**** (4 stars out of 5)
The Argrathi are arseholes. Their system of justice works remarkably swiftly, and it stinks. Looking too closely at the wrong thing gets Miles O'Brien sentenced to 20 years in a horrible dungeon for espionage.
Once released, he learns no time has passed: it was instead a very realistic, time-compressed simulation of the prison experience. It wasn't technically happening to his body, but it's permanently etched on his mind.
His cellmate Ee'Char learned to laugh and draw rather than go insane, although it's fair to say there was a little of both. They were subject to beatings, periods of starvation, and living in a yellow-brown dust that must mainly be composed of their own filth.
Miles avoids mandatory head-shrinking with Counselor Telnorri. As he's seeing Ee'Char everywhere he goes, this is not the best idea anyone ever had.
After accosting Quark and blowing up at his co-workers and daughter, Miles in final desperation goes for the weapons locker. He puts a phaser to his throat. Bashir coaxes out the truth: at the end, Miles, like a starving animal, killed Ee'Char for a morsel of food.
Miles weeps. "When we were growing up they used to tell us humanity had evolved, that mankind had outgrown hate and rage. But when it came down to it, when I had the chance to show that no matter what anyone did to me I was still an evolved human being... I failed."
"You can't let that brief moment define your life... you cannot let that happen, my friend." Bashir has a course of hyposprays to remove hallucinations and depression. But the feelings will require more work.
"Hard Time" came, for me, after 7 months that felt like 7 years. It was a profound and painful period of my life. I made choices that hurt people and I suffered a great deal. I took the medicine and I saw the counsellors. There's no such thing as an Agrathi prison, but depression is as real as it gets. If you've got patient, forgiving friends like Ee'Char or Bashir, however, it gets better.