Captain's Blog pt. 80: Mirror, Mirror

On the evening of October 6th, 1967, the same day hippies held a mock-funeral for themselves in San Francisco, NBC aired:

aka "Terror of the Ion Universe" in Japan
Bleibende Erinnerung: (5) Star Trek wasn't the first sci-fi to explore parallel universes by a long shot, nor was it even the first for network tv. (That distinction belongs to either Dark Shadows or The Twilight Zone. You'd think it'd have been Doctor Who but looks like the good Doctor's first parallel universe adventure came in 1970.) But "Mirror, Mirror" might be the most familiar template for such. You still see visual shorthands like goatees to indicate alternate-dimensions in a variety of contemporary media. 

And while I'm personally not a fan, the band Spock's Beard has been waving the banner of progressive rock for many years running now. In every revolution, there's one man with a vision.

Titulieren: (2.25) Everyone knows the "Mirror, mirror" rhyme; it's an effective way of subliminally strengthening the concepts in play.

Manuskript und Leitmotiv: (9.5 / 9.5) This is hands-down one of the series best. But in getting my points together for this post, I didn't think the script is quite as strong as some of the others to which I've awarded 10s. So 9.5s it is.

Ditto for the theme. I think there's definitely some fun tongue-in-cheek stuff (more on this in Internal Logistics, or as that category is called in the mirror-universe terms I'm employing for my own amusement: datengrundlage) about the things the Empire and the Federation have in common (and Spock's line at episode's end definitely speaks to this) and I admire the subtlety. What "our" folks are reacting against so strongly is really their own (aka the Federation's, and by extension, western culture's) complicity in the same sort of Empire building and fascism but cloaked in much more palatable rhetoric, i.e. fairy tale rhymes.

"Something... (Shatner-beat) par-a-llel."

This screencap above ("I order you... lemmego!!") is hilariously executed by Shatner, but the addition of this little sequence is such a great feature of the script. Just a quick glimpse to see how the evil counterparts are faring on "our Enterprise." Spock's handling of the situation and back and forth with evil Kirk is top 5 Spock material.

"What is it that will buy you?"
"Power, Spock?"
"I can get that for youuuu...."
Incidentally, "you traitorous pig, I'll have you all executed" is not something you want to shout out on public transport. No matter how deserved it may seem at the time. Trust me on this one.

Mainly, this is just a fantastically entertaining story from start to finish. The stakes are high, a plan is hatched and comes together with several crises for everyone to overcome, and everything comes together in a very satisfying way.

The Marlena/ Kirk sub-plot takes up a lot more time than I remembered. It's quite an interesting parallel to the Empire/ Federation dichotomy. Kirk gets to see what his life would look like were he to indulge his destructive Id with wild abandon.

He opts to empower Marlena instead of taking advantage of the situation. Something alluded to at the end. As we learned in "The Menagerie" and "The Cage," right thinking is rewarded:

And wrong thinking is... punishable:

Given Chekov's conceptual role as "Kirk, Jr." as David Gerrold relays in The World of Star Trek, it always makes me chuckle when Chekov gets punished for things. It's such classic transference. Sure, Chekov's getting the Agony Booth here for an attempt to kill Kirk (i.e. Dad) but it's the sins of the father that he is really paying for.

"Regrettable that this society has chosen suicide."

Kirk und der bande: (40) This episode really showcases the talent of the cast. Actors seem to love stuff like this where they can approach their characters in new ways, new scenarios. Joss Whedon certainly took this lesson to heart, on the various shows with which he's been involved.

Nimoy wins for this episode. Bearded Spock is fantastic.
Why they didn't allude more to "Mirror, Mirror" in Fringe is beyond me. A little would have went a long way. It's odd that Abrams, Orci and Kurtzman never did this, isn't it?
The Captain re-assures Uhura with the comfort of his double-shoulder grab.
Marlena, too.
"So you die, Keptin..." In some alternate universe, Koenig was cast as Travis Bickle. I wish I had an alternate-universe-free DVD player the way you can get region-free ones.
Mirror-Gay for Uhura.
"You take a lot of chances, lady."

Ensemble performance-wise, one of the series best all around.

Bauhaus: (2.25) An extra quarter-point because while most of the visual design is simply a re-dressed set, it's done intelligently. And of course there's the usual costumes and lighting.

When the visual palette of this episode was returned to in"In a Mirror Darkly," the decisions Walter Jefferies and the gang made in the mid-60s still sparkled in the 21st century.

Spock's and McCoy's stunt doubles are particularly noticeable during the melee in Sick Bay.

Datengrundlage: (1.5) The most common criticism I've seen with regards to internal logistics is the parallel universe aspect. i.e. "It is ridiculous to assume the same crew would be assembled in the political structure of the Mirror universe." But in an infinite multiverse, there are hundreds of thousands (if not hundreds of millions, if not hundreds of billions) universes that could be exactly the same except for superficial details, so I never had any trouble wrapping my mind around one that looks the way this one does.

Good thing for Sulu, though, that Marlena inexplicably stops zapping everyone with the Tantalus Field after killing the guards.

Additionally, this episode rests on an absolute difference in approach and tactics between the Empire and the Federation. How is the right-side universe going to explain General Order 24 (i.e. "destroy all life on the planet") to the Halkans?

die Gäste: (3.5) 
Easily one of the most popular female guest stars of TOS. She had a long career in television and is still active. (See "Enemy: Starfleet" for more.)
Two of her more personally memorable turns: The Outer Limits and Buck Rogers.
Speaking of The Outer Limits, Vic Perrin (the Control Voice) plays the Halkan leader.
Gesamtpunkte: 73.5

Vermächtnis: The Mirror Universe is a concept often-returned-to in non-canon Trek (and even in canon via DS9 and Enterprise) and I think it's only a matter of time before the Abrams Trek explores it. (Though, maybe not; a recent interview seems to suggest the focus of at least the next film will be something entirely new. We'll see.) 

Perhaps most notably, it was the setting for three of the Shatnerverse novels:

I quite enjoyed these, actually. I toyed with the idea of reviewing them all, and I may do so, somewhere down the line, but not as part of these Einsame Insel Trekken.


  1. I love this episode, but I have to be honest: I'm one of those people who thinks the parallel-universe conceit is a deeply silly one.I don't mean that I have trouble believing in the idea of parallel universes; that's an easy enough pill to swallow. But I do have trouble believing that there would be one in which virtually everything is the same -- to the extent that the Enterprise is crewed by the same people in both universes -- with seemingly one exception: in this new universe, everyone on the ship is evil. That's...unlikely.

    Although, as you suggest, out of the near-infinite combinations, there'd surely be at least one where exactly this was the case. So maybe it's not that that makes me a bit skeptical so much as it is the idea that out of the gajillion possible universes our gang could end up visiting, they ended up in that one. As opposed to one where everyone on the ship was played by Phyllis Diller, or whatever.

    But it's only the side of my brain that is prone to grumpiness and to being a spoilsport that minds that sort of thing at all. The rest of me figures that as long as what they do with the episode is good, such plot points are permissible. And I think that what Trek did in this episode was a huge amount of fun, so consider that side of my brain suppressed when "Mirror, Mirror" is on.

    I love spotting the stunt doubles. That's a fun game to play while watching Bond movies, too.

    I also have to confess to slight annoyance at Marlena NOT killing alt-Sulu. I get why you wouldn't want to kill Sulu in the real universe. But why not take advantage of the fact that you're in a parallel universe a bit more, and kill a familiar face? That would have been memorably shocking.

    1. I'm happy to hear you're able to suppress it. That kind of stuff never really bothers me too, too much, unless it adds up to a presence great enough for me not to be able to penetrate the subtext/ enjoy the uber-text. (Like in Star Trek VI or other places.)

      But since they couldn't really do an episode saying "you know what? Our culture is actually pretty fascist," I only need the abstraction/ covering fire to be just good enough so as not to distract me from the message. Hence my assigning only 1 to 3 pts for "Internal Logistics" vs 1 to 50 for "Kirk and the Gang," or 1 to 10 for "theme," etc.

      There are those (and here I am just philosophizing not really commenting on anything you wrote or with anyone specific in mind at all) who prefer evaluating Trek with the point totals reversed in the above scenario. But I just can't get worked up about the costumes of the imaginary space navy or imaginary warp-coil ratios, etc. That stuff is there only to serve the first principle in my mind (i.e. providing an abstraction lens through which to gain insight into the larger culture) so only when it fails to do that do I really mind. Which is all stuff I've said elsewhere/ many times/ probably self-evident from my reviews themselves - I'm terrific at repeating myself.

      All of which is to say: I'd have gotten annoyed, truthfully, if they tried to build up the "logic" of the mirror universe too much, or work out a throughline of who would have logically been aboard, etc. It's enough for me to know infinite universe means at least a high amount of exact-same universes, really. As with the Jewels of Sound in Ellison's original script for "City," it's just one layer of artifice too many and collapses the "parallel universe/ mirror reflection of fascism" that is far more interesting to me.

      Of course, having written all THAT, I really do enjoy the Shatnerverse expansion/ follow-up of the Mirror Universe story probably more than any of its other incarnations, for precisely this kind of reason: it doesn't see itself as a reflection of larger themes, it just takes the idea and runs with it. Which is certainly just as valid/ kind of fun, as well.

    2. I hear ya. I'm of a mildly schizophrenic mind on this subject: on the one hand, the things I mentioned above DO bother me, but on the other hand I am able to ignore it. I'd liken this to having a mildly ingrown toenail; yeah, technically-speaking it hurts...but it doesn't really keep you from enjoying your day, and you can mostly ignore it.

      I agree that if too much time had been spent on trying to rationalize the conceit of the episode, it would have crumpled under its own weight. That would have been fun for nobody.

  2. I didn't have a problem with the same crew being on the MU Enterprise but I did have a problem with the 2 ships being on equal technological footing. Fascistic societies tend to lag behind when it comes to technology. It's the diference between the free exchange of ideas and scientists and engineers working without pressure vs. having a dictator standing over your shoulder demanding results. The 2-part MU episode of ST: E explained it nicely and it was one of the very few episodes of that series I enjoyed a great deal. It even backed up my point. The Empire got hold of the Defiant and rested on its laurels, simply duplicating the ship instead of trying to improve upon it. Since the Empire had the Defiant 100 years before the Federation, they should have had much more advanced starships by the timeframe of this episode.

    "Mirror, Mirror" is also rife with trivia. It's the only episode wherein Scotty calls Kirk by his first name. It also provides us with Sulu in a red shirt, making him the only character in all of Trek to appear in all 3 uniform colors (not counting the movies, since all the uniforms were red). IE Spock has been in gold and blue, Picard in red and blue, Scotty in red and gold, etc. Also, Kirk meeting "our" Marlena was reused in the "Trials and Tribblations" cross-over with DS9 wherein Sisko meets Kirk. Very well done.

    Saw Barbara Luna at a get-together back in '97. She was still hot!

    Very cool episode. In my top 5.

    1. Interesting points. I guess it all depends which fascists and technology. Our own history is rife with examples of technological innovation with fascists looking over our shoulders, and Germany did pretty well, to boot. So I have no problem accepting that part of it.

    2. I have not seen the Mirror Universe episodes of "Enterprise" yet, but I look forward to seeing them at some point in the not-too-distant future. I hope I will enjoy them more than I enjoy the Mirror Universe episodes of "Deep Space Nine," which always mostly just annoyed me.