At the risk of asking a kinda weird question….why does this episode exist?
OK, I am aware that is an odd question to ask. The most “realistic” reasons are fairly straightforward: the producers needed to make a certain amount of episodes per season. While there is a big, overarching storyline going with the Dominion War, and this episode does play a small role in it, not every episode is going to be about the big moments in said war. This is still a Star Trek series, and Star Trek is still, at least when this was made, a more episodic sort of show. Each episode is going to be more or less a standalone story. I don’t know (yet) if that will hold until the end, but for now, it’s still following that episodic format. And every episodic sort of series that isn’t one of those short-run cable shows that make at most 12 or 13 episodes is going to struggle to fill, in Deep Space Nine‘s case, 26 hour long (with commercials) for 26 episodes per year without doing one or two that appear to have dropped the ball. Even I can’t say at this point that every episode in season six has been gold, but the high points have been pretty darn high.
I figure there’s a good reason some fans argue that Deep Space Nine is the best Trek has ever done. I don’t know that I agree. At this point, I mostly want to see if it’s better than my memories of Babylon 5.
Furthermore, when making a show like this one, it is typical to put the spotlight on different members of the cast. This time around, the spotlight goes to Chief O’Brien, and for once, it doesn’t seem to be to make the Irishman suffer. To be sure, he faces a moral dilemma and he’s in a dangerous spot, but there’s nothing close here to some of the things that have been done to him on this show this time around. Heck, Colm Meaney is a heck of a good actor. Let him do something different once in a while, and he won’t disappoint. I have no objections to any of that sort of stuff.
Heck, I didn’t even necessarily think it was a bad episode. I’ve seen a lot worse, and at this point, it seems to be just a standard episode of 90s Trek. There is the DS9 edge where it may be in more of a moral gray area, but that’s all there is to it.
No, my question is why is O’Brien doing this, like, at all?
By “this,” I mean go undercover for Starfleet Intelligence to infiltrate the Orion Syndicate on what looks like the planet Space Vegas. The Orion Syndicate is one of those nebulous criminal organizations that get mentioned from time to time, and the thing I remember about them most is that both Odo and Quark are kinda scared of them. There’s a plot here where the Syndicate might be working with the Dominion to destabilize the Alpha Quadrant, hence the reason for Starfleet to look into it. I can get behind that.
But why, specifically, is O”Brien the undercover guy?
I get that the Chief has a long history doing all kinds of jobs in Starfleet. But undercover work? Even if they did need a tech guy to be a down-on-his-luck laid off technician who could get himself recruited by the Syndicate and taken in, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for O’Brien to be an undercover guy. I’m not sure any of the core cast could pull it off, to be honest…well, maybe Dax given she seems to get along with everybody, but this just feels like an odd show to try to do this even while it is thematically appropriate to show what Starfleet Intelligence is doing with a war on. But sure, send O’Brien, then remind the audience that when he’s away, everything in Deep Space Nine seems to break down all at once. Sisko seems to be the only one there who knows where O’Brien went, and Bashir is the only one who would try to find out, less out of concern that everything is broken and more out of concern that O’Brien won’t become broken.
Mostly, this episode shows O’Brien befriending a midlevel boss in the Syndicate. Said guy, Bilby, was down on his luck before finding the Chief, and he’s a big believer in family. Like, a flesh-and-blood family, not a mob family. He has a wife and kids, plus a cat named Chester.
By the by, Chester looks like a Maine coon or some similar sort of long-haired feline. “Chester” doesn’t sound like an appropriate name for an animal that pretty.
Regardless, O’Brien is really there to get some dirt on Bibly’s boss. And he does: there’s a plan, approved by a Vorta client, to assassinate a Klingon ambassador and then use that to break the Klingon/Federation alliance. Good for the Chief. He can report that and get everyone arrested. One small problem: O’Brien’s contact figures they can just let the Klingons handle it.
OK, here’s where the episode almost gets interesting. Am I surprised O’Brien is sympathizing with Bilby? Not really. It’s an old trope, and Bilby isn’t exactly an innocent man as seen when he guns down the fellow who sold him some broken Klingon disruptor rifles. The Chief figures Bilby can just go to jail for his crimes, but letting the Klingons have him means Bilby is going to die and not easily. As such, O’Brien tries to warn his new pal.
And it doesn’t work, but not in the way it should. Bilby could easily have decided to kill O’Brien. He doesn’t. If he makes a move against the Chief, he knows he’ll look bad to his boss, and said boss is a lot scarier than the Klingons. Likewise, he knows if he doesn’t go off to be killed by the Klingons, the Syndicate will probably kill his family, and even with an offer of protection from the Federation, even with jail time, Bilby believes the Syndicate can still get him or his wife and kids. I guess he’s touched that O’Brien is looking out for him, and he does appreciate that O’Brien himself is a family man since family is the most important thing to Bilby. His only request to the Chief is O’Brien take care of Chester, which O’Brien very much does, forlornly stroking the cat at episode’s end.
Why did O’Brien go undercover? And man, even the writers seemed to get that Bilby should have at least tried to kill O’Brien since Bashir says as much over a chat at the end of the episode…I guess he can talk openly about what happened once he’s back at the station…
I don’t know why this one exists. But really, it was probably just to fill that 26 hour long episode requirement.