WARNING: Though you may cross a "Field of Fire," you'll still have spoilers for DS9 if you read the article below.
In brief: Some nice atmosphere, but overall a bit questionable.
For those keeping score, DS9 is now officially halfway through its final season. With "Field of Fire," we've now seen thirteen hours with thirteen left to go. In that time, we've had a lot of different stories: two shows primarily set in the holodeck (though both were quite good), fully three shows getting the viewer used to Ezri, an
interlude with Kor, a truly bad trip into the mirror universe, and a few shows dealing with the more "traditional" elements of the Federation/Dominion war. We've had quite a variety of material this year, and in a lot of ways that's a good idea; the war could certainly be more of a backdrop than it's been, but the series doesn't need to be relentlessly one-note.
Unfortunately, for apparent "detours" to be effective they have to be interesting, and "Field of Fire" is another show which evokes a reaction of "yes ... and?" from the viewer. While its story is, on the whole, presented fairly well, it's not compelling enough material to justify taking up one of the series' rapidly dwindling hours.
Robert Hewitt Wolfe's story draws upon season 3's "Equilibrium," which revealed the existence of a past Dax host no one knew about, not even Dax herself. That host, Joran Belar (now Joran Dax) was deeply unstable, completely unsuitable for the symbiont, and wound up killing three people before his own body rejected the Dax
symbiont. The question Wolfe poses is this: is there any time where having the knowledge of a psychotic killer could prove useful? And if so, is there any way to bottle up the genie again once it's been set loose?
Interesting questions, to be sure. What the story lacks is answers -- more specifically, it lacks answers which aren't either questionable in themselves or so well-worn as to feel a little dull in the finding.
For starters, while Lee J. McCloskey does a reasonable job playing a psychotic, he's not nearly enough to make this internal-turned-external conflict seem workable. The dynamic is reminiscent (intentionally, I'd bet) of "The Silence of the Lambs", and the idea of trying to think like a killer was most recently seen in the Trek universe in Voyager's "Meld". In both cases, the viewer was more or less completely unable to take their eyes and minds off of the psycho in question (Anthony Hopkins in the former case, Brad Dourif and later Tim Russ in the latter). McCloskey is certainly game and puts in a good effort, but playing someone who only exists in the recesses of another's mind is difficult to pull off, and I don't quite think he managed it. (I'd note that Joran seemed most interesting, and most menacing, in the initial nightmare sequence which reminds Ezri of him. Once he steps out into the regular daylight, he becomes just another silver-tongued killer, and those we've seen before.)
Perhaps more importantly, the trouble with stories like this is that, in DS9's world, we know Ezri isn't actually going to wind up as a killer. (Or, perhaps worse, we can at this point be reasonably confident that even if she kills ten thousand people, no one's going to mention or even remember it in future episodes.) The only time that
particular taboo has been broken and broken well is in TNG's "Reunion"; there, Worf's circumstances and culture were enough that he really could cut loose and kill Duras, and the episode shone as a result. Here, we know Ezri's going to keep from breaking at the last second, and no amount of "I'll always be inside you"/"Then I'll have to be careful" dialogue can escape the fact that not a lot here has actually changed. (Compare this to, for instance, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," where the main characters actually do make fairly major-league mistakes, and often wind up paying dearly for them.)
Moving on from "it takes a killer," however, we move to "to catch a killer," also known as the murder mystery part of the show. Wolfe puts in a fair amount of detective work and justification, some of which is quite neat and some of which falls a bit flat.
For starters, the tech angle of this is actually pretty neat ... until you start thinking about it. Once officers start turning up dead with actual bullet wounds, speculation quickly turns to the TR-116, a Starfleet Security prototype of a projectile weapon to be used where phasers and other energy weapons are useless. O'Brien further has the idea that the killer may have used a "microtransporter" attached to the rifle in order to beam the bullet wherever he or she wants it to go, and the targeting system allows one to literally look through the bulkheads to find a target. On the face of it, that all sounds extremely cool, and as goofy as O'Brien's epiphany was, it was worth it to see him blow up a watermelon. :-)
And yet ... I'm left to wonder. First, there's the Big Brother angle. If there's a tracking system that allows one to look through walls, whether weapons-related or not, that strikes me as a serious blow to any concept of personal privacy. (As an example, couldn't Quark have used one to get several really good looks at Kira that time he needed a holographic version of her?) This wasn't just something that told you life signs; it gave a crystal-clear picture of where people were and what they were doing. Voyeurs may go for it, but I'm not sure I'm quite so pleased.
The idea of the microtransporter, particularly when combined with the scanner, is also a little disturbing. Suppose, say, someone like Garak got hold of that device (and don't tell me it's beyond his abilities). What, exactly, is to stop Garak, or some random assassin, from beaming a tiny amount of poison into an ambassador, or into Sisko's jambalaya? How about beaming a tiny antimatter charge under the pillow of a sleeping ambassador? This technology just opens up massive cans of worms, and I don't think that was the intent.
The remainder of the detective work, both Ezri's and Odo's, leaves me to wonder a bit as well. In the first place, if they turned up Random Officer Bertram because they'd discovered he downloaded the replication specs for the rifle, why didn't they turn up the real killer the same way? Why wasn't that the very first thing Odo and company did? Second, Ezri's realization that pictures showing laughter formed the connection between the three victims strikes me as a really big leap. It seems at least as plausible, for instance, that the killer was an ex-Starfleet officer annoyed at people who were enjoying successful Starfleet careers. (Plus, we went from a victim new to the station to someone there for three years to someone there for five. That suggests a pattern of longevity, indicating that someone there ever since Starfleet took over the station might be a likely next target.)
Lastly, while Ezri finding and stopping Chu'lak just as he's about to target her may have provided some nice tension, I don't see him changing his tactics just because a counselor acts weirdly in a turbolift. If he is targeting happiness, there has to be someone there with happy family pictures in his or her quarters ... someone like Sisko, or O'Brien. (It even matches the longevity pattern, too.)
-- Given what Ezri went through with her family scant weeks ago, you'd think she wouldn't see murder as quite so shocking...
-- Bashir heard Ezri talking about Joran. Later, Ezri seems to be behaving violently and talking to "no one." Shouldn't the good doctor be at least thinking about putting two and two together?
-- As expected, Quark is back at work with absolutely no evidence of consequences for his little jaunt last week.
-- I did rather like the Ezri/Worf scene midway through the show. Regardless of host, Dax has been someone who wants to see tasks through to the end, and it's nice to see Worf acknowledge that.
-- A big deal was made early on about how the choice of weapon must have some meaning, and that was never really resolved. (I could easily envision that the microtransporter only works for a projectile weapon, but you'd think something would be said.)
-- Let's see ... Ezri in a nightie. Yep, must be sweeps month.
That would seem to cover it. Basically, as a mystery I thought the show held more than one coincidence too many, and as a character thriller it just didn't quite grab me enough to keep me. The overarching idea, of Ezri "invoking" Joran in order to think like the killer, seems sensible enough, and the atmospherics were quite nice in spots, but the execution really didn't do it for me. Here's hoping the remaining half-season of DS9 does a better job.
Writing: Nice core idea, more than a little fuzzy in terms of things it brings up.
Directing: The nightmare was nice, but the Ezri/Joran conflict seemed far more external than it probably should have.
Acting: DeBoer and McCloskey were reasonable, but Foster and Hopkins they're not, and unfortunately that's much of what was called for. (Marty Rackham was awful as Chu'lak.)
OVERALL: Call it a 5 for atmosphere and for a decent premise.
A Changeling comes to appeal to Odo's "better nature."
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Starfleet officers do not go around murdering other officers."
"Not usually, anyway."
-- Bashir and Odo