(written from a Production point of view)
Convicted of espionage, Miles O'Brien is given the memories of twenty years in prison in a matter of hours. Returning to Deep Space 9, O'Brien finds he cannot shrug the memory of his awful experience or rid himself of the guilt he feels over the death of his cellmate.
An elderly and bearded Miles O'Brien sits in an Argrathi jail cell, drawing patterns in the sand. Two Argrathi enter and tell him that he is now free to go. He claims that he has nowhere to go, but is thrown out of the cell anyway. He suddenly awakens to find Major Kira looking over him. Kira explains that the Argrathi have implanted a twenty-year prison sentence in his head, and that only a few hours have passed since his conviction. O'Brien sits dazed and tells Kira that being in prison for twenty years feels very real to him.
Captain Sisko explains to Keiko that while on a mission to Argratha, O'Brien was falsely accused of espionage and sentenced to twenty years in prison. However, the Argrathi are experts at mind-controlling and mind-altering technologies, and their criminal system was able to administer him the experience of twenty years of prison in just a few hours of treatment, without physically harming him. By the time the details of the events had been received by Deep Space 9, the "sentence" had already been completed, and he was free to return home. Keiko asks if she can see her husband and Sisko tells her as soon as she gets permission from Doctor Bashir, she certainly can.
O'Brien and Kira arrive at the station, and Doctor Bashir meets them at the airlock. He promises to do his best to remove the memory implants. He asks O'Brien a bit about the experience, such as if he was alone in his cell. O'Brien says yes, but from a flashback to his incarceration, it becomes clear that he had a cell mate named Ee'char. O'Brien remembers the time he met Ee'char in his cell, who helped him by giving him a fruit called chee'lash. They exchange their names, "crimes" and sentences. Back in reality, O'Brien affirms to Bashir that he was totally alone.
Bashir soon discovers that the memories of his imprisonment were not simply implanted: he really experienced living in a cell for twenty years, though in his mind at an accelerated rate. Thus, eradication of these memories is out of the question, and he has to accept them. He tells Keiko and she understands. They go in to see O'Brien in the infirmary, who had tried to order the chee'lash fruit from the replicator. When Keiko enters the room, he first sees Ee'char in her place, but that fades as he holds her and remembers she is pregnant.
O'Brien soon finds he has trouble undoing the habits he had taken up during his incarceration, including saving scraps of food "for later" during dinner with his family. A flashback shows Ee'char doing the same thing. O'Brien (who has grown a beard) questions Ee'char on how to cope, and he shows O'Brien how to draw complex patterns in the sand called eseekas to pass the time. They are told it's time to go to sleep, and then Keiko awakens in the middle of the night to find O'Brien sleeping on the floor.
O'Brien's memories come back to haunt him, and he begins seeing his former simulated cellmate Ee'char walking around the station. He plays darts with Worf for a bit in Quark's, but leaves when he sees Ee'char out on the Promenade.
He also finds it very difficult to readjust to life back on the station. Later, in one of the station's cargo bays, Jake helps him remember the names of the various tools. O'Brien is determined to get back up to speed immediately and dive into work. He makes some repairs with the crew in a junction of an access conduit, and Muniz briefly checks him and has a friendly exchange. O'Brien is friendly, too, but hiding his stress when Muniz leaves for lunch. O'Brien hangs back, only to be confronted by Bashir about not having been to Counselor Telnorri for the past ten days. O'Brien says he does not want to talk about his life in prison, only to forget it and be left alone. Bashir keeps pushing, and O'Brien snaps at him, storming off.
O'Brien then remembers a time when he reached his limit on staying calm in the cell. He made noise when he banged on the door, objecting to his incarceration but also inviting a threat of retaliation from the guards for the disturbance. Ee'char finally held him down to prevent any actions taken. Later on, he goes to Quark's again and lashes out at him for taking his time to serve him a drink, pinning him by the arm. O'Brien leaves with his drink to a table to be alone, where Ee'char continues to reappear, claiming that in O'Brien's eyes, he was real and always will be. O'Brien tells him to go away, but Ee'char says he can't because he's O'Brien's friend and needs him now more than ever. Quark then tells Odo about the incident, and they both observe O'Brien at his table.
O'Brien continues seeing Ee'char, now on his way to work. He says he's worried about O'Brien, but O'Brien insists he is okay, but Ee'char makes the point that O'Brien keeps seeing him. Soon, Sisko calls O'Brien to his office. Hearing about O'Brien's behavior, Sisko relieves him of duty, and orders him to report to the infirmary, and to attend daily counseling sessions. O'Brien tries to ask for another chance, but Sisko tells him he's unfit for duty and if he's doesn't get help, he'll have no choice but to have O'Brien confined to the infirmary.
O'Brien storms out of Ops, snapping at Dax and angrily throws his combadge at the floor in the turbolift, with Dax looking on, concerned. Then he goes to the infirmary and tells Bashir to leave him alone. Interestingly, Ee'char appears just behind Bashir, and O'Brien snaps directly at the both of them. O'Brien returns to his quarters, but, on the way, Ee'char continues to confront him, saying he can't run from him forever. Furthermore, there's a reason O'Brien can't get rid of him. He returns to his quarters eventually to a worried Keiko. Unfortunately, when Molly pesters him for attention at this moment, he becomes so angry that he gets up and nearly hits her, shocking Keiko. Horrified by what he nearly did, Miles leaves and then goes to a cargo bay and vents his frustration by smashing a number of storage containers in a rage with a pole. Finally, he spots weapons locker 47 and pulls a phaser out, deciding to commit suicide. Setting the phaser to maximum, he aims it at himself by placing it under his chin.
Bashir arrives and tries to talk O'Brien out of killing himself. O'Brien starts crying and says he cannot go on living when he is a threat to his family and all his friends. The man he was is gone, and all that's left is a dangerous monster. He confesses his worst crime: after almost twenty years, he found that Ee'char had been hoarding food without telling him, and killed him in a rage – before he realized that the food was for both of them. O'Brien, an "evolved" Human of the 24th century, gave into bestial rage and murdered his best friend, all for nothing.
Bashir tells him he's wrong; the fact that he feels remorse over killing Ee'char proves that he is still a decent Human being, not a monster. His captors tried to strip away his Humanity; they may have succeeded for a moment, but if O'Brien takes his own life, the Agrathi will have succeeded in destroying a good man. O'Brien lowers the phaser, and Bashir takes it away. Over Bashir's shoulder, O'Brien is surprised to see Ee'char, smiling at him, without reproach. Ee'char tells his friend to "be well," and walks away, disappearing.
Walking O'Brien back to his quarters, Bashir prescribes a medication that will take the edge off his depression and stop him from having any more hallucinations. However, the false memories cannot be removed, and O'Brien will have to come to terms with them on his own. Bashir convinces him to resume counseling sessions, and O'Brien thanks his best friend for all his help.
When he enters his quarters, O'Brien is gratified when Molly runs into his arms, glad to have him back.
"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."
"Go? I can't leave. Where would I go to?"
- - Rinn to O'Brien, after his "twenty years" in prison
"Let me guess – sedition?"
"Oh… it looks like we're going to be in here together for a long time. My name is Ee'Char."
"Miles, Miles O'Brien."
"Hello, Miles. Welcome to Hell."
- - Ee'Char and O'Brien, at the beginning of the latter's sentence
"After six years in a place like this, you either learn to laugh or you'll go insane. I prefer to laugh…"
- - Ee'char to O'Brien in prison
"I'm not your friend! The O'Brien that was your friend died in that cell!"
- - O'Brien, confronting Dr. Bashir
"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 anybody did to me, that I was still an evolved Human being… I failed. I repaid kindness with blood. I was no better than an animal."
"No. No, no, no. An animal would've killed Ee'Char and never had a second thought, never shed a tear… But not you. You hate yourself. You hate yourself so much you think you deserve to die. The Argrathi did everything they could to strip you of your Humanity and in the end, for one brief moment they succeeded. But you can't let that brief moment define your entire life. If you do, if you pull that trigger… then the Argrathi will have won. They will have destroyed a good man. You cannot let that happen, my friend."
- - Bashir listens and sets things right with O'Brien
"Daddy's home! Daddy's home!"
"That's right. Daddy's home."
- - Molly O'Brien, welcoming her father Miles back home with an embrace
Story and script
- Daniel Keys Moran and Lynn Barker pitched the story that ultimately became "Hard Time" during the first season of Deep Space Nine. Robert Hewitt Wolfe was always a big fan of the story and he tried to persuade Michael Piller to purchase it at the time, but Piller was uninterested. Wolfe tried again during the third season but again, Piller refused. Finally, in the fourth season, Wolfe was able to convince Ira Steven Behr to buy the pitch and do the episode. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (pp. 325-326))
- The character of Ee'char hadn't been in the original pitch, Robert Hewitt Wolfe himself added that character. He also introduced elements from a completely separate pitch that had been purchased, but which never made it into production. This other story concerned the discovery that Ensign Sito Jaxa, from the Next Generation episodes "The First Duty" and "Lower Decks", was still alive. After being presumed dead, she was found to have been held in a Cardassian prison since the events of "Lower Decks". This episode would have detailed her struggle to reintegrate into normal life and was basically a study of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, there was no motivating factor for why Sito was suffering from this condition, so Wolfe had decided that she had killed her cellmate, to whom she had become very close. The episode was never produced, but when composing "Hard Time", the idea of Sito killing her cellmate resurfaced in his mind, so he took that idea and imported it into the O'Brien story. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (p. 326))
- While composing the teleplay, Robert Hewitt Wolfe and Ronald D. Moore disagreed as to how best to use the character of Ee'char. Wolfe felt he should be seen only in flashbacks to the past while Moore felt he should only be seen in hallucination in the present. In the end, they settled on a compromise and Ee'char is seen in both flashbacks and hallucinations. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (p. 326))
- Celeste Wolfe, Robert Hewitt Wolfe's wife, who works as a psychotherapist and is a licensed family counselor, acted as a kind of unofficial consultant on the script. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (p. 326))
- Bashir makes reference to TNG: "The Wounded", as well as DS9: "Whispers" and "Tribunal". Obviously, this is another 'O'Brien Must Suffer' episode. Ira Steven Behr sums up the rationale for these episodes; "Every year, we like to drive O'Brien totally mad. We did it with "Whispers", we did it with "Tribunal" and "Visionary", and we did it again the following season in "The Assignment". We just like to hammer him because he's such a great character. And he's so accessible. You feel his pain, and even though it's a TV show and you figure he's gonna come out all right at the end, you're still compelled to root him on." (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (p. 328))
- Kasidy Yates featured in an early draft of the script. 
- Rene Echevarria commented that the episode had "the right mix of elements of science fiction and emotion and the kind of show I really like. Robert wanted to do one himself and did a bang-up job on it. Colm Meaney is an actor you can rely on to give you everything". (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages p 117)
- Colm Meaney commented that "Hard Time" was "a big acting challenge". (The Official Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Magazine issue 24, p. 46)
- This episode was the last of the series to be directed by Alexander Singer.
- This episode shares a similar premise to that of TNG: "The Inner Light" in that Captain Picard also experienced a lifetime of memories within a short period. Interestingly, both episodes feature actress Margot Rose.
- The same premise of putting convicted criminals in a virtual reality prison simulation, where they experience decades of imprisonment during a few hours period, was featured in The Outer Limits episode "The Sentence" (directed by Joseph L. Scanlan), which aired four months after "Hard Time".
- The method of punishment inflicted on Chief O'Brien is somewhat similar to the punishment inflicted on Tom Paris in VOY: "Ex Post Facto". Paris has the final memories of the man he was convicted of killing implanted in his brain and is forced to relive them on a regular basis. In both cases the victims were falsely convicted, although for different reasons.
- While O'Brien discusses past experiences with Bashir, he makes a reference to the events of "Tribunal".
- Reference to 47: At the end of the episode, O'Brien opens weapons locker number 47.
- The scene in which O'Brien kills Ee'char was edited for the episode's terrestrial release in the UK, to remove the sound of bones breaking.
Video and DVD releases
- The cover and label of this volume give the episode name as "Hard Times".
- This was one of only two volumes of DS9 (the other being 4.12) to receive a 15 certificate, due to the violent scenes in this episode and the following one, "Shattered Mirror".
- As part of the DS9 Season 4 DVD collection
Links and references
- Rene Auberjonois as Odo
- Michael Dorn as Lt. Commander Worf
- Terry Farrell as Lt. Commander Dax
- Cirroc Lofton as Jake Sisko
- Colm Meaney as Chief O'Brien
- Armin Shimerman as Quark
- Alexander Siddig as Doctor Bashir
- Nana Visitor as Major Kira
- Rosalind Chao as Keiko O'Brien
- Margot Rose as K'Par Rinn
- Hana Hatae as Molly O'Brien
- F.J. Rio as Muniz
- Patrick Barnitt as Argrathi guard
- Tory Christopher as Argrathi technician
- Kathleen Demor
- Steve Diamond
- Judi Durand
- Dorothy Hack as Bajoran woman
- David B. Levinson as Broik
- Mary Mascari as Bajoran woman
- Mary Meinel-Newport as Bolian woman
- James Minor
- Tom Morga as Argrathi guard
- Robin Morselli
- Stuart Nixon as command lieutenant
- Steph Silvestri as operations officer
- James Lee Stanley as Bajoran security deputy
- Chester E. Tripp III
- Michael Wajacs as Bajoran civilian
- Unknown actor as alien bar patron
alien freighter; Argratha; Argrathi; Argrathi Authority; Argrathi prison; Argrathi Security; artificial reality; Bajoran interceptor (Bajoran interceptors); Bajoran wormhole; black hole; bread; Cardassia Prime; chee'lash fruit; circle; Constable; cycle; darts; decontamination; depression; dormancy period; eseekas; espionage; Federation-Cardassian War; geometric pattern; habitat ring; holding cell; holosuite; illumination; interphasic coil spanner; kayaking; magnetic wave guide; milligram; napkin; ODN recoupler; quantum flux regulator; Paradan; phaser; pregnancy; prison guard; Promenade; Quark's; reeta-hawk; runabout; sedition; Setlik III; suicide; synthale; Telnorri; toilet facility; tricorder; cargo management unit (unnamed)
- "Hard Time" at StarTrek.com, the official Star Trek website
- "Hard Time" at Memory Beta, the wiki for licensed Star Trek works
- "Hard Time" at Wikipedia
- "Hard Time" at MissionLogPodcast.com, a Roddenberry Star Trek podcast
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