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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Shattered Mirror (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

Shattered Mirror and The Muse represent the nadir of the fourth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

To be fair, it could be worse. Neither episode is Let He Who is Without Sin or Profit and Lace or The Emperor’s New Cloak. Neither is a good episode by any measure, and they certainly rank among the weakest episodes in the show’s seven year run. However, they are more misbegotten lumps of clay than spectacular disasters. Still, as critical defenses go, that is a fairly unconvincing effort. “It could be a lot worse” is hardly the most ringing of critical endorsements.

A close shave...

A close shave…

On the other hand, the fourth season of Deep Space Nine is a fairly spectacular piece of television when taken as a whole. There is a strong argument to be made for the fourth season as the most consistently entertaining season of Deep Space Nine, which stands it in good stead when placing it in the context of the franchise as a whole. The fourth season of Deep Space Nine is one of the best seasons that the franchise ever produced, right alongside the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

However, even the third season of The Next Generation had its weaker moments; The Price and Ménage à Troi come to mind. The realities and demands of television production mean that a perfect twenty-six episode season without any duds is an aspirational object rather than an achievable goal. The constant churn required to produce twenty-six forty-five minute blocks of television within nine or ten months means that not every episode is going to end up perfectly sculpted. Some will be great, some will be bland. Some will be bad.

ds9-shatteredmirror11a

Yanking his chain…

It is perhaps telling that the slump comes at this point in the season, almost twenty episodes into a twenty-six episode order. The initial momentum is gone, the production team is exhausted, but the end is still just out of sight. This is around the same point that Distant Voices and Through the Looking Glass appeared in the third season, although Profit and Lace and Time’s Orphan show up a bit later during the sixth season. (The fifth season avoids this issue, perhaps energised by the dynamic status quo shift in In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light.)

It is hard to explain just how difficult it is to produce an hour of television in approximately eight days, particularly one that does not have a strictly procedural formula and which exists within a fictional universe governed by its own rules. While the success of Hard Time demonstrated the appeal of the episodic format that has become less and less common in recent years, the twin misfires of Shattered Mirror and The Muse suggest the limitations of the traditional twenty-odd episode season of television as it existed in the nineties.

Sometimes the pieces don't come together...

Sometimes the pieces don’t come together…

Ronald D. Moore has acknowledged the strain that this put on the writing staff, trying to keep things fresh while still hitting the necessary deadlines:

Somewhere around show eighteen your eyes would start rolling into the back of your head on Trek. For me show eighteen was always the backbreaker, you were going ‘oh my god we’ve got eight more to do…how are we going to get eight more?’ It was killing ya.

Just slap some latex on some foreheads and you’ll figure it out.

Oh yeah it was nuts. You were doing so many episodes. We had this big board that were the Star Trek clichés. After every pitch session, because we were taking endless amounts of writers coming to pitch, the writers would all sort of gleefully go to the cliché board and we would log how many of the Trek clichés we heard that day: Data becomes man, Data becomes god, they discover a planet and the planet is alive… there were just all these categories and we would just tally each one to keep ourselves sane.

With that sort of pressure, it is not surprising that some episodes were terrible. It is surprising that more episodes weren’t terrible.

Pain and pleasure...

Pain and pleasure…

This is the reality of network television production. Television is an industry that relies on deadlines and production lines more than other forms like novels and movies, perhaps explaining why the medium has had such difficulty earning the respect afforded those other forms. Veteran X-Files producer Glen Morgan has argued that large episode counts do not necessarily correlate to a higher concentration of better episodes:

It’s just really hard, even with a 22-episode season. People get annoyed with me for saying this, but in all honesty, out of 22 episodes a year, four were great, most were okay, and some of them sucked! And that’s just how it goes! Classic shows like Dick Van Dyke or I Love Lucy or M.A.S.H. or Seinfeld, they have a couple classics, and most are kind of okay. We don’t always remember those.

These are the realities of television production, and were again a lot less of a concern in the on-going churn of twentieth-century television production, when home media had not yet evolved to a truly mass market and the emphasis was more on producing something to fill a broadcast slot rather than something for the ages.

"Hey, everybody liked The Visitor, right?"

“Hey, everybody liked The Visitor, right?”

The average length of a television series has decreased significantly. Canny viewers can see that trend manifesting across the larger Star Trek franchise. The first season of the original show ran for thirty episodes, excluding The Cage. By the time that Star Trek: The Next Generation was launched in the late eighties, the season order was twenty-six episodes. This remained the default for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. However, the third and fourth seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise dropped their orders to twenty-four episodes.

This fits with a larger trend in television. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, cable networks like HBO would order seasons with relatively modest episode counts. This was in part driven by financial concerns, but also as an acknowledgement upon the physical limitations of showrunners to assure quality across a run of episode. Five of Oz‘s six seasons ran to only eight episodes. The first five seasons of The Sopranos ran to thirteen episodes each. The Wire only produced ten episodes in a season.

Collared...

Collared…

Network television would also begin to cut its orders as the twenty-first century marched on. Major networks like NBC would air seasons of shows like Hannibal or Aquarius running only thirteen episodes, what would have amount to half of a full season order even two decades earlier. When Fox elected to resurrect shows like The X-Files or 24, it did so by affording those shows limited runs, demonstrating that contemporary broadcast television was becoming increasingly flexible when it came to scheduling.

There are lots of reasons why this shift has taken place. The syndication market is not what it once was, meaning there is less of an incentive to hit one hundred episodes as quickly as possible. Networks have discovered that they can attract top-tier talent by reducing the commitment required to shoot a season of television. In the era of “peak television”, shorter runs allow networks more room to experiment with different shows, without the massive commitment that a twenty-odd episode season would entail.

"Aye, Captain. Lighting set to 'mood'."

“Aye, Captain. Lighting set to ‘mood’.”

Indeed, it should be noted that Bryan Fuller, the producer of the new Star Trek show and an industry veteran, has never produced a season of television running over fourteen episodes. Although Fuller left Dead Like Me only five episodes into its first season, the shows two seasons ran to fourteen and fifteen episodes respectively. Wonderfalls was cancelled after thirteen episodes, and were intended as a season. The two seasons of Pushing Daisies ran nine and thirteen episodes respectively. Hannibal ran three thirteen-episode seasons.

It is very clear that producing a twenty-six episode season is an exhausting endeavour for just about everybody involved. Once the season hits the twenty-episode mark, the production team are about ready to collapse. The result is that many series tend to sag around this point in the season, as deadlines approach quicker and ideas come in slower. Both Shattered Mirror and The Muse offer two different responses to this creeping pressure. The Muse was a painful episode for all involved, proving agonising to break.

Klingon to power...

Klingon to power…

In contrast, Shattered Mirror was treated as something of a break for everybody involved, an excuse to cut loose and get away from the expectations of writing twenty-six Star Trek episodes in a year. Producer Ira Steven Behr confesses as much in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion:

To the writers of Deep Space Nine, a trip to the mirror universe is like a vacation. “We’d just come through a couple of very serious episodes and we wanted to have some fun,” says Ira Behr. “Not that there weren’t some serious things happening on an emotional level in Shattered Mirror, but basically this was a chance for us to have some fun.”

And so Shattered Mirror is an excuse for the production team (and the cast) to cut loose and have some fun. However, how the production team chooses to have their fun is quite revealing.

"You can tell I'm morally ambiguous because I shave less frequently..."

“You can tell I’m morally ambiguous because I shave less frequently…”

To be fair, there is a powerful emotional component to Shattered Mirror. The death of Jennifer Sisko has hung over Deep Space Nine since the teaser to Emissary, providing a powerful formative trauma for both Benjamin and Jake Sisko. It is the wound that begins to heal during his first encounter with the Prophets. However, it has only been explicitly confronted on a couple of occasions. Given that the most significant occasions were Second Sight and Through the Looking Glass, that might be for the best.

Nevertheless, there is an interesting story to be told about an alternate realm populated by the ghosts of people long since lost. What does it mean to come face to face with somebody who looks exactly like your lost love, but who very clearly isn’t? It is not a bad emotional hook for a mirror universe episode, particularly given that the mirror universe has become consciously unmoored from a commentary on the larger franchise. Indeed, it is such a good hook that Shattered Mirror represents the second of three times Deep Space Nine has tried to tell this story.

"You've redecorated..."

“You’ve redecorated…”

In fact, Deep Space Nine already took a shot at a mirror!Jennifer episode with Through the Looking Glass. There the emotional weight of the reunion between Benjamin and Jennifer was muted by the goofiness of the premise and the fact that the production team were more interested in seeing Sisko play at being a pirate. In Shattered Mirror, the emphasis shifts to the reunion between Jake and Jennifer, but is similarly lost in the shuffle. Indeed, Jake is largely absent from the episode’s climax, largely a bystander and witness.

One of the biggest emotion beats of the episode happens off-screen, as mirror!Jennifer explains her betrayal to Jake. This is a big moment. It represents the point in the story at which Jake releases that mirror!Jennifer is not his mother – and most certainly is not the idealised memory of his mother. However, it is relegated to expository dialogue between Ben and mirror!Jennifer. “He said that it doesn’t matter,” mirror!Jennifer tells Benjamin. “That he’s still glad to have met me.”

It's good to be Regent.

It’s good to be Regent.

It is a shame, because there is a lot of poignancy to be mined in this story. After all, The Visitor demonstrated how effective a story about a lost parent could be. In many ways, Shattered Mirror teases itself as the inversion of The Visitor, Jake reunited with (rather than losing) both parents. There are some touching moments between Jake and mirror!Jennifer, but the show never lingers on them long enough to let them land. The closest the episode comes is having Jake acknowledge, “I never thought I’d hold these hands again. They feel just like my mother’s.”

There are any number of interesting angles to play with this. Is Jake like a child living through a divorce, rather than a bereavement? Throughout the episode, Jake hints at the possibility that Benjamin and mirror!Jennifer might hook up, putting the family back together. “She likes you,” he coyly assures his father. Ben responds, “Jake, whatever you’re thinking, whatever plans you’re making, forget about them.” Similarly, Ben tells mirror!Jennifer, “In his mind, the three of us are already living together.”

Family reunion. Kinda.

Family reunion.
Kinda.

That said, this raises uncomfortable questions about Kasidy Yates. After all, it was Jake who suggested the two get together in Explorers. However, there is a strange emotional honesty to this (admittedly underdeveloped) story thread. What child of divorced parents doesn’t secretly hope that the family might be repaired or put back together? Even if they understand that it is impossible, even if they understand the reason for the separation, what child doesn’t hope that all the pieces could slot back into place?

It doesn’t matter that separations frequently happen for good reasons and that both partners might be happier separate than they ever were together. It doesn’t matter that the family unit was never as perfect as a child imagines it to be. It doesn’t even matter that one (or both parents) are completely different now. It doesn’t matter to Jake that mirror!Jennifer has lived a different life or that she is not the same as her mainstream counterpart. Jake just sees a missing puzzle piece. Even after all these years, he’s trying to put that together.

Holding on together.

Hands across universes.

Similarly, however weird this must be for Benjamin and Jake, it must be even stranger to mirror!Jennifer. To Jake, mirror!Jennifer represents the mother he lost. To mirror!Jennifer, Jake is quite simply the child she never had. It must be strange to look at her counterpart’s son, but no frame of reference. “My Ben Sisko is dead,” she confesses. “I look at Jake and all I see is the son that I’ll never have.” It is a powerful emotional beat, and a solid basis for an hour of television.

Unfortunately, Shattered Mirror never does anything with any of this. Instead, it gets caught up in the thrill of doppelgangers and battle scenes. Even Jake gets swept up in the excitement of it all. “This place is unbelievable,” Jake boasts to his father. “Chief O’Brien, Doctor Bashir, Dax, they’re all here.” Jake sounds as though he has just returned from Oz, which seems an appropriate way to describe the mirror universe as it is reconfigured in Through the Looking Glass and Shattered Mirror. A funhouse carnival mirror, with emphasis on the “fun.”

Footloose and fancy fleet...

Footloose and fancy fleet…

Of course, Shattered Mirror is positively riddled with all of the issues that populate Deep Space Nine‘s other forays into the mirror universe. It is trashy and gratuitous, and not necessarily in a good way. There is a weird creepy sexual subtext threaded through the mirror universe, one that suggests a weirdly puritanical aesthetic to Deep Space Nine. The episodes are saturated with behaviours coded as “sexually deviant”, running the gauntlet from sadomasochism to homosexuality. It is a very teenage idea of sex, linking “evil” and “kinky.”

Once again, the Intendant’s perversity is signified through her bisexuality. She hits on just about every member of the cast, including Sisko and mirror!Bashir. Indeed, there is something quite uncomfortable in the way that Shattered Mirror sexualises mirror!Bashir’s torture of the Intendant. The audience is introduced to the Intendant on all-fours, referring to mirror!Bashir’s “little toy.” In fact, the scene quite pointedly teams up then-husband-and-wife Nana Visitor and Alexander Siddig.

Vacation time!

Vacation time!

Similarly, the sequences with mirror!Worf and mirror!Garak are similarly coded with “kinky” subtext that fixates upon sadomasochism and homosexuality as inherently “deviant” and thus marking the mirror universe as “wicked” in an oddly puritanical sense. mirror!Worf keeps mirror!Garak chained to his throne like the stereotypical slave girl. Indeed, the most charitable reading of this sequence suggests it is a parody of the treatment of Leia in Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.

And, to be fair, the interactions between Andrew Robinson and Michael Dorn are fantastic. Both actors tap into the camper elements of the script, with mirror!Worf setting up some nice witty one-liners for mirror!Garak to land. “Spoken like a Klingon,” mirror!Worf reflects on mirror!Garak’s vow to avenge himself upon the rebels. “I’m trying,” mirror!Garak responds. When mirror!Garak curses the Intendant for abandoning Terok Nor, mirror!Worf protests, “You are attempting to shift blame away from yourself.” mirror!Garak asks, “Am I succeeding?”

Kneel before Worf!

Kneel before Worf!

However, the dynamic is played as overtly sexual with mirror!Worf cast as the dominant partner and mirror!Garak as the submissive. When mirror!Garak reflects that at least sometimes he could “please” the Intendant, mirror!Worf indignantly responds, “You are not my type.” As if to render the subtext even more overt, their penultimate scene together even features mirror!Worf thrusting a knife into mirror!Garak, as if to assure viewers that there is definite penetration going on.

Given that the fourth season of Deep Space Nine featured the franchise’s most overt and sensitive handling of same-sex attraction in Rejoined, it feels like a step backward to arrive at Shattered Mirror. The episode treats anything that does not conform to conventional sexuality as perverse and grotesque, with kinkiness of the Intendant and mirror!Worf played in contrast to Jake’s earnest efforts to rebuild his nuclear family with Benjamin and mirror!Jennifer. Shattered Mirror very clearly believes in “good” sex and “bad” sex, in a very dated manner.

Kira's kinks...

Kira’s kinks…

Almost as dated is the decision to kill off mirror!Jennifer at the end of the episode. It feels like one of the franchise’s most conspicuous examples of “fridging”, killing off a female character to generate angst among male protagonists. Here, mirror!Jennifer dies simply so Benjamin and Jake can relive the loss of her mainstream counterpart. This is all the more frustrating for the contrived manner in which mirror!Jennifer is killed, with the Intendant opting to kill her rather than Jake for… reasons. (Not at all to do with Jake’s place in the opening credits, surely.)

The death of mirror!Jennifer exists to give the plot a little extra emotional heft. Unfortunately, that heft is not earned. Killing the character off is the cheapest way to earn audience sympathy and the laziest way to wrap up the plot. While it might take some work to keep mirror!Jennifer alive without having Jake obsess with her or making the mirror universe a larger part of the show, killing the character off feels clumsy and unearned. It is something that happens so the staff can’t go back to this particular well again. At least with this character.

"Jake really needs to tidy up his clutter."

“Jake really needs to tidy up his clutter.”

In its original incarnation, the mirror universe carried weight by playing within the Star Trek mythos. Mirror, Mirror offered a glimpse of the Federation as an Empire, not as far from the version presented in episodes like Errand of Mercy or The Omega Glory as one might hope. Crossover critiqued Kirk’s moral absolutism and interventionism, and allowed Kira the opportunity to see herself as a collaborator with an imperial power, undoubtedly a nightmarish image for a character struggling with her role on Deep Space Nine.

In contrast, Through the Looking Glass and Shattered Mirror reframe the mirror universe as an excuse to escape the Star Trek universe in a literal and figurative sense. The mirror universe is a place where Deep Space Nine can cast off many of the restrictions imposed by Gene Roddenberry with reckless abandon. Even Gene Roddenberry’s famous “no space pirates” edict can be turned so thoroughly on its head that virtually all of the regular cast are reimagined as space pirates.

Following a lead...

Following a lead…

More than that, the product team can eschew the ideal of peaceful and diplomatic solutions to disagreements, indulging in pure unrestrained warfare. Tellingly, Through the Looking Glass and Shattered Mirror never broach the topic of negotiation and reconciliation between the Alliance and the Rebellion. While episodes like Life Support suggested that Bajor had to reconcile with Cardassia before healing could truly commence, the mirror universe rejects such a notion. The ISS Defiant is built for war. There is no alternative.

Indeed, the use of the prefix “ISS” demonstrates how little interest the production team have in a progressive or evolving mirror universe. It is hard to imagine anything that “ISS” could mean beyond Imperial Starship”; even if Smiley has figured out an alternative meaning, it is still a conscious call back to the Terran Empire. While the crew stop short of drawing a planet with a sword through it, it seems the rebels are still nostalgic for a fascist and racist organisation. The plan is not to build something better after all of this.

A sharp stabbing pain...

A sharp stabbing pain…

Of course, this is often the reality of such wars and rebellions, as much as narratives of history are built around heroes and villains. The war in Syria is fought between the last remnants of a brutal dictatorship and religious extremists. There are no heroes to be found, no romantic freedom fighters who might liberate a suffering country and bring peace to the land. There are just varying shades of awful. The mirror universe is a quagmire of moral relativity, where there’s an uncomfortable implication that the rebels are just waiting to subjugate and oppress on their own terms.

Certainly, mirror!Bashir enjoys the power that comes with the rebel victory of Terok Nor, reveling in his torture of the Intendant. Sisko might have some stern words for him, but there is little indication that he sees the error of his ways. Although the rebels are the heroes of the narrative by virtue of resembling the majority of the cast – the majority of the human cast, which perhaps has its own uncomfortable undercurrents – it is hard to argue that they are heroes in any tangible sense. They fight to torture prisoners and christen starships “ISS” in honour of a fallen dictatorship.

This whole thing's been blown out of proportion...

This whole thing’s been blown out of proportion…

Shattered Mirror seems oblivious to any of this. It is arguably more thought than the episode requires. Certainly, the premise is threadbare. How did the rebels take Terok Nor with a fleet that looks like it is comprised of a single raider? How did they get the materials to build a perfect copy of the Defiant? What is happening with Bajor, with the Intendant in custody and a hostile (alien) force holding the space station? What happened to all the Cardassian and Klingon prisoners? Hold on, we can probably guess the answer to that last one.

Shattered Mirror never questions any of this, perhaps afraid that it might get in the way of the adventure story unfolding on screen. This is apparent from the opening scene, in which it is suggested that popping across dimensions has become as easy as flashing an LED over a console. mirror!Jennifer pops over as if she is a distant cousin stopping by for afternoon tea. “Jennifer came to give me some good news,” Benjamin tells Jake. Later, mirror!Jennifer is able to abduct Jake with little issue, and Ben can follow without breaking a sweat.

Her Indendant victim...

Her Indendant victim…

This is, on many levels, some very lazy writing. Through the Looking Glass and Shattered Mirror take shortcuts in order to get their stories moving, but in doing so they undermine a lot of the appeal and effectiveness of the mirror universe. It is no longer alien or remote; it is no longer some horror lurking in some dark corner of space. Instead, it becomes a familiar neighbourhood. Sisko can travel between the two as easy as hopping the garden fence. There is something lost in all of this.

There is a sense that Shattered Mirror follows the path of least resistance and takes any number of shortcuts to get where it wants to go. Although the rebels hold Jake as leverage, Sisko seems to go along quite easily with their plans. He is not collaborating with a potentially hostile (and potentially fascist) force, he is conscripted into a righteous cause. The capture of Bashir and O’Brien by the Jem’Hadar in Hippocratic Oath provides a marked contrast to the ransoming of Sisko in Shattered Mirror.

A slap in the face...

A slap in the face…

In fact, Shattered Mirror is not at all uneasy with Smiley. The script goes out of its way to insist that Smiley is a good guy, as if O’Brien’s fundamental decency has been rendered as a universal constant. The particulars of what he has done and what he plans to do are glossed over. He is a man of his word, willing to send Jake and Benjamin home before the fighting starts. Nobody questions why he branded the ship “ISS.” To be honest, the writers likely didn’t think much about it beyond the fact that it represented a callback to Mirror, Mirror.

(That sense of convenience bleeds through in other ways. Given that mirror!Quark and mirror!Odo were both killed off in Crossover, both Through the Looking Glass and Shattered Mirror awkwardly shoehorn the mainline versions of the characters into the script. Both Through the Looking Glass and Shattered Mirror slot Odo and Quark into their teasers, providing the most perfunctory of appearances from Rene Auberjonois and Armin Shimerman. It prevents Through the Looking Glass from taking place between Improbable Cause and The Die is Cast.)

"Well, we're done for the week."

“Well, we’re done for the week.”

Still, there is something revealing in the idea that Shattered Mirror is what the production team working on Deep Space Nine consider to be “fun.” While one of the stock (and largely unfair) arguments against Deep Space Nine is that it runs counter to the larger Star Trek mythos, Shattered Mirror suggests that perhaps there is some validity in that argument. The episode largely plays like the best way for the writing staff on Deep Space Nine to relax is to play in an alternate universe that owes a sizable debt to Star Wars.

Shattered Mirror wears its influences on its sleeve. There is an evil empire and an idealistic band of rebels. The names of the two sides even concatenate to form “Rebel Alliance.” mirror!Worf even gets to channel his inner Darth Vader, advising mirror!Garak, “This time I will deal with the rebels myself.” The simple moral calculus of the mirror universe, stripped down from the complexity of Mirror, Mirror and Crossover, consciously evokes the pulpy space adventures of Star Wars.

Garak attack!

Garak attack!

There are other parallels. Fresh from riffing on James Bond in Our Man Bashir, Alexander Sidding finds himself cast in the role of Han Solo. At the climax, mirror!Bashir gets to reenact the Millennium Falcon’s big moment from the climax of Star Wars. Just as things look desperate, mirror!Bashir arrives at the last minute to offer much-needed relief. In fact, Ira Steven Behr and Hans Beimler are quite fond of this “last-minute space battle intervention” trope; the duo employ something similar with the Klingons in Sacrifice of Angels.

(The association between mirror!Bashir and Han Solo even reverberates through his implied relationship with mirror!Dax, suggested here and in The Emperor’s New Cloak. The relationship arguably mirrors that between Han and Leia. Leia was originally set up to have romantic tension with Luke, only for that to be quickly brushed aside once it became clear that it was taboo. Shattered Mirror does something similar with mirror!Dax, retroactively calling attention to the awkwardness of her sexual encounter with Sisko in Through the Looking Glass.)

"What's this? It appears to be a plot device."

“What’s this? It appears to be a plot device.”

It is worth noting the timing of this homage, particularly as it relates to the Star Wars franchise. Shattered Mirror arrived in late April 1996, just over half a year before George Lucas would re-release his updated and expanded edition of the original Star Wars. Lucas had already announced his plans for the re-release to the world at that point, but the mega-franchise was still in what might be considered its “dormant” phase between the release of Return of the Jedi and the re-release followed by the prequels followed by the sequels.

Although Lucas had tweaked earlier releases of his films, the re-release of Star Wars in January 1997 could be seen as point of a schism in the fandom. It created dissonance between the cinematic versions of Star Wars presented to two generations of fans. More than that, it cemented the idea of Lucas as a visionary with feet of clay; although some fans would grumble at the alterations made to Star Wars upon re-release, it was only the tip of the iceberg. It set the stage for the discord that would come with the prequels – and carry through to the sequels.

"Don't worry, Jake. You'll never have to be the focus of a mirror universe episode again."

“Don’t worry, Jake. You’ll never have to be the focus of a mirror universe episode again.”

There is some small irony in the fact that Star Trek would stage an affectionate homage to Star Wars titled Shattered Mirror mere months before the epic space fantasy series would enter the second (and arguably most traumatic) stage of its life cycle. More interesting is the idea proposed by Shattered Mirror that Star Trek and Star Wars are arguably reflections of one another. While Mirror, Mirror and Crossover mostly kept their references internal to the franchise, Shattered Mirror looks outside the franchise to find a distorted mirror.

JJ Abrams was criticised for adopting a very Star Wars sensibility when directing Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness. It was a criticism that the director invited, acknowledging his “superfandom” of Star Wars while conceding that he “never got” Star Trek and moving on from the franchise to direct Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. However, the fun that Shattered Mirror has riffing on Star Wars suggests that Abrams was not the first Star Trek producer with a fondness for the series.

Of course, Star Wars is a cultural juggernaut. It is one of the most influential film franchises ever produced. Along with Jaws, there is an argument to be made that Star Wars codified the modern blockbuster and so shaped entire generations of media. There is no escaping the shadow of that franchise; there are urban legends about trying to establish “Jedi” as a national religion, words and phrases like “the force” and “death star” have entered the popular vernacular, and the designs of characters like Darth Vader or the Stormtroopers are instantly iconic.

Star Trek and Star Wars are very different franchises, in terms of the types of stories that they tell and the way that they choose to tell them. Star Wars is a pulpy space pirate adventure with religious mysticism thrown in. Star Trek can be just as pulpy, but it tends to be more militaristic in its aesthetic. The heroes of Star Wars are all rebels and smugglers and space priests; the heroes of Star Trek are all officers and military personal. While Star Wars revels in dog fights and action sequences, Star Trek favours dialogue and conversation.

These are not qualitative judgments. It might be argued that one of the reasons Star Trek prefers dialogue to action is purely pragmatic; budgetary and technological concerns historically made it very difficult to stage impressive action sequences on a weekly basis. Tellingly, as computer-generated imagery made those sorts of set pieces more affordable, the later shows (Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise) embraced them readily. After all, the original Star Trek featured its fair share of fist fights and slave girls.

Still, despite the differences, pop culture has long compared Star Trek and Star Wars. The media is positively fixated in playing these fandoms off one another, something that key figures like William Shatner jokingly encourage. Figures like Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson have weighed in on the topic. Fandom has devoted considerable effort to vitally important topics such as the relative merits of the franchises or even whether the Federation could beat the Empire in a fair fight.

This is, of course, a false dichotomy. It is entirely possible to enjoy both franchises. It is entirely possible to love both franchises. More than that, it is perfectly reasonable to love both franchises for very different reasons. Star Trek and Star Wars are very different things, sharing the superficial similarities of featuring “star” in the title and taking place in space. While there is undoubtedly some fun to be had in comparing and contrasting them, they are not as diametrically opposed as popular culture would insist.

At the same time, it is worth noting that Deep Space Nine is perhaps the closest that Star Trek comes to the aesthetic of Star Wars. This applies on both superficial and thematic levels. Most obviously, Deep Space Nine is the only Star Trek show to devote considerable time and effort to depicting an actual interstellar war. This is particularly obvious at this point in Deep Space Nine‘s run, with episodes like The Die is Cast, The Way of the Warrior and Shattered Mirror demonstrating that the show is extremely interested in space-age dog fights.

Deep Space Nine is also packed with the sorts of signifiers more prominently associated with Star Wars. The series represents Star Trek‘s first long-form engagement with religion, with open-minded embrace of Bajoran spirituality contrasting sharply with the atheism of classic stories like Who Mourns for Adonais? or Who Watches the Watchers? While the Prophets have always been presented as a mystical force, the fourth and fifth seasons reconfigure that spirituality into a story of good and evil moved closer to the heart of the show.

Most crucially, while the early seasons of Deep Space Nine are somewhat ambiguous as to what (if anything) is actually expected from the Emissary to the Prophets following the discovery of the Wormhole, the second half of the run embraces a “chosen one” narrative around Benjamin Sisko that is mostly absent from the rest of the franchise (give or take a Jonathan Archer), but which is very much a feature of the cosmology of Star Wars. The Prophets and Pah-Wraiths are even conveniently colour-coded in the same blue/red as the Jedi and Sith.

However, the deepest parallels are reflected in the way that Deep Space Nine responds to authority. More than any other Star Trek show, Deep Space Nine is deeply skeptical of authority and government. While Star Trek has no shortage of dictatorships, the Cardassian Union and the Dominion are perhaps the best developed in the franchise. The Bajorans and the Maquis play a larger role in Deep Space Nine than elsewhere, cast as heroic rebels. Indeed, the Cardassian arc is that of an empire that becomes a rebellion and is so redeemed.

While Voyager is populated by characters who were rebels but integrate seamlessly, Deep Space Nine has a much stronger rebellious streak. Episodes like Homefront, Paradise Lost and Inquisition suggest that the Federation might not be as idyllic as it claims to be. This resonates with the same skepticism at work within Star Wars, a franchise wary of large-scale governments whether they are Empires or Republics. Even the production design of Deep Space Nine evokes the rougher edges of Star Wars, the feeling of a used future.

As such, it feels entirely appropriate that the production team goofing off should look so much like Star Wars. In fact, it is also quite telling that so many of the pulpy action clichés of Shattered Mirror (from the last minute rescue to the prison lunch gambit) should reappear as part of Sacrifice of Angels less than two seasons later. Shattered Mirror is a playful “goofing off” episode, but it is one that reveals a lot about how the production team on Deep Space Nine see their show.

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11 Responses

  1. Mirror Dax can realign my sensors any time. Wink wink nudge nudge know wuttamean.

    But yes, this is shit.

    (One thing I resent about these Mirror Universe episodes is how well-crafted they are. I love Dax and Ezri’s new hair and the costumes are really intricate. In particular, I enjoy Ezri’s space punk costume (very Chiana from Farscape) and Nog’s Tetris block business suit.

    And it makes me cry seeing it wasted in drivel like this!)

    • It’s really weird how everybody except the audience seems to be having so much fun with (and putting so much energy into) these episodes. It is almost like filming a cast/production team party.

      • Oh, it absolutely is. Riddle me this:

        Is the Mirror Universe a ‘safety valve’ to release all the pent-up sexual tension in Star Trek? This is some Farscape-level weirdness going on here (Sisko’s deadpan, “You hid it well” when Dax claims that she never all along he was a fake). I’m not sure you could get away with that in the prime universe, even on TOS or ENT!

        So now it’s settled: There is a bizarre , sexual curiosity between Dax and Sisko. If but If not for the chains of command, Sisko and Dax would be shagging like rabbits.

      • Now there is a weird pairing. “Ben, why did you keep calling me ‘Old Man’ last night?”

  2. I will say that I do enjoy the moment where mirror Kira kills mirror Nog. It just such a random moment of dark humor that I enjoy it.
    Also, if we are going to consider this as a star wars homage, then I will go ahead and say that the battle scenes in this episode are easily better than any of the battle scenes in the new Star Wars movie. I clearly remember the spinning of the Defiant around mirror Worf’s ship even though I saw this episode two years ago, while I remember little to none of the action action in Star Wars: The Force awakens.

    • I quite like the long oner with Finn and Poe doing their “you shoot down there, I’ll shoot up here” bit. And the opening image of the Stardestroyers closing like teeth, even if – as I’ll concede – it was pretty much a riff on the opening to A New Hope by way of Han Solo’s escape in Empire.

  3. “Television is an industry that relies on deadlines and production lines more than other forms like novels and television”

    Did you mean novels and movies? Just a mistake I noticed.

  4. It makes perfect, if bleak, sense for Mirror Universe humans to fondly recall the Terran Empire when they were galactic top dog until that pinko malcontent Spock spoiled the party and probably permanently discredited democracy. I can’t imagine the show ever consciously going that way – to have Smiley & co. openly pine for fascism, to the horror of our regular universe heroes, but it would have been fascinating.

    I love the character of Kira and have had a crush on Nana Visitor since my teens but everything about the Intendant, with the possible exception of her first episode, sets my teeth on edge.

    • Yep. I’ll concede I’m reading a bit more depth into the episode than was intended, but it is fun to unpack in a weird sort of way.

  5. It’s funny that the writers dread having to pen the 18th episode, because it’s my lucky number. It reminds me of that superstition that odd-numbered Trek films will be terrible. This is not something I entirely agree with because I quite liked Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Although it was dismissed as a special effects show with a rather lame ending, the journey there is quite enthralling and touches upon something of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but also it feels like the only Trek film with a spirit of adventure and exploring the Unknown which is what Star Trek is all about.

    The writers liked to do these sorts of exchanges with Nana Visitor and Alexander Siddig now they were married but I liked the one where Kira blamed Bashir for getting her pregnant more.

    Jake is a bystander and a witness, like Keiko in Hard Time. You would think those episodes would draw these characters into the plights of Miles O’Brien and Jennifer Sisko instead of just having them stand around reacting to them. TNG did a better job of it in The Bonding and that was for the death of a redshirt.

    With Shattered Mirror and The Thaw, we have Trek episodes where the laws of a conventional universe are thrown into disarray, much like the fairground analogy you made Darren. If only the Mirror episodes had been worth it. The Thaw managed to achieve so much in just 45 minutes then all the Mirror episodes combined.

    When TNG did Gambit, the writers covered a bust of Gene Roddenberry because it violated his edict of “no space pirates”. Mirror Bashir should have said “yahoo!” at the end to really complete the Han Solo analogy. And isn’t there also a Starfleet in the Star Wars universe Darren? Felecia M Bell’s acting ability makes her ideally suited to playing a corpse. “What’s this? It appears to be a plot device”. LOL

    • I believe that covering (or at least blindfolding) the bust of Gene Roddenberry was something that Rick Berman used to do every time he was discussing an episode that he know Gene Roddenberry would disapprove of. Being honest, he should have just forced the bust to watch The Trouble With Tribbles instead.

      As for odd-numbered Star Trek films, I like Star Trek III, Star Trek XI and Beyond. But what do I know?

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