I spent most of my write-up of “The Enemy Within” talking about the duality of man. It’s inevitable, an episode about Kirk facing down a character that both makes him who he is and also reflects the man he could, but hopes he will never be forces viewers to take a character an examine him from another angle. I wrote about that episode as someone who was just starting to write about television would. It’s overly dry and contains no jokes about bowel movements and not a single Veronica Mars/Caroline in the City reference. So, I guess I really have to do duality justice this time.
I guarantee you already knew the big twist of “Mirror, Mirror.” It’s the one where Spock has a beard. Before jumping in on this one, that’s all I knew about it and I kind of just assumed that it was about all this episode had to offer. There’s a mirror universe where everything is the opposite as how it originally is. Everyone sort of knows how this one goes, but I figured there was no real plot. Instead, “Mirror, Mirror” is the darkest that the original series has gotten and creates a brand new world that the larger Star Trek universe will return to again and again.
While negotiating to mine dilithium crystals from Halkan, Kirk comes up against a leader who refuses any interference from the federation. Kirk relents, and the Halkan leader knows that he planet cannot withstand an attack from the federation and respects the captain’s decision to leave his planet in peace. As an ion storm grows, Kirk orders that Spock beam up the landing party of Scotty, McCoy and Uhura so that they can pull out of orbit. As they start to arrive in their Enterprise, they flicker before appearing in a darker, subtly more authoritarian Enterprise, led by a bearded commanding Spock.
Sure, the big moments are really noticeable, like the holy-shit-Spock-has-a-beard one and the holy-shit-Spock-is-torturing-a-guy but the little things were what struck me powerfully and immediately. The whole Enterprise is so much darker, both aesthetically and actual lighting wise. While there were once bright lights complimenting the colored uniforms, but the low lighting and more decorated but muted tones of the costumes as well as the general décor around the ship help set up a world where honor and action aren’t valued for themselves but are valued solely for their opportunity to provide people with another chance to move up in the world. This is explored before a single line of dialogue is uttered or the mirror universe is explored.
Exploring the mirror universe is done perfectly as well by just tossing our characters into the fray with no real help. The moment where Kirk and company are in the medical bay are great because no one is on stable footing, They know they are in over their heads and they have to figure out what is best. There’s no good answer and they know that they pretty much just have to go with what they have. It makes viewers feel as lost as the characters are and its good for a change. When characters are in danger and we not only feel that danger but understand why it’s happening, it’s a moment that viewers can actually connect to.
The team decides that the best they can do is blend into the crew as much as they can and try to figure out what has happened to them and how they can get back to their Enterprise. Kirk finds himself facing down the cutthroat efforts of his crew and the way that punishment is meted out on the ship he doesn’t know that he wants to run. Meanwhile, Uhura is finding herself hit on by the much more powerful Sulu, now the security captain as well as apparently still the helmsman. McCoy and Scotty team up to figure out what’s going on in the engine room and see if they can figure out what had happened to get them here while coming up against Sulu’s restrictions on the ship.
It’s a bit much at times and it’s pretty ambitious for the show to have so many things happening at once and at times it feels a little bloated, with the aside at the Enterprise slowing things down at some point, but for the most part keeping all the balls up in the air. The plot starts to congeal when Kirk denies the Empire’s request to attack Halkan while giving them an ultimatum that he knows that the leaders won’t answer. He’s biding his time and it’s Chekov’s attack on him that starts to drive the more delicate plot of the episode home. Kirk knows that Spock is gunning for him just as much as everyone else and he’s learning that there’s not a lot of time to figure out what he needs to do.
Just as McCoy and Scotty start to figure things out, Kirk has to deal with what appears to be his confidante, Marlena Moreau, who seems to be using him to keep her moving up in the ranks as well as someone who knows the secrets. Her hunt for power makes her compelling and her use of the Tantalus Field appears to be one of the ways that Kirk has managed to stay ahead of all the assassinations that have been coming his way since he has become one of the finest commanders in the Empire. She’s dangerous and it seems that Kirk fears what she would do to him if he fails. Meanwhile, Spock calls up the Captain to warn him of an ultimatum from command, ordering him to assassinate his commanding officer if an example is not made out of Halkan. To complicate matters even a little further, the rest of the landing party has figured out that they have almost no time to get off the ship before the rift caused by the ion storm will permanently tear the parallel universes from their brief contact.
Kirk and his crew decide they need to take command of the transporter and they should be able to make the jump over to their Enterprise while transporting their mirror counterparts over to their universe. Uhura tries to seduce Sulu while McCoy and Scotty start to make moves to switch the transporter. Sulu misses the security transmission and eventually Uhura pushes him away drawing her knife and rushes out. Kirk fixes the transporter, but is caught by Spock and he takes Kirk to the Medical Bay to interrogate the rest of the original universe party. They start fighting and eventually they knock Spock out, putting him on the slab. Kirk struggles to leave the half-Vulcan behind and he allows McCoy to heal him. Moreau watches everything from the Tantalus Field and realizing that the man that she loves is a different man. When Sulu busts in to the room to take out both men and advance to the Captain’s chair, Moreau wipes out his men so Kirk can escape.
The episode climaxes at the transporter room with Spock catching the rest of the crew. Kirk gives him the chance to change everything, admitting that while one man can’t change history, he can set the wheels in motion to change the Empire. It’s clear that this is the turn of the episode that has always been beneath the Machiavellian surface of the episode. This mirror universe isn’t one where people are innately different than the people that exist in the universe we are familiar with; it’s one where the choices of other men have dominated lives. Spock, being a character that has to logically act within the limits of the Empire, has become a brutal leader that knows what he has to do to survive on the Enterprise. Now, his contact with Kirk has given him a chance to see the bigger picture and the way that the Empire’s action may not work as logically as it should. When he says, “I will consider it,” we know that it is something that will happen. This is something that Spock has to do and he will do his best. Like most of the rest of the episode, we don’t know what’s going to happen to him or what will happen in the future, but we know there is a chance for greatness.
On the bridge of our Enterprise, Spock speaks on how the crew detected their mirror universe counterparts and how the other sides was a whole different experience for the rest of the crew, and of course, because we always need a sort of bizarre comic relief moment on the bridge, this universe’s Moreau walks in as a new science officer and Kirk immediately hits on her. It’s hilarious.
But really, “Mirror, Mirror” is one of the most legitimately exciting and fun episodes of the series. That moment where Moreau watches over the crew treating Spock and fingers the Tantalus Device, I audibly let out an “Oh, no,” like I was watching Breaking Bad. The rest of the episode has characters walking on razor’s edge and we can feel it, even on a show that has always had a sort of Saturday Morning-cartoon version of characters floating through space. This is one of the first episodes that shows that this is something much more than a philosophical kid’s show, but can be the face that launches a thousand space ships.
“I’m a doctor, not an engineer!”
“I submit to you that your Empire is illogical because it cannot endure. I submit that you are illogical to be a willing part of it.”
I adore that it took turning Sulu into a secret service agent is what it took to give George Takei a showcase. And he 100 percent rocks it.
“I’m not sure, but I think we’ve been insulted.” “I’m sure.”
Next Up: “The Apple” and it’s an allegory episode and I’m sure it’s going to be no good.