the story: Sisko and a select crew set out to expose Gowron as a Founder.
what it's all about: This at last is a truly Deep Space Nine entry in the Klingon saga that became so integral an element to Next Generation. Following the start of new conflict between Klingons and the Federation, thanks to the Dominion, in the fourth season premiere, "Way of the Warrior," the series seemed at a loss as to what to do with them. Klingons had appeared in it before, but the studio wanted them in the spotlight, and so they were thrust into it, with vague echoes of previous stories. But the truth was, having Gowron and Worf butt heads again only went so far in justifying the concept, so it was high time introducing a new wrinkle.
Which is what the fourth season finale ("Broken Link") did, in an entirely offhand way: it's suggested that Gowron has been replaced by a Founder, the shapeshifting leaders of the Dominion. This at least explained why Gowron was willing to throw away all the progress the Empire had made toward finally concluding a lasting peace with the Federation. "Apocalypse Rising" curves the curveball, however, explaining that it isn't Gowron who was compromised at all, but Martok, who first appeared in "Way" and apparently makes his final one here, exposed as a Founder after all.
That would have been the end of that, right? Except it wasn't. Halfway through the season we meet the real Martok ("In Purgatory's Shadow"/"By Inferno's Light"), who's been kept in a Dominion prison camp this whole time, and from that point he's well on his way to becoming one of the defining recurring characters of the series, a major new Klingon who would finally bring balance to Worf's life.
Just not yet. "Apocalypse" proceeds in fits and starts, one of those Star Trek stories with an intricate sequence of events that needs to unfold just right, so of course it doesn't. What this episode needed more than anything was for the right mix of characters in it, and that mix just isn't there. In Odo's first spotlight as a "solid," having been stripped of his shapeshifting abilities in "Broken Link," he spends most of the time...shifted into a new look. O'Brien is also pretty much useless. The character who most needed to be there was Dax. Bashir, second most, or perhaps first. Dax first of all because out of anyone, she probably knows more about Klingons than even Worf. Bashir because at this point, although because of clumsy serialized storytelling (the reverse of how Martok is handled) we don't get any indication of this until the big reveal later, has already been replaced by a Founder. There is literally no foreshadowing of this until the reveal (the same two-part episode where we meet the real Martok), which is incredibly unusual for a series that was usually smarter than that.
So it's a curious mix of storytelling that feels better than previous work in this particular arc, but also inferior to later work. If there's a real problem, it's that this is the first season premiere of the series, the only one, that's one episode long. Pretty darn odd when you think about it, and the lack of developed plot is very evident once you analyze it. If you want just the quick shot, which rarely happens in this series, maybe it's a good thing.
- franchise - A good old-fashioned Klingon plot! Mostly!
- series - With a good bit of Dominion finagling thrown in for good measure.
- character - Here I will either put the emphasis on Gowron or Martok.
essential- Which is because the episode misses two big opportunities for regular characters, and bungles the one they did use, Odo.
Robert O'Reilly (Gowron)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Casey Biggs (Damar)