One of the horror genre's "most widely read critics" (Rue Morgue # 68), "an accomplished film journalist" (Comic Buyer's Guide #1535), and the award-winning author of Horror Films of the 1980s (2007), The Rock and Roll Film Encyclopedia (2007) and Horror Films of the 1970s (2002), John Kenneth Muir, presents his blog on film, television and nostalgia, named one of the Top 100 Film Studies Blog on the Net.
Star Trek Anniversary - John's Top 20: "Mirror, Mirror" (#4)
At my number #4 position is the episode of TOS that launched a thousand memes, including those about evil twins, goatees, and agonizers.
"Mirror, Mirror" has inspired books, and spin-off episodes (on Deep Space Nine and Enterprise, in particular) too, but the episode's greatest gift is a crack'd mirror look at our characters in a parallel universe.
Kirk also comes off beautifully in the episode, thanks to both the writing and Shatner's performance.
a mission to negotiate with the Halkans for purchase of their abundant Dilithium
crystals, Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Mr.
Scott (James Doohan) and Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) beam up from the planet’s
surface during a powerful ion storm.
of that interference, the transporter malfunctions and landing party is sent to an alternate -- or parallel
the Enterprise is a ship in a vicious Terran Empire, and all the crew wear knives, and
devices called “agonizers.” The officers move up in rank by means of assassination, and
control ruthless bodyguards.
Kirk’s mission in this parallel reality is to destroy the Halkan race for
resisting the Empire’s demand for their Dilithium crystals.
Kirk plays for time, while Scotty works to
modify the transporter to send the stranded crew members back to their own
Uhura contends with an aggressive Commander Sulu (George Takei), the ship’s
security chief who runs the vessel like the Nazi Gestapo, Kirk must fend off
his first officer, Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), who has been ordered to kill him
if he fails his mission. He must also block an assassination attempt by Mr. Chekov (Walter
Koenig), and “bluff” his way through a relationship with the “Captain’s Woman,” the clever Marlena Moreau (Barbara Luna).
on the Prime Enterprise, the mirror versions of Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura
are apprehended by Spock before they can make mischief.
in the mirror universe, Kirk and the others race the clock to get home to their
dimension, and the captain attempts to convince Spock to mount an insurrection
against the evil empire.
Mirror” is yet another absolute classic Star Trek episode, and one that has
earned a long-lasting spot in the pop culture firmament.
It’s really amazing to think just how many
episodes of the original series I could write that sentence about, but it happens to be
true in this case.
The last episode in the second season
that fits the bill of "all-time classic" is “Amok Time,” the season opener. But think about this: that means that twice in four weeks,
essentially, Star Trek delivered amazing narratives that not only endured
fifty years, but become touchstones for a generation.
These are iconic episodes.
of course, a visual touch is the one most widely remembered in TV history.
In the “mirror”
universe, Spock wears a beard, and that visualization became a kind of trope
for parallel universes, repeated on South
Park(1997 - ), and Mystery Science Theater 3000
(1989-1999) to name but two productions.
Evil twins with beards (or rather,
goatees), have also appeared in series such as Knight Rider.
idea of a parallel “evil” universe has also recurred in Star Trek on Deep
Space Nine (1993 – 1999) in episodes such as “Crossover,” “Through the
Looking Glass,” “Shattered Mirror,” “Resurrection” and “The Emperor’s New
Cloak.” The most memorable episode of Star
Trek: Enterprise (2001 – 2005) is the two-parter set in the Mirror
Universe, “In a Mirror, Darkly.”
terms of exhilarating action, “Mirror, Mirror” is absolutely second to none, with the battle in
sick-bay between Spock and the landing party proving a dramatic high point, and
everything leading up to a nail-biting ticking-clock conclusion as the crew races to return home.
Fifty years later, the last fifteen minutes
of this episode -- with the crew struggling to get home, and McCoy spending
precious minutes to save the Mirror Spock’s life -- prove almost unbearably suspenseful,
despite the fact that we know it is all going to turn out okay.
works that way because the episode's success depends on emotional investment, and
constructs that investment brilliantly.
Basically, this episode is all about the concept of nature vs. nurture. If we are all raised in a totalitarian
dictatorship, would we be the same people we are today?
Would I be an insurrectionist blogger living
on the lam, posting anti-Empire screeds? Or would I be minister of propaganda in the Empire?
to the point: would I be the same person?
Would I be “me?” Or would my environment change me so much that I would
be unrecognizable to myself of the Prime Universe?
all the Enterprise crew-members are twisted reflections of themselves, with
Sulu proving the most terrifying for his apparent sadism and ambition. Chekov
isn’t far behind him, though. But still, Sulu takes the cake, and "Mirror, Mirror" offers my favorite George Takei performance in the entire series.
intriguingly -- through direct interaction with Prime Kirk -- at least two characters in the Mirror Universe demonstrate that the parallel reality isn’t, well, an exact opposite.
Spock maintains his characteristic integrity, most notably.
He continues to be a man who is loyal, trustworthy, curious and
intellectual. He serves an evil
organization, and yet is still a being of two worlds (as he is in the Prime
Universe). Spock is part of the Empire, bound to its regulations, and yet apart
from the Empire in his loyalty to Captain Kirk, and his logical thought
a person who has never known love at all -- Lt. Moreau -- proves that she is
responsive to positive emotions, and can embody all the “positive” traits we
would hope of a friend and ally. She becomes an supporter of sorts, and rescues the landing party with the Tantalus Field.
wants to escape with them to the Prime Universe, but still, she reveals the
kernel, at least of integrity. Like Spock, one senses that she is growing, evolving into someone "better," someone we would recognize in our own universe.
"Mirror, Mirror" also offers a series high-point for Nichelle Nichols' Uhura. Though it is unfortunate that the character must again endure a "Captain...I'm...frightened" moment, Uhura nonetheless proves her worth in this episode. She wrestles a phaser away from Marlena Moreau, and distracts Sulu -- dangerously so -- on the bridge, at a critical junction. "Mirror, Mirror" reveals why Uhura is such a valuable team player. And my God, she is also one of the most beautiful women ever to appear on American television.
McCoy, meanwhile, reveals his core, essential humanity again. Here, he risks everything to save his friend, Spock. Even with the ticking-clock, and Sulu's gestapo everywhere, McCoy pauses to save Spock's life. What a testament to his friendship for the green-blooded Vulcan.
philosophy, there is a theory of knowing God called the “Via Negativa.”
Basically, it means that you cannot define God by what God is; only by what God
is not. God is not hate. God is not
mortal, and so forth.
In a similar way,
one might argue we cannot really know the Enterprise characters well until we
see what they are not, and that’s the insight that “Mirror, Mirror” provides.
Kirk is not the clawing, opportunistic creature of ambition that his Mirror
counterpart so clearly is. He aspires to be captain of the Enterprise, and a great captain. He does not aspire to rule the universe.
Sulu is not the power-hungry conniver and plotter of the Mirror
Universe. McCoy is not a vicious sadist, and on and on it goes.
We come to a better understanding of who
these beloved characters really are, then, by studying in this episode, what
they aren’t. And by seeing these protagonists in a cruel, duplicate universe, we also see how they don't fit there. We see their virtues all the more clearly.
compelling aspect of the episode involves the Halkans.
They are the same in
both universes (much like Spock), thus showcasing that the mirror universe is
not a perfect reflection, or opposite, only a universe wherein Earth took a
terrible turn in pre-Trek history, becoming a totalitarian, conquering
Quite simply, the people of Earth
in this reality were...weak. They were infinitely weaker, in fact, than the
Halkans are. The Halkans live by their words
and would “die as a race” rather than give up their profound philosophy of
pacificism. Apparently Earthers were not
so resolute and gave up their freedom for conquest and power. This plays, indeed, as a warning, about carrying ideology on your tongue, but not following through with meaningful action. Kirk's final speech to Spock is meant to spur him to that meaningful action, and bring about regime change.
I must note that I admire so much the ingenuity of this episode’s
production design. The physical alterations to the Enterprise -- including Kirk’s
throne-like command chair and the logo of the Empire (Earth, with a dagger
going through it…) -- are simple, but effective. And other modifications, such as personal agonizer devices, an Agony Booth, and
sentry-like bodyguards (even Vulcan ones!) add profoundly to the idea of a world
that has gone terrifyingly awry.
Mirror” moves with pace, purpose, humor and fiendish ingenuity, and is therefore one of the finest best episodes of Star Trek.