Mar 31, 2020
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine “The Emperor’s New Cloak”
So, here I am, still recapping the Star Trek episodes that gave this website its name, and wondering again why I committed to writing up all the Mirror Universe episodes over two years ago. Has it really been ten whole months since I covered the previous installment, the hopelessly banal “Resurrection”? Time sure flies when you’re not recapping Mirror Universe episodes.
Since it’s been a while, here’s a quick refresher on all the Mirror Universe events relevant to the current episode: Five seasons ago, in an alternate universe, the enslaved people of the former Terran Empire banded together to rise up against their Klingon/Cardassian overlords. The rebels captured Terek Nor and imprisoned the space station’s Intendant, AKA Mirror Kira. The Terrans then built their own version of the Defiant to defeat an attempt by the Regent of the Alliance (AKA Mirror Worf) to take back the station. During the battle, Kira slipped away, but Worf, blaming the Intendant for his defeat, swore vengeance upon her. There, I just saved you four hours of your life.
And that brings us to the next installment in Deep Space Nine’s annual (except for that year they completely forgot about it) excursions to the Mirror Universe, “The Emperor’s New Cloak”. But this is also DS9’s final Mirror Universe installment, as the cast and crew had already made the decision that the seventh season would be the show’s last. And how did they choose to close the books on this five-year story arc? With a dreaded Ferengi episode.
Hey, remember that guy who said he was going to recap every Ferengi episode for the Agony Booth, but then gave up after two episodes? He even made a banner for his series, and since he’s not around anymore, I figure I might as well get some use out of it:
That’s right, bitches, Project: Latinum is back on! Well, at least for this one article, anyway.
From reading the Deep Space Nine Companion, it seems the driving force behind this episode was that they were overdue for a Ferengi episode, and at the same time also overdue for a Mirror Universe episode, so they decided to just combine the two. Inspired, no? And this is how a storyline begun in one of the most legendary episodes of the original series goes out in a hail of bad comedy.
Despite all the grief I give Ferengi episodes, I have to admit that on occasion, Deep Space Nine was written well enough to actually make me care about Quark and his clan. But “The Emperor’s New Cloak” is not one of those occasions. It may not be a rock-bottom effort like the one where Quark dresses in drag, but it’s got all the hacky, juvenile, hide-under-the-couch-embarrassing humor we’ve come to expect from Ferengi episodes.
One other important item of note: DS9’s seventh season was also the season that brought us Ezri Dax. Terry Farrell’s contract was up at the end of the sixth season, and depending on the interview you read, she either opted not to renew or was never asked to renew. I originally thought she left to do Becker, but it turns out she didn’t even audition for that show until after filming her final episode of DS9.
Regardless of the reasons, Jadzia Dax was killed off at the end of the sixth season by a Pah-wraith-possessed Gul Dukat, and the long-lived Trill symbiont inside her was passed along to a new host. And thus begat Ezri Dax, played by Nicole de Boer, a brand new character who intriguingly still had all of Jadzia’s memories.
Obviously, if Jadzia had to be written out of the show, there was no more perfect way to do it. The DS9 writers must have felt like it was a gift from the heavens above that The Next Generation established all the way back in its fourth season that any Trill could easily be resurrected inside the body of another actor. Given Jadzia’s extensive backstory, how could they possibly pass up this golden opportunity to introduce us to the next incarnation of Dax?
But it really was a case of unfortunate timing. It was the last season, so they only had a limited amount of time to flesh out this new character before heading into the finale. This resulted in a lot of Ezri-centered episodes in a row, making fans feel like Ezri was being shoved down their throats. In fact, “The Emperor’s New Cloak” qualifies as one of those Ezri episodes, with the Mirror version of Ezri getting more screentime than most of the Mirror Universe characters we’ve been following up until this point. Not that those characters were ever all that interesting in the first place, but it’s still a bit odd that after all we’ve endured alongside them, characters like Mirror Kira and Mirror O’Brien are barely in this.
We open with a nice title card dedicating the episode to the memory of sci-fi author Jerome Bixby, the writer of the original series episode “Mirror, Mirror”, who died the previous year. Which means that he luckily never lived to see this episode (#toosoon?).
We begin in Quark’s bar, where Quark and Odo are spying on Bashir and Ezri on a date. Jadzia’s death has become Bashir’s second chance at romance with Dax (because somehow it was the symbiont he was hot for, not the woman carrying it), and things seem to be working out pretty well for him this time around. Conversation reveals Quark is brimming over with jealousy, because he too had a “thing” for Jadzia, and now has the same “thing” for Ezri.
Quark’s brother Rom bursts in to interrupt this fascinating discussion, saying that Grand Nagus Zek, ruler of the Ferengi Alliance (and also Quark and Rom’s stepfather) has gone missing. According to their mom, the Nagus went on a trip to “open new territories for financial exploitation” but hasn’t been heard from in twelve days. Quark tells him to relax, and that Zek surely just took a detour and headed for the infamous pleasure/swinger planet Risa, because that’s an image I needed in my head.
Cut to Quark in his quarters praying to a golden idol of the Ferengi god “Exchequer”, which involves depositing strips of latinum in its ear (fun fact: the idol is an actual Ferengi piggy bank once sold as a toy, spray-painted gold here). As Quark drops in the latinum, he “hilariously” prays for Bashir to disappear for a couple of months, and then he asks his deity to help him “close the deal” with Ezri. Eww. Exchequer is not your PUA wingman.
Just then, there’s someone at the door, and it turns out to be Ezri in a black leather outfit, and of course, Quark “hilariously” thinks his prayers have been answered. And when she pins his arm behind his back and pulls a dagger on him, Quark thinks she wants kinky sex, ha ha. Finally, he confesses his love while calling her “Dax”, but she insists her name isn’t Dax.
She’s brought a recording of Grand Nagus Zek explaining that he’s in the “alternate universe” and being held prisoner by the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance. That’s when Quark finally puts it together that this Ezri is really Mirror Ezri.
On the tape, Zek says he’s being held hostage in exchange for a cloaking device, because cloaking devices don’t exist in the Mirror Universe, even though we previously saw Alliance ships decloaking in “Through the Looking Glass”. (And Enterprise would later show the Mirror NX-01 using a Suliban cloaking device two hundred years prior to this, but that’s neither here nor there.)
And so, the next scene features Quark and Rom stealing a cloaking device from a Klingon ship docked at the station, which we later learn is Martok’s ship.
This involves unfunny shtick where Quark and Rom have to pantomime carrying a large, invisible object through the corridors of the station, that occasionally shimmers into view. There’s also a pointless bit where they’re spotted by Captain Sisko and Martok, and the Ferengi pretend like they’re just standing in the corridor and admiring the color of the bulkhead. Then they have shenanigans where they set the thing down and can’t find it again, and I could swear this one scene lasts at least half the episode.
Finally, they get the device to the cargo bay, where Mirror Ezri is waiting with the interdimensional transporter magic wand thingie to bring it back to her universe. But Quark and Rom insist on coming with her, which becomes especially urgent once Martok angrily bursts in looking for his cloaking device.
The three beam over to the Mirror Universe and into the cargo bay of Terek Nor, with lots of leaden exposition about the “alternate universe”, and how the Mirror versions of Quark and Rom are dead, both killed by the Intendant in previous episodes.
Just then, a man bursts in with weapons drawn, and it’s… Vic Fontaine. Yes, the holographic lounge singer from the main universe is somehow a flesh and blood person in the Mirror Universe. And as we find out in a minute, his name in this universe is “Vic Fontaine” as well. I guess the writers thought it would be funny to have James Darren do something outside of a holosuite, but even the most ludicrous jokes still need some sort of underlying logic. This makes no sense whatsoever.
Mirror Vic is stunned to see that Rom and Quark are alive. But it seems this version of Vic is some sort of traitor to the rebel cause, because a moment later, Terran rebels burst in, led by Mirror Bashir and his wig, and gun him down. Vic’s body hits the ground, and if he had croaked out, “Goodbye, cruel world…” before dying, that might have been funny. Quark can’t believe that Bashir just killed Vic Fontaine, and Rom helpfully adds, “I thought Vic was his favorite singer. No wonder they call it the alternate universe!” This is insightful dialogue.
Bashir then confronts Ezri, calling her a “worthless piece of space trash” for working for the Alliance, before smacking her around a bit. Quark comes to her defense and gets a beatdown, and soon the cloaking device is confiscated while Ezri, Quark, and Rom are taken into custody.
Down in the brig, they’re interrogated by Bashir and Mirror O’Brien, who strangely decides to tell the prisoners that Bashir is especially pissed off because his lover Jadzia was just killed in a “skirmish with Alliance troops”. So Jadzia and Mirror Jadzia were both killed off around the same time. What are the odds?
Meanwhile, we cut to the Nagus himself, played once again by special guest star Wallace Shawn. He and his giant, mute manservant are being held captive in the brig of the Regent’s ship, along with Intendant Kira, so I guess we’re to assume she was captured by the Alliance at some point after the last Mirror Universe episode.
Zek is enjoying himself as Kira strokes his ears. But then she suddenly turns belligerent and punches the big manservant in the nuts, to assert either her dominance or her innate craziness, and then the meds kick in and she goes back to fondling Zek’s ears.
Back in the brig on Terek Nor, Rom is tediously rambling on about the alternate universe, noting that Mirror O’Brien is “just as nice” as their Chief O’Brien. “It doesn’t make any sense! It’s not ‘alternate’!” Well, as much as I hate to admit it, he’s kind of right on that one. I think I might have said the same thing in one of these recaps.
Suddenly, the Mirror Universe version of Brunt shows up. He turns out to be Ezri’s partner in crime, and he’s stolen back the cloaking device and is here to free them all. Brunt, played by an unrecognizable Jeffrey Combs, is a recurring character who’s been a constant thorn in the side of Quark and his family back in the main universe, so of course Mirror Brunt is an incredibly nice, helpful guy.
A few minutes later, they’re all getting away in Brunt’s shuttle. Here, we learn that Brunt also has a “thing” for Ezri, but he knows he has no chance with her. There’s also a bit where Rom says of Brunt, “Over here, everything is ‘alternate’, so he’s a nice guy!” Oh, okay, now I get it.
Cut to Regent Worf on his ship, trying out the “beetle snuff” that they obtained from the Nagus. Mirror Garak is also here, arguing that they should just kill the Intendant while they have the chance. Worf yells about wanting that cloaking device now, then punches out one of his own men for no particular reason.
This is when Ezri and the Ferengi gang are brought aboard the ship, and they present the cloaking device to the Regent. Rom sees that Mirror Worf is the Regent and says, “Who’s president of the Federation? Gul Dukat?” And who’s vice president of the Federation? Jerry Lewis?
Quark demands that Worf keep up his end of the deal and release the Nagus. Suddenly, Kira sashays out of the shadows, and plants a kiss on Ezri. So it seems they’re a couple, and this evidently means Ezri and Kira were both part of the plan from the beginning. This is played like some big, shocking twist, but in all honesty I’m unsure of what the twist is. We already knew Ezri was working for the Alliance. Is the twist that Kira was just pretending to be held prisoner? If so, for what purpose?
Oh, right, silly me for overthinking this. Clearly, all I’m supposed to be thinking right now is: Two women kissing, HAWT. Also, “hilarious”, because it means Quark has no chance with this version of Ezri, either. Worf orders Quark and Rom to be locked up in the brig with the Nagus.
Over in what I guess is Ezri’s quarters, Brunt is feeling super-guilty about what they just did to Quark and Rom. When Kira walks in, he tries to convince her to let them go. Instead, Kira grabs a dagger and stabs Brunt, and then makes up some bullshit reason about fearing Brunt would “betray” her the way Sisko and Bareil did in previous episodes. But we all know she’s just keeping up the running gag that Kira has to kill a Ferengi in every Mirror Universe episode.
The Regent’s ship is heading for an encounter with the Defiant, but the Klingons can’t get the cloaking device operational. So they pull Rom out of the brig to get the thing working. He eventually gets it installed, and as soon as the cloaking device is engaged, the Regent orders all the Ferengi prisoners killed. Rom says to Ezri, “That settles it! I’m never helping you again!” And Kira chimes in with, “Or anyone else, for that matter!” Oh, okay, it’s funny now.
Down in the brig, Garak is tasked with executing the Ferengi, but instead of just shooting them, he plans to inject them with a deadly virus. To waste some time, they taunt Garak by saying how much better the Garak in their universe is at killing people.
Cut to the bridge of the Defiant, where Bashir tells O’Brien not to worry, because the Regent couldn’t possibly have gotten the cloaking device working yet. Gilligan Cut to the Defiant on a viewscreen, revealing that the Regent’s ship is directly behind them. Worf orders the ship to decloak so they can fire on the Defiant, but as soon as they disengage the cloak, the whole ship loses power.
Unsurprisingly, while Rom was getting the cloaking device up and running, he was also sabotaging the ship. The Ferengi break out of the brig and inject Garak with his own deadly virus, and that’s the end of Mirror Garak. They then meet up with Ezri, who’s had a change of heart over Brunt’s death, and now wants to help them escape.
Meanwhile, the guys on the Defiant see the Regent’s ship uncloak and immediately begin an assault on the vessel, which is clearly reused footage from “Shattered Mirror”. But that sequence was pretty expensive to film, so I don’t blame them for trying to get their money’s worth. The Terrans disable the ship and O’Brien gets on the viewscreen to demand Worf’s unconditional surrender. Worf relents and is so pissed off that he rips out his own captain’s chair.
Meanwhile, Kira encounters Ezri and the Ferengi in the corridors, and tries to convince Ezri to escape with her, but Ezri is on the side of the rebels now. So they just watch as Kira slips away, yet again. And that’s the last we’ll ever see of Mirror Kira, an initially complex character who devolved into a mustache-twirling depraved bisexual by the time all was said and done.
We end the episode on Terek Nor, as Regent Worf and his crew are led off the ship in shackles. The Terran rebels are all celebrating, and apparently Ezri’s last-minute change of heart means she gets to celebrate with the good guys, too. Here, Quark and Rom and the Nagus are preparing to head back to their own universe. Quark says he hopes he can come back and see Ezri again, but she clearly couldn’t care less.
For one final bit of stupidity, Mirror Leeta makes an appearance, telling Ezri that O’Brien wants to “debrief” her, and who even knows what the hell that means. Rom sees Mirror Leeta and immediately yells out that in his universe, “We’re maaaaaarried!”
Mirror Leeta just laughs at this, then Ezri totally checks her out, and Leeta totally checks out Ezri, and the two women walk off while making it obvious that they’re hot for each other. Yep, it’s an alternate universe, alright. An alternate lifestyle universe. And also, it would appear that Ezri is the most desirable woman in the multiverse, with no less than five characters in this episode expressing their love/lust for her.
Zek takes all this in and says, “This is quite a fascinating place, don’t you agree?” You don’t really want me to answer that, do you? The Ferengi head back to their home universe, and that’s mercifully the end.
This episode was directed by LeVar Burton. Hey, imagine that, another terrible episode directed by a Star Trek actor. He also directed the previous Mirror Universe episode “Resurrection”. He obviously has more to work with here than a boring romance plot, but the whole thing feels lifeless and inert.
The supposed “jokes” are so slowly and carefully delivered that they all land with a thud. And with most of the episode consisting of Rom’s drawn-out ruminations on the nature of the “alternate universe”, it feels like the plot is being explained to me like I’m five years old. I get what they were trying to do, with Rom questioning the Mirror Universe and things like Vic Fontaine being a real person; after a few mostly serious episodes, they obviously wanted to have some fun with the Mirror Universe concept, and basically admit how the whole thing makes zero sense if you think about it for any length of time.
Alas, this episode’s idea of “fun” is pretty painful. It’s a bad sign when the highlight is innuendo about all the female characters wanting to hook up with each other. Was this script written by a group of 13 year old boys? Nana Visitor in particular wasn’t happy with the way they turned Mirror Kira bisexual; she originally played the Intendant as merely being obsessed with her main universe counterpart out of pure narcissism, but of course that later got interpreted by the writers as a sexual thing.
I also loved Andrew Robinson’s quote about this episode from the Companion: “I was really, really, really happy about Garak’s death. I never liked those alternate universe shows because that Garak was just a stupid bad guy. The thing that’s great about our Garak is that he has subtext… But the mirror Garak had no subtext. He was just a toady opportunist.” Agreed, one thousand percent, and the same goes for pretty much all the Mirror Universe bad guys.
About the best thing I can say about “The Emperor’s New Cloak” is that given the track record for both Mirror Universe episodes and Ferengi episodes, I wasn’t expecting all that much in the first place. Still, what a lackluster way to end one of DS9’s long-running story arcs.
And that’s the last Mirror Universe episode, or at least it would be, until Enterprise decided to revisit the concept about six years later in the two-parter “In a Mirror, Darkly”. Those episodes use the Mirror Universe to much better effect, but they still have their share of flaws, which I’ll get into next time. Or… will I? My next Mirror Universe recap might be something a little bit unexpected.