DS9: S6E15: “Honor Among Thieves”

In which O’Brien goes undercover. 

Planet PKD-IV

Today we’re looking out over a slum city. There are hovertrains, but also exposed piping and urban decay. Neon lights and lots of steam. It’s definitely an aesthetic. In what is, by the establishing shot, a seedy dive-bar, some patrons do some drugs and play poker, and O’brien eavesdrops on some crooks chatting about how upset Ramis is going to be and slide into a Tatantino-esque conversation about fast food. One of their number goes over to hack the commbooth, and O’Brien makes it backfire so he can leap to the rescue, saving the hacker and repairing the damage. His persona, Connelly, is a down-on-his-luck repairman, and the man who is evidently his mark, Bilby, ‘strong-arms’ him into repairing the device, Once contact has been achieved, he goes to meet the suit, his handler. This is a mission to infiltrate the Orion syndicate, and they’re using O’Brien because the syndicate has an informant in Starfleet, and therefore can’t use any of the regular Starfleet Intelligence operatives.

Back on-station, Odo and Quark are competing for Kira’s attention, because without O’Brien around everything is falling apart. Bashir, Worf, and Jadzia too. This is apparently a regular occurrence every time O’Brien goes away, because where Scotty inflated his time estimates and Geordi was just quietly competent under quietly competent management, O’Brien’s approach has apparently been to eat all the documentation. Things are so bad that even Bashir is complaining to Sisko, although it may just be because he misses his friend. Sisko reassures Bashir, and almost convinces himself.

O’Brien, as Connelly, has repaired the neural hacking chip to admirable standards, possibly by just replacing it. Bilby makes a big show of being suspicious so he can get O’Brien more On His Side. Bilby has a Maine Coon, a small apartment, and a rifle that needs repairing before he can pass them off to his boss. Bilby is part of an organization where, when the Boss (Ramis) asks for something, you don’t ask why. Bilby is also a bit of a family man, although they’re on another planet, because he’s in a dangerous line of work. He sends them everything he doesn’t send upwards in the pyramid-scheme organization. There’s also the fun moment where O’Brien gets The Loyalty Test – can he be honest to his boss about the wife’s cake not being good? And to twist the knife, Bilby’s thrilled to have found an honest man.

When in doubt, always go for the knees.

O’Brien gets the parts to repair the Klingon rifle from his handler, via a Klingon ambassador, and has the rifles repaired shortly thereafter. They’re clearly part of some job that Bilby’s crew has to pull. Bilby demands to know where they came from, and O’Brien ‘admits’ they were stolen after trying to ‘protect’ Bilby. After this, O’Brien is clearly in, enough to get a tailored suit and to be in the room when Bilby and his crew get even with the supplier who sold the rifles. Bilby, until now, has looked like the nicest crime boss in the world, but we needed to be reminded that he is, in the end, not just a Bad Guy because Starfleet Intelligence said so. He’s got his reasons, sure, but he is not the type of person who would feel comfortable entirely inside the law anymore.

In his self-justification talk, he brags a bit about how The Organizaiton does have people on Earth, and in Starfleet, but that’s about it. Ramis is the mastermind behind that one, a comptroller running the weather system on Risa. Turns out that even in post-scarcity/Universal Basic Income Federation, loyalty can still be bought.

Ramis calls up, and demands an appointment. Ramis is friends with a Vorta, and at this meeting, Bilby vouches for O’Brien. Their Organization has a sufficiently high level of accountability that this is all it takes. The disruptors were for a job given by the Vorta, and a very important job at that. Since it was commissioned by the Dominion, the obvious implication is that it will be a false-flag operation to split the Klingons and the Federation up and make either power a more vulnerable target. And the clues Bilby gave O’Brien are going to be useful to his handler, as is the tip-off about the Orion Syndicate working with, or for the Dominion. Sadly, this digs O’Brien in even deeper.

Next job is O’Brien and the hacker working together to rob the Bank of Bolius, and O’Brien getting a hooker from Bilby as congratulations, who he has to turn down For Keiko. As Bilby reminds Miles, ‘Family is the most important thing.’ This always preceeds Bilby getting tragically sentimental. This time he’s bragging about his ability to read people, and being a real decent human being when he’s not shooting people in the chest for crossing him. The best Bilby has to look forward to is safety from the Syndicate in prison, when this is all over.

The next important event is Ramis and the Vorta full of bad news – someone in the crew is in a whole lot of trouble for being a traitor to the Organization. The Vorta fingers O’Brien, but it’s actually the guy with the big mustache, for not side business without paying dues. Justice is swift, and then on to business. Bilby is to kill the Klingon ambassador using the rifles, and the Votra can’t resist bragging about the details of the plan once he finds out that O’Brien can appreciate it. The assassination is meant to galvanize political sentiment against the Klingon-Federation Alliance faction, get the Klingons to withdraw, and isolate the Federation.

“I had the Weather Control guy set up some lightning to remind you that ‘good’, ‘nice’, ‘just’, and ‘necessary’ aren’t always synonyms.”

When O’Brien reports this to his handler, the handler indicates that they’re going to warm the Klingons and let them take care of it. While the doctrine is pretty spot-on (warn your allies of an impending attack on them you know about, O’Brien’s indignation does highlight something – Starfleet Intelligence doesn’t get to claim clean hands just because they’re not the ones pulling the trigger. They can claim it was the right thing to do, but pretending you’re not setting people up to be killed moves toward dubious territory, ethically speaking. The handler decides it’s time to pull O’Brien out, and O’Brien punches him out and goes to warn Bilby he’s being set up.

That confrontation is… not smooth. Miles tries to come up with any excuse he can to call it off without outing himself, until Bilby throws it out as a joke and O’Brien confirms it. It destroys the guy – he can’t even turn himself in because the Syndicate would go after his family. He has to go through with the plan, sacrificing himself, so that Ramis won’t go after his family in retribution.

Evidently, these operations aren’t classified, once they’re over, because O’Brien talks about it later with bashir. Bashir tires to console his friend, but the hammer here is that if we can sympathize with O’Brien because he feels guilty, and think of Chadwick the Starfleet Intelligence Guy as a jerk for playing him, what ought we to think of Bashir for his reaction?



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