The Punishment of Miles O'Brien
Of all the series of Star Trek, over the decades the franchise has been on the air, Deep Space Nine was and still is the most underrated series. Seldom does an episode make it to the top of the “best episodes of all time” in the franchise ( with the possible exception of “In the Pale Moonlight”). The same can be said for the characters of Deep Space Nine. One in particular stands out in my mind as possibly the most underrated character in the series and all of Star Trek. Miles O’Brien.
Before we every even meet the hapless transporter chief of the Enterprise he is put thru a traumatic experience on Setlik III. Where the Cardassians slaughtered 100 colonists before Starfleet could get there. That in itself posses two questions. If he was the hero of Setlick III why was he a lowly transporter chief for so long on the Enterprise? Also, why in the hell would Starfleet let him be posted at DS9, knowing his back story, knowing all the pain he has already been thru, lets put him on a Cardassian space station and make him deal with the lizard necks he clearly hates on the daily. I digress.
When Miles arrives on the station he is quickly overwhelmed by the state of disrepair the station is in. It’s obvious to everyone watching the show he is a miracle worker. It’s almost odd that the other members of the staff only give him a cursory nod for his efforts. Its not entirely lost on Commander Sisko that the chief is overwhelmed, but he keeps the pressure up the same. Under all that Miles is subjected to some of the most grueling punishment seen in Star Trek. I don’t want to get into a debate about who gets the the short end of the stick the most, however I think we can all agree that Miles draws the short straw way too often. Ira Steven Behr himself said the writers had to make him suffer on a regular basis. If you need a reminder here is a short list of Miles troubles. (If I forget any please let me know!)
-He died from radiation poisoning and was replaced by a clone of himself from the future
-He was framed and put on trial in Cardassia, where they pulled out his molars with pliers.
-He was taken over by an Alien ghost and forced to threaten his family
-His wife was possessed by an evil alien ghost (actually that was more her norm)
-He was replaced by a replicant that had all his memories
-His daughter did the time dance loop and came back a feral cat…
-His unborn son was transplanted into a co-worker
-He worker undercover (great idea for some one with PTSD) and betrayed a confidant, watching him die
-He had a hobby that was a cry for help, and the doctor joined in instead of listening….
Last but not least;
-He was implanted with the memory of serving 20 years in prison.
This is the one I want to focus on. There are some big problems with Miles character on the show and this episode is the prime evidence. Lets back up a second and talk about his “hobby” with Julien. The two of them re-enact battles in the holosuite, where they routinely lose. Think about that for a minute. Here is a tortured guy who survived and saved a dozen or so colonists on Setlick III, a losing battle that he survived, and he re-enacts that experience on a weekly basis with his good friend Julien. Can you say “cry for help”. At one point we hear from the Chief himself about the way he thinks of that battle.
“It’s not like I hate the Cardassians, I hate what I became, because of them.”
Picard has a great quote from that episode as well.
“When one has been angry for a very long time, one gets used to it. And it becomes comfortable, like old leather. And finally…becomes so familiar that one can’t ever remember feeling any other way.”
This is a perfect setup and back story for a grumpy, rough Miles O’Brien. So in the episode “Hard Time” DS9 4x19 we see Miles get sentenced to 20 years in prison. While in reality it was only a few minutes, the memories implanted made him live out the traumatic experience of being in a cell for 20 years while periodically starving to death. Worse yet he has a cell mate for the majority of that time. Ee’char seems like a pretty cool character for someone who knows he will die in prison. The two become friends by circumstance and not by choice. When the chief is back aboard the station we get a few glimpses into his pain from that time in the cell, it clearly haunts the man. As it should, for far longer than one episode. By the end we discover that Miles in fact kills Ee’char over food he believes is being hoarded from him. This is not the first time Miles has killed someone, this time it was by his choice and not for self preservation. So after all that time and pain in the cell he is thrown back into his life, which should feel like traveling back in time 20 years, and has to start over again. Talk about torture, not just the cell, but having to live the rest of your life with a 20 year hole in the middle of it. That should have broken him right there, permanently. But not Miles O’Brien, this irishman is tougher than the rocks on the Cliff of Moher.
What are your thoughts? I Should Miles have had some lasting effects from his time in the cell? Did they move on two quickly in general when any character had a traumatic experience? Am I just wrong, again…. Submit your feeback below or in the facebook group, twitter, etc. And please, if you like, spread it around!