“Field of Fire”
Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by Tony Dow
Season 7, Episode 13
Production episode 40510-563
Original air date: February 10, 1999
Station log: Kira, Bashir, Dax, O’Brien, and some others are toasting recent arrival Lieutenant Hector Ilario, who has been doing some superb piloting of the Defiant. Later, Dax escorts a spectacularly drunk Ilario back to his cabin, where he shows her a picture of him laughing with two of his Academy classmates and flirts with her a bit before she heads back to her own cabin. The next morning, she awakens to a commotion: Ilario has been shot and killed at close range with a tritanium bullet. Sisko recognizes the bullet as belonging to a TR-116, a Starfleet prototype that was basically a modern take on an old-fashioned rifle. Starfleet abandoned the TR-116s, but a Starfleet officer could have access to the replicator pattern. Chemically powered projectile weapons leave powder burns when fired at close range, but there are no signs of such residue on Ilario’s body.
Dax is appalled to realize that he was shot only ten minutes after she dropped him off. She joins Bashir and O’Brien in a reminisce of Ilario—what little they know of him, given that he’d only reported to the station ten days ago—and everyone is a little freaked out given how uncommon straight-up murder is in the Federation. Dax also has trouble sleeping because she actually knows what it’s like to take another human life thanks to Joran. When she does sleep, she has nightmares that include Ilario’s animated corpse and Joran playing music and taunting her.
There’s a second murder, of Lieutenant Commander Greta Vanderweg, a science officer, killed in the exact same way with the same weapon. There’s no connection between the victims that anyone is aware of.
Bashir and O’Brien talk about the weapon used, which leads to a discussion of anthropomorphizing weaponry, particularly how Davy Crockett (their new favorite holosuite dude) named his rifle, which leads to Bashir mentioning setting up a series of frying pans to ricochet off of to hit a target, which leads to O’Brien figuring out how the killer used the weapon without powder burns: using a transporter at the muzzle and an exographic scanner to aim, the killer can fire from anywhere to a few inches in front of the victim’s heart. He demonstrates this by shooting a melon in the science lab from the corridor outside it.
Sisko orders Dax to create a psychological profile of the killer. Encouraged by both her nightmare and by Worf, she undergoes the Rite of Emergence, which brings Joran to the fore in her mind to consult him on the mind of a killer. His first bit of advice is to actually hold the modified TR-116 in her hands and feel what the killer felt. This person kills from a distance—it’s someone methodical. Dax then goes to the victims’ quarters—they were killed when alone in their homes. What is there that the killer saw? Ilario’s quarters are neat and spare, and he was a single kid only a couple of years out of the Academy; Vanderweg’s are filled with a ton of stuff, as well as a wedding photo, and she was a married Starfleet veteran who’d been there for three years. Dax worries that the victims were chosen randomly, which means she’s wasting her time.
Security starts chasing Ensign Bertram. Dax tackles him and, egged on by Joran, almost stabs him. Dax thinks he’s the killer, but he isn’t—he was on Bajor during the first murder. He was being chased because he replicated a TR-116—but as a weapons collector, not to use it. Sisko almost pulls her off the case, but she talks him out of it. She almost subsumes Joran, but then is interrupted by Odo—there’s been another shooting with the same MO, this one of Petty Officer Zim Brott, a Bolian. (Strangely, Dax goes out of her way to mention that Jadzia knew Brott, something she didn’t mention about Vanderweg, even though the latter had to be part of Jadzia’s staff as a science officer…)
Dax finally figures out the commonality among the victims: they all have pictures of themselves with people they care about, smiling. Brott has a picture with his children, Vanderweg’s wedding photo, Ilario’s picture with his classmates—they’re all smiling. The killer hates emotion, is threatened by it. She hypothesizes that it’s a Vulcan who looks into people’s quarters and sees emotions being frozen by the photograph as mocking and threatening to last forever. There are 48 Vulcans on the station, and 28 of them have suffered a personal loss—that’s not enough to narrow the field. A Vulcan enters the turbolift, and Joran is certain that he’s the killer. Dax, however, needs more concrete proof than Joran’s instinct, so she looks up his service record: Lieutenant Chu’lak. Prior to being posted to DS9 he was one of only a half-dozen survivors of the Grissom, which was lost at Ricktor Prime.
Dax then pulls out the rifle and the exographic scanner and looks into Chu’lak’s quarters, only to see that he’s looking at Dax’s own service record. Joran eggs her on to use the rifle to kill him. Instead she shoots him in the shoulder just before he can shoot her. She goes to his quarters and asks him why. He says, “Because logic demanded it.”
Dax subsumes Joran, knowing that she won’t be able to bury him as deeply as Curzon and Jadzia did. She’ll just have to be careful.
The slug in your belly: Joran complains that Curzon and Jadzia buried him so deeply he was all but forgotten. This conveniently forgets that Curzon had no idea he ever existed, and Jadzia was the same until “Equilibrium.”
There is no honor in being pummeled: When Dax is wandering around the Promenade late at night, Worf keeps an eye on her, worried for her safety. He insists that it’s the same concern he’d show for anyone, not just the new host of his dead wife, really, truly, honest. Dax very kindly pretends to believe him. He also offers to assist, which Dax declines, apparently forgetting that Worf was the chief of security for the Federation flagship for seven years.
Preservation of mass and energy is for wimps: Odo’s enjoyment of 20th-century detective fiction proves useful, as he recognizes that Ilario should have powder burns if shot at close range, something Sisko, Bashir, and O’Brien were unaware of.
O’Brien also tells Odo to put on goggles when he demonstrates the modification to the TR-116, but he’s a shapechanger! He doesn’t need goggles, the eyes aren’t real! (Sorry, that really bugged me…)
Victory is life: There was a battle at Ricktor Prime in which the U.S.S. Grissom was destroyed, all but a half-dozen of its complement of 1250 killed. Lieutenant Chu’lak was one of those survivors.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: At various points in the episode, Quark, Bashir, and Worf all express concern over Dax’s well being. It’s to the script’s and the actors’ credit that these all come across as concern for a friend and comrade, with any sexual undertone left under where it belongs in this circumstance.
What happens on the holosuite stays on the holosuite: Bashir and O’Brien tell Ilario that if there’s anything he wants or needs, he has but to ask. He asks to join them on the holosuite, and they give an empahtic “no,” saying that it’s too personal to share. This despite the fact that Odo, Garak, and others have joined them on the holosuite in the past. Either way, this scene was fodder for O’Brien/Bashir slash fiction for years. (After Ilario’s killed, they feel incredibly guilty about not letting him join them.)
Keep your ears open: “You know something, Lieutenant—you’re very beautiful.”
“And you’re very drunk.”
“True enough. But in the morning, I’ll be sober and you’ll still be beautiful.”
Ilario and Dax riffing on a legendary (and probably apocryphal) conversation between Winston Churchill and Elizabeth Braddock.
Welcome aboard: Art Chudabala is very charming in his brief appearance as Ilario and Marty Rackham is fine as Chu’lak. With Jeff Magnus McBride (who played Joran in “Equilibrium”) unavailable, the role is recast with Leigh J. McCloskey, who previously played an Ilari in Voyager’s “Warlord.”
Trivial matters: The Rite of Emergence appears to be a much lesser variation on the zhian’tara seen in “Facets,” allowing a joined Trill to summon forth one previous host and converse with him or her.
Because half the writing staff (Ronald D. Moore, Bradley Thompson, and David Weddle) were trying to salvage “Prodigal Daughter,” and the other half was writing the two episodes on either side of this one (Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler working on “The Emperor’s New Cloak” and Rene Echevarria writing “Chimera”), Behr approached former staff writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe, who took a break from the development of Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda to pen this script freelance for his erstwhile writing partner.
TR-116s are seen to be used against the Borg—following the use of bullets against the Borg by Picard in First Contact—in the DS9 novel Lesser Evil by Robert Simpson and the Destiny trilogy by David Mack. They’re also used in Mack’s A Time to Heal and are an optional weapon in Star Trek Online.
The Battle at Ricktor Prime was dramatized by your humble rewatcher in the short story “Four Lights” in the TNG anniversary anthology The Sky’s the Limit.
Chu’lak was seen as a science officer on the Grissom in the short story “Performance Appraisal” by Allyn Gibson in the New Frontier anthology No Limits. The character’s name is also a homonym for the planet where Teal’c from Stargate SG-1 comes from. That’s probably a coincidence…
Walk with the Prophets: “We have a killer to catch.” Unlike “Afterimage” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” which mostly highlighted Dax’s inadequacies as a counselor, and unlike “Prodigal Daughter,” about which the less said the better, this is a good use of the newest member of the ensemble. Having Dax serve as a profiler in the investigation makes complete sense, and given how rare homicides are in the happy-happy-joy-joy Federation, Dax drawing on Joran’s past experience as a triple murderer also makes complete sense. So does her keeping it a secret from the rest of the crew, since it comes with huge risk.
I’m glad it was at least clear that Dax wasn’t doing this alone. Even as she was trying to profile the killer, Odo was busy investigating things off-camera, which is how they found the poor weapons collector who had no idea he’d replicated a weapon that would be used in a multiple homicide. And the TR-116 itself is an interesting piece of tech, especially with Chu’lak’s transporter modification.
Having said that, there are some issues. Dax’s reasons for suspecting Chu’lak boil down to “the voices in my head told me he was guilty,” and her method of proving it is to violate his privacy—something she already did a couple of other times when she was peeking through the ship with the exographic scanner, which is, if nothing else, a horrid ethics violation, if not totally illegal.
Also, in Leigh J. McCloskey we’ve gotten our third straight Joran—first “Equilibrium,” Sisko channeling him in “Facets,” and now this—and it’s been a different Joran each time. Unfortunately, McCloskey comes across as a third-rate Hannibal Lecter, with very little undertone of menace. He’s more obnoxious than psychopathic, and I really wish he’d taken more of a cue from how Avery Brooks played the character in “Facets.” That Joran would’ve made the episode far more effective.
Still, it’s the good spotlight for Counselor Dax that “Afterimage” damn well should have been, and it’s a decent little procedural that—like “It’s Only a Paper Moon”—reminds us that the psychological damage of war is just as bad in its own way as the physical damage.
Warp factor rating: 7
Keith R.A. DeCandido actually wrote the Battle of Ricktor Prime as a victory for the allies over the Dominion, since it worked nicely as a we-won-but-the-price-is-too-damn-high bit.