Apocaypse Rising certainly does what it sets out to do. It kicks off the fifth season with a tense, action-packed story following up on the cliffhanger from Broken Link, and it effectively ends the war with the Klingons that has been raging since the season four premiere. It does these things quite well, too – I enjoyed this story a great deal, and was fully taken in by the twist.
No, any problems I have with this episode stem from my own expectations. The revelation last season that Gowron, chancellor of the Klingon High Council, is a Changeling (and that therefore the Dominion has been driving the Klingon-Cardassian-Federation conflict) was a massive upheaval, and I thought we would spend at least much of the fifth season dealing with it. Deep Space Nine has done serialization so well by this point that I expected this to be merely one chapter in a longer arc about the Dominion master plan, expertly tying in the Klingon conflict with the larger narrative.
And while Apocalypse Rising certainly does that, it does it in a done-in-one mission, the way The Next Generation might have resolved one of their season-ending cliffhangers. To be clear, this isn’t a bad choice – in fact, it’s the unexpected one, given how long-form DS9’s storytelling has been. But there’s enough dramatic potential in this story to get at least two episodes, if not more, out of it, and I can’t help feeling like this one rushes through it in an attempt to turn the focus off of the Klingons and back to the Dominion threat.
What’s here, as I said, is awesome. After Odo, still dealing with his new solid form, tells Sisko that the Founders have replaced Gowron, Starfleet decides to send our good captain on a mission to prove it. Sisko, Odo and O’Brien undergo surgery to look like Klingons, while Worf dons a wig and joins them as they travel to the Klingon homeworld. The mission is to pretend to be honored guests at an Order of the Bat’leth award ceremony in order to use four spherical devices to create a field that will expose any Changelings within it. (This is cool tech and I hope we see it again, though the fact that four people are needed to operate it seems like a liability.)
I fully enjoyed watching Sisko, Odo and O’Brien as Klingons, and would have loved a whole episode of them learning how to pass as warriors. Worf tries his best, but only Sisko really picks up on how to act with sufficient physical violence. I also love that the show remembers that Dukat is out there flying around in a stolen Klingon ship, and that they can use that ship to enter the Klingon Empire undetected. (The bit where Dukat discovers Kira is pregnant and she tells him the baby is O’Brien’s is priceless.)
For the most part, infiltrating the Klingon Order of the Bat’leth ceremony seems pretty simple: our disguised crew members just join a party in progress. As Worf explains, the drunken debauchery is as much an endurance test as a celebration, and the goal is to drink as much bloodwine as possible, stay up all night and still look Gowron in the eye when he arrives in the morning to honor the new members of the Order. Our crew has taken anti-intoxicant medication, so they can drink all the bloodwine they can stand.
Things start to get tense when Martok, the Klingon general we met in The Way of the Warrior, arrives, and Gowron follows shortly behind. Before our crew can activate their spheres, Martok recognizes Sisko and O’Brien, and the jig is up. I liked this twist, and I really liked the one that follows: it is Martok, not Gowron, who has been replaced by a shapeshifter, and Odo figures this out by observing how each one behaves. Gowron remains honorable, steeped in Klingon tradition, while Martok (or the Changeling who looks like him) is more crass and violent for violence’s sake. It’s a nice reminder of Odo’s deductive abilities, which he will have to rely on more now that he’s human.
The Changeling being Martok actually makes a huge amount of sense. It was Martok who led the first attacks against Cardassians in The Way of the Warrior, and who was pushing hardest for war. He clearly had Gowron’s ear, but not his full faith, as Gowron stood down at the end of that story in defiance of Martok’s wishes. As Sisko said in that story, the Dominion wants to sow seeds of distust and suspicion, to put humans against Klingons against Cardassians to make it easier for them to invade. Replacing Martok put them much closer to that goal, and if not for Gowron’s more reasonable (and, frankly, honorable) reactions, both in that story and this one, the war would have been a lot bloodier.
With this tale, the Klingon war ends, and the Klingons go back to being allies in the fight against the Dominion. Sure, there are still some negotiations to be worked out, but that’s the gist. This is a bit of a milestone: the first major plotline to wrap up on Deep Space Nine. Maybe that’s why it seems so quick to me. This season premiere is a decks-clearing exercise, but it’s a strong one, and as I’ve said before in this space, if my biggest problem with a story is that I want more of it, that’s pretty damn good.
The title of this one might have also contributed to my sense that it would be the first part of a longer story. I’m not sure what apocalypse is on the rise, but perhaps that will become clearer in subsequent episodes.
Apparently Colm Meaney hated the Klingon makeup so much that he begged the production team never to make him wear prosthetics again. The fact that Meaney, Avery Brooks and Rene Auberjonois had to undergo the same makeup routine he’d been dealing with for years delighted Michael Dorn as well.
I love the part where Kira blames Bashir for her pregnancy, given that Nana Visitor was pregnant in real life and Alexander Siddig was the father. That’s meta on a really fun level.
Robert O’Reilly’s eyes! Just that. Just Robert O’Reilly’s eyes. Man.
This episode was nominated for Emmy awards for outstanding cinematography and makeup. Well deserved.
Tomorrow, The Ship. Way to go vague with the titles, guys. Onward!