• Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives

  • Awards & Nominations

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Honour Among Thieves (Review)

Honour Among Thieves is effectively Star Trek: Deep Space Nine pitching itself as a nineties crime film.

One of the luxuries of Star Trek is the sheer flexibility of the format week-in and week-out, the capacity to tell different sorts of stories depending on the tastes of the writers. The franchise can do comedy episodes like The Trouble with Tribbles or House of Quark, political thrillers like Sins of the Father or Homefront and Paradise Lost, weird science-fiction like Whispers or Threshold. The possibilities are endless, the variety incredible. It is a remarkable flexibility, to the point that the audience is never entirely sure what genre they will end up with in a given week.

To Bilby or not to Bilby…

The writers on Deep Space Nine have long been fascinated with the darker side of the Star Trek universe, the pulpy aspect of the franchise that was largely downplayed in the Rick Berman era. Episodes like Necessary Evil played with the conventions of noir storytelling, while Whispers hinted at some postmodern paranoia. The Orion Syndicate were brought back into twenty-fourth century continuity in The Ascent. Occasionally, the strands would come together, most notably in A Simple Investigation, a cyberpunk noir that blended “net girls” with bantering assassins.

Honour Among Thieves very much continues along that evolutionary line. It picks up the Orion Syndicate thread from earlier episodes like The Ascent or A Simple Investigation. However, it also positions itself very much in the context of nineties gangster cinema. This is Deep Space Nine channelling Donnie Brasco, casting O’Brien as a mob informant finding himself sympathetic to his target.

Miles ahead of the enemy.

The Deep Space Nine writing staff can be rather shameless in borrowing from their influences. Profit and Loss was very much Casablanca. Meridian was Brigadoon. Fascination was A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Our Man Bashir was a titular nod to Our Man Flint while also an extended homage to the James Bond franchise. They have even tended to look outside the franchise for influences in their science-fiction, with Statistical Probabilities referencing Asimov, Whispers alluding to Dick, and A Simple Investigation nodding to Gibson.

The other Star Trek shows also do homages and references, but rarely as overtly and not quite as frequently. There is something quite compelling about the way that Deep Space Nine lends itself to these extended homages. Appropriately enough, Deep Space Nine seems to serve as something of a nexus point, an outpost where the Star Trek franchise is most likely to intersect and overlap with other types of story. In some ways, the series could be seen as a metaphorical extension of the eponymous station; a pop culture junction.

The Krole show.

It makes sense that the production team would finds themselves drawn to this sort of plot. As René Echevarria confesses in The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, the “undercover officer sympathises with his target” plot is basically a stock television episode:

“We’d been looking for an O’Brien show, because it had been a while since we’d done one,” says Echevarria. “I’m not sure we found a level to this that made it truly an O’Brien show, or even truly a Deep Space Nine show. The story’s a little familiar. Every television detective series has done a story about a crime fighter going undercover, getting involved, and coming to respect the code of the bad guy. So it wasn’t a resounding success for me. But O’Brien is our Everyman, and if O’Brien can find himself sympathizing with a gangster-thug-killer, then anyone should be able to.”

Echevarria’s right. “Undercover cop has second thoughts about criminal” was already a cliché when Miami Vice went into production, and that series hit upon the plot point several times over its run. In some ways, it makes sense that Deep Space Nine would tell this story now. The basic plot feels like a “why not?” story, in the same way story One Little Ship.

Ganging up on him.

Of course, the basic premise of Honour Among Thieves is ridiculous. The plot hinges on O’Brien being snapped away from his position as Chief Engineer on Deep Space Nine to infiltrate a small corner of a galactic criminal empire on Farius. The script offers only the weakest possible handwave to explain why an engineer was best suited to the task. “I realise you didn’t exactly volunteer for this. Believe me, I wish we hadn’t been forced to turn to someone outside Starfleet Intelligence for help,” Chadwick confesses, explaining that O’Brien is looking for a mole.

Even ignoring the fact that intelligence organisations tend to have their own internal investigative units to handle this sort of thing, or that this would seem the perfect wet work for the unit at Section 31 waiting to be introduced in Inquisition, the question remains: why choose O’Brien? Why choose any staff member on Deep Space Nine, but why choose O’Brien in particular? O’Brien was a soldier, not a spy. Sisko might be too high profile to send, but surely Kira would do Starfleet Intelligence a favour? Surely Dax would be better suited to the task given her lifetimes of experience?

“Why can’t it be Bashir’s turn to suffer?”

Of course, there is a very good reason why O’Brien has been chosen for this assignment, although not within the storytelling universe. Honour Among Thieves is the sixth season’s first (and best) “O’Brien must suffer!” episode, the annual (or twice-annual) fixture wherein the Star Trek universe draws upon an infinite array of science-fiction storytelling choices to ruin the life of the franchise’s first working class protagonist. Colm Meaney brings an incredible humanity and fundamental decency to O’Brien, which makes it easy to engage with his plight.

Honour Among Thieves is built around O’Brien because it simply would not work as a story with Dax or Kira. Dax is generally self-aware enough to put an emotional distance between herself and her work, particularly given her lifetimes of experience and her status as a science officer. Kira has unapologetically admitted to murdering collaborators and non-combatants in the past, so she would not bat an eye at what happens to Bilby. O’Brien is a character with a very real sense of emotional empathy and considered compassion. His affection for Bilby feels genuine.

In a criminal world…

Still, on a practical level, this is a ridiculous conceit. It is probably for the best that Honour Among Thieves does not attempt to over-explain it. There is a reference to the peculiarity of the circumstances in the teaser, but then the story gets moving. Similarly, the writing staff once again find themselves fumbling against the constraints of nineties network television, spending the first three minutes of the episode after the teaser writing the rest of the cast into throwaway scenes on standing sets.

These scenes are a staple of episodes of Deep Space Nine that feature one or more members of the core cast on an extended trip away from the station; the inclusion of the scene between Odo and Quark at the start of Through the Looking Glass comes to mind, as does the joke about Quark’s advertising jingle in The Quickening. Modern television shows would be comfortable enough leaving these cast members out of the episode entirely, leaving Honour Among Thieves as an O’Brien-centric episode with a small appearance from Bashir or Keiko in the coda.

Having his cake and eating it.

However, there is a sense that the conventions of nineties television are hemming in the writers. Because Deep Space Nine has this large primary cast and these impressive standing sets, there is an expectation that the series should check in on them at least once a week. It must seem particularly frustrating to actors like Michael Dorn, Armin Shimerman or Rene Auberjonois to have to go through their standard make-up routines for a single forgettable joke scene that plays very much against the tone of the rest of the episode.

Honour Among Thieves seems well aware of this awkwardness. Tellingly, the episode gets these station-bound scenes out of the way as weekly as possible, bookending the O’Brien-driven plot thread rather than punctuating it. In some ways, this heightens the awkwardness of these short scenes; the cut from the crew lamenting the station’s technical malfunctions to Bashir being legitimately concerned about O’Brien is jarring, if only because it would be easy enough to segue between the two scenes by giving Quark’s last line in the previous scene to Bashir.


The crime genre is a staple of popular culture. It could reasonably be argued that the gangster is just as much an American archetype as the cowboy, although crime films have endured more successfully than westerns. Crime films date back to the earliest days of the medium, from the less-than-a-minute short Sherlock Holmes Baffled to the short film The Musketeers of Pig Alley to the serial Fantômas to the classic Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler. Even modern audiences are casually familiar with the explosion of film noir in the thirties and forties.

Still, while the basic formula is very old and Deep Space Nine has a longstanding affection for classic Hollywood cinema, Honour Among Thieves exists very much in the context of nineties crime films. The genre never disappeared from American cinemas, but it did go through something of a rest period in the eighties. While the eighties still spawned classic (and hugely influential) crime films like Scarface or Once Upon a Time in America, the volume of crime films dropped dramatically.

Sisko refuses to play ball.

In the nineties, there was a major resurgence in films about criminals and gangsters. Honour Among Thieves went into production in late 1997. On top of Donnie Brasco, that year saw the release of Jackie Brown, L.A. Confidential, Lost Highway, Cop Land, Hoodlum, Mean Guns, Truth or Consequences N.M., Blood and Wine, Acts of Betrayal and City of Industry. The previous year had seen the release of films like Bound, The Funeral, Mulholland Falls, Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead and Last Man Standing.

This resurgence of the crime film during the nineties was an interesting cultural moment. It could be seen as a reflection of cultural anxieties in the aftermath of the moral certainty presented by the Cold War, perhaps most effectively evoked in the release of and discussion over films like Natural Born Killers. It might also have been read as a reflection of contemporary masculinity in crisis at the turn of the millennium, driven by the veiled anxieties that would be given form in Fight Club.

“We’re also in this episode!”

On less pseudo-psychological sense, it could be contended that the revival of these crime in the nineties reflected a broad cultural nostalgia for the aesthetic and mood of the seventies. This trend was reflected elsewhere in popular culture by the paranoia of figures like Oliver Stone and Chris Carter, or even in the temporary revival of epic natural disaster movies like Dante’s Peak or Volcano. This connection to seventies crime cinema was cemented by Francis Ford Coppola’s rather cynical return to The Godfather with The Godfather: Part III.

In a more general and commercial sense, the resurrection of the crime film during the nineties could be traced back to the work of directors like veteran Martin Scorsese and enfant terrible Quentin Tarantino. Taken together, these two filmmakers really redefined what the crime film looked and felt like. Scorsese crafted an energetic exploration of masculinity against a strong moral background, while Tarantino brought a reflexive charm and wry banter to the genre.

Shocking security systems.

Indeed, the influence of both directors is visible in Honour Among Thieves. There are some flashes of weird Tarantino dialogue touches in how the members of the Orion Syndicate banter among themselves, particularly in the opening episode. Bilby, Flith and Krole are introduced having an extended conversation about what to eat. “Let’s have Krellan food,” Flith suggests. “No,” Bilby protests. “Last time that gave me heartburn.” Flith responds, “That’s because you eat too fast.” Bilby explains, “I eat when I’m hungry. And when I’m hungry, I eat fast.”

It is a short scene, but it very much feels like an homage to the opening scene of Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino’s theatrical directorial debut. That film also focused on an undercover cop infiltrating a group of criminals, and it opened with a much more extended and colloquial conversation over breakfast that culminates in an argument about the finer etiquette of tipping. It is not a scene driven by plot exposition, instead using a mundane scenario to introduce the audience to the characters and their dynamics. Honour Among Thieves does something similar, albeit clumsier.

Fine dining conversation.

Similarly, Honour Among Thieves also borrows some of its stylistic sensibilities from Goodfellas and Casino, Scorsese’s nineties gangster duology. Both of those films explain the allure of the criminal lifestyle in heavily materialistic terms. Gangster films always played with the idea of crime as alluring, but often suggested that the thrill or the action was the appeal. There are shades of that to Scorsese’s work on Goodfellas and Casino, but his films tend to emphasise the material appeal of the life of crime; the money, the social prestige, the trappings of power.

Honour Among Thieves suggests something similar about the Orion Syndicate. While the Star Trek universe has always been a bit cagey about the workings of money and currency, there is still something decidedly materialistic about how Bilby effectively welcomes O’Brien into the organisation. He buys O’Brien a nice suit and a shave, the markers of class and privilege. “Now that’s more like it,” Bilby insists. “I think you look great, Connolly.” The episode does not suggest crime as a life of violence, instead playing into the idea of crime as performative masculinity.

Suited to the task at hand.

If the scene introducing Bilby could be seen as an allusion to Reservoir Dogs, then the raid on the “Bank of Bolius” in the middle of the episode feels like a nod to Goodfellas. The positioning and execution of the robbery in Honour Among Thieves evokes the way that Scorsese handles the Luftansa Heist in Goodfellas. Scorsese places the iconic robbery in the middle of the film, but keeps the action mostly off-screen. Instead, it is presented a scheme that enriches the characters and defines the bond between them. The Bank of Bolius robbery is used in a similar way.

However, Honour Among Thieves feels closest to Donnie Brasco. Released in February 1997, about half a year before the episode went into production, Donnie Brasco is an adaptation of the autobiographical true crime novel of the same name. Joseph Pistone infiltrated the mob during the late seventies, tying back into that broader sense of cultural nostalgia. The adaptation played up the idea of Pistone as a conflicted man caught between his duty and his affection for his mob contact Lefty.

O’Brien is truly disrupting the Orion Syndicate.

As George S. Larke-Walsh argues in Screening the Mafia, the film plays into a whole host of specifically nineties sensibilities in its portrayal of the mob world and Pistone’s interaction with it:

The tired and disillusioned figure of Lefty dominates the film. The pathos surrounding the character is far greater than was evidenced in Pacino’s previous gangster film, Carlito’s Way. Lefty has never been anyone’s hero, and this is shown as the reason for his weakness in his relationship with Donnie. The film expertly dissects the intricate hierarchy of Italian American Mafia relationships. The notion of the morality of traditional bosses in The Godfather appears niave after the brutality of Goodfellas and sympathy is now focused on the vulnerability of the little-men, rather than the angst of the upper echelons. Furthermore, the style is reminiscent of Goodfellas, in that many scenes are constructed as “staged documentary”, as if monitored by FBI cameras. However, as with The Godfather or The Funeral the film’s emphasis is on emotions as much as action. The characters may not be likable, but they have well-rounded personalities and are not simply caricatures. The Village Voice describes Lefty as a “lovable goombah.” Donnie Brasco marks a significant shift in narrative focus from violence and style to psychological angst – a fitting precursor to the TV series The Sopranos.

There is that sense of fractured masculinity, of a man in a role traditionally considered quite masculine who is nevertheless emasculated and disempowered.

A witless witness.

There are any number of direct parallels between Honour Among Thieves and Donnie Brasco, most notably in the way that Bilby “witnesses” for O’Brien in front of his direct superior. It recalls the way the conversations in Donnie Brasco about how “vouching” for the wrong person might get a mobster killed. It reinforces the sense of the informant’s complicity in the eventual tragic death of the sympathetic mob figure, by allowing the criminal to take responsibility for the undercover officer who knows that they will likely die for this error in judgment.

“If I vouch for the guy, I could end up dead,” Donnie protests at one point in Donnie Brasco, underscoring the error in judgment that Lefite has made. Honour Among Thieves underscores that same tragedy repeatedly. “Do you know what I just did for you?” Bilby asks of O’Brien after their first collective meeting with Raimus. “I witnessed for you. If anything happens, I’m accountable.” When Raimus kills off Flith, he teases Bilby, “It’s a good thing you never witnessed for him or you’d be lying there too, Bilby.”

Let Gelnons be Gelnons.

However, the similarities between Honour Among Thieves and Donnie Brasco are most pronounced in how the stories approach their criminal characters. Deep Space Nine has always been the Star Trek show most interested in characters who exist at the periphery. This is most obvious in the status quo suggested by Emissary, the idea of a trading stop that exists as nexus between important places. It is reinforced by the recurring sense of Deep Space Nine as an island of misfit toys, inhabited by the broken and the dysfunctional.

Even as the sixth season makes a conscious turn towards the epic and sweeping with episodes like Sacrifice of Angels, The Reckoning and Tears of the Prophets, there is still a sense that the writing staff appreciate the show’s position on the periphery of the Star Trek universe. Stories like Statistical Probabilities, Waltz and Far Beyond the Stars have assured audience members that the Dominion War is still raging. However, Deep Space Nine remains at the edge of that fray. Once Sisko retakes the station, Deep Space Nine seems to be at the edge of the board.

Complete and utter Flith.

Deep Space Nine is presented as out of the way for Senator Vreenak in In the Pale Moonlight, a detour from his important business of state. The sixth season tends to examine the Dominion War from a number of perspectives that are not explicitly tied to the front lines; Honour Among Thieves looks at how the war affects the criminal underworld, Change of Heart focuses on a mission behind enemy lines, In the Pale Moonlight plays with the political games being played. These choices were probably budgetary, but they do fit with the ethos of Deep Space Nine as a show.

In some respects, it makes sense that Deep Space Nine should be drawn to the Orion Syndicate as a concept. The criminal organisation had been introduced in Journey to Babel, but had been largely ignored by the Berman era. However, Deep Space Nine was particularly interested in elements that subverted the Star Trek brand. Deep Space Nine introduced concepts like Section 31 or currency into the twenty-fourth century. These were elements that may have fit with the first season of Star Trek, but which brushed up against the expectations of the Gene Roddenberry’s vision.

Between his references to Coridan in One Little Ship and his hobnobbing with the Orion Syndicate in Honour Among Thieves, Gelnon has quite the Journey to Babel fetish going on there.

Deep Space Nine arguably had a very romantic and anarchistic view of life on the frontier, skeptical of any centralised authority. The Federation was repeatedly undermined and tweaked, whether through its policy towards its citizens in The Maquis, Part I and The Maquis, Part II or through the more militant version of Starfleet suggested by Homefront and Paradise Lost. Centralising power tended to be a bad thing, and there were recurring suggestions that the Federation was at best a bureaucratic nightmare and at worst a force for ill in the universe.

In fact, there are even hints at that within the episode. O’Brien’s primary mission on infiltrating the Orion Syndicate is to expose a mole within Starfleet Intelligence. Starfleet and the Federation have had any number bad apples before, from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country to Too Short a Season to The Drumhead to Ensign Ro. However, these corrupt officials tended to be motivated by ideology or belief. In contrast, the mole in Honour Among Thieves is just plain greedy.

More like Starfleet UNintelligence, eh?

O’Brien comments upon this in his discussion of the mole with Bilby. “I just find it hard to believe that someone in Starfleet could be bought,” O’Brien confesses. One imagines that Gene Roddenberry would sympathise with him. Bilby explains how this officer fell into the Orion Syndicate. “Raimus met him when he was vacationing on Risa last year.” It provides a nice call back to Let He Who is Without Sin…, both in reference to the events of the episode and to the themes. Of course the softest and weakest representatives of the Federation are found on Risa.

This skepticism about centralised authority perhaps explains the choices that Honour Among Thieves makes in its handling of the Orion Syndicate. The episode makes a point to characterise Bilby as a working stiff rather than a major crime lord. In many ways, Bilby consciously mirrors O’Brien. Deep Space Nine has consistently suggested that O’Brien is a character who is effectively a working class individual in a world of phasers and replicators. Bilby is an ordinary guy who works to provide for his family. He just happens to work as a gangster.

“Revealing I’m a mole is on the top of the list of things I’m not supposed to do, right alongside acknowledging that Let He Who Is Without Sin… is a thing that happened.”

Honour Among Thieves makes repeated reference to Bilby’s lack of influence and power. When Krole short-circuits his implant, he complains, “I can’t go to Raimus and ask him to pay for a replacement.” Even Bilby coughs up his “fare” to his superior. “I pay my fare to Raimus,” he explains to O’Brien. “Every month. That’s the way it works. He’s above me in the organisation.” The Orion Syndicate seems to have a very rigid hierarchy.

Gelnon, the Vorta from One Little Ship, even likens the criminal Orion Syndicate to the fascistic Dominion, which provides a clear framework for how Honour Among Thieves views the organisation. “I never realised how much the Dominion and the Orion Syndicate have in common,” Gelnon confesses to Raimus. “It seems that in both organisations, loyalty is everything.” There is also a sense that both organisations are overseen by uncaring powers with little compassion for those who execute directives.

Righteous Dominion.

Indeed, there is probably something very revealing in the fact that Honour Among Thieves returns time and time again to the word “organisation” to describe the Orion Syndicate. It steers clear of the words usually applied to criminal empires in popular culture. The Orion Syndicate is not a “clan” or a “family”, words that imply some common bond or mutual concern. The Orion Syndicate is an “organisation”, a rigid hierarchy with an interest that seldom advances the cause or the plight of its lowest-ranking members.

Bilby is a killer, but he is also trapped within a much larger power structure. “When Raimus tells you to do something, you just do it,” he tells O’Brien. Later on, he confesses, “Sometimes I wish I could just get away from it all. But what would I do with myself? I’m too old to start over. Besides, who am I to complain? The organisation’s given me opportunities I never thought I’d have.” There is something tragic in Bilby’s inability to imagine a life outside a system that will happily grind him up and sacrifice him to the Klingons.

“So… eh, is it a bit weird that I brought her to my apartment if she’s supposed to sleep with you?”

Indeed, Honour Among Thieves makes a point to emphasise how pathetic and impotent Bilby actually is. At one point, Bilby hires a prostitute for O’Brien, which feels like a nod to the hyper-macho opulence of gangster films, only to play out in a delightfully awkward fashion; O’Brien excuses the prostitute so that men might engage in polite conversation without recourse to her services. When O’Brien confesses his identity to Bilby, the crook laments his own status as collateral damage. “I wasn’t even your target. I suppose I’m not important enough.”

After all, Farius is not even the centre of the Orion Syndicate. It is not the hub of any major activity. It is a backwater world. “There’s a Klingon Ambassador here?” O’Brien asks Chadwick at one point. “Gowron mustn’t like him too much.” Although O’Brien is joking, it is a nice set-up for the reveal that Gowron actually doesn’t like the ambassador too much, sending him to Farius as a way of marginalising him. Even the Dominion’s plot of Farius seems secondary. It might cause some political instability, but it is unlikely to turn the tide of the war overnight.

Chewing it over.

As such, Bilby is presented as a tragic figure rather than an aspirational one. He is very much framed in the same way that Donnie Brasco presents Lefty. He is not a masculine ideal, but instead a dysfunctional and marginalised figure. Bilby’s attempts to appear macho involve tailored clothes that simply look “fine” and a prostitute who gets paid for sitting on a bed fully clothed. In some ways, the portrayal of Bilby as a representative of organised crime in Honour Among Thieves hints at the anxieties around masculinity in late nineties pop culture.

Nick Tate does good work as Bilby, although Honour Among Thieves is somewhat overshadowed by surrounding circumstances. Tate was not the production team’s first choice to play Bilby. In fact, Tate filled in at the last minute. The role had originally been offered to veteran character actor Charles Hallahan, perhaps best known for his work in films like Going in Style or The Thing. Although Hallahan was actually younger than Tate, he had a very different screen presence. This would likely have changed the dynamic greatly.

A plant with some implants.

As The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion explains, the last-minute change in casting arose from a very tragic set of circumstances:

“This is a very complicated and sad story,” Eastman says. “The casting decision really came down to Nick and Charlie. But what Ira and I found interesting is that there was a kind of physical resemblance between Charlie and Colm, so that you could almost believe that Charlie was Colm’s father. And we thought that would have been very interesting to work with, so that tilted the balance. We went with Charlie, and I told Nick about our reasons.

“Charlie was very excited to do the show,” Eastman continues. “But before we got into production, he had a heart attack and died. It was very tragic, losing such a gentleman and an actor of that quality, a very, very sad circumstance, but we had to go ahead and call Nick. It felt quite odd asking him to come and do the part in that situation, but he took it with a great feeling of wanting to do it in honour of Charlie’s memory.”

Tate is very effective as Bilby, creating a character who very clearly wants a friend. However, there is sense that Bilby might have worked better as a father figure to O’Brien.

“I knew it was you, Connolly. And it broke my heart.”

Honour Among Thieves is a little bit too rough around the edges to really stand out as a classic episode. Perhaps Hallahan might have been that missing element that could have elevated the story around him. However, it remains a fascinating addition to the canon, and an intriguing genre experiment for Deep Space Nine. It also works quite well at presenting an off-centre view of the Dominion War, suggesting a front that operates beneath the fleets vying for control of the Alpha Quadrant.

Honour Among Thieves is an oddity, but an endearing one. It tells a familiar story, building it around a reliable aspect of Deep Space Nine. That’s no crime.

You might be interested in our reviews of the sixth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:

17 Responses

  1. I liked this episode but it always irritated me that the Orion Syndicate apparently doesn’t have any Orions in it. It is like making a movie about the Mafia where no Italian or Italian American characters appear.

    To be honest it probably bothered me more after the way ‘Enterprise’ horrendously botched the Orions, so some of this irritation is retroactive. Still you would think a crime plot would be the perfect opportunity to show one of the iconic Star Trek races in a more modern setting – I could easily see an Orion woman con artist or femme fatale figure who could be antagonistic or sympathetic (or both simultaneously) without resorting to the bizzare ‘the slave women are secretly running things’ plot.

    (I do concede this would have run counter to the hyper masculine ethos of modern crime films and shows though, and DS9’s own track record with the Indendant suggests any number of ways such a character might have gone wrong.)

    • One thing I couldn’t work into the review is the use of O’Brien as an Irishman going undercover to infiltrate the mob. (Bilby is also a name from the British Isles.) I thought that was a nice nod to the tradition of Irish gangsters in films, as overshadowed as they might be by Italian Americans.

      I didn’t mind Bilby working at so low a level that he never interacted with an Orion. It kinda reminded me of that old cliché about how you couldn’t really be “made” unless you were Italian American by blood, although I can’t cite a source for that. I like the idea of a class distinction within the organisation.

      • The not being fully Italian thing came in ‘Goodfellas’ – though even there in the context of another main character being made.

        Maybe I’m the only one who likes Orions but it still felt like a serious disappointment to explicitly bring back the Orions and never bothered showing one. Again I perhaps wouldn’t be frustrated but I think ‘Enterprise’ showed what could have been – ironically both by botching the Orions and rescuing the Andorians and Tellarites from obscurity (and doing the best work with the Romulans since mid-TNG.)

        I don’t think I’d have nearly as many problems with this episode if they’d just given the organisation a different name – as it is I rather like it, but it is hard not to see it as a great missed opportunity.

      • Good call with the Goodfellas thing. I wanted to guess that, but wasn’t sure enough.

  2. I really like this episode even if the plot is standard. It is still an example of what DS9 did better than any other Star Trek series which was to just let really good actors bounce off one another.

    Also, though I agree the comedic scene where everything is broken is a little jarring the context of the episode, I still do love the detail of Jadzia being the one to help Worf out of the turbolift. It conveys so much about their relationship without saying a word.

    • Yeah. I mean, DS9 does good filler. I also love the Quarks promo gag in The Quickening. It just seems strange in this era where we’ve accepted that credited regulars don’t have to appear in every episode.

      • At least Cirroc Lofton doesn’t have to appear in every single episode of DS9, whereas TNG irritably crowbarred Wil Wheaton into an episode, whether it needed him or not.

  3. Jackie Brown, LA Confidential, Lost Highway, and Cop Land all came out in ’97? Wow, good year for gangster movies!

    • You know when you can feel a mood in the air? Like with The Matrix, Dark City, eXistenz, The Thirteenth Floor, The Truman Show in 98/99? I love that feeling in pop culture, like something’s lodged in the subconscious.

  4. Watching S6 recently, I’ve noticed the difficulty it has in sustaining the ongoing Dominion War, and that in order to do so, it has to take a few sidetrackings and diversions. Fair enough, telling an ongoing war story is far more difficult on television than say condensing it into a two-hour movie, but the effort does show through, particularly this year.

    Some of DS9’s standalone episodes that divert our attention away from the war have been excellent, like Far Beyond the Stars and Waltz (which abandons the war right after the teaser), but others have veered between the unremarkable Resurrection to the epically miscalculated Profit and Lace.

    Honour Among Thieves fails to rank among the best of this impressive season, but it’s also a few rungs up the ladder from the worst of it. It is this year’s perennial O’Brien must suffer episode (Time’s Orphan is only one by default) and I liked it for shining a torch on a corner of the Star Trek universe TNG would never have dared to tread.

    It does seem rather unlikely that Starfleet Intelligence would turn to someone outside of they’re organisation to catch a mole. In some ways, this would have made a far better introduction for Section 31, where the big twist that the officer they’ve chosen is really the one they suspect of being a traitor would have been a real humdinger.

    But it does give us a chance to explore a more seedier side to the Alpha Quadrant, and to finally give us a glimpse into an organisation that was only seen peripherally in The Ascent and A Simple Investigation – The Orion Syndicate.

    O’Brien has to infiltrate the Syndicate to flush out the mole (something that amusingly causes no end of technical problems back on DS9) by posing as a fix-it man down on his luck, who falls in with a band of robbers in the pocket of Raimus, an important figure in the Orion Syndicate.

    The episode charts a rather familiar course (especially if you’ve seen Donnie Brasco). O’Brien comes to sympathise with they’re leader Bilby, leaving him with a moral dilemma – how can he sell out someone he’s come to think of as a friend? The episode isn’t really going anywhere new with this (even the title is quite generic), but it does manage to wring a few surprises from such a well-worn scenario.

    Bringing the Dominion into it is an interesting twist (I agree the Dominion and the Orion Syndicate are similar organisations that both place heavy emphasis on loyalty and punish severely those who betray them) but it’s not a twist that radically changes the tone of the episode (unlike Keevan’s sudden death which radically changed the stakes of The Magnificent Ferengi). The plot to assassinate a Klingon ambassador, hoping to frame the Federation and damage they’re alliance is all something that happens off-screen, and is never given the treatment it deserved.

    The heart of the episode is in O’Brien’s friendship with Bilby, although the sudden casting of Nick Tate changed the dynamics of what was supposed to be a surrogate father/son relationship to that of not wanting to backstab a friend.

    Nick Tate does Ok in the role and he and Colm Meaney have a nice rapport (when O’Brien turns down the services of a call-girl Bilby brought for him, I liked the way it implies to Bilby that O’Brien might be gay, something Meaney plays with a wonderful twinge of discomfort), but Honour Among Thieves never shakes how predictable it really is.

    When SI decide to lay a trap for Bilby, we know O’Brien will blow his own cover and try to save him, even though he knows that will bring down the wrath of the Syndicate and the Dominion on Bilby’s family.

    I like episodes that explore the darkness at the heart of the Star Trek universe, but Honour Among Thieves never fully goes the whole route like In the Pale Moonlight or The Siege of AR-558. Also, I don’t think Bilby was an interesting enough character (certainly not enough to merit a sequel with Prodigal Daughter anyway).

    Honour Among Thieves feels like an unnecessary sidestep from the more important issues of this season, and no matter how hard the writers try to pry the Dominion in to remind us they haven’t forgotten there’s still a war going on, we’re never unaware of that fact.

    • I’m not sure that the season’s difficulty is sustaining the Dominion War, so much as figuring out where it wants to go. The fifth season builds towards its big events, but the sixth season builds outward from its beginning. I quite like a lot of the smaller weirder episodes of the sixth season, but there’s a general sense of listlessness that runs through the year. The seventh season has a much stronger sense of purpose, despite its missteps.

      • S6 reminds me of DS9’s third season, where it often struggled to sustain the Dominion as an ongoing antagonist. It often felt uneasily caught between this new enemy they had introduced (but with not much clue over what to do with them) and the episodic storytelling of S1-2.

      • That’s probably fair to say.

  5. I am glad to read in the comments that you at least like the Quark-joke in “The Quickening”. Maybe it is nostalgia, but these diversions, introductions, etc. make DS9/older television much more cozy and “democratic” than the latest streamlined productions which are so focussed and autistic.

    With regards to “Honor among thieves”: I can barely hold back tears at the end of the episode. Bilby is such a broken man, and this character is very well written in its contradiction between group-egotistical, but caring values and his sinister job. It is such a tragic story. And the whole setting was a nice change of location and pace. It felt somewhat “Star Wars”ian in showing that the galaxy is a large space with a great share of dark and moody places. Very film noirish. The reason why O’Brien was there on this distant planet observing some not too important criminal and why there were no consequences for him after knocking Chadwick down – who cares?

    And out of my own personal experience I can say as much: Caring for someone else’s cat is an immense burden!

    • I mean, I should be clear: I am very fond of the episode, as little sense as the premise makes!

      And yes, cat-sitting can be a nightmare!

      • For cat-sitting btw: see the underrated half of the 7th season episode “Force of Nature” of TNG. I thought only “my” cat made those hissing sounds… Another btw: I await your TNG-reviews of season 4 forward!

      • They are on the cards! At some point!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: