the story: Sisko begins having visions that lead him to a hidden Bajoran city.
what it's all about: "Rapture" arrives with a thunderclap, and leaves a massive void in its wake, one that isn't really filled again until the seventh (and final) season. It is at once a culmination of Sisko's journey to date in the series, and a massive hint as to where it goes next.
It's also visually different from every episode before it, for one very important reason: the revised Starfleet uniforms first seen in Star Trek: First Contact are seen in a TV series for the first time. This would be because it's the first episode to air after the movie had settled comfortably into the collective fan imagination ("The Ascent" actually debuted a few days after the film's release, but it also focused primarily on non-Starfleet personnel and would've made a far less dramatic reveal, plus the timing would've given the movie less of a chance at establishing the new look, which was its right).
It helps the episode look bigger than anything that came before it, and it helps that the story is kind of bigger than anything that came before it. Sisko had always been reluctant to embrace the trappings of the Bajoran culture he'd been forced to represent as commander of the station tasked with bringing it into the Federation fold. This was complicated by the fact that the Bajorans immediately declared him a religious figure, which tended to baffle him, even if he became comfortable with it over time. Yet, he'd never previously exhibited any particular ability to warrant it, until now.
The visions, and Sisko's obsessive need to follow them, recall to mind two key episodes: "Explorers" (in which he builds an ancient Bajoran solar sail ship) and "The Visitor" (in which his son Jake obsessively pursues Sisko's rescue from a predicament no one else understands). That both involve Jake is also key to "Rapture," since while Starfleet and Bashir are reluctant to embrace Sisko's new vocation, it's Jake who ultimately must make the call to end it. This is the last great Sisko/Jake story, and while it leans more heavily on Sisko than previously, it also finally pushes him in his own direction, a culmination, too, of the new drive he'd discovered at the start of the third season, where he and his son had begun to drift apart. They needed one last moment together, one last big emotion to be shared, before being thrust in opposite directions.
In the seventh season, Sisko discovers that his mother was actually a Prophet, the nonlinear "wormhole aliens" the Bajorans worship as gods, and the source of his designation as Emissary over them. This comes with visions, too, tellingly. Left unsaid but certainly implied is the connection back to "Rapture." This is far more deft storytelling than was managed earlier in the season with "The Assignment," which featured the introduction of the Pah-wraiths, who would also factor prominently in the seventh season. It's just as if "Rapture" were produced as a reset button, after too many episodes in which the future of the series was left in question despite an earlier drive to make it clear (appropriately enough in that third season).
What general fans will appreciate about "Rapture" is that it revisits a very old trope of the franchise, which is what to do with a character who suddenly "evolves" to a new level and seems to become a problem. From "Where No Man Has Gone Before" (the second pilot) to "Charlie X" (another of the earliest episodes of the original series) to "The Nth Degree" (Next Generation), Star Trek always seemed to think this was a terrible thing, just as everyone does around Sisko in this episode, even though with the benefit of hindsight and knowing how it's knitted directly into the fabric of the series, we know how important and resonant a moment this really is, not just another in a series of random moments, so therefore once again an opportunity to showcase how it's different from the rest of the rest of the franchise.
- franchise - Seems to embody a typical trope.
- series - But portrayed in-line with the material around it.
- character - Hugely significant to Sisko.
- essential - Another elevation of the whole series.
Penny Johnson (Yates)
Louise Fletcher (Winn)