Monday, March 26, 2012

The Annual “Torment O’Brien” Episode For Season Six Is "Honor Among Thieves"

The Good: Engaging performances, Decent character development, Nice mood
The Bad: Predictable plot
The Basics: O’Brien infiltrates the Orion Syndicate and befriends the man he must betray in “Honor Among Thieves.”

In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, there were a few annual events that viewers had to look forward to. Chief among them was the episode each year where Chief O’Brien gets tormented in some way. O’Brien is pretty much the whipping boy of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, having been beaten up, put on trial and imprisoned more than most of the other characters. The “torment O’Brien” episodes are some of the most memorable of the series, like “Tribunal” (reviewed here!) and “Hard Time” (reviewed here!). In the sixth season, the annual episode that brutalizes O’Brien is a bit more mundane and less extraordinary. That episode is “Honor Among Thieves” and it gives O’Brien plenty to do, without really shaking the character up.

“Honor Among Thieves” is one of the few dangling threads in the overall Dominion War arc. While elements of the episode are called back to later on, the relationship between the Dominion and Orion Syndicate is not explored again, which is something of a surprise given the level of import it has in this episode. Fortunately for O’Brien, “Honor Among Thieves” is more an uncomfortable situation for O’Brien as opposed to an episode where he is truly psychologically destroyed or messed with. Following the tour d’force of “Hard Time,” it is refreshing that O’Brien is not really put in extreme mental peril.

In a seedy bar on a distant planet, a criminal tries to use a device to connect to a computer that interfaces directly with his brain. When it begins to electrocute him, a human – O’Brien – steps in and helps him. This allows O’Brien to meet Bilby, a member of the Orion Syndicate. Much to the pleasure of O’Brien’s handler, Chadwick, O’Brien infiltrates Bilby’s operation within the Syndicate. His mission is to discover who in the Orion Syndicate has their claws in someone in StarFleet and who the identity of the StarFleet informant is.

As O’Brien’s mission progresses, with O’Brien gaining Bilby’s confidence by fixing things like Klingon disruptors for him, it becomes more complicated. O’Brien starts to find things about Bilby that he actually likes and when Bilby’s boss, Raimus, brings a Vorta to a meeting, the connection between the Orion Syndicate and the Dominion is exposed. While Chadwick works to extract O’Brien and learn the identity of the StarFleet mole, O’Brien struggles to keep himself and Bilby alive.

“Honor Among Thieves” suffers most from being a pretty formulaic undercover story. Director Allan Eastman and the episode’s writers do not stray at all from the unexpected. Eastman films the episode in dark, low lights so the whole thing feels murky and dismal (more than virtually any other episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), the line-up scene obviously does not leave O’Brien dead, and Bilby is humanized almost immediately when he and O’Brien speak in private. Even the casting for the episode is unimaginative. Michael Harney, who plays Chadwick, is playing a character virtually identical to the role he had on NYPD Blue. In fact, the only real surprise of the episode is that Chadwick is not the StarFleet mole.

Even so, “Honor Among Thieves” is worthwhile in that it fleshes out the universe of Star Trek that much more. Far too often seen as clean and bright, “Honor Among Thieves” explores one of the darker corners of the galaxy and that helps make the entire universe seem a bit more realistic.

The acting in “Honor Among Thieves” is decent and the characters are a little more rounded than in most episodes with guest starring groups. Nick Tate plays Bilby well and he manages to make his refrain of “family is the most important thing” not sound trite or droll when he repeats it. Tate is able to convey both the menace and the humor of Bilby’s character, which can be a real balancing act at times. He pulls it off well, for example, when he confronts O’Brien on the cake that his wife made and he is sharing with O’Brien. Tate has a subtle vibrancy that works well for the character.

Colm Meany uses “Honor Among Thieves” to help O’Brien seem a bit more sophisticated than usual. I write that without irony; O’Brien is one of the least-creative characters in the Star Trek franchise. While his engineering abilities force him to do the most complicated work, his solution to many problems is to beat on a panel to get it working, as opposed to imagining a completely different way to use a system or function. In “Honor Among Thieves,” O’Brien must think on his feet and Colm Meany sells the viewer on the idea that it is O’Brien and not a script that is dictating the character’s responses. When O’Brien opens his mouth and pauses, the viewer can see the wheels turning in his mind and Meany’s performance is nuanced enough to do that.

“Honor Among Thieves” is a pretty straightforward episode that tightly focuses on O’Brien. In fact, it feels forced when a scene pops up where most of the senior staff is complaining to Kira about how everything aboard the station is breaking down. That said, it is not an unsatisfying episode and fans are likely to enjoy seeing O’Brien in a challenging situation where he is not simply getting his ass kicked.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete Sixth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the penultimate season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode, movie and season reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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