"In a Mirror, Darkly"
Written by Mike Sussman
Directed by James L. Conway
In which the Archer of the “Mirror Universe” plots to take command of Enterprise by any means necessary, lured by the possibility of taking possession of a Human ship from the future...
Captain's Log - Final Analysis
The previous episode, a stand-alone effort by Manny Coto focusing on the Orion Slave Women, polarized the audience in a major way. Some fans strongly defended it, seeing it as a suitable homage to the original series, while others lambasted it for its seeming violations of continuity and overtones of sexism. As a result, coming into this episode, the fandom was all abuzz, with many shouting sarcastic expectation that if the previous episode was loathed, this one would also be overlooked.
The premise, of course, is that anyone “bashing” an episode of “Enterprise” must, by extension, have some kind of personal issue with the series as a whole. This is something of an oversimplification, and it ignores the nuances of subjectivity. If the previous episode’s reviews (this one included) demonstrated anything, it’s that a reviewer cannot be wholly objective about the merits of a creative work. The reviewer always brings something unique to the table, a set of standards that cannot be entirely shared or communicated.
That said, it should come as no surprise that this episode was received more favorably. If the previous episode was an homage to episodes of the original series like “Mudd’s Women”, firmly entrenched in the sexual mores of the previous generation, then this is a direct homage to “Mirror, Mirror”. Some scenes look like they could have been cut, word for word, out of the scenes written for the “mirror universe” in that classic episode.
Taken out of perspective, this episode could have been ripped to shreds. Everyone is acting in a style so over the top that it is sometimes laughable. There’s nothing to connect the events of this episode to the ongoing plot and character threads developed over the course of the season, thus making this more of an event than a legitimate extension of the season’s theme. In other words, a lot of the same problems that plagued the previous episode are also evident in this installment.
However, this is where the subjective aspect of reviewing comes into play. While the previous episode’s attempt at light-hearted adventure fell somewhat flat, the similar attempt to break format in this episode works far better. As dark and violent as the proceedings are, there’s an unmistakable air of creative energy pervading every moment. The actors are having fun, and it shows. If the tone sometimes veers dangerously close to silliness, it’s still entirely consistent with the tone of “Mirror, Mirror”, which makes it easier to forgive.
There is also another critical difference between “Bound” and this episode that demonstrates way one was problematic, from a reviewer’s perspective, and the other is not, despite the similar theme of homage. “Bound” was firmly rooted in the existing continuity of the series and the season, and thus it fell within the strictures of the established universe and all the baggage (justified or otherwise) that it carries. The “mirror universe”, on the other hand, has perhaps half a dozen episodes worth of “continuity” attached to it, leaving an awful lot of room for speculation. The strictures of an expectation don’t exist.
This frees the writing staff to take chances and make writing choices that would never be possible if the “real” characters were the ones in play. It also means that an over the top performance does nothing to steal away from the integrity of the “real” characters. Everyone can channel their inner Klingon with relish, chewing on the scenery like there’s no tomorrow, and still look forward to jumping back into familiar clothes when the story’s done.
By making it clear that this episode takes place in the “mirror universe”, an alternate reality, the audience is also let off the hook. While some fans look at each episode as a fresh adventure, many do not; there’s the accumulated desire for character advancement and plot development. This kind of episode allows everyone in the audience to let go and simply enjoy it for what it is. Instead of wondering whether or not the Orion Slave Women can logically rule the Syndicate, the audience can accept that Phlox is a sadist, Hoshi uses sex to gain personal power, and Archer is an ambitious career climber.
Ironically, there are going to be fans who watch this episode and wish that the series could have been this exciting and different from the beginning. Certainly, this is a reaction to the sheer amount of creative glee that oozes from every scene. Even the opening credits show more creativity than half of the second season episodes combined! The costuming is consistent with those used in “Mirror, Mirror”, and more than a few clues regarding the beginnings of the Empire are dropped in the teaser and credits.
From a logical perspective, it’s hard to imagine that history could change in so many dramatic ways, yet produce a set of conditions in which all the major players are essentially in the same relative positions. This has always been the case with the “mirror universe”, and this episode is certainly no exception. In keeping with the ‘DS9” episodes dealing with the “mirror universe”, the characters and situations are not directly opposite those of the existing universe; the relationship are far more complex.
While there’s plenty of speculation and debate over the question, going back to “Mirror, Mirror”, the opening credits seem to give a general answer regarding when the “mirror universe” was created. (Logically, the multi-verse model that allows for the “mirror universe” would dictate that both realities always existed; the question is really when the two diverged from a parallel history.) The time period appears to be World War II. Based on the evidence, it appears that in the process of defeating the Nazis, the Allies became the very thing they had sought to overcome.
The Empire is apparently dealing with an insurrection, perhaps from forces opposed to the Empire itself. This would be an interesting direction to take, if only because it would be consistent with the idea that the Empire had to solidify its own power base before moving on to the expansion activities evidenced in “Mirror, Mirror”. The need to defeat the “rebellion” forces, apparently gaining strength of late, pushes Archer into a gambit to preserve the Empire by betraying those around him in the hopes of getting a prize out of Tholian space: the USS Defiant, lost to time and space in the original series episode “The Tholian Web”.
The writers drop a neat continuity bomb right in the audience lap: the inter-phase rift encountered in Tholian space in the “real” universe is, in fact, the result of a weapons experiment by the Tholians of the “mirror universe”. This is definitely an interesting concept, especially since it doesn’t truly contradict any of the previous explanations offered in the novels; this is merely the information that Archer received regarding the rift, and as such, it is possibly incorrect. Whatever the case, this allows the writers to add another layer of homage to the original series, by pulling in an old-style Constellation-class vessel into the mix, complete with the uniforms and technology of that era.
Archer’s gambit, of course, triggers all the intrigues that play out over the course of the episode. Captain Forrest has the support of the admiralty, who in turn has planted spies within the crew to ensure loyalty to Forrest. Archer and Forrest, despite being apparent allies prior to this situation, are locked in competition for a very, very sexy and opportunistic Hoshi Sato. (It’s easy to believe that Hoshi, in this episode, had more sex appeal than the Orion Slave Women of the previous episode combined!) It’s not wrong to say that Hoshi has more character development in this episode than in the past three seasons.
Reed’s strict military upbringing is warped into a more sadistic vein, making him the perfect security officer on the Empire’s flagship. Reed seems to be loyal to whichever commander happens to be more likely to get him what he wants. Phlox, on the other hand, is above it all; he simply wants to pursue his personal interest in extreme medical research (think Mengele, only with a far more interesting fashion sense). Trip remains hot for T’Pol and chief engineer, but he’s not the pretty-boy of the “real” Enterprise; he suffers from the lack of safety precautions in the “mirror” version of engineering science.
T’Pol, like Hoshi, is far more interesting in this universe. Instead of the conflicted, troubled Vulcan of the “real” universe, this T’Pol is an aggressive member of an enslaved Vulcan people, used by the Empire for their talents. This “enslavement” is suspect, given the fact that slaves wouldn’t hold rank, but it’s in keeping with “Mirror, Mirror” and its presentation of the Human/Vulcan relationship. T’Pol looks far more attractive with the long hair and midriff-baring standard uniform that she ever has with the pageboy cut and catsuits; there’s also the fact that she openly uses sexuality to ensnare Trip and mentally rape him into becoming her stooge. T’Pol becomes, in essence, the Vulcan version of an Uncle Tom, betraying her culture’s precepts in a bid for power within the Human society.
Even Mayweather gets some much-needed focus in this episode. It’s as if the writers, spurred by the creative possibilities, sought to give every character time to shine. This shouldn’t be a surprise, since Coto has attempted to give the “minor” characters more screen time, but it would have been nice for Hoshi and Mayweather to get this kind of attention from the beginning.
Beyond the interesting changes to the characters, there’s a ton of great moments throughout. The redesign of the Enterprise interior is perfectly suited to the tone of the episode; if anything, it would have been nice for this to have been the design all along. The faithful recreation of the original series-style bridge, complete with the sound effects, was a wonderful nod to the franchise continuity as a whole. Seeing the Tholians in more detail (and largely consistent with the Tholians as described in the novels) was a treat, as well as the updated version of the Tholian Web!
The destruction of the Enterprise was something that never could have worked in the “real” continuity, but in this self-contained reality, it’s a logical plot progression. It really demonstrates that the writers understood that the gloves were off, and that the extent of the changes and direction taken by the plot had more to do with budget than imagination. It’s a lot of fun to see the “world-building” used to such great effect in the Vulcan and Andorian arcs applied to a twisted version of Humanity.
It’s quite possible (even probable) that some of the long-fuming detractors of “Enterprise” will still find plenty of fault with this episode. As mentioned earlier, there are some flaws to be exploited in that regard. But unlike the previous episode, the flaws are more easily forgiven in this case, and even the most arc-minded fan must admit that this is a worthwhile and spirited diversion from the norm.
Overall, this episode was a fun and exciting diversion from the “normal” continuity. Like most “Mirror Universe” episodes, the writers have a chance to display a bit more creativity, and in this case, that possibility was mined for all it’s worth. Some of the character actually turn out to be more interesting than the “real” characters have turned out, and the chance to see the classic-style Starfleet bridge again is too good to pass up.
Final Rating: 9/10
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