Since I originally wrote this review, I've had some minor changes of opinion and now rate the episode at three stars. To see the reasons for this change, find the capsule review in the Fifth Season Recap. Below is the orignial review of the episode, which at the time I rated at 2 1/2 stars.
Nutshell: Solid entertainment and often fun, but hardly challenging. A good 60 minute diversion but not what I was hoping for.
In the wake of Odo's discovery in "Broken Link" that Gowron is a Changeling impostor, Starfleet Command orders Sisko to embark on a dangerous mission—to go undercover to the Klingon homeworld and expose Gowron as a shapeshifter. Bashir alters Sisko, Odo, and O'Brien to look like Klingons, and Worf naturally assumes the role of training them in Klingon behavior. Gul Dukat provides the transportation to Kronos in his stolen Bird of Prey.
"Apocalypse Rising" is a solidly entertaining stand-alone episode that has been skillfully assembled. It has a slick polish and it works for a 60 minute viewing. At the same time it's hardly challenging material in terms of storytelling—it doesn't have very high aspirations, and it doesn't have much in terms of sweeping changes or arc developments.
For a DS9 season premiere (and for an episode with such an imposing title), "Apocalypse Rising" sure plays it safe. This is probably the safest season premiere DS9 has ever done. When compared with "Way of the Warrior" of last year, "The Search, Part I" of the year before, or "The Homecoming" of the year before that, "Apocalypse Rising" can't come close to recapturing the fresh and daring sense that those shows had. The reason for this is that those premieres offered something new into the DS9 equation, whether it was startling Bajoran political developments, the discovery of the Founders, or the sudden movements of the Klingons.
"Apocalypse Rising," on the other hand, offers nothing new; it simply makes use of the existing elements and puts them into a relatively standard plot. That isn't inherently bad, but considering how long the Dominion and Klingon plot lines have been intertwined and how many shows they've been seeming to build up to a major event, I was expecting a major event. Well, I didn't get my major event; instead I got an acceptable plot-driven episode that had some reasonable character moments.
One interesting character point is Odo's situation. By this point, it's clear that Odo will not be changed back to a shapeshifter; the Dominion's judgment on him is obviously not going to be reversed by the writers. This is good. It adds a little extra angst to his character. Through most of the episode, Odo silently broods over what he has lost. He does find comfort in the human behaviors of eating and drinking; an early scene features a mildly intoxicated Odo who, for once, has come to Quark's to buy a drink. Unfortunately, he's doing it to drown his sorrows. I will maintain that turning Odo human is a very good thing for further character building; the creators, however, must realize that this installment is merely one of what should be many shows to explain how Odo copes with his problem and his new identity. This issue is by no means something that can go away after only one examination. There must be follow-ups—and such follow-ups I look forward to seeing.
Also characteristically, Marc Alaimo turns in another classic Gul Dukat portrayal. Scenes in which Dukat mocks Sisko's masquerading crew prove amusing. And as Sisko's ticket for safe passage through Klingon space, Dukat demonstrates a no-nonsense take-no-prisoners attitude and methodology. When he encounters another Klingon ship that inquires why he is wandering through the particular area of space, something goes wrong with his communications holo-projector. Dukat's solution: destroy the Klingons. The swiftness with which he makes his decision even prompted a double-take from me. Pretty cold... I like it.
As for the sequences where Worf attempts to "train" Sisko and the others to act like Klingons: They bordered on the obvious and were on the silly side, but I liked them anyway. (Hey, it's Klingon comedy.) There were some decent one-liners in there—O'Brien's "It's not easy being funny wearing these teeth" was among them.
Aside from the character tidbits, "Apocalypse Rising" is fundamentally plot-driven. Most of the screen time is devoted to advancing the plot or explaining how the crew intends to execute its plan. Specifically, they attend a bat'leth tournament which Gowron is to attend. The plan: to subject the Gowron Changeling to a specific radiation field that will make him revert to a liquid. Of course, to make things more interesting, the field must simultaneously emanate from four different locations in the room with four different devices that have been set up ahead of time.
The tournament is held in a hall filled with rudely lively characters. And while it's kind of fun watching drunken Klingons beat on one another and tell stories, it sure doesn't add much to the grand scheme of things. In short: We've seen all this before, so all that becomes important are the plot manipulations.
And these plot manipulations are, in fact, nicely done on the basis of this show alone. The story is structured with an even hand, having no scenes that feel out of place or distracting subplots to interrupt the main story. Conway's direction is good, and he even has a few memorable camera angles.
When General Martok (J.G. Hertzler) shows up at the tournament and recognizes Captain Sisko, he throws Sisko and his crew in a cell. Sisko attempts to reason with Martok and is successful; Martok agrees to let them out if they will kill the Gowron Changeling. Worf challenges Gowron to a battle to the death, and under details I'm not going into here, the show throws the revelation/twist on us when Odo realizes that not Gowron but Martok is the Changeling infiltrator, who is shot about 53 times after he's found out.
Despite the skillful execution over these plot events, the problem is that when the show is over it doesn't really have any lasting impact. Why? Because it maintains the Trekkian Status Quo—that pesky thing that dictates situations are more likely to remain the same than to change in the process of one episode. By finding and defeating this one Changeling, the series lends itself no new impetuses for future development of this storyline. I'm not saying that this outcome means nothing to the series, but if the Changeling had been Gowron and not just some thought implanted by the Founders in Odo's mind (another cleverly subversive act of the Founders that by itself is interesting) then the show would've really mattered. Consider: the Klingon Empire's leader is killed after he turns out to be a spy. That has possibilities. Instead, they kill Martok, a relatively unimportant character whom we've seen twice.
For that matter, I would've liked to know when exactly Martok was replaced (it was presumably before "Way of the Warrior") or how he had so much direct influence over Gowron. How could Gowron not detect Martok's change in behavior when Odo could pick him out based on a few things he said? Such details are not extremely important to the plot as it stands, I suppose, but the possibilities could've lent themselves to another powerful analysis of paranoia and mistrust like "Homefront." It was not to be.
In short, "Apocalypse Rising" is a fun, nicely assembled plot that adds up to not a whole hell of a lot. For a season premiere it's surprisingly ordinary. It's a decent ride, but tomorrow you might forget it happened.