The Great Star Trek DS9 Rewatch: Hard Time

When O’Brien is accused of espionage on the Argrathi homeworld, they implant memories of a twenty-year prison sentence into his mind. With Bashir unable to remove these memories, O’Brien must instead come to terms with what happened, and readjust to life on DS9.

Poor O’Brien. Whenever there are difficult circumstances to be had, he’s to go-to guy for experiencing them – and it all comes to a head here when he’s subjected to the memories of twenty years in prison. Given its episodic nature, we’ve often seen Starfleet officers experience events that would permanently traumatise any real human, only to be fine a week or two later. Togther with TNG’s Family, this is one of the very few episodes to really delve into the effects of PTSD (thus far, anyway – we have the Dominion War to come), and it does an admirable job of it. O’Brien’s attempts to settle back into his old life are interspersed with flashbacks to his prison sentence, complete with a cellmate who he refuses to mention to any of his colleagues on DS9. Why is he keeping quiet? What exactly happened in there? Will all this be forgotten by next episode? Of course, but let’s put the cynicism aside for a moment and enjoy this episode as a good standalone story.

Bits and pieces

  • For plot reasons, Bashir is unable to remove O’Brien’s memories of the prison sentence without removing all of his other memories too. A handful of episodes ago, he was able to do a top notch job on tinkering with Kurn’s memories, whilst back on TNG, selective memory erasure was often a go-to procedure.
  • It’s just as well the food Ee’char and O’Brien would put aside never became inedibly mouldy. I’m guessing they weren’t all that picky under the circumstances, but there are still limits on what can be eaten – and if they got sick from eating spoiled food, the guards were unlikely to treat them. Then again, as none of it was real, the simulation could easily be programmed such that food never went mouldy, and inmates never became sick.
  • After eating, Molly puts her plate back in the replicator. This saves on washing up and storage space, but it’s a bit of a waste of energy, as plates will need to be replicated again the following day.

Summary – Hard Time: Even more suffering for O’Brien.

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