"Honor Among Thieves" 
Season Six, Episode 15
Written by Rene Echevarria
Story by Philip Kim
Directed by Allan Eastman
Music by Gregory Smith
Main Cast:
Avery Brooks as Captain Benjamin Sisko
Rene Auberjonois as Odo
Michael Dorn as Lt Cmdr Worf
Terry Farrell as Lt Cmdr Jadzia Dax
Cirroc Lofton as Jake Sisko
Colm Meaney as Chief Miles O'Brien
Armin Shimerman as Quark
Alexander Siddig as Dr Julian Bashir
Nana Visitor as Major Kira Nerys

Guest Stars:
Nick Tate as Bilby
Michael Harney as Chadwick
Carlos Carrasco as Krole
John Chandler as Flith
Leland Crooke as Gelnon
Joseph Culp as Raimos 


O'Brien is working undercover for Starfleet Intelligence on the planet Farius. He must befriend Bilby, a man known to be a key figure in the Orion Syndicate. Whilst O'Brien succeeds in the first order of business -- winning Bilby's trust -- he finds his ultimate duty, turning him in, to be far more difficult, particularly as the bond of friendship between them isn't quite as manufactured after all...

I wasn't really expecting a whole lot from this. Besides the fact people have told me it's "a by-the-numbers cop drama" and "a Donnie Brasco rip-off" I recall that our last foray into the Orion Syndicate, season five's A Simple Investigation was a convoluted, confusing mish-mash that fell some way off compelling. 

But, Honor Among Thieves took me by pleasant surprise. It does what A Simple Investigation failed to do in terms of the Orion Syndicate, specifically present it as a well-developed and intriguing concept and again goes to illustrate DS9's darker, less clear-cut side of the Star Trek universe. The plot, I'll grant you, is a rather standard "espionage" template, and it's pretty clear from the offset what the episode is setting up - a moral dilemma for poor O'Brien. But despite some clunky storytelling, thanks in part to some stellar performances and tight directing, Honor Among Thieves pulls it off and is nevertheless an effective tale. 

As for the Donnie Brasco comparison I can't really comment, not having seen (and vaguely even having heard of) the film. I very much doubt the writers stole the idea, however, as let's face it - such plots are really ten a penny. It reminded me of The Next Generation's Pre-emptive Strike which was also a reasonably effective episode - particularly as a swan song for Ensign Ro. But Honor Among Thieves has something which Pre-emptive Strike didn't have, and it benefits from it immensely - and that is the wonderful Colm ("he can do no wrong") Meaney. 

Not to berate Michelle Forbes (Ensign Ro of Pre-emptive Strike), for she was a solid actress and her character far more interesting than a good few of TNG's main cast, but Colm Meaney is truly an actor's actor. I very often take his acting for granted, simply because his style is so subtle and most the time you can't even tell he's acting! His character may not be as integral to the show as Sisko or Odo or Kira, but O'Brien is kind of like the James Stewart of DS9, an "every-man" who anyone can relate to no matter what situation he's put in (and between Hard Time, Visionary and The Assignment among others, there's some pretty horrific ones!). 

Well, Meaney's certainly on top form here, delivering a striking tour de force which unusually is countered by the lead guest star guest star, in this case Nick Tate (of Space: 1999, which is currently being rerun in the UK), whose performance is every bit as compelling. Tate plays a leader in the Syndicate, a man who O'Brien must befriend in order to learn some vital information for Starfleet Intelligence. Tate excels as the nefarious Bilby, striking precisely the right notes as a hardened, ruthless criminal who is a loving family man at heart. Thanks to some fabulous work by actors Meaney and Tate, the friendship which they develop feels strikingly sincere and not at all forced (as it could have done all too easily). 

As I said, the plot is rather transparent and right from the offset we know that Miles is going to become good friends with Bilby and eventually end up sympathising with his cause (Pre-emptive strike note for note!). Nothing particularly fresh about that, but as I said, by virtue of the brilliant performances, the O'Brien/Bilby relationship has resonance and we (or at least I!) really started to care about Bilby. I guess it was inevitable that Bilby was eventually going to learn the truth about O'Brien (and there were some nicely orchestrated, tense moments throughout where it looks as if his secret may get out), but it was a little harder to predict the outcome. I assumed either Bilby would be caught and put in jail or O'Brien would be forced to kill him. But the conclusion we got was maybe a little more low-key, but nevertheless effective and tragic. Bilby's reaction upon learning O'Brien betrayed him was really quite painful to watch. His eventual decision to sacrifice his life to save his family was poignant, dramatically sound and quite tragic, going further to emphasise that although he lived a questionable life, Bilby was a good man. Tragic as it was, the make-or-break conclusion was what "made" the episode for me. And, boy, quite a guilt-trip for poor Miles (even though, as Bashir later tells him, he did the right thing). 

As a side-note, I wonder whether the sub-plot involving the Dominion working with the Syndicate will have any relevance in the "bigger picture of things". As it stands, this felt more like a way to tie-in the story with the ongoing war and my guess would be it's an insignificant development as these things go. But it's nice to see the Vorta from One Little Ship return - some actors make good Vortas, whereas some don't quite cut it, but I like this guy. 

Anyway, to sum up; Honor Among Thieves is perhaps something of an insignificant episode in the "bigger picture" of things, but it's still a solid, effective little drama in which the marvellous performances more than compensate for a plot that lacks much in the way of originality. There's atmosphere, chemistry and tragedy - it's got my recommendation. 

Rating: 8

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