Note: This review contains significant spoilers.
In brief: A garish and goofy comic book, but plenty of fun to get the job
done, and with a great last act.
Plot description: In the mirror universe, Archer stages a power play to take
over the Enterprise -- initially under the command of Captain Forrest -- and
diverts it deep into Tholian space.
Star Trek: Enterprise - "In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I"
Airdate: 4/22/2005 (USA)
Written by Mike Sussman
Directed by James L. Conway
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Rating out of 4: ***
"This is ludicrous, captain!" -- T'Pol, on the right track
Last week's abysmal "Bound" was a silly hour with a lame plot that treated
women like objects. The episode had its (delusional) defenders, who labeled
it a "guilty pleasure." The error in that description was the use of the
word "pleasure" in connection with a show that was such a colossal bore and
a general insult to the intellect.
Now here comes "In a Mirror, Darkly," which is also a silly hour that
generally treats women like objects. The key difference, however, is that
"Bound" was a relentless bore and "Mirror" is quite a bit of fun, with
inventive plot details. The term "guilty pleasure" applies in this case. I
can recommend "Mirror" on its chosen level of hyper-aggressive testosterone,
hilarious teeth-gnashing, and across-the-board sociopathic behavior. This
is, after all, the mirror universe. If you're looking for any depth in the
slightest, you've come to the wrong show. But it should be noted that the
whole point of the mirror universe is that it's an evil comic book where
strange things happen. If you want an evil comic book, you've got an evil
The episode also features a clever opening teaser (first contact with the
Vulcans is marked by Zefram Cochrane pulling out a shotgun and blowing the
Vulcan ambassador away), an inspired alternate title sequence (showing the
advancement of human technology as a purpose for escalating warfare), and a
brilliant final act of pure Trekkian fun. These attributes alone would make
the hour worthwhile even if everything in between was pointless (which, come
to think of it, is a close call).
To call this episode over-the-top would be an understatement. This is a
go-for-broke hour of lunatic madness. A lot of it is admittedly inane, but
that's the point. The entire episode takes place in the mirror universe and
involves exclusively the mirror characters, which is something of a
departure from previous Trek mirror-universe episodes, in which characters
crossed over from one universe to the other and found themselves out of
their element. This prohibits the interaction of characters with their
anti-universe and instead allows exclusive focus on the eeeeeeevil
Everyone here is a scumbag, pretty much without exception. The Enterprise is
commanded by Captain Forrest (Vaughn Armstrong gets to reprise a version of
his character killed earlier this season). Archer is the first officer, who
usually wears a frown so extreme that I was left wondering if Scott Bakula
had strained all his facial muscles in the making of this episode. Phlox is
a doctor of the most unscrupulous kind, who dreams up new ways to torture
and kill. In one amusing scene, we see his sickbay of horrors, where as a
hobby he dissects animals while their insides pulsate.
Reed is a MACO and a sadist who smiles a subtle but evil grin at the
prospect of anything involving torture or something blowing up. He has
invented a torture chamber ("the booth") that sends agonizing pain straight
into the brain. When a ship attacks the Enterprise, Reed's happy about it
because it means he gets to shoot back. Mayweather is also a MACO, and I
guess it's fitting that his mirror character is as equally underused as his
normal version. Trip is a bitter engineer whose exposure to radiation has
left him disfigured. He still hits on T'Pol, even in this universe.
Sato is the captain's mistress (for whomever the captain happens to be at
the moment), trading sex for career advancement, although it seems that
"advancement" is simply the right to have the captain's ear. If there's one
complaint I'd lodge, it's that she's not permitted any strength or power
beyond the barter of her sexuality. At least Intendant Kira was in charge in
the DS9 mirror-universe episodes, and had a ruthlessness that allowed her to
compete with, and surpass, her rival males. Then again, trying to look for
character "virtues" in a story that is by definition utterly without virtue
is probably foolish; the males are all violent psychopaths, so it's not like
we should be looking for redeeming qualities.
The only more or less "normal" person on the ship is T'Pol, who, as a
Vulcan, does not seem to harbor the aggressive hostility that all the humans
do. Like Spock in the original "Mirror, Mirror," she's governed by a more
tempered disposition. After a power play that leaves a number of crewmen
dead and Captain Forrest locked in the brig, T'Pol helps Forrest regain the
upper hand. She does this not out of ambition for conquest, but out of a
loyalty that seems logical.
The plot is a crackpot concoction involving Archer's plan to take the
Enterprise deep into Tholian space, where his intelligence points to the
location of a secret base that is holding a Starfleet vessel that has been
lured from an alternate (i.e. our) universe. But not just from another
universe, Archer reveals, but from a century in the future of that other
universe, promising more advanced technology that could be used in the
Terran Empire's plans for unlimited conquest.
In executing this plan, there is an endless series of manipulations,
betrayals, power shifts, and scenes of people screaming in the torture
chamber. As much time as the crew (and presumably all of humanity) spends at
each other's throats, it's a wonder they've been so successful at conquering
other societies. It seems to me that just fending off overthrows within the
command structure would be a full-time job.
The tone of these scenes is all attitude and evil comic-book grins, often
with enjoyably funny results. You certainly have to regard the actors with
admiration here: It takes guts to willingly throw yourself head-on through
scenes of such inherent goofiness, devouring the scenery as if your life
depended on it. Considering the enormity of the ridiculousness, the
performances are fearlessly energetic. Scott Bakula in particular seems to
be in a nirvana of play-evil, snapping his neck around with every line of
dialog. Actors often say that playing the villain is fun. Everyone must've
had fun here, because everyone is the villain.
A few words on the women's Starfleet uniforms: namely, extremely
stupid-looking. Robert Blackman, the costume designer, either dropped the
ball or was under some sort of directive that required nearly 12 inches of
midriff. On the sex appeal front, Hoshi's negligee is fine and good, but the
Starfleet uniforms are a laughable embarrassment of the implausible. Come
on, folks. There's acceptably over-the-top, and then there's blatant
No matter, because all is forgiven by the last act, which is nothing short
of brilliant. The Enterprise reaches the Tholian base and discovers a
TOS-era Constellation-class starship, the USS Defiant. Viewers with
encyclopedic instant-recall of classic Trek (or, in my case, easy access to
my old reviews) will remember the Defiant as the ship from TOS's "The
Tholian Web." When it vanished from the TOS universe, it apparently ended up
here. Now mirror-Archer wants to beam aboard and steal it.
This leads to great sequence in which the Tholians discover the Enterprise
and surround it with their energy web, and then start pummeling it with
torpedoes. The crew evacuates in the escape pods while Forrest remains
aboard to give them time to escape (although I wasn't quite sure what he was
trying to do). The Enterprise explodes in a big fireball. Reed, watching
from the Defiant, almost smiles, as if seeing explosions triggers an
automatic response in his brain.
And, in what may be the coolest scene of the year, Archer's away team powers
up the darkened bridge of the Defiant. I gotta tell you: When that bridge
lit up and the TOS sound effects started chirping, I wanted to cheer. The
feeling this evokes is exactly as if the cast of Enterprise had stepped
through a time portal to emerge directly on the sets of the original series
in 1966. It's a surreal and wonderfully pure fan moment, and I loved it. The
production designers have perfectly recreated the bridge of what is
ostensibly the Defiant, but in pure viewer terms is what we know is meant to
be the original Enterprise. This is one of those imaginative moments where
fictional universes spill into one another in the most unlikely and
unexpected of ways, and generate a reality of their own.
If only this sort of imagination serviced a story that wasn't so
fundamentally silly and full of characters whose attitudes run counter to
this very notion of self-referential Trek imagination, we might've had
something really special here. As it is, we have one very special moment
within an hour of fairly amusing ones.
Next week: Will the mirror shine or shatter?
Copyright 2005, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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