"In a Mirror, Darkly II"
Written by Manny Coto and Mike Sussman
Directed by Marvin Rush
In which the Archer of the Mirror Universe plots to use the USS Defiant to eliminate his rivals and become Emperor, unaware that the non-Humans have learned about the Federation...
Captain's Log - Final Analysis
Like the first half of the story in the previous episode, there’s very little in the way of connections to the “real” timeline, leaving most continuity issues aside. And like the previous episode, that gives the writers and cast the chance to cut loose without worrying about ruining the integrity of the series as a whole. Enjoyment of the episode hinges almost entirely upon the ability of the viewer to sit back and enjoy the over-the-top nostalgia that the story offers.
There’s nothing subtle about this story; everything is right there on the screen, soaked with naked ambition. It’s not surprising that many fans felt that this kind of obvious passion for the material, this sense of fun, has been missing from the series far too long. This two-part story manages to break a few of the rules that “Enterprise” has established over the past four years, and it makes all the difference.
In watching both parts of the story, it takes a little while to realize that many of the suffocating conventions of the typical “Enterprise” episode are absent. In most of the episodes, the color grading is so uniform that the production has a hard time escaping the almost drab tone that it invokes. In the typical episode, everything is awash in gray and “cold” color tones; this sometimes keeps the episode from gathering a unique energy. “Bound”, for instance, failed to generate the farcical tone that it so dearly wanted to attain largely because the episode was bathed in the ultra-serious color grading.
It’s a proven psychological effect that a lack of color will result in a lack of emotional response; it’s like setting the series in the middle of a storm cloud every week and wondering why people aren’t responding. It’s a credit to the writers that this effect has largely been offset since the middle of the third season by the creativity of the storytelling. In this episode, set mostly on the original series’-style USS Defiant, the explosion of color gives the self-aware posturing a bit more punch.
The writers could have rested on their laurels, leaving the cast to chew their way through the scenery with gusto. But Manny Coto adds another interesting layer to the episode, one that makes up for the fact that the fresh perspective of the “mirror universe” quickly begins to get old. And so this two-part episode becomes the rise and fall of Jonathan Archer. The first half shows him finding victory through sheer force of will; the second half shows him discovering defeat when his victory is marred by self-doubt.
Rather early in the episode, Archer and Hoshi review the historical database on the Defiant and discover that things are very different in the “real” universe. They openly mock the “peacemakers” of the Federation, bemoaning the loss of Human dominance, but they react very differently to the level of success enjoyed by their counterparts. In true “mirror universe” fashion, the “real” Archer has a career that is truly astonishing: Captain, Ambassador to Andoria, President of UFP, planets named after him. The “mirror” Archer, on the other hand, has all the ambition in the world but none of the adulation.
Archer finds that hard to accept, especially when Hoshi finds it equally laughable. It makes him want to control events, grab onto power that much more tightly. As he begins wondering if he should begin purging all non-Humans from the crew, T’Pol finds the information about the Federation herself, and sows the seed of rebellion among the “subhumans”. It seems that Vulcans are among those driving the rebellion against the Terran Empire, and as such, T’Pol has a vested interest in making sure that Defiant never gets in the hands of the Terran Emperor.
Thus continues a constant shift of betrayals and alliances. Archer takes out Admiral Black when it’s clear that his “field promotion” is never going to happen. In an interesting writing choice, the “mirror” Archer is mocked by an imaginary “real” Archer, feeding the insecurity that plagues the “mirror” Archer and drives him to reckless action. In a performance worthy of Shatner from the original series, Archer tries to gather support for his plot to use Defiant to overthrow the current Emperor and take power for himself.
It’s not a wise move. Archer’s anti-alien sentiments are hardly a secret to the crew, and T’Pol is more than happy to spread the legend of Federation around. The “mirror” version of Soval, bearded in the tradition of “mirror” Spock, is a former revolutionary, willing to court death by standing against Archer rather than delay the inevitable should Archer fail (or for that matter, succeed). Indeed, Archer is so open in relishing the ability to wipe out enemies without pause that he invites such dissent and desperate action.
Homage to the original series is all over the place: the Defiant itself, Bakula’s hilarious overacting, the use of original series’ uniforms (why couldn’t Hoshi put on the micromini and boots, damn it!), and the use of the Gorn from “Arena”. The CGI version of the Gorn is quite effective, though it’s hard not to wish that the cheap costume from the original series might have been replicated! The standoff with the Gorn provides a chance for the writers to remind the audience that this is not the usual “Enterprise” scenario; regulars can and will be injured or killed. This is important in terms of the final act.
If there is a subtle element to this two-part episode, it’s the portrayal of Hoshi. In the “real” universe, Hoshi has barely been a part of the tale; she’s been relegated to the background, despite being an early fan favorite. There were early signs of an attraction to Archer, but that was overshadowed by the other early signs of an Archer/T’Pol potential pairing. All in all, Hoshi has shown no ambition.
One thing that the two versions share, however, is a healthy sexuality. Though it was promptly forgotten, Hoshi in the first season was the one character that had a shore leave fling on Risa without consequences. So she’s one to enjoy the sex. The “mirror” version of Hoshi also wholeheartedly enjoys her sexual dalliances, but they are a means to an end, not an end unto themselves. Though it does bring up some vague concerns about the “Asian Dragon Queen” stereotype, it actually fits the premise that the “mirror” versions of the characters have opposite lifestyles and motivations from their “real” counterparts.
Hoshi has Archer wrapped around her little finger, as the extended and highly sensual seduction scene demonstrates. Linda Park does an incredible job with the material; it couldn’t have been entirely comfortable for her to have a script that basically said: “Get naked with just about everyone.” More to the point, there’s such a consistency to her choices that the final act makes perfect sense in retrospect. The subtlety is in the fact that her true goal is, in the end, a total shock.
Once Archer faces his own mini-rebellion, he leaps into Khan-esque material. It would be easy to dismiss this as bad acting, but as the “catfight” between Hoshi and T’Pol suggests, the campy tone of the episode is completely intentional. This is a case of longtime Trek fans creating a story that has absolutely no appeal outside of their own ranks; most of the in-jokes would be completely lost on the general audience, and the writers had to know that. Considering that the series was already cancelled by the time this episode was in production, the writers and cast seem to be using this story as a release, a way to just have fun before the final curtain closes.
It would have been easy, based on the state of the Terran Empire in “Mirror, Mirror”, to conclude that Archer gets his way and the rebellion is crushed. That is, until Hoshi poisons him after a bout of sweaty, energetic sex. It’s a perfect plot twist, especially since she allied herself with Mayweather to get it done. Seeing Archer die probably made some fans very happy, but seeing the two most ignored characters end up on top of the Terran Empire is the perfect end to this alternate universe tale.
Some might wonder if this two-part tale was worth the time and effort, since the series was coming to an end and there are still plenty of open questions to be answered. Yet the fact remains that this was a quick and easy way to flesh out the Tholians, show an updated Gorn, and prominently display an original series-style starship with modern effects. That fits the mission statement of tying elements of the original series into “Enterprise”, and it even gave the writers a chance to show that they do have the ability to work outside the box. And there was the indirect revelations about Archer and the future, answering the questions about his role in Federation and the Romulan Wars (based on the dates given) rather concisely.
While the “mirror universe” is a bit too harsh for a long-term arc or series (there’s already a series filled with bad acting and mindless aggression; it’s called “Andromeda”), the darker tone and less rigid approach to the production are both elements that could have been useful earlier in the series’ run. Looking back on the first two seasons, too much of the material felt like a simple retread of “Voyager”-esque character/plot elements. The Temporal Cold War felt forced as treated, and beyond some of the Vulcan/Andorian episodes, there was only general progress towards Federation. When the writers did attempt a darker turn in the story with the Xindi, for many it was too much of a deviation from the established continuity.
The success of this season (in terms of critical acclaim, at the very least) would seem to prove out that a “prequel” series could succeed, under the right circumstances. This episode in particular demonstrates how well a series set during Kirk’s era could translate into the present; the Defiant looked incredible, and with that intentional soft-filter in place, those uniforms were a wonderful shot of nostalgic sweetness.
With “self-awareness” being in vogue on many successful series in this day and age (try to deny that “Alias” and “24” don’t wear their over-the-top dramatics on their sleeve), it would be interesting to see the producers move from this series (hardly a failure after four seasons, longer than many series ever would see) and come full circle. Imagine a series set in Kirk’s time, perhaps just after, with updated yet “historically correct” effects, exploring the same kind of odd universe that Kirk used to run around in, with just a hint more of that “self-awareness”. Imagine a series that could tap into the mythic qualities of Trek (still deeply rooted in the original series’ image) and still pave new ground, exploring extremes of storytelling ala Peter David’s “New Frontier”, mixing comedy and ultra-seriousness in the same swashbuckling adventure. This episode suggests that it could work, if only because it’s very easy to forgive missteps when so many other elements are this enjoyable.
Overall, this episode is just as enjoyable as the previous installment, thanks to another update of a classic Trek alien species and a few logical plot twists. The over-the-top acting is still in place, but it also still fits the tongue-in-cheek tone of the episode, so it’s not as jarring as it could have been. Perhaps most interesting is how well the old-style Starfleet vessel design works with the updated effects; the sight of crew members in the old uniforms puts the lie to the thought that it wouldn’t have worked from the beginning.
Final Rating: 9/10
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