Miles and Keiko O’Brien are right up there near the top of my List of Favorite Sci-Fi Married Couples, and have been for ages. I think the actors who portray the two characters – Colm Meaney and Rosalind Chao, respectively – have a really believable on-screen chemistry, and the writers on both The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine have done a good job of writing plenty of stories that involve both characters, and showing the audience how strong their relationship is. One particularly interesting on-going storyline is the one that began very early in the first season of DS9 (episode “A Man Alone”) – the story of the tension between Keiko’s marriage and family and her career.
Keiko had followed Miles to Deep Space 9, where he had been offered an exciting career advancement opportunity. But while Miles was moving up from transporter chief on the Enterprise to Chief of Operations for an entire space station, Keiko was going from respected botanist on a ship that came into frequent contact with new worlds to”¦ Really, really bored.
There simply wasn’t anything to do, botany-wise, on Deep Space 9. So Keiko branched out, and opened a school on the station, giving lessons to the resident children. Teaching provided the challenge and intellectual stimulation that Keiko craved, and tension between her and Miles was reduced. Unfortunately, the school failed (beginning to decline after the episode “In the Hands of the Prophets”), and Keiko was at loose ends again.
The solution, revealed in the third season episode “The House of Quark,” is for Keiko to leave the station.
There’s a six-month expedition on Bajor that’s in need of a chief botanist – and Keiko would be perfect for the job. So, after thinking it over and consulting with Miles, she takes it. And she takes their daughter, Molly (played by the super-adorable Hana Hatae), with her.
In the end, the six-month job stretches out longer than was expected (as such things do), and there are some inevitable tense moments when Keiko visits her husband on the station, and is horrified by what he’s done with their quarters (“Hippocratic Oath”), but for the most part the couple weathers the separation very well. Their biggest challenges always seem to be external – like when either Miles or Keiko is replaced with an alien impostor, as seems to happen a lot with married couples (see the episodes “Whispers” and “The Assignment”, which, back-to-back and joined by some other doppelganger episodes, like maybe the TNG episode “Power Play,” could make for an interesting themed marathon!) – rather than internal, and they are content enough with the security of their marriage to expand their family with the birth of a son, Kirayoshi (with a little – ok, a lot of – help from Kira Nerys).
There’s some more shuffling around throughout the rest of the series: Keiko and the children go to Earth, for a while, when the Dominion War is particularly intense, and then end up coming back to Deep Space 9. Ultimately, it’s revealed in the final episode that the whole family will be heading back to Earth, where Miles has been offered a teaching position at Starfleet Academy (“What You Leave Behind”). The important thing, though, is not where Keiko and Miles are, but only that they’re together.
And they seem to be a couple who manage to stay together, even when they’re apart – even during the highly stressful period when their career goals are in mutual conflict.
That’s what really impresses me about the O’Briens, and why they’re on my Favorite Sci-Fi Married Couples list. They’re played by actors who work very well together on-screen, and the characters themselves complement each other just as well. Keiko’s career is important to her, and so it is also important to Miles. That doesn’t mean that their relationship takes second place to her more personal ambitions, though – rather, it means that they discuss things, and compromise, and when even discussion and compromise fail to prevent conflict and tension, they deal with it in a way that allows them to maintain a loving union. Keiko was willing to move to Deep Space 9 in the first place, for the sake of Miles’s career advancement, and Miles, for his part, encourages her to follow her own professional development path – even when it means they’ll have to spend time apart.
Keiko is a great character, all-around. She’s a much-needed civilian face amid all of the Starfleet personnel on DS9. She’s also both a scientist and a mother, and a woman for whom career and family seem to be equally important – and a character who apparently balances these forces, showing that it can be done, even if it’s not always easy.
I like the long-running story arc about Keiko’s career. I like that, through it, the writers depict her relationship with Miles as a partnership – not marriage as hivemind, but marriage as two individuals working together toward a common goal. I like that it is made clear that, for Keiko, balancing the sometimes-competing elements of career, love, and children is difficult, yet possible.
Most of all, I like it that all of the work that Keiko does, on every level, is shown by the O’Brien’s happiness at the end of the series (and they are happy, even though leaving the station is certainly bittersweet) to be worth the effort she puts forth.