A prison sentence and haunting memories for O’Brien in the episode that originally aired on April 15,1996. This is Hard Time.
Station Log Stardate Undetermined: Hard Time
After O’Brien is implanted with the memories of twenty years of prison, The Chief finds that he is having trouble acclimating to his freedom aboard Deep Space Nine.
Chief O’Brien awakes from believing he was incarcerated for twenty years and is shocked to learn that only a matter of hours has passed.
Returning to the station it is clear that he is not well, acting like he has actually been away for years. Even though O’Brien claims he was completely alone the flashback of his memories show that he had a cell mate named Ee’char. For some reason, he is not being honest with his friends and family.
Julian explains that the memories O’Brien has of his time in jail are real and are not removable. He advises that she work with him and give him time to re-acclimate to his life back aboard the station and with his family. Miles begins having hallucinations of his cellmate Ee’char all around him even seeing his former cellmate in his own home.
It isn’t long before Miles begins exhibiting actions from his time in prison, including hiding food and sleeping on the floor. Naturally Keiko is worries about him but it is when he begins lashing out at his friends that things take a darker turn. After attacking Quark at the bar, Miles soon finds himself hallucinating Ee’char in the real world, with his former cell mate insisting that Miles needs him now more than ever.
Soon Ben Sisko has a frank discussion with Miles, indicating that the Chief needs to start seeing his councilor and begin attending daily sessions until O’Brien is better. Despite his plea’s, Miles is forced on Medical Leave and Captain Sisko makes it clear there is no room for negotiation. Immediately, Miles confronts his old friend Bashir, telling the Doctor that the Miles he knew died in that cell. Ee’char insists that Miles tell someone about what happened while they were in prison together but the Chief continues to refuse to listen. It is only when Miles lashes out at his daughter Molly, that the Chief realizes that something is wrong with him. Soon he finds himself in one of the cargo bays with a phaser on full charge under his chin. Miles is ready to die.
Just as he is about to end his life, Julian arrives and begins to discuss the matter with his old friend. Miles is beside himself with grief, he believes he is a danger to all those around him and ends up telling Julian about Ee’char. Julian is shocked to learn that Miles imagined a cell mate named Ee’char that Chief O’Brien killed in a fit of anger over food just weeks before being released. To Miles, the murder of Ee’char was real and he has been dealing with the guilt of his actions since being released.
In the end, Julian manages to talk the Chief down from pulling the trigger and Miles returns to his family, beginning the healing process.
Is this a ‘Good’ Episode:
This is a classic example of the ‘Miles Must Suffer’ trope that plagues this series. Every time the writers need a punching bag, who do they choose? Miles Edward O’Brien of course! That being said, this one is a solid episode that tackles the struggle of rehabilitation and PTSD.
Star Trek has never been one to shy away from the sociopolitical stories and this episode is certainly no exception. Even though Miles has only served 20 years in prison in his head, the experience is no less real for him. With that, this episode serves as a great example of what it is like for people who have been incarcerated or detained for long periods of time. For many who have been incarcerated, the simple effect of being torn away from society can be devastating to their mental health. Many end up having a difficult time re-acclimating to society and only end up going back to prison as they can no longer function in the regular world.
A famous study done in 1973, known as the Stanford Prison Experiment, showed that incarceration itself can result in a major change in the personalities of otherwise mentally stable people, resulting in severe depression and even sadistic tenancies from the experience. It is here that this episode does a tremendous job showing the once, upbeat and joyful O’Brien literally brought to his knees by the guilt and memories of his time locked away from his family.
All that being said, this is where DS9 has a severe hiccup in character development. Much like Geordi being kidnapped by the Romulans and forced to try to kill someone in The Mind’s eye, literally nothing of this experience is carried forward on the series. We don’t even get as much as a reference or a moment of difficulty resulting from this even for Miles and it is largely forgotten by even his Keiko. You would think at least Quark would act a little standoffish toward Miles for the rest of the season but no. Not even so much as a ‘Hey Chief, I know what happened, but could you lay off the Lobes next time?’
Due to this, while it is a solid and thought provoking episode, it is sadly very much a filler that has no baring on the series a whole.
Gleanings and Cool Bits:
- There is a great moment where Chief O’Brien is working with Jake to relearn some of his old skills. This shows that Jake himself is really becoming knowledgeable about the duties of an engineer.
- This isn’t the first time someone experienced a lifetime of memories they have to deal with and it will not be the last either.
Thanks for reading the Retro TV Review, I look forward to discussing the rest of the series with you, one episode at a time every Monday, Wednesday and Friday! Next Review: Shattered Mirror
If you would like to read more reviews I have a weekly series called Key Movies Of My Life that comes out every Thursday and for more retro TV goodness check out the rest of the Retro TV Reviews here.
As always, please feel free to comment below and share your experiences with these episodes as well. If you just happened by, tell me what you think! Don’t Forget To Follow me if you like the blog!
Late To The Game 9/19/2021 (Originally published 9/18/2019
Special Thanks to Memory Alpha as they are one of the best sources for details on Star Trek information available. Although I have a pretty deep knowledge on the subject, they have proven invaluable as a regular resource.
“Star Trek and all related marks, logos and characters are solely owned by CBS Studios Inc. This fan production is not endorsed by, sponsored by, nor affiliated with CBS, Paramount Pictures, or any other Star Trek franchise, and is a non-commercial fan-made production intended for recreational use. No commercial exhibition or distribution is permitted. No alleged independent rights will be asserted against CBS or Paramount Pictures.”