“Honor Among Thieves”
Written by Philip Kim and Rene Echevarria
Directed by Allan Eastman
Season 6, Episode 15
Production episode 40510-539
Original air date: February 21, 1998
Station log: O’Brien is sitting in a bar on Farius Prime, in shabby civilian clothes. He’s been there for several weeks, under the name “Connolly,” eavesdropping on three members of the Orion Syndicate: Liam Bilby, Flith, and Krole. Today, they’re discussing how Raimus is going to be disappointed about the faulty merchandise. They get hungry and decide to order food via a com-booth. Krole hacks into the booth so they can charge the food to someone else, but before he can finish the transaction, O’Brien touches a control on a device, which immediately hits Krole with a nasty electric charge. O’Brien then runs up to “save” Krole from being “spiked.” It also fuses Krole’s implant that he used. O’Brien offers to fix the implant. He professes ignorance as to who Bilby and the others are, but Bilby has seen him tinkering with junk for weeks, so he’s obviously down on his luck.
O’Brien then meets with his handler, Chadwick. Five Starfleet Intelligence operatives have been killed by the Syndicate, so there’s obviously a mole in SI. O’Brien’s job is to find the mole, and he got the gig because he’s not in SI.
Back on the station, the place is falling apart without the chief around to keep things humming. Unfortunately, Sisko can’t reassure anyone about his mission, nor say when he’ll be done, as it’s classified.
The next morning, O’Brien brings Krole’s implants back, good as new—better, even. Bilby then takes O’Brien for a walk to Bilby’s own apartment. He’s done a thorough background check on “Connolly,” and SI’s cover story has held up, including his criminal past. Bilby asks O’Brien to fix some Klingon disruptors—the faulty merchandise they were discussing—which he says he can do. Bilby tells him about his family, who live on New Sydney, away from the ugliness of Bilby’s job.
Chadwick gets coils for the disruptors from the Klingon Ambassador to Farius. (O’Brien comments that the ambassador must be someone Gowron doesn’t like, if he was assigned there.) Flith tries to get him to say where he got the coils, and O’Brien refuses, but when Bilby presses, he “admits” that he stole them—but didn’t want to say so in case the police caught up with him, Bilby then wouldn’t be implicated. Bilby is impressed that he lied to protect him, something he couldn’t see Krole or Flith doing.
Bilby gets O’Brien some new clothes. Then he kills Yint, the man from whom he bought the faulty disruptors. Bilby talks about how this is a rough life, but if you’re careful and smart, it can be very lucrative. He talks about how the Syndicate has people everywhere, even in Starfleet. O’Brien soon learns that, whoever the mole is, he worked on Risa a year earlier at the weather-control station.
Raimus calls a meeting in the middle of the night. He shows up with two guards—and Gelnon, the same Vorta who led the Jem’Hadar who took over the Defiant in “One Little Ship.” The disruptors were apparently obtained for him, and he’ll want Bilby to use him for a purpose he’ll divulge later. Raimus asks about “Connolly,” and Bilby vouches for him, which is good enough for Raimus—Gelnon is less impressed, thinking that a poor security measure. Raimus gives his love to Bilby’s family, and then Bilby makes O’Brien understand the depth of what he did. Because he vouched for “Connolly,” Bilby is responsible for anything he does.
O’Brien passes on the intelligence, both about the mole and about the Syndicate working with the Dominion. Unfortunately, this means O’Brien can’t be extracted yet, because Starfleet needs to know more about Raimus’s relationship with the Dominion. So he helps Krole rob the Bank of Bolias, and then Bilby rewards him with a Farian hooker. O’Brien pays her off rather than risk committing adultery, claiming he has a girlfriend named Kamiko who works in a flower shop.
Bilby says he saw right through “Connolly” from the moment he saw him: a man who was alone, without a friend in the quadrant. Which, if nothing else, proves that O’Brien’s selling his cover fairly well. Bilby also says that he’s about to advance in the organization, and he likes O’Brien and trusts him, and will bring him along with him.
Chadwick has to remind O’Brien that Bilby chose this life, and the fact that he might be killed when O’Brien gets extracted is not something O’Brien can afford to think about.
Raimus and Gelnon appear at the bar unannounced. There’s a traitor in their midst—but while Bilby and O’Brien are concerned that it’s “Connolly,” it turns out to be Flith, who was doing business on the side without paying Raimus’s cut.
Bilby is then given an assignment: use the disruptors to assassinate the Klingon Ambassador to Farius. O’Brien guesses that it’s to make it look like a rival House killed the ambassador, but it’s bigger than that. The ambassador has advocated breaking off the alliance with the Federation and focusing on the empire’s own defense. They want it to look like Gowron ordered the ambassador killed, thus making him a martyr and making the Klingons more likely to follow that course of action.
O’Brien reports this to Chadwick, as well as their plan of attack: he’ll sabotage the power grid long enough for Bilby and his people to beam into the embassy. O’Brien isn’t happy about Chadwick’s plan to warn the Klingons, because Bilby will be killed when the Klingons catch him. Chadwick reminds him that the Syndicate are the bad guys and he is more concerned about warning their allies about an assassination attempt than protecting the lives of criminals.
However, O’Brien isn’t that bright, and he slugs Chadwick and goes to warn Bilby, telling him that he can’t go on the mission, warning him that it’s a trap. When Bilby refuses to believe him, O’Brien comes out and admits that he’s an SI mole. Bilby is devastated. O’Brien was trying to save his life, but now he’s dead no matter what. And if he turns himself in, even if he’s safe in prison, his family won’t be safe. Worse, Bilby wasn’t even O’Brien’s target.
Faced with little choice, Bilby goes through with the mission. If he proceeds while pretending not to know about O’Brien, he’ll likely die, but his family will stay safe. The only thing Bilby asks is that O’Brien look after his cat.
Back on the station, O’Brien talks with Bashir. Chadwick generously left the part about slugging his handler out of his report on O’Brien. Bashir reminds O’Brien that he was doing his duty. It doesn’t make O’Brien feel any better, even though it is the truth.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Krole’s implant allows him to infiltrate comm systems that enable him to commit all kinds of larcenous acts, from making other people pay for dinner to robbing a bank. Although he apparently has to be really careful of recursive loops…
Don’t ask my opinion next time: Kira is very exasperated when Odo, Quark, Bashir, Worf, and Dax all come to her one after the other with engineering issues that aren’t getting fixed right in O’Brien’s absence.
The slug in your belly: When the turbolift stops short of making it all the way to Ops, Dax hops right out of the lift, then offers a hand to Worf to help him out—a very nice, subtle reversal of the usual gender roles.
Victory is life: The Dominion plans to disrupt the Federation-Klingon alliance by—er, assassinating a proponent of the Klingons breaking off the alliance and withdrawing into their borders and fortifying. Because killing the guy who wants what you want is a great strategy. (Yes, he’ll become a martyr, but there’s very little evidence to support the notion that the Klingons are all that impressed with martyrs…)
Keep your ears open: “I do not understand why his staff cannot keep the station running in his absence.”
“Must have left my idiot brother in charge.”
Worf on the station falling to pieces in O’Brien’s absence and Quark blaming Rom.
Welcome aboard: Nick Tate, last seen on TNG’s “Final Mission,” plays Bilby. Tate is probably best known in genre circles as Alan Carter on Space: 1999.
Carlos Carrasco is back, having played two different Klingons in “The House of Quark” and “Shattered Mirror” and Bahrat in Voyager’s “Fair Trade.” He plays Krole. And for the second week in a row, Leland Crooke shows up as Gelnon.
John Chandler plays Flith, Michael Harney plays Chadwick, Brad Blaisdell plays Yint, and Joseph Culp—the son of Robert Culp of I, Spy and The Greatest American Hero fame—plays Raimus.
Trivial matters: Nick Tate had originally lost out on the role of Bilby to Charles Hallahan, but Hallahan sadly died of a heart attack a few days before principle photography on the episode began. Tate took on the role in Hallahan’s memory.
Philip Kim’s original pitch focused on Jake, where he befriends the daughter of an Orion Syndicate boss, which seems like the best thing in the world at first, until he gets to see the dark side of it.
This episode will be followed up on in “Prodigal Daughter.” Farius Prime was previously mentioned in “The Maquis, Part I,” and will be seen again in the Lost Era novel Well of Souls by Ilsa J. Bick and your humble rewatcher’s DS9 novel Demons of Air and Darkness. The Orion Syndicate was previously referenced in “The Ascent” and “A Simple Investigation.”
Walk with the Prophets: “The chief can take care of himself as well as anyone I know.” The biggest problem I have with this episode is that we are never given a single reason why Starfleet Intelligence chose Miles O’Brien in particular for this mission. Why it’s not an SI operative, I get—there’s a mole, five agents have been killed, gobby gobby gobby, fine. But why O’Brien?
The only reason, really, is because he’s an opening-credits regular on DS9—but that’s not really a good enough reason. He has no experience in security or in undercover operations. So why did SI think it was a good idea to take this married guy with two kids off his post as chief of operations of one of the most important strategic posts in the quadrant in the middle of a war to have him go undercover for several weeks?
The scene back at the station, mostly there to give the rest of the cast a reason to show up to work that week, just shines a light on the problem. This isn’t the first season, when DS9 was a backwater outpost nobody gave a crap about except as the toll booth to the Gamma Quadrant tunnel. Now it’s the first line of defense against the Dominion in the middle of a war, and it’s falling to pieces because the chief of operations isn’t handy to fix stuff.
It might not bother me so much if he was specifically picked for his technical skill—but his trick of gaining Bilby’s confidence by sabotaging Krole’s implant was a surprise to Chadwick, so it wasn’t part of why he was assigned, it was something he came up with on his own.
And all that might be forgivable if the story was worth the suspension of disbelief, but it really isn’t. Maybe I’m too much of a police procedure junkie, but I don’t buy a single thing that happens here. Bilby falls for O’Brien’s game way too easily for someone who’s supposed to be part of a master criminal organization. His willingness to vouch for O’Brien, at risk to his own life, never comes across as in any way convincing.
Then we have the Dominion’s evil plan which is to assassinate a Klingon ambassador, but making it look like another Klingon did it, thus framing—other Klingons? Who kill each other over blood feuds all the bloody time anyhow? This is an ambassador to a cruddy little planet that the Orion Syndicate has its claws in pretty deep, so not exactly a plum assignment, so this ambassador can’t have much political capital, and getting assassinated isn’t likely to increase his profile. Gelnon’s plan to make him a martyr sounds incredibly iffy, since that’s not a trait that Klingons are all that big on admiring. Sure, it might gain the ambassador’s views a bit more traction, but I can’t imagine it making enough of a difference to change the High Council’s views.
The one part of the episode that does ring true is O’Brien being a dumbass and slugging Chadwick so he can warn Bilby. That’s the kind of idiot move that a trained intelligence operative would never make, and while it’s the sort of thing TV audiences expect their heroes to do, it doesn’t really make any sense. Chadwick is right: Bilby chose this life, and worrying more about a career criminal getting killed than an ambassador of an allied power getting assassinated is a classic case of screwed-up priorities.
What makes this episode even watchable is Nick Tate. He sells Bilby’s relaxed confidence. He knows he’s only a minor player in the Syndicate, but he makes enough to support his family and he plays by the rules. He figures he’s safe.
Which makes his anguish when O’Brien reveals the truth to him very devastating, and still a convincing character moment, particularly when he realizes how badly he misjudged “Connolly,” and even more so when he realizes that he wasn’t the target. (That’s another case where O’Brien’s lack of training comes into play, as he tells Bilby that he wasn’t the target to make him feel better, and it only makes him feel worse. His life is being destroyed by this undercover operation, and he wasn’t even what they were going for.)
The thing is, as personable as Bilby is, it’s hard to feel as sorry for him as the script wants us to because, well, he is a criminal. He’s introduced to us as someone selfish and aggrandizing (pulling the whole “do you know who we are?” routine on O’Brien in the teaser), and while they walk it back with his liking O’Brien (whom we like too!) and his having a family, it’s not enough. He’s a bad person, and he’s not dead because O’Brien went undercover, he’s dead because he willingly became part of a criminal organization that does things like assassinate Klingon ambassadors (which is a dangerous proposition regardless of who might know about it ahead of time). I kinda wish that was what Bashir had said at the end…
Warp factor rating: 2
Keith R.A. DeCandido’s newest novel officially goes on sale today: Sleepy Hollow: Children of the Revolution, based on the FOX show that just started its second season. You can order the book from Sleepy Reads or find in your local bookstore.