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.


snell said...

Here's one thought I've always had about the episode: did the alien prison program intend for O'Brien to kill Ee'Char, thus increasing his suffering?

*We're told that the virtual incarceration is "modeled to each offender's personality." This means that, since Ee'Char was in the cell from moment one, he was a product of the program, not a figment of O'Brien's imagination, and that he's there for a reason. Also, since O'Brien is a decent man, the program was tailored to inflict the type of suffering that would most impact his personality (eg, making a good man think he had done a horrendous thing).

*Since it's a virtual program, there's no reason to let the prisoners starve excpet to drive them to murder. Hence, the guards began feeding O'Brien the day after he killed Ee'Char.

*He's freed soon after the murder.

I'm thinking that the whole point of the incarceration was to "break" O'Brien into murdering his cellmate. Had he not snapped then, his virtual incarceration would have gone on until he did.

Julian said the Argrathans did everything to try and strip O'Brien's humanity away. He was more right than he knew: the entire point of the program was to break him, to force him to commit a vile act. Whatta bunch of bastards, those Agrathans...

Siskoid said...

Yeah. They put you to sleep for a couple hours. Cost to them, very little.

Then they send you back into society where you kill yourself with alcohol, drugs or something quicker. The job is done.

To be fair, we know nothing of their psychology, or how their procedure might affect a human being.

De said...

We call this one the "Niagara Falls" episode because there's never a dry eye in the house once the episode is over.

The only thing I didn't like was how such a huge psychological trauma was never mentioned again. I know O'Brien agreed to go to counseling but I really wanted to see how Miles would cope with this. Imaginary murder or not, this isn't the sort of thing you just "get over."

Siskoid said...

Agreed, it's also my complaint.

Even Picard picked up the flute in The Inner Light.


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