Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Honor Among Thieves"

***

Air date: 2/23/1998
Teleplay by Rene Echevarria
Story by Philip Kim
Directed by Allan Eastman

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Back home, wherever that is, do you have a family?"
"Yeah."
"Good. It's the most important thing."

— Bilby and O'Brien

Nutshell: Not the most original of plots, but extremely well acted.

It's easy to take the performances of a guy like Colm Meaney for granted. His character is one of the most skillfully performed "everymen" that I know. Meaney's the type guy where you almost never notice the performances, because they're so natural you just watch him and see "O'Brien." His character is perfectly suited for representing the average Joe in the world. He has his job, his family, his humility, and his convictions, and he doesn't really need or want anything else.

"Honor Among Thieves" is an episode that puts O'Brien through what co-executive producer Ron Moore has jokingly but accurately called the "annual O'Brien torture episode." It's in the spirit of such shows as "Whispers," "Visionary," "Hard Time," and "The Assignment"; O'Brien faces some sort of towering emotional, psychological, or high-pressure challenge that must be overcome.

"Honor Among Thieves" is probably not as extreme as some of the aforementioned examples, but it definitely puts O'Brien's moral sensibilities as a decent, average, down-to-earth guy to very good use. The plot is nothing earth-shaking or terribly original: It sends O'Brien on an undercover mission to a distant planet by order of Starfleet Intelligence. His goal is to infiltrate the nefarious Orion Syndicate, an organization that has been mentioned in dialog several times on DS9 but hasn't actually been an integral part of a storyline. Starfleet has learned they have a hidden Syndicate agent somewhere in their midst, but they need to find out who it is—hence O'Brien's mission.

The man O'Brien must gain the trust of is named Bilby, a mostly insignificant member of the Syndicate who has carved out his place on this cruddy little world with the hopes of someday moving up in the organization. He's perpetually "down on his luck," always on the lookout for an opportunity that will convince him his luck has finally changed and his big break has arrived. He has a few other Syndicate thugs he works with, but in his mind he works alone, carrying out the tasks the Syndicate gives him to the best of his ability (since any less would mean his own death at the hands of the Syndicate, an organization that does not take lightly any action that isn't in its own best interests).

Although Bilby isn't a bad person, he has been hardened by the Syndicate. At one point he briefly tortures and then kills a treacherous merchant who had intentionally sold him defective disrupters—using, ironically, the very disrupters that had been in question. Although Bilby's vindictiveness is frightening, it doesn't seem inherent. He's just a man doing what he has to in order to survive his life in the Syndicate.

Underneath it all he's a family man, using his Syndicate salary to support his distant wife and children. "Family. It's the most important thing," Bilby tells O'Brien on more than one occasion. Bilby takes an instant liking to O'Brien; he finds O'Brien trustworthy and practical, with just the skills he needs. And there's something about O'Brien he feels is just right; Bilby undoubtedly sees a great deal of himself in the man. Bilby invites O'Brien into the Syndicate. From this point the show is about two characters putting trust in systems where fate plays a bigger part than individual actions.

Bilby is played by the wonderfully engaging actor Nick Tate. Observant Trek followers may remember Tate as the hard-headed captain who gave Captain Picard and Wesley Crusher transportation in his junky ship way back in TNG's fourth-season episode, "Final Mission." But his role here is by far more impressive. Indeed, Tate's turn as Bilby gives Meaney a run for his money in the race for most credible everyman.

This seems like two actors' destiny. The two characters are perfect foils for one other, and the acting is wonderful work. Meaney is good as always, as O'Brien finds himself stuck in a place where his gut feelings tell him to judge Bilby based on the man's intentions rather than merely the questionable actions Bibly's career leads him to carry out. Meanwhile, O'Brien tries to keep in touch with the reality of his mission, and is reminded on a few occasions by his Starfleet Intelligence contact Chadwick (Michael Harney) just why he is on this planet: to investigate, not to sympathize.

Tate's down-to-earth portrayal paints Bilby as aspiring to greater things in the Syndicate. He brings a realistic sense of normalcy to his situation, skillfully drawing an engaging personality in a role that requires it if we're to have an emotional stake in O'Brien's problem.

The details of the plot are not all that important, and if there's a drawback to "Honor Among Thieves," it's that the plot tries a little too hard to be "relevant" to the current DS9 storylines. It turns out the Orion Syndicate is in bed with the Dominion, which supposedly "explains a great deal of things," as Chadwick notes. The Vorta named Gelnon (Leland Crooke) who showed up in last week's "One Little Ship" makes another appearance here to order Bilby and his minions to assassinate a Klingon ambassador. (The assassination is intended to look like an inside job, thereby causing dissension among the Klingons that could help the Dominion's side of the war effort.) I find it a little implausible that the Dominion would recruit such a lowly member of the Syndicate to carry out such an important mission (whether he's expendable or not). I also thought Gelnon's long exposition on his Master Plan was a little too rigged for the audience's benefit. And especially considering O'Brien apparently wasn't going to be part of the plan anyway, it seems downright stupid for Gelnon to reveal something of such importance so openly.

But like I said, the plot is not that crucial, and for much of the way the episode is aware of that fact and keeps the dramatic emphasis on Bilby and O'Brien. Throughout the episode runs a sense of subtle, ongoing suspense, because every time Bilby asks O'Brien a question, we have to see how O'Brien will respond, and whether Bilby will be able to catch him in a lie. The pressure of the situation keeps the encounters interesting. But I was more impressed with the growing chemistry between the two characters and how Bilby's need to have a friend who could identify with his plight caused his own clouded judgment and eventual downfall. The idea of Bilby "witnessing" for O'Brien is of particular interest. It's obvious that "witnessing" for another isn't something Bilby takes lightly (indeed, none of the Orions do; if O'Brien screws up, Bilby is just as accountable). But the truth is that Bilby respects O'Brien, and O'Brien's dilemma is that he begins respecting Bilby—who is really just a family man like himself.

The way the plot plays out is out of O'Brien's hands, as Chadwick and the larger powers control the game from above. Starfleet warns the Klingons of the attack, which guarantees the assassins will be slaughtered. Infuriated by Starfleet's lies (they told him they would build a case against Bilby and arrest him) O'Brien finally decides to tell Bilby the whole story of what has been happening, who he really is, and what the Klingons know. Bilby is understandably stunned and saddened ("You were too good to be true," he says solemnly), but the new information doesn't change anything because it's already too late. He can't turn himself in because the Syndicate would make an example of his failure by killing him and then going after his family. Instead, Bilby chooses to save his family by going through with the mission, aware that he will be killed.

The ending is an understated tragedy that proves very effective. Just about everything in "Honor Among Thieves" is accomplished with dialog and acting, and the final scene between Bilby and O'Brien is an example of how we don't need to see a character's eventual death to understand the tragedy of it. I was moved by Bilby's final question—asking if O'Brien has a family back where he really comes from. When O'Brien answers yes, Bilby chuckles with a sense of reassurance that's almost heartbreaking. Here are two people who valued many of the same things in life, especially that "most important thing"—yet at the end it comes down to the sad truth that Bilby exits his world early simply because his way of life had paved out his destiny. It makes one wonder who Bilby could've been if he had enlisted in Starfleet rather than the Orion Syndicate.

Ultimately, what "Honor Among Thieves" turns out to be is an intriguing character study packaged in a small, mostly inconsequential episode. The material alone isn't standout, but the presentation most definitely is, so I don't think this show should be overlooked. The plot does a reasonably good job of staying out of the way, skillfully getting its characters from A to B, and along the way we get some wonderful characterizations.

If you were hoping to learn anything about the Orion Syndicate, you're not going to find it here. But that's not really the point. "Honor Among Thieves" intends to be drama in the most general of senses. And it's good drama. We'll call it three stars—but a high three stars.

Next week: A secret mission, Jem'Hadar, and likely death. Dax and Worf's honeymoon at last?

Previous episode: One Little Ship
Next episode: Change of Heart

◄ Season Index

40 comments on this review

wanker
Sat, Apr 4, 2009, 11:45pm (UTC -5)
I couldn't get past the ridiculous idea that starfleet intelligence needed to take the engineer of the most important space station in the federation and have him become a spy for what was to be a rather inconsequential mission (before the vorta got involved).

Durandal_1707
Thu, Nov 19, 2009, 4:04am (UTC -5)
Not only the engineer of the most important space station in the quadrant, but apparently an engineer without whom nothing on the station is able to work right.

This would have been a great time for the Dominion to invade. The station’s shields would have suddenly gone down, and the phasers would have fizzled out.
Nic
Sun, Jun 27, 2010, 12:09pm (UTC -5)
When they mentioned the "operative on Risa who deactivated the weather control system" I was afraid this would turn out to be a sequel to 'Let He Who Is Without Sin...'
Marco P.
Mon, Aug 16, 2010, 12:13am (UTC -5)
Sorry, but I can't help but to think of "Honor Among Thieves" as a bad version of "Donnie Brasco". And with that comparison in mind, the mediocrity of this episode transpires: Colm Meaney is no Johnny Depp and Nick Tate is no Al Pacino. I can't but disagree with Jammer on the acting part.

Granted, the script and the limitations of episode length don't give the two actors much to work with, but I feel a better effort in dialogue and acting could have produced something more worthwhile for the viewer.

My biggest criticism is how relationship/bond between the two characters of Bilby & O'Brien is portrayed: I just didn't buy it! In large because of the short period of time over which it develops: it just seems too easy for Bilby to "witness" for O'Brien after knowing him for such a short period of time (despite his usefulness to the syndicate). And with that bond so weak in my mind, I found ever harder to buy Bilby reacting to selflessly in the final scene, choosing to walk into certain death rather than than a) kill O'Brien for having lied to him b) face the music with his superior.
Fortyseven
Mon, Sep 26, 2011, 6:49pm (UTC -5)
@Marco: I always assume more time has gone by than we witness on the screen, in cases like that. Miles may have been there for several months, for example. :)
Jay
Wed, Dec 28, 2011, 2:25pm (UTC -5)
Compare the stardate of the last episode before this one with Mile sin it to the stardate of the first episode after this one with Miles in it...there's your maximum window of "how long" this episode played out over.

It's probably way less than even a month.
Nebula Nox
Sat, Mar 31, 2012, 11:31pm (UTC -5)
Sorry, but I never cared for this episode. It seems too unlikely that Star Fleet would turn to OBrien, who as a reasonably well known engineer could have been recognized by someone there!

The only thing that worked for me is its exploration of loyalty, which is a big theme in all of DS9. And it is hard to let someone, even a criminal, die, once you have befriended that person. This is why you send Garak and not OBrien into these situations. It is mad to send in OBrien - he does not have the character for it.
Justin
Fri, Apr 20, 2012, 11:46pm (UTC -5)
OK, someone in the comments section has to go on record as liking this episode, and I guess that would be me. Is it derivative of Donne Brasco? Yeah, a bit. Is it implausible that O'Brien would be tapped for this mission. Yeah, probably. Does any of that really matter? No, not much, because as the review says, the performances of Meaney and Tate and the portrayal of the characters of O'Brien and Bilby were excellent. All in all it was a solid hour of television.
Vylora
Thu, May 10, 2012, 1:32am (UTC -5)
I 2nd Justin on this one. Episode had me questioning a couple of details but overall the idea behind it - what it had to say mostly made up for it. High end of three stars sounds about right.
Snitch
Fri, May 11, 2012, 9:36pm (UTC -5)
I loved this episode, two strong leads and a nice dominion plot. The negative is that it is unlikely that starfleet intelligence would recruit the DS-9 main engineer.

But overall it was great entertainment.

3 1/2 Stars from me.
Connor
Mon, May 14, 2012, 8:24pm (UTC -5)
I Really enjoyed this episode as well. O'Brien looking after Bilby's cat was a nice little tribute to him.
Laroquod
Thu, Jun 21, 2012, 12:12pm (UTC -5)
It was a solid hour of television that had nothing whatsoever to do with science fiction, so that makes it a mediocre hour of science fiction television.
Ian
Fri, Jul 13, 2012, 12:17am (UTC -5)
This was an interesting idea but the premise was annoying. The idea that O'brien would get so attached to Bilby, who is after all a criminal and a murderer, that he would actually betray Starfleet, which is actually what he does. This is similar to the whole Section 31 storyline of other episodes. The idea that these are self-righteous starfleet officers how presume to know better than anyone else the finer points of morality.

P.S. Nick Tate is also best remembered as Eagle pilot Alan Carter from Space: 1999. They should have held this episode back until next year and named the cat Maya...
Blake
Sat, Sep 8, 2012, 8:54pm (UTC -5)
I can't believe ppl don't understand why O'Brien went undercover: Starfleet Intelligence was compromised, so they had to go somewhere else, and they were going to choose an engineer becuz the syndicate always wants ppl with those skills. Stuff on ds9 didn't work right becuz they wanted to get the main cast credited with a little bit of humor.

This episode is not a bad version of Donnie Brasco, it's psychologically realistic, and it realistically portrays the life of a gang member. Bilby became close to O'Brien when O'Brien passed his "honesty test" and O'Brien became close to Bilby when he realized he was a nice guy who happened to have a job as a gangster. When Bilby killed that one guy, he was able to give sufficient justification and Miles probably figured he was a gunrunner who deserved to die, so none of Bilby's actions would have prevented them from being close. Everyone is born good, to be in a gang and killing ppl is a gradual process, and it starts with tolerating / being ok with certain things. Miles was going through that process, and it began when he realized Bilby was an honest, fair, good person. The same way Bilby justified killing the arms dealer is similar to how Miles justified killing the ppl he's killed.

God, this episode was so realistic in so many ways, but so many ppl are too dumb to recognize it. Like someone wrote a comment about Bilby allowing himself to be killed, and that guy was obviously dumb and paid no attention to the show.

To the reviewer: the Vorta told Miles about the plan becuz in a gang you're either accepted or you're waiting to go though a rite of passage to be accepted, like Bilby witnessing for Miles (being blessed in) or proving yourself (being jumped in). Once you're in, you're family and you can be trusted with everything (something the vorta expressed concern over). And also, the vorta didn't arrange anything with Bilby, he met with top members of the syndicate and they chose to give the job to Bilby. There was nothing wrong with the plot. In fact, they used the seemingly predictable Star Trek "ok, i guess this'll be about how O'Brien finds the informer" to enhance the plot.

I always thought this episode was incredibly well written and did a superb job at showing ppl what it's like to be in a gang; it really sucks that so many weren't able to fully understand it, becuz it's right up there with In the Pale Moonlight.
John (the younger)
Thu, Oct 4, 2012, 6:45am (UTC -5)
Nah, this one was too stilted and cliched to really mean anything for me.

But it's obvious why they chose O'Brien for the part. I thought that worked fine on both dramatic and logical fronts.

Some of the other choices, however, didn't work. Why is the weedy guy not a 'witnessed' man and O'Brien is? Why does the Vorta reveal himself at all? And why does O'Brien confront Bilby with the truth?

In these cases the answer is forced drama with logic taking a back seat.

Overall this episode feels like nerds writing about crime figures. Which is what it is. Could be worse. Could be nerds writing about relationships.
Moegreen
Thu, Oct 4, 2012, 7:49am (UTC -5)
This was awful. The characters around O'Brien were lifeless. The sets were nondescript. The plot was tiresome. Don't understand the 3 stars, I'd have given it a zero.
William
Tue, Jan 1, 2013, 1:50am (UTC -5)
I'm pretty much right in line with Jammer again on this one.
Herman
Wed, Feb 6, 2013, 1:44pm (UTC -5)
O'Brien sure can act and keep his cool well for an engineer... All in all this episode seemed a little pointless to me, unless the writers followed up on the Dominion/Syndicate thing (I hope so).
Erik
Fri, Mar 29, 2013, 10:25pm (UTC -5)
I agree with Jammmer here. A cliched plot full of holes, with great acting and some thought provoking ideas about loyalty and morality.

Everyone seems to agree that O'brian was chosen as the 'everyman' but remember that he's also the soldier; and I don't mean just in the sense of being in Starlfeet. He fought in the Cardassian war and he did things he later felt were wrong because he was in a fight for his life. I think that's why he can sympathize with Bilby. He's also killed people, so he can't hold it against Bilby to do whatever it takes to survive.

"There, but for the grace of god, go I." seems like a nice summation. Change the circumstances of their lives but a little, and O'brian could be Bilby, or Bilby could be O'brian; and they both know it. I believe that's why O'brian knew that Bilby wouldn't kill him.
Take it easy
Thu, Aug 22, 2013, 4:09am (UTC -5)
Bilby is going on a mission to assassinate a Klingon ambassador (and Jammer is saying he is a good guy!!). This can potentially cause Klingon to move away from the alliance, and Dominion can defeat the Federation. OBrien is now concerned about the criminal than billions of lives at stake. I can't believe this big a hole in the plot.

OBrien assumes that Bilby will not harm him? Or is he risking his life and don't concern about his wife and kids for a criminal (who is going to assassinate)? Bilby says that he doesn't like to be betrayed. Didn't OBrien just do that?

I liked the episode right until the moment OBrien objected to inform Klingons about the assassination plan. What was his suggestion, I didn't know.
Kotas
Thu, Oct 31, 2013, 9:33pm (UTC -5)

On the one hand it is kind of a fun O'Brien ep, but on the other hand, the premise is absurd.

5/10
eastwest101
Sun, Mar 30, 2014, 7:35am (UTC -5)
Sure the plot was a little derivative in the core of the "everyday man" gangster but it allows the 2 actors to put on a good performance and address some themes around honour and loyalty, although it looks a little dated now I still give credit to the sets/design and costume/lighting guys for taking us away to another world. Nods and some winks to Donnie Brasco as well but better than average, could have easily been expanded and rewritten for a really good 2 parter in hindsight.
skadoo
Sun, Mar 30, 2014, 10:47am (UTC -5)
I won't rehash what has been said but did anyone wonder how the guy who was controlling the weather on Risa know so much about Starfleet Intelligence? Or is the guy some kind of uber hacker?
Bravestarr
Tue, Apr 1, 2014, 1:12pm (UTC -5)
Amazing episode. Loved almost every second of it, yeah it was weird that O'brien was selected but the guy has to do something besides arguing with his wife and fixing stuff. This is good sci-fi drama, and emotional dilemma and one that has a bittersweet ending.

O'brien does his duty and lives to see another day, but Bilby knowingly walks to his own death. Gripping stuff
Paul
Tue, Apr 1, 2014, 3:16pm (UTC -5)
@Bravestarr: What?

"Yeah it was weird that O'brien was selected but the guy has to do something besides arguing with his wife and fixing stuff."

After the first season or two, O'Brien is ALWAYS doing other stuff. Whether it's being wrongly accused by the Cardassians to being in a time loop to being captured by the Jem Hadar with Bashir to having 20 years worth of prison memories embedded to being trapped on a DS9 lookalike with a crazy Garak ...

I could go on. Your criticism here doesn't make a ton of sense.
Bravestarr
Mon, Apr 7, 2014, 4:48pm (UTC -5)
Paul, I was talking about the comments section (wanker) and how people are asking why O'brien is the one who has to do the undercover mission. He does the mission because, quite simply, he needs something to do! He's the average joe of the series and whenever an episode doesn't feature him as the main focus he's usually playing darts, fixing things, or fighting with his wife (I'm sure I'm not the only person who notices that they argue everytime we seem them.

Personally I love O'Brien episodes, although they do usually involve something bad happening to him.
Yanks
Tue, Aug 19, 2014, 8:06am (UTC -5)
Amazing how some good acting can hold a shakey story up isn't it?

I usually skip this one, because it really means nothing in the big picture and once you've seen it once it takes the bite out of what impact the episode did have.

I can't go above average for this one. 2.5 stars.

Quarky
Sat, Aug 23, 2014, 2:24am (UTC -5)
I'm just annoyed with how the show in the sixth season still wants us to believe that only obrien knows how to keep the station running. O'brien is not Scotty and ds9 is not a starship. The station was supposedly built by bajoran slaves or at least that's what Sisko claimed. The only way this is possible is if obrien is intentionally changing how the station works and not telling any of the crew so he can keep his job.

The ep itself was great. Obrien should have taken spent some quality time with girl bilby got him. Kieko would have understood it's part of his job. Is always wanted obrien and Keiko to divorce so obrien could find someone nice anyways
Dave in NC
Sat, Aug 23, 2014, 11:04am (UTC -5)
@ Quarky

O'Brien fought the Cardassians for years (on Stelik III and elsewhere). It stands to reason he already had a ton of experience with Cardassian computers.

Besides, the systems might be different, but at the end of the day, DS9 doesn't have a warp core or engines: controlling airlocks, Federation weaponry, and life support systems doesn't sound THAT horribly complicated for a guy like O'Brien.
Nick
Wed, Sep 3, 2014, 6:54pm (UTC -5)
DS9 does Donnie Brasco.

Plot was cliche.

Matte paintings of grungy alien world were cool. Lots of smoke effects, channeling Blade Runner. ;)
Josh
Sun, Sep 28, 2014, 8:10pm (UTC -5)
I haven't seen this episode in a long time, but whatever one might say about the plot, the acting is solid and the production design holds up extremely well. It's great, actually, and the pacing is brisk and aided by unique matte paintings and a richer score.
$G
Wed, Oct 1, 2014, 8:44pm (UTC -5)
This one doesn't work for me for mostly the same reason Trek's one-episode romances don't work for me: the development of the relationship is way too sped up, which forces cliched bonding scenes and makes the characters act naive and irrationally.

Bilby's reason for trusting O'Brien makes the whole episode seem silly. And no, Bilby admitting that he's too trusting doesn't excuse the rushed pace of the relationship. Mistakes in judgement under duress is one thing when we know the character and what he or she is about. We know nothing about Bilby, so he just comes off as wearing the idiot hat.

It is mighty difficult to sell a story like this in 40 minutes (less, even, considering the obligatory fit-the-whole-cast-into-each-show scene with everyone complaining to Kira about broken equipment). I don't begrudge the producers for TRYING, but they have to know by now that the stories need to fit the format.

This one just barely gets 2 stars from me. It's at least watchable, I guess.
Moegreen
Tue, Jan 6, 2015, 1:31pm (UTC -5)
Halfway through the episode, Bashir arrives as Richie Gazzo.
dlpb
Tue, Jun 9, 2015, 4:59pm (UTC -5)
This was an interesting idea but the premise was annoying. The idea that O'brien would get so attached to Bilby, who is after all a criminal and a murderer, that he would actually betray Starfleet, which is actually what he does.
==========

Thank you. The plot is all over the place. Trek writers seem to be utterly incapable of allowing cut-throat murderers and criminals get justice if that justice is death. If the punishment is death, they'll actually protect the murderer and betray their own people. It's ridiculous to watch Miles save these guys (allied to a genocidal army) simply because they might die. BOO HOO. Where is the sympathy for all the people these "poor" folks have knocked off?
Batchick30
Mon, Aug 3, 2015, 1:10pm (UTC -5)
I think this was yet another chance to appreciate Colm Meaney's acting abilities. He always does an effortless job. It's a shame that he has never gotten an award for his talent of improving what could be lesser material in the hands of others. And any man who keeps a cat can't be all bad.
Did anyone else pick out Orange is the New Black's Healey as Chadwick?
Dusty
Sat, Nov 28, 2015, 5:29pm (UTC -5)
I liked it. True, it's hard to believe that Starfleet Intelligence would turn to a guy like O'Brien for something like this. Since when does he have the skill set to be an undercover agent? At the very least, he's too straight-laced and honorable for that sort of work--which the episode didn't hesitate to confirm. He was unable to gain someone's trust and then betray them as the assignment called for, even though that someone was a criminal and a murderer.

But when I see O'Brien and Bilby onscreen together, it doesn't matter so much. Their performances are strong enough to carry the entire thing. Yanks is right; in this case, good acting holds together a shaky story and make it an enjoyable hour of Trek. Still, I hope more is made of the Dominion/Orion connection to give this episode more long-term relevance.
Diamond Dave
Fri, Feb 5, 2016, 1:27pm (UTC -5)
To me, this one would live and die over whether O'Brien feels sympathetic enough to Bilby to care enough whether he lives or dies. And I'm sorry, but the episode didn't sell that. At the end of the day, Bilby is a killer - the fact he loves his family and owns a cat being somewhat by-the-by.

This also reminded me a little of Far Beyond The Stars, insofar as it didn't really feel like a DS9 episode. A couple of good performances don't save it. 1.5 stars.
William B
Tue, Feb 16, 2016, 8:10am (UTC -5)
The episode seems somewhat divisive; put me in the "against" camp. Rene Echevarria is a very good writer, and is responsible for many of TNG and DS9's finest hours, but in this and "A Simple Investigation" he seems to retreat to noir cliches, and create a scenario that feels sketched in, not very believable, and not very related to the series as a whole. At least "ASI" made sense as a milestone for Odo's character and fits with the general tone of Odo's detective persona, even if I don't think it was particularly well executed. It's a weird idea for O'Brien to be an undercover op in the first place, which the episode barely justifies -- even if Starfleet Intelligence was compromised, why send in an untrained non-officer? at least command officers are trained to lead away missions; this would somewhat plausibly be a Riker story on TNG. Even putting that aside, though, it feels to me that the episode hits *near* the Donnie Brasco beats without quite hitting them. O'Brien feels guilty about gaining Bilby's trust and then betraying him -- fine; O'Brien feels some kinship for Bilby's love for his family -- fine. That Bilby has some positive traits, and that O'Brien doesn't want him to die, makes sense to me. But to get to this acknowledgment that people are complicated, there has to be some more ambivalence in O'Brien's reactions to the increasing transgressions he witnesses: Bilby kills a man in front of O'Brien for giving him faulty merchandise; Bilby doesn't hesitate to work for the Dominion; Bilby doesn't bat an eye when one of his own men gets brutally killed before him; Bilby agrees to assassinate a Klingon and cause massive upheaval which might destroy the Federation and, you know, O'Brien's family. In order to get to the point of O'Brien feeling this kinship for Bilby, the episode largely has O'Brien somewhat uncharacteristically having almost no reaction to Bilby's worse and worse behaviour. Some of this is him being undercover, of course, but I feel like these reactions needed to happen. Along similar lines, O'Brien's affection for Bilby seems to be based on Bilby being nice *to O'Brien*, and to him being a family man, and caring for his cat -- and, yes, these are all laudable to some degree, but it seems odd that we see little evidence of Bilby having any affection at all for anyone besides his family and cat and Miles, to the point where his close bond with O'Brien seems somewhat hard to believe.

I think that what the episode is gesturing toward is that Bilby is uncomfortable with the life he has chosen in some respects, and his gravitating toward O'Brien is partly because of O'Brien's goodness and (apparent) loyalty; even if turned out it was a lie, the idea that O'Brien would lie to Bilby to protect him for "stealing" the Klingon disruptor induction coils shocks and delights Bilby because it comes from a different moral universe than the people he lives with. Bilby likes O'Brien because he values that kind of goodness, even if he has let go of it in himself; and O'Brien feels kinship with Bilby because he recognizes that love of goodness and loyalty and altruism in Bilby even though in practice Bilby is a stone cold killer. That almost works at times, but overall I find it underdeveloped.

To be clear, I am not exactly saying that O'Brien shouldn't have some sympathy for Bilby. O'Brien's sympathies tend to be smaller-scale and personal, and so it makes sense that with enough time he would imprint on Bilby, though I don't feel like enough time really passed for the level of loyalty to develop between the two men, from either side. But I feel like there is a lack of complexity in O'Brien's response to Bilby -- like the entire conflict is Miles' personal affection versus his duty, rather than duty on the one hand and a mixture of affection and disgust on the other. There's also the fact that O'Brien helping Bilby really does mean Bilby becomes better at hurting people -- does O'Brien feel like blood is on his hands for the man whom Bilby shot dead for faulty disruptor rifle equipment?

In order to set up O'Brien going rogue and punching out his Intelligence contact, they also make the Intelligence contact hard-headed and inconsistent, going from "no you can't go home until you find out about the Dominion" to "I was about to take you off this mission because you're too close" with seemingly no intermediate meetings. His unwillingness to listen to talk to Miles about whether there are any alternatives to letting the Klingons kill Bilby also smacks of contrivance; if arresting Bilby or letting the Klingons arrest him both prevent the assassination, what *is* the difference? Isn't just letting Bilby et al. walk into the assassination trap and have the Klingons stop them the least interesting way to deal with this information -- tell the Klingons, absolutely, but shouldn't Starfleet Intelligence and the Klingons now work on gaining access to the Vorta rather than just let this assassination attempt pass by and thus expose that the Orion Syndicate's cover is blown? (Obviously -- they should stop the assassination attempt; but they could probably find a cleverer way to avoid the assassination, or at least consider it, which would not endanger the delicate "in" they have.)

And, I dunno, Bilby seems awfully zen about walking to death; that he would die for his family makes sense to me, but his reaction to O'Brien's betrayal does seem pretty understated, on the whole. The Syndicate is also a pretty bad organization if its incentive structure really is that you automatically die if you witness for someone who turns out to be a spy so that it's far better to go through with a doomed plan and get everyone killed and have a plot exposed rather than just bring the traitor in; surely the Syndicate would prefer it if Bilby said "I was wrong about this guy -- but here, they now know about the Klingons and we have to stop it!" to his trusting O'Brien unto him and a bunch of others dying in a trap -- they might even kill Bilby still, but I feel like they are actually less likely to take it out on his family if Bilby saves them from a trap than if he apparently walked into one out of stupidity.

I do agree that the acting is good and some scenes work -- but I think this is a 2 star show for me.
moj
Fri, Apr 22, 2016, 2:19pm (UTC -5)
Not the most watertight plot - I can't help feeling that the Syndicate assisting the Dominion is like turkeys voting for Christmas - but largely redeemed by some of the exchanges between O'Brien and Bilby. And that bar they frequented was awful quiet, wasn't it?
Luke
Sun, May 29, 2016, 12:19am (UTC -5)
A pretty average episode, when all is said and done. There is nothing particularly bad about "Honor Among Thieves" but also nothing particularly good - aside from the acting.

The main problems are two-fold. First, this isn't exactly the most original of stories, is it? An undercover agent tries to infiltrate an organized crime syndicate. Hm, I think I've seen this somewhere else before. Said agent begins to grow fond of his target and has trouble dealing with the consequences of his assignment. Yeah, definitely seen this before. It's almost as if the writers just stuffed the script full of mob movie cliches. Second, I just don't have that much sympathy for Bilby. Sure, he has his charms, but so does Dukat. Oh, he really loves his family? Well, so what? The man is a cold-blooded killer who literally killed a man in front of O'Brien and was planning on carrying out a cold-blooded political assassination. You can talk all you want about how his life has forced him to do these things, but at the end of the day he still chose to live this way. In other words, he chose the thug life; the thug life did not chose him. The fact that he's a loving family man really pales in comparison to the fact that he's a stone-cold, unrepentant killer, doesn't it? I do feel somewhat sorry for his family (do they even know what he does for a living? - the episode leaves that fairly vague). That is, until next season's "Prodigal Daughter" comes along and destroys any sympathy I had for them. As a result, the only new character I have any sympathy left for is.... Chester. That's right - the cat!

Still, like most "Deep Space Nine" episodes, the acting saves what is otherwise a lackluster outing. Everyone involved delivers a very enjoyable performance. Even Nick Tate (Bilby) delivers a nicely understated performance - I may not care for the character, but I will admit that the actor did a fine job. Colm Meaney delivers his usual top-notch work - there really should have been more O'Brien focused stories, though preferably ones that don't always involve torturing him in some way. I also somewhat enjoyed the basic plot of the Dominion using the Orion Syndicate to further their goals. It seems like something the Dominion would do - working from behind the scenes to influence the course of events.

It could have been a lot worse, and in the hands of a lessor lead actor undoubtedly would have been, but it's not a complete waste.

6/10

Submit a comment





Notify me about new comments on this page
Hide my e-mail on my post

◄ Season Index

▲Top of Page | Menu | Copyright © 1994-2016 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication or distribution of any content is prohibited. This site is an independent publication and is not affiliated with or authorized by any entity or company referenced herein. See site policies.