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Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Honor Among Thieves

"You have a family?"
"Yeah."
"Good. That's the most important thing."

O'Brien goes undercover to uncover a Starfleet mole and walks away with a gorgeous, new cat. And a side helping of emotional trauma.

This did not feel like a Deep Space Nine episode. This is not necessarily a bad thing. But it did not feel like one and that's important to note. It's very divorced from everything else that's going on in the show. The only time that we actually spent on the station with the rest of the cast is them complaining about how everything falls apart without O'Brien there. Beyond the alien special effects makeup and mentions of Klingons and Gelnon (the Vorta from last episode) showing up, this could very easily be any standard crime procedural.

Whether or not this is ultimately something to hold against the episode could be a matter of debate. I think that there is enough good here for it to ultimately not matter that much. The real strength is in the developing relationship between O'Brien and Bilby. To quote Bilby, I never quite knew which way to jump with him. There were and are so many examples of a certain kind of character: a criminal with a some kind of honorable code that is then shown to be not so honorable. After all, even though Bilby had a wife and kids that he clearly loved, he also had no qualms about killing the supplier who gave him broken disruptors. So which way would he jump? When would he flip and we see the incredibly dangerous man that we were warned about at the beginning of the episode?

We never did get this flip. Bilby stayed honorable. He kept his code. Even his committing murder was more about protecting himself and his family than anything else. Because that was all that mattered in the end: his family. And the friends that he welcomed into his circle and became his family. I suppose that it where the real emotional heft of this story drives from. Bibly ultimately ended up considering O'Brien to be his family. He could have, and arguably should have, just killed O'Brien when he found out, told his boss about it, and see if damage control was even remotely possible. And maybe it wasn't possible. Maybe it would have been just as much a death sentence as just walking into the trap. It was implied to be as much. But O'Brien was his family.

I didn't want Bilby to just resign himself to his fate, even if it was the neatest way to end the episode. The mole was found, Bilby dies, and we can get back to the main plot without any dangling threads to worry about. Honestly, I kept waiting for it to be revealed that O'Brien's contact was the mole. He was just so sketchy and callous, although you can also easily just turn around and say that he was simply being professional. Family may be the most important thing, but it's not an uncommon thing. Everyone has a family. It's not a strong enough reason to save a criminal's life, especially when you're thwarting an assassin attempt. It's a tragic ending, and one that stayed with me for awhile after I ultimately finished the episode. Which is good, because you really need to stick the landing when the episode is character and relationship driven as opposed to having a strong plot.

Because there isn't really a plot as much as a series of interconnecting scenes, only a small handful of which actually driving the action somewhere. Our characters aren't doing anything as much as reacting when more powerful and important people demand that they do so. There's no real sense of power or agency anywhere, although that does line up nicely with our ending. Neither O'Brien nor Bilby had any power. Not in the plot, and not in how things would end.

Random Thoughts

Chester the Cat is wonderful, great, and so beautifully fluffy. If nothing else, this episode is worth the time spent with this glorious creature.

Did Bilby not have to witness for the other two members of his gang? They were his inferiors, right? So how did they get by without needing a character witness?

Obviously, the Klingons and the Federation need some kind of extradition policy. Although I suppose that would hinge on the Klingons not killing everyone on sight.

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An Honest Fangirl loves video games, horror movies, and superheroes, and occasionally manages to put words together in a coherent and pleasing manner.

3 comments:

Victoria Grossack said...

I understand the actor who played Bilby was a last-minute replacement because the original choice died, or something. Somehow the original had a stronger relationship with Colm Meany (Chief O'Brien). However, it's hard for me to imagine that this episode could have ever felt integral to the series (and amazingly, there's a follow-up in season 7).

At least the O'Briens got a cat. Always approve of cats.

An Honest Fangirl said...

Victoria, yeah, from what I've read, Bilby's original actor died only a few days before shooting was supposed to begin. Apparently, he and O'Brien were supposed to have more of a father/son relationship than what we ended up getting here.

magritte said...

I think this is a case where the meanings of phrases has changed over time. In the early 90's, if someone asked a man whether he had a "family", what they really wanted to know was if he had a wife and kids. While almost everybody has a family, having children is different from having siblings and parents.