Matthew Kresal looks in the mirror.
I've made no bones about the fact that I am a fan of Enterprise. After all, I even wrote an article discussing the shows merits as well as its weaknesses. I'm also a big fan of Star Trek's twisted Mirror Universe, often populated by less moral versions of our favorite characters. So what could be better than In A Mirror, Darkly which came from Enterprise's final season and gave viewers a chance to experience the Mirror Universe in that show's era? As it turns out, it would be among Enterprise's finest hours.
For one thing, the two-parter holds a particular claim to fame within Trek. Unlike previous Mirror Universe encounters, this tale wouldn't see one of the regular cast members crossing over to meet his counterparts in another universe. Instead it would take the viewer full stop into it without any regular characters being our “in”. It was a bold move and one that could only have happened in a show that established itself and its characters well enough to really not worry about alienating viewers. Given Enterprise's ratings by this point in production, it might not have even mattered, but the choice was a bold one and highly successful.
The first episode opens with a choice just as bold: reprising a sequence not from the series but from the feature film Star Trek: First Contact. The scene wonderful melds together newly shot material with what was then almost a decade old footage. It's hard to tell where the melds are, except for a couple of shots towards the end, which speaks to the effort put into it by the show's makers. The choice of reprising the particular scene, a crucial one from that film's climax, also gives the viewer a big, visceral moment of knowing that they are in for something very different indeed.
As if that wasn't enough, the title sequence represents a marked change. Being set entirely in the Mirror Universe gave the production team a chance to play around with the sequence and its oft-ridiculed opening song. Reedited and with a different piece of music behind it, it mixes in familiar elements from the standard Enterprise title sequence with footage culled from Paramount war films (I recognized shots from The Hunt For Red October and The Sum Of All Fears) along with action shots taken from throughout Enterprise's run. It's another big, bold move that changes the stakes for the 40 minutes or so that follows.
Like with previous Mirror Universe installments in Trek, the fun of these episodes is watching the cast members play different versions of familiar characters, with two very big surprises. The first is Scott Bakula's Archer whom one senses has been passed over one time too many and has finally found his chance to climb up the ranks. Given the goodhearted, sometimes too keen to do the right thing nature of the Archer we normally see in the series, the Mirror Universe Archer comes as a revelation, a man who is almost ruthless at times. The second part takes both character and performer even further as he's given a chance not just for command of a ship but potentially the Terran Empire itself, causing the Mirror Archer to become an at times reckless gambler who risks not just his life but those of his crew and indeed his new ship to go as far as he can. It's a compelling performance and one that might well be Bakula's finest from the entire run of the series.
The other big surprise comes out of one of the series' most underutilized cast members. Linda Park's Hoshi gets recast into the Captain's Woman role that we saw Barbara Luna's Marlena play back in Mirror, Mirror, but with an updated 21st century edge that gives Park some of the best moments to herself. This is a Hoshi who isn't the quiet, almost ineffectual communications officer often seen in the series but a conniving, manipulative femme fatale who it turns out isn't afraid to get her hands dirty if need be. Given the writing of Hoshi throughout much of the series, Park getting the chance to sink her teeth into some meatier material is an even bigger revelation than Bakula's Mirror Archer.
They aren't alone though. All of the Enterprise regulars get some interesting moments across the two episodes with John Billinsley's Phlox is a perfect example of what these Mirror Universe episodes can do. His normally jovial attitude gets filtered into a performance that is almost repulsive at times in its deviousness. Dominic Keating's Malcolm Reed gets some interesting moments as well, especially with Bakula's Archer, as does Jolene Blalock's T'Pol in a role that is quite different from what we normally see her play. In keeping with the way the Mirror Spock was portrayed, we're introduced to a more conniving Vulcan science officer than we're used to which leads to some wonderful confrontations between T'Pol and Archer, and indeed between T'Pol and Hoshi as well. Even two of the reoccurring characters get to have some fun in this universe, with part one seeing the return of Vaughan Armstrong as Forest whom isn't an admiral but is instead captain of the Terran Empire's flagship. while the second episode sees the return of Gary Graham's Vulcan Soval who goes from an ambassador in the normal universe to a science officer on one of the Empire's ships. It's some of the most interesting performances to come out of the entire series which makes this two-parter an even bigger highlight.
In A Mirror Darkly also features some of the best design work of the entire series. The first episode takes place largely on the Mirror NX-01 and it's interesting to see the familiar ship being at times subtly altered for the episode. The real highlight though comes late in the first episode and throughout the second episode as it took crew and viewer alike onto a new ship: The Defiant, brought over to this universe following the events of the Original Series episode The Tholian Web. The result is that virtually the entirety of the episode is set on a Original Series starship and we get to see Enterprise's regulars on its decks, its bridge especially. Some of them even up in the familiar uniforms as well, allowing an interesting contrast both in costumes and design from what we're used to. Even more surprising is how great they look, that the designs and costumes hold up well even with a very different crew occupying and wearing them. The design is yet another something that makes this particular tale stand out even more.
The writing and direction are also among Enterprise's finest, tying in with not just with the Mirror Universe but the larger Trek mythos, in keeping with the entirety of Enterprise's final season. Mike Sussman's scripts bring back the Tholians and even a Gorn into proceedings as well as bringing the Defiant back from its fate in the Original Series. Sussman ties all of these elements together into a fast paced story that, under the direction of James L. Conway and Marvin V. Rush, packs much into the two episodes, from a McGuffin and build-up to a cliffhanger in the first episode to the second episode that takes the hints and references from the first and expands them into a tale of power plays on personal and cosmic scales, building up to an immensely satisfying conclusion that manages to take the viewer by surprise (or at least it did me on my first viewing). Combined with a first rate action score by Dennis McCarthy and Kevin Kiner and some of the show's better CGI set piece battles, the result is one of Enterprise's finest tales.
Going straight off the previous episode, In A Mirror Darkly manages to contrast in somewhat with an incredible recreation of an Original Series era starship as well as its costumes. Beyond the production, it also tells an interesting story with plenty of suspense and action. The ending leaves the viewer begging for more and it's just a shame that the proposed follow-up never happened due to the show's cancellation. It also shows what Enterprise could accomplish at its best as both a Trek prequel and as a series in its own right.
Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't
have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the
Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.