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243[ENT] Jammer's Review: "In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Apr 25, 2005
      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
      comic book.

      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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      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...