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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Abandoned (Review)

The September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Abandoned is a problematic episode.

It’s brave and provocative and challenging, but it’s also incredibly grim and cynical. In fact, it is probably the most relentlessly pessimistic episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s third season. And, given the episodes surround it, that is quite an accomplishment. Deep Space Nine has subverted classic Star Trek storytelling before. The Maquis was really a watershed moment for the series, suggesting that paradise itself might be unsustainable – attacking Roddenberry’s utopia rather brutally.

However, The Abandoned pushes things even further. There’s a social and racial subtext to this episode that grounds it in the racial politics of Los Angeles in the mid-nineties. The story of a young angry drug-addicted killer can’t help but feel associated with the increased profile of Los Angeles’ gangland in the early-to-mid-nineties. Casting the episode’s young Jem’Hadar soldier using African American actors invites this comparison, something that director Avery Brooks himself has conceded.

The racial politics of The Abandoned are decidedly uncomfortable, but they are clearly meant to be. Still, there’s something rather cynical and pessimistic about the episode’s conclusion that this young boy cannot be saved from a life of brutality and violence.

A Jem?

A Jem?

To be entirely fair, there are several mitigating factors. Despite the fact that he is in central focus for most of the episode, the Jem’Hadar child is not the main character of The Abandoned. The episode is not about the Jem’Hadar soldier as a character. In the classic Piller tradition, The Abandoned is not a story about a guest star; instead, it’s built around Odo and how his experiences with the Jem’Hadar child relate to him.

From that point of view, the decision to have the Jem’Hadar child return home to the Dominion is a bleak ending, but not the most bleak possibility. Odo refuses the temptation to return home to his people, to give in to his fascistic nature. Odo can’t save this troubled young man, but he can save himself. The script calls attention to this. Odo is willing to go absolutely anywhere with the Jem’Hadar child, but he refuses to go home.

Beware Bajorans bearing gifts...

Beware Bajorans bearing gifts…

The decision isn’t about Odo deciding to stay. In fact, the Changeling is ready to give up his life on Deep Space Nine to help his young charge. “There are another options besides going to the Gamma Quadrant,” he insists. “We can find a place where neither Starfleet nor the Jem’Hadar will bother you. A place where you can grow and learn about yourself without worrying about being sent to some laboratory. It’s a big galaxy. All we have to do is head out for unexplored space and keep on going. I am willing to do this with you, to help start you on this new life, if that’s what you want.”

Coupled with Odo’s shameful confession to Garak in The Die is Cast, there’s a sense that the larger story here is Odo’s ability to overcome his base nature. From the outset, Odo clearly identifies with the boy. When Starfleet threatens to take the child into custody, Odo scoffs; he recalls his own history being poked and prodded and investigated. Odo feels some measure of empathy and sympathy with the boy.

I'm going to be honest, Quark raising the Jem'Hadar would be a pretty awesome episode...

I’m going to be honest, Quark raising the Jem’Hadar would be a pretty awesome episode…

Odo’s first scene features the security chief claiming a room that he can call his own, safe from the prying eyes and obligations of outside world; the holosuite allows Odo to offer the Jem’Hadar something similar, a place where he doesn’t have to maintain appearances or abide by the rules set by other societies. “In here,” he explains, “you can indulge yourself. You can let your instincts take over, fight until you’re ready to stop. But at a price. Out there you have to control yourself. You have to learn restraint. Learn how to live peacefully among other races regardless of how you may feel.”

Odo obviously feels some measure of empathy for the Jem’Hadar, the young boy who desperately wants to be reunited with his people; despite the cost of such a reunion. As much as The Abandoned is about providing the audience with exposition about the Jem’Hadar and the Dominion, it’s also about informing Odo’s character. The Search, Part I confirmed that Odo’s urges to return home are as much biological as psychological; it makes sense that the Jem’Hadar should share these.

A tough cell...

A tough cell…

Still, there are several problems with this set-up, several aspects that make the episode feel a little bit uncomfortable. The most obvious is the sense that The Abandoned could have used a few more drafts. The first half of the third season of Deep Space Nine was very rushed, with the writing staff under a lot of time pressure to churn out scripts and stories. René Echevarria has joked that Second Skin was filmed from Robert Hewitt Wolfe’s first draft. The finished episode worked surprisingly well, despite a few minor flaws scattered through the script. The problems with The Abandoned are more fundamental.

It is almost fifteen minutes into The Abandoned before we finally see Odo. We’re a third of the way through the episode before the most important central character is introduced. Instead, the first act rotates through the various leads as if daring the audience to guess who the focal point will be. Quark finds the baby in the wreckage, only to disappear completely; Sisko cuddles the baby in an incredibly cute sequence; Bashir is investigating the child’s genome. It’s quite a while before we figure out that Odo is to be the driving focus of this particular episode.

They appear to have grown on Odo...

They appear to have grown on Odo…

To be fair, there is a fairly obvious reason for that. The Abandoned goes out of its way to conceal the identity of the child until the last possible moment, using the reveal that the child is a Jem’Hadar for a fairly gripping act break. You can see why the script would be structured in such a way. It’s a nice hook, and it adds a bit of energy to the end of the act. The problem is that this energy comes at the cost of muddling and confusing an episode that needs a clear throughline. It seems like the kind of structuring problem that could have been fixed with another pass or two, but it leaves episode feeling a little disjointed.

The other problem is that the episode heavily codes the Jem’Hadar as a black teenager in nineties Los Angeles. The actors chosen to portray the Jem’Hadar are black. The drug addiction used by the Founders to control the Jem’Hadar might be intended as a shoutout to the old Earth practise cited by Q in Encounter at Farpoint as another way to uncomfortably parallel the Federation with the Dominion. Unfortunately, it feels just a little bit too much like a metaphor for the link between drug addiction and violence. Tied in with the racial issue, it’s hard not to look at The Abandoned in the context of nineties Los Angeles.

A word in Quark's ear...

A word in Quark’s ear…

Avery Brooks, directing his second episode, has explicitly confirmed the parallels. Discussing the episode with The Deep Space Nine Companion, he explained:

For me, it was very much about a story about young brown men, and, to some extent, a story about a society that is responsible for the creation of a generation of young men who are feared, who are addicted, who are potential killers.

So there is an argument to be made that this is Star Trek dealing with an important social issue through allegory, in the finest tradition of the franchise.

Jem'Hadar are so cute as babies... up till the point where they start casually murdering red shirts...

Jem’Hadar are so cute as babies… up till the point where they start casually murdering red shirts…

And, to be fair, this isn’t the only time that Star Trek would attempt to explore the issue of gang violence through metaphor. On Star Trek: Voyager, which aired a few months after The Abandoned, the Kazon were explicitly intended to evoke Los Angeles gangs. According to A Vision of the Future, the production team would explicitly refer to the Kazon – in house – as the “Crips” and the “Bloods”, two high-profile Los Angeles gangs. The Kazon also came with a host of uncomfortable racial stereotypes.

The Abandoned fares slightly better, for a number of reasons – but it still feels decidedly racially charged. It’s built off a popular depiction of gang culture that is heavily racialised and politicised, and so can’t helping feeling like it belongs as part of that context. There’s no escaping the episode’s climax, in which a young drug-addicted killer decides that he cannot overcome his nature and his social role, and so gives in to those violent urges.

Love isn't the drug, as it turns out...

Love isn’t the drug, as it turns out…

In light of the decision to code the Jem’Hadar as a young African American gang member, this already grim conclusion becomes decidedly problematic. In Tough Fronts: The Impact of Street Culture on Schooling, author L Janelle Dance provides one of his students’ insight on the episode’s subtext:

The idea that there is a proclivity towards violence among a certain people that need to be shown a way they can live nonviolently. The way the founder, Odo, tried to deny the inferiority/superiority issue but late admitted that the difference was too great for some [races] to make them civilised, mirrored a stereotypical and racist belief in the U.S. The addiction to a substance controlled by those of a greater species was also disturbing and brought to mind the drug trafficking issues between black communities and whites.

It’s hard to disagree too strongly with that assessment. There is the fact that the Jem’Hadar have been genetically bred for warfare, but this could all too easily be read as an allegorical comment on fatalism or pre-determinism, much like the use of Ketracel White to control the Jem’Hadar invites comparison to drug culture. (Although it also evokes the use of amphetamines to control child soldiers, although – as Michael G. Wessells concedes in Child Soldiers: From Violence to Protection – there’s a debate to be had over whether teenage soldiers of violent gangs should be classified as child soldiers.)

It really ties the room together...

It really ties the room together…

The Jem’Hadar and the Kazon appeared in Star Trek at about the same time that Los Angeles was dealing with the issue of gang culture. In the wake of the 1992 riots, it was a highly politicised issue. It was also somewhat nebulous and ambiguous, as Edward L Gambill argued in Uneasy Males:

By the early nineties, urban gang activity was reaching pandemic proportions. The situation was worst in Los Angeles, where black gangs, such as the Crips and the Bloods, and also Latino gangs thrived amidst a lucrative drug trade. In 1992, the Los Angeles District Attorney estimated that there one-thousand gangs with 150,000 members operating in the metropolitan area that were responsible for nearly eight-hundred homocides the previous year. Civil rights groups took immediate exception to the numbers, noting that just because youngsters wore clothing associated with gangs did not mean they were gang members. Many criminal justice experts agreed and pointed out definitions of gang and gang activity were often imprecise or contradictory. No one, however, disputed the increase in gang activity or that it was spreading across the country.

In the mid-nineties, it seemed that everybody was aware of gang-related violence and the issues stemming from gang activity in Los Angeles, but it remained an issue that was hard to pin down.

Young love...

Young love…

In Black Consciousness and Adolescent Identities, Garrett Duncan argued that the media conflated this fascination with gang-land violence with long-simmering racial issues – shaping the perception and discourse of the crisis:

On a nightly basis, news coverage sensationalises ‘gang’ violence, ‘reporting’ on events with little or no verification of facts. Further, the uncritical use of non-specific terms such as ‘gang shootings’ or ‘gang-related’ effectively divorces certain events from persons and places them on communities, thus conflating criminal characteristics with demographic configurations. This kind of reporting was particularly blatant in the printed media during the rebellions of 1992, specifically concerning those events that took place in Los Angeles. Here, in an unprecedented way, newspaper editors replaced datelines to articles that would previous read Los Angeles with the racialised South Central Los Angeles when stories were in reference to the more ostensibly brutal aspects of the uprising.

So, despite the difficultly defining or scaling the problem, there was a clear sense that public discourse on Los Angeles’ gangland was racially-charged.

"Damn it, I told Chief O'Brien to lock that door!"

“Damn it, I told Chief O’Brien to lock that door!”

For the purposes of discussing The Abandoned, it’s also worth pointing out that the link between gangland violence and drug abuse – as allegorised by the Jem’Hadar addiction to Ketracel White – is hotly contested. In Controversies in Juvenile Justice and Delinquency, Peter J. Benekos and Alida V. Merlo argue that the association between gangs and drugs was based in political convenience:

The connection, and evidence, between gangs and drugs is also complicated by political and funding manoeuvres by local law enforcement and federal agencies. For instance, a federal agency announced in the late 1980s that it was interested in funding police intervention programs to resolve an obvious gang-drug connection. A gang unit in the Los Angeles police department saw a major funding opportunity and provided data showing that gangs were selling drugs in sufficient quantities to be one of Los Angeles’ major drug sources. Federal funding came almost automatically. Years later, however, the original data were exposed as fraudulent – there was very little evidence that, at that time, Los Angeles gangs were engaged in the drug trade. In fact, the federal agency (National Institute of Justice) asked for a portion of its money back. Thus, while there is no question that some gangs sell drugs and some focus exclusively on drug selling, the gang-drug connection is not as clear as law enforcement and allied government agencies would have us think.

Even today, the relationship between these gangs and the drug trade is hotly contested. It has been argued that the drug trade is not the main pursuit of the majority of Los Angeles street gangs; it has also been argued that drugs were only really embraced by the gangs during the nineties. It’s a very hazy issue, and one that needs to be waded into rather carefully; and The Abandoned never really feels like it’s being particularly nuanced.

Dealing with it...

Dealing with it…

In defense of The Abandoned, it doesn’t seem to blame the Jem’Hadar for his violent impulses. He is the product of a particular society, the result of a variety of social conditions. In the case of the Jem’Hadar, it’s more than simply lack of opportunity or interest; his violence is built into his DNA. Just as The Hunted did not blame Roga Danar for the violence he was trained (and genetically designed) to inflict, The Abandoned doesn’t condemn the Jem’Hadar for the environmental factors created by others.

Then again, there is a huge gap between the end of The Hunted and the end of The Abandoned. The Hunted suggests that the violent veterans can be rehabilitated and integrated into society; The Abandoned suggests that there is no hope for the Jem’Hadar. As such, in light of the episode’s attempts to like the Jem’Hadar to Los Angeles gang culture, it’s hard not to feel a little uncomfortable with that outcome.

It does seem a little weird that the ship seems to have been transporting one Jem'Hadar...

It does seem a little weird that the ship seems to have been transporting one Jem’Hadar…

It is worth noting that The Abandoned has benefited from a few subsequent revelations about the drug trade in contemporary America. The Federation has always been treated as an utopian version of the United States, projected far into the future. The Dominion are intended as a dark mirror of that, with the Founders classified as cynical counterparts to the humans who seem to drive a lot of the Federation’s agenda.

As such, the Founders’ use of Ketracel White to keep their soldiers under control feels like a bizarre reflection of the links between the CIA and the United States drug trade uncovered by Gary Webb for his Dark Alliance series of articles in 1996. Although Webb’s journalism was much-criticised at the time, it has been reappraised and validated in the years since – often by the papers that originally attacked Webb. The Columbia Journalism Review described it as “the most talked-about piece of journalism in 1996 and arguably the most famous – some would say infamous – set of articles of the decade.”

Thou shalt not disturb order on the Promenade...

Thou shalt not disturb order on the Promenade…

It’s also worth talking about Deep Space Nine‘s general handling of racial issues, particularly to frame the issues with The Abandoned. Even ignoring the fact that Sisko is the franchise’s first African American leading actor, one of the most striking things about Deep Space Nine is that none of the main characters are white American men. Sisko is African American, O’Brien is Irish, Bashir is British Asian. You have to go into the supporting characters to find a white American male – and the most prominent example is Michael Eddington or Admiral Ross. So Deep Space Nine is undoubtedly the most diverse Star Trek show.

However, it’s also worth reflecting on Sisko’s racial identity. In many respects, Sisko was not a trailblazing character – he wasn’t the first prominent African American television lead. Indeed, when Emissary aired in 1993, the television networks were making a conscious effort to diversify and to acknowledging a changing social reality. Networks were attempting to appeal to larger and more diverse audiences, and Sisko can’t really lay claim to being as iconic or as radical as Uhura had been back in the days of the original Star Trek.

Not a happy camper...

Not a happy camper…

That said, it is worth considering the content of many of these shows centring on African Americans in the early-to-mid-nineties. Commenting on the wave of African American characters débuting in 1993, Tom Hopkins wryly observed in Record number of blacks on TV:

In the coming season, the philosophy on all networks hasn’t changed. Black viewers looking for positive role models and negative stereotypes may be disappointed with the new crop. Bottom line: Don’t be fooled by the numbers. Every one of those 13 programs with mostly black casts is a comedy. The medium still fails to reflect the world blacks live in, and it rarely shows them doing all sorts of things that have little or nothing to do with telling jokes.

So, Sisko deserves to be judged in that context. He’s a multi-faceted character whose ethnic identity is an important part of who he is (he collects African masks and enjoys cooking traditional New Orleans dishes), but which doesn’t define him. He’s strong, competent and dynamic. He’s not confined by racial stereotypes or preconceptions.

The white stuff...

The white stuff…

Science-fiction author Steven Barnes, who novelised Far Beyond the Stars, described Sisko as “the first African-American lead in an hour-long dramatic series.” Indeed, Brooks himself has conceded that this really drew him to the role:

Roddenberry did have a brilliant idea — “Wagon Train” but in space — that means we can do anything. The power resides in the mind, in the people, not in the thing. Deep Space Nine — the wormhole, anybody, coming through that space, with a brown man who has to deal with everybody — what makes it so simple is that lineage, when you look back, you see African people have to deal with everybody all over the world today. Trek allows us to suspend the bias or the projection about how we could or should be — to see beyond ourselves. I’m proud to be a part of it; we fixed in 7 years what we couldn’t fix in 7 million.

It’s an important part of the legacy of Deep Space Nine, and one frequently overlooked because it arrived in the nineties, much later than it should have.

Let's put a smile on that face...

Let’s put a smile on that face…

It’s also worth noting that there are other aspects of Sisko that are very important in the pop culture context of the mid-nineties. One of the great ironies of particular schools of right-wing Christian thought is the fixation on the idea that Jesus Christ was white, despite his origins. There are all manner of troubling political and racial implications of this school of thought, particularly when it is accepted at face value and used to justify prejudice and close-mindedness. So casting a black man as a messiah on a major American television show was a bold step.

Just as interesting is the decision to cast Sisko as a single father raising a young son. Avery Brooks is particularly proud of this aspect of Sisko’s character. He has noted, “That was something else you still don’t often see on air, at least as it concerns black and brown men and their sons.” One of the strongest interpersonal relationships on Deep Space Nine was the father-son bond between Sisko and Jake. Indeed, it is probably the most well-developed parent-child bond in the history of the franchise. Indeed, The Abandoned showcases it well in its subplot.

Quark paid a lot of good money for this baby...

Quark paid a lot of good money for this baby…

This is particularly noteworthy in the mid-nineties. Author John Edgar Wideman wrote a fascinating study of African American fatherhood in Fatheralong, a mid-nineties collection of short stories described by The Harvard Educational Review as “a timely, critical, and cogent discussion on the paradigm of race.” In Conversations with John Edgar Wideman, the author observed that this was a contemporary crisis:

That link between fathers and sons, black fathers and black sons, has been mediated by the violence and the oppression that’s so much a part of America. So a healthy conversation that has to go on between the generations is foreshortened, is mediated. That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of fathers sitting with their sons and trying to talk to them. But there’s this interference, this static. It’s not only the father’s voice that the son hears, it’s the version of the father that the society has created: the fact that the father can’t be a full citizen, the fact that the father can’t as a birthright give the son full citizenship. So there is a metaphysical community and a reality that is denied by racism and oppression. Therefore, generations can’t talk and the young people are floating free. That freedom is an extremely dangerous one.

In a way, this provides a nice thematic link between the main plot and the subplot of The Abandoned. Sisko and Jake have the sort of loving trusting relationship that the Jem’Hadar could never have experienced – one he has been conditioned and programmed to refuse. As such, the subplot provides an effective juxtaposition between a healthy well-adjusted relationship and an individual who will never get the chance for such an experience.

Drinking in the atmosphere...

Drinking in the atmosphere…

This doesn’t mitigate any of the more troubling undertones of The Abandoned, but it suggests that the show is trying – that its heart is in the right place. After all, despite this somewhat awkward and confused racial commentary, the show’s handling of Sisko has been exemplary. Indeed, one of the best things about Sisko is that the character’s racial identity is handled so effectively that it scarcely merits comment; indeed, this is the first time I’ve really ever brought it up.

Sisko’s racial identity is never forced, but it’s also clearly present throughout the show’s run. It’s a delicately and thoughtfully presented. It is part of who Sisko is, without ever being all that he is; and without being anything by which anybody defines him. It’s never absent or overlooked or glossed over – it’s just not treated as anything more unique that O’Brien’s Irishness. It’s something of which the show is mindful, without feeling the need to emphasise too strongly.

And, of course, the moment that Sisko takes a shine to Jake's girlfriend, she is never heard from again...

And, of course, the moment that Sisko takes a shine to Jake’s girlfriend, she is never heard from again…

Of course, there is more to The Abandoned than the issue of race; it’s just that race is the most awkward aspect of the production. On a purely plot-driven level, The Abandoned serves as a reminder that the Dominion still exists. As Ira Steven Behr noted in Captains’ Logs Supplemental – The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages:

We wanted to keep the Jem’Hadar alive in the series but not do another battle show. The trouble with coming up with a villain is they lose their ability to strike fear in your heart if you’re able to kick their ass too quickly.

So The Abandoned serves that function – focusing the attention of the audience on an adversary that was the focus of the season’s two-part opening episode, but had begun to drift to the background a bit.

Odo is not one for flower-y expressions...

Odo is not one for flower-y expressions…

In a way, this emphasises the biggest problem with the third season of Deep Space Nine. Despite a concentration of good episodes, the season often feels like it lacks the focus or direction of the fourth and fifth seasons. This is because Deep Space Nine still occupies a hazy middle-ground between a purely episodic drama and a serialised adventure. The Alpha Quadrant has known about the Dominion for quite some time now, but nobody really seems too bothered by all this.

Sure, there are occasional references in dialogue to how the station has become a lot quieter since the discovery of the Dominion, with Quark and Garak bemoaning loss of business in House of Quark and Second Skin respectively, but there’s a sense that little has actually changed. There’s no perceptible military build-up on the station itself. No Starfleet brass rushing through, no training operations, no security measures, no diplomatic envoys. Even Subcommander T’Rul has disappeared.

There’s no perceptible shift in the status quo, barring a line of dialogue inserted here or there. And even that dialogue often feels a little disingenuous. Quark and Garak might lament falling profits, but neither is forced out of business. When Quark meets his smuggler contact from The Homecoming, he is shocked that people are still visiting the Gamma Quadrant. “You’re still going to the Gamma Quadrant?” he asks, even though the plot mandates that she must be.

Despite fear of the Dominion, the Defiant goes cruising there in Meridian. Even after the brutal slaughter of the residents of New Bajor by the Jem’Hadar, the Bajorans still build a listening post on the other side of the wormhole in Destiny, like nothing has happened. While we get stand-alone episodes featuring Dominion characters in The Abandoned and Heart of Stone, the overall arc moves in fits and starts. Improbable Cause and The Die is Cast push the plot forward, as does The Adversary – and maybe even Visionary. But these feel too isolated from each other.

There’s none of the over-powering sense of doom that drives the fifth season of the show to be found here. There are a bunch of stand-alone adventures with a few lines of dialogue changed here or there. It’s understandable that Deep Space Nine could not commit wholeheartedly to long-form storytelling immediately, but the third season feels like it’s stuck half way between storytelling modes. (This is even obvious in the subplot. Despite the depth of their romance, and a few references in shows like Defiant, Jake’s girlfriend never appears again.)

As such, The Abandoned can’t help but feel like too little – it’s an episode that should have been shuffled a little earlier into the season’s run. Then again, a lot of the arc-driven episodes from the third season feel like they should be shuffled earlier into the running order, so as to at least create the illusion of momentum. It’s something the series would get much better at in the years ahead.

Still, The Abandoned is a fascinating – if problematic – episode. It’s one that isn’t afraid to raise tough questions, but never seems entirely sure about how it wants to address them. It’s also the most cynical and pessimistic episode of what has been (to date) a pessimistic and cynical season.

You might be interested in our reviews of the third season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:

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4 Responses

  1. The ending was intended as the opposite of I, Borg where the Enterprise crew succeeded in turning a Borg drone away from the Collective, but the DS9 crew failed to turn a Jem’Hadar away from the Dominion (they did admit that Act 5 is particularly rushed in this regard). Another reason may be that Star Trek is often accused of “wimpifying” its enemies, like the Borg or Species 8472 and The Abandoned flies in the face of that. The Jem’Hadar just couldn’t learn restraint, like Worf had to when he was adopted by humans.

    The Kazon were also stereotypically sexist, even though they weren’t when they first debuted in Caretaker. The Dominion did force Keiko out of her profession, ironically by returning her to her true vocation. What happened to the pictures at the end, Darren?

    • Occasionally I’ll just run out of pictures. I screen shot the episode while watching, and occasionally I… under-estimate how long the review is going to be.

  2. O’Brien was not Irish, he was Irish-American. He had an ancestor who was an Irish immigrant to America & mined coal in Pennsylvania, remember? So yes, one of the main cast was an American white man.

    • Look, Odo, do me a favour. If you get a chance, stop by and visit my folks in Dublin. Just make sure they’re okay, you know?

      I mean, it’s entirely possible that he was born in America and his parents moved to Dublin after he was born. But there’s nothing in the text to support that. Statistically speaking, it seems more likely that either (a.) Sean Aloysius O’Brien was not a direct ancestor instead a member of the extended family who emigrated (as an Irish person, trust me it’s very common) or (b.) if Sean Aloysius O’Brien was a direct ancestor, the family returned to Ireland some point in the four centuries between the strike mentioned and the point at which the conversation took place.

      I was climbing mountains in Ireland before you were born.
      You mean hills, don’t you? They have gently sloping hills in Ireland. No mountains.

      It’s also possible that O’Brien was Irish-American and only went mountain-cli– er, hill-climbing in Ireland on holidays or using the transporter. But that would seem a very strange assumption to make based on the context of this discussion. It seems much easier to just accept the most straightforward reading, and the one most consistent with other dialogue about O’Brien’s life and family, and accept that he’s Irish.

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