You Talking Trek to Me? – “In a Mirror Darkly, Part 2”

“In a Mirror Darkly, Part 2”
Star Trek: Enterprise – Season 4, Episode 19

Thankfully, the fun and sinister appeal of “In a Mirror Darkly, Part 1″ is maintained in “Part 2” as the story shifts gears and serves us even more of the Original Series callbacks that made the first half so great. Archer was the driving force of “Part 1,” and the second part offers more of a character study of this angry, joyless version of ol’ Johnny boy. Again, no prime characters participate at all in either of these episodes, which is a daring choice that pays off. Well, with one kinda exception…

Having commandeered the future Federation Starship Defiant, Archer and the remaining Enterprise crew are still stuck in the Tholian asteroid base. It’s another tense and thrilling sequence that builds off the previous episode’s conclusion as they struggle to bring the Defiant’s systems online to escape. It’s interesting to see the Mirror crew work together – normally they’re gleefully evil, backstabbing villains who hate each other, but when they struggle against a common foe they’re able to (mostly) set their shittiness aside to accomplish their goal.

“Up yours, Tholians!”

The Tholians block off the exit with another energy web, but Tucker is able to get the weapons back online. The sight (and sound) of the Enterprise’s Defiant’s phasers blasting their way out is a nostalgic delight. Because it’s a century ahead of the time, the Defiant proves to be an invincible dreadnought and makes quick work of the Tholian ships and base.

I love that the episode recreates the TOS era ship exactly as it was. Many fans (including myself) were disappointed in the design of the show’s titular ship, as there didn’t seem to be any effort in maintaining the aesthetic or design lineage set forth by The Original Series. So the recreation of the Constitution-class in all its original glory is so nice. The episode treats the vessel as the super advanced technological wonder that it is, as silly and low-rent as the sets look.

“WELL ACTUALLY, SWEETHEART. WE’RE ONLY CALLED TERRANS IF WE’RE FROM THE TERRAN VALLEY. OTHERWISE, WE’RE JUST SPARKLING HUMANS.”

Though free now, the Defiant still doesn’t have its warp drive running, and Archer barks at Trip to fix it (there’s nary a trace of the friendship they have in the prime universe). He also has a pretty big grudge over T’Pol betraying him back on the Enterprise, and despite her professed allegiance to him, he’s prepared to kill her at the first inclination of subterfuge. Heckuva universe y’all got here!

Sato visits Archer’s quarters to find him dressed in the wraparound green tunic Kirk was fond of. Because their boarding party was dressed in their EVA suits, they don’t have any clothes save for what the Defiant has to offer. It’s a clever way of getting the crew into the classic uniforms, because why the fuck not? It’s awesome.

“It’s green!”

Even more awesome is the fact that the Defiant’s computer contains all the historical info from the prime universe – an entire century of future knowledge from a different reality. Sato mockingly reads out Prime Archer’s bio, and Mirror Archer is visibly uncomfortable hearing it. Being a big-ass space racist, Archer is disgusted at the thought of treating non-Terrans as equals, but seems dismayed at how big a player Prime Archer was – a decorated Starfleet captain and a founding member of something called the United Federation of Planets. The episode delves into how small, pathetic, and petty a man Mirror Archer is. All who hunger for power are never satiated, and the accomplishments and place in history of Prime Archer start to get into this asshole’s head.

But there’s some internal trouble afoot, and the episode ups the nostalgic ante by involving another rarely-seen TOS alien – the Gorn! I think might have even squealed a bit when they first showed him, not gonna lie. Turns out he was the slave master of the alien workers who has been sabotaging the crew’s efforts at getting the Defiant up and running. Through the intercom, he demands to be released from the ship but Archer refuses and is determined to track him down and take care of him. It’s at this point that Archer begins to be haunted by hallucinatory visions of Prime Archer mocking him. It’s kind of an odd choice for the episode. I get that it’s a personification of Mirror Archer’s jealousy over his counterpart, but it’s kinda silly. Mirror Archer is definitely not the most mentally stable or healthy guy, but it kind of implies that he’s going crazy? I appreciate the character direction, but the execution leaves something to be desired for me.

“All right, listen up you soft, pink-skinned monkeys. I want a shuttlecraft, WITH the floormats, AND the keys, NO extra charge. You try to screw me with that bullshit neutron undercoating or a subspace alarm system and I will WALK THE FUCK OUT.”

Archer, Reed, and a security team try to track down the Gorn. He gets the drop on Reed’s team with a remote bomb, and literally on Archer as he pounces down from the open ceiling. Interestingly, like Species 8472 and the Xindi Insectoids, the Gorn is a CG creation. As a special effect on a TV budget for the time it works about as well as you’d expect. I feel like the Gorn probably could have been realized physically – as they were for their Original Series appearance, albeit in a much more advanced way. But still, like with the Tholian in the previous episode, it’s a lot of fun to finally see these guys again. The redesign is an effective evolution of their original appearance to a sleeker, more raptor-like aesthetic.

They’re physically no match for this big ass dinosaur man (I love the redshirt just bludgeoning the Gorn in the head with his gun to no effect), but having thought ahead, Archer has T’Pol increase the gravity in the Gorn’s section to pin him down to the ground, and then promptly blasts him with a phaser. Brutal.

“Hey, would you knock that off? I’m trying to kill a dude here, you’ll get your turn.”
“All right, who’s next? You with the scowl? You want to be torn apart limb from limb or should I just eat you whole, starting with your face? They both have their pros and cons, honestly.”

Later on, Phlox and T’Pol share a meal in the mess hall (I love that a plate of period-accurate colored cubes is on the table). In what is probably my single favorite detail of these episodes, Phlox pontificates about the differences in art and literature of the two universes he’s gathered from studying the Defiant’s database. He notes how much weaker and compassionate the Prime Universe’s stuff is – with the exception of Shakespeare, whose plays are exactly as grim as they are in the Mirror Universe. I just love, love, love that.

Besides being a fun little tidbit, it’s also an interesting philosophical perspective on the MU and an insight into what specifically makes it different. I like the idea that the MU humanity had all the same basic pieces and building blocks as the PU – such as similar art and literature – but simply learned the wrong lessons from them. Shakespeare’s dark plays are still tragedies, but it’s because its characters weren’t brutal enough – because they had too much humanity to achieve victory over their foes. As another famous sci-fi franchise opined – the dark side isn’t stronger, just easier and quicker. The denizens of the Mirror Universe have taken the easy way of being selfish assholes instead of altruistic heroes. Self-sacrifice in the name of the common good is an ultimately more beneficial strategy, but it’s a riskier one. The Terrans of the MU don’t bother with that shit, and what they’ve built is a brutal and evil society that exemplifies a rejection of all the good aspects of humanity.

“Yes, as it turns out the plutocrats of their 21st century were just as bad and insufferably cringey as ours. Especially Emperor Musk.”

Anyway. During their chat, T’Pol recommends that Phlox check out this little thing called the United Federation of Planets, an alliance in which – gasp – non-Terrans are equal to Terrans! They’re interrupted when the Defiant comes across a battle between the ISS Avenger and a squadron of rebel ships, including Vulcans and Andorians. The Defiant makes quick work of the attacking ships and rescues the Avenger.

“MINE’S BIGGER.”

Admiral Black is in command (Trek veteran Gregory Itzin), and Soval is a lowly Starfleet officer (with a Mirror Spock-style goatee of course!). Archer gives the Admiral a tour of the Defiant, who is pleased with the vessel and congratulates Archer. He promises to reward him with a command of his own, but Archer is dead set on continuing to captain the Defiant. Black poo-poos this, and as he drones on Prime Archer appears and mocks Mirror Archer. This amazing ship he’s captured represents the most power Archer has ever had and there’s no way in hell he’s going to give it up. There’s something really sad and pathetic about it.

“Look at this guy. He’s not half the man you are! Like, literally. In that he doesn’t have a hallucinatory double of himself hovering over his shoulder questioning his every move. You better show him who wears the crazypants around here!”
“You are burnt, sir.”

The illusion works Archer into a lather, and he promptly vaporizes the Admiral with his phaser. He gathers the crews of both ships together and gives a rousing speech in which he vows (as another sci-fi franchise once promised) to crush the rebellion and rebuff the corruption and incompetence of Starfleet. T’Pol is horrified at Archer’s ambition and privately meets with Soval. She knows that he wants to exterminate the Vulcan people (in addition to who knows how many other alien races) and begs Soval to help her stop him and the Defiant.

“Once you’re emperor, you’ll be able to get any light bulb you want. You can probably even afford a membership for Home Depot’s Bright Idea Club and save 5% on anything in the light fixture section.”

In bed with Sato, Archer can’t sleep as he’s worried that his officers doubt him. It’s a nicely choreographed (and steamy) scene as their pitch black forms are silhouetted in the darkness. It’s a key scene for Archer, for as much evil bravado as he projects, he’s still a vulnerable and pitiable figure. He wants to get rid of all the non-humans from the Defiant because he doesn’t know who he can trust. But he decides to keep Phlox since his people are nice and obedient. Yikes!

🎵 Doo doo doo, just downloading some NOT SCHEMATICS onto this NOT 3.5″ ISOLINEAR FLOPPY DISK, don’t mind me, dee dee dee… 🎵
“Yes, we swayed him with the promise of concubines, as well as unlimited helpings of concubine sauce!”

T’Pol secretly downloads the Defiant’s schematics in order to sabotage it just as Archer puts her off the ship. He also contacts Starfleet and orders them to surrender to his authority – he intends to be Emperor. Having a totally normal one here! T’Pol and Soval are able to convince Phlox to betray Archer – he’s the only alien allowed aboard the Defiant now. But Sato is onto T’Pol and confronts her about those schematics. A good ol’ fist fight ensues, and T’Pol ends up captured. She tells Archer that a Federation of Planets is an inevitability in their universe and that humanity will eventually pay for its cruelty.

“You know, the smokey eye isn’t that time-consuming, actually. I really think you could pull it off. As soon as we’re done trying to knife each other in the face I can walk you through it.”

Phlox is able to disable the Defiant’s defenses and the Avenger attacks. But Tucker stops Phlox and is able to get the ship operational again. Archer destroys the Avenger and Soval along with it. Later on he celebrates his victory in bed with Sato. He tells her to delete the Defiant’s database so no one else gets any funny ideas. But as he drinks he collapses to the floor in pain. Sato rushes to the door to welcome in Mayweather, who she passionately kisses in front of Archer as he dies. Ice. Cold.

“Hoshi, no. The mouth to mouth is supposed to go on me. You’re not doing it correctly at all!”
“Wait, Travis…? But why? All he is is younger, more attractive, and less of a shitheaded racist lunatic than me!”

It’s a fitting end for ol’ Johnny boy, and the real kicker comes when the Defiant arrives at Earth and Sato declares herself Empress! Bwa ha ha…

It’s unfortunate we don’t get to see anymore than that, but it’s a great ending. The continual backstabbing and savagery of the Mirror Universe is kind of exhausting, so it’s just as well the saga ends there. But it was fun while it lasted.

This better not awaken anything… nope, too late. *swoon*

As Captain Picard once said to a tar black pile of goo, all men are enslaved who serve things evil. It’s an insightful piece of wisdom that we see acted out over two episodes in the Mirror Universe. Mirror Archer, for all his alpha male pomp and power-hungry swagger, is a small and pathetic figure who doesn’t amount to anything in the grand scheme of things. He’ll most likely be a tiny footnote (if that) in the rise of a much smarter and more cunning leader. His rapid rise and fall is its own savage Shakespearean tragedy, full of sound and fury, but in the end signifying nothing.

“In a Mirror Darkly” is a daring and very entertaining adventure. Star Trek‘s appeal lies in idealism and carried through with its honorable and heroic characters. So there’s delicious fun in subverting that for a couple of episodes. Thankfully, the two-parter doesn’t glorify the sadism of its alternate characters and ultimately reaffirms how much worse and more difficult it is to be an asshole.


Stray Observations:

  • It’s interesting that despite the delivery of the futuristic Defiant, the Mirror Universe would eventually settle into the same technological level as the Prime one by the time of Deep Space Nine (and even behind it, if we take that no cloaking device nonsense seriously). One could surmise that Sato’s reign wasn’t long-lived, or that some fate would befall the Defiant before its tech could be disseminated. Or my theory that there’s some sort of parallel connection between the two universes that keeps them balanced/aligned somehow.
  • The recreated bridge of the Defiant is of course awesome, but I love all the additional corridors and crawlspaces that were constructed for the episode. It totally builds off the aesthetics of the period with a more advanced sensibility.
  • Ditto, the internal schematic of the Constitution-class is beautiful and wonderfully period-specific.
“Our sensors are having a hard time cutting through the mode 7 degradation…”
  • I think of all the reimagined crew members, I like Mayweather’s look the most. That sharp widow’s peak and earring are just cool as hell and gives him an appropriate pirate look.
🎵 Yo ho, yo ho, a Terran’s life for me 🎵
  • I like this shot. Angles!
“It’s a good thing I forgot to wear underwear today. This Terran’s going to get a face full of my alligator skin purse.”
  • As she did on all the modern Trek series, Majel Barrett-Roddenberry voices the Defiant’s computer, which is kinda odd.
  • There was an episode of Batman Beyond that this episode reminded me of – a Joker clown steals a super advanced military plane and wreaks havoc with it, delirious with destructive power. After Batman renders the thing inert, the clown is left pathetically pushing the buttons and levers of the nonfunctional craft, having lost the only thing that ever made him feel like a big man and screaming like a baby because of it.