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Honor Among Thieves

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WARNING: There may or may not be "Honor Among Thieves", but there's enough honor among reviewers that I'll warn you about DS9 spoilers.


In brief: A fairly pedestrian story, but the two principal actors carried it very well.


"Honor Among Thieves" is a little difficult to characterize. Looking at it with one eye, I wonder exactly why it was made -- infiltration stories aren't always easy to pull off even without the science-fiction trappings, and this one certainly had some questionable moments or obvious angles. Looking at it with the other eye, however, I can see its substantial strengths, namely its cast.

To start with, though, there's the story. Since Trek rarely does infiltration stories, and the last one (TNG's Preemptive Strike) was well done and well received, I can understand the idea behind trying to do it. However, "Preemptive Strike" had two advantages this show lacked. First, Lieutenant Ro had just come back from actual *training* in espionage and infiltration missions and so had a reason to be involved that O'Brien did not; second, "Preemptive Strike" could get away with Ro actually turning, whereas "Honor Among Thieves" could only do it halfway.

The "spy comes to sympathize with his/her target" is something of a cliche in itself, too. Just as I'd like to see a Trek wedding for one that didn't involve a last-minute cancellation, I'd like to see an intelligence mission that didn't involve the hero having a change of heart. While I can understand the change of heart on occasion, it's too easy to have it happen every time. (Actually, I should amend that: there are *two* possible cliches. The other one is for the hero to have to prove his/her loyalty by killing someone; at least we didn't get both.)

There was also a lack of justification for two different aspects of the show. While O'Brien's actual mission structure made sense (get close enough to Bilby to find out how Starfleet operatives were being compromised), there was absolutely no reason given for why O'Brien was the choice. There was some reason for why it couldn't be done by Starfleet Intelligence operatives, but why Miles in particular? There have to be people more hardened and more suited to intelligence work than he is. (The engineering talents are certainly a help, but don't quite seem sufficient.) The other problem was the advice for O'Brien to avoid "unnecessary risks": good advice, but isn't strolling out every other day to meet your contact just such a risk? The fact that the Orion Syndicate never actually had O'Brien followed, especially early on, speaks very poorly of their security -- and their legitimacy as an organization no one can crack.

If you accept those constraints as necessary, however, the story moved along rather smoothly (if with few surprises). O'Brien's unexpected honesty about Bilby's wife's cake served to cement Bilby's high opinion of "Connolly" (an opinion born of desperation, we later find out), and that opinion seemed pretty much irrevocable that opinion seemed pretty much irrevocable once it seemed that Connolly had lied to Bilby in order to provide Bilby with deniability. If you know your target is a desperate man looking for someone to trust, those two actions are both ones that might help -- so however little justification there was for putting O'Brien in, he did seem to have a good clue about how to operate. Further events, such as Bilby killing the vendor who'd bilked him, made it clearer to the viewer how dangerous he was; one wonders why O'Brien didn't take that into account later, or why his contact didn't point that out. (The fact that Bilby almost immediately thereafter "witnessed" for O'Brien, almost literally putting his life in O'Brien's hands, may have helped.)

The only real twist in the story was putting the Orion Syndicate in bed with the Dominion. I fervently hope that this gets used for more than simply a reason to keep O'Brien in place longer; it does have some interesting implications for Alpha Quadrant politics, particularly if news of their relationship is made public (which it should be almost immediately). Given how generally disreputable the Syndicate is considered by everyone except the criminal element, the Dominion's "no, really, we're friendly!" veneer should be a bit damaged by that revelation. Certainly the assassination plot they engineered here made a great deal of sense and was classic Dominion strategy, but I'd like to see this relationship explored more. (It was also nice, in a bit of continuity, to see the same Vorta we saw last week, although his situation seemed to have changed a bit.)

The rest of the story -- O'Brien gradually grows more and more loyal to Bilby, eventually warning him of a trap that he helped create -- was fairly predictable, almost down to the individual lines of dialogue. What carried the show through to its end was the same thing that has sold many DS9 episodes over the years, namely Colm Meaney's performance.

Meaney's performance is the one thing that makes selecting O'Brien for this mission more feasible than it otherwise might be -- he gives O'Brien a core of vulnerability that people like Bilby might well mistake for absolute loyalty. In this case, pairing him with Nick Tate (Bilby) worked even better, as Tate managed to show off that kind of core as well. I'm not sure the story alone made the bond between them believable, but the two actors certainly did: the final scene between them, when O'Brien confesses he works for Starfleet and Bilby realizes his only recourse is to die anyway, proved surprisingly wrenching. (The later scene with O'Brien caring for Chester, Bilby's cat, also struck a chord, but that may just be because I'm a cat person.)

The direction struck me as something of a mixed bag. Many sequences, particularly most of the ones in the bar, created a nice sense of atmosphere in which the story played itself out -- but at the same time, relying on old techniques like having lightning flash at important moments felt like too much of a reach. (It didn't help that many of the really long shots said "okay, now we're here in the matte painting", either.)

Other notes:

-- I liked the continued use of the dataport by some syndicate members (in this case, Krole); although A Simple Investigation last season was fairly drab, the dataport was an intriguing tool and it's good to see more of it.

-- The early scene on board DS9, with everyone complaining about maintenance going to hell, was a waste of time. It let the actors show up, but that's about all. (Dax's "seems like we've been having a lot of system glitches" seemed to fall particularly flat, as if Farrell were phoning in her lines.)

-- Bilby's continuing emphasis on family ("it's the most important thing") was a good choice; it certainly made it plain why he wouldn't accept prison at the end, as well as showing how easily he fell for O'Brien's brotherly nature.

-- The final nail in Bilby's coffin, the realization that he wasn't even important enough to be O'Brien's target, definitely stung.

It's difficult to describe the things I did like about "Honor Among Thieves", mainly because so much of it was tied up in the major performances. Without being able to show their facial expressions and catch their tones of voice, any scene description would come off as less impressive than many of the scenes were. Suffice it to say that the show works pretty well if you let it just wash over you; individual moments are generally strong enough to keep you from wondering about some of the logic.

So, wrapping up:

Writing: More questionable logic than I'd like in the setup, but the rest flowed well despite cliches. Directing: Generally well-done atmospherics; a few glitches. Acting: Meaney and Tate were marvelous; Michael Harney (O'Brien's contact Chadwick) did nothing for me.

OVERALL: 7.5, I think -- a good emotional core as long as you don't dwell on it much.

NEXT WEEK:

Worf must let Dax die, or compromise a mission.


Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
tlynch@alumni.caltech.edu	<*>
"Starfleet Intelligence will warn them you're coming!"
"How do you know that?  I suppose you work for them."
"What if I said I did?"
			-- O'Brien finally coming clean
Copyright 1998, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...
This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net
compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the
author*.  Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.

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