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.