Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
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
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118 comments on this post
Fri, Nov 9, 2007, 4:54pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Jan 9, 2008, 9:58pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Feb 27, 2008, 12:51pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Mar 1, 2008, 12:17pm (UTC -5)
Thu, May 22, 2008, 9:23pm (UTC -5)
Sat, May 24, 2008, 6:25pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Jun 24, 2008, 5:59pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Sep 30, 2008, 5:13pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Sep 15, 2009, 9:13pm (UTC -5)
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.
Sun, Dec 27, 2009, 4:08am (UTC -5)
Tue, Apr 27, 2010, 2:40pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Dec 26, 2010, 2:27am (UTC -5)
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.
Tue, Jan 25, 2011, 8:05pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Jan 27, 2011, 6:46pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Apr 23, 2012, 1:08pm (UTC -5)
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.
Mon, Apr 23, 2012, 6:10pm (UTC -5)
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.
Wed, May 23, 2012, 8:46am (UTC -5)
Thu, May 24, 2012, 9:55am (UTC -5)
Sat, Jul 21, 2012, 9:59pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Jul 24, 2012, 1:44am (UTC -5)
All in all A rather useless, pointless episode...
...I seem to recall...
Mon, Aug 13, 2012, 4:10am (UTC -5)
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.
Fri, Aug 24, 2012, 10:01am (UTC -5)
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.
Sat, Dec 22, 2012, 12:31pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Mar 27, 2013, 11:46pm (UTC -5)
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!
Sat, May 18, 2013, 1:55pm (UTC -5)
An all-around superb episode that is engrossing for the entire 45 minutes.
Tue, Jul 9, 2013, 7:52am (UTC -5)
Sun, Oct 6, 2013, 5:32pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Oct 23, 2013, 6:08pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Feb 17, 2014, 5:41am (UTC -5)
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'.
Mon, Feb 24, 2014, 9:02pm (UTC -5)
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.
Mon, May 26, 2014, 3:36pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Jun 25, 2014, 12:35am (UTC -5)
This episode is an exercise in emotional indulgence, all with no point.
Wed, Jun 25, 2014, 12:48am (UTC -5)
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.
Wed, Jul 30, 2014, 11:18am (UTC -5)
#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.
Thu, Jul 31, 2014, 6:51pm (UTC -5)
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.
Sun, Aug 10, 2014, 10:54pm (UTC -5)
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.
Fri, Nov 21, 2014, 9:23am (UTC -5)
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?
Tue, Mar 10, 2015, 10:39am (UTC -5)
Thu, Apr 9, 2015, 2:35pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Apr 23, 2015, 12:33am (UTC -5)
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.
Thu, Sep 24, 2015, 2:52pm (UTC -5)
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?
Thu, Sep 24, 2015, 5:17pm (UTC -5)
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".
Tue, Oct 6, 2015, 8:27am (UTC -5)
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.
Tue, Oct 6, 2015, 11:16am (UTC -5)
Not in solitary they don't.
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?"
Sun, Oct 25, 2015, 5:01pm (UTC -5)
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.
"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.
"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.
Thu, Nov 5, 2015, 8:21am (UTC -5)
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."
Thu, Nov 26, 2015, 12:00am (UTC -5)
Sun, Jan 3, 2016, 7:36am (UTC -5)
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.
Sun, Feb 14, 2016, 6:15am (UTC -5)
Tue, Apr 12, 2016, 10:42am (UTC -5)
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.
Tue, Apr 12, 2016, 10:58am (UTC -5)
Tue, May 3, 2016, 11:43am (UTC -5)
Tue, May 3, 2016, 6:00pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Jun 28, 2016, 6:44pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Jul 18, 2016, 10:06am (UTC -5)
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.
Sun, Sep 18, 2016, 3:40am (UTC -5)
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.
Thu, Sep 22, 2016, 4:22pm (UTC -5)
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.
Tue, Nov 1, 2016, 9:31am (UTC -5)
Tue, Nov 1, 2016, 10:00am (UTC -5)
Sun, Nov 6, 2016, 12:55pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Dec 27, 2016, 7:49pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Mar 4, 2017, 7:20pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Mar 4, 2017, 7:22pm (UTC -5)
How do you 'reform' someone who's a bit too curious about your technology? Clearly they are sadistic people, similar to the Cardassians.
Sat, Mar 18, 2017, 4:09pm (UTC -5)
Sat, May 6, 2017, 5:24pm (UTC -5)
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.
Sun, May 7, 2017, 1:41am (UTC -5)
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...
Wed, May 31, 2017, 1:56am (UTC -5)
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.
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.
Fri, Jun 9, 2017, 3:01pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Jul 15, 2017, 12:37am (UTC -5)
Mon, Aug 7, 2017, 2:36am (UTC -5)
Mon, Aug 7, 2017, 2:40am (UTC -5)
Thu, Aug 10, 2017, 4:28pm (UTC -5)
"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.
Mon, Sep 25, 2017, 11:01am (UTC -5)
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...
Sun, Jan 21, 2018, 5:47am (UTC -5)
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.
PS. Btw, I agree 20 is too long, 5-6 years would've benefited the story more.
Mon, Jan 29, 2018, 12:38pm (UTC -5)
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".
Sat, May 19, 2018, 3:16pm (UTC -5)
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.
Sat, May 19, 2018, 7:06pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Jun 15, 2018, 2:40pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Aug 20, 2018, 2:11am (UTC -5)
Tue, Sep 25, 2018, 10:46pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Sep 25, 2018, 11:07pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Dec 5, 2018, 10:35pm (UTC -5)
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
Tue, Jan 8, 2019, 9:06am (UTC -5)
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.
Wed, Mar 27, 2019, 12:57pm (UTC -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.
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.
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
Wed, Mar 27, 2019, 2:15pm (UTC -5)
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.
Wed, Mar 27, 2019, 2:38pm (UTC -5)
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.
Wed, Mar 27, 2019, 2:50pm (UTC -5)
"#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?"
Wed, Mar 27, 2019, 9:12pm (UTC -5)
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.
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?
Thu, Mar 28, 2019, 11:32am (UTC -5)
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.
Thu, Mar 28, 2019, 12:09pm (UTC -5)
"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.
Fri, Mar 29, 2019, 10:09am (UTC -5)
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.
Fri, Jun 14, 2019, 4:25am (UTC -5)
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.
Sun, Jul 7, 2019, 12:51pm (UTC -5)
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.
Wed, Jan 1, 2020, 6:47pm (UTC -5)
Colin Meaney does an excellent job of portraying someone struggling with PTSD, but some of the other elements don't work as well.
The whole "ghost" thing has been done way too often, and as ever, Star Trek tends to be very inconsistent in what they can and cannot do, especially when it comes to medical activities.
Also, the legal setup on Argrathi seems somewhat medieval - it doesn't offer any mechanism for appeals or mis-trials. It's even odder when you consider that as a Star Fleet officer, O'Brien should have had at least some legal protection.
Even the death of Ee'char feels somewhat contrived. After twenty years of living in the same cell, surely they'd both be fully aware of every nook, cranny and hiding place, and would know what each had hidden away. And by the same token, trying to sneakily bring out food you were planning to share is an odd way to do things.
Admittedly, the entire point is that this was a virtual scenario which was designed to break O'Brien, and it finally did - after all, as the episode notes, they "released" him just a week after EE'char's death. If anything, one key failing of this episode is that this isn't really highlighted - Bashir briefly touches on it during O'Brien's confession, but it feels like something which should have been strongly emphasised as part of O'Brien's therapy. E.g.
"They wanted to break you. The entire program was designed to break you. They expected it would take 15 years, but it took 20. You should be proud of the fact you were able to hold out for that long".
Sat, Jan 11, 2020, 8:38pm (UTC -5)
(I'll also admit that I wondered why the synthale that O'Brien ordered at Quark's wasn't something harder. But him being on the verge of suicide is probably big enough for the scope of a single episode without more unhealthy coping mechanisms thrown into the mix.)
From the few episodes yet I've seen ahead so far, up to For the Cause -- very mild spoiler warning -- it doesn't *seem* as though they've hit the reset button on O'Brien's experiences here, but really there hasn't been much of O'Brien in the following episodes at all. Which may be for the best. No continued mention of how he's coping, but equally we haven't returned to the usual O'Brien either. It has the recovery process unspoken, left to the imagination, but it certainly doesn't deny it's underway.
Regardless, comments here make it sound that the "reset button" does essentially get pressed... and yet I don't actually have much of a problem with that. When the process of dealing with this traumatic event (rather than the traumatic event itself!) is actually the *main focus* of the episode? Not just five minutes (or less) at the end? Not even a B-plot as distraction? Then yes, they have thoroughly addressed the fact that this is not easy, not quick to recover from, and is not something that can be simply bounced back from. Hell, the episode covers at least a week's worth of time in itself. And the ending of the episode promises they'll be working on it far more. Even if it's off-screen, we're reliably informed that it's there.
A lot of comparisons to other episodes are coming to mind: Picard's sudden deluge of a lifetime of memories in 'The Inner Light'; or how Gul Madred finds his breaking point in Chain of Command. But I feel The Wire deserves a mention, on multiple fronts: a character in emotional turmoil, and Bashir's calm response as a doctor and as a friend. It's in these moments that he shines the best.
I want to note, though this comes from personal experience and I have no idea what's actually the best approach from a trained psychologist's perspective, that having O'Brien relieved of duty came off as something that'd be more counterproductive than anything else. O'Brien is very clearly someone who values his work, who values feeling useful, and he's robbed of that -- one of his few diversions. He's a *little* rusty, but he seems to be working just fine. Taking his work away removes something that's helping him feel like the man he used to be. Without that, he doesn't really get much else to distract him from his misery.
Two more things that I'll relegate to bullet points:
- It's almost sad seeing Jake work him through which tool is which. The old apprenticeship's been flipped on its head, and now O'Brien needs to re-learn.
- O'Brien's "evolved human" line did register to me as a blip in the full-throttle emotional torment that formed the climactic scene of the episode. I remember thinking at the time "hmm, that's not very Roddenberry". Making no judgement on that one way or the other, though, and leaving it as it is -- there's definitely been a hell of a lot of discussion of it in this thread already.
Tue, Jul 14, 2020, 6:45pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Oct 4, 2020, 9:31am (UTC -5)
The episode tears Miles away from the Federation, turns him into a murderer and a savage, and then holds this state of debased humanity up as being immutable. Julian then "cures" Miles by informing him that because he feels guilty for murdering, that this somehow means he is nevertheless a "good man".
The implication then becomes that someone who feels no guilt over murdering in Miles' situation is thus a "bad man", and that humans actions and behavior - and moral judgements cast upon this behavior - can somehow be divorced from external circumstances.
Stanley Kubrick once said the real lesson of the Icarus myth was that "man must build better wings". Similarly, instead of wallowing in a kind of weird Catholic guilt - Miles the debased beast bound by parochial morality to feel shame for what he is - the real lesson of this episode should be, "build better systems".
Miles becomes a mess because he is outside Federation space. That is all. That should be the lesson. The Federation cares and provides, not because it has transcended savagery, but because it recognizes that systems, customs and laws exist to alleviate the suffering of individuals and curb brutishness. The episode turns what should be a celebration of the Federation, centuries of human collaboration and problem solving, into a kind of despondent strawman.
It's like taking Mel Gibson out of contemporary America, putting him in Mad Max 2, pointing at his injures after a car crash, and patting yourself on the back for recognizing how fragile humans are. No one disagrees. That's why we have seat-belts.
Having Miles essentially say that he was brought up believing humans "had evolved beyond hate and rage" is itself silly. What society would teach this? Do we hold up contemporary rape laws as proof that "society has evolved beyond the violent impulses of cavemen"? Do we hold up doctors as proof that society has evolved beyond disease? It's a fallacious line used to make a trite point for dishonest reasons.
As with most episodes where DS9 tries to be edgy, just a handful of lines would have fixed this ("You're not on Argrathi now, Miles.", "They made you do it Miles", "The Federation exists to protect you from this, Miles" etc etc), but instead we get Bashir consoling us with his guilt pep-talk.
It's telling that this episode was repeatedly rejected while Piller had clout in DS9, and then greenlit when Ira Behr took over.
I would put this episode below TNG's "Allegiance" and TOS' "Empath", both similar tales of people abducted and kept in prisons. In "Allegiance", Picard's thrown in a jail with others and tested by aliens. When does all his training, and his reliance on obedience and hierarchical structures, break down, they want to know. It doesn't. Picard rallies a group of disparate aliens, and later beats the aliens by wordlessly relying upon his crewmen.
"Empath", meanwhile has Kirk and the gang jailed with a female alien. They're tortured, but never turn on one another, and instead repeatedly sacrifice themselves for one another. This is the episode "Hard Time" is critiquing, particularly the quote by the TOS aliens: "Everything that is truest and best in all species of beings has been revealed to you. Those are the qualities that make a civilization worthy to survive."
Which is not to say that there is anything wrong with Miles breaking down. TNG and TOS are rife with people breaking down or going mad. What's wrong is insinuating that the Federation lies to its people, that the Federation indoctrinates them into thinking they're evolved human beings, and that any breaking down is somehow indicative of the hypocrisy of the Federation, its naivety, and its dishonesty.
Sun, Oct 4, 2020, 10:22am (UTC -5)
""Julian then "cures" Miles by informing him that because he feels guilty for murdering, that this somehow means he is nevertheless a "good man"."
When you are trying to talk somebody of a ledge then that is not truth time. You are trying to understand what state the person is in and then go from there.
"As with most episodes where DS9 tries to be edgy, just a handful of lines would have fixed this ("You're not on Argrathi now, Miles.", "They made you do it Miles","
Julian says:" The Agrathi did anything they could to strip you of your humanity and in the end for a brief moment they succeeded. ... . If you, if you pull that trigger then the Agrathi will have won." How much more clear could he have said it.
"What's wrong is insinuating that the Federation lies to its people, that the Federation indoctrinates them into thinking they're evolved human beings, and that any breaking down is somehow indicative of the hypocrisy of the Federation, its naivety, and its dishonesty."
They don't say that in the episode. Miles states that "when we were growing up they used to tell us..." To me that sounds like he was told as a child and telling children that people were once more violent but have outgrown it is fine. I don't think that is indoctrination and a fairly harsh judgement based on a fairly vague sentence.
I would also argue that it tries to tackle an aspect of toxic masculinity. Miles was constructed as the everyman. Many men to this day view illness and especially mental illness as an unacceptable weakness. Miles negative view of therapy and unwillingness to deal with his severe mental problems almost leads to suicide. At the end he breaks down, cries and finally accepts help. A cautionary tale for men. If you are hurting, get help. I think that is a good lesson and the acting is very good as well.
Sun, Oct 4, 2020, 1:05pm (UTC -5)
I would say the sentence is the entire point of the episode.
Miles is put in a prison. Miles is starving. Miles sees a guy hiding food and assumes he's stealing. Miles kills the guy. Miles feels guilty. Miles then admits the murder and delivers the line which capstones the episodes: "when I was a child they told us etc" [...] "but it's not true, I'm no better than an animal".
He doesn't say "when I lived in the Federation, we did not go hungry" or "we had no need to kill" - lines which celebrate the Federation - he says "we were told we were highly evolved and better than animals".
The cognitive dissonance between what the Federation teaches Miles about Miles, and what Miles really is, is what causes Miles' mental illness, in much the same way Vietnam or Gulf War veterans, who cant reconcile what they actually do in combat with what they've been socially conditioned to believe war is, suffer PTSD and mental illness.
I see this episode as a vehicle to get a Federation officer to commit cold blooded murder. There's a gleefulness to it. Remove a human from his creature comforts, it says, and look what he will do! Look at what really underlies Federation righteousness and sanctimony! Look how naive and sheltered Miles is!
And so I don't see it as tackling toxic masculinity - which it does; Miles is cured by sharing his emotions etc - but as fostering another kind of toxic masculinity. In misunderstanding and misrepresenting what the Federation is - a set of interlocking hands, that exist to cradle Miles as much as the psychologist and meds his friends prescribe - it undercuts its purported purpose.
Sun, Oct 4, 2020, 2:54pm (UTC -5)
"I would say the sentence is the entire point of the episode."
I tend to also believe this statement is the clincher of the episode's themes. However I thin, Trent, you're misdiagnosing exactly what the episode is trying to achieve with it.
"Having Miles essentially say that he was brought up believing humans "had evolved beyond hate and rage" is itself silly. What society would teach this? "
The answer to this question is in fact the answer to why this episode is a good tale to tell. In TNG there is a test in Encounter at Farpoint in which it seems Q is judging humanity for barbarity. It's the job of Picard and the Federation to prove that we can change. But over the course of TNG the message of "we have to strive to change" morphed rapidly into "we already have completed the change, and we are now beyond things like hate and jealousy. Roddenberry tried to show that in spades in ways ranging from innocent naivete among the crew to sexual promiscuity having no impact beyond it being seen as fun. Although to be fair the libertine side of the argument vanished once Roddenberry stopped being involved. But yes, TNG really was pushing the message quite contrary to TOS, that somehow humanity left the dark side behind. I agree with you that what it should have been saying is that its society was improved compared to ours, but instead it tended to say that individually people were beyond those things. And DS9 is making a point here to say that's ridiculous; and this point mirrors what Sisko said previously about being a saint in paradise. To Hard Times is expressing a message not at all new to DS9. And yes, it is a criticism of some of what (I think rightly) can be seen as naivete on TNG's part.
But also remember something else: this was made in 1996, far predating our notions that you are used to at present that men crying is fine, that crime doesn't make you bad, and that care for each other trumps retribution (even upon oneself). Not that everyone today believes these things, but they are prevalent. But as Booming points out, in 1996 someone like Miles would have had far less social permission to break down and admit having a problem. And further, America as a whole 25 years ago was very much still coming off of the 1980's and early 90's concept of being superior to all people who came before, being the best people in the best country, the 'good citizens' beyond above and better than the "drug users" and "criminals" (note how hard the War on Drugs still was back then), and even the evangelical movement's idea of condemning sinners in the punitive sense. The holier than thou was all over the place, to the point where you'd head it in political debates, and where Ron Paul was booed for suggesting that drug users might not be scumbags. So in this context Hard Times really was pushing the envelope against the social norm of proving how perfect and well-adjusted you are. Nowadays, with Metoo and other left-leaning movements, you'll see people accuse themselves of things like racism, sexism, and tokenism; it is more the fashion to call oneself a sinner rather than a saint. But not so back in 1996, and for Miles to fess up to being a mere human ruined by a bad system beyond is powers was worth showing.
Mon, Oct 12, 2020, 4:13pm (UTC -5)
Speaking of torture, this world’s methods of punishment seem rather insane. Locking people up is in large part to prevent them from crimeing again. Although different people view it differently, the horrors of prison life are generally the down side.
In this world, they let the person loose after five minutes of mentally crippling them— the worst possible outcome. That’s fairly insane, and begs for another episode, perhaps with a Kirk or Picard speech conclusion. It’s hard to believe there wouldn’t be bloody hell raised over this incident.
They could be a good episode, because it’s entirely plausible that the aliens on this world handle the torture differently. Maybe they aren’t so badly damaged, and it’s just really boring and uncomfortable.
Sun, Feb 21, 2021, 5:17pm (UTC -5)
(I agree with previous posters, and Bashir's comment - cellmate put in 'programme' to test, break and punish him - or in a more charitable view, to give the chance for remorse and redemption).
Thu, Feb 25, 2021, 8:07am (UTC -5)
This show has a kink for torturing O'Brien poor guy, but somehow he never fully breaks and for the most part lives a happy life.
Also, the whole episode I was trying to figure out where I knew the actor who plays Ee'Char from. It's the Doc from Nightmare On Elm Street 3! One of my favorite movies.
Thu, Feb 25, 2021, 8:25am (UTC -5)
Suck the Prime Time bitch!
Tue, Apr 27, 2021, 9:08pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Jul 13, 2021, 9:45pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Jul 14, 2021, 7:00am (UTC -5)
"Brilliant acting performances and intriguing story. I was troubled that there are never consequences for people who screw with Starfleet. O'Brien was mentally assaulted and his tormentors get off scot free?"
Well, Star Trek fans had no issue with Picard getting mind-raped during 'Inner Light' so...
Wed, Nov 10, 2021, 11:59am (UTC -5)
Mon, Dec 20, 2021, 10:46am (UTC -5)
Sat, Mar 26, 2022, 7:59am (UTC -5)
Wed, May 4, 2022, 9:53pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Jun 21, 2022, 8:16pm (UTC -5)
Colm Meaney is always great!
Mon, Jul 11, 2022, 5:12pm (UTC -5)
As to the execution of this story within the DS9 context, Colm Meany's performance is stellar. He's the "everyman" of the show and one of the more likeable characters. To see him pull off this performance with such credibility is the work of a fine actor. And his support from others, such as Siddig El Fadil in the final reckoning of his dysfunction is similarly strong. Once again, DS9's status as having the best ensemble of actors of any Trek show is confirmed.
One aspect of the exposition of this story that I particularly appreciate is that, at the end, there's no "reset button," no going back in time to where "everything is like it was." While it's doubtful that O'Brien will be shown in ongoing recovery after this, there's no final resolution of his turmoil in this episode.
I note that a number of comments make reference to "Inner Light," but I think there's a better analogy from TNG. "Best of Both Worlds I & II" was followed by "Family" in which Picard/Locutus breaks down in front of his brother Robert (Jeremy Kemp) and cries about how the Borg had taken his humanity away, forced him to kill and destroy, and that Jean-Luc had found that resisting was futile. Robert plays the counselor and tells Jean-Luc he'll be living with his guilt for a long time, the question is where -- in some new escape or on the Enterprise (where he belongs). That sequence is closer to "Hard Time" in dealing with the trauma of guilt than anything else I can remember in the Trek universe.
Fri, Sep 2, 2022, 2:27pm (UTC -5)
I certainly remember reading about it, probably 5-10 years ago, in some publication or another, but I'm pretty sure I wrote about it in a comment here(?).
This article I read prognosticated this kind of punishment being instituted on earth at some point, once technology advanced enough. Of course, the usual suspects--for whom a criminal is as much a victim as the victim him/herself, if not more--were up in arms about the very notion. Heaven forfend some thieving, robbing, raping, murdering scumbag be exposed to some suffering in retribution!! 🙄🙄🙄 I, of course, think it's a phenomenal idea and hope it get implemented sooner than later.
Anyhooz, solid ep. I don't like Smiley but this was pretty interesting, certainly the underlying premiss. Not a fan of Smiley's head-trips involving his cellmate, but it's okay.
It's not four stars though. Three perhaps, if even that.
Fri, Sep 2, 2022, 2:46pm (UTC -5)
Quite riveting, what (never) happened in that fictitious cell. Even though it was all make-believe, it does speak to many aspects of human nature, including those we've supposed "outgrown."
We never outgrow any of our natural instincts. The most we do is create a society in which those instincts are (re-)channeled toward something constructive and more desirable than acting on them. (This, incidentally, is why collectivism always fails: It does not take human nature into account.)
I still don't think this eppy is four stars, but 3-1/2 for sure.
Sun, Nov 20, 2022, 7:28am (UTC -5)
Apparently the Federation is completely toothless or unwilling to stand up against any other power (except when it suits the plot and they want to make it the focal point of the episode). Anyone can waltz around abducting and torturing whoever they like. Anyone can demand that someone stand trial for something ludicrious and the Federation will go along with whatever barbaric system they use. Anyone can beam onto the station and do what they like in the name of some treasured blood sport.
Are there ever repercussions? No. Does the Federation use its military to protect its own people? No. Does any of this seem remotely realistic? No.
This episode and the last one are both 0/10 for me. I can't enjoy them at all, so I can't give them any credit. A cake with a nugget of turd in it is a 0/10 cake, regardless of how nice the icing is.
Mon, Nov 28, 2022, 1:56pm (UTC -5)
First, I think it's brilliant that the Argrathi who speaks to Miles is played by Margot Rose who also played Picard's "wife" Eline in The Inner Light. This MUST have been intentional, and further promotes the idea of this episode being the dark-side version of a similar concept. It also makes the whole thing a bit more sinister in my opinion, since Eline was all about giving Picard love and purpose while the Argrathi are doing the exact opposite.
Second, is anyone else tired of all these other alien races/planets/societies/etc doing the most horrible things to people who are supposed to be foreign diplomats? Never mind the fact that the Federation does zippo about any of these incidents. But why does every alien society on Star Trek who are trying to form a beneficial relationship with the Federation always jump at the chance to torture or kill Federation representatives? And no matter how evolved or intelligent the society is they can't seem to grasp the concept of "oh this person from an entirely different world may not be the foremost expert in our customs and laws."
Mon, Nov 28, 2022, 2:37pm (UTC -5)
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