June 15 2024

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Retro Review: Field of Fire

6 min read

In order to solve a series of murders on the station, Ezri contacts Dax’s former host Joran – himself a murderer.

Plot Summary: The morning after Ezri Dax congratulates new pilot Ilario on a successful mission, he is found murdered by a bullet from an experimental projectile weapon. With hundreds of suspects on the station, Ezri accesses the memories of Joran, the previous Dax host who murdered his doctors when they wanted to remove the symbiont to cover up Joran’s instabilities. After a science officer is also found dead, Ezri performs the Rite of Emergence to allow Joran to manifest so she can get inside the mind of a killer. Because there are no traces of powder on the victims, O’Brien guesses that the shooter used a micro-transporter to transport the bullet as it left the firearm. Joran encourages Ezri to test an identical weapon and helps her to conclude that the perpetrator is distant, methodical and unemotional. When a man wanted on a weapons charge is caught fleeting Quark’s, Ezri nearly stabs him, believing him to be the killer, though that man has an alibi for the first murder and is in custody when a third murder takes place. An offhand remark by Joran about the victim’s ugly children makes Ezri realize that all three victims had happy photographs of themselves in their quarters. She concludes that the murderer must be someone meant to be unemotional who has lost all control of his feelings, and begins to research Vulcans on the station who have suffered deep personal losses. In a turbolift, Ezri encounters science officer Chu’lak, one of six survivors of a horrific Dominion battle. In her quarters, Ezri retrieves the test weapon and watches through the remote targeting device as Chu’lak gets his own weapon and prepares to shoot her. She fires at him moments before a bullet bursts into her quarters. Joran encourages Ezri to finish the wounded Chu’lak off, but Ezri calls the infirmary instead, then begins the rite to reabsorb Joran into the Dax host. He tells her that she can’t suppress him as Curzon and Jadzia did, and she admits that she knows it.

Analysis: “Field of Fire” isn’t an awful episode – not unwatchable anyway, like the Voyager crime drama “Retrospect,” which turns into an allegory about crazy women and the likelihood they’re lying when they claim they’ve been raped – but it has three huge problems which are enough to put it at the bottom of the Deep Space Nine seventh season episode list. The first is simply that it’s the second time in three weeks that we’ve had a story focused almost entirely on Ezri Dax. I feel like I keep apologizing for saying this, because I really like Ezri, but the glut of drama surrounding her seems calculated simultaneously to make us forget about Jadzia as quickly as possible – something that just doesn’t work, particularly during an otherwise nice and much-needed scene in which Worf encounters Ezri and points out that because she is Dax, she will finish what she starts, though he never mentions his late wife’s name – and to refocus the entire history of the Dax symbiont around Ezri, meaning not only that we have to have Curzon’s history with Sisko rehashed regularly, but also discussions of what Emony and Tobin would do and now an exploration of Joran, whose repressed memories nearly led to Jadzia’s death and who briefly took over the mind of Benjamin Sisko during a Trill ritual. Ezri only recently gained control of the symbiont’s memories; why do Sisko, Odo, and everyone else think it’s appropriate for her to be investigating a murder, not something with which any of her previous hosts were particularly adept and not something that’s been a focus of her work as a Starfleet counselor? We’ve seen how dangerous Joran is, so watching her perform a ritual to bring his personality to the fore is pretty disturbing. Plus there’s the fact that Odo is supposed to be chief of security and he also has some experience with murderers, particularly given that in the eyes of the Founders, he is one.

The Rite of Emergence comes across not like a fully realized Trill ritual, but as something tossed together for convenience, which cheapens the idea of Trill culture. I might be inclined to excuse that, and to excuse the untrained Ezri for giving it a try, if one of Star Trek’s most complete and creative cultural creations were not also being trampled in this episode. Vulcans may be fictional, but they’re also a well-developed species with behavioral norms and habits that have been explored in great detail on other Trek shows. The way DS9 has repeatedly set them up as a scapegoat, ridiculing their values in the baseball episode and now implying that they’ll become murderers if they crack, follows the pattern of every other form of good old fashioned human racism, even when it’s perpetrated by a Trill. Ezri’s first and only thought when she guesses the killer represses emotion is that the killer therefore must be Vulcan; she doesn’t wonder for a moment afterward whether there might be a Romulan in disguise, whether there’s a hidden Changeling, whether some Cardassian had his face changed, whether a battle-scarred human could have done it. The fact that they don’t behave like the Earther majority does not make them repressed, psychotic, tyrannical, or any of the other qualities attributed not so much to individual Vulcans as to Vulcans as a whole in the past couple of seasons of Star Trek. In a future where Klingon brutality and Ferengi sexism are supposed to be excused in the name of open-mindedness, this condemnation of the most intellectual species is incredibly disturbing. It makes me wonder how much DS9’s writers hated and resented their own geeky fans, not just the ones who never thought their episodes were worthy of Leonard Nimoy’s legacy.

I get that the writers were saving their arc stories for the big multiple-episode finale, and I get that Ezri had to be fully integrated into the crew for us to care about what happened to her in the endgame, but “Field of Fire” squanders all the other regular characters and a great deal of Star Trek history for a mediocre wannabe Silence of the Lambs installment that makes everyone involved look bad. There’s a war going on, yet security on the station treats a few random murders as if it’s a thrilling serial killer case rather than something potentially much worse – Founder infiltration, Maquis revenge, Romulan deception, Klingon attempts to be macho, I can easily think of half a dozen more possibilities. In other bad news, Sisko lets an untrained counselor conduct an investigation that could involve terrorism, something with which his first officer is intimately familiar, or spying, something with which his genetically enhanced doctor has recent experience. Odo can’t track micro-transporters, meaning any enemy assailant could beam poison into anyone else’s drink, or worse, anyone docked in a ship at the station could beam a weapon inside. Worf leaves experimental weapons sitting around in lockers. Yet in the pivotal moment, with all the training and technology of this crew, the late insane Trill ghost Joran identifies a killer because the man has the eyes of a murderer. Is this supposed to celebrate the value of wonderful humanoid emotions over the nastiness of cold, calculating Vulcan logic? It’s not fair to hold this episode against Ezri when the writing is so terrible and no one on the crew suggests that they do best: working together to protect the station and their fellow crewmembers.

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3 thoughts on “Retro Review: Field of Fire

  1. What a surprise, yet another of Michelle’s reviews I disagree with in almost every respect. First off, there is nothing about Vulcans that makes them immune to insanity. Second, Vulcans have always been shown to be highly prejudiced towards humans, since TOS even. Spock was an outcast for his human half, Vulcans often make disparaging remarks about humans, all through the entire Trek franchise, whether TOS, TNG, DS9, VOY, ENT, even TAS has the episode Yesteryear showing young Spock bullied by Vulcan children for being half human, scenes which were drawn on by the 2009 reboot film. The Vulcan attitude towards humans has always been there, to pretend otherwise is to seem as if one has never actually watched Trek. I don’t find it especially surprising that the reviewer does not like Voyager’s Retrospect, but I do believe she entirely misunderstood the point of the episode, which alas does not surprise me.

  2. “The fact that they don’t behave like the Earther majority does not make them repressed”

    Afraid I have to disagree with this in particular. Vulcan culture is very strongly rooted in repressing emotion. We have precedent in Tuvok that not all Vulcans are particularly good at it, so there’s nothing that makes the identity of the murderer in this episode more unlikely than it already is.

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