Original Premiere: January 11, 2005
My original notion for “Trial by Fire” came relatively early in Season Five. It was the capture of Saddam Hussein that initially caught my attention for a potential episode, but I wasn’t certain that it would be an interesting episode until the lawyers got involved. Quite frankly, I was amazed that an American lawyer would actually volunteer to defend the former Iraqi dictator… To put the situation in a less political light, say that the Canadian Toothpick Killer did in your beloved brother. Everyone is really upset (as they should be), but when the vile suspect is finally caught, your Mom decides that the Toothpick Killer needs her legal counsel. Why on Earth would Mommy do that? I don’t know… Suffice to say, Alan Christopher was stricken with the same quandary in this very episode.
Bringing Xi'Yor into the fold was a relatively easy decision. In fact, I never considered using anybody else. Unfortunately, nobody really believed his whole defection story—and rightfully so. Time and again, Xi'Yor had proven his devious nature, and logically, this time would be no different. Early on, I tried to raise some doubt… suggest that maybe he did really defect, but it became increasingly obvious that Xi'Yor would never do that. So he had to be up to something—and the thrust of the episode was to try and figure out what the Overseer was up to… Hence the need for Nicholas O’Connor.
When I decided to bring in a lawyer for this episode, I knew that I needed somebody vile. The hated Admiral O’Connor was the first person that came to mind, but she fell over dead during Season Four, so… I gave her a son. I figured if there was one person that could really get under Christopher’s skin, it would be the spawn of Alexis O’Connor. It was almost a shame that I had to kill him, because it would have been fun to bring him back for more torturous fun. But then again, I’m not too fond of all that lawyer stuff, so it would have been a pain to keep coming up with “lawyer talk” for him. Believe it or not, when O’Connor quoted the Federation Constitution, I was able to draw from… the real thing.
The other plot thread—regarding Erin and the stem cell research—really came out of nowhere. I had always wanted to do an episode about stem cell research, but I had never been able to find the right story to go with it. At one point, late in Season Four, I was considering using the stem cells to resurrect poor Cleo (the cat, for those of you who don’t recall). But between you and me, I didn’t really want to see an entire episode devoted to resurrecting a wee little kitty, no matter how soft and cute it might have been. So I shelved the idea and assumed the stem cell episode would not be made… But then, out of the blue, I gave Erin some pretty serious injuries in “Rebena Te Ra,” and in my haste to finish that episode, I did not bother to resolve that particular plot thread. So it had to carry over into “Trial by Fire.”
Whilst writing “Rebena Te Ra,” I hadn’t really intended to make a big deal out of Erin’s injuries. (To be honest, it was just filler.) But now that I had this plot thread in “Trial by Fire,” I had to really flesh out the plot—because it would have been really disappointing to come into this episode with Erin completely healed. Then I would have been admitting that the plot really was filler. So… I immediately called upon the stem cell debate. Again, Alan takes my opinion… mainly because he is me. Except he probably gets laid a bit more frequently.
In the episode, Sarah magically whips up some biosynthetic implants for Erin. Because I’m not a medical expert, I kind of glossed over the explanation, but I think it’s reasonable enough… but at the same time, I knew that the more viable treatment was a simple injection of stem cells. If my understanding is correct, those magical little guys could have gone right to Erin’s kidneys and repaired all of the damage… but I intentionally shied away from that particular approach because it was not quite as dramatic as the surgery. I mean, a little injection doesn’t seem like a big deal, but surgery… oh yeah, that’s drama. Nobody wants to get sliced open.
As you can see, the pieces to the episode were coming together nicely. I got the first few chapters typed up with ease… and then something unusual happened—I got a rare case of writer’s block. I was nearing the end of the episode, and much to my chagrin, I didn’t quite know how to finish it. I wasn’t happy with my outline, so I wound up just sitting in front of the computer. Staring. Hoping that some sort of viable solution would come to mind. And then I said, “Screw this, I’m going over to Katie and Jeremy’s to play some Smash Brothers Melee.” On the way there, I slipped into an alternate dimension… and subsequently had my first encounter with the Michigan State Police. Yes, this unfortunate case of writer’s block culminated in a traffic stop. Thankfully, I was able to avoid getting a ticket—and that probably had something to do with the fact the officer didn’t want to see my soil myself. Of course, I was packing heat, so if the mofo tried to ticket me, I woulda capped his ghetto ass, cuz he wuzn’t givin me my props. Yeah. Really.
Anyway, the moment the kind officer left, my cell phone rang. And I was being laughed at. Yes, my friends were driving right behind me. And they saw the whole incident. But the evening quickly deteriorated. Since I live in Michigan, and it was January, there was SNOW all over the place. And naturally, two minutes after the traffic stop, my car got stuck in a snow bank. Naturally, my cell phone rang again, and I was greeted with additional laughter. The five-minute trip to Katie’s abode took twenty-five minutes. And once I finally got there (in case you’re even moderately interested), Smash Brothers Melee was equally unfortunate. I nearly guided Link to victory, but was thwarted when a renegade sausage—lobbed out of Mr. Game & Watch’s fry pan—intercepted the Master Sword and sent poor Link to his unfortunate demise. The indignity.
Getting back to the episode… “Trial by Fire” is the first episode to sort-of deal with the oft-mentioned tension between Captain Christopher and Admiral Riker. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea what actually happened aboard the Titan to inspire this tension—in fact, it was just a throwaway reference back in “Lost Worlds.” But for some reason, people picked up on it… Some have assumed the incident with Illidan featured in “The Oracle of Ages” was the catalyst for the tension—others proposed a young Ensign Christopher tried to hit on Deanna Troi. Whatever the case, it is a story for another place and time…
This episode also deals with another one of TFF’s more volatile relationships—the one between Sarah and Erin. Now, the feud between the two of them has certainly mellowed since the big spat in… that Season Four episode that featured the big spat… but since we are moving into the final few episodes of TFF, I wanted to start bringing these relationships some closure. Additionally, I needed to find a way for the stem cell storyline to end (this was the reason I had writers block in the first place). Obviously, I could have had Erin simply change her mind and have the surgery, but that would have been taking the easy way out. I also considered having Alan somehow force Sarah to perform the surgery, but that seemed WAY too unethical… and it would have stolen the spotlight away from Erin. I wanted Erin to be the one deciding her fate—but since she made that decision relatively early in the episode… the ending was rather difficult. It was only after that incident with the cops that I decided the story needed to end with a sense of understanding. Sarah understood Erin. Erin understood Sarah. Readers understood that Erin wasn’t a loon. And that last bit was the most important—Erin has always been a very logical young lady… and I felt very strongly that I needed to justify her stance when it came to stem cells. Incorporating Erin’s love of friends and family made perfect sense, and since it brought Sarah into that fold, so much the better. I was really pleased with the outcome.
Now, since “Trial by Fire” had more of a proper ending than its three predecessors—both of its major plot threads were resolved within the confines of the episode—I was left in a most unfortunate position. I didn’t have a big cliffhanger entice readers back for “The Treachery of a Queen.” I had originally intended for Xi'Yor to personally strangle O’Connor. Even in its current state, you can see that final scene with Xi'Yor is headed in that direction… but since I wanted a cliffhanger… the legendary “O’Connor Conspiracy” was born. Just about everyone who commented on “Trial by Fire” expressed some curiosity about the ending. Just how did that lecherous airbag fall over dead? How did that fetid piece of refuse get reduced to a pile of ash? What the hell happened?
…Well… I’m not about to tell. At least not yet…