Mar 9, 2021
Star Trek: Enterprise “In a Mirror, Darkly” (Part I)
Welcome back once again to the Agony Booth’s ongoing look at the Mirror Universe episodes that gave the site its name! And here we are, finally, after nearly three years, coming to the last-ever Mirror Universe outing, a two-parter aired during the final season of Enterprise, by then known as Star Trek: Enterprise.
The last time I covered this series, which I believe was approximately a lifetime ago, it was to recap “A Night in Sickbay”, probably the nadir of my Star Trek viewing experience and a strong contender for worst Star Trek episode ever. This time around, I thankfully get to look at something vastly better, coming as it does from the fourth season of Enterprise, when the show briefly turned things around in terms of quality just in time for its inevitable cancellation. (And has it really been ten years since the last episode of Enterprise aired?)
As many Trek fans know, for the first two seasons of Enterprise, executive producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga not only served as showrunners, but also wrote the majority of the scripts. This of course led to a lot of awful episodes that made it clear the two men were burnt out on writing Trek and really had nothing novel or unique to add to the hundreds of hours of filmed Star Trek already in existence.
By season two, ratings had hit rock bottom, and the third year of the show brought a drastic attempt to turn things around. For the first time in franchise history, the entire season was one long story arc, as the crew of the Enterprise went after the Xindi, a previously unknown race intent on destroying Earth. But more importantly, Berman and Braga took a step back from writing, only scripting a handful of episodes.
The quality of the stories improved a bit, and you have to give them credit for attempting to drag Star Trek kicking and screaming into the 21st Century world of heavily serialized storytelling, but alas, the show’s improvement wasn’t reflected in the ratings.
So in the fourth season, another shakeup took place when Odyssey 5 creator Manny Coto took over as showrunner, Star Trek novelists Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens came aboard the writing staff, and Berman and Braga only received writing credits on one episode (the much-despised series finale). The show’s nonsensical Temporal Cold War story arc, which ran through all three prior seasons, was wrapped up with pretty much no resolution, and instead of a year-long arc, the season was mostly made up of mini-arcs of two or three episodes.
But most importantly, Coto was and is an unabashed Trekkie, and of course the Reeves-Stevenses are as well, and so the fourth season of Enterprise saw the writers indulging in drawing connections to previous Star Trek shows like never before. There were some notable references to The Next Generation (in addition to Riker and Troi in the finale, Brent Spiner appeared as an ancestor of Data’s inventor) and Deep Space Nine (Section 31 popped up a few times), but mostly, the fourth season was a loving homage to the original series.
There were appearances by T’Pau and Surak and Col. Green, hints of the formation of the Federation, the beginnings of the Earth-Romulan war, Orion slave girls, genetically engineered humans in a callback to Wrath of Khan, and a trilogy of episodes set on Vulcan (easily the most time spent by any Star Trek series/movie on the planet) that undid all the damage of previous seasons and showed how Vulcans went from being total assholes to the race we all know and love.
I’m guessing the writing was on the wall at that point—Nemesis had been a huge flop, and Paramount had already reduced the budget of the show, as well as the number of episodes produced per season—so Berman and Braga and the studio likely figured they might as well make the final season one for the fans. Or, perhaps appealing to the hardcore fans was their last-ditch, Hail Mary effort to save the show.
Either way, the steady decline in viewership continued in season four, which in fact hit new lows. Which isn’t that surprising, considering the show was now basically being tailor-made for a fraction of its potential audience. As a fan of the original series, I of course appreciated all the many TOS tributes they slipped into this season of Enterprise, but at the same time, I realize it’s pretty unlikely that a brand new viewer would happen upon these episodes and have a clue what was going on.
Case in point: two of their remaining episodes were essentially wasted on showing us why Klingons now have forehead ridges, some 25 years after most of us had already accepted “makeup change inspired by a bigger budget” as a perfectly reasonable explanation.
And in keeping with all the TOS fanwankery that would be of little interest to casual viewers, we have “In a Mirror, Darkly”, Enterprise’s excursion into the Mirror Universe. Deep Space Nine last visited this universe six years earlier, but of course, the prequel setting means this story takes place over 200 years prior to those episodes.
“Mirror, Mirror” established that Starfleet knew nothing of the existence of this universe until Kirk and crew crossed over, and I have to give the writers some credit here: They could have simply had characters visit the Mirror Universe and come up with some silly explanation for why no one had heard of the place 100 years later, all the while carefully following the letter (but not the spirit) of established canon. Sort of like how Captain Archer met the Ferengi and the Borg two hundred years before Picard, with the only rationalization being that they never actually referred to themselves as Ferengi or Borg.
But instead, Enterprise did an entirely self-contained episode focusing on the crew of the Mirror Enterprise, where no characters from the “normal” universe show up. It’s not the first Trek episode where none of the “real” characters appear (“Living Witness” only features warped holographic recreations of the Voyager crew), but it was still a risky choice, which tends to make me think it only happened because the suits weren’t paying any attention to the ratings at this point, and only wanted enough episodes to reach the magic number necessary to syndicate the show.
Actually, characters from the regular universe technically do cross over, it’s just, well, they’re all dead long before they get there. I’m speaking of course of the crew of the USS Defiant, with this episode revealing at long last where the ship went after it disappeared in “The Tholian Web”: into the Mirror Universe. And also, a hundred years into the past for some reason.
A similar story idea was initially pitched back in season two. In “Future Tense”, the Enterprise discovers a ship carrying the corpse of a future human, which is sought after by both the Tholians and the Suliban. Originally, the mysterious ship was going to be the Defiant, sent back in time, though that would have been a continuity-abusing exercise in all sorts of ways, and it never happened.
There was also an attempt during the final season to get William Shatner to guest star as a ratings ploy. Apparently, Shatner himself pitched an idea where he would play the older version of Mirror Kirk, and we would learn that Mirror Spock subjected him to the Tantalus Field, which doesn’t disintegrate people, but rather sends them back in time to an alternate universe. That fell through when they couldn’t meet Shatner’s money demands, and so the concept of a Mirror Universe episode was kept and combined with the earlier idea to use the Defiant, and “In a Mirror, Darkly” is the result.
As for the title, it’s play on a quote from Corinthians: “For now we see through a glass, darkly,” also notable because it’s said by Picard in Nemesis while he’s ruminating about what it means to have an evil twin, I mean, clone.
Part one of the episode begins with the caption “Bozeman, Montana, April 5, 2063”. We get footage taken from the ending of Star Trek: First Contact, where a Vulcan ship lands to personally greet Zefram Cochrane, who just completed the first warp flight. The people of post-apocalyptic Montana stand around gawking at the ship, and we get conspicuous insert shots of extras who clearly weren’t in the movie.
As a Vulcan emerges from the ship and removes his hood to show off his pointed ears and give the Vulcan salute, we get close-ups of a guy with a beard who wasn’t in the movie. James Cromwell as Zefram Cochrane starts to return the salute, but then James Cromwell’s double suddenly reaches into his coat, pulls out a gun, and blasts the Vulcan away.
Mr. Not-in-the-Movie yells, “Board his ship! Take everything you can!” They storm the Vulcan ship, and obviously, what we just saw was the Mirror Universe version of the events of First Contact, and the beginnings of the eventual Terran Empire.
It’s a clever way to open the episode. But again, I can’t imagine what a Trek newbie or someone who, say, never saw First Contact would make of this, especially since after the credits, we cut to a completely different set of characters nearly 100 years later.
Speaking of those credits, they actually came up with new ones especially for this episode. The schmaltzy “Where My Heart Will Take Me” is replaced by a dark orchestral theme from Dennis McCarthy, and instead of the usual montage of exploration, we get all sorts of stock footage of conquest and war and destruction, some of it coming from other Paramount productions like The Hunt for Red October, the short lived ‘80s series Call to Glory, and an episode of Voyager.
Along the way, a cheesy CGI astronaut plants the Terran Empire flag on the moon. So… wait. The Terrans formed an “empire” before they landed on the moon and long before they met other races? That’s like the human race deciding tomorrow to call ourselves the United Federation of Planet.
There’s also a shot that’s a joke on one of the shots in the regular credits, where a post-Phoenix and pre-NX-01 ship passes over a lunar colony. But in the Mirror Universe version, the same ship is firing photon torpedoes on the lunar colony.
We see the ISS Enterprise NX-01, with yellow flame designs on its hull, raining hellfire down on planets and Klingon birds of prey, and the credits wrap up with a rotating Terran Empire logo.
It appears that in the Mirror Universe, Archer is first officer of the Enterprise, and the guy in command is Captain Forrest, who in the normal universe is a Starfleet admiral. Well, was an admiral. His character died in a terrorist bombing earlier in the season, and thus this episode continues the Deep Space Nine tradition of using the Mirror Universe to bring back dead characters.
Archer and Forrest, both wearing epaulets and various metal badges and the Terran Empire logo on their jumpsuits, are here to watch the Mirror versions of Reed and Phlox show off a new torture device. Inside a plexiglas chamber, a Tellarite screams in pain, while Reed echoes a future line of Mirror Spock’s: “The booth will be far more effective than our previous disciplinary methods!” Phlox adds, “These sensors continually shift the stimulation from one nerve cluster to another, keeping the subject in a constant state of agony!” So it’s a booth… that causes agony? I wonder what they’ll call it.
Reed and Phlox are the inventors of this “agony booth”, if you will, a later version of which was of course seen in the original “Mirror, Mirror”. As the torture goes on, it turns out they don’t even know why the Tellarite is being punished, but Reed reveals the sinister xenophobic attitudes of the Empire with, “Aren’t all Tellarites guilty of something?”
In the corridor, Archer is trying to convince Forrest to investigate an area of Tholian space based on data from an “anonymous source”. But Forrest isn’t interested. He says they have to meet up with the rest of the fleet to put down a rebellion, but Archer insists his data shows the existence of technology which could “end the war tomorrow”. Forrest dismisses him as a man simply looking for glory and a chance at a promotion.
Forrest goes to his quarters, where he finds Mirror Hoshi in lingerie. In an unsurprising reversal from timid, demure Hoshi in the normal universe, here she’s the “captain’s woman”, basically this ship’s Marlena Moreau. She’s heard word of the Empire’s decisive victory at Tau Ceti, but Forrest confesses that things actually went “very badly” at Tau Ceti and the Empire may be on the brink of defeat (calling to mind how an alternate timeline Federation was on the brink of defeat in “Yesterday’s Enterprise”). Hoshi then takes his mind off things by making out with him.
The next thing we know, Archer is staging a coup on Captain Forrest, with the help of Reed and the Mirror version of Mayweather (sporting a flattop here, continuing DS9’s tradition of distinguishing Mirror characters from their regular counterparts by giving them 1989 hair). Eventually, they throw Forrest in the brig.
Archer goes to the bridge to confront Mirror T’Pol, who’s differentiated from normal T’Pol by her long hair extensions. Also, she’s wearing a jumpsuit styled like the TOS Mirror Universe women’s uniforms, that shows off her midriff. Archer says he’s taking command, and Mayweather shoots the unfortunate soul who tries to call security.
Archer then gets on the intercom to inform the entire ship that he’s relieved Captain Forrest, and he intends to follow Starfleet orders to take the Enterprise into Tholian space. T’Pol knows this isn’t a real order from Starfleet, but Archer simply has her escorted down to Engineering to help Trip install a cloaking device stolen from the Suliban.
As you might recall, the whole plot of “The Emperor’s New Cloak” was based on there being no cloaking devices in the Mirror Universe, and Grand Nagus Zek was being held hostage in exchange for a cloaking device from the regular universe. Meaning, “In a Mirror, Darkly” basically rendered that episode completely pointless. And I’m not quite sure how many fucks were given that day, but I suspect not a single one.
After making his first Captain’s Log, Archer meets with T’Pol in his quarters, and shows off the gun (seen in the teaser) that Zefram Cochrane used to kill the first Vulcan who set foot on Earth. Apparently, the historical record was written by the victors, and it maintains that the Vulcan ship was part of an “invasion force”, but the humans “turned the tables” and have instead made Vulcans their slaves.
As in our universe, Archer hates Vulcans, but he’s making T’Pol his first officer anyway, because even though Reed is next in line, he “has ambitions”. She’s dismissed, and then we see the Mirror version of Archer’s dog Porthos, which instead of a cute beagle is a big Rottweiler. Funny.
Hoshi drops by. She knows the Starfleet orders are faked and this is really just a “mutiny”. But Archer understands how much Forrest means to her, and promises to keep him alive as long as Hoshi remains loyal. Archer needs her “expertise”. She looks him up and down and replies, “Is that all you need?”
It turns out they used to be a couple, until she left him for Forrest because she saw an “opportunity for advancement”. But of course, she happily offers herself to Archer, since she’s still the Captain’s Woman, regardless of who that captain might be. So… um, what if something happens to Archer, and T’Pol becomes captain? Asking for a friend.
Hoshi kisses him, and also attempts to stab him, but I think this would be considered the Mirror Universe version of foreplay.
The Enterprise comes out of warp to ambush a Tholian ship. They get into a firefight, and the Tholian is easily defeated. Just before the Tholian ship self-destructs, they beam its pilot into the decon chamber, where Phlox has to adjust the environmental settings, notably by cranking up the temperature to “480 Kelvin”.
As the whole gang gathers around the decon chamber to see the Tholian, Phlox says the alien should be called an “it” because Tholians have “male and female characteristics”. Archer peers in through the window of the chamber, and we get a goofy monster movie moment when the Tholian suddenly pops up for a jump scare.
The Tholian’s face looks pretty much the same as the one seen in “The Tholian Web”, but it turns out Tholians have crystalline, insect-like bodies. And the CGI used to render the Tholian is, let’s face it, pretty dodgy, but we’re not exactly watching Avatar right now, and I didn’t really expect much more considering the show’s (reduced) budget.
Archer huffs and puffs and demands that the Tholian answer his questions, and wants to know the location of the “Terran vessel” they captured. In response, the Tholian trash-talks Archer. Or rather, trash-clicks him, and his insect-like noises are roughly translated by Hoshi as “something about your maternal ancestor.”
So Archer has Phlox make it colder in the decon chamber, and the Tholian breaks. Which I mean literally; Phlox says “its exoskeleton is beginning to fracture!” The Tholian eventually spills the location of the vessel. Suddenly, there’s a loud whine, which turns out to be the Tholian broadcasting a distress call using the “crystalline structure” of its own body. Reed suggests killing it, but Archer needs the Tholian alive for now, and has Phlox sedate it.
Down in Engineering, Trip and T’Pol work on the cloaking device, and we see Mirror Trip has a scarred face, calling to mind Sulu’s scar in “Mirror, Mirror”. In Trip’s case, it comes from having “absorbed enough delta rays to guarantee my grandchildren glow in the dark.” Which calls to mind another TOS episode which revealed that delta radiation is what permanently disfigured Captain Pike.
Just like in the regular universe, Trip and T’Pol have a thing, but this relationship seems to be more about begrudgingly trading sexual favors than anything, and Trip wonders when her next ponn farr is due. Just then, warning sirens sound, and sparks travel along a cable. Trip tries to unplug it, only to have the whole thing blow up in his face.
Later, Reed and Archer arrive, and Reed determines this was an intentional act of sabotage meant to destroy the cloaking device. Archer goes to the brig to question Forrest about whether or not someone on the ship is working for “Admiral Black”, but his advanced interrogation techniques are useless.
Cut to Trip in the agony booth, begging and pleading with Archer, and swearing that he isn’t the saboteur. But Archer still thinks he’s working for Admiral Black, and leaves with an order of “Break him.”
Archer and Hoshi are now in bed, but of course Hoshi is wearing a bra because TV. She confirms that she transmitted the “data” he asked her to send to the fleet admiral as an “insurance policy”. Archer has doubts that Trip is the saboteur, and Hoshi points out that he couldn’t have done it, because T’Pol was watching over him the whole time. Archer gets a realization and goes to the computer, which tells him (even though the computers on the regular NX-01 don’t talk) in a male voice (another “Mirror, Mirror” callback) that T’Pol can’t be located, because sensors are offline.
We next find an armed T’Pol marching through a corridor with two Vulcans. They break Forrest out of the brig, then make their way to the bridge where they take out all the nobodies manning the stations. Forrest orders T’Pol to get them out of Tholian space, but it’s not happening.
Archer shows up to explain that he’s locked the ship on a course to Tholian space and his commands are “encrypted with a random code”, so there’s nothing they can do until they get there. He responds with the standard Terran Empire chest-bump salute and says, “The bridge is yours, Captain!”
Naturally, the next place we find Archer is in the booth, where an impressed Phlox notes he’s been in there for ten hours. Forrest comes in and releases him. It seems Fleet Admiral Gardner got Archer’s data, and he finds the possibilities intriguing, and he’s ordered them to go to Tholian space just like Archer wanted. But Forrest won’t forgive this betrayal any time soon.
In a conference room, Archer finally explains what they’re after: He’s found evidence of the existence of a parallel universe. T’Pol is skeptical, much in the same way regular T’Pol is skeptical about, well, pretty much everything.
So Archer goes to a display and pulls up a diagram that coincidentally looks exactly like Spock’s diagram from “The Tholian Web”. He says that the Tholians wanted to prove their theories about parallel universes, so they detonated a “tricobalt warhead” in a dead star, causing an “interphasic rift” that led to another reality. They didn’t want to risk going in themselves, so they sent a distress call into the rift, hoping to lure in a ship.
Archer pulls up surveillance photos of an asteroid, which is hollowed out with a spacedock built inside. Trip complains that he can’t even tell what he’s looking at, so Archer actually does a CSI-style “enhance!” to magnify a part of the image, revealing a ship with hull markings that identify it as the USS Defiant, NCC-1764.
Forrest notes it’s an Earth ship, and Archer explains that everything that exists in their universe must exist over there. But that’s not all! The Tholians “quantum-dated” the hull, and found it’s not just from another universe, but also from “about one hundred years into the future!” He practically drools on himself as he imagines the advanced weaponry and engine technology that must exist onboard that ship.
So, all of the above would seem to neatly explain most of the lingering questions at the end of “The Tholian Web”. The Defiant was in that area of space because they were responding to a distress call from the Mirror Tholians, which is why the regular universe Tholians seemed completely unaware of the ship’s presence. And the reason that area of space was breaking up in the first place was because of the “interphasic rift” created by the Mirror Tholians.
As for why this rift connects not just two universes, but two universes 100 years apart? You’re on your own there.
Back in Engineering with Trip and T’Pol, he complains about spending “four hours in the booth” for his supposed sabotage. Finally, T’Pol reveals in flashback that she lured him away for sex, but then did a surprise mind meld on him. She made him sabotage the power grid so that she could free Captain Forrest, then used another mind meld to remove his memories of doing this. Wow, mind melds. Is there anything they can’t do?
Trip backs T’Pol up to a wall, looking for a moment like he’s about to bash her head in, but instead he reports to Forrest that the cloaking device is functional. The Enterprise cloaks itself, and they soon arrive at their destination near a ringed planet. They quickly spot the spacedock asteroid and we get a shot of the Defiant in all her glory.
Back in the conference room, T’Pol scans the ship and finds no human lifeforms aboard (Reed thinks they were all “executed”), but she does detect “13 bio-signs, all alien”. And it always strikes me as funny on Star Trek shows when they refer to someone as “alien”. Aren’t all of them aliens to somebody?
Oh, and she makes a point, for no reason, of noting that one of those bio-signs is “reptilian”, which is of course foreshadowing for part two. Trip looks at a scan of the Defiant’s “coils” and says with awe that the ship might even be able to do “Warp 7”. Archer wants to lead an assault team to steal the ship, but Forrest says it’s too dangerous. He orders Archer to instead download the Defiant’s database and then destroy the ship. After he leaves, Forrest makes T’Pol go along, to make sure Archer doesn’t return.
Archer and his team beam over to the Defiant in spacesuits, appearing somewhere down in the lower decks, I would imagine. And as we’re about to see in much better detail, these Defiant sets are more or less an exact recreation of the old TOS-style starship interiors.
They come across a dead Redshirt and flip him over. And if you look closely, the guy is wearing a Starfleet uniform with a special patch for the Defiant. Back on TOS, every starship had its own uniform patch (with Starfleet apparently standardizing on the Enterprise’s arrowhead-shaped logo by the time of the feature films), but we never actually saw the Defiant’s patch in “The Tholian Web”, because there wasn’t enough money to create new patches (they pretty much blew the budget on those bulky silver spacesuits). And so, the Enterprise team had to make up something especially for this episode.
Also, if you look really closely, you can see the faint outline of the Enterprise’s arrowhead patch. As it turns out, this Redshirt uniform is actually a leftover from DS9’s own TOS tribute.
They also find a handheld phaser along the way (reportedly, this is a modified version of a toy sold by Art Asylum), which Archer stares at in wonder before tucking into his belt.
Back on the Enterprise, Phlox is still tending to the Tholian. The “sedative” is wearing off, and the Tholian begins broadcasting a signal again. So Phlox immediately turns off the heat, and the Tholian freezes to death and shatters in a rather cheeseball effect.
But it’s too late; the Tholians are on to them. Their ships surround the cloaked Enterprise and form a Tholian web around the ship. And I’m not sure if it’s because we’re in the Mirror Universe, or because the Tholians can create different variations on their web, but this one takes less than a minute to be generated around the Enterprise, as opposed to the three or four days required to assemble a Tholian web in the TOS episode of the same name.
Archer’s team gets to the bridge of the Defiant, where they see the dead captain, and T’Pol repeats Spock’s line about his neck being broken. Trip then gets the Defiant all powered up, and there’s a nice pan across this newly-created TOS-style bridge.
On the viewscreen, they see the Enterprise trapped and under attack. The cloak has stopped working and they’re taking a pounding.
Back on the Enterprise, Forrest learns a reactor breach is imminent. He orders all hands to abandon ship while he stays behind to buy everyone some time, though it’s not clear how he intends to do that. There’s a scene of escape pods leaving the Enterprise, with some of them getting picked off by the Tholians, and others getting annihilated by the “threads” of the web itself.
On the Defiant, they’re struggling to get the ship operational, and Archer is totally confused by the viewmaster that pops up from the helm. You know, that thing Sulu looked through? (Reportedly, this is a prop loaned from the makers of the New Voyages fan film series.)
Just then, they all look at the screen to see the Enterprise explode inside the Tholian web. Everyone’s stunned by the destruction of the Enterprise and the death of Forrest, and with that, we get a “To Be Continued…” caption. And maybe I’m too jaded by Mirror Universe episodes by now, but I’m not at all surprised they blew up the Enterprise, on a show called Enterprise. In these episodes, they can basically blow up and kill anyone they want, which is sort of the downside of the Mirror Universe, in that the stakes aren’t that high and ultimately you end up not really caring that much who lives or dies.
And I’m not sure if this was intentional, but this shot would also seem to explain what the Tholian web actually does: we see the web shrinking right before the Enterprise explodes, suggesting that the intended use of the weapon is to crush any enemy ship inside of it. Though frankly, it still doesn’t like seem like a very practical weapon.
And that’s the end of part one. So far, I really have nothing to complain about. Unlike the Deep Space Nine Mirror episodes, “In a Mirror, Darkly” fully captures the spirit of the original “Mirror, Mirror”, and gives us plenty of action that’s presented at a brisk pace that never lets up. I wouldn’t call it an especially deep or meaningful episode, but it’s certainly a lot more fun than anything this show was doing in its first couple of years.
But that’s only part one. Like most Star Trek two-parters, the second half doesn’t really live up to the first, but more on that next time. See you next week for my recap of “In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II”.