The Good: Amazing acting, Nice idea, Great character development
The Bad: None. This is a great, perfect episode.
The Basics: In a truly great episode, O'Brien returns to the station after having twenty-five years of prison memories put in his mind.
Every year on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, there was an episode where O'Brien was tortured and basically had the puss pounded out of him in one fashion or another. In the second season, there were two very memorable episodes entitled "Whispers" and "Tribunal" which set the bar exceptionally high for the writers to try to top as far as abusing O'Brien went. Near the end of the fourth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the writers manage to make a piece of perfect O'Brien psychological torment in "Hard Time."
In "Hard Time," O'Brien finds himself released from twenty-five years of prison on a distant planet only to learn that he was never actually in prison. The Agrathi sentenced O'Brien and then plugged him into a simulator that made him believe he was in prison. Returning to Deep Space Nine, O'Brien finds his skills rusty and his ability to interact with others almost nonexistent. As he attempts to re-intigrate with the station and the life he once knew, he relives the worst moments of his mental incarceration until he has a full breakdown and is pushed to the point of taking his own life.
It's a rare thing for a season of television to have two perfect episodes, but the fourth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine certainly does. Earlier in the season, there was the amazing episode "The Visitor" and now "Hard Time." The fourth season is a continuation of actors, characters, writers and directors largely coming together in a continuing stride that makes the show great. "Hard Time" is an important part of that. It manages to take a fairly established concept on the show (tormenting O'Brien) and turns it into something original and incredible.
The acting in "Hard Time" hinges on Colm Meany's performance and he delivers constantly in this piece. There's not a single moment in the episode where the viewer does not believe his heartache, loss and confusion. Meany uses his facial expressions, body language and voice to deliver some of his most passionate, angry and dejected lines in the series. Meany once again reinforces our expectations of him as an actor with his realistic impersonation of a man caught out of time.
O'Brien has always represented a tether on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to the present. In "Hard Time," O'Brien portrays a person we may easily empathize with. He's a man waking up from a deception easily analogous to realizing a partner has been having an affair for many years or someone who learns of some childhood abuse after many decades. Here, O'Brien's frustration and horror are intense and it seems very real.
Supporting O'Brien on his quest for a return to normalcy is his wife Keiko and Dr. Julian Bashir. Keiko tries to be supportive of her husband when she learns there is no treatment for what he went through and Dr. Bashir attempts to monitor O'Brien's treatment and counseling while still being a good friend to him. Attempting to integrate the man who has apparently been alone for over two decades is a task that challenges Bashir in different ways from how it affects O'Brien.
Rosalind Chao plays Keiko wonderfully in "Hard Time," making her appearance worthwhile. Chao is amazing as the concerned wife of O'Brien. She uses her facial expressions to play a wide array of emotions in the scenes she is in that lack lines, simply expressions and movements. She seems real and concerned throughout. Alexander Siddig manages to make Bashir more than the carefree young doctor he usually appears as. Here he comes through as an intelligent and compassionate man who is doing his best to look out for his wounded friend.
In addition to having so much great in this episode in the way that O'Brien works toward revealing the secret of what truly happened to him in prison that made him so devastated, "Hard Time" is deficient in mistakes. There's nothing working against this episode. The few science fiction premises are easily and quickly explained, opening the piece up to anyone who enjoys a great drama. All of the actors are giving their best and they manage to deliver wonderful performances. The characters are interesting and engaging. There's nothing to complain about in this episode.
Anyone who likes a good psychological drama will enjoy "Hard Time." It's difficult not to consider this part of the essential Star Trek: Deep Space Nine considering its quality, this is an essential episode for understanding O'Brien's character.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the turnaround season by clicking here!
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© 2012, 2008, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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