The base premise of “Men Against Fire” is the entire genre of zombies. As trite as it is, the episode finds life in asking a single and grand what-if in questioning why we fight these zombies. It then takes the next step in asking why we find it okay to fight these zombies.
In this case, we find Stripe (Malachi Kirby) recently enlisted in the military as the world battles some infected portion of the human population called Roaches (but for all intents and purposes, they’re zombies). There used to be millions of them across the world, but they’ve mostly been eradicated save for more rustic parts of Europe. On his first mission out, Stripe actually manages to down two of them in a barn where an uninfected religious zealot is hiding them.
Strangely, though, after an unusual encounter with one of the Roaches he manages to kill, Stripe’s MASS implant begins to malfunction. MASS, you see, is a technology that connects all soldiers at once to one another for improved communication and battlefield logistics. It starts to short out at inopportune points, but after passing a set of diagnostics and talking to military psychologist Arquette (Michael Kelly) to rule out PTSD, he’s back out on the field in another op.
Unfortunately, the inevitable revelation that things aren’t what they seem is foreshadowed just a bit too hard. You might not be able to pinpoint exactly what’s going on, but the imprecision is actually part of the disappointment. Your flights of fancy might be far grander than the truth while the ability to vaguely guess the overall trajectory is just sort of…unfulfilling.
But if you do manage to excise this slow, churning rip at reality from the preceding events, you end up with a mostly intriguing and fascinating episode. There’s commentary on the value of humans in war, whether war has purpose beyond the battles, and if what it costs to the people is worth what it can buy on the global stage. It’s a pointed dissection of the past rather than the future, which is relatively unexplored territory in the series.
It does a lot of work to establish these questions and these quandaries but throws it away on a mostly basic, uninspired climax and denouement. Granted, it’s executed rather well and fills in an incredibly interesting world that anyone would want to know more about, but it still doesn’t quite manage to capitalize on all the groundwork the first two acts lay down. There’s no reward or revelation awaiting you, but the journey is mostly worthwhile.