This page contains information regarding Star Trek: Discovery, and thus may contain spoilers.
"Belong to it? Major, the Changelings are the Dominion."
"You're the Founders."
The Founders were a group of Changelings from the Gamma Quadrant, who mainly existed in the form of the Great Link. They were responsible for both the creation of the Dominion and all strategic decisions undertaken throughout its history. Though generally considered mythical by some Gamma Quadrant races, they remained, as of the late 24th century, the embodiment of the Dominion itself, and the ultimate reason for its existence. (DS9: "The Jem'Hadar", "The Search, Part I", "The Search, Part II")
- See also: Dominion history
From Changelings to Founders
Later, the Changelings roamed space, possibly including the planet L-S VI, searching out other races so they could add to their knowledge of the galaxy. The Changelings came in peace, though "solids" feared their metamorphic abilities, met them with suspicion, and even "beat, hunted, and killed" them. Deeming "Changelings" to be nothing but make-believe by the 24th century, the Rakhari as well as the Yaderans told mythical tales of them, with the latter speaking of "evil shapeshifters." According to Dominion legend, on one planet, a group of Vorta – a species of small, timid, ape-like forest dwellers living in hollowed-out trees – hid a Changeling from an angry mob, and in return the Changeling promised that one day they would be transformed into powerful beings and placed at the head of a vast interstellar empire. (DS9: "Vortex", "The Alternate", "Shadowplay", "The Search, Part II", "Treachery, Faith and the Great River")
As an adverse reaction to being hunted and rejected by the solids, the Founders accepted the pejorative "Changeling" as their own out of defiance and retreated to a rogue planet in the Omarion Nebula, where they existed as the Great Link. Adopting a philosophy of "what you control can't hurt you," the Changelings realized they had to "guide" the solids, who, in turn, had to "be broken of their love for freedom." They determined that, in order to be safe, they had to set themselves the task of creating order from the chaos they saw around them, and as a result, they became the "Founders" of the Dominion circa 2,000 years ago. The Founders genetically engineered the Jem'Hadar as their front line soldiers and also kept their promise to the Vorta by empowering them to become the Dominion's civil servants and commanders. Amongst other methods, both species' loyalty was ensured by implanting into them a reverence of any Changeling as a living god. (DS9: "The Search, Part II", "To the Death", "Favor the Bold")
Contact and war with the Alpha Quadrant
Despite their self-protectionism, the Founders still wished to explore the galaxy and sent out one hundred infant Changelings, including Odo and Laas, in order to gather information and explore before bringing the information back into the Great Link. They were genetically programmed to return to the Great Link, to share what they had learned. Laas, who initially attempted to mimic a humanoid life on Varala around the 22nd century, ultimately got disillusioned and frustrated by solids. Odo, on the other hand, was found beyond the Bajoran wormhole in the Alpha Quadrant during the first half of the 24th century and was subsequently studied by Dr. Mora Pol at the Bajoran Institute for Science. In early 2371, roughly two years after the Bajoran wormhole was discovered by the Federation and henceforth frequented as a gateway between the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants, Odo, who was still following his instinctive longing for the Omarion Nebula, returned to the Great Link, where he was not expected until around the late-27th century. However, having spent all his conscious life amongst solids, he decided he was not yet ready to rejoin his fellow Changelings. They communicated with him by forming a female humanoid. (DS9: "The Search, Part I", "The Search, Part II", "Chimera")
Later in 2371, the Founders were the target of a preemptive strike by the Tal Shiar and the Obsidian Order, which intended to completely eradicate the Founders, thereby removing the Dominion as a threat to the Alpha Quadrant. However, a Changeling had infiltrated the Tal Shiar and, based on evidence gathered by that Changeling, the Founders relocated to a new homeworld in advance of the Battle of the Omarion Nebula, in which all Romulan/Cardassian forces were annihilated. (DS9: "Improbable Cause", "The Die is Cast")
The Founders proceeded with infiltrating the powers beyond the wormhole in order to prepare for their eventual invasion, while Odo continued his life among the solids of the Federation, separate from the Great Link. In late 2371, he became the first Changeling to ever harm another, when he killed one of the infiltrators in order to save his crewmates aboard the USS Defiant. Odo's slaying of the Changeling provoked much debate and disagreement in the Great Link, also because the Founders felt a sense of responsibility for having sent him away as an infant in the first place. In late 2372, they had Weyoun, one of their most trusted Vorta servants, infect him with a disease to force him to return home and be judged – Odo's punishment was to be made into a solid. Although he regained his shapeshifting abilities a few months later in early 2373 by linking with a terminally ill infant Changeling, he was henceforth considered a traitor by the Jem'Hadar, as he had killed one of their gods. (DS9: "The Adversary", "To the Death", "Broken Link", "Paradise Lost", "Apocalypse Rising", "The Begotten")
In 2373, the Founders began their invasion of the Alpha Quadrant and the Dominion started a war against the Federation and the Klingon Empire. A few months after the war started, the Female Changeling came to the Alpha Quadrant to oversee the war effort and also to coerce Odo to return to the Great Link. Although they both linked, Odo was not able to understand the Founders' arrogance and ruthlessness, and eventually decided to side against his own people. In 2375, Odo encountered Laas, who had also been one of the 100 infants sent out by the Founders. Although they linked, Odo soon realized he did not share Laas' disregard for the solids and decided not to join him as he continued on a journey to find others who had also been amongst the 100 infants. (DS9: "Behind the Lines", "Favor the Bold", "Sacrifice of Angels", "Chimera")
Unbeknownst to the Founders, the war with the Dominion was anticipated by Section 31, a rogue Federation organization, which had secretly used Odo to infect the Great Link with a morphogenic virus back in 2372, during his trial for murdering another Changeling. Some Starfleet officers who didn't accept the Federation committing genocide managed, in an effort to save Odo's life, to obtain a cure against the virus. After Dominion forces in the Alpha Quadrant surrendered in late 2375, Odo cured the Female Changeling, who was subsequently taken into custody in the Alpha Quadrant. Odo then returned to the Gamma Quadrant and rejoined the Great Link, which was thus cured as well. (DS9: "Extreme Measures", "What You Leave Behind")
Not long after the three-pronged concept of the Dominion was invented, Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe started theorizing about the nature of the trinity's masterminds, the Founders. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (p. 158)) Wolfe recollected, "We talked about having a race called the Founders; we wouldn't know who they were, or what kind of creatures they were, for a long time. That would be a big mystery." (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 13, pp. 56-57; Star Trek: The Official Starships Collection, issue 13, p. 12) Behr concurred that the writing staff of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine wanted the Founders to be somewhat "mysterious and aloof." (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (p. 168)) Not much information about the Founders was included in a memo Wolfe wrote about the Dominion; as he later remembered, it clearly said of the Founders, "We don't know who they are. We'll never see them." (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 13, pp. 56 & 57)
For a long time, Odo actor Rene Auberjonois had suspected that the civilization Odo belonged to would remain a mystery. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 54) However, one initial thought the DS9 writing staff had about the Founders was that they were actually a group of shapeshifters, of whom Odo was the once and future king. (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages, p. 79) This notion was a private theory between Wolfe and Behr, which they conceived as a joke at about the start of DS9's second season. Noted Wolfe, "We figured we'd never see [the Founders] over the course of five years or whatever." Throughout the second season, the pair of writers joked about the idea of the Founders being revealed as shapeshifters. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (p. 158)) "We always said that with a laugh," Behr reminisced, "because we figured it would be too big a character thing to spring on both the audience and Rick [Berman] and Mike [Piller]." (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages, p. 79) Behr clarified, "We never thought they'd go for it in a million years." (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (p. 158))
While being ridiculed and considered too radical by the DS9 staff writers, the twist of revealing the Founders as the same species as Odo was originally thought of as a revelation to be made at the end of DS9's series run, or at least as a season climax. "At the end of season seven we find the Founders [....] That's gonna be the end of the series," Ira Behr remembered thinking. The writers also imagined the group, at about the same point in the series, as being reunited with Odo and coming under his rulership, Odo serving as their rightful king. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 27, No. 4/5, p. 102) In fact, the writers even felt certain, from early in the series, that they wanted the Founders to be reunited with Odo at the end of the show. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 32, Nos. 4/5, p. 89)
Although the concept of the Founders was established in the second season finale "The Jem'Hadar", the writers hadn't yet made any firm decisions about precisely who the Founders were. During the hiatus between seasons two and three of DS9, Michael Piller called a production meeting and, thinking the writers would reject the idea straight away, he suggested that perhaps the Founders could indeed be Odo's people. (The Birth of the Dominion and Beyond, DS9 Season 3 DVD, Special Features) Recalled Behr, "Michael said, 'I've got a crazy idea. You're all going to think I'm nuts; what if the Founders turn out to be shape-shifters?'" (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages, p. 79) At the same time that day, Piller additionally proposed that the Founders were Odo's people, another idea he thought was "nuts." (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (p. 159)) When Piller suggested these notions, Behr burst out laughing, he and the other staff writers having come up with exactly the same ideas but having expected them to be dismissed. (The Birth of the Dominion and Beyond, DS9 Season 3 DVD, Special Features) Behr continued, "We just cracked up, and Michael said, 'What's so funny?'" After Piller learned the other writers had been thinking along the same lines as him over the past several months, he and Behr took the idea of the Founders being Odo's people to Rick Berman, who agreed the concept was a good one. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (p. 159))
Subsequently, Rene Auberjonois was immediately informed about the idea of making the Founders actually Odo's race. "We had lunch with Rene Auberjonois to clue him in," stated Ira Behr, "and that's how it came down." Although the actor had originally become interested in playing Odo due to having been fascinated by the character's uncertainty about his origins, Auberjonois happily supported the plan of establishing who Odo's people were. "I must say," the actor admitted, "that I was and have been very satisfied with the solution they've come up with, which is something equally complex." (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages, p. 79)
Robert Hewitt Wolfe observed a likeness between the Founders and the Roman Empire. "They would rather take over someplace without firing a shot, but they're going to take over," he said, pointing out the degree of similarity between the two powers. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (p. 167)) On the other hand, Ronald D. Moore stated that the Founders "are, in a metaphorical sense, Nazis." Ira Behr likewise posited that the Founders had "fascist [...] tendencies." (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (pp. 234 & 354))
There was a little uncertainty about precisely when to reveal the Founders as Odo's people. "[That] was actually something they were planning for a third season cliffhanger," recollected Ron Moore, who joined the series at the start of that season, "but Michael [Piller] said, 'Let's do this at the beginning [of Season 3].'" (Cinefantastique, Vol. 27, No. 4/5, p. 90) Moore thought the revelation, ultimately exposed in third season opener "The Search, Part I", was "a risk." He commented, "I think it was ultimately a good decision to just go for it, because now we can play all the [complex emotions and] things with Odo and his people out there who want him back." (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages, p. 82)
The script for "The Search, Part I" described the Founders thus; "Their faces have the same 'unfinished' look that Odo's does and they appear to wear simple tunics."  Ron Moore explained, "The Founders [...] modeled their look after Odo. They did this initially as a compliment and way of reaching out to their long-lost Changeling, and later they kept doing it as a dig and reminder to him of his own limitations." (AOL chat, 1997)
An illusory scenario created by the Founders in "The Search, Part II" indicated how powerful they could be. "If the Founders are capable of playing with us like that," reasoned Ira Behr, "how much worse could they be in reality? That was our intent, to show that these guys were so ahead of us that they were literally playing with us." Regarding the "The Search" two-parter, Robert Hewitt Wolfe remarked, "Taken as a whole, the episodes showed both sides of who the Founders are." Their interactions with Odo demonstrated the public face of the Founders, whereas their duping of crew members from the USS Defiant "showed their secret face, the dark truth," added Wolfe. He believed the implanted illusion was characteristic of how the Founders tended, like the Roman Empire, to prefer conquering other races without resorting to combat. "So the whole thing was a test for them," he stated. "'Can we take over by diplomacy? Can we offer a treaty, get our foot into the Alpha Quadrant and slowly absorb them through cultural imperialism?'" (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (p. 167))
During development of Star Trek: Voyager, a Founder (referred to, in a summary of discussions that initiated the series, as "Soup Guy") was briefly considered as a main character of that series. (A Vision of the Future - Star Trek: Voyager, p. 177)
Establishing the Founders as capable of assuming a convincing humanoid form (first established in third season installment "Heart of Stone") facilitated later developments for the group. Explained René Echevarria, "It allowed us to set up the element of paranoia that would come into play later on [....] What's really interesting to me about the Founders is thinking that it's us, that it's you, it's Sisko, and containing the story." (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages, pp. 91 & 99)
Originally, the Founders were to have featured in a two-parter that would have ended DS9 Season 3 before concluding at the beginning of the series' fourth season. The plot would have involved "learning that shape-shifters were on Earth and had infiltrated the very heart of..." René Echevarria paused. "That was the cliff-hanger ending." When Paramount announced they didn't want a cliff-hanger to end the third season, the notion of nevertheless using the Founders remained. However, choosing what to do with them was an issue for the DS9 producers. They decided to keep the Founders-on-Earth storyline for the next season. They also chose to make the third season finale, ultimately entitled "The Adversary", about "shape-shifters running amok," in the words of Robert Wolfe, and structure it around the statement, "No Changeling has ever harmed another," which the writers had first established in "The Search, Part II". (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (pp. 250-251))
Some production staffers approved of the Founders being established as omnipresent in "The Adversary". "It [...] represented an interesting way to use the changelings, making them more of a threat," Ira Behr remarked. (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages, pp. 80 & 99) Commented René Echevarria, "It also provides another opportunity for [...] setting up in the minds of our fans that this – the changelings – is an ongoing, very dangerous problem." (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages, p. 99)
Ira Behr held the opinion that "deepening" the Founders and their relationship with Odo was an important aim for the writers to bear in mind for DS9 Season 4. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 27, No. 4/5, p. 115) During the show's third season, Behr and Ronald D. Moore had a discussion which determined how the Founders went on to be developed in the fourth season. This period in the evolution of the group was inspired by a statement in "The Die is Cast", when a Founder posing as a Romulan named Lovok comments, "After today, the only real threat to us from the Alpha Quadrant are the Klingons and the Federation. And I doubt that either of them will be a threat for much longer." Remembering the conversation, Behr related, "I said, 'You know, Ron, a really interesting way to continue the Founders threat is by causing a war between the Klingons and the Federation." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, p. 28) Once season four of DS9 began, René Echevarria reported about the threat imposed by the Founders, "To a certain extent, it's felt in the fourth season. We've had a lot of internal debates about what this would mean [....] So it's something we'll keep alive but will be careful not to overdo." (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages, p. 99)
In an early version of the two-parter "Homefront" and "Paradise Lost", the Founders played an important role. "The changelings come to Earth, infiltrate the populace, and cause near civil war within the Federation," reported Ronald D. Moore, recalling the story. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (p. 298)) As the narrative evolved from then on, though, the repercussions of the Founders' presence in the Alpha Quadrant were toned down, focusing on Earth in particular. "In the most basic sense, Founders on planet Earth was what we wanted to do," remembered Robert Hewitt Wolfe. The much-feared aliens could still be viewed as a metaphor for other groups in Human history, with Wolfe likening them to "the Communists" or the targets of "any number of other witch hunts in history." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, pp. 43 & 45)
Ira Behr could foresee, at this relatively early stage, the doom of the Founders, deciding to make it come about via their "rigidity." He elaborated, "They are so anal retentive, so paranoid, so set in their ways. Ultimately, that will be their downfall." (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (p. 300))
Ever since fourth season finale "Broken Link" was in its earliest form as a story pitch by freelance writer George Brozak, the Founders took Odo to be judged for committing what was, to them, an inconceivable criminal atrocity, Odo having killed another Changeling exactly a year beforehand, in "The Adversary". Ira Behr believed that the Founders' punishment of leaving Odo's face as it was, despite changing the rest of his body to become Human, was one of the writers' "many ways, both macro and micro, of making the Founders deliciously evil and calculatingly clever." (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (pp. 353-354))
As was noted by Robert Hewitt Wolfe, a big revelation involving the Founders provided a cliffhanger ending to both the third and fourth seasons. "The third season was 'Oh, shit, they're everywhere,' and the fourth season is 'Oh shit, they're running the Klingon Empire and are going to start a war,'" Wolfe pointed out. (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages, p. 121) For a long time, the writers planned to establish the Founders in such a way as they are depicted in the latter conclusion. "We felt it was an unfolding complication. We always felt the Founders were behind what was going on with the Klingons if nothing else than just because they were making the Klingons paranoid," Wolfe explained, "but we always wanted to show it may be more overt than that." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, p. 70) After the Klingons having been reintroduced as antagonists in DS9 Season 4, resuming the focus on depicting the Founders as the show's main villains was important to DS9's writing staff. Ira Behr recalled, "We were moving back toward making the shape-shifters [...] our enemies." Hence, once a Founder was identified as misleading the Klingon Empire in fifth season's "Apocalypse Rising", the Founders were deliberately further concentrated on. "After doing 'Apocalypse Rising' to open the season, we knew we had to get the changelings back into the show," Behr emphasized. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (pp. 359 & 422))
Although the concept of Founders infiltrating Earth had been popular, the nature of the threat posed by the Founders was thereafter changed, because Earth wasn't seen as an appropriate setting for Deep Space Nine. As a result, their menace evolved to become, for instance, a Founder who had secretly replaced Dr. Bashir, as established in fifth season episode "In Purgatory's Shadow". (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (p. 422))
When DS9 Season 6 installment "His Way" was written, Ira Behr already knew that the series would end with the Founders being reunited with Odo. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (p. 560)) This influenced the writers to make the Founders unwell, firstly in DS9 Season 7 entry "Treachery, Faith and the Great River". Behr remembered that "giving the Founders an illness seemed to give" Odo a motive for returning to them and trying to save them. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (p. 619)) Meanwhile, Rene Auberjonois felt it was "inevitable" that the Founders would end up reunited with Odo and that "the Founders' paranoia, and their feeling that they need to destroy the Federation" would peacefully be put to an end by him. The actor also believed this was "the right thing." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 32, Nos. 4/5, p. 40)
Ira Behr believed that, by callously disregarding and underestimating the Cardassians during the Dominion War, the Founders were akin to those who underestimated the Viet Cong in the Vietnam War and George Armstrong Custer when he underestimated tribes of Native Americans at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Behr concluded about the Founders, "They're still not nice people." (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (p. 709))
- "The Search, Part I" (Season 3)
- "The Search, Part II"
- "Heart of Stone"
- "Improbable Cause"
- "The Die is Cast"
- "The Adversary"
- "Homefront" (Season 4)
- "Paradise Lost"
- "Broken Link"
- "Apocalypse Rising" (Season 5)
- "The Ship"
- "Things Past"
- "In Purgatory's Shadow"
- "By Inferno's Light"
- "Behind the Lines" (Season 6)
- "Favor the Bold"
- "Sacrifice of Angels"
- "Treachery, Faith and the Great River" (Season 7)
- "'Til Death Do Us Part"
- "Strange Bedfellows"
- "The Changing Face of Evil"
- "Tacking Into the Wind"
- "The Dogs of War"
- "What You Leave Behind"