Sunday, April 27, 2014

Prequel Mirror: “In A Mirror, Darkly” Retcons The Mirror Universe!

The Good: Good acting, Decent effects/costumes, Wonderful continuity/concept
The Bad: Poor make-up for Trip, Predictable character reversals.
The Basics: The history of the Mirror Universe is fleshed out well with “In A Mirror, Darkly,” which not only introduces the Mirror Universe to Star Trek: Enterprise, but ties up a loose end from Star Trek.

As the fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise wound down, the show had a tendency to try to make the show match the original Star Trek more and more. As a result, fans were thrilled by arcs that included Klingons, genetically-engineered humans, and Vulcan katras; the Mirror Universe was a natural subject of an episode and “In A Mirror, Darkly” leapt right into it. For those unfamiliar with it, the Mirror Universe was an alternate universe in the Star Trek franchise that was introduced in the episode “Mirror, Mirror” (reviewed here!) where the benevolent Federation had developed instead into a merciless Empire. The franchise revisited the Mirror Universe in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and now it retconned the Mirror Universe with “In A Mirror, Darkly.”

While “In A Mirror, Darkly” is not overly dependent upon “Mirror, Mirror” to truly understand the episode, the episode is enriched entirely by viewers having seen Star Trek: First Contact (reviewed here!) and the episode “The Tholian Web” (reviewed here!). One of the lingering continuity mysteries of the Star Trek franchise could have been what happened to the U.S.S. Defiant in “The Tholian Web” . . . if only people believed that Star Trek had been developed with a real sense of continuity instead of being bottle episodes.

Opening with First Contact in the Mirror Universe, Zephram Cochrane kills the Vulcan visitors. Decades later, the I.S.S. Enterprise under the command of Captain Forrest is working to keep rebellion in the Empire down. While the sadistic Dr. Phlox works with Reed to develop the Agony Booth, Archer finds Forrest’s inability to invade Tholian space to get technology that will help them win the war frustrating. Archer stages a coup, deposing Forrest and orders the reluctant T’Pol to get a Suliban cloaking device to Engineering to have Tucker install it so they can invade Tholian territory.

Approaching a specific warp signature, the Enterprise finds and attacks a Tholian ship. After capturing the Tholian pilot and finding the location of a ship lost in Tholian territory, the Enterprise heads to find the ship under Archer’s tenuous command. With the cloaking device sabotaged, the Enterprise is exposed in enemy territory. As Archer’s suspicions of his entire crew rise, he finds himself working to watch his own back. T’Pol and the Vulcans aboard the Enterprise break Forrest out of the brig. Her attempt to take over the Enterprise with Forrest is successful, largely because of a mindmeld she had with Tucker. But Archer is not so easily defeated; his mission was to find a ship from the future and an alternate universe which is being held by the Tholians and explored. When the Enterprise arrives at the Tholian spacedock, Archer works to take the U.S.S. Defiant to bring an end to the war and put himself in a more powerful position within the Empire.

“In A Mirror, Darkly” is a somewhat familiar episode for fans of the Star Trek franchise. While “Mirror, Mirror” was audacious, return trips to the Mirror Universe are largely about how twisted the familiar characters in each series can be. In that way, “In A Mirror, Darkly” completely lives up. All of the characters from Star Trek: Enterprise are altered for their Mirror Universe personas; Archer is more volatile, Reed and Mayweather are M.A.C.O.S., Tucker’s face is scarred, and T’Pol and Sato wear outfits that show off a bit more skin.

While the Mirror Universe episodes usually afford the performers a lot of lot of opportunities to perform in different ways, “In A Mirror, Darkly” is a lot more tame in that regard. Jolene Blalock has never been a very successful emotionless Vulcan, so the passionate and devious version of T’Pol is hardly audacious. Similarly, Tucker and Archer have both been played angry plenty of times by Connor Trinneer and Scott Bakula, respectively. The only real actors who benefit in “In A Mirror, Darkly” are Linda Park, who has a good number more scenes as Sato in the episode and John Billingsley who plays Phlox as utterly psychotic.

“In A Mirror, Darkly” is the first of two parts and while other episodes of Star Trek are not essential for understanding the episode, they do enrich the episode. The payoff with the Defiant and the Tholians is an interesting one that is well-executed in the episode. But because the episode happens entirely in the Mirror Universe without any crossover from our universe, the lack of menace is palpable. It is hard for the viewer to get truly invested in the events of “In A Mirror, Darkly” because no matter what happens in this – and its follow-up – episode, it will have no effect on the characters viewer know and (presumably) love. As a result, this is a fun episode, nothing more.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Enterprise - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the final season here!


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, put in order from best to worst, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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