(Editor’s Note: Willow Yang is a frequent letter-writer/contributor to the Post-Geek Singularity and the Robservations live-stream. Her commentary on STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES episodes have become a fan favorite. As a result, we’ve decided to publish them as part of our TREK TALK series under the title: “Willow Talk”.)
This time, Willow boldly goes into the mirror universe to break down the classic episode that opened the door in the first place: “Mirror, Mirror.”
I first encountered the mirror-verse, a parallel universe that has implemented fascism as their form of governance, in Star Trek: Discovery. And I won’t lie to you: I enjoyed the way that Discovery handled the universe. The approach that they took was dark and sombre, and I appreciated it for what it was. Mirror Mirror was considerably lighter in tone, certainly not comedic, but with a good dose of humour to balance the serious subject matter. The funniest moment for me was the cutaway from Kirk speculating on what their counterparts were doing in the prime-verse to mirror-Kirk being manhandled by security guards on the Enterprise. My favourite line was when mirror-Kirk shouted at Spock: “What kind of a uniform is this? Where’s your beard?”. With regards to the former, I do honestly much prefer mirror-Kirk’s uniform; it’s just got more panache. Hey, if you’ve got guns, why not show them off? With regards to the latter, I cannot help but find it a little ironic that mirror-Spock was moustached in spite of being the most nuanced of the mirror-verse characters. All of the moustache twirling was, instead, delegated to the clean-shaven mirror-Chekov and Sulu. The latter was particularly enjoyable to watch; he was over-the-top and a little cartoonish, but his characterization worked perfectly for the context and tone of the episode. It was also great seeing Uhura being given the opportunity to shine and reveal her femme fatale side as she manipulated and played mirror-Sulu like a fiddle.
I was first introduced to the concept of alternate timelines and else worlds by Western comics. The subject has always been a fun and fascinating one to explore; some of my favourite stories include The Flashpoint Paradox, Superman: Red Son, and Age of Apocalypse, to name but a few examples. There are also theorizations on alternative outcomes to real historical events, probably most popularly if the Axis had won World War II, which forms the basis for Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle and it’s Amazon series adaptation. Star Trek itself has tangentially touched on that scenario in The City on the Edge of Forever, where a pacifist movement led by Edith Keeler delayed the invention of nuclear weapons by the Allies. In another episode, Patterns of Force, the crew found themselves on a planet that had adopted Nazism due to cultural contamination. It wasn’t revealed in Mirror Mirror how the mirror-verse ended up becoming the way it was. I found myself wondering what cataclysmic event could have resulted in the divergence between this universe and the prime-verse. Personally, I’d have preferred this episode to be a two-parter like the Menagerie; it’s difficult to introduce and explore a concept like this in a time frame of fifty minutes without leaving some outstanding details and unanswered questions.
Probably my greatest disappointment with Mirror Mirror was that it didn’t show much of what was happening in the prime-verse. I would have liked to see more of the exchange between mirror-Kirk and Spock; I would have liked to learn more about the mirror versions of Scotty, Uhura, and McCoy. The two mirror-verse characters that were most developed were Spock and Marlena, both of whom were sympathetic people, indicating that the mirror-verse inhabitants weren’t inherently evil, but shaped by their circumstances. Unlike the power-hungry and lecherous Sulu, mirror-Spock was calm and subdued, and probably the most similar to his prime counterpart. He exhibited great loyalty to Kirk, even warning the latter of his orders to kill him. He never appeared to actually enjoy the atrocities that he was committing, but seemed to be only following orders out of self-preservation.
And while Marlena appeared initially as a typical seductress, it became apparent that she too was just trying to survive in the cruel world that she was living in. There was a surprisingly poignant moment towards the end when she pleaded with Kirk to be brought into his universe where she “could be anything (she) want to be”, but the latter had to refuse her. The scene touched me as I was reminded of how fortunate I am to be alive in the time and place that I am. Being in Canada has afforded me opportunities that I wouldn’t have had in China, and yet, it wasn’t all too long ago when immigration laws would have made it impossible for my family to legally entre the country. And if we went back to just a few centuries ago, we’d all be dying from famines, plagues, and wars. Of course, things are still far from being perfect now, but I don’t know if there has ever been a better time to be alive than today.
I know that people like to poke fun at Shatner’s overacting; personally, I think he does a fine job for the most part. However, I did find Kirk’s speech to mirror-Spock at the end of Mirror Mirror to get a tad hammy, although that didn’t diminish the compelling arguments he presented. Mirror-Spock acknowledged that the current system wasn’t sustainable and their totalitarian government would eventually be overthrown. It seemed implied that progression was inevitable, that someday the mirror-verse would evolve to be more like the prime-verse. Most of human history appears to be dominated by various forms of autocracy. Although democracy has been practiced by some ancient civilizations, most notably the Greeks, those forms of governance have never been able to persevere for long. It seems only in these past few centuries that democracy appears to have finally rooted itself, at least in the Western countries. How long will this last? Is democracy the ultimate final outcome of human governance, or are we destined to regress again? Only time will tell.