You Talking Season 5 DS9 to Me? – “Apocalypse Rising”

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 5, Episode 1

One of the many things that makes Deep Space Nine the best Star Trek series was that it almost always killed it when it came to two-parters (not to mention the handful of 2+ parters throughout the series). The show had built up a terrific amount of depth in its world and characters while leveraging the significant backdrop of the rest of the franchise to great effect. Its season-ending cliff-hangers were no exception, and the ones connecting Seasons 4 and 5 were a great one-two punch, with “Apocalypse Rising” providing one of the coolest and most badass adventures of the show.

“Broken Link” ended Season 4 and saw Odo afflicted with a weird illness that forced him to return to the Founders to be judged for killing one of his own kind (back in Season 3’s understated finale). The result was that he was turned into a human being in what seemed like a mythically cruel punishment. But the real kicker was that while linked with all the other Changelings, he sensed some of their thoughts about the head of the Klingon Empire, Gowron. In the chilling final scene, Odo realizes that the saber-rattling Chancellor is actually a Changeling poser. Uh oh!

Because of that horrifying possibility, Starfleet summons Sisko and Dax back to headquarters to assess the situation. They barely make it back in one piece because the fighting is so intense. Sisko’s mission is to infiltrate the Klingon military headquarters at Ty’Gokor – the most heavily fortified place in the Empire – and expose Gowron’s possible Changeling nature.

“I don’t know if it’s really deserving of a blue ribbon, but it’s cheap as hell and gets the job done.”

Sisko conscripts a reluctant and mopey Odo for his team, who’s working up a good buzz at Quark’s. Auberjonis shades his performance with a subdued moroseness here. He’s not full-on depressed, and admits that he does enjoy food and drink (and the temporary solace they bring). So being a solid isn’t all bad, but there’s still a very palpable malaise that blankets him now, and he speaks of how his formerly all-consuming job no longer holds the same interest as it once did. It’s a good laid-back scene that establishes his emotional state and where he is in his personal journey.

Sisko informs his staff that him, Worf, O’Brien, and Odo will be the ones to infiltrate Ty’Gokor and use a prototype array of devices designed to block a Changeling’s ability to maintain its form. They’ll have to set them up around Gowron and activate them in unison to expose his true nature. As for actually getting to the military HQ, Kira gets Dukat to come to the station in the Klingon Bird of Prey they captured in Season 4’s “Return to Grace.” It’s a really cool way to use that thread in service of the plot, and a chance to check in on where Dukat is at in his personal fight against the Klingons. He’s adorned himself with many war trinkets apparently plucked from the bodies of the enemies he’s slayed. Metal!

“I’m also wearing several pairs of Klingon underwear, Major. Songs were sung of these skid marks.”

But even more metal is the sight that awaits Dukat when he enters the infirmary to meet Sisko and his team – who have all been surgically altered to pass as Klingon! It’s always fun to see the cast members made up as aliens, and it makes this episode a very memorable one. Brooks really goes for it (as he always does), and makes a great Klingon. Dorn is of course the Klingon, so not much new there. Colm Meaney reportedly hated the suffocating makeup and teeth, and you can really see that discomfort coming through. His character kind of seems like an odd choice for this mission – he has master engineering skills of course, but he’s otherwise so bad at being a Klingon it seems like a critical liability to bring him along. Meaney’s normally terrific, but he’s clearly out of his element here.

There’s a great and funny scene of Worf trying to coach the rest of the team in how to act like Klingons – it’s not enough to simply look like one. O’Brien and Odo totally lack the overconfidence and bombast required, but again, Sisko is totally bringing it. He decks Worf in the face for questioning his plan – who is very impressed, but asks whether it was his intention to provoke a fight to the death. “Oh, not at all,” Sisko replies hilariously. Worf tells him he used the wrong side of his hand when he hit him.

“I simply meant that you were an honorless dog, not some kind of canine without morals. I apologize for the miscommunication, you scum-sucking Denebian slime devil dropping.”

Odo is suffering a severe lack of confidence over his role in the mission and continues to mope about his new state of affairs. Sisko is sympathetic, but correctly points out that what’s done is done and he has accept his lot in life now and do his job. As always, Auberjonis does great work in emoting Odo’s visceral discomfort. Odo is a very narrow and limited character as far as his confidence goes – he found a niche that he was able to succeed in, but move him just an inch outside of that and he doesn’t have any idea what to do. It’s a grand irony considering his (former) Changeling nature – this being who can be anything that only knows how to do one thing and nothing else. His fluid nature is totally at odds with how stiff and unadaptable he is to life’s unpredictable curves. Becoming a solid and now having to do this undercover Klingon mission is pushing him so far outside of his comfort zone, but in a way it’s all necessary for his growth. He feels totally useless now that he’s lost his ability to shapeshift, and is experiencing a crisis of who he even is and what he’s still good at.

“Now that I have jimmies, they’re more rustled than I can handle.”

Dukat’s ship encounters another Klingon ship. The filter they normally use to communicate (and disguise their Cardassian appearances) goes down and Dukat instead destroys the other ship. Dukat’s second in command Damar doesn’t have any hope that Sisko’s team will come out of this alive. Indeed, it seems like a nutty and ill-fated mission for these guys. Their covers are that they are being inducted into a the Order of the Bat’leth, apparently a high level fraternity of super badasses that Gowron will be presiding over. Dukat plans to drop them off and then leave, to Sisko’s surprise. He explains his brutal logic – either they will be successful and the war will be over, or they will be found out and executed as spies. Either way, he’s not sticking around. It recalls the wariness (and lack of interest in being a hero) of the Klingons who ferried Picard and Data to Romulus for the “Unification” two-parter.

Fort K’Nox

With that unhelpful tidbit, Sisko and the others beam to Ty’Gokor to get started. They’re actually going to a party, and the eating, drinking, and fighting is meant to be a long test of endurance before they’re granted their medals. As they aggressively stride into the hall, Sisko swaggers in full Klingon mode front and center and it’s honestly one of the most badass moments of Trek. The Klingons aren’t every fan’s cup of tea, but I think they’re generally wacky and enjoyable, and the episode leans into that.

“All right girls, let’s party like it’s 2399!”

The team has to party all night and still be conscious and alert to pull off their plan the next day. They’ve been inoculated with an anti-inebriation drug so that they can’t get too drunk, but it’s still a slog. Sisko is a joy here, and even does some wrasslin’ with the Klingons as the rest of his team watch approvingly. At one point he overhears a Klingon bragging about killing a Starfleet captain. He flies into a rage and knocks the guy on his ass under the pretext of getting in the way of the wine. But he confides with the others that the captain was a friend of his, and it’s a nice moment that highlights the stakes at play and the bigger war going on around them. People out there are dying, and many more will if the Gowron Changeling continues to push for war with the Federation.

“Gentlemen, the buffet is over there, you can get a blood wine spritzer at the open bar, and if you need to bathe in the blood of your enemy, drainage is provided throughout the killing floor.”
“Their captain was a worthy fighter, but in the end I gave him a swirlie they will sing songs about!”

General Martok enters the hall, which signals that Gowron is not far behind and that the crew need to set up their devices. Martok comes face to face with the crew and amazingly doesn’t seem to recognize any of them (even Worf, who literally looks the same as when they first met). Except for O’Brien, bizarrely enough.

“If you think this is crazy, check out Dublinfest sometime! Makes this shindig look like a Mormon bridal shower.”

Soon enough, Gowron shows up and congratulates everyone who’s still standing as he casts a disdainful glance at some drunken fool passed out on the floor as everyone laughs. O’Reily is great as always – it’s probably a fun acting challenge to play a Klingon, and he has so much gusto for it that’s fun. Especially in this situation where he’s hamming it up for everyone’s benefit.

He starts bestowing the medals on warriors’ chests, and just as Sisko is about to activate their devices his (fake Klingon) name is called. He goes up to accept the honor, but as he steps down afterward he gets the blunt side of a bat’leth to the head from Martok, who has now recognized him and seals the room. Uh oh!

“Glory to you… AND YOUR MOUSE!”

Now in the Klingon dungeon, Martok questions Sisko and his men, aghast at their crazy plan. But Sisko realizes that Martok also suspects that Gowron is a Changeling, due to his erratic behavior over the past year. Conveniently, Gowron has ordered their devices destroyed so they can’t use them. But he allows the prisoners freed so that they can kill Gowron themselves. Worf attacks Gowron and the two battle while Martok holds Odo at gunpoint, strangely suspicious of him.

Martok wonders aloud why Sisko doesn’t just shoot Gowron, but Odo points out the dishonor in such an act, and how any self-respecting Klingon would understand that. Displaying the observational prowess that made him such a good investigator, Odo deduces that it was Martok who destroyed their devices and that perhaps it’s him that’s the Changeling.

“Not you… don’t think I didn’t see you gulping down those honorless, light-bodied pilsners.”

Worf gets the upper hand and as he is about to kill Gowron, Martok and Odo bust into the room in a tussle. Odo blurts out that Martok is the Changeling, who promptly tries to strangle Odo with a tentacle. Not…. a smart move. Sisko shoots him with his weapon, and in another badass scene, the entire room of Klingons whips out their pieces and also start blasting the imposter. The Changeling absorbs several dozen hits before exploding in a fiery blaze. It’s an awesomely violent climax, but appropriate for the story.

It’s also kinda silly from a logical standpoint. Changelings have proven themselves generally good at mimicking humanoids – not just in appearance, but in behavior as well. After all, this Changeling has been impersonating Martok for at least a year (and even passed his own blood screening when first visiting DS9 in “Way of the Warrior”). However, there’s precedent for how Odo unnerves other Changelings to the point where they can’t pull off their disguise any longer. But the Changeling Martok (or “Chartok”) is just suicidally pissed at Odo here, and can’t help but out himself in a room full of armed Klingons? I guess.

“Martok’s the kinky one!”

I do find it interesting to contemplate what the mental experience is like for these Changeling infiltrators over the long term. As we know from Odo, they have the same overall emotional depth as we do, despite their exotic nature. Since the Founders view solids as a lower form of life, I’d imagine that living among them is very unnerving – much in the same way that Agent Smith hated being among humans’ filth in The Matrix, and even begged Morpheus for release. So maybe Chartok was so fed up from having to rub elbows with Klingons day in and day out for so long that Odo’s presence was just his breaking point?

I also wonder if Changelings ever experience the opposite – they actually grow to like the people they’re infiltrating. Again, they’re capable of all the same feelings (and failings) as us, and if Odo can like (and even fall in love with) humanoids, so could another Changeling.

But ultimately, the implications of their strategy with Odo only further prove what dicks the Founders are. They give a lot of air to caring about Odo, but they’ve treated him like absolute crap since he first made contact with them. In this case, they intentionally used him as a pawn by planting the idea that Gowron was a Changeling so that it would drive a further wedge between the Klingons and the Federation. What seemed like a warm and fuzzy moment for Odo among his own people was just an opportunity for the Founders to further their master plan. It makes them a compelling villain given how calculating and cruelly intelligent they are.

Anyway. With the crisis averted, Gowron chills with Sisko and his team and they reflect upon Chartok’s scheme to replace Gowron as leader and push for more war with the Federation. The misdirection of the plot is effective, and this episode (and the previous) pushed the notion that Gowron was out of his gourd and must be an imposter. However, the reality turns out to be… yup, Gowron is just being himself. Which isn’t great for the Federation, since they’re still dealing with the same guy making weird and unreasonable demands. Sisko pushes Gowron to end the war and once again reminds him that the Klingons and Federation fighting is exactly what the Dominion wants. But Gowron is still obsessed with annexing the worlds the Klingons captured from the Cardassians, including Archanis. We get the sense that these are politically-motivated decisions and that Gowron doesn’t simply have the agency to do whatever he wants. He has his base and supporters, and needs to throw red meat their way. His character’s arc throughout The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine is a complete and interesting political journey/parable (that ends in a predictably Klingon way).

“Can you do one side Cardassian and the other side Ferengi? Just fuck my shit up, doc. I don’t even care anymore.”

At the very least, Gowron agrees to a cease fire so that the two sides can talk. He bitterly tells Worf that he should have killed him when he had the chance (oh, don’t worry about that, bud). It’s established here that despite their former allyship, Gowron does not like Worf as a result of him spurning the Klingons during their attack on Cardassia. It seems kinda petty, but I guess that’s what politics is all about. It’s weird that he seems to hold anything against Worf for attacking him, since the only reason Worf did that was because they thought he was a Changeling. But again, Gowron does not seem like an understanding or forgiving kind of guy, so this also tracks.

Back on Deep Space Nine, Bashir has restored everyone’s appearances except Odo. He remarks that he can give Odo any face he wants, who simply replies that his old one will do just fine. That’s Our Odo! I appreciate the brevity of this character beat and not being hit over the head with The Message.

“Apocalypse Rising” is a fun and swashbuckling way to start Season 5, flexing the strengths of the series and showcasing what would be in store for the rest of the year. It builds upon established story threads while introducing new twists that would change the course of the show going forward. All the while providing nice character moments and having a lot of fun along the way. Like you can with the Klingons, you can always depend on Deep Space Nine for that.

Stray Observations:

  • There’s some padding throughout the episode that feels extraneous, including an initial scene of Worf and O’Brien fretting about Sisko and Dax making it back to the station safely. I love the two dudes deciding to take the Defiant out to search for them (despite Sisko’s orders), and a nonplussed Kira going “Glad you two are in agreement, but stay put ya knuckleheads” (actual dialogue).
  • Like in Season 3’s excellent “The Die is Cast,” we get another prototype device designed to disrupt a Changeling’s abilities (that is also destroyed).
  • I think it was a missed opportunity to not include Dax in the undercover mission. It seems like an odd choice that the episode begins with her meeting Starfleet with Sisko, and then just sidelines her for the rest of it. At least 50% of Dax’s character is Klingon stuff, so why not just have her go the full M’Onty? There are definitely Klingon women at the celebration, so she would not have been out of place. That could have been fun, and I would have loved to see Farrell in the full Klingon regalia. Or Kira! Although she’s still pregnant here.
  • I love the big medieval cage the Klingons put their prisoners in. But it also makes sense, because you know what never loses power or goes offline? Bars and spikes.
“It is NOT a sex dungeon! It’s a dungeon and it gets used for sex frequently, but… You know what, it’s a fine line but it hasn’t been crossed yet.”
  • I love the scene, but the Changeling takes an insane amount of punishment before blowing up. We saw Bashir kill Mirror Odo with a single phaser blast, so either that weapon was on super ultra maximum or the Klingons’ guns were on kitten training mode.
“If you prick us, do we not gloop? If you shower us with disruptor fire do we not–?” *FWOOOM*
  • The detail to which Changelings impersonate lifeforms is interesting and probably stretches realistic credibility. It’s been established that they can fool sensors, which is why there’s been such a panic about them – if they pose as a human, then a tricorder will read them as human. That would mean that the Changeling is creating a facsimile of every system and component of a body – maybe even down to the cellular level. Which is nuts! But this would have to be the case, because otherwise it would be possible to just fine tune a sensor device so that it has the sensitivity to detect an imposter biological lifeform.

    Star Trek has never really explained what “life signs” are as far as sensors are concerned. Presumably the sensors are used to detect body heat, heartbeats, as well as breathing and neural electrical activity. It’s believable that an experienced Changeling could create convincing facsimiles of these biological processes – if they can turn into fire, then they can probably create some levels of energy/electricity. But I’m sure a tricorder could be configured to scan in greater detail beyond these general readings.
  • Another interesting angle is that since Changelings have the ability to transmute their own kind into actual solid lifeforms (and back again), that they could just make one of their operatives into an actual Klingon, thereby eluding all forms of detection.
  • As we’ll later see, Martok is married – to a very tough and unforgiving woman. So he had to fool her as well this whole time.
  • This Klingon’s reaction when one of the women is called up. OMG.