Episode 4.19: Hard Time

I think this is the roughest, most monstrous of the “O’Brien must suffer” episodes. It’s utterly brilliant and horribly cruel. The writers leverage a very sci-fi premise, a time-compressed simulation, but they do it to add 20 years of an inhumane incarceration. And Miles was ostensibly innocent. It’s possible he broke a law he was unaware of, but we’re confident that Miles was at least following his own code of respect for Agrathi laws as best as he could. The trauma induced by this experience nearly destroys O’Brien. As I’ve written this entry, I realize I probably didn’t do the theme of psychological trauma itself due justice; I’ve focused mostly on how Julian’s and Miles’s relationship reacts to Miles’s incarceration. Psychological trauma isn’t something I’ve thought much about, but I hope that others who watch this can find connection and solace in how O’Brien himself experiences and deals with his trauma.

The theme of this episode, the psychological trauma of murder and the guilt associated with it, revolves around O’Brien’s relationship with Ee’char. The similarities between Miles’s relationship with Ee’char and his relationship with Julian are clear. Ee’char becomes a friend to O’Brien, despite O’Brien’s initial resistance to this. Ee’char has, what can be considered by some, an annoying happiness in him. He’s in a horrifying situation, yet he has inexplicable happiness in his soul. This is similar to O’Brien’s initial annoyance with Julian. When Miles returns to the station, Julian is the one to meet him, mirroring Ee’char greeting Miles when he’s thrown in the cell. At the climax of the story, Miles tells Julian that he would have killed him, just as he killed Ee’char. The rage and vitriol Miles directs at Julian is because Miles feels that for himself and has nowhere to release it.

Without Julian, I believe Miles would have killed himself. Not just because Julian was there at the last moment, but also for the things Julian did throughout the episode to help Miles. Julian can see beneath the surface with Miles. He knows he needs to integrate slowly and do things beyond just work. As Miles deteriorates, Julian stays focused on his well-being, authorizing him to be relieved from duty. What’s key here, I think, is that Miles was completely fooling himself, but Julian knew better. After 4 years, Julian is Miles’s closest friend; he knows things that Miles needs before Miles himself realizes it. The final scene in the cargo bay is absolutely brilliant. Miles finally reveals the burden he’s been carrying, and Julian is there to name the falsehood of what Miles is feeling. Miles may have failed in a singular moment, allowed the hate and rage overcome him, but that is not the defining quality of Miles Edward O’Brien. At his worst, Miles nearly hits his daughter; but he doesn’t, and that’s absolutely crucial. The remorse we feel is an essential component to our humanity. Julian was there to show him that Miles’s pain is the most human reaction to the brutal psychological trauma he experienced.

I consider this one of the best episodes because it does so many things well. It leverages a great sci-fi premise and uses that as a proxy for a broad theme. Central to this episode is Julian’s and Miles’s friendship. Julian exhibits some of his best qualities (perseverance, medical insight, compassion). O’Brien’s conflict builds and builds, and we watch him descend into pain throughout the episode. I enjoyed the parallel storytelling as more of O’Brien’s experience was revealed. The acting of the guest actor Ee’char was excellent.

Random Thoughts: 1) I like how O’Brien is not confused at what is reality. This is about the trauma, not his reality. 2) At one point, Julian lists the “O’Brien must suffer” episodes to Keiko. It’s a nod to this story type in DS9. 3) I’ve tried eseekas myself. They were an interesting way to find mediation and peacefulness. It’s very similar to breath focus as a way to meditate. 4) Jake helps O’Brien remember the tools. This was a nice way to use Jake’s past and to reintegrate O’Brien. 5) When stressed, O’Brien reverted to his old opinions of Julian. Calling him smug and superior. 6) O’Brien’s various explosions are his repressed guilt bubbling up. 7) I do think it was a bit sketchy that Ee’char was hiding food. I don’t think that he was really saving it for both of them. Otherwise, why didn’t he reveal it earlier? It doesn’t excuse Miles’s actions, but it did strike me as deceptive. 8) At the end, Miles thanks Julian deeply. With each experience they share, the stronger friends they become. 9) Craig Wasson, the actor who plays Ee’char, is another of the excellentguest actors on DS9.  He has a litany of guest spots on TV.  He’s been nominated for a Golden Globe.

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~ by Joshua Black on November 24, 2017.

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