Whilst we’re waiting for the long end-game to kick in, these last few one-off stories feel a bit lacking in purpose, save to keep the game ticking over. ‘Field of Fire’ was a relatively simple story, isolated from pretty much everything else around it except for one aspect that was intended to keep us in the Dominion War and not leave the story freewheeling by itself.
There were three big elements to the story. One was that it was a Twentieth Century Locked-Room Murder Mystery transplanted. A second was that it was the third successive Ezri-centric episode. And thirdly, it was a bottle episode. Let’s take these things in reverse order.
For those who have not come across this term in earlier Deep Space Nine reviews, a bottle episode (short for ‘ship-in-a-bottle’) is a low-budget episode, designed to make use primarily of pre-existing sets and few if any, guest stars. They allow a greater proportion of the season budget to go to more effects and/or guest intensive episodes. ‘Field of Fire’ took place entirely on DS9 and required two guests only, one of whom was disposed of in the open.
Whilst a murder mystery might be thought of as Odo territory (as was originally the intention), that’s been done before and another lead was proposed. Ezri Dax, Counsellor, is the ideal candidate: she’s completely unexpected, and untried, as an investigator, yet analysing the mind that would turn into a serial killer is entirely within her wheelhouse.
That it comes directly after two other episodes giving us prime exposure to our sweet, slightly scatterbrained new girl, and adding rings to a character that has the potential to get a bit irritating on too much exposure, was down to the speed with with the episode was composed, and the restricted amount of space left in the face of the looming end game.
But it’s still a bit imbalanced, and smacked a bit of rushing to get the new girl uploaded, and has the unfortunate effect of suggesting the writers have gotten a bit jaded on providing personal stories for the old stagers.
And so to our mystery. This is basically the MacGuffin (some of you may think that I overuse that term, but I would argue that DS9 overuses that ploy). The newly-arrived Lt. Ilario celebrates his commendation for outstanding service on the Defiant until he has to be escorted to his quarters by Ezri, who then has to rebuff a micro-pass (he calls her beautiful, prompting a deliberate misquoting of Churchill). In the morning, he’s found dead, shot a close range, but without powder burns, by that most obsolete of weapons, a bullet.
This mystery leads to some endearingly clunky self-exposition among the cast about what actually happens when you use bullets, authoritatively explained by Odo thanks to his love of Twentieth Century Crime Fiction, Raymond Chandler, Mike Hammer (a sloppy line that jerked me momentarily out of the future since it couples author and character: Raymond Chandler/Mickey Spillane, Philip Marlowe/Mike Hammer, yes, but don’t mix ’em).
The killer has to be a Starfleet Officer, since no-one else could have gotten hold of that kind of weapon (logic blur alert), but the locked room puzzle is explained away disappointingly by resorting to futurist technology: the rile has a micro-transporter attached, allowing the bullets to be ‘beamed aboard’, so to speak.
But that’s not the point. Three victims with no connections adds up to a serial killer, making this a whydunnit rather than a whodunnit. Sweet, naive Ezri, feeling responsible as the last person to see Ilario alive, has to think herself into the mind of the killer if she is to solve the case. And to do so, she has to summon up Joral Dax, the forgotten host, the suppressed host, the host who was himself a murderer.
That’s the real point of this episode. Joral wants out. He wants to relive the thrill of murder, the power it held. He wants to take his real part in the collective memory of the symbiont Dax. Most of all, he wants to makeover young, inexperienced, impressionable Ezri into the mirror image of himself.
Ezri resists right from the start, but in the classic manner has to submit to Joral’s direction to understand, psych-profile and identify the killer by deducing his ‘rationale’. The choice of a Vulcan as the villain – responding to emotional trauma, reacting with emotion – was intended to shock veteran Trek fans: a Vulcan? It was also our token nod to the Dominion War. Lt. Chu’lak was one of only six survivors of a ship destroyed in battle on which he’d served ten years: if a Vulcan ca crack, things must really be bad.
The denouement involves a long-distance shoot-out: Chu’lak misses by inches, Ezri wounds. Joral urges her to finish him off, but Ezri wins the trial of strength and outs her weapon up, as indeed we always knew she would do. It would have made for a far more shocking, and psychologically more interesting story if she’d plugged the bastard between the eyes but come on, final series, big end-game looming large, the Star Trek franchise? That was never going to happen.
But Ezri would have been a killer character to do that to. Maybe season 8, on Earth-2?
So, a self-contained chapter, to bring us exactly halfway through the last season, a character piece never to be followed up on, again: good enough in itself but nothing we haven’t seen many times before, here and elsewhere. Maybe we need to back off Ezri just a little bit next week?