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Hard Time (episode)

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"Hard Time"
DS9, Episode 4x19
Production number: 40510-491
First aired: 15 April 1996
89th of 173 produced in DS9
89th of 173 released in DS9
  {{{nNthReleasedInSeries_Remastered}}}th of 0 released in DS9 Remastered  
411th of 728 released in all
Miles O'Brien after 20 yrs
Teleplay By
Robert Hewitt Wolfe

Story By
Daniel Keys Moran & Lynn Barker

Directed By
Alexander Singer
Unknown (2372)
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Convicted of espionage, Miles O'Brien is given the memories of twenty years in prison in a matter of hours. Returning to DS9, O'Brien finds he cannot shrug the memory of his awful experience or rid himself of the guilt he feels over the death of his cellmate.



An elderly Miles O'Brien sits in an Argrathi jail cell, drawing patterns in the sand. Two Argrathi enter and tell him that he is now free to go. He claims that he has nowhere to go, but suddenly awakens with Major Kira looking over him. Kira explains that the Argathi have implanted a 20-year prison sentence in his head, and that only a few hours have passed since his conviction.

Act One

Captain Sisko explains to Keiko that while on a mission to Argratha, O'Brien was falsely accused of espionage and sentenced to twenty years in prison. However, the Argrathi are experts at mind-controlling and mind-altering technologies, and their criminal system was able to administer him the experience of twenty years of prison in just a few hours of treatment, without physically harming him. By the time the details of the events had been received by Deep Space 9, the "sentence" had already been completed, and he was free to return home.

O'Brien and Kira arrive at the station, and Doctor Bashir promises to do his best to remove the memory implants. He asks O'Brien if he was alone in his cell. O'Brien says yes, but from a flashback to his incarceration it becomes clear that he had a cell mate named Ee'char.

Act Two

Bashir soon discovers that the memories of his imprisonment were not simply implanted: he really experienced living in a cell for twenty years, though in an accelerated fashion. Thus, eradication of these memories is out of the question, and he has to accept them.

O'Brien soon finds he has trouble undoing the habits he had taken up during his incarceration, including saving scraps of food "for later." A flashback shows Ee'char showing O'Brien how to draw complex patterns in the sand to pass the time. Keiko awakens in the middle of the night to find O'Brien sleeping on the floor.

Act Three

O'Brien's memories come back to haunt him and he begins seeing his former simulated cellmate Ee'char walking around the station.

Miles O'Brien attacks Quark

"So why don't you give me my drink, or I break every bone in your worthless little body!"

He also finds it very difficult to readjust to life back on the station. Bashir confronts him about not having been to the psychologist for the past ten days. O'Brien says he does not want to talk about his life in prison, only to forget it and be left alone. Later on, he lashes out at Quark for taking his time to serve him a drink. Ee'char continues to reappear, claiming that in O'Brien's eyes, he was real and always will be.

Act Four

Hearing about O'Brien's behavior, Sisko relieves him of duty, and orders him to report to the infirmary, and to continue his counseling sessions.

O'Brien storms out of Ops and throws his combadge at the floor of a turbolift. Then he goes to the infirmary, and tells Bashir to leave him alone. O'Brien returns to his quarters and becomes so angry with Molly when she wants some attention that he nearly hits her. He then goes to a cargo bay, and vents his frustration by smashing containers with a pole in a rage. Finally he spots weapons locker 47, pulls a phaser out, sets it to level 16, and aims it at himself.

Act Five

Bashir arrives and tries to talk O'Brien out of killing himself. O'Brien says he cannot go on living when he is a threat to his family and all his friends. The man he was is gone, and all that's left is a dangerous monster. He confesses his worst crime: after almost twenty years, he found that Ee'char had been hoarding food without telling him, and killed him in a rage - before he realized that the food was for both of them. Miles Edward O'Brien, an "evolved" human of the 24th Century, gave into bestial rage and murdered his best friend, for nothing.

Julian tells him he's wrong; the fact that he feels remorse over killing Ee'char proves that he is still a decent human being, not a monster. His captors tried to strip away his humanity; they may have succeeded for a moment, but if O'Brien takes his own life, they will have done so forever. Over Bashir's shoulder, O'Brien is surprised to see Ee'char, smiling at him, without reproach. Ee'char tells his friend to "be well," and walks away, disappearing. O'Brien lowers the phaser, and Bashir takes it away.

Walking O'Brien back to his quarters, Bashir prescribes a medication that will take the edge off his depression and stop him from having any more hallucinations. However, the false memories cannot be removed, and O'Brien will have to come to terms with them on his own. Bashir convinces him to resume counseling sessions, and O'Brien thanks his best friend for all his help.

When he enters his quarters, O'Brien is gratified when Molly runs into his arms, glad to have him back.

Memorable Quotes

"The crime of espionage requires a minimum of fifteen cycles of correction; you've been here for twenty. It's time for you to go."
"Go? I can't leave. Where would I go to?"

- Argrathi and O'Brien, after his "20 years" in prison

"Let me guess—sedition?"
"Oh… it looks like we're going to be in here together for a long time. My name is Ee'Char."
"Miles, Miles O'Brien."
"Hello, Miles. Welcome to hell."

- Ee'Char and O'Brien, at the beginning of the latter's sentence

"After six years in a place like this, you either learn to laugh or you'll go insane. I prefer to laugh..."

- Ee'char to O'Brien in prison

"I'm not your friend! The O'Brien that was your friend died in that cell!"

- O'Brien, confronting Dr. Bashir

"When we were growing up, they used to tell us... humanity had evolved, that mankind had outgrown hate and rage. But when it came down to it, when I had the chance to show, that no matter what anybody did to me, that I was still an evolved human being... I failed. I repaid kindness with blood. I was no better than an animal."

"No. No, no, no. An animal would've killed Ee'Char and never had a second thought, never shed a tear... But not you. You hate yourself.You hate yourself so much you think you deserve to die. The Argrathi did everything they could to strip you of your humanity and in the end, for one brief moment they succeeded. But you can't let that brief moment define your entire life. If you do, if you pull that trigger.. then the Argrathi will have won. They will have destroyed a good man. You cannot let that happen, my friend."

- Julian listens and sets things right with O'Brien

"Daddy's home! Daddy's home!"
"That's right. Daddy's home."

- O'Brien is welcomed back home with his little girl's embrace.


  • Daniel Keys Moran and Lynn Barker pitched the story that ultimately became "Hard Time" during the first season of Deep Space Nine. Robert Hewitt Wolfe was always a big fan of the story and he tried to persuade Michael Piller to purchase it at the time, but Piller was uninterested. Wolfe tried again during the third season but again, Piller refused. Finally, in the fourth season, Wolfe was able to convince Ira Steven Behr to buy the pitch and do the episode. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, pp. 325-326)
  • The character of Ee'char hadn't been in the original pitch, Robert Hewitt Wolfe himself added that character. He also introduced elements from a completely separate pitch that had been purchased, but which never made it into production. This other story concerned the discovery that Ensign Sito Jaxa, from the Next Generation episodes "The First Duty" and "Lower Decks", was still alive. After being presumed dead, she was found to have been held in a Cardassian prison since the events of "Lower Decks". This episode would have detailed her struggle to reintegrate into normal life, and was basically a study of Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, there was no motivating factor for why Sito was suffering from this condition, so Wolfe had decided that she had killed her cellmate, to whom she had become very close. The episode was never produced, but when composing "Hard Time", the idea of Sito killing her cellmate resurfaced in his mind, so he took that idea and imported it into the O'Brien story. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, p. 326)
  • While composing the teleplay, Robert Hewitt Wolfe and Ronald D. Moore disagreed as to how best to use the character of Ee'char. Wolfe felt he should be seen only in flashbacks to the past while Moore felt he should only be seen in hallucination in the present. In the end, they settled on a compromise and Ee'char is seen in both flashbacks and hallucinations. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, p. 326)
  • Celeste Wolfe, Robert Hewitt Wolfe's wife, who works as a psychotherapist and is a licensed family counselor, acted as a kind of unofficial consultant on the script. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, p. 326)
  • This episode shares a similar premise to that of TNG: "The Inner Light" in that Captain Picard also experienced a lifetime of memories within a short period. Interestingly, both episodes feature actress Margot Rose.
  • Reference to 47: At the end of the episode, O'Brien opens weapons locker number 47.
  • Bashir makes reference to TNG: "The Wounded", as well as DS9: "Whispers" and "Tribunal". Obviously, this is another 'O'Brien Must Suffer' episode. Ira Steven Behr sums up the rationale for these episodes; "Every year, we like to drive O'Brien totally mad. We did it with "Whispers", we did it with "Tribunal" and "Visionary", and we did it again the following season in "The Assignment". We just like to hammer him because he's such a great character. And he's so accessible. You feel his pain, and even though it's a TV show and you figure he's gonna come out all right at the end, you're still compelled to root him on." (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, p. 328)
  • This episode was the last of the series to be directed by Alexander Singer.
  • The scene in which O'Brien kills Ee'char was edited for the episode's terrestrial release in the UK, to remove the sound of bones breaking.

Video and DVD releases

The cover and label of this volume give the episode name as "Hard Times".
This was one of only two volumes of DS9 (the other being 4.12) to receive a 15 certificate, due to the violent scenes in this episode and the following one, "Shattered Mirror".

Links and references


Also starring

Guest stars



Uncredited co-stars


Argratha; Argrathi; Argrathi Authority; Argrathi prison; Argrathi Security; Bajoran wormhole; black hole (beverage); bread; Cardassia Prime; chee'lash fruit; cycle; darts; eseekas; espionage; Federation-Cardassian War; holosuite; interphasic coil spanner; kayaking; magnetic wave guide; milligram; ODN recoupler; quantum flux regulator; Paradan; phaser; Promenade; Quark's; reeta-hawk; runabout; Setlik III; suicide; synthale; Telnorri; toilet facility; tricorder

External links

Previous episode:
"Rules of Engagement"
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 4
Next episode:
"Shattered Mirror"

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