Based on evidence picked up by Odo from the Founders, Sisko, Odo, O’Brien and Worf enter Klingon territory to expose Gowron as a Changeling.
Plot Summary: After alerting Starfleet to Odo’s warning that Gowron is a Founder, Sisko is summoned to Starfleet Command to plan an infiltration that will expose the changeling. He returns with four emitters that will force any shapeshifter to lose the ability to maintain a solid shape, though it hasn’t been tested since Odo is no longer a shapeshifter. Sisko has Bashir surgically alter himself, Odo, and O’Brien to make them look like Klingons while suggesting that Kira lure Dukat to the station to visit Ziyal so that she can ask him to sneak the Starfleet officers to Klingon military headquarters. Dukat is able to put the false names of the newly minted Klingons onto the list of candidates for the Order of the Bat’leth to get them close to Gowron, but Dukat’s ship’s holo-emitters fail and he leaves the Starfleet officers in Klingon space without backup, on the theory that if their plan works, hostilities will end, while if it doesn’t, Dukat won’t be able to prevent their executions by the Klingons. Sisko and the others blend in among Klingon warriors with even Worf remaining unrecognized until General Martok arrives and appears to recognize them, particularly O’Brien. Though Sisko comes face to face with Gowron without being recognized, he is arrested by Martok before he can activate the emitters. In their cell, Martok confesses that he too suspects that Gowron may have been replaced by a changeling and says that since Gowron has destroyed the emitters, the Starfleet officers must kill the Klingon leader to demonstrate that he isn’t who he seems to be. But when Gowron agrees to face Worf in honorable combat, Martok asks Odo why Sisko doesn’t simply shoot Gowron, which makes Odo realize that Martok has no sense of Klingon honor while Gowron does. Guessing that Martok is the real Founder, Odo provokes him into showing his shapeshifting skills, at which point every Klingon in the room fires at “Martok” until the changeling is destroyed. Though Gowron can’t end the war without the dishonor of shirking from battle, he agrees to a cease-fire, and the Starfleet officers are returned home. He warns Worf that Worf will regret not killing him while he had the chance.
Analysis: “Apocalypse Rising” is a grand title and suggests approaching disaster, yet this season premiere has no such grand ambitions. In retrospect, it’s obvious that the writers realized they had made a big mistake in the previous season, trying to set up the Klingons as adversaries of the Federation instead of focusing on the Dominion and their natural allies, the pragmatic, non-honor-bound Cardassians, but they could only begin the work of unraveling that problem in this episode, in which Dukat and Damar continue to be reasonable if wary allies against the Klingons while Gowron seems as bug-eyed nutty as ever, even if he’s not a shapeshifter. It’s nowhere near the intensity of “The Homecoming” or “The Search,” but at least it’s not “The Way of the Warrior,” which attempted to substitute the Klingons as the main point of character interest for the series when previously the Bajoran-Cardassian conflict and Sisko’s unique role in it had been the focus. In retrospect, I’m not sorry we got a season obsessed with Klingon honor and warrior posturing – some of that was inevitable when Worf came on the series and it gave Dax a different kind of clout, since she’s intimately familiar with Klingon culture and values. But in terms of the narrative, there’s some backtracking that feels pretty clumsy, from the throwaway crisis on the station in Sisko’s absence when Bashir must deal with dozens of casualties from the abortive war with the Klingons that will quickly be forgotten to the fact that we never get any good explanation of why the Founders thought it would be a good idea to put Odo and “Martok” in proximity given how quickly Odo unmasks his fellow changeling. The Federation and the Klingons are already fighting; why do the Founders need Sisko to assassinate Gowron when Gowron himself says the war will likely continue just because Klingons never back away from war whether there’s a good reason for it or not?
My favorite parts of “Apocalypse Rising” involve Gul Dukat, who is always the guiltiest of pleasures – always a villain, something Kira and Sisko never forgot and I never forgot even when the writers occasionally seemed to have been overwhelmed by Marc Alaimo’s charm, looking for ways to soften up a man who could not be redeemed. His comic talents are on full display here, first in his reaction to Kira’s pregnancy, sulky mutterings about Shakaar followed by astonishment when she says without explanation that O’Brien is the father (“Major, I must say I’m shocked”), then in his eye-rolling about the probable failure of Sisko’s audacious plan (“Damar, let’s not spoil this special moment with predictions of doom”), and finally in his spontaneous choice to blow up a Klingon ship rather than let Worf try to talk sense to them (“I have a better idea”). The other funny moments involve Kira blaming Bashir for her uncomfortable pregnancy – on the show, she might have been carrying the O’Briens’ baby because of Keiko’s medical crisis, but in real life, most of the audience knew that Alexander Siddig was the father of Nana Visitor’s child – and Worf giving the fake Klingons lessons in passing as warriors, resulting in Worf warning Sisko that he just challenged him to the death. It’s always both amusing and oddly uncomfortable to see humans altered to look like aliens, kind of like watching actors put on blackface, so since Klingon culture is fictional in the first place, the contrivance makes it look like the writers are mocking this species that they themselves invented. It’s excellent actors like J.G. Hertzler who make the Klingons look like more. I mean, Odo learns to pass for Klingon in one short lesson! O’Brien passes Martok’s test! Sisko is already as Klingon as Worf! It suggests that being a part of this millennia-old culture is entirely a matter of posturing. I’m surprised Worf and Dax go along with Sisko’s infiltration plan (and that Dax isn’t one of the crewmembers chosen, considering that she speaks the language and can kick butt with a bat’leth, plus we see women being honored by the warriors so it’s not a men-only event).
As annoying as I find it that Odo can pass as a Klingon so quickly – and urgh, how many times must we see drunken Klingons bragging about bat’leth glory as if that’s the sum total of their society? – it’s nice to see Odo back in top form as an investigator. He figures out who the real changeling is not because he was born among them but using deduction, and considering how often he’s lumped all solids together in the past, he does a fine job distinguishing expected Klingon behavior from expected human behavior – “Martok” could, after all, have claimed he expected Sisko to shoot Gowron because it’s the sort of thing an honor-deprived human would do. Gowron, who hates changelings, is the only one who thanks Odo directly for averting a huge crisis. I’m sorry Odo and Kira have had so little interaction since Odo’s enormous change – Odo does his bonding with Sisko, explaining that he now takes comfort in food and drink, while Kira does a fine job demonstrating that pregnant or not, she won’t let Worf patronize her or try to override her orders, but I miss their friendship and I can’t see how the newly human Odo doesn’t feel the same way. Obviously the repercussions of what’s been done to him by his own people will come up again and again, and I’m glad it’s never used for comedy, the idea of a grown “man” learning to be human with all the potential gross toilet humor hinted at very briefly by Odo when he discusses his first experiences of ingestion, but one of my overall frustrations with the fifth season the first time around was how long it took the writers to figure out what they wanted to do with Odo’s long-admitted feelings for Kira and Kira’s unique position as a Bajoran freedom fighter among Starfleet officers. I’m so glad that Odo insists on keeping the face the Founders left him with. Now Gowron knows he’s someone to be reckoned with, and given Gowron’s enormous lapse of failing to notice that his own right-hand man has been replaced by a changeling, it’s nice that he’s Klingon enough to appreciate it. I hope Sisko realizes that he needs Odo along not just to coax him back into his old job but because Odo’s really good at it when he isn’t being distracted by plot twists.