealing with the people in our lives who–despite our best efforts–always seem to have it together just a little better than we do.

I don’t give out five star ratings often. This one comes easy.

Rating: 5/5 stars.

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