DS9: S4E18: “Hard Time”

In which O’Brien suffers some more. 

"And I shall title it 'Nelson'."

“And I shall title it ‘Nelson’.”

An old man sits in solitude, drawing a mandala in the sand. This is a prison cell, and the daily energy shower wipes away his drawing. With nothing else to do, he begins again, but the door opens and the wardens come to release Miles Edward O’Brien from the Agrathi penal facility. He was in prison for 20 cycles on charges of espionage, but he doesn’t have anywhere to go. They hurl him into the bright light outside his cell, and he wakes up on a surgical table, screaming, and his normal age. But he thinks it’s been twenty years. Outside of his machine-induced hallucination, it’s only been a few hours. On this planet, the corrections system creates a personalized prison/torture chamber modeled for each offender. I wonder if they operate on a rehabilitative or a deterrence model? Either way, O’Brien has run afoul of weird planetary punishment and will now have to deal with it. Hey, at least he won’t have to feel himself die over and over again. That’s gotta be fine, right?

The charges were based on Miles getting curious about some Agrathi technology and asking too many questions. By the time Sisko got word, they’d already carried out his 20-year sentence. Bashir will try to remove the memories, but for now O’Brien has to live with remembering 20 years in solitary confinement. The first couple of interactions are pretty awkward, and we’re holding off shoving O’Brien into highly-social situations, or putting him in a room with his wife. Now, the funny part is, O’Brien claims he was alone, but a flashback clearly shows that when he was first ‘thrown into prison’ there was someone else with him, who taught him how the prison worked. Ee’char has been there for six years, for sedition, and since we didn’t see anyone else in the room with Miles when he woke up is either wirelessly networked in from another room. Even though he wasn’t in the cell when Miles woke up, if he’s real then that’s some pretty precise timing on the part of the penal staff.

Bashir can’t do much to fix O’Brien, as it turns out. The Agrathi didn’t ‘implant memories’ so much as they ran inputs through his brain and made his brain react to them. For all intents and purposes, O’Brien lived those 20 years in every sense but they physiological one. The memories are real, and Bashir can’t remove them without wiping O’Brien’s whole memory. But Miles is pretty strong, overall. He’ll adjust, as he has to all the other nightmare stuff he’s been through. To start with, he’s got to get used to replicators. And the fact that his wife is pregnant, and also that she’s not Ee’char.

O’Brien has some rationing habits with food, and trying to get used to not having to do that, and also being able to go color with his daughter. The rationing thing is because in prison, he wasn’t always fed on time, so he learned to put some away for a famine. Ee’char taught him that. Also the mandalas, or eseekas as he called them. He’s stayed sane enough to make jokes, because you gotta. Now, back in real life, he sleeps on the floor. He’s used to it.

Only thing that'll stop a man with this kind of resilience is no potatoes.

Only thing that’ll stop a man with this kind of resilience is no potatoes.

Worf is helping him get back into the swing of things with darts, and kayaking, but Miles keeps seeing Ee’char showing up and vanishing. Learning his old job again is a bit of a task too, but it’s all there buried under the cobwebs, and soon he’s back in uniform and being The Chief again. He’s even been skipping out on his therapy sessions – it’s been ten days since his last session, and Bashir’s here to gently goad him into re-upping – thus revealing the temper of a man who’s been in prison for 20 years. He’s had some temper outbreaks in his cell, too. But when that happened, the Overwatch would threaten Discipline. Now it’s got him attacking Quark for being short-staffed. Ee’char shows up in the bar, admits to being fictional and a hallucination, but he’s here to help anyway.

Sisko calls him in to discuss these outbursts, and O’brien is now scheduled for daily counseling until he’s discharged by said therapist, and is on medial leavc until then. He’s not exactly taking the news well. Ee’char keeps giving him advice, which Miles keeps trying to ignore, until they refer more and more often to the falling-out between them. Ee’char is dead, you see. Fictionally, of course. He’s trying to calm down, but Molly is really not helping. On the bright side, this might be what convinces him he needs therapy, once he finishes demolishing a cargo bay in lieu of just beating his family. Or he could break into a weapons locker to see what a phaser on maximum tastes like.

Bashir’s there to stop him, but they finally get O’Brien to talk about Ee’char. Ee’char was there for almost O’brien’s whole sentence, in fact. He only spent a week or two in solitary. The guards started to starve them both, they ran out of stockpiles, but Ee’char was holding out, so O’Brien killed him for it, only it was a stockpile for Miles too. And Miles got fed the next day. So evidently the Agrathi don’t realy believe in rehabilitation. They’re firm believers in deterrence and efficiency, and now Miles has to face down the savage survivalist that lives in the core of the human brain, once civilization is stripped away.

But the point of civilizaiton is, I guess, not letting one moment of weakness destroy your life. Or maybe that’s the point of friendship. Or therapy. Either way, O’Brien’s on mood stabilizers and therapy for at leas a month, and Molly seems to have bounced back. Plus nobody went bankrupt getting adequate mental healthcare.

Did we miss something awesome?