Deep Space Nine: s07 e13 – Field of Fire

Let him have it!

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?

Deep Space Nine: s07 e04 – Take Me Out to the Holosuite

Who da man?

After the heavily intense episodes of the past few weeks, it was obvious that we’d get a lightweight story for a change of pace. There’s usually one quite early in every season of DS9. And ‘Take me out to the Holosuite’, which was all about having a game of baseball, was as lightweight as they come, despite the attempt to back it up with a psychological angle. In fact, it was so lightweight, you practically had to tie an iron onto it to keep it from floating away. I was prepared to be rather bored, but in fact I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The set-up is that the Vulcan-manned Federation ship T’Kundra has docked at DS9 for two weeks of overhaul and upgrade. It’s commanded by Captain Solok who is a hate figure for Benjamin Sisko, and indeed he’s a right snotty superior pain-in-the-arse from the get-go, niggling all the time about not so much Vulcaan superiority as human inadequacy.

Solok’s done this since the pair were cadets and a drunk Sisko challenged him to a wrestling match and got whupped. For a supposedly emotionless Vulcan, Solok is a seriously vindictive shit, endlessly rubbing it in on Sisko, and now he’s brought a baseball holosuite game to challenge the Captain at his own personal sport. Sisko immediately orders the senior staff – which now appears to include Nog (?!) – to form a team and win.

That’s basically it, really. The team is swelled out by Rom, Leeta, Quark and Kasidy Yates. Rom is completely inept, which is a laugh because Max Grodenchik was a semi-professional baseball player and had to play left-handed to look authentically crap. Sisko throws him off the team, which causes the others to threaten a strike unless he’s reinstated. But there’s one of those little scenes that remind us, fourteen carat klutz that he may be, Rom is a truly good bloke: he only wants to be in the team on merit and he recognises he clearly hasn’t got any, so he won’t accept a false position.

Now, you’re all expecting that, on the day, the ‘Niners’ will pull off a victory all the more stunning for being so completely unexpected, and so did I. But this episode is more subtle than that. Basically, the DS9 team get thoroughly and deservedly whupped, 10-1, and Sisko gets thrown out for touching the umpire (Odo). But the episode shapes itself around that one, consolation run, which comes about through Sisko chucking Rom in as a pinch-hitter, his accidentally ‘hitting’ the perfect bunt and Nog stealing home, producing an ecstatic response from his team that carries over into Quark’s.

Solok doesn’t get it. He blames human emotionality (Ezri pipes up with ‘Did I forget to wear my spots today? He doesn’t even know what humans look like!’), suspects an artificial attempt to turn abject defeat into moral victory, but has to exit as everyone taunts him over his emotional investment in getting one over Sisko, but really they’re just celebrating having had fun, lots of fun, and that’s what makes this episode delightful, the copious amount of fun everyone’s clearly and genuinely having.

It still doesn’t turn me into a baseball enthusiast, cricket will always be a far more subtle, complex and involving game for me (and you couldn’t fake that onscreen as easily as DS9 does), but this was fun with its boots off, and I loved it.

Deep Space Nine: s07 e03 – Afterimage

Note the obvious symbolism

After the last couple of weeks, with their irritating predictability (not to mention my own, stress-related issues), it was nice to settle back with a much better, and more enjoyable, character-led episode, with the full-scale introduction of Ezri Dax to DS9.

Until last week, I’d never seen anything of Ezri, or Nicole de Boer. I’d heard of her, of course, and most of what little I’d heard wasn’t complimentary. She was described as a weak character, unimpressive, dull. More recently, I’ve also heard that Ezri – who is here as a Counsellor – has a lot of her supposed role usurped by the constant reappearances of Vic Fontaine in exactly that role, which doesn’t need any of my antipathy to Mr Fontaine to call that completely stupid.

So my pre-impressions were all negative and it’s therefore a pleasure to admit that I liked both this episode and the character, not to mention that, like Jake Sisko, I find her cute. de Boer is fresh-faced and perky in appearance, looking significantly younger than the rest of the cast, and she brings that into her performance. Despite having eight lifetimes behind her, as Sisko keeps reminding her, Ezri is still a kid, and that means nervousness – especially at being in a place and among people she knows so well without having met them, and feeling burdened by their expectations of ‘her’ – and eagerness.

The episode was designed to play around Ezri, present her up front as what she is, to be swallowed in one gulp. As this was the last season, time was at a premium and a gradual introduction would have wasted the character. So we see everyone react: Sisko’s almost casual assumption that nothing has changed, Quark’s mercenary belief that this is his second chance, Bashir’s reflexive flirting. And Worf’s pain.

This is the most complex relationship of all, and it’s because Ezri knows him so well that she’s insistent on returning to the USS Destiny: she won’t inflict on him the pain of a reminder of Jardzia.

This is well-handled. Worf initially is offensive, refusing to acknowledge her. Then he attacks Bashir and Quark, warning them to stay away from Ezri. Finally, O’Brien reminds him to think how Jardzia would have wanted him to treat Ezri, which leads to an awkward quasi-acceptance.

There is a sort-of-B story, about Garak suffering from increasingly debilitating claustrophobia-induced panic attacks, but this is integrated into the main story, because Sisko asks Ezri to counsel him. An early breakdown doesn’t, however, get to the root of things and merely results in a tirade from Garak, tearing the novice Ezri down. Now, instead of leaving DS9, she’s going to leave Starfleet, completely abdicate the responsibility of being host to the Dax symbiont.

A predictable beat – the episode is not without its predictability – but when Ezri manages, more by luck than good judgement but still, to get at the real root of Garak’s issue (that in aiding the Federation he is being a traitor to Cardassia, causing untold deaths), it validates her self-consfidence. She retracts her resignation, agrees to stay on DS9, gets promoted to Lieutenant, and even gets a stiff smile from Worf. Job done.

I like Ezri Dax. Now to see what role she can play in the march to the finale.