Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I"

***

Air date: 4/22/2005
Written by Mike Sussman
Directed by James L. Conway

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"This is ludicrous, captain!" — T'Pol, on the right track

In brief: A garish and goofy comic book, but plenty of fun to get the job done, and with a great last act.

Last week's abysmal "Bound" was a silly hour with a lame plot that treated women like objects. The episode had its (delusional) defenders, who labeled it a "guilty pleasure." The error in that description was the use of the word "pleasure" in connection with a show that was such a colossal bore and a general insult to the intellect.

Now here comes "In a Mirror, Darkly," which is also a silly hour that generally treats women like objects. The key difference, however, is that "Bound" was a relentless bore and "Mirror" is quite a bit of fun, with inventive plot details. The term "guilty pleasure" applies in this case. I can recommend "Mirror" on its chosen level of hyper-aggressive testosterone, hilarious teeth-gnashing, and across-the-board sociopathic behavior. This is, after all, the mirror universe. If you're looking for any depth in the slightest, you've come to the wrong show. But it should be noted that the whole point of the mirror universe is that it's an evil comic book where strange things happen. If you want an evil comic book, you've got an evil comic book.

The episode also features a clever opening teaser (first contact with the Vulcans is marked by Zefram Cochrane pulling out a shotgun and blowing the Vulcan ambassador away), an inspired alternate title sequence (showing the advancement of human technology as a purpose for escalating warfare), and a brilliant final act of pure Trekkian fun. These attributes alone would make the hour worthwhile even if everything in between was pointless (which, come to think of it, is a close call).

To call this episode over-the-top would be an understatement. This is a go-for-broke hour of lunatic madness. A lot of it is admittedly inane, but that's the point. The entire episode takes place in the mirror universe and involves exclusively the mirror characters, which is something of a departure from previous Trek mirror-universe episodes, in which characters crossed over from one universe to the other and found themselves out of their element. This prohibits the interaction of characters with their anti-universe and instead allows exclusive focus on the eeeeeeevil characters.

Everyone here is a scumbag, pretty much without exception. The Enterprise is commanded by Captain Forrest (Vaughn Armstrong gets to reprise a version of his character killed earlier this season). Archer is the first officer, who usually wears a frown so extreme that I was left wondering if Scott Bakula had strained all his facial muscles in the making of this episode. Phlox is a doctor of the most unscrupulous kind, who dreams up new ways to torture and kill. In one amusing scene, we see his sickbay of horrors, where as a hobby he dissects animals while their insides pulsate.

Reed is a MACO and a sadist who smiles a subtle but evil grin at the prospect of anything involving torture or something blowing up. He has invented a torture chamber ("the booth") that sends agonizing pain straight into the brain. When a ship attacks the Enterprise, Reed's happy about it because it means he gets to shoot back. Mayweather is also a MACO, and I guess it's fitting that his mirror character is as equally underused as his normal version. Trip is a bitter engineer whose exposure to radiation has left him disfigured. He still hits on T'Pol, even in this universe.

Sato is the captain's mistress (for whomever the captain happens to be at the moment), trading sex for career advancement, although it seems that "advancement" is simply the right to have the captain's ear. If there's one complaint I'd lodge, it's that she's not permitted any strength or power beyond the barter of her sexuality. At least Intendant Kira was in charge in the DS9 mirror-universe episodes, and had a ruthlessness that allowed her to compete with, and surpass, her rival males. Then again, trying to look for character "virtues" in a story that is by definition utterly without virtue is probably foolish; the males are all violent psychopaths, so it's not like we should be looking for redeeming qualities.

The only more or less "normal" person on the ship is T'Pol, who, as a Vulcan, does not seem to harbor the aggressive hostility that all the humans do. Like Spock in the original "Mirror, Mirror," she's governed by a more tempered disposition. After a power play that leaves a number of crewmen dead and Captain Forrest locked in the brig, T'Pol helps Forrest regain the upper hand. She does this not out of ambition for conquest, but out of a loyalty that seems logical.

The plot is a crackpot concoction involving Archer's plan to take the Enterprise deep into Tholian space, where his intelligence points to the location of a secret base that is holding a Starfleet vessel that has been lured from an alternate (i.e. our) universe. But not just from another universe, Archer reveals, but from a century in the future of that other universe, promising more advanced technology that could be used in the Terran Empire's plans for unlimited conquest.

In executing this plan, there is an endless series of manipulations, betrayals, power shifts, and scenes of people screaming in the torture chamber. As much time as the crew (and presumably all of humanity) spends at each other's throats, it's a wonder they've been so successful at conquering other societies. It seems to me that just fending off overthrows within the command structure would be a full-time job.

The tone of these scenes is all attitude and evil comic-book grins, often with enjoyably funny results. You certainly have to regard the actors with admiration here: It takes guts to willingly throw yourself head-on through scenes of such inherent goofiness, devouring the scenery as if your life depended on it. Considering the enormity of the ridiculousness, the performances are fearlessly energetic. Scott Bakula in particular seems to be in a nirvana of play-evil, snapping his neck around with every line of dialog. Actors often say that playing the villain is fun. Everyone must've had fun here, because everyone is the villain.

A few words on the women's Starfleet uniforms: namely, extremely stupid-looking. Robert Blackman, the costume designer, either dropped the ball or was under some sort of directive that required nearly 12 inches of midriff. On the sex appeal front, Hoshi's negligee is fine and good, but the Starfleet uniforms are a laughable embarrassment of the implausible. Come on, folks. There's acceptably over-the-top, and then there's blatant stupidity.

No matter, because all is forgiven by the last act, which is nothing short of brilliant. The Enterprise reaches the Tholian base and discovers a TOS-era Constellation-class starship, the USS Defiant. Viewers with encyclopedic instant-recall of classic Trek (or, in my case, easy access to my old reviews) will remember the Defiant as the ship from TOS's "The Tholian Web." When it vanished from the TOS universe, it apparently ended up here. Now mirror-Archer wants to beam aboard and steal it.

This leads to great sequence in which the Tholians discover the Enterprise and surround it with their energy web, and then start pummeling it with torpedoes. The crew evacuates in the escape pods while Forrest remains aboard to give them time to escape (although I wasn't quite sure what he was trying to do). The Enterprise explodes in a big fireball. Reed, watching from the Defiant, almost smiles, as if seeing explosions triggers an automatic response in his brain.

And, in what may be the coolest scene of the year, Archer's away team powers up the darkened bridge of the Defiant. I gotta tell you: When that bridge lit up and the TOS sound effects started chirping, I wanted to cheer. The feeling this evokes is exactly as if the cast of Enterprise had stepped through a time portal to emerge directly on the sets of the original series in 1966. It's a surreal and wonderfully pure fan moment, and I loved it. The production designers have perfectly recreated the bridge of what is ostensibly the Defiant, but in pure viewer terms is what we know is meant to be the original Enterprise. This is one of those imaginative moments where fictional universes spill into one another in the most unlikely and unexpected of ways, and generate a reality of their own.

If only this sort of imagination serviced a story that wasn't so fundamentally silly and full of characters whose attitudes run counter to this very notion of self-referential Trek imagination, we might've had something really special here. As it is, we have one very special moment within an hour of fairly amusing ones.

Next week: Will the mirror shine or shatter?

Previous episode: Bound
Next episode: In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II

Season Index

32 comments on this review

Straha - Thu, Feb 12, 2009 - 5:27pm (USA Central)
I for one liked the female uniforms, though. :)
Hoshi Sato killer - Sun, Jun 21, 2009 - 3:51am (USA Central)
Hoshi would have been killed looong before she could poison archer.
Jason K - Thu, Nov 19, 2009 - 11:01am (USA Central)
I finally got a chance to see part 1 last night. I was delighted that James Cromwell reprised his First Contact role. I thought it would have been someone else. Great opening scene.
Nolan - Tue, Dec 15, 2009 - 7:59pm (USA Central)
actually Jason, I was under the impression that they just spliced in footage from First Contact, with some insert shots of some different person pulling out a gun then a back shot of them shooting it.
GusF - Tue, Jan 19, 2010 - 5:52pm (USA Central)
As far as I'm concerned, this is the single best episode of the entire series. It certainly gets four stars from me.
Demon971 - Sat, Dec 11, 2010 - 8:29pm (USA Central)
I'm with Straha. The female uniforms were hot! In Mirror Mirror the uniforms showed a good 8-10 inches of tummy, so of course ENT has to follow suit.

Besides, T'Pol's stomach is too good not to show that much! Same with Hoshi. Both those gals have amazing midsections. A tribute to the hotness of Star Trek gals!
Darkling - Wed, Feb 23, 2011 - 7:21am (USA Central)
I think you mean Constitution-class, not Constellation-class...
Nathan - Sun, Nov 27, 2011 - 1:43pm (USA Central)
I couldn't get into it. Most of the other mirror universe episodes have the normal universe characters going over, and much of the interest is in their status as fish out of water, as well as the fact that you actually care about them. This, until the Defiant, was just bad people doing bad things (scumbags bagging scum?).
Paul York - Fri, Jun 1, 2012 - 5:36am (USA Central)
A purely evil universe is boring, in my view. Much more interesting is where one character is good (from the good parallel universe - as Kirk or Sisko were when visiting evil universes) and the moral tension this creates ... Phlox experimenting on live animals was appropriate; that is done in labs now, which must mean that our world is actually an evil universe that a few of us (good people) are trapped in by mistake or design. I half believe that on some days.
Nathaniel - Fri, Jun 1, 2012 - 12:51pm (USA Central)
@Paul York
Experiments on live people are done as well. The distinction is not life but of what kind of experiments are done.

I'd tell you to actually look up the quite stringent guidelines scientific researchers have to follow on animal testing, but I suspect that your stupidity on this issue is quite willful.
Brock - Wed, Aug 8, 2012 - 1:09pm (USA Central)
5 minutes in: Okay everyone's evil and terrible at acting...
7 minutes in: alright Hoshi and and Admiral *throws up in mouth*
10 mintues in: Still boring fell asleep trying to watch
15 minutes in: Jammer thought this was better than the last episode? Did this review come from a parallel universe? Is it April 1st?
20 minutes in: Is this going somewhere? Is there even a story, or is it all midsections and "HEY I'M PLAYING AN EVIL ME! GET IT?!"
35 minutes in: Okay this is officially the worst Enterprise has to offer, Jammer must have some nostalgia disease I'm immune to
Finished: Well that was a complete waste of time, oh wait there's a part 2 to this train-wreck? *shoots self*

"Bound" had more substance than this steaming pile of poo poo pasta. For 3 stars I expected something pretty damn great since last week was only a 1 star and it was at least entertaining. I was watching paint dry during the boring parts of this episode, which was ALL of it.
Zane314 - Tue, Sep 25, 2012 - 9:39pm (USA Central)
In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I >> wow, what an episode! 4.5 stars out of 4.0, this is as good as it gets for Enterprise and even at the top with the best NG and DS9. I really disliked the DS9 mirrors with Kira the ridiculous evil/horny schemer and Sisko overacting so much I thought his head was going to explode. But Mirror Darkly was outstanding with the right amounts of good story, acting (over but not too much) and call backs to the old TOS gems. It was a nice mirror approach to have all of them be evil/alternates, not some like in the other mirrors. Evil Phlox was still smiling and cheery, but evil! Torture, animal dissection, plus an evil leather-ish outfit to boot. And Tholians! I loved seeing all of one and getting more details on them. Oh and I guess evil Star Fleet only takes aerobics instructors and sit up champions for female crew members, wow-za! And evil Hoshi's hair, look, and demeanor was great, she was the best alternate of the lot. And the Tholian web is back! Really cool stuff, great effects, good pacing. An excellent episode, top 5 for the whole series and one of the most memorable Treks for the whole franchise.
Patrick - Tue, Sep 25, 2012 - 11:07pm (USA Central)
This episode is the most inventive, imaginative, and "outside-of-the-box" episode of this entire underwhelming Star Trek Enterprise series. The teaser alone was ingenious and then the lead-in with the alternate universe credits had a compelling energy that I've never attributed to Star Trek: Enterprise. The rest, is just a ball. The idea of having a Mirror Universe episode without our regular heroes was a brilliant idea!

In fact I can honestly say that Enterprise was able to do *one thing* better than Deep Space Nine--make the Mirror Universe a fun romp again. With the exception of "Through the Looking Glass"; DS9's Mirror Universe episodes were depressing and predictable.
Tiarfe - Thu, Nov 1, 2012 - 9:54pm (USA Central)
This episode was so ludicrous it could not hold my attention. I had to rewind after seeing the last 5 minutes because I thought I missed something. I wasted time because everything leading up to the ending sucked.

Yeah T'Pol and Hoshi uniforms were really stupid.

At least the ending was good enough for me to want to seed the next episode.
Cloudane - Sat, Dec 22, 2012 - 7:03pm (USA Central)
Whoa... whoa! Great (and chilling) touch changing the opening sequence (and ending music). Really good!

Not too sure about a mirror universe where everyone (regardless of where they're from) is Pure Evil. Did some kind of Evil Gene get released into the galaxy millions of years ago in the parallel universe or what? The mirror world in DS9 (and TOS) was at least a little more mixed, I thought.

Wasn't sure where the "Defiant" came in, so ended up re-watching The Tholian Web after this episode. (I originally thought the mirror universe was created in "Mirror, Mirror"... maybe not). I see - interesting choice of episodes to mix with the mirror universe, cleverly done.

Onwards, but I may have to re-skip through this episode after watching Tholian. Good work making me think and geek out.
Cloudane - Sat, Dec 22, 2012 - 7:13pm (USA Central)
Wait, two more observations!

- In the mirror universe, T'Pol looks a bit like Lara Croft

- That last moment when Reed kind of smirks at the Enterprise's destruction, reminds me of the end of Series 3 of Blake's 7, where Avon watches the destruction of the Liberator and grins. Very good :)
Kay - Sat, Dec 22, 2012 - 8:23pm (USA Central)
This would've made an awesome story arc if they'd maintained some good sense on how such a world would work.

I really wouldn't mind a Mirror Darkly universe as primary for a new ST show which later ties into the main universe, maybe putting them in direct conflict.
Mad - Sun, Jan 6, 2013 - 2:15am (USA Central)
"Yeah T'Pol and Hoshi uniforms were really stupid."

Why? Because it's not practical? You really think that evil empire of misogynistic, evil, sex obsessed warlords would care?

I actually really like this episode. Remember, this is mirror universe. It's not supposed to be clever or have emotional depth, it's just fun.
Annie - Wed, Jan 9, 2013 - 1:35pm (USA Central)
This must be one of those episodes you either love or you hate. I was primed to love it because the teaser and opening credits were so clever. The opening credits kind of blew me away and made me determined to love the episode and overlook my usual nits. Hell, I even liked Reid in this one.

I'm not familiar with TOS (will turn to that after I'm done with Enterprise) so I didn't get any of those jokes. Is the insectoid species original to TOS? I guess I figured they made the alien a CGI insectoid so they could have it explode on screen. Even so, I felt really bad for it.

I didn't mind the women's uniforms, but I think it should have been a rule that if they are going to have provocatively dressed women, they have to have a shirtless or at least sleeveless Travis. They followed that rule in Bound, why not here?
Dez - Sat, Feb 9, 2013 - 10:57pm (USA Central)
I found this thoroughly enjoyable! In particular the TOS era ship lighting up, fantastic! Even richer now Jammer points out the ship was lost to Tholians in TOS.. Nice segue! The ladies uniforms were ridiculous but hey fits the alternate universe, and wow T'Pol and Hoshi were fit ;D
Burt - Wed, Feb 13, 2013 - 2:40am (USA Central)
It doesn't sound like Jamahl has been laid in a long time. Either that or he is trying to suck up to some women. He seems completely out of touch with what pretty girls like to wear. They sexy girls at my job (even managers) would come to work wearing less than nothing if they were allowed to. Only the rules keep them from dressing like tramps. They love the attention.
Steven - Thu, Mar 7, 2013 - 4:16am (USA Central)
Everything about the Mirror universe episodes was one dimensional, including the characters who were all just the same evil in different bodies. I didn't particularly like the weaker DS9 mirror universe episodes either, but having said that, they were far better than this crap. At least the characters had some depth and weren't all evil power mongers. I like Star Trek & Enterprise, especially the Xindi storyline, but if this was to be it's future, then I'm glad it was axed. There's some seriously dark people in Paramount who seem to be hell bent on ruining a popular franchise.
Dom - Sat, Jun 1, 2013 - 8:32pm (USA Central)
Well, given that Hoshi seizes control and becomes Empress in the sequel to this episode, I think it's hard to say that she's "not permitted any strength or power beyond the barter of her sexuality"
T'Paul - Wed, Aug 28, 2013 - 3:16pm (USA Central)
Definitely a fun romp and homage to (even the silly bits of) TOS.

Such a shame... now I'm finishing my second round of ENT and seeing what it could have been had it been given the chance.

It really could have done what it set out to do: complete the circle and fill in provide us a lot of interesting background to TOS and the federation as a whole.

Really, really, really hope that it's not the last Trek series (have heard that thanks to the new movies it may not be), and that any future trek series learns the lessons from the mistakes of the 5 series 'till now.

In my opinion (to go off on a tangent) a good series would be the Federation leaving the Milky Way for the first time going to another galaxy where none of the aliens were humanoid (if we accept the premise of TNG's the chase that our galaxy was seeded by an ancient humanoid race). Kind of like a non-corny Voyager.
navamske - Tue, Sep 3, 2013 - 8:35pm (USA Central)
A couple of missed opportunities:
-- It would have been cool if after boarding the Defiant the Enterprise crew had played the last message the ship received -- and it was from Uhura, whom they could have depicted on a viewscreen using archival footage (and with Ms. Nichols's permission).
-- I would like to have seen Evil Archer find in the Federation database a reference to the first officer of the NCC-1701. He would have been like, "A human and a Vulcan reproduced? WTF?!"
Nancy - Sun, Sep 22, 2013 - 7:57pm (USA Central)
I loved how committed the series was to the Mirror universe, even changing the credits. The nods to TOS were brilliant. The ladies' outfits were ridiculous but I figured they were the result of a sexist patriarchy. The only thing that was lacking was someone to root for. I guess T'Pol was somewhat sympathetic but even she was ruthless eventually.

@Burt - clearly you know nothing about women. It's true we like to look attractive, but we like respect even more, so we don't actually yearn to be objectified at the workplace. We do not sigh with sadness that our male colleagues will be looking at our eyes instead of our boobs because we couldn't wear the low cut body stocking we go clubbing in. We also know there are other ways to get male attention besides dressing provocatively.
Retnan - Wed, Oct 16, 2013 - 8:40am (USA Central)
They were just being consistent, Uhura's costume in "Mirror Mirror" shows her midriff. Women are sex objects in the Mirror Universe, deal with it.

I'd say given that Hoshi becomes the EMPRESS there is little to complain about on the women's rights front.
NCC-1701-Z - Sat, Jun 7, 2014 - 8:48pm (USA Central)
"Something about your maternal ancestor" - Hoshi, translating the Tholian
Nice to know that yo mamma insults are still around in the future. In spite of myself, I laughed. Favorite line.

Probably my favorite mini-arc so far, with the Vulcan arc being close behind. Doesn't mean much, but it's fun. I liked that we got our first complete look at a Tholian, and that they made Porthos a Rottweiler.

NCC-1701-Z - Sat, Jun 7, 2014 - 9:18pm (USA Central)
I also liked how they explained the events of TOS's "Tholian Web" and tied it in here. It does kind of make sense. In general, I've really appreciated all the in-jokes and references to future Trek series throughout this season.
Andrew - Mon, Jul 21, 2014 - 12:45am (USA Central)
I don't really agree with the sentiment that "everyone here is a scumbag". Captain Forrest, at the very least, demonstrated a spark of altruism and genuinely honorable behaviour during the evacuation and subsequent destruction of the mirror NX-01. While it's impossible to be a decent human being and survive in the Terran Empire, I think Forrest gave the impression of having a quasi-moral center, which is more than any other human character in this episode can claim to have.

Admiral Black, in the second part of this episode, also seemed to be a little calmer and more reserved... and in general less psychotic and blood-thirsty... than most of the other humans. I guess maybe to reach those higher command ranks, Starfleet needs officers who can be rational at least some of the time, heh.
Elliott - Mon, Jul 21, 2014 - 5:37am (USA Central)
Andrew: Remember how in the TNG era admirals were basically always corrupts assholes? I take these two to be the mirror reversal of that law
Snooky - Mon, Jul 21, 2014 - 9:40pm (USA Central)
I'm surprised how many people found the female outfits sexist -- considering the TOS female uniforms in "our" enlightened future were really impractical miniskirts! As a female, I thought it was funny. But I wouldn't have minded some bohunk action in exchange.

The opening sequence was so phenomenal and unexpected, I dragged both my husband and son into the room and made them watch it. The credits, too. And the credits really were a social commentary of their own -- yes, we've invented and explored, but yes, most of the tech has been used for warfare. Even landing on the moon was an outcome of the Cold War (I say this at the 45th anniversary of the walk on the moon.)

The rest was so over the top, there's not a lot there to even discuss. The best part by far were the TOS references, the Tholians, seeing a Tholian, the Tholian web, and the TOS BRIDGE!!! That thrilled my Trekkie heart.

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