My understanding of the Chief O’Brien character is this: he is something of an Everyman character, so he gets to suffer as much as he does as a result draw the most audience sympathy. I think there may be something to the first part. Unlike the other characters, he clearly has a life outside of his job. He’s not an officer, he doesn’t come from a fancy background, and he doesn’t have some weird alien powers. He’s just a guy who is very good at his job, a likable soul who has some prejudices but will always back his friends in the end. What’s not to like?
As far as O’Brien’s suffering goes, I don’t know how much seeing himself die multiple times counts.
If anything, O’Brien seeing his own death reminded me a little of one of my favorite sci-fi shows from the 90s, one that always drew comparisons to Deep Space Nine, namely Babylon 5. Babylon 5 would, from time to time, show flashforwards, visions of things to come, but with little if any context. As the story progressed, the reason for the events became more and more clear. And more often than not, these reasons were not what they initially appeared to be.
That isn’t quite what happens here. Babylon 5 basically suggested it was nearly impossible to change the future no matter how much you knew about it. Deep Space Nine has an episode here where O’Brien, due to an unexplained accident, keeps having these trips forward in time about five hours for a few minutes before skipping back. The first time it happens, he just sees himself arguing a bit with Quark. Then, later, when O’Brien is having the actual argument with Quark, both he and Quark look over and see the past O’Brien watching, and all parties involved share a quick wave.
So, not only can O’Brien zip to the future for a few minutes, but he’ll be close to wherever he is at the time and he can even interact with himself. That comes in handy when a second trip goes to a barroom brawl in Quark’s between some Klingons and Romulans and past-O’Brien has to help future O’Brien not get seriously injured.
This all comes during a backdrop of Sisko and Kira’s having to brief a Romulan party on what they’ve discovered on the other side of the wormhole. The Romulans are pushy and rude, even demanding to know from Kira if she and Odo are romantically involved, an idea she finds insulting and laughable given the context and that Odo…pretends to feel the same way about when he’s told.
As for the Klingons, they’re stuck on the station while their own ship is being repaired, and Klingons and Romulans never get along in the first place.
So, we have a set-up, but then there’s O’Brien, seeing worse and worse results for himself with every jump. He sees an energy blast come out of a console and kill him. He comes to sickbay to find his own corpse. And finally, having prevented the previous two deaths, he sees himself flying a runabout with whatever people he could get off the station just before it explodes for reasons unknown. Presumably, the remaining bridge officers are all dead and gone.
Now, there was a sci-fi explanation for all this in the form of some kind of radiation that would have killed him had not one of the trips forward featured Bashir’s telling O’Brien as much, allowing the Doctor to fix him. But knowing what they know, now O’Brien proposes sending himself forward only three and a half hours to find out what destroyed the station, an act that causes past-O’Brien to die but the future O’Brien to see the device and go back to warn Sisko what was going on. By then, Odo had already figured out that the energy blast was created by a device put in place by a replicator and not beamed in with a transporter. Someone, either the Klingons or the Romulans, were up to no good since those guys tend to hate each other.
And, well, it was the Romulans, using a cloaked Bird of Prey whose radiation signature was what caused O’Brien’s time jumps in the first place. That’s all taken care of, and O’Brien won’t need to die again. Not this time around. He just has about three hours’ worth of memories that he shouldn’t, and that isn’t overly useful.
Except for one quick moment when he can predict a Dabo winner at Quark’s…