#DS91sttime: Season 4, Episode 19, “Hard Time”

August 24, 2014 in #DS91sttime, General Topics

"Hard Time", Season 4.

Prison Moses. Season Four, Ep. 19, “Hard Time”

There are times when I wonder if I’m being too negative in this review series, particularly when I see the reviews of others online. Then I have to remind myself that the kind of person leaving a glowing comment on an episode review on some random website probably had a strong response to the episode in question anyway. Those with “meh” opinions wouldn’t circle the web to comment on an episode, and generally those that found an episode tedious or flat wouldn’t drop in to comment either.

And then, of course, the response people have to a work of fiction is often colored by their own experiences. There’s nothing overtly remarkable about “Accession”, for example–I’m objective enough to realize that it was good, but not great television. And yet, that episode was the perfect episode at the perfect moment in my life, and as such it resonated with me.

I suspect it’s the same with “Hard Time” for a number of people, particularly those who have experienced long-term trauma. I get why it creates such a response in some viewers.

There’s the setup, for starters. In a way, this episode can be thought of as the darker kin of “The Visitor”. In that earlier episode, Jake Sisko faced a lifetime of having a loved one just out of reach. Here, O’Brien endures an imagined twenty years of isolation from everyone else. This means his experience is much like Ben Sisko’s, only he endures a simulated passage of time, whereas it’s suggested Ben’s existence within the white-space bubble was beyond the flow of time, a bit like that of the sleeping Nu in Chrono Trigger. Both episodes have a lot to say about longing, regret, and the scars left by those two emotions.

To be sure, O’Brien’s time in this false reality is far worse. There’s also more being asked in “Hard Time” of Colm Meaney, the character O’Brien, and the audience. The episode’s foibles emerge under the strain.

Take our villains, for starters. The show wants us to accept what they did and move on to the touchy-feely bits, but I can’t do that.

This isn’t some anomaly or accident that severs O’Brien from his family and friends, it’s these aliens that have tried and convicted him for a crime he didn’t commit. I was shocked that they actually got away with their sentencing. How was this possible?

Was O’Brien alone on their planet? Why didn’t the Federation have his back? Why is there no retribution for that kind of assault on a innocent person, and no extradition request from the Feds–you know, like we just saw an episode centered on? I know Sisko is a pragmatic guy, but can’t we have one of those ever-present ambassadors raise a little hell? Instead, it’s like, “Sucks to be you, O’Brien, but make sure to take your meds”.

If my commanding officer had treated me like Sisko does, after having shown no signs of going after the real villains in this episode, I would have slugged him and resigned. I don’t know why this show is so inconsistent in its portrayal of Sisko. It’s like they sometimes want the man to seem a buffoon.

Colm Meaney does the best he can with the setup, as the weight of O’Brien’s guilt for an act within the mental prison begins to tell. His performance of a tortured O’Brien is convincing, even though the episode is asking him to convey twenty years of virtual imprisonment across just a few, short scenes. O’Brien’s behavior toward his fellow officers–and his family–proves poignant and troubling in equal doses.

But where I saw another issue was in the presence of Ee’char, O’Brien’s cellmate during his virtual incarceration. O’Brien carries around titanic guilt over an incident concerning Ee’char that I won’t spoil here. And where the plot stumbles is in its asking the audience to believe that O’Brien should still be this broken up about it. If anything, finding out that the prison experience was simulated should have alleviated at least some of O’Brien’s guilt. He didn’t actually do anything he thought he did, after all. It’s more believable that–as the episode portrays–he’s broken up about having snapped under trying circumstances. Still, the cornerstone of that guilt has been removed, and surely that would help. Surely O’Brien shouldn’t take things as hard as he does.

What I’m left to wonder, then, especially given the scene where O’Brien is ready to commit suicide, is if this episode was initially written with O’Brien actually doing these things to a living, breathing cellmate. Then, at some point, did a misguided showrunner see the script and excise that detail in the name of saving an affable character from having done something terrible?

If that’s the case, then it once again demonstrates one of this show’s major issues, still sadly persistent here in Season Four: it just can’t let it’s characters go all the way into something they’d regret. There always has to be an out for the actions they take, some way to reassure the viewer that they shouldn’t worry, that these people are never truly fallable. Deus ex machina is always there to pull them politely away from the precipice.

That produces episodes like “Hard Time”, and that produces another negative review.

Rating: 2.5/5 stars.

Wife Says: “This is so boring.”

See the rest of the review series here.

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