DS9's version of Donnie Brasco (1997) is the age old story about the spy who begins to sympathize with those he or she is fooling (which TNG does as well with their seventh season episode "Preemptive Strike"). In this case, it's O'Brien infiltrating an organized crime unit which turns into a two man show as he deals with its leader, Bilby. Anytime the two interact, there's instant suspense and intrigue, because we know if O'Brien trips up and says the wrong thing it could cost him his life. (This, of course, is why both spy and organized crime stories have been a television staple since the medium was invented). Echevarria keeps the dialogue sharp and unpredictable to keep us on the edge of our seats, throwing in a few twists and turns in the plot to fill out the hour. (Some of his writing is forced, since it's unlikely anyone as low as Bilby would be trusted to carry out a high-stakes mission with the fate of the Quadrant hanging in the balance or that anyone as high as the Vorta would explain the entire master plan to those on the bottom rung). In the end, however, the success of the episode depends upon the actors playing O'Brien and Bilby. And no doubt Colm Meany and Charles Hanahan would be great together. Just one problem: Hanahan died just before shooting was about to begin. Filling in for him, however, is Nick Tate, and he does fine, creating a three dimensional portrait of a man who values his family, loyalty, and respect. It's easy to see how O'Brien could sympathize with him and how the two could grow closer together. It's possible Hallahan could have played the part better (with Eschevarria envisioning Bilby as more of a father figure like Macias in "Preemptive Strike") but Tate turns the hour into a poignant character study that's entertaining enough to spawn a sequel of sorts in the form of seventh season's "Prodigal Daughter". And hey, it's better than doing an episode about Dax and Worf bickering over where to spend their Honeymoon.
This episode is another installment in the "bad stuff happens to O'Brien" series, but unlike its predecessors nothing bad actually happens to him - instead, he's placed in a sticky ethical situation. He's placed in a situation that forces him to gain the trust of a morally-suspect-yet-deeply-honorable man. As is typical in these kinds of stories, O'Brien begins to show signs of "going native" and arouses worries from his Federation handlers; in this case, he makes "the right choice" and betrays his new friend for the greater good. (An interesting contrast is TNG's "Preemptive Strike".)
Colm Meaney could do these intense stories while asleep and provides another great performance here. The guy playing Bilby also gives a fine turn. Aside from that, I was left a little underwhelmed at the end. The story seems a little disconnected from the Star Trek universe and that throws me off a little. It's not as emotionally shattering as "Hard Time", nor as shocking as "Whispers", but still offers a very enjoyable 45 minutes of viewing.
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