Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1996): S04E19 – Hard Time


“Hard Time” is the 91st episode of the American syndicated science fiction television series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the 19th episode of the fourth season.

In this episode, Chief O’Brien attempts to return to his normal life while coping with secrets from his experience of long-term incarceration.


While visiting Argrathi, Chief of Operations Miles O’Brien asks too many questions and is convicted of espionage. Instead of incarcerating convicts, the Argrathi correctional facility implants them with memories of years of imprisonment in a few hours of actual time. O’Brien experiences twenty years in prison before his fellow officers can extract him from the situation.

On returning to Deep Space Nine, O’Brien tries to adjust back to life on board the station, but his experiences while imprisoned still trouble him, presenting as flashbacks to his time in jail. Seeing his wife Keiko initially as his fictional cellmate Ee’char, he begins to exhibit habitual behaviours that he “picked up” while “incarcerated,” such as hoarding food and sleeping on the hard floor instead of his bed.

While playing darts with Lt. Commander Worf, O’Brien sees Ee’char outside the bar, but when he tries to follow him outside, Ee’char is nowhere to be seen. Over time, O’Brien becomes increasingly irritable and reclusive. When Dr. Bashir visits him, O’Brien tells him to “stay the hell away from [him]”. While waiting to be served at Quark’s bar, he assaults Quark; immediately, across the table, O’Brien sees Ee’char, who tells O’Brien he needs him. Quark and Constable Odo are seen observing O’Brien from across the bar.

Captain Sisko later relieves O’Brien of duty, placing him on medical leave and ordering him to attend the counselling sessions that he had been consistently avoiding. O’Brien storms into Doctor Bashir’s Infirmary, angry at being placed on leave and telling Bashir that he just wants to be left alone. Again, he imagines seeing Ee’char, who urges him to get help, but instead he storms out and returns to his quarters. Keiko and their young daughter Molly are there, and O’Brien yells at them before almost hitting Molly. He flees to a cargo bay and starts tearing the place apart. Finding a weapons locker, he sets a phaser on maximum, preparing to take his own life.

Bashir follows O’Brien and finds him just in time. O’Brien recounts the story of how he had killed Ee’char over a few pieces of bread that Ee’char was saving for the both of them and that the guilt has been eating away at his conscience. O’Brien is convinced he is an animal, but Bashir tells him that if he truly were, he would have felt no regret for killing Ee’char, and so O’Brien is still human deep down inside. Bashir ultimately prescribes a new course of heavy treatment and soon has O’Brien on the way to recovery.

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Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Alexander Singer.
  • Writer(s): Daniel Keys Moran and Lynn Barker.
  • Release Date: 15 April 1996.
  • Running Time: 45 minutes.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

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