The life of a Starfleet officer can be fraught with danger. As Captain Kirk put it, “Risk is our business.” But what about the life of a non-commissioned officer? As it turns out, the Starfleet grunts bear the brunt of that risk business. None more so than Senior Chief Petty Officer Miles Edward O’Brien, whose career is a resume filled with an unfair excess of pain and suffering.
So why is Chief O’Brien so unlucky?
It’s time we get to the bottom of Miles’s monumental misfortune. With a thorough exploration of several of the chief’s most harrowing experiences, perhaps we can determine the possible causes of his undue grief, and maybe even put his cursed career into the larger context of his life to truly determine if Miles Edward O’Brien really is as unlucky as we give him credit for.
So, let’s take a look at that time Chief O’Brien was…
Shoved into a Jefferies Tube with Spiders (TNG: “Realm of Fear”)
During a mission on Zayra IV, the arachnophobic chief was forced into a Jefferies tube overrun with Talarian hook spiders.
If the thought of slipping into a tight, coffin-shaped (emphasis on “coffin”) tube filled with giant spiders fills you with dread, then just imagine the shear terror that erupted in poor O’Brien — who grew up with a morbid fear of spiders — when he was told that the mission relied on him becoming an unwilling contestant in Fear Factor: Starfleet Edition!
“All’s well that ends well,” wrote William Shakespeare, a man whose plays usually didn’t end well for their characters. However, for O’Brien, this terrifying session of exposure therapy did succeed in freeing him of his phobia. Aboard the Enterprise-D, he kept a Lycosa tarantula named Christina. Still, I’m not sure the reward was equal to risk. Crawling through spiders is not where most Starfleet recruits sign up to “boldly go.”
Nearly Killed by a Biogenic Weapon (DS9: “Armageddon Game”)
After O’Brien helps to disarm stockpiles of a deadly biomechanical weapon known as Harvesters, he is accidentally infected and faces a painful death.
No good deed goes unpunished. That thought was surely on the chief’s mind when, moments after helping to end a centuries-long war by destroying the bio-weapons, he and Dr. Bashir are ambushed by Kellerun soldiers determined to make sure the secret of the Harvesters dies with everyone in the room. Though they survive the attack, O’Brien discovers that he’s been infected and now faces the prospect of dying alone with a babbling Bashir. As Miles tells Keiko later, “It was hell…you can see for yourself, the man never stops taking!”
The poor chief can’t even die in peace. And as if that’s not enough, mere moments from a firing squad, O’Brien let slip that serving with Bashir was an honor. How will he ever live that down?
Replaced by a Replicant (DS9: “Whispers”)
While on a mission to the Parada system, Chief O’Brien is captured and replaced with a replicant programmed for peace conference mayhem.
No, technically this hardship isn’t Chief O’Brien’s. Still, it’s further proof that Miles is so unlucky that even copies of him must suffer. Xerox-O’Brien is a perfect clone, with no idea he’s a fake. So, when his friends and family begin to act strange around him, he assumes it’s a conspiracy and becomes a paranoid wreck.
Because the counterfeit chief wholeheartedly believes himself to be the real deal, it’s heartbreaking when he takes a fatal phaser blast and discovers the truth. His last words, “Keiko…tell her I love—” could easily have been uttered by the genuine O’Brien. A pretty raw deal when you consider that Commander Riker’s double, Thomas Riker gets to live out his days at a sunny Cardassian labor camp. Life can be so unfair.
Framed and Imprisoned on Cardassia (DS9: “Tribunal”)
On the way to some R&R with the wife, Chief O’Brien is framed and imprisoned by the Cardassians.
Yes, even on vacation, the chief can’t catch a break. Within minutes of arriving on Cardassia, O’Brien is stripped naked, slammed into a chair, and has a molar painfully ripped from his mouth with pliers—and that’s just the booking process. Worse, in the Cardassian’s Law & Order & Unwanted Dental Surgery legal system, the trial is just a formality. O’Brien’s execution has already been scheduled.
Thankfully, back on Deep Space 9, Miles’ crew mates succeed in uncovering the Cardassian conspiracy and secure his release. Still, to put O’Brien’s brutal week on Cardassia in perspective: three years later when Dr. Bashir is captured and held prisoner by the Dominion for more than a month he makes it out without losing a single tooth! Hardly seems fair.
Killed and Replaced by a Future O’Brien (DS9: “Visionary”)
Yes, you read that right: O’Brien ACTUALLY DIED.
Thanks to a workplace accident involving radiation and a cloaked Romulan warbird, O’Brien is pulled into the future. Every time he time jumps, O’Brien gets a glimpse of DS9’s impending destruction. The only way to save DS9 is one more jump to the future. Unfortunately, that final jump is one too many, and the Miles we’ve known and loved is killed by radiation. No last minute medical miracles or techno-babble resurrections, just a reluctant swap with the O’Brien from that future.
While future-O’Brien’s presence succeeds in keeping DS9’s crew manifest from being short one “living O’Brien,” it’s little comfort for ex-O’Brien, who’s shuffled off his mortal coil and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible. That O’Brien never sees his family again. The poor stiff doesn’t even get a memorial plaque for saving the station. Rough.
Mentally Imprisoned on Argratha for Twenty-Years (DS9: “Hard Time”)
O’Brien is arrested and implanted with the memories of a savage twenty-year prison incarceration.
Back on the station, Miles returns to his normal routine but has difficulty coping. O’Brien’s haunted by the memories of his cellmate, Ee’Char, whom he killed in cold blood. Overwhelmed by guilt and rage, Miles snaps at his friends, assaults Quark, and nearly hits his daughter, Molly. Terrified of the man he’s become, the chief swipes a phaser from a weapons locker and presses it to the soft flesh beneath his trembling chin. With his eyes clenched shut, Miles is ready to end his life.
Julian, who’s been keeping a keen eye on his friend, finds and convinces Miles to put the phaser down and get help. O’Brien returns to his family and embraces Molly. All of this for showing a little interest in Argrathi technology. The chief may want to reconsider ever leaving his quarters again.
Stuck with a Pah-Wraith Possessed Wife (DS9: “The Assignment”)
O’Brien’s wife, Keiko returns from Bajor’s famed Fire Caves with a stowaway: she’s been possessed by a Pah-wraith, the ancient nemeses of the wormhole aliens that the Bajorans’ refer to as the Prophets.
The Pah-wraith commandeering Mrs. O’Brien is hellbent on killing the wormhole aliens. To complete its mission, it gives Miles a detailed list of modifications to make to the station. Any deviation from its plan and the Pah-wraith will kill Keiko. With Keiko held hostage in her own skin, Miles must convince his daughter and friends that everything is normal or risk becoming a widower.
Worse? The chief’s only hope at survival might be Rom.
Marriage is difficult under the best circumstances, but when your significant other is possessed by a Bajoran demon? Somehow playing house with a sadistic spirt seems like just another day for unlucky O’Brien.
Berated by James T. Kirk (DS9: “Trials and Tribble-ations”)
O’Brien travels through time and gets to meet the legendary Captain Kirk, only to be reprimanded by him.
The DS9 crew travel back to 2268, to stop an incognito-Klingon named Arne Darvin from exacting revenge on Kirk with a tribble-time-bomb. In the process, O’Brien and Bashir are swept into a brawl with Klingons onboard Space Station K-7. Every Enterprise crew member involved in the melee (including the two masqueraders from the future) are lined up for a chest-puffed-to-attention dress down from Kirk, who rips into his crew for fighting.
They say never meet your heroes. It’s easy to see why. When pressed directly for an explanation, O’Brien, who’s blushing redder than his 23rd century velour uniform, is forced to lie to Kirk. While Dax shares a playful shrug and Sisko gets a friendly chat, O’Brien meets Kirk with all the dignity of a pup caught chewing on a shoe.
Invited to a Klingon Bachelor Party (DS9: “You Are Cordially Invited”)
O’Brien jubilantly accepts an invitation to Worf’s bachelor party only to discover that Klingon and Human bachelor parties are tragically light years apart.
Kal’Hyah is Klingon for “the path of clarity.” We can safely assume that some vital information was lost in that translation, because what’s touted as a mental and spiritual journey for the groom-to-be and his closest (or unluckiest) friends, could easily be a deleted scene from a Saw movie. While on the path to kal’Hyah, O’Brien endures searing heat, starvation, and an itinerary that includes ample bouts of hanging from a ceiling above hot coals.
At the end of Worf’s four-day “bachelor party,” the chief’s only solace is beating the groom senseless with a ma’Staka, the traditional Klingon wedding-bludgeon. When measured against Dax’s wild bachelorette party, it’s hard to see Worf’s stag party as anything but abject suffering. O’Brien better hope Worf never remarries.
Donnie-Brasco-ed by Starfleet Intelligence (DS9: “Honor Among Thieves”)
Enlisted by Starfleet Intelligence to infiltrate a crime ring known as the Orion Syndicate, the success of O’Brien’s mission means the death of the mobster he’s befriended.
The Orion Syndicate rules Farius Prime, but among its operatives, in a seedy bar, waits Miles O’Brien. Posing as a “fix-it-man” named Connelly, O’Brien befriends a low-level mob man named Liam Bilby. The two quickly strike up a friendship and trust that O’Brien uses to gain access to the criminal organization. Because Bilby vouched for him, when O’Brien’s true identity is revealed, Bilby is destined for death. Miles can’t help him and must live with the consequences of his undercover mission.
Undercover work is hard enough without the added stress of an impossible, damned if you do, damned if you don’t success. Even when he wins, O’Brien loses!
Forced to Raise a Feral Teenager (DS9: “Time’s Orphan”)
During a picnic on Golana, O’Brien’s daughter, Molly falls through a time portal and is marooned in the past. When the chief beams Molly back, she’s lived alone for a brutal decade and emerges a wild, barbaric teenager.
The teenage years are considered the most difficult for parents, so naturally, Miles’ first brush with the experience comes as dad to a manic, bite-happy teen who sleeps in trees. Without a copy of, What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Feral Teenager on hand, the O’Briens do the best they can to re-assimilate Molly to life on Deep Space 9. Then an epic meltdown and rampage at Quark’s sends Molly to the DS9 equivalent of juvie: Odo’s holding cells.
While returning feral Molly to the time portal brings eight year-old Molly home, one can’t help but wonder why even an O’Brien family picnic has to be an agonizing affair.
24th Century Martyr? (DS9: “What We Left Behind”)
Miles O’Brien, a man who plays darts against a genetically enhanced opponent, and whose idea of a peaceful retirement is returning to Earth to teach. So, at the very least, he’s a glutton for punishment. But is he unlucky? Now that we’ve strolled through the daily trauma of the chief’s life in Starfleet, what’s the verdict? Does Miles live a charmed or cursed life?
In examining only the valleys of O’Brien’s life it’s easy to get lost in shadows, but when taken with the peaks, we get a fuller portrait of a life that isn’t so unlucky after all. While he surely suffers more than your average Starfleet officer, O’Brien’s achieved something that’s eluded many of Starfleet’s finest: Miles found time for a family. A caring wife and two beautiful children whose love and unwavering support pull him through each undeserved hardship. Isn’t that worth a little blood, tears, and pulled teeth?
Indeed, we’re fortunate to have lucky O’Brien. In the chief we have a flawed man who suffers, goes home to the waiting arms of his family, and then wakes up and does it all again. A 24th century reflection for many of us 21st century chumps. That’s a comforting notion, to know that even in Gene Roddenberry’s perfect future society, there’s room for imperfect blokes like Miles Edward O’Brien — and us.
WATCH: A Timeline Through the Star Trek Universe
Andy Bray (he/his) is a husband, father, and co-author of the memoirs, Making Fake Star Trek and Making More Fake Star Trek. He developed his unhealthy obsession with Star Trek as an embryo; in his twenties he acted in an official Star Trek production no one’s ever heard of: “Spock’s Brain” the stage play; after cultivating a collection of obscure credits on his IMDB page, Andy now spends his days writing and embarrassing his children. You can follow him on Instagram at @AndyBrayAuthor and on Twitter at @TheAndyBray.