|O'Brien befriends a member of the Orion Syndicate.|
Starfleet Intelligence has called on Chief O'Brien to go undercover on Farius Prime, a neutral planet with a heavy Orion Syndicate presence. The Syndicate has an informant in Starfleet, which has resulted in the deaths of several intelligence agents. The hope is that O'Brien, who isn't directly affiliated with Intelligence, will be able to make contact with the Syndicate and uncover the identity of the mole.
O'Brien is surprisingly successful. Posing as a "fix-it man down on his luck," O'Brien is able to gain the trust of Liam Bilby (Nick Tate), the leader of a minor group of hoods who is in turn working under Syndicate boss Raimus (Joseph Culp). With his friendly and honest manner, he quickly befriends Bilby, learning enough information to pass along to his contact (Michael Harney) to figure out the identity of the mole.
Then the situation becomes complicated. Raimus makes a personal appearance, introducing his new business partners: Agents of the Dominion!
Capt. Sisko: Deflects questions about where O'Brien has gone. When Dr. Bashir prods him about the need for repairs, Sisko recognizes that what the doctor is really asking is about the welfare of his good friend. He is compassionate toward Bashir's concern, but tells him that he cannot reveal any information.
O'Brien: From the moment he arrives on Farius Prime, his greatest desire is simply to finish the job and get back to his wife and children. When Bilby talks about his own family, O'Brien feels guilt for putting the petty criminal into an impossible situation. His Intelligence contact promises that they will try to arrest Bilby before the Syndicate can get to him, but it's a fragile hope at best - one that becomes impossible once the Dominion presence is revealed, changing the stakes dramatically.
Bilby: Like O'Brien, he places a high value on family. When he believes O'Brien to be single, he urges him to start a family because "it's the most important thing." He responds to O'Brien's basic honesty, which makes him take him into his confidence far more quickly than he otherwise would - Because he's lonely on this world of petty criminals, and wants a friend who's actually worth spending time with. None of which makes Bilby a good man, as we're reminded when he viciously murders a weapons dealer who tried to cheat him. But the weary likability lent by actor Nick Tate sells the unlikely friendship at the core of this episode.
Honor Among Thieves has the skeleton of your basic midseason filler episode - Which, at heart, is what it is. Even with the Dominion ties, I tend to doubt that the events of this story will have any real impact on future episodes.
What distinguishes it is how very well-made it is. Director Allan Eastman infuses the piece with a dark, film noir atmosphere that fits the material perfectly. The alley in which O'Brien meets his contact is drenched in shadow, and the bar that is Bilby's base of operations has dim lighting. Even Bilby's apartment, his refuge from the life he has chosen, has a run-down look, with lighting that is brighter than the bar but still not fully bright. Everything here is worn and rumpled, everything a little bit dark - And that boosts the drama's effectiveness significantly.
Rene Echevarria's script is also well-turned. Ever the strong character writer, Echevarria largely focused on the O'Brien/Bilby relationship and leaves the well-worn plot to take care of itself. This is a good choice, as the time devoted to Bilby sharing some of his wife's cake or musing about buying a birthday present for his daughter underline the things these two men have in common. The friendship feels genuine, and that makes the episode work, even when the overall plot runs along predictable lines.
Overall Rating: 7/10.
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Next Episode: Change of Heart
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