723. In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II
FORMULA: Mirror, Mirror + Arena + Waltz
WHY WE LIKE IT: Mirror Universe + retro TOS starship... I'm not made of stone here.
WHY WE DON'T: Reaching the limits of posturing. Sadly, the Gorn.
REVIEW: If Mirror Universe stories weren't already geekfests, In a Mirror Darkly recreates a TOS-era ship for the HD generation. Because we've been through the TNG era, TOS ships seem like quaint, early models, but here, the Defiant is huge, powerful and incredibly sleek by 22nd-century standards. With a lot of care and detail, they've built more of the Constitution-class ship than ever before: Most of the bridge (where the consoles are deftly revealed to be digital displays rather than blinking lights), some corridors, the conference room, the rec deck (complete with those funky food cubes), the captain's quarters, and the original vertical Jeffries tube. They look great, as does the moody lighting (check out that love scene between Archer and Hoshi for example) and the tweaked up effects. Even the uniforms pilfered from the Defiant closets looks good. The only sections that aren't up to par are the converted Enterprise corridors that represent the bowels of the ship. These just don't match the aesthetic, no matter how many pipes you paint in bright colors. But the retro stuff actually works and perhaps due to my Trek-addled mind, doesn't seem dated.
Or maybe I'm just too involved in the story. If Mirror Archer seemed perhaps a little too close to our own (in his darker moments, at least), here he is revealed as a paranoid megalomaniac. With Defiant, he has true power, which seems to ramp up his swaggering sadism. One of the most interesting aspects of his character, however, is the "ghost" of the real Archer appearing to him to taunt and goad him. The discovery of an Empire-less history isn't as disturbing to him as the biography of a heroic and much more successful Archer (writer Mike Sussman has the screenshots of that bio on his site here and here - you decide how canonical you want to make it), so that Archer gives voice to his paranoia and insecurity.
In fact, this psychological dimension hasn't really been seen in a Mirror episode since, what, Crossover? MU episodes have concentrated on the romp aspect and tried to be cool and funny, but rarely were they really character-driven. The characters aren't all evil or slutty versions of themselves. Besides the tortured Archer, we have T'Pol staging a revolt against Archer, enlisting a bearded Soval and a lecherous Phlox in her cause. Though Phlox is a loyal servant of the Empire, he can be bought, while the Vulcans, though ruthless, are represented as trying to protect their way of life from a dangerous potential Emperor. Hoshi has a great cat fight with T'Pol, but most memorably steals Archer's victory from his grasp and names herself Empress, backed by the Defiant's guns and having seduced most of the human males in the cast to get to where she is (final tally: Forrest, Archer, Trip and Travis... sorry Malcolm). Sure, there comes a point when the Mirror Universe's teeth-grinding starts to seem a little samey, but it takes a while to really wear out its welcome.
The weakest element in the episode, sadly, is the Gorn. It's cool that the MU setting allowed the creators to include species that we couldn't normally meet in Enterprise's time without tossing the timeline out the window, but the CG Gorn is a little too CG for my tastes. The effects are well done, but not quite Gollum, and they've screwed with the design too much. Was it too much to ask for the Gorn to be given silver composite eyes like in Arena? With the curved neck and those snake eyes, it just doesn't look like the same species. Worse, probably, is that the chase for the lizard man in the bowels of the ship is filler. There's no plot-driven reason for it except to have a Gorn there, and maybe to do the amplified grav plating gag. Speaking of tossing timelines out of windows, a quick word on Defiant's pollution of the MU timeline: To win a no-prize, I'll say that the Empire might build more Constitution-class ships, but they never better them (nor need to!), complacently resting on their laurels until Mirror, Mirror.
LESSON: In the Mirror Universe, they've developped a pheromone blocker for the Orions.
REWATCHABILITY - Medium-High: Though not perfect, this is very entertaining. Especially amazing is the art direction and how it seemlessly integrates in Enterprise.