One Trek Mind: O'Brien Must Suffer!
While individual nations on Earth are done away with by the time of the Federation, it's as plain as the ridged noses on a Bajoran's face that Chief Miles Edward O'Brien is from Ireland. And like the people of that great nation who struggled with famine and political oppression, O'Brien Must Suffer.
Miles Edward O'Brien, the link between The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine (before Worf showed up!) is quite possibly the most “regular guy” in the galaxy. A non-commissioned officer who loves to get his hands dirty, it's men and women like the Chief that are the backbone of Starfleet. There's no Jefferies Tube he can't climb, no circuit he can't recalibrate, no system on which he can't run a diagnostic and no Cardassian Vole he can't catch. Okay, that last one maybe isn't true.
The reason O'Brien is such a relatable character (other than being played by the marvelous Colm Meaney) is the way the world – all worlds – had a tendency to deal him a rough hand. Did he complain? No! He soldiered on and moved ever forward.
With St. Patrick's Day this week we thought we'd take a look at Chief O'Brien's unique spin on the luck of the Irish.
7 – Fixing Circuits Like An Ant
Well, this one isn't too bad, because he shared the indignity of “One Little Ship” with Dr. Bashir and Jadzia. While in a runabout checking out a subspace compression anomaly, DS9's two main eggheads (and one doctor who fancies himself a dashing adventurer) wind up getting shrunk to microscopic levels. As luck would have it, that's when the Jem'Hadar launch an attack on the Defiant. In order to save the day, Jadzia must beam the Chief (and Julian) inside the compressed encryption circuits to finagle them manually. (Also, they must be boys in a bubble – the native oxygen molecules would be too large to be absorbed, so they come with their own sphere of compressed air.)
Once they get to the set of giant microchips and filament tubes it's almost as ridiculous a moment as “Spock's Brain.” But it isn't, because Meaney and company sell it – and it is a tremendous amount of fun.
6 – Talarian Hook Spiders
We only ever hear about this incident, but it's still bad enough.
The TNG episode “Realm of Fear” offers a fine message about facing your greatest dread. I mean, Reg Barclay is a fool to worry about the transporter – it's not like he'll be beamed to another ship and get bitten by gross purple subspace worms that will drive him crazy and make his arms twitch and glow, right? Oh, wrong.
Turns out they are disembodied Starfleet brethren floating in a horrible, twinkly limbo, but Barclay's forced bravery saves the day. The episode features quite a few conversations with Barclay's most-hated man aboard: the transporter Chief. O'Brien confesses that, as a younger man, he once had to climb inside a Jefferies Tube to reroute an emitter array on Zayra IV's starbase. It was infested with O'Brien's most-hated critters – Talarian Hook Spiders with their half-meter long legs.
But he got the job done – so much so that now he keeps a pet Lycosa tarantula. . . which proceeds to crawl up Barclay's arm.
5 – Kirayoshi
Woah, woah – are you about to call the Chief's own son an example of his bad luck? What's the matter with you??!
Just hold your thrusters and let me explain. Of course, the Chief loves his family – the fact that he's a family man is part of the reason we care for him so much. But of all the characters whose family had to get spun upside down because of difficulties in the real world, it had to be the Chief.
When Nana Visitor (that's Major Kira to you, cadet) found herself in a family way, DS9's producers came up with a brilliant scheme. Kira, Dr. Bashir and a pregnant Keiko O'Brien get in a runabout accident and, in order to save the lives of everyone, including the fetus, the unborn O'Brien is transplanted into Kira. Because she's a Bajoran with “dense blood vessels,” Kira must now carry the baby to term. (P.S. – this idea worked so well the DS9 producers kinda-sorta rehashed it when getting the Dax symbiote to Ezri, but that's another story.)
It's only a big deal because it's the Chief. Here's a regular guy who wants nothing more than to raise his family in peace and his boss is suddenly carrying his baby. Who needs that aggravation?!?
4 – Having A Donnie Brasco Moment
In "Honor Among Thieves," one of the least thematically typical Star Trek episodes (but not as off the charts as Dr. Crusher falling in love with an Irish Space Ghost,) Chief O'Brien tries to infiltrate the Orion Syndicate by posing as a smuggler on Farius Prime. To do so he must befriend small time grifter Liam Bilby and, basically, get the poor sop killed.
Sure, sure, O'Brien isn't the one who pulls the trigger (some Klingons do it) and he may not even be morally culpable, but after you drink and laugh and connect with somebody, it isn't easy to stand by and watch the hand of fate squeeze the life out of someone you like, even if that person has some failings. (O'Brien is at least able to save Bilby's cat, Chester.)
3 – Wild Molly
The O'Briens' first child, the adorable Molly, had some great moments growing up on the Enterprise and on Deep Space Nine. And… some not so great moments, too.
Proving she inherited her father's luck is the episode “Time's Orphan.” During some family time on Golana, the 8-year old moppet falls into a temporal anomaly and, when she's pulled out, is 10 years older. Not just older, but feral, retaining almost no language or social skills (though she does remember her parents.) She is a savage creature posing harm to herself and others.
In one of the saddest moments in all of Star Trek, Miles and Keiko realize that the only home for Molly is back on the planet. DS9's producers could go dark, but not this dark. All goes right in the end, but not after an entire episode of mental anguish for the Chief!
2 – Minstrel Boy
Star Trek's characters were so rich and three-dimensional that they would allow for flaws even in the utopian future. Few members of Starfleet engage in racial prejudice, but Chief O'Brien, the honest man that he is, would be hard-pressed to look you in the eye and tell you that he likes or trusts Cardassians. (In good salt of the earth form, he also feels a little guilty about this.)
If you experienced the devastation on Setlik III, you might feel the same way. O'Brien's pre-Picard captain, Benjamin Maxwell of the Rutledge, was never able to shake off his animosity toward the Cardassians and in “The Wounded” almost allows his rage to kickstart a new war. Only O'Brien is able to talk him down, reminiscing about the death of a comrade they called 'Stompie' and singing the old Irish battle hymn “Minstrel Boy.” In a flash of sadness and regret, Maxwell turns to O'Brien and sighs, “I'm not gonna' win this one, am I, Chief?” It's a tender moment that the worldly O'Brien knows all too well.
1 – Hard Time
In “Hard Time,” one of the cruelest and most-depraved episodes of television ever aired, Chief O'Brien had to suffer the double indignity of 20 years of mental torture followed up by none of his comrades “getting it.”
Falsely accused of espionage by the Argrathi, the Chief is sentenced to have 20 years of memories implanted in his mind. Twenty years of sitting in a near dungeon.
Dr. Bashir is unable to repair him, so it is as if he actually experienced the horror of starving in a dark, sandy cell with a comrade that he falsely accuses of stealing and kills. O'Brien is unable to acclimate back to station life, and no amount of counseling or friendly behavior can cure him. Toward the end, after almost hurting Molly in a fit of rage, the Chief turns a phaser on himself. Dr. Bashir is able to get through to him, but not with easy answers. This is a psychological scar that will stay with O'Brien for the rest of his life.
Wow, kinda glum. Somebody pour me a Guinness!
Is there an example of Chief O'Brien's ill fortune that I left out? Be sure to let me know in the comments. And in honor of the noble Chief this St. Patty's Day, let's shout “Erin Go Bajor!”
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, ScreenCrush and Badass Digest. On his BLOG, Jordan has reviewed all 727 Trek episodes and films, most of the comics and some of the novels.