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