Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Hard Time"

4 stars

Air date: 4/15/1996
Teleplay by Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Story by Daniel Keys Moran & Lynn Barker
Directed by Alexander Singer

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"When I had the chance to show that no matter what anyone did to me I was still an evolved, human being, I failed. I repaid kindness with blood." — O'Brien

Nutshell: Intense and pulling few punches, this is one of the most powerful dramas in the history of the franchise.

O'Brien is wrongfully charged with espionage by the Argrathi government and sentenced to submit to an artificial memory implant that makes him believe he has been incarcerated in a cell for 20 years. He wakes up after a few hours of "therapy" (torture would be a better word) to return to a life he hasn't known for a perceptual eternity.

It's not too often that O'Brien gets a story all to himself, and it's a wonder why not—Colm Meaney is a terrific actor, which is demonstrated in full force by "Hard Time," a powerful, engrossing tale about a man trying to cope with the psychological effects of an agonizing mental punishment.

I think the reason this episode works so well is because it is, in essence, a very simple concept: A man rebuilding a life he hasn't known, while simultaneously burying a dark secret. This makes riveting drama, especially when applying it to a character that the audience has grown to care about over the years of two television series. O'Brien is the perfect character to apply this tragedy to, because he's the series' resident "everyday man," with a family who loves him, and friends who worry about him.

The plot sticks to the essentials. (Aside from a passing reference, "Hard Time" doesn't waste any time explaining why exactly the Argrathi punished O'Brien, or if they even gave him a trial, or even who the Argrathi are.) This story is solely about the aftermath, which is empathizing to say the least.

I suppose even a sturdy character concept like this could potentially be botched, but with Deep Space Nine's creative team at work, there is never an iota of evidence that the writers, producers, actors, and director Alexander Singer didn't know exactly what they were doing. Because "Hard Time" lies in capable hands, it becomes a show with emotional substance.

Consider, for starters, the first act. O'Brien returns to DS9 for, what is to him, the first time in 20 years—and the episode drives the point home with a surprisingly simple but very effective shot of the station from O'Brien's point of view in the Runabout. This success of this shot all lies in its method: It's as if the episode is showing us the station for the first time ever (sort of like the opening scenes of the pilot episode, "Emissary"). By this point, "Hard Time" had my complete attention, and for the remainder of the show it kept it.

The show spans the weeks following O'Brien's return, as he sees Keiko for the first time in two decades (even forgetting that she was pregnant), begins the process of relearning the station, and eventually tries to go back to work. It's drama that rings very true because of top-notch execution. Perhaps part of the success lies in the episode's skill of using detail. Scenes like O'Brien's difficulty with using the replicators, his initially bizarre-seeming habit of rationing food, and the fact that he has become accustomed to sleeping on the floor may seem easy to overlook at first, but they convey emotion and uncertainty extremely well.

The other reason this works is because of Colm Meaney's performance—he's terrific. Just about every scene directly involves him, and in every scene Meaney is compelling, commanding, passionate, and believable. His ability to successfully convey a wide range of emotion—whether confusion, sorrow, anger, or frustration—is highly admirable. It's above and beyond anything he's done on the series to date; the writers finally supply him with a story that has genuinely great impact.

O'Brien claims he was alone in his cell for the entire sentence, but the episode's flashbacks prove otherwise. He in fact had a cellmate named Ee'Char (Craig Wasson) who became his best and only friend and helped him mentally survive his endless lockup. But now on DS9 he begins hallucinating; Ee'Char appears to O'Brien on numerous occasions and tells him to listen to his friends and come to terms with his experience.

But O'Brien can not come to terms with his ordeal because he refuses to fully acknowledge it. He tries to repress irrepressible memories, and doesn't want to admit how severely the experience has affected him. And it becomes evident that something else happened to O'Brien aside from his jail term—something that is eating away at his very soul.

Bashir sets him up with a counselor, but O'Brien refuses to continue going to the meetings. O'Brien becomes edgy and impatient, eventually demanding that Bashir stay the hell away from him. He threatens Quark over a petty situation. He gets impatient and nearly hits his own daughter. His inability to deal with his situation forces Sisko to relieve him of duty and mandate counseling terms.

Still, O'Brien does not want to face what he has been burying since he returned. The episode climaxes when O'Brien pulls a phaser out of a weapons locker and contemplates killing himself. And when Julian talks him down from suicide we learn why O'Brien is so tormented and overwhelmed with guilt: because he killed Ee'Char over a heated misunderstanding just weeks before he was released.

This turns out to be one of those "human situation" messages, and it works quite well. It's about how O'Brien needed to feel like an evolved human incapable of murder despite what the Argrathi put him through. Yet, in one moment of rage, he killed his best friend over some scraps of food—and now he is unable accept it or accept himself. He feels no better than an animal. Bashir's point, however, is a relevant one: that an animal wouldn't have given killing a second thought, whereas O'Brien believes he deserves to die. Now this is strong storytelling.

The episode ends the way it should: with no miracle cures to O'Brien's problems, but simply the assurance that over time he will survive, recover, and return to his normal life.

Technically speaking, the episode is nicely structured so that flashbacks and current time fit together properly and smoothly. Also lending a helping hand is a poignant score by Dennis McCarthy—one of his best in a long time—which often sets an appropriately dark mood. But the overwhelming reason "Hard Time" is a winner is because of its human and emotional qualities wrapped up in a positively gripping hour.

I have only one worry about the outcome of this episode, and I worry because I've seen it happen all too many times on TNG, DS9, and Voyager: I worry that next week we may see no evidence of O'Brien's experience, despite the fact that this type of experience should noticeably change his personality. If O'Brien is walking around next week as if nothing has happened, I will not buy it, and I will not be pleased. Still, in such a case that would be a fault of the series in general, definitely not the fault of "Hard Time."

Previous episode: Rules of Engagement
Next episode: Shattered Mirror

◄ Season Index

93 comments on this review

Jakob M. Mokoru
Fri, Nov 9, 2007, 4:54pm (UTC -5)
Great episode - a shame that you've been right with your worries: Next episode we had "Dart throwing, Holosuite going" - O'Brien again!
Eddy
Wed, Jan 9, 2008, 9:58pm (UTC -5)
Definitely one of my favorite episodes in all of Trek.
Paul
Wed, Feb 27, 2008, 12:51pm (UTC -5)
Great episode. I always thought Picard needed similar reorienting after "The Inner Light"
Jake
Sat, Mar 1, 2008, 12:17pm (UTC -5)
Ummm..., didn't "The Inner Light" end with Picard reorienting himself in his quarters("I find I'm having to rediscover that this is truly my home.")?
AeC
Thu, May 22, 2008, 9:23pm (UTC -5)
I almost never hear any kudos for Craig Wasson's performance as Ee'char in this episode. Yes, it was a Colm Meaney vehicle and he gave us a tour de force, but Wasson's performance, though more understated, may have been its equal. It's not easy to play a serene character without making him a complete cypher, but Wasson did it, imbuing Ee-char with humor, patience, and, in the "real life" scenes on the station, an overwhelming concern and compassion, often with nothing more than his eyes, that was as wrenching as watching O'Brien slowly eating himself from the inside out. The character was almost a Bodhisattva, and Wasson played him as such perfectly.
Paul
Sat, May 24, 2008, 6:25pm (UTC -5)
Sure he did, but I meant more than a 2 minute reorienting, surely something like the experience Picard went through would take him a year to reaquaint himself with the matters at hand.
matt
Tue, Jun 24, 2008, 5:59pm (UTC -5)
one of my favorite episodes of trek for sure, good review
Jake
Tue, Sep 30, 2008, 5:13pm (UTC -5)
Then surely something like the experience O'Brien went through here would also take him a year to do some similar reaquainting with "the matters at hand."
Nic
Tue, Sep 15, 2009, 9:13pm (UTC -5)
Regarding your comments on "The Inner Light" (which probably applies to "Hard Time" as well), here's what Ron D. Moore said:

I've always felt that the experience in "Inner Light" would've been the most profound experience in Picard's life and changed him irrevocably. However, that wasn't our intention when we were creating the episode. We were after a good hour of TV, and the larger implications of how this would really screw somebody up didn't hit home with us until later (that's sometimes a danger in TV – you're so focused on just getting the show produced every week that sometimes you suffer from the "can't see the forest for the trees" syndrome). We never intended the show to completely upend his character and force a radical change in the series, so we contented ourselves with a single follow-up in "Lessons".

Good episode, but I thought the 'distressed person tries to commit suicide and is talked out of it by a friend' was a little cliché. The other thing that bothers me (and again, not a problem with the episode itself, but with the series as a whole) is that just a few episodes ago in "Sons of Mogh" Bashir easily erases a Klingon's memory because he was suicidal, but here he excludes that option almost immediately. I think I would prefer to lose all my meories than to remember 20 years of torture in prison.
Firestone
Sun, Dec 27, 2009, 4:08am (UTC -5)
Although it was a good episode with a strong performance, I found the premise of a 20 year imprisonment a little to much to make for a truly believable story. The O'Brien after it would never be the same again. They should have made it much shorter, say 4 or 5 years. Granted, not all the behaviour seen in this episode would occur after 'only' 5 years, but it would be just enough not to mentally wreck him.
Nic
Tue, Apr 27, 2010, 2:40pm (UTC -5)
I complete agree with you, Firestone. Maybe 6 years would have been ideal.
Elliott
Sun, Dec 26, 2010, 2:27am (UTC -5)
This episode is a masterful display of deception. It appears to be about O'Brien and his ordeal, but really nothing about it makes much sense. As some of the other commentators have pointed out, the sentence of 20 years is unbelievable. Such a length would have made Miles insane without question, in which case his murder of Ee'Char would have been the result of his finally having lost his humanity--his EVOLVED humanity.

But no, this is really an episode sticking its middle finger up at Gene Roddenberry...again. We are told that in school, Federation teachers tell students that humanity is super awesome and doesn't ever succumb to rage or hatred. What? Nothing about that is what the Star Trek premise is about--humanity experiences the same emotions as it ever has or will--as cavemen did, as they did during the crusades, during our time and the future--but the "evolved" part is about the society we create, not our feelings. That such an arduous torture caused Miles to loose the humanity he had been taught is not a comment on the flimsiness of the premise at all; he was TORTURED, he went insane after 20 years of it. Geesh.

There were a number of very tender and poignant moments in the episode, especially the very quiet responses of Bashir and Odo, but the ending felt ridiculous; if we are to accept this story as being true, Miles must either abandon his old life or kill himself (abandon it all together). Julian's little pep talk in the cargo bay is not enough to evoke the kind of healing Miles would need to even begin a journey to normalcy.

In VOY season 3, Kes is forced to endure a different kind of trauma; at the end, Tuvok tells her she will never be the same, and sure enough Lien's portrayal after this episode is noticeably different from before even though the scripts thereafter never mention the actual events of the episodes. THAT's continuity, that's character development. I'm sick and tired of this show's fans claiming that rehashing past events constitutes good story telling.
Keleigh
Tue, Jan 25, 2011, 8:05pm (UTC -5)
I was reminded of 'The Inner Light' of course, but also of the original series episode 'A Taste of Armageddon'. Like the war without mess in that episode, the Argrathi developed a way to mete out punishment with almost no cost to themselves. They can sentence a man to 20 years of psychological torture with no jails, guards, food, medical care or other support, and no need to look anyone in the eye and explain why this is happening to them. It all happens in an afternoon, with an 'outpatient procedure'. The wider ramifications for their society are left unexplored, but it's clear they have no compunction against meting out the most severe punishment for relatively minor infractions. This is why the 20 years that seems so 'cruel and unusual' to us seems trivial to them. There are always those in any society for whom no price is to high to pay to ensure their security. When that price is so low, a lot of people can be tempted to think that way.
jon
Thu, Jan 27, 2011, 6:46pm (UTC -5)
Elliot why do yoy make a tin god of Gene Roddenberry OK how does Voyager honour Gene Roddenberry then
Justin
Mon, Apr 23, 2012, 1:08pm (UTC -5)
Elliott, the only deception here is your attempt at crafting yourself as an objective viewer. You're not. At all. Nearly everything you post about the show is reactionary and colored by your arrogant preconceptions of what a Star Trek show *should* be.

You took what most people here agree is an excellent hour of television and reduced it to a collective "Screw You, Gene Roddenberry" by the writers. Honestly, how dare you? Many of the DS9 writing staff worked with Gene Roddenberry. They knew Gene Roddenberry. Gene Roddenberry was a friend of theirs. Elliott, you're no Gene Roddenberry.
Elliott
Mon, Apr 23, 2012, 6:10pm (UTC -5)
@Justin:

The show did not have to bring up the values O'Brien was taught in grammar school in order to show a very moving and personal hour of television, which for the most part this is.

I don't know what else to use as evidence of this other that what is said in the episode; Federation children are taught that modern humans don't succumb to hatred or rage. This is just stupid. When has this been true? It SOUNDS sort of like something that might fit in with a society which vaunts its own peaceful values, which the Federation does, but when you take an opposing argument and reduce it to childish dribble like that, your counterargument is virtually meaningless. That's par for the course in this series.

There are also, some evident flaws in the episode which have nothing to do with philosophy or Gene Roddenberry--like the pep-talk I mentioned.

Overall, it's a pretty darn good episode with some flaws and one hugely offensive and stupid philosophical counterargument to what I attribute, out of convenience, solely to Gene Roddenberry, but which has grown up in the hands of many others. Who his friends and coworkers were is not particularly relevant. He made no attempts to be ambiguous with his beliefs or his axioms for Trek.
Latex Zebra
Wed, May 23, 2012, 8:46am (UTC -5)
You've got to love a good contrarian.
Duge
Thu, May 24, 2012, 9:55am (UTC -5)
It probably wasn't supposed to be the point of the ep but it would have been nice to understand a little more about what O'Brien did to warrant such a punishment and,more importantly, why the Feds would not have been able to get the Agrathi to reverse the procedure. Seems like there should have been an extradition hearing before his mind was messed with in the first place too. No Fed recriminations for what the Agrathi did to one of its officers? However, substance-wise the ep made for a good dramatic ep.
Gaius Maximus
Sat, Jul 21, 2012, 9:59pm (UTC -5)
This episode really does feel to me like a dystopian counterpart to "The Inner Light," but to me it's just way too depressing. It's not one I enjoy seeing come round when I rewatch DS9. Although Meany certainly does an excellent job, and I really like Siddig's performance as well, seeing O'Brien and his family suffer is just too grueling an experience for me. The message of the show seems to me to be that 20 years of brutal imprisonment will really mess a guy up, and I didn't need 40 minutes of show to tell me that. The journey is painful and the destination seems obvious, so I can't say that I see much good in the episode.
ian
Tue, Jul 24, 2012, 1:44am (UTC -5)
Where is Mr. Spock and his "forget," when you need it?

All in all A rather useless, pointless episode...
...I seem to recall...
Cindi
Mon, Aug 13, 2012, 4:10am (UTC -5)
Another Inner Light-like episode but I dunno...I tend to agree with Gaius Maximus - "The message of the show seems to me to be that 20 years of brutal imprisonment will really mess a guy up, and I didn't need 40 minutes of show to tell me that."

Personally I didn't mind that much the depresiveness. Much of DS9 is dark and depressing and I like it. The biggest problem for me was that the episode is so damn obvious and therefore boring. First few minutes are intriguing but then you have pretty good idea what's gonna happen. Sure, you don't know how precisely would O'Brien's mental condition manifest itself but it's clear that he'll be confused and his family will be hurting. The rest is just like an illustration of the book you've already read.
John
Fri, Aug 24, 2012, 10:01am (UTC -5)
Brilliant idea, brilliant execution.

And a brilliant use of Science Fiction: How many shows can take a character you've come to care about, put him through such a profound experience and still resonate and ring true?

Definitely one of the best of series. Hats off to the writers and Colm Meaney in particular.

Oh and good review Jammer.
Jack
Sat, Dec 22, 2012, 12:31pm (UTC -5)
A decent episode, but I spent the whole time thinking "why is the crew allowing O'Brien to suffer like this when they could perform Pulaski's mindwipe on him...surely Bashir could pull it off. The actual answer, of course, is that it would remove the entire point of the episode, but I can't give 4 stars to episodes that violates canon like that...
Nick P.
Wed, Mar 27, 2013, 11:46pm (UTC -5)
1st off, don't know if I agree with Elliot even though I want too. Yes, there was the whole "losing my humanity" crap, but at the end of the day, he killed a fake person, and one implanted by the program for a purpose. At least that is the way I took it. If an alien forces you to kill a fake person in your mind, I have a hard time arguing humanity is still "barbaric". In fact, I think Gene would have LOVED this episode. Which brings up my second point....

I get so sick of the peace-nik federation sometimes. So these aliens kidnap a starfleet officer for nothing, mind-rape him, almost destroy his career and life with NO apology, and the federation does what.......NOTHING. F-that. this is why I sometimes prefer original Star Trek. Hell, the Talosians did that to Pike for 2 days and they quarantined the quadrant!!!!!

3rd, I also am bothered by the fact they couldn't mind-wipe Obrian, when we have seen it at least 10 times in Star Trek.

That all being said, those are conceits you must accept as the audience, and if you can accept them, which I do, the episode is truly marvelous and thought-provoking! 4 stars!
Sintek
Sat, May 18, 2013, 1:55pm (UTC -5)
It was nice of the Agrathi to give Miles Bill Maher as a cellmate.

An all-around superb episode that is engrossing for the entire 45 minutes.
chrispaps
Tue, Jul 9, 2013, 7:52am (UTC -5)
Just watched this again. Its now more than 7 years since this was originally aired (!) and it is still as powerful and brilliant as ever. A true classic. I thought Craig Wasson as Ee'Char was also brilliant.
eastwest101
Sun, Oct 6, 2013, 5:32pm (UTC -5)
Just saw it recently and still stands up as a very strong episode, the musical score in particular was brilliant.
Kotas
Wed, Oct 23, 2013, 6:08pm (UTC -5)
Leave it to O'Brien to give us another good ep.

7/10
Dusty
Mon, Feb 17, 2014, 5:41am (UTC -5)
There's no question that Colm Meaney can give a wonderful performance. My question going in was, why did this all happen?

The first thing I feel is anger and dismay over what happened to O'Brien--he was punished with 20 years of simulated prison time for a crime he didn't even commit? And the Argrathi didn't even tell DS9 until after they carried out his sentence? I wish that had been explained. (Also, Bashir could selectively erase Kurn's memories in 'Sons of Mogh', but not O'Brien's?) Then I just feel sorry for him, and intrigued by him repeating old habits from prison in order to function. It was kind of a guilty pleasure when he told off Bashir, even though he obviously wasn't himself.

O'Brien's revelation at the end is harrowing, and contradictory to Roddenberry's vision in a big way, but that doesn't bother me. Thanks to Bashir, O'Brien doesn't let the experience destroy him and begins to move on. A stunning episode with the most moving plot since 'The Visitor'.
Vylora
Mon, Feb 24, 2014, 9:02pm (UTC -5)
A comment on an earlier post - I don't think the Federation just sat by and 'did nothing' after what the Agrathi did to O'brien. It was never implied one way or the other what may have transpired between the two governments after the fact. And within the context of the story being told here it is unimportant. I feel, in my opinion, that any screen time being devoted to that particular thread would have greatly detracted from an otherwise riveting episode. The Agrathi plot point was simply the how and why of it all and is all that is needed.

This episode also brings up the memory-wipe option. I do not remember if it's a complete wipe only or if you can pick and choose memories to wipe. This episode states the former yes but I'm not sure if that's been contradicted in earlier episodes. If it's the case that only the whole memory can be wiped, then I can see that it not being an attractive option despite what he went through. Then it becomes an added internal struggle of: Do I erase my whole life as I've lived it (wife, kids, career, friends) to rid myself of the time in prison or do I end it altogether (suicide)? Being intensely emotionally distraught I'm sure compounds matters even further.

What happened in "Sons of Mogh" was unfortunate the way it was handled at the end. It is further unfortunate because I understand how it can cloud the viewpoint on that aspect of this episode. They were completely different circumstances, nevertheless, and as I posted in that thread I really wish it was at least implied Kurn had a say in the matter.

Anyway, another great review and a classic episode.

4 stars.
Eric
Mon, May 26, 2014, 3:36pm (UTC -5)
Bashir explains in the episode why he can't erase his memories. It has to do with the way the memories were formed - through a compressed simulation - they're harder to pinpoint and erase than memories that occurred naturally. That's good enough of an explanation for me.
Nonya
Wed, Jun 25, 2014, 12:35am (UTC -5)
I don't like this episode at all. I don't like the idea of O'Brien being forever scarred, despite not doing anything worthy of that scarring. I don't like the melodramatic pandering. And I certainly don't like that nothing much happens besides scribbling in the dirt.

This episode is an exercise in emotional indulgence, all with no point.
Elliott
Wed, Jun 25, 2014, 12:48am (UTC -5)
@Nonya :

I get on DS9's case all the time for its Trek apologism and a few other annoyances, but even I am a little dismayed that you don't seem to like any of it--are there episodes of this or other Trek series you do like? I'm curious to know what your cup of tea is.
Yanks
Wed, Jul 30, 2014, 11:18am (UTC -5)
Very good episode, although I don't give it a 4.0 for a couple reasons.

#1. This episode assumes that Sisko, Kira, Odo, Star Fleet and the Federation just sit back and accept that Obrien committed these crimes. I know the episode say the Argrathi convicted, sentenced and administered punishment before anyone could do anything, but Kira was there – you telling me she wouldn’t do anything? The punishment only took a "few hours". So either Kira was there with him and didn’t put up a fight, or they were close enough to get her there quickly and if that’s the case why didn’t they go? eeesh.... Are these folks a member of the Federation, are the in the GQ? Wow, Picard didn't even do that when Wesley broke stupid laws on that planet (whatever the name of it was). He respected their process until it led to Wesley being put to death, and then he said enough is enough. It was convenient for this episode, but damn.... on your own I guess, right O'Brien?

#2. 20 years? NO ONE makes it that long under the conditions Obrien was subject to. That's the equivalent of getting thrown in solitary confinement. No food for weeks? No bathrooms? Not even a cot? The sentence was 15 cycles, why did he do 20?

#3. Was Ee'Char, played wonderfully by Craig Wasson, put in there by the Argrathi to help O'Brien get through the punishment? ... or was he too being punished and this mind gizmo linked the two together?

#4. I understand (I think) why the writers chose Bashir (O’Brien’s best friend) but I thought his little pep talk at the end was not delivered very well and therefore not very moving. It should have been given by Keiko. I think she would have had a much more emotional impact, and it was O'Bien's emotions that were getting the best of him. Hell, if I were Bashir, I would have tackled him.

#5. Obrien said: “mankind had out grown hate and rage” …. Really? How can he believe that? I guess he should have told Picard that while fighting the Borg in First Contact, or Janeway while pursuing the Equinox, or Sisko when he gasses planets to make them uninhabitable for the Maquis… strive for it, have improved as a race controlling them, but how could anyone believe it is a reality?

I don’t see this as a “reset button” episode. What was eating away at O’Brien was the fact he killed his cell mate/friend, not that he had been cooped up for 20 years. Once he acknowledged that, I don’t see the “road to recovery” taking that long for Miles. I also don’t see the need for pills that prohibit hallucinations either. When we saw Ee'Char acknowledging Obrien and leaving at the end, I think it was clear to Obrien that he wouldn’t be seeing/needing him again. Ee'Char was helping Obrien, just like he had in the cell.

While Colm’s performance was a good one, there are too many “WTF’s” to give this one a 4.0. Bashir not being able to wipe just those memories away I don’t think is one of them BTW.

3 stars for me.
Dave in NC
Thu, Jul 31, 2014, 6:51pm (UTC -5)
@ Yanks re #2- Plenty of people serve longer terms than their minimum time. Besides, part of the program's cruelty could be teasing inmates with the impossible promise of parole.

Overall an interesting episode . . . Prison Miles definitely had a little of that Mark Twain thing going on. ;) In all seriousness, I feel bad for the character, but Colm Meaney is so good he elevates the material beyond the run-of-the-mill Trek prisoner episode. I could definitely believe this man thought he was incarcerated for 20 years.

Keiko, for once, acted somewhat reserved. I was hoping he'd snap at her, but alas, it was little irritating Molly who got the brunt.

The actor who played the other prisoner was OK, I found the way the script presented him left something to be desired. Can someone be a jolly stoic? Apparently so. (Just speculation, maybe his motivations were unclear because the alien memory technology isn't perfect?)

The only scene that really dragged was the final scene where Julian tried to "talk down" Miles. The lack of any musical soundtrack in this scene was a bad choice. Julian's dialogue had the same clunky, expositional feel as the psychologist's speech at the end of Psycho. Yawn, snooze, why isn't Keiko in this scene?!?! Only lazy scriptwriters/producers can be blamed for this oversight.

Nothing super amazing about the music featured in the episode: lots of instruments in unison holding one note. Only the "beauty shot" before the closing credits had music that stood out, and unfortunately, that only lasted a few seconds.

A few nitpicks: I wasn't really sure how it was that Julian couldn't use Dr. Pulaski's memory wipe technique, but the dialog says he can't, so I guess that's that.

Why have we never seen Counselor Telnori? I haven't met the character and I'm more interested in him/her than I ever was in Ezri Dax.

Final thoughts: My comments may not indicate it, but this episode really is worth watching and probably worthy of three stars.

Some of the most natural acting I've seen on behalf of all the actors who play the O'Briens. I don't want to gush endlessly, but Colm Meaney is a GREAT actor. Meaney makes this episode worthy of a repeat view.

***
Nonya
Sun, Aug 10, 2014, 10:54pm (UTC -5)
@Elliot. Sorry I didn't get back to you for so long. I forgot that I commented on this episode.

As far as my negativity goes, I generally only comment when I dislike an episode or have a critique of an episode I do like. When something is favorable, it's not always easy to put into words why that is. And it seems pointless to pop in and say "yeah, I liked this, too."

To answer your question, I like In The Cards best, and generally most episodes with Garak are the ones I rewatch the most.
Filip
Fri, Nov 21, 2014, 9:23am (UTC -5)
An interesting concept, however, flawed from the start because of the choice of its protagonist - a series regular.

That being said, it was obvious from the start that O'Brien would fully recover from the experience. I am not saying that the episode was bad, or that Mr. Meaney did a bad job - quite the opposite actually. But it is hard to believe that a person who had the same experience would ever be remotely the same again, the more probable scenario would be that he'd go mad and not be fit for duty or any life in a civilised society at all.

Had it had a guest star as its protagonist, someone who wasn't essential for the series, and made him never recover, it would've made much more sense. But then, who would watch an entire episode about someone who we see for the first and only time?
Icarus32Soar
Tue, Mar 10, 2015, 10:39am (UTC -5)
Another idiotic time loop variation that bores us to tears. Pointless reset formula and all that rubbish about the O'Brien family. Who cares about Molly colouring in? Thank God for Craig Wasson who singlehandedly gives this ep some dignity.
DVMX
Thu, Apr 9, 2015, 2:35pm (UTC -5)
Something of a guilty pleasure, because while I love it, I feel bad THAT I love it since its one of those "Lets Torture O'Brien for His Spotlight Ep! [TM]" eps which I *typically* hate. But Colm Meany is such a good actor and he gets to flex those acting muscles here that one can't help but like it.
MsV
Thu, Apr 23, 2015, 12:33am (UTC -5)
I think the only reason they made this episode was to upset me. (just kidding) I was upset when I watched it completely, from beginning to end. I had started months ago, but I could get through it. I felt so sorry for Miles, he did nothing to deserve this. I have always love Colm's acting and he did a terrific job here, I was convinced he had been tortured for real.

Although Julian was trying to be a good friend, he did jump the gun by telling Sisko that Miles was not fit for duty. When Sisko relieved him of his duty, he was so depressed he screams at Molly, tears up things in his way, and attempts to kill himself. I think he needed his work to help him. Bashir is a good friend to Miles.

There was a lot of great acting in this story, but I hated the story. Too sad.
Ben Franklin
Thu, Sep 24, 2015, 2:52pm (UTC -5)
A masterpiece of an episode.

People discussing the whole "reset button" trope became popular in the last 10-12 years since the internet blew up and a majority of TV dramas became really long movies with continuous story arcs. TV in the 90s and previous often only partially had story arcs (if they had them at all) and would focus on the arcs only briefly. Thus, TV writers and producers were used to having the characters remain generally the same over the course of the show's run.

I write off most people complaining about "reset button" because they are generally tainted by modern TV story arcs and production/writing techniques. Back in the 90's, the term "reset button" would generally be unknown.

And why is everyone going ape-s**t over Craig Wasson? Sure his performance was good, but what's with all the genuflecting?
Robert
Thu, Sep 24, 2015, 5:17pm (UTC -5)
@Ben - Agree. Although there are different kinds of resets and some are more grating.

Forgotten character development is a huge pet peeve of mine. Some 80s CARTOONS remembered character development.

Forgotten relationship development is worse (see VOY "Resolutions" and the Neelix/Kes breakup).

World or character shattering events reset? I give a pass. If they had to rewrite O'Brien after this they never would have done it. Same goes for Picard and "Inner Light".
Havok
Tue, Oct 6, 2015, 8:27am (UTC -5)
@Ben Franklin: " why is everyone going ape-s**t over Craig Wasson? Sure his performance was good, but what's with all the genuflecting?"

Hyperbole much?

I counted: of the 40 comments before you, 5 mentioned Craig Wesson. Of those, only 1 was wholly dedicated to praising his performance. 3 praised his performance with a SINGLE adjective and 1 was dismissive of his performance.

So, the only person going "ape-shit" is you.
Yanks
Tue, Oct 6, 2015, 11:16am (UTC -5)
Dave in NC,

Not in solitary they don't.

Break...

Does anyone know or had any thoughts on this?

"#3. Was Ee'Char, played wonderfully by Craig Wasson, put in there by the Argrathi to help O'Brien get through the punishment? ... or was he too being punished and this mind gizmo linked the two together?"

Thanks
methane
Sun, Oct 25, 2015, 5:01pm (UTC -5)
A good episode with great acting. It does suffer from a lack of follow-up. Not a deep opinion, I know, but I'm mostly writing to respond to some other comments that have been made:

For anyone who thinks O'Brien eventually breaking down is incompatible with the ideals of the original series, I refer you to the episode "Whom Gods Destroy", which featured a Federation asylum; a former fleet captain is insane & killing people.

To bring up science instead; humanity won't literally evolve in a few centuries (especially with medical advances keeping more people from early death and a bias against genetic engineering). Genetically, the humans in Star Fleet would be the same as us. Instead, culture can change and develop that would promote "Roddenberry ideals". The cultural programming that promotes these ideals certainly could be undone with "20 years" of an intense experience like the one O'Brien went through.

Yanks:

"So either Kira was there with him and didn’t put up a fight, or ..."

If, for example, they were on a diplomatic mission, it wouldn't surprise me if Kira had an afternoon talking to political or military officials while O'Brien was conversing with government engineers. They likely wouldn't have felt the need to communicate during that afternoon, which would have been enough time for O'Brien to ask a "wrong" question, be sentenced, and have the sentence carried out before Kira ever checked up on O'Brien. Neither Kira nor the Federation would be happy they weren't contacted before this was done, but I don't think there's a problem with a timeline.

"The sentence was 15 cycles, why did he do 20?" & "Was Ee'Char, played wonderfully by Craig Wasson, put in there by the Argrathi to help O'Brien get through the punishment?"

Remember, O'Brien killed Ee'Char, and was released a week or two later. This seems to imply that the Argrathi government designed the program to break O'Brien. He was never going to be released until after he killed Ee'Char (a part of the program), and it seems O'Brien lasted at least 5 years beyond what they thought.

Of course, this brings up the question of why the Argrathi would design the program this way. Sure, there would be some deterrent effect (noone would want to be sentenced to this), but every criminal released would be anti-social & violent, more likely to commit a crime than they were before. In the real world we (sometimes in someplaces) leave prisoners in lousy conditions because it's cheaper. But if you're going to the trouble of 'programming' an experience, it makes much more sense to program some type of 20-year "re-education" or brain-washing, where the prisoner was taught to love the state and all of it's laws, which would have been a completely different type of ordeal.

Perhaps they created this version of the program specifically for foreigners who will be deported afterwards, and have a separate one for their own citizens.

Ben Franklin-

"I write off most people complaining about 'reset button' because they are generally tainted by modern TV story arcs and production/writing techniques"

Read the last paragraph of Jammer's review; that was written the year this episode came out. Yes, following up on episodes happened less often back then, but that doesn't mean we viewers weren't frustrated with it. To be fair, DS9 was better at following up stories than any other Star Trek series, though it still wasn't as good at that as Babylon 5, which was airing at the same time.
Toony
Thu, Nov 5, 2015, 8:21am (UTC -5)
As far as I know Roddenberry's pitch that humanity has evolved was never put into any depth or detail so writers probably ignored it. I read on Memory Alpha he didn't think the Picards feud in 'Family' should be happening in the 24th century.
I recall in Babylon 5 a scene where a woman who spent one hundred years on a sleeper ship asks what she's missed. The Doctor says they met aliens, expanded to the stars built colonies, made new constitutions, had more revolutions, fought more wars and she says "We still haven't outgrown violence?"
The Doctor responds "It's going to take a lot more than a hundred years to evolve a better human."
William B
Thu, Nov 26, 2015, 12:00am (UTC -5)
As ever I find episodes I really like to be intimidating, so I'll keep this short for now. This is my favourite of the season.
Diamond Dave
Sun, Jan 3, 2016, 7:36am (UTC -5)
Latest entry into the "bad things happen to Chief O'Brien" canon. And honestly, to me this doesn't really live up to the hype. I think my major problem is summed up neatly above in the comments - 20 years of torture is going to mess anyone up. That O'Brien spends most of the episode refusing to accept help makes him an unsympathetic character - and when the big reveal comes as to why he feels so guilty (and that was telegraphed a mile off) it seems that it is really because he has an impossibly high goal as to what an "evolved human" should be able to tolerate.

I will say this though - showing O'Brien's suicidal thoughts is an unusually ballsy move for a programme such as this. That he gets talked down off the ledge and finds resolution so quickly is a fault of the format rather than the writing. But it doesn't help that as we move forward in the series we shall no doubt never hear of this again.

Undeniably well acted though, even if the direction is a little clunky (compare with the previous episode for how to do flashbacks in a fresh way). 2.5 stars.
Barney Holmes
Sun, Feb 14, 2016, 6:15am (UTC -5)
Star Trek at its best. Unless you know the truth of what goes on in some prisons and psych wards the social commentary might be lost. But controversial subjects aside, this is simply a wonderful episode to watch for the acting and humanity. I love "indestructible" characters as much as anyone, but sometimes a little dose of reality is healthy. Trek does not get it right all the time. I'd say they get it right many more times than they fail. But here some very weighty subjects are handled impressivly deftly in areas that other shows would steer well clear of. Some of it is heavy (you have been warned, there are other lighter episodes) but in the end its very moving.
Luke
Tue, Apr 12, 2016, 10:42am (UTC -5)
"Hard Time" is indeed Star Trek at its absolute best. I really couldn't add much more to Jammer's already wonderful review of this emotional, dramatic, gripping and down-right captivating episode. The acting, the direction, the dialogue, etc. - all work phenomenally well. So, I'll just add two things that really highlight the episode's greatness, at least for me.

1.) "Hard Time" is, at it's most basic level, "The Inner Light" done correctly. What happened there to Picard was an absolutely egregious violation of the man. And yet, the episode excepted us to think of it as a truly moving, heartwarming piece of fiction (and countless upon countless fans agree for some reason). I won't get into my problems with "The Inner Light" (read my review of that episode if your interested). But here, the episode shows the concept for what it truly is - horrible, emotionally devastating torture. I cannot praise this episode highly enough for that alone. Forcing someone to undergo a procedure like this is one of the worst possible things you could do to an individual and "Hard Time" pulls absolutely no punches in making sure that message is driven home. This is not warm. This is not fuzzy. This is not heartwarming. It's cold, brutal and unremittingly savage and it MUST be dealt with on those terms. Bravo and thank you, writers!

2.) This is basically a big middle finger to the naive, nonsensical "evolved humanity" claptrap of early TNG - and thank God for it! When O'Brien declares that he was little more than an animal for killing Ee'Char, he's essentially parroting the standard early TNG line about humanity. I could honestly see Season One Picard or Riker looking down their noses and utterly condemning O'Brien for his failure to live up to the standards of Roddenberry's "new Federation man." But by having Bashir show sympathy for O'Brien and his situation, saying that an animal would have never given killing a second thought, the writers are fundamentally saying that humanity may be better than it was, but it's still humanity. These people are still flawed; they aren't infallible demi-gods. And that makes the characters much more relatable and enjoyable (and I would say much more in keeping with the way humanity is presented in TOS). They still make mistakes but it's all about the struggle to improve oneself and rise above those failings. Again, bravo and thank you, writers!

As for the fact that O'Brien's experiences here are never mentioned again - well, yes, that is a major problem. If your going to push a character this far into the deep end, you really need to have some follow-up afterwards. Otherwise, what is the point of pushing him that far in the first place? However, Jammer is right about that not being the fault of "Hard Time" but of later episodes. While I was tempted to dock points from this episode over the issue, I won't. That would be like docking "The Best of Both Worlds" because of what was done with the Borg on VOY or docking "The Pegasus" because of that bottom-of-the-barrel bad final episode of ENT. And, for my part, I think it can be justified as follows.... If memory serves, after this episode, O'Brien does not play a significantly large part until "Body Parts" (six episodes from now). If we assume that each episode roughly corresponds to two weeks of time (52 weeks per year divided by 26 episodes per year equals two weeks per episode), that means he won't be seen playing a major role for the next three months. Now, three months is still a really short time to heal from such a trauma, but that's how I'm justifying it. :-P

"Hard Time" is not only the best episode thus far in Season Four; I'm willing to say that it might be the best episode of the entire series to date.

10/10
Luke
Tue, Apr 12, 2016, 10:58am (UTC -5)
Say, I just realized.... this is the NINTH episode of "Deep Space Nine" I've given a 10/10 score! That's impressive. That equals the total number of 10s I gave TOS and TNG combined! "Deep Space Nine" sure is crushing the competition in the scoring department!
Andrew
Tue, May 3, 2016, 11:43am (UTC -5)
I thought this episode was pretty great except for the last act which did feel too much like attacking, on unnecessarily explicit terms, TNG Roddenberry idealism; the episode had already showed O'Brien had fallen from the ideal and was feeling bad about it, there didn't need to be the explicit discussion of how it related to his society in general. It also felt gratuitously grim and dark that the other prisoner wasn't even actually hiding/hoarding food, that the cause that made O'Brien furious was actually a misperception.
Andrew
Tue, May 3, 2016, 6:00pm (UTC -5)
Not a complaint but a comment-the way Siddig delivered the memory wipe comment suggested he (or the writers or director) knew it was inconsistent with "Sons of Mogh" and there was a deliberate distancing from the previous episode.
Luka
Tue, Jun 28, 2016, 6:44pm (UTC -5)
This episode is brilliant. Seriously, I was a fan of TNG forever but when you get the depth of episodes like Hard Time man this is just awesome. Heh. Four stars is very appropriate. I actually conceived a story very similar to this in my mind before seeing this and then to actually see something play out like this I gotta give the DS9 writers major props. O'Brien I feel bad for the guy, he suffered for 20 fuckin years. Wow. The writing on this show is top notch.
Take my Worf.. please
Mon, Jul 18, 2016, 10:06am (UTC -5)
They did WHAT to O'Brien?

I was waiting for the Federation's retaliation the whole episode.

Like as soon as they take the computer thingy off of his head, "We tortured you, surprise!" Kira should have tossed O'Brien a phaser.

Then they should have bombarded the entire planet.
dave
Sun, Sep 18, 2016, 3:40am (UTC -5)
Great episode.... had the balls to have him almost hit his kid and put a phaser to his neck..... really something you don't see in Trek and this is the kind of thing that makes trek more real and human.

Can we over come war, make better economics, eliminate poverty, cure disease... sure.... can we over come the flaws of being conscious beings? Nope.... no matter how advanced our species becomes, we will still have to deal with anger, pain, hate, conflict, greed, betrayal, and so on. That is one part of Gene's vision I didn't like; he expected humans to stop being humans.... and to be some faultless people who never hurt one another.

THis is why DS9 was so great, but also pissed of alot of TOS people and members of the Cult of Gene back when this first came out. It showed humans with flaws, screwing up, making mistakes, and conflict! My god! Humans still argue with one another in the 24h century! TNG and TOS it was always the aliens who had and created conflict which I found to be bigoted and arrogant in itself.
Rob
Thu, Sep 22, 2016, 4:22pm (UTC -5)
I have a love/hate relationship with this episode. I loved it for the quality of acting. I hate it for the lazy way it was dealt with. There should have been either 1-A long term impact on the character of O'brein, or 2-A medical fix.
The idea that he could go through that and not be screwed up for life is unlikely. 100% certain he would be changed in some way.
If I was writing it I would have had the ending of Bashir and Sisko saying goodbye to the O'Brien's as they depart the station for Vulcan, where Vulcan mind meld techniques are going to be employed to remove/repress the memories. Something like that.
Have the Chief out of the next few episodes then have them returned from Vulcan whole and healed.
Extra note: I would have bought it more if instead of the Chief wanting to kill himself, it was the Chief wanting to steal the Defiant to go extract revenge on the people who did it to him by shoving a photon torpedo up their backsides.
MartinB
Tue, Nov 1, 2016, 9:31am (UTC -5)
I really enjoyed this episode until I realized that O'Brien being distraught over murdering a man to the point of wanting to kill himself was a load of crap. Why? Because O'Brien fought in the Cardassian Wars, and in "The Wounded", he even explicitly talks about shooting and vaporizing a Cardassian right in front of him! He said that he hated what that act made him, but he never seemed to have been at the point of suicide over it. I know the circumstances were different (war zone vs fighting for food, phaser vs bare hands) but when you remember that O'Brien has already killed, and a much more gruesome death it would have been), this episode packs less of a punch.
Robert
Tue, Nov 1, 2016, 10:00am (UTC -5)
You can't possibly reasonably equate killing an enemy combatant in war to murdering your best friend of 25 years with your bare hands.
David Pirtle
Sun, Nov 6, 2016, 12:55pm (UTC -5)
The thing I have an issue with about this episode is that I have a hard time believing anyone who had the kind of technology they used on O'Brien would put people through 20 years of psychological torture rather than reform. Maybe I'm just naive.
N
Tue, Dec 27, 2016, 7:49pm (UTC -5)
An intense exploration of post-traumatic stress disorder and the effects of long-term incarceration. Colm Meaney's performance is tremendous, and the episode's perspective and sustained tone are unprecedented in Trek - it's a 3.5 landmark tour de force.
Tommy
Sat, Mar 4, 2017, 7:20pm (UTC -5)
For those bickering about Picard's experience, keep in mind that he had already been taken over by the Borg and was able to return to duty. Clearly he has exceptional mental fortitude.
Tom
Sat, Mar 4, 2017, 7:22pm (UTC -5)
David Pirtle,

How do you 'reform' someone who's a bit too curious about your technology? Clearly they are sadistic people, similar to the Cardassians.
SteveRage
Sat, Mar 18, 2017, 4:09pm (UTC -5)
Fantastic episode - made me cry :-) 4 stars
Gooz
Sat, May 6, 2017, 5:24pm (UTC -5)
Poor Miles. Not only does he do 20+ years of hard time, get starved to near death without losing any weight, lose the technical knowledge that's his livelihood, he has to come back to the station as his fat old self and live the rest of his life with Keiko and that annoying Molly. No wonder he tries to off himself.

Plus, he never gets to have his chee'lash fruit or see if his romance with his prison spouse, Ee'Char, was ever really real.

And to those who think Keiko's acting was any better in this episode, can I please please have what you're smoking? She's as wooden and horrible as always. It's just less noticeable, because all she has to do is look sad the whole time. This is apparently the only note she knows how to hit on that kazoo she calls her acting repertoire.
RandomThoughts
Sun, May 7, 2017, 1:41am (UTC -5)
Hello Everyone!

@Gooz

Heh, kazoo. I had to laugh at/with that one. :)

*might be a TNG spoiler for season 5*

Miles having to be somewhat reminded about his tools and whatnot, that is realistic(ish). TNG The Inner Light, where Picard comes out of 30-50 years of a life and is still the Captain of the Enterprise, nope.

*spoiler should be ended*

Oh, and the comparison with O'Brien at war (in some truly horrific battles) with 20+ years of captivity and deprivation... well... that is very apples and oranges to me. He survived the war, and had some pretty unpleasant memories, but that would have been a relatively short period of time. He was able to get back to the Rutledge after all was said and done and move on with his life. But 20+ straight years of that jail cell might just drive anyone to madness over a scrap of food...

Regards... RT
Linda
Wed, May 31, 2017, 1:56am (UTC -5)
So, TNG had “Justice”, Voyager had “Random Thoughts” and DS9 has “Hard Time".

Does anyone ever check what the local laws are and what the extreme penalties for simple offenses may be? I guess not. You'd think though, the topic might come up in a First Contact evaluation.

O’Brien’s crime?:
SISKO: He apparently got curious about some Argrathi technology and asked a few too many questions. The Argrathi security arrested him and charged him with espionage.
Peter Swinkels
Fri, Jun 9, 2017, 3:01pm (UTC -5)
One of the best ds9 episodes.
Samuel
Sat, Jul 15, 2017, 12:37am (UTC -5)
...all of this said, how would Miles be starving yet have the strength to kill another person?
Johnni
Mon, Aug 7, 2017, 2:36am (UTC -5)
O brien experiance is different from picard in lnner light because picard experiance was in a loving family environment his memories were pleasurable for the most part where as obrian was in a brutal prison system environment for 20 years being tortured
Johnni
Mon, Aug 7, 2017, 2:40am (UTC -5)
O brien experiance is different from picard in lnner light because picard experiance was in a loving family environment his memories were pleasurable for the most part where as obrian was in a brutal prison system environment for 20 years being tortured also this episode also reminded me of that voyager episode were chakotay had memories implanted in his head of a war he was neva in
Rahul
Thu, Aug 10, 2017, 4:28pm (UTC -5)
A powerful, poignant episode and really great acting by Meaney. O'Brien is a good character for this type of episode because of his family, because he's down to earth and easy for the average person to relate to.

"Hard Time" does a good job portraying the re-integration of someone who has done hard time for many years. I'd give props to the creativity of the idea of implanting memories of hard time as punishment -- only in Star Trek could some such thing come about. The drawback for me personally is that the episode wasn't particularly riveting and I found it a bit slow.

I was wondering how the show would "reset" but I liked the ending because it didn't reset. Instead O'Brien will have to gradually get over it with the help of some medication. But I think the memories should continue to haunt him from time to time in subsequent episodes, although I doubt they will.

Julian had a very important role to play here to and I'm starting to appreciate his Siddig's acting a lot more now. The idea of convincing O'Brien that he's not an animal because he feels remorse for killing his cellmate was well done. I think this is a credible outcome of 20 years of solitary confinement that it is possible for someone's humanity to get stripped -- although, of course, it's only a supposition on my part. I also liked that O'Brien and Julian see their friendship develop in a deeper way.

Captain Sisko has a brief scene where he reprimands O'Brien -- again, I think Sisko is too stiff and should have shown a bit more compassion here while still sticking to his guns re. his orders to O'Brien. I thought that was a disappointing scene.

This episode is a good drama but, for me, it's not at the same level as "The Visitor" -- not as moving, or interesting, but still very powerful. I'd give it 3 stars mainly because I didn't enjoy the story of the episode that much even with some excellent acting and the creativity behind the idea of memories of incarceration.
Gianni
Mon, Sep 25, 2017, 11:01am (UTC -5)
My wife and I are big Star Trek fans, and while I can appreciate episodes like this (Inner Light ex) or other shows/movies that have a fake reality (The Matrix), and while I did find a lot of what many of the posters here (going back 10+ years on this message board!) have discussed, I did not overall find this episode to be fitting at all in DS9.

My main issue is the fact that the writers tried to cram this idea of 'what if' reality into a show without any regard for how Star Trek or the federation works. I don't get super nit-picky, but this episode required without question, the largest suspension of belief out of just about any episode I've seen. First of all, there is virtually no mention of what he did, no emotional repercussions in future episodes, no retaliation from the Federation and no real message other than "if someone goes to prison for 20 years in a box, they will be ruined".

DS9 is the first major Star Trek that has larger story arcs, while the episode was quite thought provoking and draws attention to a very real scenario, it makes absolutely no sense that it would happen. Why is Chief O'Brien even in the POSITION to COMMIT a form of espionage? No back story, no prologue, just a rather depressing "novella" of an episode. They should really have just made it its own 'Christmas Special' in an alternate universe, and it would have made more sense.

Anyway, it's definitely worth watching, and hits on some real and major issues... Prison re-entry, unfair punishment, unfair justice system are all brought up. In spite of all of that, I just couldn't suspend my believe far enough to really BUY this episode. Glad it came with my Netflix and I doubt I will be seeing it again anytime soon...
Sleeper Agent
Sun, Jan 21, 2018, 5:47am (UTC -5)
So far season 4 continues to deliver stellar Trek material like this one. Meaney portrays a shattered O'Brien flawlessly, sucking you right in from the very beginning.

A couple of things I'd like to mention which other commentators barely have.

1. In a comment a few episodes back, someone said that in S4 Avery Brooks started to play Sisko basically as a villain. This is a spot on observation which makes me enjoy the Captain a lot more in this season compared to the earlier ones. He's an ambivalent character which unfortunately in 1-3 feels a bit to righteous in the light of his actions, now I feel he is more in tuned with what he is. True, when he yells at the newly released O'Brian he shows that he is bothered, but still you get the feeling he knows what the hell he's doing and isn't afraid to hold himself back. He's alive and it is entertaining!

2. I really wish they would have skipped that last scene of cringe-o-rama. I've never cared much for Molly, now I wish she was the one being implanted with 20 years of Argrathi prison.

4/4

PS. Btw, I agree 20 is too long, 5-6 years would've benefited the story more.
Zakhan
Mon, Jan 29, 2018, 12:38pm (UTC -5)
I'd love this episode if I wasn't filled with incadescent rage over an alien regime not only being allowed to do something like that to O'Brien, but that the Argrathi got off scot-free. The Federation has the power to throw around and O'Brien is not unimportant. What with him being a 15 times decorated veteran having gone through 230+ battles in service to the Federation along with everything else, one'd almost be surprised if the Federation didn't raise merry hell over it. Unjustly forcing mind-torture upon visiting dignitaries over a faux-pas one could overlook is grounds for war.

I like the human aspect of the story and the focus upon O'Brien after the fact, but it had better be relevant later on.

And I still dearly wish for nothing else than complete purgation upon this filthy xenos race. Poisoning their atmosphere with trilithium wouldn't be impossible, after all, Sisko did something like that to the Maquis in "For the Uniform". But noooo, Roddenberry's Federation would never do anything like that because they are the bigger man and in the meanwhile the Argrathi will continue doing their shit to other unsuspecting dignitaries AND their own people.

7,5/10 - Good performances from O'Brien and Bashir, but nowhere near the same level as "The Visitor".
Lupe
Sat, May 19, 2018, 3:16pm (UTC -5)
Unforgettable episode, and no complaints about its emotional clout, but sometimes Trek just stretches credibility a bit too far when it comes to a chatacter's ability to bounce back from mentally devestating experiences.

Before this 20 years in solitary business was thrown in for good measure, Miles - who has no officer training (if that would even help deal with such things) has already quite recently had to deal with travelling back in forth in time, dying in his own arms, then time travel back to an earlier DS9 which he doesn't really feel he belongs in - as well as seeing an identical clone of himself die virtually in his own arms, AGAIN after begging him to tell Keiko that he loves her. And now this?

What would it actually take to crack this man permanently? I dunno, but after this experience he's obviously the perfect candidate to send on a lengthy undercover operation against the Orion Syndicate where he has to betray his new close friend and send him to his death.
Lupe
Sat, May 19, 2018, 7:06pm (UTC -5)
Come to think of it, I suppose if he can survive Keiko and Molly, the rest of it is pretty small potatoes.
Mallory
Fri, Jun 15, 2018, 2:40pm (UTC -5)
I really wanted to love this episode, but I think it suffered - as many DS9 episodes do - from the constraints of a 45 minute time slot. Meany is an extraordinary actor, but the story just didn't have the time to be told. His cellmate - what did he mean, in detail, to O'Brien? I felt that was very missing; if you are meant to care about a character you need backstory. Much good, though - I felt like I was watching how REAL people would behave, not TV characters.
Iceman
Mon, Aug 20, 2018, 2:11am (UTC -5)
"Hard Time" is the peak of the O'Brien must suffer trope-it's riveting, nearly flawless drama. Colm Meaney smashes it out of the park as usual, and elicits tons of empathy from the audience. His journey over the course of the episode is believable and heartbreaking. I don't think the lack of follow-up matters-after all, the core story of "Hard Time" is O'Brien coming to terms with his experience, with his actual experiences told in flashback form. This is in contrast to "The Inner Light", in which Picard's experiences were the story, and his dealing with it didn't really matter.

4 stars.
Someguy
Tue, Sep 25, 2018, 10:46pm (UTC -5)
He didn’t chose to hide food, he didn’t choose to draw in the sand and he didn’t CHOOSE to kill his cell mate. All of those were implanted memories meant to screw with him as his punishment. None of it actually existed, I’m not sure why so many that have commented think that he actually made the choice to kill his celly over some scraps of food. He wasn’t in some sort of “choose your own adventure” style prison mindfuck, they made every choice for him(implanted memories!) He does believe it was real and that would be a hard thing to reconcile, but I guess that’s what the counseling is for, to remind him that he didn’t actually do any of the things he remembers from prison.
Someguy
Tue, Sep 25, 2018, 11:07pm (UTC -5)
Disregard my last comment, I’m dumb, in the words of Lloyd Christmas, “You'll have to excuse my friend. He's a little slow.”. I completely missed the part where Kira tells O’Brien, “What you experienced is an artificial reality, an interactive program that created memories of things that never actually happened.”
Startrekwatcher
Wed, Dec 5, 2018, 10:35pm (UTC -5)
2.5 stars

I wasn’t really impressed with this episide. It pretty much takes the shape of any story about a prisoner readjusting to life. I found that pretty dull

It picked up some interest about 3/4 way into the episode even though it was painfully obvious that his imaginary cell mate that kept appearing had been killed by O’Brien.

I also thought instead of being shocking and dramatic —O’Brien rotingwith idea of killing himself felt like an instance of the writers trying too hard

The idea of the episode was original ie compressing a prison sentence of years into mere hours because of wiring it to the brain

But this was no powerful episode the way “the visitor” was
Springy
Tue, Jan 8, 2019, 9:06am (UTC -5)
Love Meany and he did a great job, as does the Ee Charr actor. Very nicely done.

The story itself did have its share of contrivances and plot holes, but nothing too horrible.

To me, the oddest thing was O'Brien (in prison) never questioning why the Federation (and by extension, Keiko and all his family and friends) left him to rot for years! Or later, O'Brien not dealing with the massive resentment he surely would have built up "over the years" toward everyone.

From what I've read in the comments, they're basically going to re-set on this, with no further consequences for O'Brien. Too bad.

I again liked the depiction of the O'Brien marriage and family life.

It was a dark side Inner Light, which wasn't as effective in evoking (for me) a deep emotional response. But it was well done and I liked it.
Elliott
Wed, Mar 27, 2019, 12:57pm (UTC -5)
Teaser : ****, 5%

A grizzled old man is tracing his fingers through the sand of his prison cell. A harsh voice announces the beginning of “decontamination” set to begin immediately. The image the man has created is erased by a passing wall of energy and he himself suffers a brief, familiar bout of pain. The moment it passes, he begins his drawing again, unbothered.

Two green-faced aliens enter his cell from behind a large mechanical door which is opened abruptly. The two seem to emerge from nothingness, or perhaps it's just that the light from outside is so bright, nothing can be seen. They identify the old man as Miles O'Brien. They are here to release him.

O'BRIEN: Free?
RINN: The crime of espionage requires a minimum of fifteen cycles of correction. You've been here for twenty. It's time for you to go.
O'BRIEN: Go? I can't leave. Where would I go to?

As he's tossed out into the void, we see that the familiar, relatively young and kempt O'Brien awakens, screaming in agony, on an alien bed. Kira is there beside him, as are the aliens from the prison cell. But this is no return from Oz, as we learn that the twenty years he endured in that cell were simulated in a matter of hours by these aliens. There are a handful of Trek stories that confront the issue of implanted memories: “The Inner Light,” of course, but also “Violations,” “Eye of the Beholder,” “Remember,” “Random Thoughts” and “Memorial.” This one is unique in that the premise is laid bare almost immediately. This will not be a search for the answer to a mystery like in “Whispers.” We also quickly get out all of the moral talking points; the aliens (the Agrathi) view their system as “efficient.” We are conditioned to see Miles as especially upstanding and docile (despite that odd combat history discussed in “Rules of Engagement”), so immediately, the notion that he has been forced to spend 20 years rotting away in prison is disturbing. Overall, this is a very brave teaser, avoiding most of the crutches of TV narratives and letting us know up front that this story will live or die on the issues it is raising and the character(s) it is exploring.

Act 1 : ***.5, 13% (short)

Back on DS9, Sisko is explaining the situation to Keiko. Miles “asked a few too many questions,” for which he was captured, tried, convicted and punished before his crewmates even knew what had happened. This again shows a wonderful economy of storytelling, as we can see that the Agrathi's emphasis on efficiency has left them numb to the plight of those who fall victim to their system. After all, they don't actually have to spend 20 years watching a man be broken by his imprisonment, feeding him, beating him, seeing the hope drain from his eyes; they plop him down on a bed for a few hours and then he wakes up, “reformed.” No wonder they're so quick to mete out their form of justice.

Kira pilots the runabout back to DS9 while Miles wades through the fog of his memories, mentioning how he had dreamt of this time, of the beauty of the station, within his nightmare mistaken for reality. He's greeted first by Bashir. Bashir, as a blue shirt, is playing therapist, asking about whether Miles had any company during his imprisonment. We see in a flashback, the first moments of Miles' imagined sentence, and that his claim to have been alone the whole time is untrue. An Agrathi man called Ee'char shared his cell and was kind to him, so it seems.

Act 2 : ****, 18%

Bashir explains to Keiko that, for the appeasement of the plot gods, Dr Pulaski's selective memory erasure isn't an option for Miles. He also reminds her that this isn't the first time Miles has been tortured in one way or another, and that he always makes it through somehow. We see that he is at this moment trying to order Agrathan fruit from the replicator, which of course can't comply with the request. He's finally reunited with Keiko, who offers the comfort of her presence and words, even as she grapples with the fear of what has happened to him. The O'Briens get a lot of grief from the fan community, but I am nearly always very moved by their relationship, which feels as real as any.

Over dinner, in which Miles reluctantly partakes of an especially Irish menu (and Molly graces us all with her infectious cuteness), we learn that he will be seeing a therapist regularly. It would have been interesting if they went the Voyager route and brought in Troi for this, seeing as how she would have been Miles' own therapist for several years, but the story doesn't really support this development. And holy hell, does Miles need therapy. Keiko spots him trying to save his replicated dinner for later, citing the times in prison when he might go for days without being fed, and developing the habit of eating as little as possible in one sitting. In another flashback, we see that he actually picked this habit up from Ee'char. His cellmate also taught him about drawing those patterns in the sand.

O'BRIEN: How do you do that...laugh after six years in here?
EE'CHAR: Well, after six years in a place like this, you either learn to laugh or you go insane. I prefer to laugh.

In the present, Miles has crept out of his comfy bed with Keiko and fallen asleep on the floor, as he thinks he has done for 20 years now.

Act 3 : ****, 18%

For the second time at least, O'Brien spots Ee'char hanging about the station, an hallucination obviously. We see that Worf is happily playing daeerts with Miles, Jake is helping him with his engineering flashcards. What's great about these scenes is that they strike a balance between Miles being volatile and recovered. He cracks jokes and seems to make an effort to be himself and act normally, but we can see he's still disturbed.

Case in point: Julian pops in to remind Miles that he's supposed to be seeing his therapist, but has skipped the last several sessions.

BASHIR: I'd have thought after being alone for twenty years, you'd want someone to talk to.
O'BRIEN: If there's one thing I haven't missed in the last twenty years, it's your smug, superior attitude. Now I have told you I want to be left alone and I meant it. So if you know what's good for you you'll stay the hell away from me.

We see another flashback, where we see that a significantly older and more grizzled O'Brien and Ee'char have a fight, prompted by, you know, the insanity their punishment is no doubt designed to elicit. Miles screams into the void, but we can see that Ee'char and Bashir parallel each other in Miles' mind. Each is a well meaning friend trying to offer him, the uncomplicated but sincere everyman, tools to cope with his trauma, and it's all he can do not to snap both their necks.

Miles makes his way to Quark's for an ale, but the Ferengi is especially busy at the moment and so his order can't be immediately met. Miles almost breaks Quark's arm in order to get his mug filled. As he stews, Ee'char reappears and begs Miles to remember him. Hmm.

Act 4 : ***.5, 18%

O'Brien is summoned to Sisko's office for a conversation. Sisko is concerned about the incidents that are cropping up and has decided to place Miles on medical leave from his duties until Bashir and his counsellor (whom he must immediately resume seeing) declare him fit. Miles begs to be allowed to work, to have a renewable source of distraction from whatever miserable memory Ee'char's appearances represent, but Sisko denies him. For a second, I was worried we were going back to the “there are some things women just don't understand about men” territory from last season, but thankfully, Sisko sticks to his guns here. Mental health is serious and, whatever sympathy we feel for Miles, part of what's getting in the way here are his ego and his masculinity. Before the incels get triggered, I'm not suggesting that masculinity is bad or that men are evil (Zardoz voice: THE PENIS IS EVIL...); I'm saying that the quality of self-reliance, of rugged individualism that characterises many types of masculinity, including the Western one shared by the character of O'Brien and the writing staff of Star Trek, is a problem in this case, because it's hindering Miles' recovery.

Well, in full bullheaded mode, Miles tears off his combadge and storms into Bashir's office to confront him.

O'BRIEN: Don't you get it? You're not my friend. Not anymore. The O'Brien that was your friend died in that cell.
BASHIR: He's not dead. He just needs a little help, that's all.
O'BRIEN: Stay away from me.

Ouch.

Another great touch with this episode is the directing. In nearly every scene, the camera is very close to Colm Meaney's face, uncomfortable, claustrophobic. He's not in his cell anymore, but he's still confined within the prison of his own guilt. Is this what the Agrathi meant by “efficient”?

Okay. So, I'm a fan of Keiko most of the time, but the following scene is one where I think they dropped the ball with her. Miles returns to his quarters after his row with Bashir, sparring with head-Ee'char the whole while. Keiko offers platitudes and sweetness while Molly demands that her father come play with her, as children her age are wont to do. Keiko, for whatever reason, is made to behave stupidly, ignoring her daughter even though it's obviously giving Miles fits. Now, under normal circumstances, sure, Miles should be able to reign in the rage, but Keiko knows full well that this is a unique situation. That she stares daggers at her husband for raising his voice and the back of his hand...seems really forced to me. I get the dramatic significance of this build-up; Miles is so disturbed that he might threaten his own family's safety; but using Keiko as a prop to get us here feels a little cheap.

Anyway, Miles is taking his rage out on the cargo containers instead of his daughter, thank you. In his angry stupor, he happens across a weapons locker and pulls out a phaser. He sets it to maximum, which I think might vaporise half the room, and points the nozzle at his own neck.

Act 5 : ***.5, 18%

Julian finds him before he pulls the trigger.

O'BRIEN: You don't understand at all. I'm not doing this for me. I'm doing this to protect Keiko, and Molly and everyone else on the station.
BASHIR: Protect us from what?
O'BRIEN: From me. I'm not the man I used to be. I'm dangerous.

Through tears, Miles finally reveals to his friend the existence of Ee'char and the horrible thing he has done. The flashback resumes. We are now mere weeks from the time of the teaser, as advertised by Miles' part-the-red-sea hairdo. It has been an especially long while since he or Ee'char were fed. During the night, Ee'char awakens and pulls something from a hiding space. Ee'char has food squirrelled away; the two spar and finally, O'Brien snaps Ee'char's neck. In horror, Miles realises what he has done.

BASHIR: But it was a mistake. You didn't mean it.
O'BRIEN: I meant it. I wanted him to die. I keep telling myself it doesn't matter. It wasn't real. But that's a lie. If it had been real, if it had been you instead of him, it wouldn't have made any difference. He was my best friend and I murdered him.

Before I go on, let me say that Meaney is completely killing it here, as we should expect of him by now. The music, the acting, the dialogue, the reveal—all of it works marvellously, and I found the climax totally enthralling.

Then we get this.

O'BRIEN: When we were growing up, they used to tell us humanity had evolved, that mankind had outgrown hate and rage. But when it came down to it, when I had the chance to show that no matter what anyone did to me, I was still an evolved human being, I failed.

If Jammer's reviews allowed for them, this is where that meme of Picard facepalming would go.

I'll repeat what I said in the debate that popped up over on the review to “The Wire,”: this is a completely unnecessary and insulting straw man to toss into this story. Imagine for a moment that the Federation was actually a conservative Christian society, which had its ideals and taught its children to follow certain ethics. If O'Brien had said,

“When we were growing up, they used to tell us that Jesus died for our sins, that mankind had been redeemed by his resurrection. But when it came down to it, when I had the chance to show that no matter what anyone did to me, I was a pious Christian man, I failed.”

Follow the logic backwards; Miles failed to be above “hate and rage” (I'm getting back to that), therefore he isn't an evolved human being, therefore his teachers lied to him when he was growing up. That is the implication here. Metatextually, when the Star Trek itself preaches about human evolution, it too is lying, so goes the logic of this discourse. In “The Neutral Zone,” Picard describes human evolution as mankind “growing out of [its] infancy.” To be blunt, just because we are no longer infants doesn't mean that if circumstances weren't dire, we wouldn't still shit our pants. And if we do shit our pants, this does not therefore mean that are infants. It means that something is seriously wrong with our circumstances. And the worst part is, “hate and rage” have NEVER been things Star Trek has claimed to be qualities we have evolved beyond. S1 Picard was angry like 50% of the time. Star Trek is pretty specific in its list of evolutionary qualities; we evolve beyond greed, hunger, the need for possessions, etc. And this evolution is enabled by very specific social and technological advances like say, that replicator in Miles' quarters that eliminates the need for him to save food for later. According to Miles, he was taught that he would be incapable of acting the way he did in that cell because humanity had evolved, but that belief is completely absurd! Again, as a human I have physically evolved to the point where, unlike my ape ancestors, I don't throw poop and eat bananas with my feet. But that doesn't mean I COULDN'T if the circumstances required it, or if I was traumatised the way Miles was. And crossing that line doesn't mean that I didn't evolve either, because that's not what evolution means or was ever implied to mean.

If it seems like I'm getting bent out of shape over this, it's because I don't appreciate being gaslighted by media the way this scene does. Miles is the most pitiable of victims here; he was unjustly condemned for a crime he didn't commit; he was forced to endure miserable and inhumane imprisonment; this trauma was smugly dismissed as “efficient” by his faceless captors; and all he wants to do is return to some semblance of a normal life but can't because of this horrible weight of guilt he's carrying around with him. And the writers (I'm guessing Wolfe) take this opportunity to thumb their noses at the core of Trek's sociological conceits. This is like when FOX news interviews weeping white mothers whose children were murdered by gang violence and exploits their pain to warn about the dangers of immigration. It is dishonest and it makes me angry.

Setting all of that aside, Bashir makes the point that since Miles feels guilty—so guilty he's suicidal—obviously his humanity has not been destroyed. The Ee'char hallucination bids him farewell vanishes, symbolising the expulsion of that particular trauma from O'Brien's psyche.

The coda is quite sweet, with Miles thanking Julian sincerely, agreeing to medicated for his depression (which is something we don't see enough of), and returning to his quarters to find that Molly is still very much in love with her daddy and excited to seem him.

Episode as Functionary : ***.75, 10%

I'm glad I could get my grievances with the conclusion out of the way in the previous section because I don't want to dwell on them. That mess and the slightly off characterisation of Keiko prevent me from being able to regard this episode as a perfect 4-star outing, but boy does it come close.

Let's talk about that Agrathi prison. There's an offhanded comment from one of them about how the punishment is *designed* specifically for each offender. Botched though it was, the conclusion made clear that what Miles values most *in himself* is, for lack of a better word, his humanity. While we are led to believe the 20-year sentence was just a way of having Miles serve an “appropriate” term for his alleged crime, remember that Ee'char was murdered just before his release. I believe the whole point of the prison was specifically to get Miles to commit murder, to abandon his humanity, as he saw it. That *was* the punishment. So once Ee'char was dead and Miles had a few days to dwell on his descent, he was released.

“The Argrathi Authority has been conducting a review of your case...Your correction is completed. You are free.”

Once Miles admitted what he had done, Bashir recognised what was going on and found a way to help his friend reconcile his guilt with his humanity. It isn't every episode of television that makes its central thesis about the importance of mental health. Usually, these kinds of æsops are reserved for antiheroes like Don Draper or Bojack Horseman (tying back to the theme of toxic masculinity). So, it was very brave and I think quite effective to give this story to O'Brien instead of, say, Garak or Sisko. O'Brien is a good man, but he has some notable flaws and in this case, those flaws, coupled with the extreme misfortune of his circumstances nearly led to his own suicide.

There are themes in here on criminal justice, too, which I barely broached as the episode is so rich and complex already. All I'll say is that it isn't accidental that the tinkerer O'Brien holds on to his sanity by producing elaborate geometric patterns in the sand, only to see them swept away by an invisible hand, and then just start right over.

From a production side, everything was masterful, the acting, the music, the cinematography; the Bashir/O'Brien friendship is at its absolute best; Sisko is well-used; the story is extremely economical and well paced. All around, this is my favourite episode of the season so far, and I am honestly frustrated that I can't give it a perfect score.

Final Score : ***.5
William B
Wed, Mar 27, 2019, 2:15pm (UTC -5)
@Elliott, wonderful review.

On the specific objection -- not the Keiko thing, but the "evolved human" line -- well I imagine that if he's around Peter might say something more, but for me, I get where you're coming from and I don't entirely disagree. I don't know if Wolfe had an axe to grind, for example. I think the thing is though that O'Brien is still O'Brien, and not a philosopher, nor even trained as a Starfleet *officer* (as opposed to enlisted man). He's quite smart, but his education is in pretty specific engineering and tactical fields, rather than philosophy, psychology, sociology etc., which he mostly approaches from an intuitive perspective. It is possible for him to have an incomplete understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of what "evolved humanity" means, I guess is what I'm saying. If your future Federation education system avoids even the possibility of misunderstanding what it is that makes human society better in the future than in the past (including our present), then fair enough. I guess the comparison with a conservative Christian society sort of makes sense to me though. I feel like some people would respond to their own wrongdoing by just seeing their sin rather than the philosophical framework which makes sense of their transgression and allows them to make amends.

What I particularly like about this aspect of O'Brien's story is not the broader commentary on the Federation (if it exists) but on what "moral injury" actually entails. I'd actually argue that it'd be possible for the episode to avoid making the point you think it's making while making this aspect even stronger, because I think an O'Brien who intellectually understands that it's understandable for him to have behaved like an animal under extreme, torturous circumstances could still be angry, tormented by guilt, and be unable to find a coherent sense of self. I think on some level even if we intellectually know that we're capable of bad things under bad circumstances, there is some desire in use to hold onto a core belief of ourselves of something else, and it's very hard for that to be shattered. This story is similar to what is told about Picard in Family, and in the coda to Chain of Command: Picard intellectually understands that he had no choice in what the Borg did to him, but it is still extremely difficult to make sense of that emotionally.

That element would also maybe explain why this is so different for Miles from having already discovered during the Cardassian war that he was capable of violence. I mean, we know that this is the guy who said "It's not you I hate, Cardassian, it's what you made me become" or similar in The Wounded. Killing Ee'char -- and his related anger at Keiko, Molly, Julian, those on the station -- is about the fact that he's capable of hurting those close to him, rather than enemies.
William B
Wed, Mar 27, 2019, 2:38pm (UTC -5)
Even a few minutes after writing, I realize it's not that strong an argument, since Bashir doesn't exactly act as if O'Brien was holding a fringe position.

I guess it's the attempt to tie things to the evolved humanity that is the problem, because I do think that a difficulty coping with moral injury would still be a big issue even if society as a whole believed that anyone could behave badly under extreme situations. Whether it was "evolved humanity" or not, I think O'Brien would plausibly find *some* standard by which he'd believed his failure reflected on him in a fundamental way.
Yanks
Wed, Mar 27, 2019, 2:50pm (UTC -5)
OK, one last time...

"#3. Was Ee'Char, played wonderfully by Craig Wasson, put in there by the Argrathi to help O'Brien get through the punishment? ... or was he too being punished and this mind gizmo linked the two together?"
Peter G.
Wed, Mar 27, 2019, 9:12pm (UTC -5)
@ Elliott,

Yes, very nice review.

@ William B,

"On the specific objection -- not the Keiko thing, but the "evolved human" line -- well I imagine that if he's around Peter might say something more, but for me, I get where you're coming from and I don't entirely disagree."

I am around! But I've been really, really busy lately. And as predicted I will come to the (attempted) rescue of Miles' line about humanity. I think that the difference between literal evolution and evolved society is actually so essential to the context here that it would be best to focus on the societal evolution. Miles' point is that humanity had come so far in its growth, treatment of each other, and high standards of peace, that to devolve into a savage when circumstances were bad means that all the "civilizing" meant was that he was able to maintain his standards in good circumstances, but not in bad. And I think this is a very real thing to feel guilty about. So real, in fact, that it's probably the chief thing people should be feeling on a daily basis - things like "but I've come so far in my relationship with my friend, and today I told him off for such a little thing", or other things like "I've worked so hard to overcome racism, and yet today I reacted poorly to someone because of their skin color", or many other kinds of examples. Or how about this one: "I've studied so much, and taken so much care to respect women, and today I realize that I took advantage of this girl even though in that moment I felt like I was in the right." These things happen, oh boy do they ever. And it is *totally legit*, and oh so real, to regret, rue, and ride the guilt of how far you can fall despite having come so far before that. And you bet it feels like all of your progress was self-deception; a big lie you told yourself that's now been burst. Of course, with a little more perspective you'd later come to realize that you really had come far, and that even being far doesn't mean perfect. But the further you've come, the more it seems like a catastrophic failure to fall right back down to the bottom. Such things could elicit a depression, or worse, and can be hard to find that hopeful perspective that says "you'll get back up to where you were, and further yet."

And while I do agree with Elliott that the "perfect Federation person" is a strawman, it's not one that O'Brien is making here. What he's saying here is that in his society people have gone past the *need* to be nasty to each other, and the conditions are good enough that they have no reason to be; or if they do have a reason to be, they have enough discipline to keep it down. This isn't some false thing; it's true even of our world as compared to 200 years ago, and will as true in time to come. Regressing back to a more primitive behavior is indeed reasonable cause for feeling shame, and I would deeply suspect someone who never feels that feeling of failure; in fact there was a term for exactly that in recent memory - having no shame (or being shameless). That woeful epithet is precisely about the *lack* of deep concern for having sunk to beneath what one should be.

I'd like to make brief mention of Elliott's Christian analogy, because strangely enough I find absolutely nothing wrong with the analogy and yet also find that it shows the opposite of what it's intended to. I find that the argument, replaced with Christian terms, is completely reasonable, and is in fact something that if a person said it I would tell them to go look at the book of Job and there you are. If you push someone far enough they will eventually curse God/fate/the world, and yet this doesn't change the fact that when they do sink to that level they will feel like garbage.

That being said, I do basically agree with Elliott's major points and with the rating too. Where I would dock the episode half a point is in the fact that some random species torturing and perhaps permanently harming a Federation citizen is beyond the pale and is never dealt with. I know the episode isn't about that, but the mere fact of it rankles on me so strongly that it's hard to focus entirely on the O'Brien side of it.

@ Yanks,

I'll play! I think Ee'Char was simply a character in the program meant to be the instrument of teaching O'Brien the lesson. But then - what is the lesson? That O'Brien is imperfect? But we knew that already. So in what way does this punishment accomplish anything? Going to the title, "Hard Time" it seems like we're in the position to ask whether giving real people hard time as a sentence can actually serve to rehabilitate them, or just ruins them, and I suspect that's what we're being asked here. In O'Brien's case it seems to have ruined him, so if anything I have to conclude that Ee'Char's presence was there to create maximum torment once coming *out of the punishment*, not during it. By having him be perfectly selfless, charming, funny, and all the rest, if gives O'Brien no room to blame Ee'Char, and therefore it seems the real punishment was to ruin O'Brien's life once the program was complete, with the memory of his murder. As it happens, since Federation people really are more evolved than we are, they could pull together to save him and bring him back from the brink. In essence those asshole Argrathi were out to torment and basically murder him, with no trial or consultation with the Federation. Can anyone say - embargo?
William B
Thu, Mar 28, 2019, 11:32am (UTC -5)
@Peter, great post.

Something I'll say in favour of Elliott's objection, here, is that I can see why the framing rankles him. O'Brien specifically ties his experience to what he was taught as a child, and there's a kind of sense of passivity there, as if O'Brien, as a simple man, bought what the Federation was selling him, and only now has had cause to doubt it, failing to have realized before that the Federation was selling him an incomplete picture. I don't really think that fits to me with the way O'Brien behaves in the ep overall, and while it's a reasonable reading of the line in and of itself, I tend to think the episode isn't trying to sell this reading.

I think though that some of what Peter is getting at (which I was thinking about a little in my previous post, but didn't get into in as much detail) is that having a person entirely free from shame at their bad actions, *even if they know intellectually that those actions were understandable*, is maybe not a reasonable thing to expect even from our 24th century evolved humanity. Maybe we shouldn't even expect it. Miles' case is *so* extreme that of course he should have no shame about his actions. There is also a case to be made that "shame" and self-recriminations never really help anyone get better, and that the associated depression, self-loathing will just cause them to act out more strongly. People distinguish between remorse, regret, guilt, and shame for a reason, because these different experiences, all related to each other, push people in different directions. When shame is *so overpowering* that it's impossible to deal with except by lashing out violently or pointing a phaser at one's head, it's gone far beyond anything that can be a helpful corrective.

But at the same time...it's possible that that shame once O'Brien betrayed his values is difficult to separate out from how strongly he held those values in the first place. If Miles, after a few months in prison with no expectation of parole, just said "Well, screw it; no one could blame me if I behaved badly," he would have gone far less time before he'd really lash out. Maybe having a somewhat stubborn, perhaps even irrational belief that a person's values, training, and lifetime of positive experiences can help them weather horrific experiences for a very, very long time is useful. This ties in with the way Miles isolates himself upon his return. An O'Brien who relies too heavily on society is one who will break sooner when left with nothing but his strength of individual will, and the episode seems to be partly about the pros/cons of this kind of extreme self-reliance, which caused Miles both to last far longer than he reasonably should have outside the support of his loved ones, and also caused him to flame out and nearly die by his own hand once he was placed back with them and resisted their attempts to help.

I'm not exactly sticking to topic here, but the point I'm making is that O'Brien probably needed an idea to hang onto, of something that could keep him from becoming a monster for all those years, and that necessarily meant setting a standard of behaviour so high that eventually he'd be unable to meet it.

Of course there are other elements here to Miles' isolation; he also locks himself away because he is angry and fears he'll hurt his loved ones. He also had twenty years of pent-up resentment that they didn't rescue him, even though he knows rationally that they didn't "let him" rot that way.

For what it's worth, I'd give this one a full four stars.
Peter G.
Thu, Mar 28, 2019, 12:09pm (UTC -5)
@ William B,

"Something I'll say in favour of Elliott's objection, here, is that I can see why the framing rankles him. O'Brien specifically ties his experience to what he was taught as a child, and there's a kind of sense of passivity there, as if O'Brien, as a simple man, bought what the Federation was selling him, and only now has had cause to doubt it, failing to have realized before that the Federation was selling him an incomplete picture."

That is exactly what I was talking about: *of course* O'Brien is going to think this, after having fallen from on high down into the pit. He truly believed that his Federation upbringing could allow him to weather anything, and he was wrong. But of course that conceit was never really what the Federation taught. It's in this moment of shame and guilt that he feels this way. In short, I don't think we should credit O'Brien as being a mouthpiece for the writers in this instant, but rather as being a man who's confused and damaged, trying to make sense of how he could have fallen so far. Now, if after getting better he turned around and made this same statement, *then* we could have a debate about whether the writers are trying to knock down a Trek strawman. But at the time Miles says this he also thinks there's no hope for him, and we know for a fact that this is wrong; and therefore so too is his other statement. The Federation ethos is *not* a lie, and his opinion of himself was not wrong.

My point about feeling shame isn't really contingent on whether the shame is useful or not in and of itself; but I do agree that when it's crippling it becomes a liability. But the mere fact of experiencing a fall and knowing that it came from your own weakness - that puts a sick feeling in your stomach, potentially a despairing feeling, one that can be so bad that bad thoughts generate new bad thoughts and you even fantasize about how depraved you are. That is what we might call the pathological version of what is otherwise a normal process: to feel like a giant failure when you fail in a giant way. As you say, the extent to which Miles feels he's fallen is exactly proportional to how morally developed he really was. Someone who's practically a savage won't feel as bad when they descend into being a full savage. But someone who's practically a saint will feel the full force of self-recrimination when they fall all the way down to zero. In effect, O'Brien's crippling shame is there exactly *because* everything the Federation taught him was true. If it wasn't true he wouldn't care as much. He just doesn't have the perspective yet to see this as he makes is despairing statement to Julian.
William B
Fri, Mar 29, 2019, 10:09am (UTC -5)
"That is exactly what I was talking about: *of course* O'Brien is going to think this, after having fallen from on high down into the pit. He truly believed that his Federation upbringing could allow him to weather anything, and he was wrong. But of course that conceit was never really what the Federation taught. It's in this moment of shame and guilt that he feels this way. In short, I don't think we should credit O'Brien as being a mouthpiece for the writers in this instant, but rather as being a man who's confused and damaged, trying to make sense of how he could have fallen so far. Now, if after getting better he turned around and made this same statement, *then* we could have a debate about whether the writers are trying to knock down a Trek strawman. But at the time Miles says this he also thinks there's no hope for him, and we know for a fact that this is wrong; and therefore so too is his other statement. The Federation ethos is *not* a lie, and his opinion of himself was not wrong."

Very well put, and I agree.

I think I still see where Elliott is coming from, though, because I think there is another way to read the scene, which still knocks down *a* Federation strawman, though not the Federation strawman wherein *all* Federation values are a lie. In this case, there are three possible version of the Federation ethic:

1. Thesis: Evolved humans are perfect and never do anything wrong. This is what was taught by the Federation in schools and the like.
2. Antithesis: O'Brien, because he did something deeply wrong, must not be an evolved human.
3. Synthesis: Bashir presents a more nuanced take on Federation values, that O'Brien can be an evolved human by choosing to pick up the pieces of his life and do better, now that he is outside the horror that led to his bad action.

Bashir would then be the mouthpiece for the *true* Federation values, which the episode fully supports, but maybe the episode is still saying that the Federation, as a flawed institution, might well have behaved as the strawman-Federation in its education system and whatnot. That read strikes me as consistent with the dialogue here, and doesn't contradict that Bashir (and his values) are ultimately supported by the episode. That said, while I think it's a coherent read, it's not my read. I think that O'Brien's dialogue works better if we see him, as you put it, confused and despairing and thus not thinking clearly, so I don't have a problem with it.
Kev
Fri, Jun 14, 2019, 4:25am (UTC -5)
I am with Peter G on this one. Also I think you have to take in to account that when Miles says he was taught as a child humanity is evolved that was early in his learning and possibly more retained in a crisis. Probably the best way I can illustrate that is you learn addition subtraction etc as a child, calculus much later and I know for me a lot of the calculus stuff is now gone but the simple lessons I learnt as a child will (hopefully) never be. Perhaps when writing dialog for a character in a crisis it is appropriate to pare down the ideas to the simplest form without meaning to make a comment on the values of the federation as a whole.

Also as to the Ee'Char question - the sentence was minimum 15 years and the punishment was meant to be specific to Miles. Do you really think it coincidence he was let out a week or 2 after murdering his cellmate? Apparently they normally get someone to the point of despair (whatever that is to the individual) in 15 years, took them 20 with Miles.
Bobbington Mc Bob
Sun, Jul 7, 2019, 12:51pm (UTC -5)
Incredible episode, and extremely moving, with the tears in Meaney's eyes effortlessly producing the same in mine. This is for an episode that, when I saw the netflix blurb, I thought "oh this is going to be a bad 'Frame Of Mind' ". It was much, much better, and an extremely compelling depiction of PTSD. I wonder if this was written partially as a comment on soldier's emotional fallout of the Gulf War, when PTSD had become a more widely known about issue?

As with many episodes of Trek, I couldn't help but wonder where the Federation response was. Whether it would be construed as an act of war or not, for them to have done this to a Federation Citizen and Starfleet member surely cannot go unaddressed. Maybe I just wanted to see some payback.

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