Apocalypse Rising stands quite apart from the other Star Trek: Deep Space Nine season premieres.
Most obviously, it the only single-part season premiere across the entire seven seasons of Deep Space Nine. Emissary and Way of the Warrior were two-hour television movies. The Homecoming fed into the franchise’s first official three-part story. The Search, Part I and The Search, Part II were obviously a two-part episode, while Image in the Sand and Shadows and Symbols provided a two-part introduction to the seventh season. A Time to Stand segued directly into Rocks and Shoals while also setting up a six-episode arc.
This is not to suggest that Apocalypse Rising is a more typical Star Trek season premiere. It is not a continuation of Broken Link in the same way that The Best of Both Worlds, Part II is a direct continuation of The Best of Both Worlds, Part I or that Basics, Part II is a direct follow-on from Basics, Part I. While Apocalypse Rising does resolve a cliffhanger left dangling by Broken Link, that cliffhanger was only really set up in the final two minutes of the episode. Indeed, the cliffhanger dangling from Broken Link recalls the endings of The Jem’Hadar or The Adversary.
Apocalypse Rising is also notable for being the first season premiere that is not positioned as a jumping on point, that is not intended to either expand the scope of the show or recruit new viewers. One of the luxuries of avoiding the traditional cliffhanger structures to bridge seasons was the freedom to begin each season with a relatively clean slate and introduce new elements. The Search, Part I and The Search, Part II introduced the Defiant and retooled the show to focus on the Dominion. The Way of the Warrior brought Worf over and shifted emphasis to the Klingons.
While Apocalypse Rising does represent a slight shift in the tone of the show, it is not a radical new departure. More than that, it leans rather heavily on the show’s established mythology and in some ways indicates a desire to get the show back on track following an extended detour into war with the Klingons during the fourth season. Apocalypse Rising confirms what was made clear during the fourth season of the show, that Deep Space Nine has eventually evolved into its final form. Apocalypse Rising is a show so comfortable with itself that there’s no need to reinvent.
Although a little cramped and rushed in places, Apocalypse Rising represents a strong start to a stellar season. It is an efficient and effective piece of television, one that demonstrates the clarity of focus driving the season that will follow.
Apocalypse Rising serves a very clear purpose in the larger arc of Deep Space Nine. The fourth season had represented a sharp deviation from the story that the production team had wanted to tell. The writing staff working on Deep Space Nine had originally intended for the fourth season of Deep Space Nine to focus on the threat posed by the Dominion to the Federation, exploring what it meant for Starfleet to confront such a terrifying new adversary. After all, the show had been consciously building up the Dominion since mid-way through the second season.
However, that was not to be. Concerned about declining ratings, the studio had suggested a retool of the series. It was perhaps the single largest example of studio meddling in the entire run of Deep Space Nine. The writing staff were asked to introduce the character of Worf on to the show, a beloved regular cast member of Star Trek: The Next Generation. More than that, the writers were asked to find a way to focus the show on the Klingons once again. After all, everybody loves Klingons. They are a fixture of the franchise for a reason.
This involved a massive retool of the staff’s long-term plans. The cliffhanger that had been intended to bridge the third and fourth season was reworked for the middle of the fourth season as Homefront and Paradise Lost, for example. However, by the start of the fifth season, time had come to re-focus attention back on the original plan. As Ira Steven Behr explained in The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion:
Season Four threw us for a loop, with the whole Klingon thing, and bringing Worf into the show. So the seminal thing about our fifth season opener was that we wanted to get back on the track we’d anticipated being on a year earlier. We were moving back toward making the shapeshifters and the Dominion our enemies. Not the Klingons. I didn’t want to have the Klingons as our enemies … We wanted to let people know that we didn’t switch horse in midstream. So Apocalypse Rising was an important episode. By having that shapeshifter in there, we were saying, ‘Season Four wasn’t a mistake. It wasn’t the Klingons turning against us. There was a shapeshifter behind it all along.’ And that’s why we had to do that episode.
Indeed, the writers very cleverly found a way to make the studio’s suggestions work in the context of the story that they were telling. Although it is essentially a narrative cul de sac, the conflict with the Klingons during the fourth season of Deep Space Nine remains narratively satisfying. Although it was never part of the staff’s original plans, they found a way to gracefully integrate their plans into this unanticipated development.
This is perhaps the most striking aspect of the fourth and fifth seasons of Deep Space Nine. These two seasons are the best seasons of Deep Space Nine ever produced. They rank among the best seasons of Star Trek ever produced. They are bold and exciting, but also consistent and effective. However, they are also something a storytelling dead end, essentially an extended narrative stall before the production team can actually get to the story that they had been seeding since mid-way through the second season.
The fifth season devotes considerable energy to reversing a lot of the more striking choices made during the fourth season. Dukat loses his position in the Cardassian government following Indiscretion and becomes a space pirate in Return to Grace, but returns to authority in By Inferno’s Light. Gowron suspends the Khitomer Accords in The Way of the Warrior and makes it clear that he is pursuing an aggressive foreign policy (if not war) against the Federation in Broken Link, but is back on speaking terms in Apocalypse Rising and an ally in By Inferno’s Light.
It would be tempting to describe this as a gigantic “reset button” deployed over the course of two seasons. After all, one of the most frequent (and most stinging) criticisms of Star Trek: Voyager is that the production team cannot resist the urge to reset the status quo after particularly bold storytelling decisions. Voyager itself is hijacked in Basics, Part I, but everything is restored to normal (give or take Suder and Hogan) by the end of Basics, Part II. The same applies to Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II or The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II.
However, the writers working on Deep Space Nine are careful to ensure that easing back out of the detour that began with The Way of the Warrior feels organic and logical. The production team ensures that the events of the fourth season still matter, in that they shape and define the characters. The genie is not magically put back in the bottle. For example, while Dukat’s time as a space pirate might seem like an aberration, it still fits comfortably with his characterisation and serves to inform the choices that he eventually makes in By Inferno’s Light.
Even the “reset” at the end of Apocalypse Rising is carefully calibrated so that it does not erase or invalidate the storytelling and character choices that brought the story to this point. A lazier show would treat Apocalypse Rising as a neat bookend to the fourth season’s “Klingon War” arc, suggesting that the exposure of changeling!Martok would provide an excuse for the Klingon Empire and the Federation to pretend that a year of cold (and occasionally open) warfare never actually happened. It is just enough that the show could pretend to get back to normal.
Star Trek: The Next Generation adopted that approach to interstellar politics. When Picard and Data cut off the House of Duras from the Romulan Star Empire in Redemption, Part II, the Klingon Civil War came to a quick and merciful end with Gowron secure in his position. When the Romulan Star Empire plotted an invasion of Vulcan in Unification, Part II, there were no lasting repercussions and no sense of bad blood lingering between the two major galactic powers. The politics of the Star Trek universe have always seemed cold and rational.
It is to the credit of Apocalypse Rising that the episode serves to bring a sense of closure to the conflict with the Klingons without seeming so antiseptic. Gowron recognises that Sisko has done the Klingon Empire a service in exposing changeling!Martok as a Dominion agent. However, things cannot go back to the way that they used to be. When Worf suggests that this might be an opportunity for peace between the two major power, Gowron offers a non-committal and pragmatic response.
“If your Klingon blood wasn’t so thin,” Gowron advises Worf, “you’d know that once battle has begun, there can be no turning back. You want the war to end, then the Federation must allow us to annex Archanis and the other worlds we’ve seized.” Naturally, this is not something that the Federation would be inclined to do, given that its refusal to cede those planets had prompted the latest escalation in the crisis. “I wouldn’t count on it,” Sisko reflects, suggesting that the matter will not be settled by something as convenient as exposing an undercover changeling.
Indeed, despite the de-escalation of the conflict in Apocalypse Rising, relations between the Klingon Empire and the Federation are portrayed as ambiguous during the first half of the fifth season. They are cordial enough that Deep Space Nine can host a delegation of Klingons in Looking for Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places, but there are also still border skirmishes occurring in Nor the Battle to the Strong… In the world of Deep Space Nine, it appears that war and peace are not as firmly delineated as most people would like to think.
In many ways, Apocalypse Rising sets up the overarching theme of the fifth season. Deep Space Nine is now a show about warfare. It arguably always was; the opening scenes of Emissary were set during the Battle of Wolf 359, characters like Sisko, Kira and O’Brien were all informed by trauma and combat, while the entire series explored the consequences of the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor. However, the fifth season really pushes this idea to the fore. The fifth season suggests repeatedly that war can exist without a formal declaration.
The sixth and seventh seasons of Deep Space Nine feature the franchise’s first extended war story, two years exploring the clash between the Dominion and the Federation. However, the fifth season repeatedly touches on the idea that war does not exist within these neatly-defined boundaries. It is not a binary state. The war with the Klingons simmers after Sisko saves the Klingon Empire in Apocalypse Rising. The war with the Dominion bubbles before the formal declaration in A Call to Arms.
In The Ship, Sisko suggests that Starfleet and the Dominion have “already” reached an “impasse.” He is talking about the specific events of the episode in question, but his observation is just as applicable to the broader context of relations between the two powers. In A Call to Arms, Sisko suggests that the Federation is “losing the peace.” The recurring suggestion across the length and breadth of the fifth season is that conflict does not exist within neatly confined spaces and cannot be tidily resolved through the application of logical and rationality.
This feels remarkably prescient. After all, Homefront and Paradise Lost offered a critique of the War on Terror so prescient that it was imported wholesale for Star Trek Into Darkness. The portrayal of war as an elastic concept over the fifth season of Deep Space Nine fits quite comfortably with the realities of twenty-first century statecraft. As Jacob Bercovitch and Richard Jackson argue in Conflict Resolution in the Twenty-First Century:
The new wars, increasingly characteristic of the conflict environment, can be described as post-Westphalian or postmodern, as they are increasingly ambiguous in their nature. These conflicts are transnational, dislocated, and decentralised; they defy borders and the boundaries between states and nonstate actors. In such circumstances, crime and violence are often indistinguishable from each other.
After all, the modern world seems to be stuck in a state of perpetual extended conflict, although with very few formal declarations of war between state actors. President George W. Bush famously declared that the Iraq War was “over” in six weeks, having accomplished the goal of regime change; however, conflict still rages. The War on Terror is a nebulous conflict, one without a clearly defined opponent or terms of conflict.
While it is tempting to argue that Deep Space Nine was simply ahead of its time, its continued relevance instead serves to demonstrate that many of the concepts that define twenty-first century politics are rooted in the nineties. Deep Space Nine is the first Star Trek show to emerge in the wake of the Cold War, and is fascinated with what the political landscape of the late twentieth century. It is very much a product of the period defined as either “the unipolar moment” or “the end of history”, contemplating a world no longer defined by a singular ideological conflict.
After all, the Cold War was a clearly delineated conflict. It was not a war in the conventional sense, but it was fairly clearly defined. There might not have been a lot of shooting, and physical violence might have been largely confined to proxy wars waging on the other side of the planet, but everybody knew the terms of reference and the antagonists were clear. It was the United States against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, competing on ideological grounds between capitalism and communism for the right the steer the world.
In the wake of the Cold War, things became murkier. There was no singular ideological conflict against which the United States might define itself. Ironically, without a clearly defined war, the nineties became the era of ambiguous and conceptual warfare. There were “no fly zones” imposed over Iraq, in order to avoid a conventional shooting war. A humanitarian mission in Somalia escalated to high-profile humiliation for the United States. There were “peace-keepers” on the ground in Eastern Europe, although they were powerless to prevent massacres like Srebrenica.
Even outside of these high-profile flare-ups, there were other indications that the face of warfare was changing in the late twentieth century. Dating back to the seventies, President Richard Nixon had launched a number of high profile “wars” on concepts. The War on Drugs was announced in June 1971. The War on Cancer could be traced back to the same year. However, these wars on abstract concepts really kicked into gear at the end of the Cold War. The Office of National Drug Control Policy was established in 1988 and elevated to cabinet by President Bill Clinton.
The fifth season of Deep Space Nine is largely coloured by this contemporary reality, the idea that the boundaries of warfare have become porous in the final years of the twentieth century and that the boundary between war and peace are no longer clearly delineated by formal declarations of war between state actors. The Dominion War that rages in the sixth and seventh seasons is in many ways less interesting than the precarious peace that balances during the show’s fifth year, the ambiguous and on-going conflict giving way to a more conventional depiction of warfare.
Deep Space Nine is the Star Trek spin-off most interested in realpolitik. This applies as much to preexisting concepts inherited by Deep Space Nine as it does to those created specifically for the show. Indeed, it could legitimately be argued that Gowron comes into his own on Deep Space Nine despite being established as a recurring player on The Next Generation. Gowron’s political pragmatism was hinted at by episodes like Reunion and Unification, Part I. However, it becomes a defining character trait in his appearances on Deep Space Nine.
As with The Way of the Warrior, there is a sense that Klingon culture is nowhere near as honourable as it would claim to be. Instead, it thrives upon the illusion of honour. “He is a politician, too eager to compromise, too eager to talk,” complains changeling!Martok of Gowron. “Last year, he stopped the attack on Deep Space Nine instead of going to war with the Federation.” Gowron’s motivations are framed in explicitly personal and political terms; the Klingon Empire goes to war to ensure its own political stability and to secure his tenure as High Chancellor.
That said, the fifth season of Deep Space Nine is undergoing a transition. It is in the process of transforming from a show about war to a show that is set during war. A lot of episodes in the early fifth season can be seen as attempts to set up ideas and concepts that will be reiterated and explored later on, the production team figuring out how exactly they plan to write Star Trek as a war show. A lot of the storytelling that becomes a standard feature of the final two seasons can be traced back to early fifth season episodes like The Ship or Nor the Battle to the Strong…
Apocalypse Rising struggles a little bit with this challenge. The story unfolds during a period of extended hostility between the Klingon Empire and the Federation, and the production team are very much figuring out how exactly they write that version of Star Trek. The writers struggle to find the right balance, with the dialogue and plot referencing the realities of war, but without any tangible bearing on the story being told. Apocalypse Rising uses a number of devices that later stories will employ to greater effect.
The opening scene finds Sisko and Dax returning to the station in a runabout that has been badly damaged by Klingon fire. However, the two characters are shown to be perfectly fine. Although it is possible they have been to the Infirmary and changed uniforms before briefing Kira on their plot to unmask Gowron as a changeling, there is no sense that the attack on the runabout had any significant impact on the occupants of the ship. When A Time to Stand chooses to open in the aftermath of a brutal attack, it conveys that sense of harm in a more visceral fashion.
Similarly, the cost of war is reinforced later in the episode while Bashir is trying to reassure Jake that everything will be okay. In the middle of their conversation, Bashir is interrupted. Kira instructs Bashir, “Report to the Infirmary. The Armstrong and the Drake were ambushed by a Klingon battle group and they took heavy casualties. They’ll be docking in a few minutes.” The scene is intended to give a sense of the war raging far from Deep Space Nine, but it feels too sterile and random. Later episodes like Behind the Lines or In the Pale Moonlight capture that tone better.
Similarly, the mission to infiltrate Klingon space throws up another example of the moral toll exacted by warfare. When Dukat is stopped by a Klingon Bird of Prey, Worf suggests an attempt to bluff their way through. Instead, Damar opens fire on the ship and kills everybody on board. It is a sequence that the show returns to in A Time to Stand, when Sisko’s undercover mission into Dominion space forces him to fire upon a Federation ship. Again, it is a sequence that feels thinly sketched in Apocalypse Rising, but which sets up ideas to which the show will return.
To be fair, the difficulty that Apocalypse Rising has in sketching out these dramatic beats is likely down to the fact that it is a stand-alone episode. As Robert Hewitt Wolfe explained to Cinefantastique, the writing staff had originally intended to open the fifth season with a two-parter:
We always like to do a big show at the end, and then a big show to start off. Apocalypse Rising was originally supposed to be a two-parter, but the studio nixed that. then we had to combine the two shows into one show. I think as a result it’s pretty action-packed. There’s a lot going on. I enjoyed seeing our characters in Klingon makeup, our regulars. They pulled it off really nicely. Avery makes a great Klingon. He really sold it. I think it was a really fun episode.
One of the things that bugs me a little bit about that episode is that it was incredibly expensive, and I’m not sure if it plays that way. Klingon makeup is so costly, and we had so many people in Klingon makeup, we spent a lot of money, but I think people are so used to seeing Klingons that they take them for granted. They don’t really realize that this is a big deal.
I think that we lost a little bit of texture more than anything else. In some ways I think it might be a better episode as a one-parter than it was as a two-parter. I think the ending feels maybe slightly rushed, there’s a lot of stuff that would have been a whole episode, sort of packed into those last three acts, and I think it just got a little bit crammed. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing with this kind of show, because it is basically an action show.
Every other Deep Space Nine season premiere is between two and three episodes long, a technique that serves the show well. While the other Star Trek shows use cliffhangers to bridge the seasons, Deep Space Nine instead tends to bookend its seasons and treat its premieres as an opportunity to stake out thematic ground for the year ahead.
Apocalypse Rising rushes from bold idea to bold idea, with a minimal amount of time to catch its breath. In some respects, this contributes to the feeling that Apocalypse Rising is the first Deep Space Nine season premiere that could not serve as a “jumping on” point. While stories like The Search, Part I and The Way of the Warrior could devote a bit of space and energy to bring new viewers up to speed or reintroduce existing characters, Apocalypse Rising simply does not have the luxury. It assumes that the audience knows Gowron, Martok, Dukat and Damar.
In some ways, the fifth season represents the point at which Deep Space Nine stops building outwards. There are still some important characters to be introduced, like Admiral Bill Ross or Luther Sloan, but the bulk of the show’s cast have been established and the contours of its political landscape have been defined. This is a perfectly reasonable choice, of course. The show is more than half-way through its seven-season run. It makes sense to start bringing everything back together at this point.
Even allowing for this, the pacing of Apocalypse Rising is disorienting. There are several elements that feel jarring as the episode powers through everything that it needs to accomplish in the space provided, particularly the way that Dukat shows up for a few scenes and disappears. According to The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine companion, the original breakout of the episode was structured so that the gap felt more organic:
“We broke it that way,” confirms Wolfe, “but I can’t remember why. And when it became a one-parter, we had to squeeze together everything that we’d planned on doing in two. We’d have been a lot better off if we’d been able to budget the sets and makeup and costumes over two episodes, but is was action-packed,” he laughs. “There was a lot of plot to cover that we just slashed mercilessly. There was supposed to be a lot more with Dukat. In fact, most of part one would have been their adventures on Dukat’s ship while he takes them to Ty’Gokor. Then, at the end, we would have made a much bigger deal about them getting into their ‘Klingon look’.”
It is funny to hear Wolfe talk about wanting to amortise the budget across multiple episodes; these types of financial considerations would lead Manny Coto to structure the fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise as a collection of multi-part adventures. These budgetary concerns would likely explain why Apocalypse Rising is not able to physically demonstrate the damage caused by the conflict with the Klingons, instead referring to it in exposition.
There are moments when this exposition works quite well. The most striking of these sequences comes in the Hall of Warriors, when Sisko finds himself eavesdropping on an eager Klingon recounting war stories about boarding a Federation ship. This is perhaps the moment that most skilfully captures the barbarity of war and the brutality of combat, although Apocalypse Rising is never able to conjure up the visuals to match that dialogue. Of course, Deep Space Nine is still learning how to tell these sorts of stories.
Apocalypse Rising is also notable for manoeuvring Sisko into a position where he plots the assassination of a foreign head of state. It is a striking affirmation of just how far Deep Space Nine is willing to push the Star Trek franchise outside its comfort zone. To be clear, the initial mission briefing is pointedly not an assassination assignment. “Our orders are to expose Gowron, not assassinate him,” Sisko advises Worf. Nevertheless, changeling!Martok manages to nudge Sisko a little bit further, to the point that Sisko is ready to let Worf murder the Klingon High Chancellor.
(There is a certain inelegance to all of this. Most notably, the episode relies on a lot of contrivances to justify the climactic showdown between Gowron and Worf. Couldn’t Sisko have simply pushed the button on the remote control in the time it took him to hesitate and put the control away once Martok summoned “Jodmos, son of Kobor”? More than that, why couldn’t the away team simply stun Gowron instead of trying to kill him outright? They know exactly the phaser settings necessary to expose a changeling, and mapping those to a disruptor should not be hard.)
As with a lot of the storytelling on Deep Space Nine, there is a sense of symmetry to all this. There is a sense that the decisions playing out in Apocalypse Rising will be repeated at some future interval, that Sisko is making a choice here that will be reiterated and repeated down the line. Indeed it is. Sisko becomes complicit in the murder of a senior Romulan official in In the Pale Moonlight. More than that, he eventually signs off on the assassination of Gowron in Tacking Into the Wind.
Indeed, the eventual assassination of Gowron in Tacking Into the Wind is very much an echo of the attempt made in Apocalypse Rising. This earlier episode is infused with no small sense of irony as Sisko signs off on allowing Worf to go head-to-head with the Klingon High Chancellor for the greater good. Gowron all but tempts fate when he goads Worf, “You should have killed me when you had the chance. I promise you won’t get another.” That is not how Deep Space Nine works. History moves in arcs, rather than lines. Big moments tend to repeat and reverberate.
Apocalypse Rising is notable for putting three of its lead actors in Klingon makeup, with Sisko leading an undercover mission to expose Gowron as a Founder. He is accompanied by Worf, who undergoes some cosmetic surgery to disguise his appearance. However, Odo and O’Brien both join Sisko in his mission. There is something quite fun in seeing these leads put on Klingon makeup, effectively playing at in-universe cosplay. (Also quite charming are the “trophies” that Dukat had collected, including those adorable Klingon booties with the spike on them.)
Naturally, Avery Brooks proves perfectly adept at playing a Klingon. Brooks’ delivery has always been somewhat larger than life, with a staccato rhythm that recalls William Shatner and a fondness for grandstanding that evokes Patrick Stewart. Brooks has always been something of an acquired taste as Sisko, something that becomes even clearer in the show’s final four seasons. However, Brook’s flair and theatricality ensure that “Sisko goes undercover as a Klingon” is almost strong enough to sustain an episode singlehandedly.
Unfortunately, not all of the other cast members do quite as well. Rene Auberjonois works very well in Klingon makeup, playing Odo entirely straight so as to create an effective juxtaposition between the character’s familiar disposition and the expectations of a Klingon warrior. Michael Dorn is still very clearly Worf, because Worf was never much of a thespian. However, Colm Meaney seems to really struggle with the prosthetics, his more naturalistic performance style smothered by the makeup.
Colm Meaney acknowledged his difficulties with the makeup in The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion:
“Oh, it was hideous,” laments Colm Meaney. “When they put that forehead prosthetic piece on me, I couldn’t close my eyes. It’s like they were glued open! It was driving me crazy. I was b!tching and moaning so much. And then my final major… uh, tantrum, you could say,” he chuckles, “was about my nails because they’d darkened down my hands and I thought my nails were ruined. I remember that Michael Dorn was very much looking forward to the fact that we would get to experience what he has to go through every day and he would get to gloat. But after two days of experiencing me in that makeup, he was saying, ‘Never put Colm in that makeup again.'”
A lot of that bleeds through into the finished episode.
Of course, this is entirely reasonable. It takes a very particular kind of actor to work under those layers of makeup. There is a reason that Star Trek returns time and again to a particular set of actors for these roles: Armin Shimerman, Marc Aliamo, Jeffrey Combs, Vaughn Armstrong, J.G. Hertzler. Prosthetics can be very tough for actors not used to working with them. In fact, Andrea Martin’s reluctance to don the prosthetics again following Family Business would force the production team to recast the role of Ishka for Ferengi Love Songs.
During the early run of The Next Generation, there were a number of episodes where guest stars were very clearly struggling to articulate through the heavy makeup. Scott Thomson strained to make himself heard through the Ferengi prosthetics in The Price, for example. Colm Meaney has the same issues here, where it seems like O’Brien is carefully enunciating every syllable so that he might be understood. “It’s not easy being funny wearing these teeth,” O’Brien deadpans at one point, and that seems perfectly reasonable.
It also seems like Meaney is trying to approximate the larger-than-life delivery that actors like Robert O’Reilly and J.G. Hertzler bring to their performances. However, Colm Meaney is clearly not comfortable with that sort of rhythm. There is an unnatural quality to his dialogue. “The optronic relays… are… fused.” Again, this makes sense. It is perfectly logical that Avery Brooks’ theatrical stylings would lend themselves to playing a Klingon, but it also makes sense that Colm Meaney’s more low key delivery would be a more awkward fit.
J.G. Hetzler offers a much more conventional (and satisfying) performance. Apocalypse Rising is only Hertzler’s second appearance as Martok, having previously played the role in The Way of the Warrior. In fact, it looks like Apocalypse Rising might be Hertzler’s last appearance, given that the episode reveals that Martok is a changeling. However, Hertzler is so good in the role that it would be a shame to lose him. Like O’Reilly, Hertzler understands that a good Klingon roles requires a heightened performance.
I’d auditioned for Trek a lot. I’d guess about 14 times. I’d come in, punch my card and people would say, “Good to see you again. What are you reading this time?” I’d say, “Oh, a Cardassian,” or whatever it was. I finally told my agent, “Don’t send me up to Star Trek anymore. They’ve seen everything I could possibly ever do and I haven’t gotten a role. Don’t waste their time or my time.” Real soon after that I had an audition (for something else). I was sitting outside, angry about something, and (DS9 casting director) Ron Surma came by. He said, “Oh, John, you might be good for this. Take a look, then come in and read.” It was General Martok. I auditioned and I said to myself, “I’m not going to be your usual Klingon. I’m not going to be offensive, overbearing, self-possessed, arrogant, boorish. I’m going to be Patrick Stewart as a Klingon.”
So I did a quiet and cerebral audition and when I finished, they said, “Do you know what a Klingon is?” I said, “Oh, you want it to be loud, aggressive, abrasive, obnoxious, boorish…” They said, “Yes.” So I did it with that in mind, and I threw a chair against a wall. They had an old plaster wall and it was a metal chair, and one of the legs stuck in the wall a little bit before it fell out. And I caught my thumbnail when I tossed it. I ripped about half my thumbnail off. You must understand, I played linebacker in college, and to play football, especially linebacker, it’s barely controlled rage. So that’s where I’m coming from in terms of life, barely controlled rage. So the linebacker welled up in me and there I was, with a chair in the wall and blood dripping from my thumb, and I ranted and roared. They said, “Well, thank you,” and they looked a little worried. I heard a day or two later that I got the role.
Hertzler is superb as Martok, who might just be the franchise’s most archetypal (and emotive) Klingon character.
The closing scenes of Broken Link strongly suggested that Gowron had been replaced with a changeling infiltrator that was guiding the Klingon Empire into conflict with the Federation, a chilling follow-through on the ominous promise that changeling!Lovok made at the end of The Die is Cast. It was a very clever way to end the fourth season, teasing a conclusion to the conflict with the Klingons while tying back into the conflict that was brewing with the Dominion. It represented a clear escalation of stakes and an organic story development.
However, while the suggestion that Gowron is a changeling provides a strong ending to the fourth season, the fifth season needs a stronger opening. Apocalypse Rising would seem fairly straightforward if Goworn were eventually unmasked as a changeling. What is the point of doing a story about a shape-shifting infiltrator if the identity of that infiltrator is taken for granted? So Apocalypse Rising offers a clever twist, the characters taking Odo’s revelation at the climax of Broken Link as fact only to encounter a last minute curve ball when Gowron isn’t the changeling infiltrator.
As with a lot of the plot developments on Deep Space Nine, the identity of the changeling infiltrator was not planned in advance. It was not something that the writers had decided upon when they wrote the ending of Broken Link. In an interview with Cinefantastique, actor J.G. Hertzler acknowledged that earlier drafts of the story played the plot relatively straight and that the revelation that Martok was actually the changeling was a late addition to the story:
“One of the original scripts had, in the development process, that Gowron [Robert O’Reilly] was the changeling. They said that might be too pat. What if we had somebody else, totally unexpected at that point? That’s where it changed to me. My character got blown up. It’s not often you get blown to smithereens and then return.”
It is quite a clever twist. The key lies in disguising the twist by insisting that Gowron is the changeling. After all, there are only two prominent Klingon guest stars in the episode, Martok and Gowron. If the episode set up the identity of the infiltrator as a mystery from the outset, the audience would likely guess (correctly) that the less prominent of the two would be revealed to be the changeling. Instead, the twist is able to catch the audience off-guard.
While very much a subplot, Apocalypse Rising also carries over Odo’s character arc from Broken Link. Separated from the Great Link and confined to a human form, Odo slinks into a depression. (The show never quite explains why the Founders ought to exile him as a human rather than a Bajoran, but it serves to make the dialogue around the transition a little neater.) Indeed, the episode opens with Odo attempting to drown his sorrows at Quarks, with the liberal application of alcohol.
This is an interesting characterisation for a number of reasons. Most obviously, the exile of Odo consciously plays against the standard Star Trek tropes by juxtaposing the character against the franchise’s other “outsider” characters. Spock’s character arc (particularly in the films from Star Trek: The Motion Picture through to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home) is largely about learning to accept his human half. Data longs to experience the world as humans do, culminating in the installation of the emotion chip in Star Trek: Generations.
Even the other Star Trek shows tend to bring their episodes closer to humanity. On Voyager, both the Doctor and Seven of Nine embark on journeys to define an individual identity in human terms, suggesting that the only way to truly be a person is to embrace humanity. Even on Enterprise, T’Pol demonstrates a curiosity about the human experience; admitting to sneaking to jazz club in Fusion and getting hooked on trillium-D to feel emotions in Damage.
The implication is quite clear. Aliens want to be human. They want to assimilate. They want to integrate. They want to be like us. Odo is largely a rejection of that idea, a response to the “outsider” archetype as embodied by Spock on Star Trek and Data on The Next Generation. Odo is very much an alien, but he does not wish to integrate or assimilate. Odo is quite happy with his identity. Odo stands apart. That is his character arc, one played out to its logical conclusion across the seven years of the show, culminating in What You Leave Behind.
While Data would consider it the ultimate reward to be rendered human, and while Spock’s character arc in The Voyage Home hinges on him accepting his humanity, Odo treats his newfound humanity as a humiliation and a curse. This is not what Odo wants. This is not what is necessary to make him complete. There is no happy life-affirming moral to be found his exile, no suggestion that Odo will be happier and more comfortable as a human than a changeling. There is no feel-good lesson that Odo must learn.
Indeed, Apocalypse Rising even offers a somewhat cynical riff on the stock Star Trek tropes about what it means to be human. For characters like Spock and Data, humanity is embodied by the little details; Spock learning to guess or Data telling jokes. Odo is introduced ruminating on the little things that he now notices when trapped inside a body made of flesh and blood. “Do you hear that?” he asks Sisko, referring to the bubbles in the drink. “You know, before I became a solid I never heard that.” It is a moment that could be sweet, but ends up bitter.
This is in many ways an expression of an underlying theme that comes up time and time again over the run of Deep Space Nine, an exploration of what a truly multicultural version of Star Trek might look like, where humanity was not considered the default (or the ideal) and where Federation values were not accepted as universal absolutes towards which all cultures must aspire. As Abigail Nussbaum notes:
Deep Space Nine is a series in constant tension between the original Trek concept of infinite diversity in infinite combinations–the idea that you can drink Klingon coffee with breakfast, snack on a Bajoran jumja stick after lunch, eat Creole food for dinner, and relax with some Saurian brandy over a game of Tongo–and the sneaking suspicion that this kind of multiculturalism is ultimately only skin-deep, and that we are all, deep down, either one thing or the other. One of the factors contributing to Ziyal’s death is that she was neither Bajoran nor Cardassian, and could never bring herself to choose just one. Odo tries to be a changeling among humanoids, but ultimately gives up the attempt as futile. Federation values, the show ultimately concludes, can’t be adopted except at the cost of another culture’s values, and inter-species rapport has its limits–as seen in What You Leave Behind when Sisko and Ross refuse to drink to their victory in the ruins of Cardassia, and Martok shakes his head over their squeamishness.
Maybe this is overly cynical, but it also feels honest. After all, one of the defining political issues of the twenty-first century is the debate over the degree to which immigrant communities and subcultures should be expected to integrate and assimilate into the larger overriding culture. Odo quite pointedly refuses to do that, and Apocalypse Rising suggests that he is incapable of doing that. (And that the audience is wrong to expect him to do that.)
Unfortunately, Odo’s character arc gets somewhat dropped over the rest of the season. Odo’s sense of malaise and depression are never really explored between Apocalypse Rising and The Begotten. Odo is back to business as usual in The Ship, arresting Quark and his “accomplice” for smuggling. Odo is being sassy to his colleagues again in Looking for Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places. When Odo-centric episodes like Things Past or The Ascent come along, Odo’s exile is treated as a plot point rather than a character beat.
However, despite the fact that Odo’s depression is largely brushed aside following the premiere, there are some interesting characterisation choices. Most obviously, there is the suggestion that Odo is coping with his transformation through alcohol. “You know, at first I found the whole process of ingestion disgusting,” he reflects. “But now that I’ve gotten used to it, I find eating and drinking to be quite comforting.” Sisko warns him, “There’s always the temptation to eat too much, to drink too much.”
Odo concedes, “I didn’t have a sense of taste so I never paid much attention to food or drink. I had no idea how seductive they could be.” Odo’s alcoholism is never explored further, but it does hint at later developments for the character. In particular, Apocalypse Rising seems to suggest that Odo’s depression tends to manifest itself in addictive behaviour and impulse control issues. This makes a great deal of sense, given that Odo is essentially a teenager, despite looking and sounding like Rene Auberjonois.
As such, Odo’s flirtation with alcoholism in Apocalypse Rising hints at his much more destructive addictive behaviour in Behind the Lines. In that episode, Odo’s need to experience “the link” with the Female Changeling jeopardises his relationship with his colleagues and puts the entire resistance at risk. It is not the behaviour of a responsible adult, but it is perfectly in keeping with the characterisation of Odo in earlier episodes like Apocalypse Rising. It is a great example of the way in which Deep Space Nine builds upon established characterisation.
Apocalypse Rising is an interesting episode, more than a successful one. It is a very rushed piece of television, racing through character beats and plot points in order to square away the Klingon threat that dominated the fourth season while paving the way for the Dominion conflict that will define the fifth year. It is an episode that largely accomplishes what it sets out to do, even if it isn’t always particularly graceful in how it does that. Still, it succeeds at setting the tone and the agenda for the year ahead, without wiping the slate completely clean.
It is an example of how confident Deep Space Nine has become, how at ease the show is with itself. This is a show that knows what it wants to do, and has committed itself to achieving it. It is not a bad way to start a season.