O'Brien: Oh, well, I'm sorry.
Bashir: Can't be done.
O'Brien: No, it's out of the question.
Bashir: It's impossible.
As the night grows late and the crowd thins, Ezri escorts the Lieutenant back to his quarters to sleep off the party while gently refusing his inebriated advances.
The next morning, Ezri emerges from her quarters to a commotion in the corridor, which she follows back to Ilario's quarters. The young man lies dead on the floor with a gaping hole in his chest. It appears someone shot him. With a tritanium bullet.
Sisko recalls that there is one Federation rifle that uses old-fashioned kinetic slugs, the TR-116, created for environments where phasers would be unreliable. It never made it past the prototype stage, but a Starfleet officer could still replicate one if they wanted to.
There is something else unusual, apart from the implication that Ilario was murdered in cold blood by a fellow officer. According to the forensics, he was shot from only a few centimeters away, but Odo (who has taken a liking to 20th-century Earth crime fiction) notes that there are no powder burns from the rifle's propellant. There is also no evidence that anyone entered or left Ilario's quarters after Ezri dropped him off.
The whole affair is disturbing to everyone, but particularly Ezri, who knows what it feels like to be a violent sociopath. Joran Dax, whose memories she and Jadzia worked so hard to suppress, starts to intrude into her dreams. He can help her, he says. She doesn't know the mind of a killer, but he does.
She doesn't want his help, but she might need it. There is an identical murder the next night, Lt. Greta Vanderweg. No one can see any connection between the two victims, which means as the station's resident psychologist, Ezri is now on the spot to figure out what this mysterious killer's motive is.
Meanwhile, O'Brien has had a "Eureka!" Moment about the method of the killings. He arranges a demonstration for Ezri and Odo where he shoots a melon through a solid wall by attaching a micro-transporter to the bullet. As soon as the rifle fires, the bullet is beamed directly in front of the target with its momentum still intact. With the right kind of scanner, the gun could be fired from anywhere on the station. It explains everything: the close-range impact, the lack of powder burns, and the lack of signs of entry into the victims' quarters.
Well, everything except the killer's inscrutable motive, which still has Ezri stumped. As distasteful as it is, she performs the Rite of Emergence, which brings Joran's memories into her own consciousness. She can now see and talk to him as a walking hallucination, which would be creepy enough even without his stone-cold personality. The first thing they do is go to the armory, where O'Brien's demonstration rifle is. Joran wants Ezri in the perpetrator's mindset by having her peruse the crew quarters for targets. She sets her sights on a random officer and senses the calm control of a dispassionate killer.
Ezri: Maybe... but why kill like this? Why not choose a victim on the Promenade or in Quark's?
Joran: If you want to know the answer... pull the trigger. Find out!
Ezri puts the rifle down, though not without some effort. The gun wasn't loaded, Joran says, but the episode was a bit too real for her all the same. They go looking for more clues in Lt. Vanderweg's quarters next, but everything they find only further reinforces how completely dissimilar she and Ilario were.
Joran is starting to get into Ezri's head. While at Quark's, she trips and tackles a suspect fleeing from security, only narrowly stopping herself from skewering the man with a table knife during the ensuing scuffle. A good thing, since he turns out to have an airtight alibi for the first murder. Only with some pleading does she convince Sisko to keep her on the case. She's had enough of Joran's sociopathy, but before she can put his memories back in the bottle... victim number three is found. Petty Officer Zim Brott, a Bolian.
Ezri finally has a "Eureka!" Moment of her own. All three victims have pictures in their quarters of friends and family laughing. Someone who hates emotion? A Vulcan!
Ezri: This one does. Something happened to him. Something so emotionally painful it's making him lose control.
Even if she's right, there are 48 Vulcans stationed on DS9, and with the war on, most of them have suffered a personal loss of some kind. It seems Ezri has gone as far as she can, until fate intervenes on her behalf. She encounters a Vulcan, who seems cold and aloof even by their standards, in the turbolift. Joran is dead certain they've found their man.
Ezri looks him up. His name is Chu'lak, a scientist who served aboard the Grissom until it was destroyed in a fleet engagement.
Ezri: He served on that ship for 10 years. Those people who were killed were his colleagues, his friends.
Joran: That's a painful loss, even for a Vulcan.
It's still not proof, but Ezri agrees with Joran's instinct. She grabs the TR-116 from the wall and finds Chu'lak through the scanner. He's in his quarters, reading her service record. He brings something out from the next room. Another TR-116.
The time for suspicion is over. It's life or death now. Ezri loads the rifle, takes aim, and watches as Chu'lak zeroes her with his own rifle. For the briefest moment, their eyes meet, then Ezri pulls the trigger...
Chu'lak goes down, his own bullet missing Ezri's head by centimeters. She rushes to his quarters where he lies wounded, grasping for his rifle. She takes it from him.
Chu'lak: Because logic demanded it.
Joran implores Ezri to finish the job, but she resists the temptation, calling for a medical team instead.
Her job done, it's time to put Joran's memories to rest again. She returns to her quarters to perform the ritual. In parting, Joran reminds her that he'll still be with her, no longer banished to the depths of the symbiont as he was before. He is as much a part of Dax now as the rest of the hosts.
Tropes in this episode:
- Abnormal Ammo: Inverted. In the 24th century, with phasers and disruptors the weapons of choice, bullets are now the abnormal ammo!
- Artistic License Military: Early in the episode Ezri refers to the first victim, Lieutenant (JG) Ilario, as "not the first drunken ensign I've escorted home" (presumably in reference to Sisko). Funny thing is he's correctly referred to as "Lieutenant Ilario" in the previous scene.
- Bat Deduction: How Ezri concludes that the killer is a Vulcan, just by discovering that all victims have photos of themselves smiling in their quarters.
- Bizarre and Improbable Ballistics: The murders are done with a gun that teleports the bullets past walls.
- Boring, but Practical: The TR-116 as it was originally designed - tritanium bullets can't be affected by dampening fields or natural phenomena that render energy weapons useless. It's the micro-transporter and exographic targeting scanner add-ons that turn it into Awesome, but Impractical.
- Catapult Nightmare: Ezri in her nightdress.
- Cold Sniper: They don't get much colder than a dispassionate Vulcan.
- Consulting a Convicted Killer: An odd variation in that the killer is inside Ezri.
- Deconstruction: Of the "emotionless, pure logic" of Vulcans. Vulcans do have emotions, and they are much more powerful and destructive than human emotions. This episode explores what would happen to a Vulcan with severe PTSD when they decide to take extreme measures to contain their emotions. In this case, Chu'lak was experiencing emotion when seeing pictures of people laughing, so "logic demanded" that he destroy the source of them.
- Enemy Mine: The situation forces Ezri to seek the assistance of Joran.
- "Eureka!" Moment:
- O'Brien figuring out how the killer enhanced the rifle to kill from across the station.
- Ezri realizing that all three victims had pictures of smiling faces in their quarters, and another one when she deduces that the killer is a Vulcan.
- Exotic Extended Marriage: The Bolian victim has a wife and "co-husband," whatever that means.
- Fatal Family Photo: Ilario's is actually of friends rather than family, but him smiling over it is one of many warning signs that he's about to die, and the other victims have similar happy pictures near their deaths.
- Flanderization: Continuing from "Facets," Joran has gone from emotionally unstable with anger-management issues, to outright psychopathic killer, with whom Ezri consults on the murder investigation Hannibal Lecter-style.
- Flawed Prototype: The TR-116 was field tested, but the development of a "regenerative" phaser reduced it to an interesting curiosity.
- Foreshadowing: This episode plays with Star Trek's popular Creator In-Joke of using the number 47 in random places. When Dax is looking for suspects among the station's Vulcan population, she finds that there are 48 serving aboard, which may be a subtle hint that one of them is not like the others.
- Gun Accessories: The exographic targeting sensor and micro-transporter.
- Gut Feeling: It only takes a brief first impression of Chu'lak to convince Joran that he's the killer.
- Helpful Hallucination: Invoked by Ezri as part of a Trill ritual so that she can interact with Joran.
- I Call It "Vera": When O'Brien hears about old frontiersmen doing this with their rifles, he jokes about calling his tricorder "Sally."
- If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him: Ezri is faced with this once she comes face-to-face with the killer. She chooses not to.
- Improbable Weapon User: The killer seems to be using a transporter-assisted sniper rifle, which is like someone today putting a silencer on a musket.
- In Vino Veritas: A relatively mild example — Ilario tells Ezri how beautiful she is while he's drunk.Ilario: You know something, Lieutenant? You're very beautiful.
Ezri: And you're very drunk.
Ilario: True enough. But in the morning, I'll be sober and you'll still be beautiful.
- Journey to the Center of the Mind: The Joran/nightmare scenes.
- Locked Room Mystery: Lieutenant Junior Grade Ilario, victim number one, was in his quarters with the door locked when he was shot, and the station computer recorded no entry other than him. When you've got a bullet-teleporting sniper rifle, you can do that kind of thing.
- Noodle Incident: Whatever happened at that bar on Bolarus involving a younger Sisko.
- Offscreen Inertia: Ezri speculates that the killer is disturbed by pictures of people laughing, because they suggest that the laughter will never stop.
- Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Ilario's combat piloting (the reason he's being toasted) occurred before the episode starts.
- Parting Words Regret: When Lieutenant Ilario asks to join Bashir and O'Brien in the Alamo program, they tell him he can't. After he's found dead, they regret not letting him play with them.
- Red Herring: Ensign Bertram accessed the replicator pattern for the TR-116 rifle, and when we see him he's being chased by security. Turns out he just collects weapons as a hobby and was on Bajor when the murders occurred.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Chu'lak was one of only six survivors of the U.S.S. Grissom when it was destroyed. The episode explores what a Vulcan suffering from severe PTSD is like.
- Shout-Out: Chu'lak shares his name with Teal'c's planet of origin in Stargate SG-1.
- Sniper Duel: The episode culminates with one between Ezri and the murderer.
- Straw Vulcan: Deconstructed; Vulcan logic turning to straw is what happens when they lose their minds.
- Weapon Stomp: Ezri does this near the end of the episode.
- Weaponized Teleportation: The murder weapon is a prototype rifle with a micro-transporter that can teleport bullets in mid-flight, allowing the user kill their target from virtually anywhere.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Sisko gives Ezri one when she almost stabs the guy she thinks is the murderer.