Trigger Warning: This post does discuss suicide.
The A-Story: O’Brien serve out a prison sentence for 20 years, all in his mind. On returning to DS9, he struggles to reintegrate into his “old” life.
Oh yeah, this is another “O’brien.Must.Suffer.” episode. Poor O’brien, but on the other hand, these episodes get to show off how good an actor Meaney is.
I like this episode a lot, but oh crap is it always a difficult watch. I’ve often liken it to TNG’s “The Inner Light” because of the similarity of having a life lived that wasn’t actually lived, but what O’Brien goes through is a whole lot darker (pun intended) than Picard. Obviously the setting is far worse for O’Brien, as all he has is a prison and a cell mate to interact with. But with “The Inner Light” we never really see the aftermath of what Picard went through. Oh yeah it’s mentioned once more in a later episode, but we don’t see the trauma of an entire life taken away from you.
But we do here, and it’s tragic and sad. O’brien becomes increasingly unable to perform his duties, and his time with his family is fraught with tension. Something more is going on than just the prison sentence, and O’brien refuses to seek help. He’s suffering from PTSD, and it nearly tears him and his family apart.
TW: The hardest part of the episode is when O’brien nearly hits Molly. In his despair and fear, he goes to the cargo bay and pulls out a phaser. Trek has dealt with suicide before, but I don’t think ever like this. It’s a hard scene to watch, and both Siddig and Meaney elevate it even more. O’brien’s admission that he “killed” his cell mate is the secret he was keeping, but even without that twist you could imagine how much trauma this would have caused.
My one problem with the episode, of course, deal with the episodic nature of Trek. This will never be mentioned again, and we don’t see how this might have affected O’brien. Like with Picard, this should have changed him in some way, but no, back to the way he was before. Even DS9, lauded for its more serial approach, was not ready for that type of serialization yet.
BASHIR: You killed him?
O’BRIEN: And the worst part of it was, the next day the guards began feeding me again. I’d killed him for nothing, for a scrap of bread he was going to share with me.
BASHIR: But it was a mistake. You didn’t mean it.
O’BRIEN: I meant it. I wanted him to die. I keep telling myself it doesn’t matter. It wasn’t real. But that’s a lie. If it had been real, if it had been you instead of him, it wouldn’t have made any difference. He was my best friend and I murdered him. 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 anyone did to me, I was still an evolved human being, I failed. I repaid kindness with blood. I was no better than an animal.
BASHIR: 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.
(O’Brien lets Bashir take the phaser and reduce the power level.)
EE’CHAR: Miles. Be well, Miles.
(Ee’Char walks away and vanishes.)