The Trials of O’Brien: Times the DS9 writers made Chief O’Brien suffer

When Miles O’Brien left the Enterprise-D for a new job as chief engineer on DS9, he knew it wasn’t going to easy. After all, he’d just swapped the Federation’s top of the range flagship for a rusty Cardassian space station infested with voles and held together with spit and 24th century baling twine. What he didn’t know was that the writers of his fictional world also had it out for him, and devised ever crueller ways to torture DS9’s resident blue collar everyman.

Armageddon Game (s2e13)

Way back when Bashir and O’Brien were at the start of their friendship, they got sent on a joint mission to destroy a stockpile of chemical weapons. Unfortunately, so committed were the weapons’ creators to eradicating all knowledge of them, that they decided to kill Bashir and O’Brien as well. Our heroes escape the initial attack, only to flee to the surface of an alien planet – and to make matters worse, O’Brien has inadvertently been infected by one of the weapons. Yes, even when someone else is sharing his plight, O’Brien has it worse, as he gets progressively sicker and weaker even whilst having to instruct Bashir on how to fix up a rudimentary transmitter. A shame the good doctor was still keeping quiet about his genetic enhancements, eh?

Whispers (s2e14)

Yes, no sooner had O’Brien got home from his ordeal in Armageddon Game, when further misfortune lands at his door. This time around, O’Brien is a man alone, suspicious of a station-wide conspiracy. His wife and child are wary of him, the senior officers no longer seem to trust him to do his job, and even the station computer is hiding information from him.

As it turns out, the O’Brien we follow in the episode isn’t even the real Miles O’Brien – he’s an alien replicant, programmed to disrupt peace talks being held on the station. Not that the real O’Brien had a great time of it, having been kidnapped and held prisoner whilst the replicant took his place.

Tribunal (s2e25)

A few episodes prior to this one, we learn about the Cardassian justice system – when someone is put on trial, their guilt has already been determined. Delivering the verdict and laying out the ‘facts’ of the case is just a formality, a spectacle for the people to enjoy. Of course, when the time came to further explore this, who better to be the accused party than poor old O’Brien? Naturally, O’Brien manages to escape a state execution, but he still has an unpleasant time at the hands of the Cardassian justic system, with his only ally being an advocate who just wants O’Brien to admit his guilt as quickly as possible, so that they can all go home for tea.

Visionary (s3e17)

As an engineer, O’Brien is no stranger to plasma burns on the job, but in this episode he gets hit with a power surge that starts displacing him in time. At first, it’s a minor curiosity, but O’Brien’s jumps into the future start to reveal an increasingly bleak outlook – he not only sees his own death, but also the destruction of DS9 itself. Fortunately, the station is saved, but our O’Brien dies of radiation poisoning in the process. Luckily for us, he is replaced by himself from several hours into the future, and as long as you can live with that paradox, everything’s fine.

Hard Time (s4e19)

Remember that time when O’Brien got arrested for a crime he didn’t commit? Well, it happens again in this episode, only this time he’s convicted and has his sentence carried out before anyone arrives to rescue him. Thus O’Brien is implanted with the memories of serving a twenty year prison sentence, in conditions so harsh that he ends up killing his imaginary cellmate over a scrap of food.

Back on DS9, O’Brien has to deal with the aftermath of his experience, and unlearn all the habits he picked up in prison, all the while hiding the fact that he even had a cellmate. His PTSD almost drives him to suicide, but fortunately Bashir is on hand to talk him out of it, and the long process of healing can begin. Just kidding – of course everything is fine by the next week.

The Assignment (s5e5)

O’Brien is delighted when Keiko returns from a trip to the Fire Caves on Bajor – at least until he realises that all is not quite right with his wife. Keiko has been possessed by a Pah-wraith, and unless O’Brien follows its exact orders, it will kill her. What can O’Brien do except follow its direct instructions, even if those instructions will result in creating an energy discharge that will kill all the Prophets living in the wormhole?

Luckily, the day is saved by some ingenious engineering, but not before O’Brien loses plenty of sleep over trying to keep up appearances with the Keiko-wraith, lest spilling the beans leads to his wife’s untimely demise.

Honor Among Thieves (s6e15)

O’Brien might not sound like the first choice for a Starfleet Intelligence undercover mission, but that’s exactly what he ends up doing in this episode. O’Brien is tasked with posing as a fix-it man who is down on his luck, with the aim of infiltrating a cell in the Orion Syndicate. Our intrepid hero manages to do just that, but it all goes pear-shaped when he starts liking and respecting Liam Bilby, the man he has been sent to betray. In the end, O’Brien admits everything to Bilby, but he can’t change the course of events – knowing he is doomed either way, Bilby has no choice but to embark on a mission that will lead to his death.

Trying times for O’Brien indeed, and surely well outside his job description – but on the plus side, he does get a cat out of it.

Honourable Mentions

Even when he wasn’t the focus of the story, O’Brien sometimes ended up in trouble. Here we list some of those lesser incidents.

The Search, Part II (s3e2)

Yes, it all turns out to be an illusion, but in the Founders’ simulation of a Federation-Dominion alliance, O’Brien suffers the indignity of being attacked by a Jem’Hadar in Quark’s. The poor man can’t even enjoy a quiet drink in virtual reality.

Civil Defense (s3e7)

I didn’t include this one in the main list because it’s a crisis that affects everyone on the station, but O’Brien deserves special mention for being the one who instigated the Cardassian lockdown program on DS9. Not only does he cause trouble for everyone aboard with his reckless deletion of files, but he also ends up passing out in a maintenance corridor and having to be pulled to safety by Jake.

Shakaar (s3e24)

Keeping O’Brien away from inuring himself in the holosuite is no easy thing, especially given his penchant for white water kayaking. It finally seems like he’s found a safer hobby in darts, but when Quark gets him to play numerous matches whilst on a winning streak, all that throwing takes its toll. Ultimately, O’Brien suffers a rotator cuff injury and has to be carted off to the infirmary, forfeiting his final match.

The Way of the Warrior (s4e1)

When the Klingons invade Ops, DS9’s senior crew must fight them off in hand-to-hand combat. Luckily, most of them are up to the task – except poor O’Brien. I guess they only offer bat’leth classes at the Academy.

Hippocratic Oath (s4e3)

Even though this episode is primarily about Bashir and his attempts to find a cure to the Jem’Hadar addiction to ketracel white, O’Brien gets a bum deal for accompanying his friend. Whilst Bashir works on his medical problem, O’Brien is more concerned with escaping their captors – but unfortunately his efforts just lead to him being beaten and ill-treated.

Empok Nor (s5e24)

In some ways, you might say O’Brien is one of the lucky ones in this episode – after all, unlike most of his team, he does at least survive their ill-fated trip to DS9’s sister station. That being said, O’Brien is in charge of the team, and it’s his idea to go there to pick up replacement parts in the first place. All I’m saying is, if O’Brien picks you for an away mission to a creepy, abandoned space station, tell him you’re on leave that day.

Inquisition (s6e18)

Oh Miles, when will you ever learn? At the start of this episode, O’Brien is in the infirmary yet again, because he injured his shoulder whilst kayaking. I’m surprised Quark even allows him into the holosuite by this point.

Time’s Orphan (s6e24)

Only the O’Brien family could have a simple family picnic turn into such a disaster. Whilst off playing by herself, O’Brien’s daughter Molly falls through a portal into the past, and when the crew finally manages to rescue her, ten years have passed. Molly is now a feral eighteen-year-old who finds it impossible to adapt to life aboard DS9, forcing Miles and Keiko to return her to her solitary life in the past. Fortunately, a calibration error means that she is able to send her younger self back to the present, so ultimately all is well. Still, family life, eh?

Take Me Out to the Holosuite (s7e4)

As if kayaking and darts weren’t perilous enough, O’Brien manages to sustain yet another rotator cuff injury when he joins Sisko’s baseball team, the Niners. After yet another trip to the infirmary, O’Brien is relegated to the safer role of team coach.

Prodigal Daughter (s7e11)

Although this is primarily an Ezri episode, the framing device is that O’Brien is concerned about Bilby’s widow, so much so that he foolishly tries to infiltrate the Orion Syndicate a second time. Naturally, this doesn’t go well, and he is returned to Ezri’s family home rather the worse for wear.

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