Season 1, Episode 2
Episode 2 of 78
Network NBC
Air date January 7, 1994 (USA)
February 5, 1995 (Germany)
Written by Darrell Fetty
Directed by Danny Bilson
Guest stars: Richard Burgi
Quinn Duffy
Paul Freeman
Fay Hauser
Episode Guide
Once a Thief is the second episode of Viper. The episode aired on NBC on January 7, 1994.

Plot Edit

The episode opens with Joe driving the Viper in the streets of Metro City, whilst interjected by police radio report of a robbery at a jewelry exchange at 4th and Market, with the suspect (Duffy) making a getaway in a custom yellow vehicle. Just then, the yellow Camaro drives up in front of Joe, who starts chasing it. During the chase, he notices that the driver is very skilled, driving much like him.

As Joe is about to fire the pulse gun at the Camaro, he suddenly has a flashback from his life as Michael Payton and begins unable to concentrate, ending up narrowly missing the Camaro, which swerves to avoid crashing into a parked road grader, and the pulse hits the grader. Joe ends up driving between two road barriers, where the Viper gets stuck.

Back at the Lair, Frankie and Wilkes are looking over the Viper, where Wilkes decides to install a laser into the Viper's probe, whilst Joe is watching the chase footage on the computer screen. Suddenly, someone speaks to Joe inside his mind, telling him that what he experienced during the chase was a part of Michael Payton's earliest memories. The voice then identifies himself as Dr. Kenneth Samuels (Freeman), who has been trying to contact him for a while now, talking to him through the chip in his brain, telling him that he was the surgeon who installed the chip.

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Dr. Kenneth Samuels, the man behind Michael/Joe's brainwash.

Joe visits Samuels at his office, telling that he wants the chip removed, to which Samuels says that it would be fatal as the chip has now organically fused with the neural tissue. Samuels tells him that the had Joe's memories of Michael Payton recorded and stored on a microchip, and he is able to restore his old memory, if Joe completes a job for him: wanting him to steal something. Joe refuses, before Samuels gives him a disc containing a few samples of his previous memories.

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Lane Cassidy, the new leader of the Outfit.

Meanwhile, the suspect - Tim, whom Joe chased earlier arrives at a restaurant, where the Outfit's new leader, Lane Cassidy (Burgi) is eating with his assistant, Rachel (Julie Merrill). Tim gives Cassidy the loot from the jewellery heist. Impressed by the job, Cassidy tells Tim that the Viper driver is Michael Payton, Tim's old friend and mentor, and decides he could give him a job - stealing something from Quantimax. Tim develops a crush on Rachel, and Cassidy says that he might consider introducing him to her, once Tim proves his worth.

At the Lair, Joe starts looking at Payton's cyber-encephalogram, and later on, decides to pay another visit to Samuels. Samuels explains that he is a Doctor of Neural pathology, with focus on altering criminal behavior, and he believed that Joe would benefit from the procedure. Samuels says that he is the inventor of CEG, and he want Joe to steal it back from Quantimax research company, who funded the project, but decided to auction off CEG to the highest bidder, which he objected to, as it would have been used for mind control and political repression. In protest, he destroyed the blueprints, but Quantimax is still in possession of the prototype. Samuels intends to destroy the device. He is sympathetic with Joe, as he was also brainwashed - the day after he destroyed the data records, he was involved in a lab accident, and waking up in hospital, discovered his memory had been selectively tampered with, and the knowledge of CEG had been removed from his mind with it. Samuels tells Joe that the CEG will be transported to Quantimax's main facility tomorrow. Joe agrees to the job.

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Tim Rackem, Michael Payton's protégé.

The next day, Joe, staking out the Quantimax truck, morphs the Viper into Defender and takes off after it. However, he starts having second thoughts, and then encounters the Camaro from the first chase. He confronts Tim, and lets the truck drive away, before Tim also drives off, with Joe in pursuit. However, Tim manages to get away. Back at the Lair, Frankie, having ran Tim through the MetroPol database, had identified him as Tim Rackem, wanted for burglary, car thefts and street racing, who was just served a year in the prison, and was Michael Payton's protégé, and Payton had taught Tim everything. Frankie tells Joe that Tim was seen at a garage on 10th and Roosevelt. Despite Frankie and Wilkes' protests, Joe drives off himself to meet Tim at the garage.

Tim is happy to see "Payton" again, and calls him Mike, telling him that he had helped him build the Camaro. Tim tries to "restore Payton's memory", only to no avail, as Joe leaves, going back to Dr. Samuels, who shows him a schematic of Quantimax executive offices, and points him to the storage room, and tells him that he would have to steal it tonight, because in the morning, an international team of engineers will begin to disassemble its components to learn its construction. Later, Joe calls Frankie, asking him to provide him with details on Quantimax' security. Later, Wilkes presents Joe with the new, upgraded probe, now with laser added and controllable by a remote control.

In the night, Joe breaks into the Quantimax facility, and with the help of the probe, he successfully penetrates the vault and steals the CEG, only to be confronted by Tim, who takes it for himself at gunpoint. However, as they start to fight, Joe tries to stop the probe, which is now firing out of control, but the remote control has gotten damaged. It soon engages an alarm, after which, Joe manages to successfully stop the probe, and escape in the Viper with Tim.

Meanwhile, at home, Wilkes is called by Frankie, who tells him about the robbery at Quantimax, and that MetroPol has identified the two suspects as Tim and Joe.

Tim directs Joe to a gas station/garage, to try to "teach him a history lesson about himself". He tells Joe that during the day, the garage was booming with mechanics working on cars, and Payton owned the garage as a legitimate front for his Outfit dealings. Tim then shows Joe Payton's old car, a third-generation Pontiac Firebird racing car, that he taught Tim to drive in. He also gives Joe a gold 1932 $10 Eagle coin, that Payton used to roll between his fingers. Joe tries to implore Tim into giving him the CEG and leave town, as he wouldn't have a future with the Outfit, and once he made a mistake, they would kill him. Tim finally agrees, and gives him the CEG.

Meanwhile, Cassidy, hearing about the break-in and that MetroPol is investigating it, decides that Tim and Joe would have to be eliminated, so that there wouldn't be any ties to the Outfit.

At the Lair, Frankie and Wilkes are trying to locate Joe, and Frankie even mentions that it could be possible Joe has gone back to his old life as Michael Payton. The next day, Joe arrives at the Lair in the Viper, and is about to call Samuels, as he is confronted by Wilkes, telling him to make a choice on his memories, as they could affect his current life as Joe Astor. As he is about to arrange a meeting with Samuels, Samuels asks him to show him the CEG, only for Joe to discover that Tim had taken it out of the case and replaced it with the coin.

Having been told by Samuels that the CEG device emits a low-level electronic pulse, Joe and Wilkes head out in the Viper to track it.

Tim had called Cassidy, who had set him up for a meeting with Rachel, who is seen loading a gun in the background. Later, at the meeting place, Rachel shows up, and after Tim shows her the CEG, asks her for a date, only for her to pull a gun on him, just when Joe and Wilkes show up in the Defender and she starts firing at them, allowing Tim to get in the car and escape. However, as Rachel is about to escape, Joe fires a grappling hook into the Jaguar, then handcuffs her, just as Tim comes back. Joe asks him why he came back, despite having gotten a clean head start, and he answers that realizing he has nowhere to go, he intends to serve his time and later start over from a clean slate, and gives Joe the CEG.

Joe drives off from the scene, and goes back to Dr. Samuels, telling him that he had decided not to do the neurological implant, and instead decides to have the memories copied to a disk, so that he might take a look at them once in a while. Although Samuels tells him he couldn't do it, as there's 30 years worth of memories, Joe still decides not to have the memories restored. Samuels then puts the CEG on the floor, and Joe destroys it by stepping on it.

Trivia Edit

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Tim Rackem's 1972 Camaro Z28.

Starting with this episode, The Outfit's leader is now Lane Cassidy (Burgi), replacing Townsend from Pilot. During the season (and the original series), Cassidy would make three more appearances.

Tim Rackem's car is a yellow 1972 Chevrolet Camaro Z28.

Michael Payton's old car, later driven by Tim, is a red 1982 Pontiac Firebird race car.

Cassidy's car is a 1989 Chrysler Millenium concept car.

Rachel's car is a green 1971 Jaguar XK-E.

In Michael Payton's old garage, a 1970 Plymouth Superbird is featured.

The German title for the episode is "Ein gefährlicher Freund", translating as "A dangerous friend".

This episode creates a retcon with Dr. Samuels offering to install the memories of Michael Payton back into Joe's brain. However, in the series finale, "Split Decision", it is established that Joe always had the memories, and the chip installed in his brain only provided some sort of firewall to prevent him from using them.

Quotes Edit

Tim: I've been on my own, lived on the streets since I was 10. When I was 13, I tried to steal that old Vette of yours. You kicked my butt halfway down the block for tearing out your ignition, and then you showed me the right way to rip off a car. Do you remember that, man?
Joe: No, I don't.
Tim: You were like my big brother, Mike. Before you started helping me out, I was just a dumb little kid, scrounging for food in trash cans, stealing whatever I could for dope. You got me straight. I don't know where I'd be if it wasn't for you.
Joe: Maybe you wouldn't be screwing your life up right now.
Tim: I don't believe you, man! What is it with all this Dudley Do-Right crap? It ain't you, Mike.
Joe: I told you, I'm not who I used to be.
Tim: Oh yeah? Well who are you then? I sure can't tell! I mean, I could have sworn I saw my old pal Mike P down on 64 this morning! It sure looked to me like if someone hadn't changed his mind, he would have hijacked himself a truck. Well, what happened, Mike? Huh? What, you scared a little taste of the old life might turn you back?
Joe: I don't know what you're talking about.
Tim: I know you too well, Payton. You can't fool me, man. Your face is a little different, but inside you're the same outlaw driver you always were!
Joe: You know, for a kid who just did a year in jail, you're in an awful big hurry to go back.

Tim: Kinda like old times, huh?
Joe: I wouldn't know.
Tim: You could have left me back there, man.
Joe: If you get caught, you might have to answer questions about me.
Tim: Hey, I'm no snitch! Just who do you think I am?
Joe: I think you're a punk, you're mixed up with some bad people.

Joe: I'm gonna have to take that case.
Tim: You can't. I gotta deliver it, and you know what they're gonna do to me.
Joe: You give it to me, and you got all the more reason to leave town, start over someplace else.
Tim: I got a future here, man.
Joe: Any future you have with these guys lasts only until you screw up. What you don't know is they got an early retirement planned.
Tim: Not for me, I got things going on. Hey, they need a guy like me. And you. Look, I bet they'd love to get you back, man. I could talk to them for you.
Joe: You know, you're even younger than you look.
Tim: I know one thing for sure, if you and me were a team again, nobody could stop us. Come on, Mike, like it used to be.
Joe: I don't wanna have to fight you again, kid. Just give it here. Come on, you listened to Michael Payton once, listen to me now.
Tim: Alright. (Hands him the CEG)

Wilkes: (about the data chip of Michael Payton's memories) There's some nice memories in here, some pretty pictures, some good feelings. If that had been taken away from me, I'm sure I'd feel the same way you do. But you know something? Not all of my memories are as wonderful as these. As a matter of fact, a lot of them are pretty damn bad, so don't you think that yours might be a fairly mixed batch as well?
Joe: Maybe so. But good and bad, it's still my past. I think I'd like to have it back.
Wilkes: When that doctor uses that gizmo to reprogram your head, it won't just be some movie you can stand back and look at. Those feelings and experiences will be right back inside you. Now, how you gonna handle the hurt, the put-downs, the disappointments, the anger, all the things that persuaded you to make the wrong choices before? The criminal choices that made the world your enemy? Is the Joe Astor you are strong enough to overcome the Michael Payton you used to be?
Joe: I need to know who I am.
Wilkes: If you don't know that by now, you're not the man I thought you were.