Note: This episodes was re-rated from 3 to 2.5 stars when the season recap was written. Below is the review as originally rated at 3 stars.
Nutshell: Some problem areas, but a good view overall.
I should probably admit a personal bias up front: I'm a sucker for a good homicide investigation. This might explain why I spend more time per week watching episodes of Homicide and Law & Order than I do watching Trek; there's just something about a good police/legal procedural and the analysis of the criminal mind that I find fascinating.
The Trekkian murder investigation is not a new thing, but it is a fairly rare occurrence, and even more rare for it to be done well. Look at some of the alternatives: DS9's "A Man Alone," a far-fetched mess; TNG's "Aquiel" and "Suspicions," both pretty bad; or Voyager's "Ex Post Facto," intolerable if not for the presence of Tim Russ. DS9's "Necessary Evil" and Voyager's "Meld" were murder investigations that came up with good results, although they were rooted more in character study than in investigative procedure.
"Field of Fire" is a solid murder investigation in a more traditional sense (that is, the focus is on catching the killer), and benefits from some neat sci-fi twists. And we finally get a meaty Ezri story that seems suited to her. This one works for the character, rather than simply thrusting Nicole deBoer into a story that tries to separate her from her usual cute-and-innocent self the way last week's dismal "Emperor's New Cloak" was intent on doing.
"Field of Fire" is a follow-up of sorts to third season's "Equilibrium," in which Jadzia learned that the Dax symbiont had previously and shortly been joined with Joran, a somewhat insane musician who had also killed people (although, in "Equilibrium," I thought he had only killed one person, opposed to the three that the dialog alleges this time; I could, however, be mistaken). With a killer now loose on the station, Ezri finds herself having to confront the demons within Dax, with her thoughts about the killing bringing down the walls of repression Dax has maintained around Joran.
There are some plot problems that "Field of Fire" introduces, although with effort many of them can probably be explained away through invented Trillian properties. I won't argue, because I've found the Trill episodes to be pretty interesting overall. I liked "Equilibrium" as well as "Facets," despite some of the head-scratching moments. And "Field" has its share of questionable moments but works in spite of them, thanks to a solid underlying plot.
The first victim is Lieutenant Ilario (Art Chudabala), a fresh young pilot we meet in the opening minutes. Chudabala turns a minor role into a surprisingly human figure whom we get to know within a few well-acted minutes. I liked him, and I felt sorry when he died—effective manipulation #1 in murder drama.
Ilario has been shot with a projectile firearm—not exactly standard in the Trek universe. Further investigation reveals that he was shot with a TR-116 rifle, an experimental Starfleet combat weapon that had been abandoned. Someone on the station has replicated one and killed Ilario for unknown reasons. Before long, there's another victim. And another.
In homicide investigations, the most elementary questions become the most important. How? When? Where? Who?
The episode's answer to "how" is rather ingenious. The TR-116 used by the killer had been modified, O'Brien hypothesizes, so that he could shoot the victim from elsewhere on the station. With the use of a special scanning sight and a small transporter, the bullet had been fired from the gun through a transporter beam. The bullet was beamed into the victim's quarters, where it continued its trajectory.
Plausible? Given Trek technology, I'm inclined to say yes. And the episode even provides us a demonstration: In one of the show's best scenes, O'Brien tests his hypothesis by shooting a melon from the other side of a wall, as Odo and Ezri unsuspectingly look on. (Before he fires, he tells them to step back just a little more. "I've only done this a couple of times." Colm Meaney: The master of the credible matter-of-fact line delivery.) This murder weapon pushes the envelope of Trek weapons in a way that proves interesting. (Even so, I'm a little uneasy about the scanning device that allows someone to look anywhere on the station—right through the bulkheads. How does that work? Never mind.)
To attempt answering the question of "who," Sisko enlists Ezri to use her forensic psychology skills to look for the "why." What's the connection between the deaths? Even before Ezri is put on the investigation, the murder is occupying her mind. Joran is in her somewhere—buried, repressed, often ignored. But the concept of murder brings him out, and Ezri finds herself having nightmares and with little choice but to deal with Joran.
Another of the show's highlights is an unexpected scene where Ezri and Worf talk on the darkened promenade. Ezri explains her frustration in being unable to track down the killer, and tells Worf that the next step she needs to take would be unpleasant. Worf's reassurance that Ezri will do what she has to ("You are Dax. It is your way") reveals an unexpectedly sympathetic Worf that we haven't seen since Jadzia's death. And I believe this is the first Worf/Ezri personal dialog we've seen since "Afterimage." Interesting.
The unpleasant next step for Ezri is in unleashing the intentionally buried Joran into her full consciousness. The episode invents Yet Another Trill Skill™ that allows Ezri to bring Joran into her mind as a separate voice that can give her psychological advice on finding the killer.
It's an interesting concept that also pushes the envelope of Trillian mental existence. Some viewers are likely to resist the idea.
Whether or not you accept Joran depends partially on how literally you choose to take him as a character. If you take it purely the way the actors stage it, you're likely to have some serious problems with elements of the plot. I don't take everything here exactly as it "looks," and I don't think Robert Hewitt Wolfe (scripting his first show since leaving the series at the end of season five) intended anybody to take it quite literally when he wrote it. It's more of a dramatic device than a realistic one. (However, I will admit that the nature of Joran can come across as a little implausible given some directing choices. Having Ezri actually talking to "nobody" when supposedly talking to Joran is really pushing it.) I see Joran as more symbolic than anything else, representing Ezri's struggle for control of the Dax psyche that she has been dealing with since she was joined.
The next issue concerns Joran himself, as he offers a voice that constantly battles against Ezri's common sense. Joran is played by Leigh J. McCloskey in a performance that tends to go into excessive scenery-chewing. Sure Joran was a killer, but was he "ultimate evil"? There are moments here that will have us believe he killed for the sheer thrill and power, which I don't think was the intention back in "Equilibrium." Three-dimensional perspectives on murder are one thing, but Joran isn't permitted to be all that dimensional, which is a shame. An argument can be made that we're simply seeing Ezri's perception of Joran in her own biased view, but there's not enough evidence in the episode to support that claim.
Nevertheless, I appreciated some of Joran's comments on killing and his seductive attempts to appeal to Ezri's darker side. We see that the darker side does exist (she confesses to feeling "powerful" when putting an innocent officer in her rifle sights, for example), without the story having to resort to, say, mirror-universe stupidity in the process. This is credible and thoughtful analysis of Ezri as a joined Trill. I also enjoyed some of Joran's snide and sarcastic comments. McCloskey has an amusing way of saying things that makes us believe he thinks he's better than everyone else.
In the meantime, the plot actually works instead of falling apart like in "A Man Alone" or "Ex Post Facto." The investigation takes on some revelations that are plausible. The meaning behind the connection between the victim's laughing photos is executed with clarity, and the deduction that the killer is a deranged Vulcan is actually more believable than it might at first seem. Also, making assumptions the way Ezri does to narrow a field of suspects won't always lead one to the truth, but it is the most logical way to direct an investigation given limited evidence to follow.
The idea of a Vulcan as a killer pushes the boundaries of Trekkian morality, but I find it to be a reasonable idea. Vulcans bury and (as we've seen) bottle their feelings, but they do have them (look at Voyager's "Gravity" as very recent evidence). The idea of severe emotional trauma exploding into this sort of violence isn't at all beyond grasp. I've always found interesting the implications of the war bringing out the darker side of the Federation. "Field of Fire" is further evidence of that.
And as a psychologist, Ezri would know the possibility exists, so the plot actually comes off making quite a bit of sense as she digs through the suspect records. (Okay, so having the killer step onto the same turbolift as Ezri is a little contrived, but, hey, we've only got an hour to get through the investigation.) The technique of the plotting, especially Ezri searching for the killer through the rifle sight, worked on the suspense level, and Gregory Smith's score offered some refreshing understated atmospherics.
I also appreciated the ambivalence in the Vulcan's motives. "Because logic demanded it" is about as vague as explanations come, but if there's one thing I've learned watching contemporary crime stories, it's that the "why" can sometimes be the most unlikely thing to find in a murder investigation.
"Field of Fire" isn't perfect (Joran's ability for independent verbosity can be the most dubious). But it is a compelling investigation. And, who knows—we might even get some character repercussions out of it. Ezri's experience has brought Joran out, and there are indications he might not go away so easily.
Next week: Odo must make some tough choices.