You Talking Trek to Me? – “In a Mirror Darkly, Part 1”

“In a Mirror Darkly, Part 1”
Star Trek: Enterprise – Season 4, Episode 18

As discussed previously, Enterprise’s utilization of Star Trek’s continuity was at times questionable. But the fourth (and sadly, its last) season saw an enthusiastic embracing of the Trek mythos that made it the best year the show ever had. For its first three years, Enterprise felt vaguely like a Star Trek show, even when featuring the familiar aliens that had been a part of the franchise’s universe since the beginning. But there was a vital spark missing, and by the fourth season the show seemed to actually find it, and nowhere is that more apparent than the two-part “In a Mirror Darkly.” It represents the series finally having the most fun with the pre-Original Series universe of Star Trek, and it’s a fucking blast.

The evil Mirror Universe was of course introduced in The Original Series and used extensively throughout Deep Space Nine (with diminishing results). Enterprise is able to make the idea work in a new way because of its extensive commitment to it – in a Star Trek first, the two episodes take place entirely in the alternate universe without a single “prime” character making an actual appearance. The only thing that does cross over is… well, we’ll get to that.

There’s something gutsy about that decision, but it makes sense and seems like the next logical step in the Mirror series. Deep Space Nine gave us several extended glimpses, at a point in time where the humans’ evil empire had been defeated long ago and the Bajorans, Cardassians, and Klingons ran everything. It worked for the world of Deep Space Nine in an initially clever way, but Enterprise captures the original appeal by returning us to when the Terrans were still on top.

“You call that a scowl, mister? I want to see those lip corners touching your shoulders!”

There’s a dumb yet delicious appeal to the Mirror Universe that the two episodes revel in. For as bright and optimistic a place as Star Trek’s future is, the MU represents the exact opposite. Where our Trek heroes are as selfless and altruistic as they come, the denizens of the MU are cruel, heartless, conniving villains. It’s totally silly but there’s an ingenious quality to seeing all the familiar faces completely playing against type.

The setting of Star Trek entails some suspension of disbelief as some of its basic tenets stretch credibility – how can a society work without money? Is it really possible to solve all the problems that currently plague us? The MU presents a world that also inspires the same level of disbelief – how can a society even function if everyone is a backstabbing, cartoonish asshole? Wouldn’t a culture based on evil savagery just collapse even at the smallest, most basic level? Then again, one could look no further than the modern Republican Party to see the idea of a bunch of evil, sadistic morons working together and somehow succeeding in spite of logic and reason.

“I’ve taken enough of them supplements to ensure my next three generations will get massive boners and heart defects.”

But it’s interesting to see the episode commit to the idea of an “evil” society and how it works on a day-to-day level. Everything is largely similar but there’s a dark savage quality to it all. I love Trip’s spiel about the dangerous radiation of the ship’s warp core and how many years it’s probably shaved off his life (the TOS-inspired facial scar really sells it). There’s a cynical, nihilistic fatalism that almost seems like it would belong in the Soviet Union.

One of the brilliant touches of the episode is that it essentially gives us an origin story for the Terran Empire in its teaser via a clever re-splicing of footage from First Contact. Instead of going in for that history-making handshake with the Vulcan, Zefram Cochrane whips out a pistol, shoots him dead, and the ragtag crowd board their ship to plunder its technology.

“You guys are invaders… in some kinda Star Wars?”

Not only that, but we get an alternate opening sequence that catalogues humanity’s path of destruction and mayhem as it reaches out to the stars (the show title inverting from white to black is a clever detail). I love that the show just trusts its audience to figure out what’s happening without spelling it out.

So we have the ISS Enterprise, commanded by Captain Forrest (not the admiral he is in the prime universe) with Archer as first officer. Everyone else is pretty much in their same roles, just in a much dickier way.

Bakula hams it up even more than usual to create a twisted, power-hungry version of Archer. For as much of a charmless dolt as the regular Archer could be, this guy is 10x worse, and the way Bakula contorts himself to create a sadistic, stone-faced, joyless version of Archer is very entertaining.

“You da man, cap’n!”

His tireless ambition propels the story as he has some crazy plan he wants Forrest’s buy-in on. There’s apparently something going on in Tholian space that he wants the captain to divert Enterprise to go check out. But Forrest doesn’t want to take the risk on his hunch. Vaughn Armstrong imbues Forrest with a sadistic hue, although he’s still much less of a shithead than Archer. His softer, vulnerable side is seen in private with Sato, his scantily-clad lover.

Besides the rampant cruelty, one of the defining features of the Mirror Universe is its stronger sexuality, and it’s represented primarily through Sato and her numerous sex scenes throughout the episodes. Park’s sultry performance (and appearance) make for sexy fun and bolsters the hedonistic nature of the MU. Star Trek is typically pretty sexless, so it makes sense that the MU would be a steamier place, I guess.

“Mmm… you’re so scowly when you’re post-coital. Not at all how you get all frowny mid-coital. Or grimacey right beforehand.”

It’s not long before Archer ambushes Forrest and takes command of the ship for himself. Heading into Tholian space, they intercept a vessel and capture its pilot. Involving the Tholians (a classic and under-used alien race from The Original Series) is another delightful episode decision and furthers the loving tribute to TOS. Not only that, but we get to actually see one! It turns out they’re crystaline, spider-like creatures who live in temperatures of over 400 degrees. The SFX used to bring it to life are great.

“Hey, it’s only 375° in here! I’m freezing my ass off!”

Archer is able to torture some info from the Tholian, and Enterprise heads to the system it names. He has Trip install a Suliban cloaking device so they won’t be detected, lords his power over an imprisoned Forrest, and bangs Hoshi. So he’s getting a lot done as captain!

But T’Pol has other plans. Like Mirror Spock, she’s not evil but she has a hard edge as a result of being a subjugated race in the Empire. Using Trip as a tool in her plan (they have a sexual history in this universe, as well), she frees Forrest who is able to re-take command of the ship. However, Archer has cleverly transmitted his plan to higher authority in the Empire and locked the ship’s helm controls so that they can’t be changed until they reach their destination (not even by him).

After quite some time in the ol’ Agony Booth (a recent invention of Phlox, as it turns out), Archer resumes his duties as first officer. He then reveals what the hubbub is all about. Turns out the Tholians were able to open a hole to a parallel universe and draw a ship into it for capture. And not only is it from another universe, but from the future as well! In another smart and delightful move, the episode provides a retcon explanation for the fate of the USS Defiant (no, not that Defiant…) from TOS‘ “The Tholian Web.” Archer wants to secure this futuristic treasure for the Empire.

“Hoo boy, lookit the rims on that thing! And them racing stripes are pretty sick!”

Housed in a cool asteroid base, the Tholians are busily stripping the Defiant of its precious, century-ahead-of-its-time tech. Forrest sends Archer and a team aboard to secure the info from its databanks and then destroy it. Archer is aghast at the notion of destroying it, but reluctantly agrees. Forrest privately tells T’Pol that he doesn’t want this asshole surviving the mission.

They board the Defiant, and we get to see the interiors of the Constitution-class lovingly re-created once again (and even the correct positioning of the dead Defiant crew!). Even though it’s the same trick pulled in “Trials and Tribble-ations,” it’s still awesome to see again and it looks even better this time around.

“Oh man, wood grain side panels, molded buttons and switches, 17″ technicolor monitors! This thing is a total babe magnet, sir!”
“And this baby has 12 channels, 7 of which aren’t fuzzy! We’ll never be bored again!”

The captured Tholian is able to warn its comrades (before being cruelly killed by Phlox), and the Enterprise finds itself trapped by – you guessed it – a classic Tholian web! Again, it’s so cool to see it re-created with modern SFX. Unfortunately, Enterprise is thoroughly fucked and Forrest has no choice but to order all hands to abandon ship. In a surprisingly heroic gesture, he stays behind to give the crew time to escape. Shortly after, Enterprise is destroyed by the collapsing web as Archer and the remains of the crew look on from the bridge of the Defiant…

“Oh no, our greatest weakness! Triangles!”
“My god, they’re being… triangulated.”

“In a Mirror Darkly” manages to be a delightful tribute to The Original Series while retaining the unique parts of Enterprise and intertwining them both in a clever way. Like other episodes of the fourth season display, the series seemed to finally stop living in fear of its place as a precursor to TOS and instead embrace it. The result is a two-part adventure that has a great deal of fun playing in the vast sandbox of the Star Trek timelines and universe.

Stray Observations:

  • I love the ridiculous midriff uniforms the women wear, as they did in “Mirror, Mirror.”
Chiropractors hate this one sexy sitting trick.
  • I hate to criticize because it looks so cool, but the Tholians spin a web to enclose a ship waaaaaay faster than they did in “The Tholian Web.” Granted, they have a few more ships here, but it seemed like a much slower, more laborious process in the future?
  • One thing that’s pleasantly absent from the Mirror Universe is the bisexuality that Deep Space Nine decided to insert. It seems counterintuitive to commend an episode for not featuring a greater amount of diversity in any form, but the fact that non-straight characters in Star Trek were only (and frequently) featured in the “evil” universe is problematic, to say the least.

    Even the fact that so much more (straight) sex is seen in these two episodes is also kind of odd, but not surprising given how squeamish Star Trek typically is about sex. The producers admitted they conceived of the Mirror Universe being a more wild, extreme place in all ways. But it still furthers a puritanical notion of sex being inherently bad or naughty that we have to travel to an evil, twisted place to see so much of it! It’s not just Star Trek’s problem, but American culture’s in general. Although Star Trek: Enterprise was a much more intentionally libidinous show from the get-go (DECON CHAMBER), so it is appropriate in the context of the series.