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Star Trek: Enterprise Rewatch: “In a Mirror, Darkly” (Part I)

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Rereads/Rewatches Star Trek: Enterprise

Star Trek: Enterprise Rewatch: “In a Mirror, Darkly” (Part I)

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Published on December 4, 2023

“In a Mirror, Darkly”
Written by Mike Sussman
Directed by James L. Conway
Season 4, Episode 18
Production episode 094
Original air date: April 22, 2005
Date: January 13, 2155

Captain’s star log. We open in Bozeman, Montana in 2063, the familiar tableau from First Contact of a Vulcan ship landing and making the titular contact with Earth. But then Cochrane whips out a pistol and shoots the Vulcan and the humans board the ship and take it over. Yup, we’re in the Mirror Universe

We jump to 2155 and see the I.S.S. Enterprise, under the command of Captain Max Forrest, heading to a rendezvous with the assault fleet. Major Malcolm Reed and Doctor Phlox show Forrest and his first officer, Commander Jonathan Archer, their new toy: the agony booth, a much more effective disciplinary tool than what they’ve been using. They’re testing it on a Tellarite crew member, and Reed can’t even recall what it was the Tellarite did to deserve being tortured.

Archer reiterates a request he made to Forrest to go to Tholian space. Archer has received intelligence of a technology in their territory that will give them an edge against the rebels. Forrest refuses, and threatens Archer with the agony booth if he doesn’t shut up about it.

The captain’s woman, Hoshi Sato, joins Forrest in his quarters and distracts him from work. Forrest reveals that the Terran Empire is having trouble putting the rebellion, despite the official reports to the contrary.

Image: CBS

On his way to the bridge, Forrest is ambushed, his MACO bodyguard killed, by Reed and Sergeant Travis Mayweather. Archer is taking command, ordering Forrest to be put in the brig, not killed. (Reed wants very much to kill the captain.) Archer insists he has orders from Starfleet to enter Tholian space and retrieve the technology they believe is there. Neither Second Officer T’Pol nor Sato know of any such communiqués, but Archer insists he got it on a private channel. Archer promotes T’Pol to first officer and orders her to pull a Suliban cloaking device out of storage and to help Chief Engineer Tucker install it.

Archer promotes Mayweather to be his personal bodyguard, and also makes it clear that he’s keeping Forrest alive in order to get Sato to cooperate with him, starting with her sending a message to Admiral Gardner.

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Enterprise finds the warp signature Archer is looking for, but they’re also ambushed by a one-person Tholian craft. They exchange weapons fire, and the Tholian tries to self-destruct to avoid capture, which the transporter renders a failure. The Tholian is beamed to the decon chamber, where Phlox indulges in torture. The prisoner eventually reveals that the Terran ship they captured is in the Ventaak system.

Heading there, the cloak is overloaded. Archer looks into it, including asking Forrest if he is responsible. Or maybe Admiral Black’s spy on board did it. Forrest points out that, if Black sent a spy, Forrest wouldn’t have the first clue who it was.

Reed then provides evidence that Tucker was responsible, which leads to Tucker being put in the agony booth for four hours.

T’Pol frees Forrest and he takes the ship back—but Archer anticipated that. Enterprise is locked into a course to the Ventaak system, and no one can change it. Not even Archer, who installed a random code to lock it out. It will take T’Pol weeks to decrypt it.

Forrest puts Archer in the agony booth, but releases him on Admiral Gardner’s orders. The admiral was intrigued by Archer’s data and wants Forrest to continue to pursue it. Archer briefs the senior staff, explaining that the Tholians created an interphasic rift that led to a parallel universe. They lured a ship through with a phony distress call. According to Archer’s intelligence—gained from a slave of the Tholians—the ship was quantum dated and it’s not just from another timeline, but from a hundred years in the future.

Image: CBS

Archer is to lead the away team onto the ship. Forrest orders T’Pol to accompany him and make sure he doesn’t make it back alive. Tucker confronts T’Pol about how he suffered in the agony booth for no reason, but T’Pol reveals that she mind-melded with him to mentally force him to sabotage the cloak, and then did another mind-meld so he’d forget. So he really was guilty, even if he doesn’t remember it.

The Tholian prisoner is able to send a distress call biologically, so Phlox is forced to sedate it. But it fights past the sedation, leading Phlox to kill it—but not before it gets a message out.

Sure enough, Enterprise is attacked, but since they’ve arrived at their destination, Forrest has control again. The Tholians, however, make short work of Enterprise.

Meanwhile, Archer and his landing party are on the U.S.S. Defiant, where they find the corpses of the crew who succumbed to the brain-damaging effects of interphase. And then they’re forced to watch as Forrest orders the crew to abandon ship and Enterprise itself blows up.

To be continued…

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Apparently MU Starfleet doesn’t shield as well against delta rays as the mainline universe’s Starfleet, as Tucker is disfigured by multiple exposure to such.

The gazelle speech. The MU Archer is not particularly ambitious, but that may have been an act to get Forrest to trust him. Either way, he shows plenty of ambition and gumption here, and Forrest and T’Pol are both gobsmacked by it.

I’ve been trained to tolerate offensive situations. T’Pol is perfectly happy to use mind-control on Tucker, and also use him for sex, in order to remain loyal to Forrest.

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Optimism, Captain! Phlox helped design the agony booth and made sure to make it a pan-species torture device, and also one that would have long-term efficacy by working on different nerve clusters.

Good boy, Porthos! In the MU, Porthos is a snarly rottweiler.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Let’s see, we’ve got Sato going from sleeping with Archer to sleeping with Forrest to going back to sleeping with Archer, we’ve got T’Pol using Tucker to help her through pon farr, and we’ve got the sexualized women’s Starfleet uniforms from the original series’ “Mirror, Mirror.”

The Vulcan Science Directorate has determined… After Zefram Cochrane’s successful warp flight, Vulcan made first contact, as they did in the mainline universe, but this time Terrans kill the Vulcan pilot and take over his ship.

Also T’Pol declares that the Vulcan Science Directorate has determined that there are no parallel universes, because of course they have.

More on this later… This episode tells the other side of the story of the original series’ “The Tholian Web,” establishing that the Defiant was lured by a distress call into the interphasic rift, which was caused by the MU’s Tholians doing crazy-ass experiments.

In addition, we learn that the agony booth that was used on the I.S.S. Enterprise in “Mirror, Mirror” was invented by Phlox and Reed.

I’ve got faith…

“They call this ‘progress’.”

“There’s something to be said for a good old-fashioned flogging.”

–Archer and Forrest discussing the agony booth.

Image: CBS

Welcome aboard. Vaughn Armstrong returns for what is his final Trek appearance to date as the MU Forrest, while Franc Ross plays the big bearded guy who leads the charge against the Vulcan ship in the teaser. James Cromwell and Cully Fredrickson appear via archive footage from First Contact as Zefram Cochrane and the Vulcan captain, respectively, though stuntman Steve Blalock plays the Vulcan captain when he gets shot.

Trivial matters: This is the first of two parts, to be continued next week. It’s also the seventh episode to involve the MU, following the original series’ “Mirror, Mirror,” which introduced the concept, and the DS9 epsiodes “Crossover,” “Through the Looking Glass,” “Shattered Mirror,” “Resurrection,” and “The Emperor’s New Cloak.” It’ll be seen again when the U.S.S. Discovery winds up in the MU at the end of “Into the Forest I Go,” and stays there through “Despite Yourself,” “The Wolf Inside,” “Vaulting Ambition,” and “What’s Past is Prologue,” with a version of it also showing up in the “Terra Firmatwo-parter.

This is the first episode to take place entirely in the MU, a distinction it and Part 2 will retain until Discovery’s “Despite Yourself.” This two-parter is the only MU story to date that has no characters from the mainline universe in it. (Well, no living ones, since technically the corpses they find on Defiant are from the mainline universe, but you know what I mean…)

The MU has appeared in tons of tie-in fiction: see the Trivial Matters sections for both “Mirror, Mirror” and “Crossover” for a detailed listing.

The teaser mixes footage from First Contact with new material.

The opening credits are redone, with different music (thank goodness) and visuals that emphasize Earth’s history of warfare. Archival historical footage was used, as well as bits from the 1980s TV series Call to Glory, the 1927 film Wings, the 1990 film The Hunt for Red October, the 2000 film U-571, and the 2005 film The Jacket, as well as battle scenes from Enterprise and Voyager.

In addition to being a prequel to “Mirror, Mirror” and the other MU episodes, this serves as a sequel to the original series’ “The Tholian Web.” The two crew members on the bridge are an attempt to re-create the two corpses on the bridge in that 1968 episode, though it’s not quite accurate. For one thing, the Defiant crew have a different logo on their uniform, even though they had the same delta as Enterprise crew in the original series episode. (The notion of different ships with different insignia was only seen in the second season. In seasons one and three, everyone had the same insignia on their uniforms.)

This is the first full appearance of a Tholian, after only seeing the head of one in “The Tholian Web,” and not seeing a specific (only their ship) in “Future Tense.” Amusingly, the original conception of “Future Tense” was for the Defiant to be the ship they found.

Image: CBS

It’s been a long road… “Will you kindly die?” I find myself less enthusiastic about this two-parter than I was when I first watched it when it debuted in 2005, or when I watched it again a couple years later when I was gearing up to write my own fiction in the MU. I think at least part of it is that I’m well and truly sick of the MU at this point. DS9’s forays into the MU were a case of diminishing returns prior to this, ditto Discovery’s subsequent to this.

But I think the biggie is that the MU doesn’t really bear rewatching. On first watch, you get the novelty of seeing familiar characters in new roles, but once you know that’s coming that novelty has worn off. While dramatic fiction about horrible people can work—shows like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and The Shield, e.g.—they work because the characters have depth and complexity.

MU Trek characters have no depth to speak of. That’s part of the point, as mentioned by Spock in the very first MU episode in 1967 with his line about how civilized folk can pretend to be barbarians more easily than the other way ’round.

Having said that, “In a Mirror, Darkly” does have more than a few redeeming features, the two biggest being at the episode’s commencement. The reworking of the denouement of First Contact is a masterpiece, and I can’t say enough wonderful things about the opening credits. I mean, anything that gets that fucking song out of there is automatically an improvement, and the choices in visuals are inspired, showing us the much more warlike Earth of this timeline.

It’s great to see Vaughn Armstrong back, and I like that he’s very similar to the mainline Forrest in terms of temperament, but he’s still a cruel bastard, as is fitting for a Terran Empire shipmaster. Connor Trinneer beautifully plays the beaten-down engineer, Jolene Blalock and Linda Park nicely dig their teeth into the more manipulative characters they’re playing (and Blalock looks so much better with the long hair), and John Billingsley and Dominic Keating are effectively nasty as the sadistic versions of Phlox and Reed.

The weak link here is Scott Bakula, and this will come as no surprise to anyone who’s followed Bakula’s career, because even at his best, he’s always been horrible at playing angry mean people. Probably the worst acting in his career prior to 2001 was in the Quantum Leap two-part Lee Harvey Oswald episode, where Oswald’s personality was bleeding into Sam Beckett’s, and Bakula was just dreadful. (That storyline had plenty of other problems too, as it was less a story than an excuse for producer Donald P. Bellisario to give a middle finger to JFK assassination conspiracy theories in general and Oliver Stone’s JFK movie in particular.)

And he’s just awful here, looking less like a conniving MU Starfleet officer and more like a teenager who just got cut from the football team. The only moment that works is his fuck-you to the just-freed Forrest when the latter finds out that Archer locked Enterprise on course. His “The bridge is yours” to Forrest is his best (and arguably only good) moment in the episode.

Warp factor rating: 6

Keith R.A. DeCandido urges everyone to pick up Star Trek Explorer #9, which has, among other things, Keith’s new Discovery short story “Work Worth Doing,” which explores the backstory of Federation President Laira Rillak. It’s the first Discovery story to appear in the magazine.

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Keith R.A. DeCandido

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Keith R.A. DeCandido has been writing about popular culture for this site since 2011, primarily but not exclusively writing about Star Trek and screen adaptations of superhero comics. He is also the author of more than 60 novels, more than 100 short stories, and around 50 comic books, both in a variety of licensed universes from Alien to Zorro, as well as in worlds of his own creation. Read his blog, follow him on Facebook, The Site Formerly Known As Twitter, Instagram, Threads, and Blue Sky, and follow him on YouTube and Patreon.
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