WARNING: The horror ... the horror ... oh, wait; that's "Apocalypse Now". "Apocalypse Rising" is the premiere episode for DS9's fifth season, and that's what has spoilers for it below.
In brief: Part of me's saying that "there wasn't much there", but on the whole it was a pretty entertaining hour.
"Apocalypse Rising" nicely encapsulates the way I felt about DS9's fourth season. I said at the end of that season that I'd enjoyed it tremendously, was looking forward to more, but felt ambivalent about the Big Picture [tm]. "Apocalypse Rising" evoked a lot of the same feelings, and I'm not sure why.
Almost from the very start, however, "Apocalypse Rising" made me feel better in one way about season five than it did about season four -- and that's in the use of Kira. Unlike "Body Parts", which I've heard referred to disparagingly as "DS9 does Three's Company" in its use of Kira, and unlike "Broken Link", which used Kira as a source both of sneezes and of mirth, "Apocalypse Rising" started off with a marvelous Kira/Worf scene that showed her calm, but very forceful and unwilling to back down. That put my mind at ease early on, and the Kira/Dukat scene later where she plays with his mind only added to the good feeling. (The little smirk she has as the lift doors close makes the entire scene.) I'm still not positive about the Kira/Bashir scene -- it felt a bit too bland and a bit too proud of itself, although Kira's "this [pregnancy] is all YOUR fault" made for a great line if one takes it as a line between the actors and not the characters -- but in any case, I felt a lot better about Kira after this week than I have in months.
I'm not sure I can say the same about the main plot of the show, Sisko and company going undercover to expose Gowron's true identity. Much like Picard's undercover mission into Cardassian story, I had some serious qualms about the logic behind the idea. Sisko being on the team I have to more or less accept as a dramatic necessity, but I'm not sure about a real reason for it. Given Sisko, however, two of the remaining three team members make sense: Worf does, for obvious reasons, and Odo does for his knowledge of Changeling behavior. O'Brien, however, made very little sense; engineering skill or not, I doubt there would have been much he could do had the prototype Technobabble Inducers gone on the fritz, and he wasn't a convincing Klingon in attitude or in appearance. (Physically, the makeup really didn't work for Meaney or Auberjonois, but Meaney really got the shaft, coming off looking like the local Klingon village idiot.) If a fourth team member were needed, and it simply had to be a regular cast member instead of, oh, some character trained in undercover espionage missions, I have a good candidate: how about Dax? We saw female warriors there (though not many, which may be the only argument against using her), she's handy with a bat'leth, and she knows Klingon ways better than anybody on the station except Worf. Given the team as presented, though, I spent much of the first two-
thirds of the show wondering how this plan was possibly expected to work given the poor choices made, and that detracted a bit.
[The technical issues of the plan also struck me as intensely silly; no one could design a prototype that only needed ONE device instead of four? But anyway...]
As such, for the first two thirds or so of the show I was stuck looking for little things to like; fortunately, there were lots of them. The Kira scenes I mentioned earlier were two of them, of course, and there were also a few great moments with O'Brien (one being his muttered "I hate prototypes" and the other being his way of casually leaning against a column during the briefing instead of sitting -- a nice directing choice). The Sisko/Odo scene in Quark's came off well enough -- Odo's sitting around and brooding over his fate, which is entirely to be expected, and Sisko's direct order to him was probably exactly what he needed. I enjoyed just about every scene Dukat was in (not surprisingly), and Sisko made a convincing enough Klingon in appearance and in behavior that I enjoyed watching Brooks chew scenery a lot. (His "brag all you want -- but don't get between me and the blood wine!" scene was a good case in point; one really got the feeling that he knew exactly what his excuse for beating up on the other Klingon was going to be before he began lifting a finger.)
Once Gowron appeared, however, I started paying a lot more attention to the plot. At first I was really worried, as Sisko's behavior struck me as extremely dumb. Why bother to go up for the ceremony? Just activate the device and watch all hell break loose. (It's not like everyone was going to be watching him; since his name had been planted in the computer, I'd argue that almost no one would know who he was.) However, Martok's "discovery" of Sisko was at least well directed, and the final act of the show was marvelous.
I said back when "Broken Link" aired that I didn't care for the idea of Gowron being a Changeling plant very much, and that's true -- but I rather like the idea of the Founders feeding Odo disinformation. In fact, I like that a lot. If they're going to suborn someone in the Klingon Empire, and if they really want to keep the Federation and the Klingons fighting, there are few better ways to do it than to trick Federation officers into an unnecessary assassination and to martyr Gowron for the Dominion's ends. Having Odo see through it was marvelous, and Martok's "there's no telling where your loyalties lie" is a line that works whether you know Martok's a Changeling or not, which is extremely nice. I also worried quite vocally that Gowron's exposure would be "activating the reset button" and ending all the Federation/Klingon problems for good, and dialogue here at least
suggested that said reset button had not been pushed. The Klingon affair may be pushed into background status for a while, and I think that's perfectly fine -- as long as it doesn't go away just because a Changeling's been ferreted out, I don't feel particularly cheated.
Overall, then, "Apocalypse Rising" was rather different from the normal end of a cliffhanger (which technically this wasn't, but it's the closest thing to a season-straddling cliffhanger that DS9 has had to date). Second halves of Trek cliffhangers often seem to have no idea how to get out of the first half, and sloppy logic and questionable ideas abound. Here, much of the core idea for how to get out of the "Gowron's a Changeling" issue was in place from the start, and very well put -- but along the way, there was entirely too much macho
head-butting and not enough clear thinking for my tastes. I'd call that a step up, though -- with the idea in place, building to it may be a bit easier.
So, some shorter notes:
-- For a highest-honor-of-the-high Klingon ceremony, that one was pretty wimpy. No blood? No pain? No snarls of agony? No fights to the death? Just a drink-and-wrestle all-nighter? Hell, I know lots of people who did worse than that in college, and they never picked up a medal for it. :-)
-- "It's not easy being funny wearing these teeth." I'm not sure why I enjoyed that line, but I did.
-- As I said, the logic of having Worf on the team was inescapable -- but why on Earth did they let him keep his own face? For heaven's sake, Gowron knows Worf -- knows him well, in fact. For Martok to recognize Sisko and not Worf is intensely dumb.
-- Martok's disposal of guards en route to the attempt on Gowron was very efficient, and very ruthless. I rather liked it. (I was also reminded just a little bit of the assassination of Caligula in "I, Claudius", though probably for no good reason.)
That should about cover it. "Apocalypse Rising" wasn't really worth a three-month wait, but after that kind of buildup few shows are. It was a very modern-day DS9 opening to the season; we'll see where things go from here.
So, to close:
Writing: I like the core ideas around Odo and around Gowron not being the real Changeling -- but, like TNG's "Chain of Command", I had some distinct problems with the ideas for the mission.
Directing: No complaints; the Sisko/Odo scene in Quark's had just the right tinge of melancholy, and the last act was heavenly.
Acting: Apart from the twenty-seven thousand extras paid mostly to stand around in makeup and grunt loudly (okay, so Klingon- fests don't wow me), I was pretty satisfied.
OVERALL: About the same as "Broken Link", I think -- a 7. A solid but not stellar opening.
Sisko takes a Jem'Hadar ship carrying a secret.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Shakaar's not the father."
"Then who is?"
-- Kira playing with Dukat's mind