Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Through the Looking Glass"

***1/2

Air date: 4/17/1995
Written by Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"I think you'll find that random and unprovoked executions will keep your work force alert and motivated." — Intendant Kira

In the awaited sequel to last season's extraordinary "Crossover," we again peek into the plight of the slave-driven Terrans and their rebellion to overthrow the alliance of the Bajorans, Cardassians and Klingons holding them captive. The result is easily the season's most colorful episode (though not the most substantial or best), with outstanding mirror-character moments and some gritty undertones that defy the entire ideology of the Star Trek universe.

Looking back at "Crossover," one should remember mirror-Sisko's betrayal of evil Intendant Kira to go off and start a rebellion in hopes of freeing the Terrans and their allies. This time around, mirror-O'Brien crosses over from the parallel universe and kidnaps "our" Sisko so he can take the place of mirror-Sisko, who was killed in a Cardassian attack. Upon kidnapping Sisko to the parallel universe, mirror-O'Brien (or, rather, "Smiley," as the mirror-Sisko called him) explains the situation.

The rebellion needs Sisko to carry out a special mission—convince a human scientist who currently works for the alliance to turn over to the rebels. This scientist happens to be Sisko's wife Jennifer (Felecia M. Bell), still alive in this universe, and working on a sensor array for the alliance. Simply put, if she completes this array, it will mean the end of the rebellion. "Unless you can persuade Professor Sisko to join our cause, we'll have no choice but to kill her," Smiley tells him. "I can't let her die," Sisko replies. "Not again."

With the plot set in motion, the story dives into the always interesting mirror-character moments, beginning with a scene at a rebel hideout as Smiley and Sisko walk in to everyone's surprise. Sisko masquerades as his counterpart, claiming he escaped and that rumors of his death were simply products of the Intendant's "propaganda machine." Among the rebels include familiar faces such as an embittered Rom, who wants to launch an attack on Terok Nor to avenge his brother's death. Tim Russ makes an appearance as Mirror-Tuvok, who is basically identical to the Tuvok we know on Voyager. (I suppose we can always count on Vulcans to be their usual selves regardless of the universe.)

Mirror-Bashir, with appropriately long hair and a scruffy look, is the outspoken number two of the particular group, and there's some obvious conflict between he and Sisko. Sisko shuts him up with a blow to the face at Smiley's suggestion, reaffirming that this universe is not a nice place but rather a chaotic one where violence dictates—the "heroes" fighting amongst each other as well as the alliance.

Then Mirror-Dax shows up. In this universe, she is Sisko's mistress, and this brings about a rather interesting scene where she leads him into the bedroom. At first I thought the writers were going to pull on this punch (Sisko's first reaction was "We have a lot of planning to do"). But for once, they allow Sisko to give in to an urge, rather than just avoiding it with a typical reference to duty or consequences.

Sisko and Dax sleeping together here is apparently an indication of something repressed in Sisko—an assertion I find quite interesting. The downside is that after it happens, the episode decides to ignore the emotional aftermath and press on with plot, leaving questions like "Will Sisko ever look at Dax the same way again?" completely up to us. If there's some sort of fallout from this incident in a future episode, I will be very impressed. But I seriously doubt that possibility.

The plot resumes as Sisko and Smiley take a ship to Terok Nor to rescue Jennifer, but are captured en route by alliance forces. Taken prisoner to the station, Intendant Kira meets them at the airlock door.

And boy, oh boy, does Nana Visitor recap the role of the evil Intendant with chilling authority. The way she swings from a sultry, pleasure-seeking persona to the malignant overseer who orders random executions is downright icy. Her patronizing, condescending greeting of "O'Brien the tinkerer" is an unforgettable display of her sugary venom, as is the scene where she quietly says to Jennifer, "You do believe me, don't you?" This character is probably DS9's most complex and memorable villain. She's self-important and living in the lap of luxury—yet not really happy with what she has because she lacks real companionship. She just wants to be loved, which may explain some of the bisexual and narcissistic overtones evident both here and in "Crossover." For this reason, she hesitates on killing Sisko, despite his prior betrayal of her, and considers giving him another chance to be with her at her side.

This gives Ben enough freedom to talk to Jennifer in hopes of turning her. The scene in which the two meet is skillfully performed by Brooks, who has to pull off an emotionally-affected but simultaneously mission-bound Sisko. Felecia Bell's character really hates her husband, which does not help Sisko's situation. She may be alive in this universe, but she's not the loving person Ben knew. She has good reason to be bitter. Mirror-Ben wasn't much of a husband, and the dialogue effectively gives us enough backstory in one scene to define their destroyed marriage and what it means to both this episode and this universe.

Jennifer has sincere intentions but is naive, as we discover that the only reason she's helping the alliance is so the rebellion and alliance will stop fighting and put an end to the death. Ben reminds her that Terrans are slaves, and it's freedom that they're fighting for. A quick speech persuades Jennifer to turn, which leads to the final part of the episode—the escape from Terok Nor.

Sisko has a plan, which he quickly sets in motion. O'Brien gathers a group of Terran miners and meets up with Sisko. Then it becomes a sprint for the docking ring.

This escape sequence features a terrific phaser battle (perhaps the best yet on any of the Trek series) with convincing special effects and stunts (though Chattaway's typical orchestrations do little more than underscore the sequence). It's reminiscent of the final act of The Empire Strikes Back, as the outnumbered heroes flee through the corridors to escape the villains closing in on them. Kudos to Winrich Kolbe for his atmospheric direction over the lustrous action sequences, as well as the person who thought of giving Sisko a phaser in each hand—a rather amusing action-hero inspiration which brought to mind such phrases as "Two-gun Sisko" and "The Sisko Kid." Also, don't forget about the often overlooked special effects team and editors.

Kira and Garak leading the pursuit also proves to be a manic delight here, nevermind that their actions are predefined from the book of standard cinema villains. Both Visitor and Robinson bring a great deal of intimidation to the roles with their lively performances, turning stock villain lines into colorful bits of dialogue. The use of low-angle shots to photograph Visitor is an effective way of conveying the character's authority.

The inevitable showdown between Sisko and Kira is equally satisfying. While Sisko's ability to access the computer and arm the auto-destruct program to bargain for their release may be just a tad too neat and convenient, it does make for one of the series' most gratifying triumphs of the hero over the villain. Intendant Kira has such a flare of silent fury in her eyes over losing this round that it becomes evident that a revisit to this universe in a future episode is quite possible.

Kira: "This isn't over, Benjamin. I'll hunt you down. I swear it."
Sisko: "You're welcome to try."

"Looking Glass" provides a continuing look into the dark yet colorful anti-Roddenberry universe, while also giving Sisko a good action-adventure story. This episode does have its flaws, the most notable being that Sisko meeting his mirror-wife is not milked for all the emotional pathos it's worth, and ends up upstaged by the Sisko/Kira showdown and the action scenes. And, yes, it's true that "Looking Glass" depends mostly on its glimmering surface, because the superficial qualities disguise a number of basically standard plot developments. It's pretty much a fantastically over-the-top "comic book" adventure. But even if this isn't the most substantial episode, it is a downright entertaining one to watch, with a great deal of screen presence.

Previous episode: Distant Voices
Next episode: Improbable Cause

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20 comments on this review

Gretchen - Sun, Nov 18, 2007 - 3:52pm (USA Central)
A nice, exciting episode with a wonderful performance from Avery Brooks. I've always wondered if he turned down his paycheck for this one since it gave him the chance to snog with both Nana Visitor & Terry Farrell (some guys have all the luck!).
Alain - Fri, May 29, 2009 - 8:56am (USA Central)
I just got the Star Trek Fan Collective Alternate Realities box set. One thing that struck me while watching the episode is that using Rom to be traitor to the resistance didn’t make much sense.
It seems that in the mirror reality that Rom is also adept at technology if not a genius at it as indicated by when Sisko told his wife that a certain Ferengi gave him the sub dermal communicator. You would think given the scarcity of technical talents in the resistance that Rom’ technological skills would be to valuable to risks on this sort of mission. Otherwise a very enjoyable show.
Masamune - Thu, Jul 2, 2009 - 12:08pm (USA Central)
Using Rom as the traitor was probably due to reputation. A Ferengi will sell his own mother if it's for a profit, so why not rebels? Him betraying them made more sense than anyone else, except maybe for Dax.
Jacob - Mon, Jul 20, 2009 - 3:22pm (USA Central)
Also, it was established that he was willing to take large risks out of grief for the death of Quark, so he would be willing to perform such a dangerous role.
Nic - Wed, Nov 11, 2009 - 10:22pm (USA Central)
The real reason is that a Ferengi had to die because every time we visit the mirror universe a Ferengi has to die.
Every single mirror universe ep has the same plot.
2.5 stars, but only because the actors are so good.
Elliott - Mon, Dec 13, 2010 - 11:59pm (USA Central)
WHAT??????

Just because Sisko keeps saying he's a starfleet officer doesn't make him one, "Oh, I can see my dead wife again, so fuck my duty and principals. Aren't I great?" enough of that let's find bisexual Kira...

Kira is barely tolerable as her usual self, this overacted mess of a character is just nauseating. I won't try to content she's not the best villan DS9 has offered, but that ain't saying much.

THe only thing which makes this episode WATCHABLE is Tim Russ.
Elliott - Tue, Dec 14, 2010 - 12:05am (USA Central)
Just watch the scene where Sisko's laying down the plans for the invasion of Tarak Nor--Dax just stands there, Bashir sounds like he's in a highschool production of Les Miserables and Sisko sounds like a Baptist preacher. It's funny. I mean it's stupid. Stupid is funny sometimes.
Stubb - Mon, Jun 27, 2011 - 12:34pm (USA Central)
First of all, just ogling Dax, Kira and Jennifer in their sultry alternate guises makes this episode worth watching. Then there's the odd Sisko discrepancy -- apparently the alternate Avery Brooks actually *can* act. But what I don't understand (jumping ahead to include the subsequent Crossover episodes) is alternate-Kira's propensity for suffering betrayal. Here she is, the ruthless Intendent of Terok Nor, getting taken in by every two-bit shyster who comes her way (male or female). Sisko smiles at her, Smiley lies to her, and next thing you know she's betrayed, everyone's escaped, and Kira is either pouting or lying unconscious on the floor. Without the masterly and cynical Garak by her side, this patsy wouldn't stand a chance. How on earth did such a sucker become the feared Intendent of Tarok Nor??
Captain Tripps - Wed, Sep 28, 2011 - 12:36pm (USA Central)
Being a sucker for affection is kind of the Intendents Achille's Heal, I imagine she got her place out of her inherent ruthlessness. She's also kind of...persuasive, as seen in future episodes where she avoids punishment for her failures. And again falls victim to someone claiming to love her.

It's consistent, at least.
Locke - Thu, Sep 6, 2012 - 10:50am (USA Central)
I just have to ask... why is Tuvok in this episode? it's so random =)
Patrick - Tue, Sep 25, 2012 - 11:15pm (USA Central)
After all these years, I still feel that this is the only worthwhile DS9-Mirror Universe episode. It's filled to the brim with twists and turns, some serious emotional gravity with bringing back Jennifer Sisko, and it's FUN! That was the one thing that the other DS9-MU lacked in spades. They were oppressively grim, and that's not what the MU was originally created for.
William - Sat, Sep 29, 2012 - 12:41pm (USA Central)
To Locke -- Yes, Tuvok's inclusion is seemingly random, until you stop to think about it.

Since this is a mirror universe, one is to assume most members of the crews of Next Gen and Voyager are also around. At the very least, each person born in Prime Universe seem to be born in MU.

I'd imagine Picard, Riker, Pulaski, Dr. Crusher, Janeway and Chakotay are all somewhere suffering under the yoke of the Alliance.

Hell, Wesley Crusher is probably running around loose somwhere, except instead of being a pesky boy genius, he's probably a dumb-as-bag-of-rocks guy getting a lot of ass. Might make a good additional to MU Kira's stable. Or maybe he's off nailing his homosexual lover, the Traveler.

Hell, MU means another chance for Tasha Yar to be reborn. And in the MU, Troi probably runs around emotionally raping people while Yar is all girly and scared.

Neelix and Kes would have to be still stuck in the Delta quadrant. Neelix and the Talaxians probably terrorize the Kazon in MU.

But anyway, I think it would actually make sense for Tuvok to be around, since he had infiltrated the Maquis in Prime Universe, he'd actually be a freedom fighter in MU.

Jack - Thu, Feb 14, 2013 - 10:55am (USA Central)
The mirror universe episodes require assuming that the exact same sperm-egg combinations happen in both universes, creating the same people, even though entirely different lives are being led.

It's just a bridge way, way, way, way, way too far...
TDexter - Sun, Mar 3, 2013 - 7:05pm (USA Central)
So much overanalysis in this thread! I have always found the MU eps as Star Trek's excuse to indulge in a little space cowboy pulp fiction, as an homage to the roots of the genre. They are supposed to be y, ridiculous and over the top.
Kotas - Wed, Oct 23, 2013 - 8:56am (USA Central)

Not quite as good as the first parallel universe episode.

5.5/10
Elliott - Thu, Dec 26, 2013 - 2:18pm (USA Central)
I agree with TDexter that the purpose of the mirror universe is purely indulgence, but there is an underlying logic (however contrived) to it which, in this manifestation, begins to become offensive.

Pansexuality is ONlY to be found (and appropriately seen as nothing extraordinary) amongst the evil mirror characters; this unfortunately highlights the homophobic blemish which colours all of the Trek incarnations.

Regarding the effectiveness of the mirror characters, I'd say it's mostly a matter of taste. To me, Bashir is absolutely awful. The other characters are okay. Tuvok, Garak and Smily are fairly enjoyable. Jennifer seems human (because, this is the MU).

My problem is with the real Sisko. Placed into this madhouse dimension, his true colours are revealed to us. He is self-serving, emotional, duplicitous, deceitful and aggressive. As I've said before, keeping these episodes in mind when viewing "In the Pale Moonlight" both helps explain Sisko's actions in that plot and undermine the dramatic impact of Sisko "compromising his ethics," when one realises his actions in that episode are perfectly in keeping with his established moral code.
Vylora - Fri, Feb 21, 2014 - 11:27pm (USA Central)
All of the MU episodes (including TOS "Mirror, Mirror") has required of me a rather large suspension of disbelief. Namely for the very reason Jack stated above. In my mind this pushes it more to the realm of fantasy than science fiction.

As far as the character of Sisko goes - I don't see any supposed "true colors" showing. What I see is him doing what he can to be like mirror Sisko. I assume, hopefully correctly, that he learned more from Smiley about MU Sisko off-screen that enabled him to do just that. Basically Sisko was 'faking it' and, in that sense, doesn't say anything about anything concerning his moral code. I would say helping the rebels against an evil, brutal regime is a good thing.

I'm also unsure of interfering with the affairs of an alternate universe is the same matter as interfering with a sovereign government or pre-warp civilization. After all, the ones wanting help here already know about the other universe.

Otherwise, yes, this is really damned entertaining and on that note...

3.5 stars

Quarkissnyder - Thu, Jul 10, 2014 - 10:21pm (USA Central)
Sisko had sex with Dax while fooling her into believing he was someone else who she would actually want to have sex with. In other words, he raped her.
Robert - Fri, Jul 11, 2014 - 8:45am (USA Central)
@Quark - In a technical sense of the word, yes. But spys (which is kind of what he was being) do this sort of thing all the time.
Quarkissnyder - Fri, Jul 11, 2014 - 10:06pm (USA Central)
That may be, but Sisko is not a spy. If he made compromises for the sake of playing the role, there should be fallout or consequences -- but he never feels any remorse. That's out of character for him and poor writing for the show.

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