"Honor Among Thieves"
Airdate: February 21, 1998
137 of 173 produced
137 of 173 aired
O'Brien is tasked with going undercover to infiltrate the nefarious Orion Syndicate. But can he stay awake long enough to do so?
Here. Have a matte painting. Hope it gets you through the episode.
Kevin: Let's get the biggest sin out of the way right up front. The "let's send a cast member, not a specialist" to do a dangerous and specialized job is always a little nuts, but we forgive when it's a good episode, like Riker in "First Contact" or "Frame of Mind." Here, I get that they try to play it off as their agents are compromised by a leak, but why would that leak also imperil anyone you brought in? Aside from just being a middle aged man, he also has a wife and two kids at home. He is the opposite of the person who is going to actually be equipped to go deep cover for an unknown period of time and make the heartless call when needed.
Matthew: This really sinks the episode before it starts. It simply doesn't make sense for O'Brien's character. I can't imagine a credible intelligence organization recruiting O'Brien for this job, let alone recruiting a random person for something that is sensitive. I could maybe stomach it with Bashir, or even Jake. But all told, this is the sort of story that just seems like it should be left on the editing table and not approved for production.
Kevin: And now on to the second biggest sin: the episode is boring. I admit being mildly interested when it turned out that the Vorta were using the Syndicate as a front for political assassination, but it all felt very tepid by the end. Give me at least a look at the governor who is being targeted, or maybe a fun action chase or anything to snap the tedium.
Matthew: Yep. This episode had a huge case of narrative blue balls. They talked and talked (and talked) about the impending plot, the details of the impending plot, the players in the impending plot... and never got to the plot.
Kevin: The real underlying problem in the episode is that I am not sufficiently connected to O'Brien or Bilby and their relationship to care about the tough choices either character is making. There's a way to portray the morally complex criminal, even a murderous one (see: The Sopranos), but I just don't care enough to get that point with these guys. They have leaned so hard on the Syndicate being ruthless that it makes no sense anyone would ever engage with them, particularly when the resource-rich open-border of the Federation is right nearby. Maybe they could have dug in and shown that, like any really successful criminal organization, the Syndicate provides a fair share of the basic social services that the corrupt/inept governments on these unaligned worlds can't. It would have also given Bilby a little more shading. If he's just stealing lunches and bank accounts, I kind of don't care, even if it is for the sake of his family. If he were doing it because the Syndicate keeps the entire local economy afloat, that's a little more nuanced.
Matthew: Part of this is a production criticism, but it applies to writing, too - if you're going to have your characters talk in hushed tones in the same place for scene after scene, they had better be talking about THE MOST INTERESTING THING IN THE WORLD. That was not this. The details and the execution of the conspiracy plot are never gotten to, and the richness of the background elements of the culture, suggestions for which you mention above, are basically missing. Bilby has a backstory, but all we get are that he is staying away from his family on New Sydney so as not to embroil them in "the life." Ummmm... why is he a part of this life in the first place? Everything we're told leads us to believe that he is living your basic, comfortable Federation lifestyle. What motivates him to endanger all of that? This story was just a mess overall.
Kevin: I can't fault either Meaney or Nick Tate as Bilby. They both were workhorse actors doing their job. Apparently, another, older actor was cast with the idea of a more paternal relationship forming, but the actor passed away shortly before filming. I get that as a problem, but frankly his contact in the Syndicate could have been Rosalind Chao, and I still don't think the script would ahve worked. They both did their jobs with a kind of sturdy Irish dependability; it would have been nice if it were in service of a better episode.
Matthew: I had zero problem with Nick Tate. I don't know the other guy who was cast, and I did not find any issues of casting with the relationship between the two principals. In fact, I'd say Nick Tate was the most interesting thing in the episode. But as they say: if it ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage. I liked Tate enough that I wanted lots more from his character. The story didn't deliver it. Colm Meaney was his typically good put-upon everyman.
Kevin: The henchmen were all noir cutouts, though the Vorta was a little bit of fun. Nothing much to write home about, all told.
Matthew: I wish Leland Crooke had been brought back as a recurring Vorta. He was good in "One Little Ship" and he was good here. I thought Joseph Culp was a big nothing as Raimus.
Kevin: Trek has done noir-inspired sets before, and with much better results. I get they were going for grimy and rundown, but the result was kind of a dark brown soup on the screen. Everything from set to clothes to most of the aliens were the same color. I don't really have more to add to my analysis than that, and that kind of says it all. You shouldn't spend the episode off the station and generate less visual interest than a bottle show.
Matthew: The digital matte painting was so interesting, that it was really jarring to be sfuttled between the same three boring sets incessantly (bar, alley, quarters). All were dimly lit, none were interesting, and their blandness combined with the story's quiet delivery of nothing at all really killed my interest.
Kevin: The light levels and color scheme of this episode seem to be a pretty efficient metaphor for the episode as a whole. It is a dark, murky smear in my memory, and the rewatch did nothing to improve this snoozer. Still, it's not egregious enough to merit a 1, so I am going with the 2.
Matthew: This was really hard to get through. But nothing was horribly stupid, and it's basically forgettable (even while you're watching it). So I'm in agreement with the 2 for a total of 4.