Star Trek 377: Hard Time

377. Hard Time

FORMULA: The Inner Light + Frame of Mind + Tribunal + Eye of the Beholder

WHY WE LIKE IT: DS9 isn't afraid to go real dark.

WHY WE DON'T: Too dark?

REVIEW: It's all well and good torturing O'Brien, but Hard Time goes almost impossibly dark with the idea by having him rot 20 years in a virtual jail before sending him back to his family and friends changed for the worse, until he almost hits his little girl and attempts suicide. This isn't your grandfather's Star Trek. And it's the kind of story whose consequences are hard to carry over to later episodes because it effectively "breaks" the character.

That all said, it's a powerful and beautiful story about a man pushed to the edge by his own guilt. O'Brien IS a good man, so good in fact that he can't bear to have killed even a figment of his imagination. He's traumatized and has to relearn not only his engineering skills, but his relationships with the people around him. In the usual formula, the episode might focus on the prison stay, then reveal it was all virtual and that no time passed, and sweep the consequences under the rug in an epilogue (The Mind's Eye, The Inner Light...), but Hard Time weaves in and out of the two time frames to better focus on those consequences.

Obviously, it's a showcase for Colm Meany's dramatic abilities (my favorite moment being when he throws his combadge in frustration), but everyone in the cast gets a good scene. Keiko too, gets a good turn, caring and understanding through this ordeal (much better than "nagging Keiko"). Ee'char is a sympathetic, soulful character, and those drawings he does are definitely a nice detail. Oh, and Muniz gets a scene

LESSON: You can't "reform" a good man.

REWATCHABILITY - High: At once edgy and moving, Hard Time is shocking and uncompromising. But tough to watch.