|Sisko infiltrates the Klingon Empire.|
Sabre-rattling has finally given way to open conflict: The Klingon Empire and the Federation are at war. In the wake of Odo's revelation that Chancellor Gowron (Robert O'Reilly) is a Changeling, Starfleet has decided to send an infiltration team to go into Klingon territory and do "whatever it takes" to prove that the Klingons have become dupes of the Dominion.
Sisko has been given polaron emitters, which should bombard a Changeling with enough radiation to make him drop his disguise. He has himself, Odo, and O'Brien modified to look like Klingons, and he makes arrangements for the use of Gul Dukat's hijacked Bird of Prey to get them through Klingon space to Gowron's military base at Ty'Gokor.
But as Worf says, it is not enough to merely look like a Klingon. They must learn to act like Klingons, as well. And in a warrior society where one wrong move can lead to a duel to the death, this simple feat may prove as perilous as the mission itself...
Capt. Sisko: The aggressiveness required to play a Klingon is well-suited to his own personality traits. He focuses tightly on the mission, but is a good enough commander to recognize Odo's personal crisis and make time for a couple of private chats with him. When he sees that Martok (J. G. Hertzler) has his own doubts about Gowron, he exploits those, working to convince Martok that turning against Gowron's Changeling imposter would not be treason to the Empire, but rather service to it.
Odo: With his shapeshifting abilities now gone, he feels diminished and useless. He reacts to being asked on the mission by suggesting one of his deputies come instead. "There's nohting I can do that he can't," Odo says bitterly. He worries that he will be the reason the assignment fails. Dramatic structure demands that the last third of the episode see this prediction likely to come true, as Odo's emitter is discovered by a Klingon - prompting quick thinking on the part of both Odo and Worf to effectively defuse the situation.
Worf: A scene on Dukat's ship sees Worf training the others in Klingon behavior. Odo and O'Brien make unconvincing Klingons in these early bits, while Sisko is actually too aggressive, engaging in behavior that would prompt a duel to the death. Once at their destination, Worf interprets the Klingon ritual and customs for his comrades (and for the audience), and his interactions with Gowron remind us of the rivalry between them.
Gul Dukat: Makes his first appearance since Return to Grace in mid-Season Four. It was entirely too long a gap, and Marc Alaimo instantly reminds us how delightful he is. Dukat may be Sisko's ally, but he remains ruthlessly pragmatic. It is clear that he believes Sisko's trip is a one-way one, though he is more diplomatic than his first officer in saying so. He limits his assistance to dropping the party off, bluntly telling Sisko: "If you succeed, the war will be over and you won't need us. And if you fail..."
Klingons: Have gone to war with the Federation with ghastly enthusiasm, bragging of their raids on their former allies. We see more of their warrior culture, with the ceremony for those awarded The Order of the Bat'leth doubling as an endurance test. Only those who remain standing after a night of drinking and, inevitably, brawling will actually receive the honor. Those who are not still on their feet the morning after are removed from the chamber, presumably returning to their units in dishonor.
Apocalypse Rising is a solid season premiere. It establishes the new status quo and re-introduces the major characters and situation. We are reminded of the conflict with the Klingons, and see that it's now gone further than it had at Season Four's close. We are reminded of Odo's loss of his abilities, and see how he is reacting to that. We get at least one moment with each of the regulars, with even Jake getting a brief look-in. At the same time, a solid action/suspense story is told, one which ties directly to the arc while still standing on its own as a good episode.
In short, it does everything a season premiere is supposed to do, and is a good episode besides. However, the previous four seasons opened with some real heavy hitters: Emissary, the Bajoran "Circle" 3-parter, The Search, and The Way of the Warrior. After that run of excellent premieres, my expectations of a Deep Space 9 season opener have been raised just a bit higher than merely "good."
Which is not to say that anything's wrong with Apocalypse Rising. Writers Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe have crafted a fast-paced story. It does an excellent job of building on the Klingon and Changeling complications of Season Four, and turning those strands in a way that will allow for a new direction in Season Five. There's even a nicely-executed plot twist at the end, one which makes a lot of sense out of what had seemed like rather senseless and even contradictory actions on Gowron's part.
But compared to previous premieres, it just lacks that extra "something." Maybe it's because it's a one-parter instead of a two-parter, which limits the extent to which the story can be complicated. The setbacks Sisko's party encounters are predictable ones which are resolved very quickly in all cases. A two-parter would have allowed more complications in reaching Ty'Gokor and more varied interactions among the Klingons once there.
As it stands, I would rate this as a good episode, one with a particularly strong end twist. It just feels a bit "smaller" than I'd have liked.
Overall Rating: 7/10.
Previous Episode: Broken Link
Next Episode: The Ship
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