It’s time for Star Trek Saturdays #39!!!
This week’s episode is “Mirror, Mirror.” It’s one of the most important episodes in Trek history, defining how pop culture views parallel universes as well as being a standout episode all on its own merits.
We open with Kirk, Uhura, McCoy and Scotty on the planet of the Halkans trying to get their leader (Vic Perrin) to let the Federation mine their dilithium as a power source. The chief refuses on the grounds that while the Federation is peaceful now, that could always change in the future. He explains that his people are complete pacifists who are aware of the tremendous power their dilithium crystals have. If even one life is taken, he says, that would end the Halkans’ history of total peace; as a race, they’re willing to do anything to prevent that. Kirk says he can respect those ethics and hopes that he’s able to prove the Federation has similar intent.
Suddenly, Spock calls Kirk to inform him that an ion storm is brewing in orbit and that it’s rather violent and unpredictable. Kirk says that they should prepare to beam the landing party up and plot a wider orbit to avoid the storm. As the party prepares to leave, the chief tells Kirk that he’ll speak to the ruling council, but Kirk shouldn’t expect anything. He also says that given their weapons, the Enterprise could force the Halkans to give up the dilithium. Kirk replies that he can, but he never will. “That should tell you something,” he says.
The landing party is beamed up, but something goes wrong with the transportation beam due to the ion storm. When the group materializes, everything looks different. Most notably, Spock has…a goatee!!!
Not only that, but the landing party now has more flamboyant uniforms and everyone does the following Nazi-esque salute to Kirk.
Bearded Spock asks for a status report on the mission. Not sure what to do, Kirk simply says nothing changed. Spock asks if the planet has any military capabilities and Kirk says no. Saying it’s regrettable that the Halkans chose to commit suicide, Beard Spock contacts security chief Sulu and tells him to prime the phaser banks to destroy the planet’s cities.
He then turns to the transporter technician, Kyle, and asks him for his “agonizer.” Fervently pleading that he was doing the best he could and that the power beam of the transporter jumped after being hit by the ion storm, Kyle’s pleas fall on deaf ears and Spock shocks him quite violently with his agonizer. The landing party simply stands in shock, terrified by what they’re seeing.
Where have they landed? How did they get here? And, most importantly, how do they get back?
This is the introduction to one of the most enduring concepts in Trek: the mirror universe. Here, Starfleet still exists, but it services the tyrannical Terran Empire, rather than Starfleet. As we see several times throughout this episode, Starfleet officers here are cruel and manipulative, with the accepted way of promotion being assassination of the guy above you.
Dumping people from the prime universe–particularly people as virtuous as McCoy–is a great way to highlight the differences between the two locations. What’s interesting is that writer Jerome Bixby–adapting his own 1953 short story “One Way Street”–uses this conceit highly efficiently. I was expecting several times for Kirk to get the ship’s computer to tell him of this new history he’d found himself dumped into, but that doesn’t happen. Rather, we see the depravity and vileness of things for ourselves. It’s a great tactic, and I wonder if the episodes of Deep Space Nine or Enterprise that went back to the mirror universe did a similar thing.
Complementing Bixby’s script is the smooth, smart direction of Marc Daniels. Working in tandem with the production designers, he creates a world that’s just slightly off enough to be menacing. He also stages some really good fight scenes, particularly one between Spock and the USS Enterprise crew in sickbay.
It’s a bit of a cliche that evil roles are inherently more fun to play for actors, but here, it proves true. Perhaps the best example of this here is evil Sulu. After mostly just hanging around on the bridge, here, George Takei is finally given something to do and it’s great. Mirror Sulu, who’s the security chief of the ISS Enterprise, is a twisted, scheming jerkbag and he ultimately turns out to be the real villain of the episode. It’s a great, showy turn and Takei is obviously having a blast.
The rest of the cast is also exemplary. Nimoy shows the similarities between the two Spocks, even if their dispositions are different. Shatner only gets one scene as evil Kirk, but he’s hilarious. As regular Kirk–“trapped in a world he never made!” as they say–he proves surprisingly adept at blending in with the mirror universe, even showing genuine desire for the “captain’s woman,” Marlena, played to a hilt by Barbara Luna. Nichelle Nichols has a similar blending-in scene at one point and it’s really awesome to see Uhura play devious for a change.
It’s easy to see why this episode changed how we think of parallel universes. It’s fully realized and never slips into cliche. Check it out.
Thanks to Memory Alpha for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant Video for hosting the show. We’ll see you next time and until then, live long and prosper.