We’d never be so arrogant as to assume we could disagree with Colm Meaney about Star Trek. He’s a legend of the franchise from his time on Star Trek TNG and DS9, only behind Michael Dorn in having the second most on-screen credits of any actor in Star Trek history.
Thankfully, in this instance, we don’t even have the try because the Star Trek actor is spot-on in his explanation of why Miles O’Brien – legendary transporter chief aboard the USS Enterprise-D and chief of operations aboard Deep Space Nine – is the perfect Star Trek character. “There was a terrific kind of humanity in O’Brien,” said Meaney in an interview with bullz-eye.com, contrasting Miles with the other “extraordinary characters who could do extraordinary things.”
“I think he brought that kind of contemporary sensibility to an extraordinary world, and it’s nice to be able to say that,” he continued, referring to O’Brien’s relatively low-key, understated nature throughout his two Star Trek series. “And, of course, we had the storylines with Rosalind Chao, who played my wife, Keiko, which were great, just to be able to play those storylines of domestic tension or the problems facing a kid in that environment.”
Meaney’s comments perfectly articulate why Chief O’Brien remains such a beloved character: it’s his relatability. Starfleet is made up of the most intelligent, disciplined, motivated, and extraordinary individuals from across the galaxy. O’Brien is all of those things in his way, but he’s still recognizable as the kind of person who you might know from your own workplace or family. Or perhaps you even recognize him in yourself.
Unlike Worf, and Geordi, or Odo and Sisko, his work is his work, and he has a whole life outside of it. He likes to enjoy drinks with his friends after his shift ends. He has arguments with his wife Keiko, and tries to figure out what kind of father he should be. In a story of sweeping science fiction, the mundanity that we see in Chief O’Brien keeps Star Trek grounded and relatable.
This is even the case in the character’s best episodes. In the likes of ‘Data’s Day’, ‘Disaster’, ‘The Wounded, and DS9’s ‘Hard Time’, O’Brien finds himself in deeply stressful (and sometimes traumatic) situations, and is forced to deal with them. Like a real person, he actually struggles. It feels like with O’Brien, Star Trek’s writing team was able to explore humanity as it is today, rather than as they wanted it to be in Roddenberry’s optimistic vision of the future.
Meaney’s performance is vital here too, of course, and that aspect of O’Brien mostly goes vastly underappreciated. While fans love to praise the acting chops of Patrick Stewart, Jeri Ryan, Avery Brooks, and the rest, Meaney is equally deserving of respect. It can be harder to shine as an actor when your character is far more ordinary than those around them, but Meaney was able to transform O’Brien into one of the most likable characters across the entire Star Trek timeline, with his work in the franchise’s two best TV series.
We haven’t seen Meaney in a Starfleet uniform since the end of Deep Space Nine, and the actor didn’t return for any of the TNG-era Star Trek movies, or for the big reunion in Picard season 3. But, a new appearance isn’t completely off the cards, and the actor’s explained he’d be eager to return as O’Brien for a series focussing on Worf. Who could say no to that?
For more on Star Trek, check out our guide on the best way to watch the Star Trek movies in order, or see what’s coming next with our guide to Star Trek Legacy and Strange New Worlds season 3. Or, see what is new on Paramount Plus this month aside from Star Trek.