Trek Tuesday: Mirror Mirror

Mirror Mirror aka ‘Spock’s Beard’ isn’t just a great episode of Star Trek it is a classic piece of television.

breakingspock

The basic plot is simple.

Due to a magnetic storm when transporting from a planet back to the Enterprise, Kirk, McCoy, Scotty and Uhura, accidentally beam onto the Enterprise of a parallel dimension. The parallel Enterprise belongs to an evil Star Fleet where everybody is an arsehole and promotion is via assassination. Kirk et al use the ships computer to work out how to get back. There are various twists and turns but in the end they get back to the non-evil universe but not without some help from evil Spock.

There are so many clever tricks here. One key one is minimal exposition. Kirk works out very quickly what has occurred. For those who want continuity with Star Trek Discovery, Kirk’s easy recognition that he has swapped universes is ample evidence that Star Fleet are not wholly unfamiliar with the possibility – as indeed is demonstrated by the evil Enterprise’s computer quickly working out how to send them back. The key things here is that:

  • It doesn’t really matter how they swapped universes.
  • It doesn’t really matter how they swap back just that it requires some effort and coordination.

And it is the economy of plotting that works so well in this episode. It works so well with so little. The politics of the evil Enterprise and the evil Federation aren’t described in depth, instead we just get quick touches: the quasi-fascist salute, the threat of annihilation as standing orders to the planet below, Chekov’s failed coup, each officer having their own cronies looking out for them, Sulu’s leering sexual harassment, the casual use of torture – nobody delivers a lecture or explanation of how the evil Federation works it is just obvious using broad brushstrokes that let the audience fill in the details.

Then we have Spock’s beard. Genius. It is more than just the beard, Spock even gets the best uniform. Instead of labored lectures of sanctimonious moralizing, Mirror Mirror makes complex political points just by twisting each of the characters. At the heart of the episode is Spock both as a character and as an attitude. Of all the characters Evil Spock is the least changed – which makes a curious political statement that is later underlined. Good Spock has no difficulty recognizing that Evil Kirk is is evil and has him locked away back in the good universe. Evil Spock quickly spots that something is wrong with his new Kirk but deals with him cautiously.

In the end Evil Spock is self-centered and concerned about his own interest but he recognizes that his best interest is to get evil Kirk back and good Kirk to his own universe. So we end up with a political plea of good Kirk to evil Spock – a hasty argument with time ticking away and with Spock already committed to sending Kirk home – the empire that Spock is working for is illogical and that change is what (evil) Spock should be working for.

It isn’t an earth-shatteringly radical statement but it is heartfelt and more radical than the rest of Trek’s attempt at politics.

Hopefully, next week back to Discovery*.

*[In reality I wrote this in November]

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12 comments

  1. kiptw

    Here’s the thing that always got me about that episode: They’re so much unlike us [Or… ARE they? Oh, sorry, did I MESS with your HEAD??) but at the moment the team transports in, we see the exact same bridge personnel, and the rest of the ship has the same major players in the same places. Even with Chekhov burning out before our eyes! How is it they didn’t beam over two days later, when Ensign Streetmime has taken Chekhov’s place? (Ensign Streetmime is actually one of my proposed TNG characters, but hey—alternate universe, am I right?) How, with such different premises and likely outcomes, do we walk in on our own Status Quo?

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    • camestrosfelapton

      Yes – there’s a very odd notion of causality and/or fate/predestination with their mirror universe. That the Bridge crew is pretty much the same combination of people and the Enterprise design is the same (apart from logos) all point to some common causal element between the two universes on those elements independent of the events in the two universes. Of course, that is the case because the causal factor is the casting of the show and Kirk has actually just beamed over into a different story…but that isn’t a satisfying answer.

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      • kiptw

        Perhaps the No-Prize case could be made that it’s easiest to break into a mirror dimension when things are the most similar possible to conditions in your own dimension, much like the Enterprise seems to have the uncanny ability to always voyage to other times and places where women’s make-up is the most similar to their own.

        Or maybe it’s something like the parable of Flitcraft:

        A man named Flitcraft had left his real-estate-office, in Tacoma, to go to luncheon one day and had never returned. He did not keep and engagement to play golfafter four that afternoon, though he had taken the initiative in making the engagement less than half and hour before he went out to luncheon. His wife and children never saw him again. His wife and he were supposed to be on the best of terms. He had two children, boys, one five an dthe other three. He owned his house in a Tacoma suburb, a new Packard, and the rest of the appurtenances of successful American living.
        Flitcraft had inherited seventy thousand dollars from his father, and, with his sucess in real estate, was worth something in the neighbourhood of two hundred thousand dollars at the time he vanished. His affars were in order, though there were enough loose ends to indicate that he had not been setting them in order preparatory to vanishing. Adeal tha would have brought him an attractive profit, for instance, was to have been concluded the day after the one on which he diappeared. There was nothing to suggest that he had more than fifty or sixty dollars in his immediate posession at the time of his going. His habits for months past could be accounted for too thoughly to justify any suspicion of secret vices, or even of another woman in his life, though either was barely possible.
        “He went like that,” Spade said, “like a fist when you open your hand,”

        “…Well, that was in 1922. In 1927 I was with one of the big detective agencies in Seattle. Mrs. Flitcraft came in and told us somebody had seen a man in Spokane who looked a lot like her husband. I went over there. It was Flitcraft, all right. He had been living in Spokane for a couple of years as Charles – that was his first name – Pierce. He had a automobile-business that was netting him twenty or twenty-five thousand a year, a wife, a baby son, owned his home in a Spokane suburb, and usually got away to play glof after four in the afternoon during the season.”

        “Here’s what happened to him. Going to luch he passed an office-building that was being put up – just the skeleton. A beam or something fell eight or ten stories down and smacked the sidewalk alongside him. It brushed pretty close to him, but didn’t touch him, though a piece of the sidewalk was chipped off and flew up and hit his cheek. It only took a piece of skin off, but he still had the scar when I saw him. He rubbed it with his finger – well, affectionately – when he told me about it. He was scared stiff of course, he said, but he was more shocked than really frightened. He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him look at the works.”
        Flitcraft had been a good citizen and a good husband and father, not by any outer compulsion, but simply because he was a man most comfortable in step with his surroundings. He had been raised that way. The people he knew were like that. The life he knew was a clean orderly sane responsible affair. Now a falling beam had shown him that life was fundamentally none of these things. He, the good citizen-husband-father, could be wiped out between office and restaurant by the accident of a falling beam. He knew then that men died at haphazard like that, and lived only while blind chance spared them.
        It was not, primarily, the injustice of it that disturbed him: he accepted that after the first shock. What disturbed him was the discovery that in sensibly ordering his affairs he had got out of step, and not in step, with life. He said he knew before he had gone twenty feet from the fallen beam that he would never know peace until he had adjusted himself to this new glimpse of life. By tht time he had eaten his luncheon he had found his means of adjustment. Life could be ended for him at random by a falling beam: he would change his life at random by simply going away. He loved his family, he said, as much as he supposed was usual, but he knew he was leaving them adequately provided for, and his love for them was not of the sort that would make absence painful.
        He went to Seattle that afternoon,” Spade said, “and from there by boat to San Francisco. For a couple of years he wandered around and then drifted back to the Northwest, and settled in Spokane and got married. His second wife didn’t look like the first, but they were more alike than they were different. You know, the kind of women that play fair games of golf and bridge and like new salad-recipes. He wasn’t sorry for what he had done. It seemed reasonable enough to him. Idon’t think he even knew he had settled back naturally in the same groove he had jumped out of in Tacoma. But that the part of it I always liked. He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling.”

        Taken from Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, Chapter 7, entitled ‘G In The Air’, pages 61-64

        It proved harder than I thought to make a brief excerpt of that. I should have taken the condensations used by some other writers in discussing this narrative digression, perhaps. It seemed there was some resonance in this brief yarn of someone shocked out of his normal existence, wandering briefly, then settling back into something very much like it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Cora

    “Mirror, Mirror” is indeed a great episode. Though the mirror universe has been seriously overused to later Star Trek incarnations. It’s always the same mirror universe, too, even though the TNG episode with Worf accidentally hopping between parallel universes suggests that there is an infinite number of them.

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      • kiptw

        As I recall, the TNG episode was called “Mirror, Mirror, Mirror.” On DS9, it was “Mirror, Mirror, Mirror, Mirror.” On Voyager, it was “Spam, Eggs, Beans, Sausage, Spam, Mirror, Mirror, Spam, Spam, and Mirror.”

        Liked by 2 people

      • camestrosfelapton

        Evil ABBA appear…
        Doo doo doo doo doo-doo
        Doo doo doo doo doo-doo

        Mirror mirror mirror
        Transport shimmer
        It’s a Spock man’s world

        Mirror mirror mirror
        Evil glimmer
        In a Spock man’s world

        Ahhhh ahhhh ahhh
        Evil things I could do
        If I was a evil mirror in a Spock man’s world

        Liked by 1 person

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