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Star Trek: Enterprise – In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II are an indulgence.

That goes almost without saying, this indulgence standing as one of the most searing critiques of the two-parter. After all, Star Trek: Enterprise had only five episodes left at this point in its run. One of those episodes would be given over to Rick Berman and Brannon Braga to bring in Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis as a way to allow Star Trek: The Next Generation to put a cap on the eighteen years of the Berman era. Devoting two of the remaining four episodes to the mirror universe was a choice that left the show open to criticism.

Archer's cosplay went down a treat.

Archer’s cosplay went down a treat.

After all, it is not as if the audience at home was crying out for more mirror universe episodes. Even hardcore Star Trek fans were still recovering from the trauma of The Emperor’s New Cloak, the seventh season episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that had the audacity to combine a mirror universe episode with a Ferengi episode. Discounting the somewhat divisive (and mirror universe free) Resurrection, the last time that a mirror universe episode really worked had been Crossover, which had been broadcast before Star Trek: Voyager was on the air.

So In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II are both episodes that feel excessive and gratuitous. And, for all their flaws, that is a huge part of the charm.

Gorn again.

Gorn again.

To be fair, In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II serve a clear thematic purpose in the grand arc of the fourth season. The fourth season is very much engaged with the idea that the utopian ideals of the Federation are no longer a “given” in the way that they had been during the broadcast of Star Trek or The Next Generation. The two-parter offers a glimpse of a universe where those principles have no taken hold, and which they consistently refuse to take hold. In that way, they emphasise that utopian idealism is not easy. It takes work and struggle.

More than that, the two episodes are consciously positioned to lead into Demons and Terra Prime. When John Frederick Paxton offers his filibuster about developing “a human-centred consciousness that will place our world before all others”, the audience has just witnessed what such a world might look like. When Paxton talks about the moment that “mankind casts off the shackles of alien interference and now determines its own fate”, it is hard not to think of mirror!Archer holding mirror!Cochrane’s shotgun and ranting about Vulcan invaders.

"I'm quaking in my little space boots."

“I’m quaking in my little space boots.”

Demons and Terra Prime position the franchise at a crossroads between two futures. The entire Star Trek franchise speaks to the future offered by Jonathan Archer, but In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II tease out Paxton’s vision of mankind’s journey to the starts. Not in a literal sense, not in terms of continuity. In terms of outlook and philosophy. In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II seem to suggest that the only difference between the mirror universe and regular continuity is mankind’s outlook. Vulcans are still Vulcans.

Even allowing for that thematic resonance, there is a lot of continuity in this two parter. This is particularly true of In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II, which unfolds mostly on the Defiant and which features many aesthetic references to the classic Star Trek show. mirror!Archer even wears the same tunic that was used to distinguish the two Kirks in The Enemy Within to distinguish him from his mental projection of his alternate self. To say nothing of the reappearance of the Gorn almost four whole decades after Arena.

"It is... it is green."

“It is… it is green.”

Much like Demons and Terra Prime, the mirror universe two-parter was an idea that had been gestating a long time. It had been part of the original plan for the season mapped out by Manny Coto and Mike Sussman before the fourth season was even confirmed. As Sussman explains on his commentary for the episode:

He really wanted to do a mirror universe story. And we were trying, in the season premiere, Storm Front which had… the previous season had ended on a cliffhanger, and we didn’t know what the follow-up was going to be to that. Manny and I spent a long time trying to figure out… maybe the season premiere – with the space Nazis with the red eyes – maybe that was a mirror universe episode that was starting. For a long time, we tried to make that work, and it wasn’t working. So we kinda put a pin in it.

Much like Manny Coto’s fixation on Colonel Green would bubble through the Borderland trilogy and ripple through the production of Observer Effect and Bound before finding expression in Demons and Terra Prime, it seems like the idea that would become In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II had been gestating for quite a long time.

"Red is good, right?"

“Red is good, right?”

In fact, it should be noted that the central crux of In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I had been bouncing around Mike Sussman’s head from the second season at the latest. The core premise of In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I (a ship from the future trapped by the Tholians) formed the basis of Future Tense during the second season. Sussman had even originally pitched that the ship from the future in Future Tense should be the Defiant. In its own weird and ironic way, Future Tense became the future of the show encroaching on itself.

One aspect of the fourth season that is often overlooked is the degree of planning involved. Manny Coto might have abandoned the season-long arc format that defined the third season, but the fourth season always had some idea of where it wanted to go. In its own way, the fourth season has a clearer idea of its own destination than the third season, which seemed to spend the first third of the year flailing in search of a direction. Owing to the fact that there are fewer stories in the fourth season, most could be traced back to the start of the year.

Captains gorn wild.

Captains gorn wild.

Indeed, much of the episode that would become In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II was developed at a point when there were rumours that William Shatner would make a guest appearance on Enterprise. The fact that Kirk wasn’t born yet (and that Archer was supposedly Kirk’s “childhood hero”) would create obvious issues with septuagenarian William Shatner reprising the role. Of course, Enterprise was facing the threat (and near certainty) of cancellation at this point, so William Shatner appearing would be a major coup.

Writers Judith and Garfield Reeve-Stevens seized upon the possibility that William Shatner could play a role other than the familiar James Tiberius Kirk. Working in conjunction with William Shatner, the Reeve-Stevens had developed a line of novels set in the wake of Star Trek: Generations that resurrected Kirk while also pitting him against his mirror universe counterpart. While the history of the mirror universe following Mirror, Mirror largely focused on mirror!Spock, mirror!Kirk was something of a blank canvas.

Unwashed and somewhat slightly phased.

Unwashed and somewhat slightly phased.

As they outline in Before Her Time, the Reeve-Stevens concocted an elaborate plot that would allow William Shatner and Scott Bakula to come face-to-face, drawing on the background details of Mirror, Mirror:

And the idea was that the Tantalus Field that the Mirror Spock is using to make people disappear in the mirror universe on the Mirror Enterprise wasn’t a disintegration machine. It was simply a humane way of getting rid of prisoners by putting them in prison hundreds of years in the past, in an alien prison deep underground. And the thing is that, after the end of Mirror, Mirror where the real Captain Kirk says that ‘every revolution begins with one man with a vision, you can do it.’ The idea being that Mirror Spock uses the Tantalas Field to send Tiberius – the evil Captain Kirk – back to the past.

This premise relied on the concession that mirror!Kirk would operate a non-lethal device and that the device in question would not simply dispose of its victims by materialising them in solid rock. This version of the Tantalus Field feels like Bond villain death trap rather than a practical means of disposal.

We salute you.

We salute you.

Then again, this does not matter. The Tantalus Field is not important, beyond its capacity to allow mirror!Kirk to make an appearance. mirror!Kirk is not important, beyond the justification that he offers for a guest appearance from William Shatner. With regards to the story as originally conceived, all that mattered was getting William Shatner to appear on Enterprise. Much like the guest appearances of Brent Spiner in Borderland and of Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis in These Are the Voyages…, William Shatner would serve to legitimise Enterprise.

When In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I went into production, the writing was pretty much on the wall. Although Enterprise had not been officially cancelled at that point, it was highly unlikely that the show would be returning for a fifth season. In many ways, it was lucky that the show had received a fourth season. Enterprise had been living on borrowed time since Storm Front, Part I. However, the axe would finally drop during the production of In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II.

Preaching to the choir.

Preaching to the choir.

In fact, word filtered down during Archer’s big speech to the crew of the Avenger, lending some irony to his big “there will be nothing that can stop us” moment. As Michael and Denise Okuda outline on the episode’s text commentary:

This scene was shot on Wednesday, February 2, 2005. While this scene was in production, UPN announced that Star Trek: Enterprise was being cancelled at the end of the season. As soon as the word was official, the production office quietly informed the show’s department heads. Word quickly spread through the entire cast and crew. Everyone on the show had anticipated the announcement, but all were still saddened. The imminent breakup of the Star Trek family lent an air of bittersweet melancholy to the rest of the season.

It is strange to think that the Star Trek franchise had served to launch UPN with the broadcast of Caretaker in January 1995. Similarly, it is hard to believe that UPN had eagerlyUPN had cancelled Enterprise. UPN had killed Star Trek, at least in this form.

Gridlock...

Gridlock…

That cancellation stung. The accusation that Enterprise had killed the franchise would define the show’s reputation among a certain segment of fanbase; many fans would very vocally blame Rick Berman and Brannon Braga for killing the golden goose. Braga would dismiss accusations that he “killed” the franchise as “absurd”, while Rick Berman would describe the repeated insinuations that he and Braga never cared about the canon or the legacy as “hurtful gossip.” Still, the cancellation of Enterprise cast a shadow over the show.

Enterprise would be the first live-action Star Trek show in thirty-five years to run less than seven full seasons. It would be the first Star Trek show produced by Rick Berman to be quietly escorted off the stage rather than being allowed to end on its own terms. It would be the first Star Trek spin-off in more than an decade to leave the air without a replacement already being planned. It would see an end to eighteen years of continuous production and twenty-five seasons worth of television programming. It was a big deal.

Boy, that wrap party was really something.

Boy, that wrap party was really something.

More than that, the manner of the cancellation stung. In Before Her Time, Brannon Braga talks about how disappointed he was in the manner that UPN handled the cancellation:

I’m not blaming them, but it’s just my perception of reality was that they just really didn’t want the show. It was an expensive show, it wasn’t getting ratings to justify its financial existence. We made concessions in the third and fourth seasons. We started shooting on high def, which I hated. I though the show doesn’t look as good. We had to get our budget down, so we made some compromises there. Rick and I both knew it was over. And then we got the call. Rick and I were in his office. The head of the network calls and said, ‘It’s time. I think we’re going to call it day.’ And we said, ‘Okay.’ And that was it. It was about a two-line conversation. It was utterly… uneventful, is a kind word. I would say it was indicative of the level of interest in the show. That something that had been on the air for so long, that had been so beloved by so many fans and had – quite frankly – made a lot of money. I think that it was treated with disrespect.

Then again, that is the reality of television production, and business in general. Time and effort is spent curating and maintaining goodwill with the producers of successful shows. There are no such political or financial concerns dealing with failures, those can be tackled quickly and bluntly.

It all blew up in his face.

It all blew up in his face.

None of these pragmatic concerns could dull the sting of the cancellation, the crisis of identity felt by the production team. The cancellation meant that Enterprise would be perceived as a “lesser” series, in more than mere episode count. No matter what the production team had accomplished, no matter all the effort and hard work, Enterprise would always be “the Star Trek spin-off that was cancelled.” That would serve to distinguish it from The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine or Voyager.

This apocalyptic anxiety hangs over In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II. There is a sense that the show’s death drive has kicked into action. In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II all but invite a potent Freudian reading. Both episodes feature an NX-class ship attacked and destroyed by a representative of classic Star Trek. In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I ends with the Enterprise destroyed in the Tholian Web, while In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II has the Defiant destroy the Avenger.

Everything burns.

Everything burns.

There is no shortage of symbolism in that imagery, with two separate NX-class ships blown apart over the course of the two-parter. It seems like Enterprise might never fully integrate with the broader Star Trek iconography, always destined to be blown apart and deconstructed in relation to classic Star Trek imagery and ideas. Archer’s Enterprise would not make any lasting impression on popular culture; the word “Enterprise” still evokes that classic Constitution-class design. Perhaps this reflects the uncertainty bubbling through the fourth season as a whole.

There is a violent streak that runs through In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II, the production team taking every opportunity to maim or kill the regular cast. To be fair, Mike Sussman’s script is wise enough to keep the fates of varous characters ambiguous, perhaps secretly hoping for a sequel. Based on what we see on screen, it could even be argued that mirror!Archer was drugged rather than poisoned, if the fifth season needed Scott Bakula to reprise the role. The same is also true of characters like mirror!Reed, mirror!Phlox and mirror!T’Pol.

A Reed shirt, if you will.

A Reed shirt, if you will.

While neither of their deaths literally occur on camera, it is hard to imagine mirror!Phlox and mirror!T’Pol living much longer following their insurrection. Similarly, the episode is explicitly ambivalent about the possible survival of mirror!Reed. Pressed on his status by mirror!T’Pol, mirror!Phlox observes, “At this point, he could go either way.” The script is consciously hedging its bets. Nevertheless, there is a sense that the show is working out its cancellation anxiety through this carnage.

Ironically, mirror!Trip is the only character apart from mirror!Hoshi and mirror!Mayweather who unambiguously survives the story. It is mirror!Trip who defeats mirror!Phlox and saves the ship. Given that the survival of mirror!Hoshi and mirror!Mayweather is a conscious thematic point agreed upon by the production team, the somewhat anomalous survival of mirror!Trip is worth acknowleding. After all, Trip would be the only main character to die in These Are the Voyages…, creating a weird resonance.

"What? Are you crazy? I'm not coming up there! I just put this red shirt on!"

“What? Are you crazy? I’m not coming up there! I just put this red shirt on!”

Although the network officially cancelled the show with In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II, the threat of cancellation hung over the entirety of the fourth season. The year is filled with episodes that touch upon and explore the possibility of an ending. This is particularly true in Daedalus and Observer Effect. With its focus on a once-great inventor trying to complete one last miracle before retiring, Daedalus feels like a commentary on the fourth season. Observer Effect feels very much engaged with internet and fan commentary of the season as a whole.

This constant threat of cancellation explains why the fourth season was so fixated upon connecting back to its roots through cameos and guest appearances; Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis allowed Enterprise to assert that it was still Star Trek. The show had done something similar in its first season, casting veteran franchise actors like Rene Auberjonois in Oasis or Ethan Phillips in Acquisition to help fans make the transition. Aliens like the Ferengi in Acquisition or the Klingons in Sleeping Dogs were intended to reassure fans this was still Star Trek.

"Hey, look. Their computer even has voice recognition!"

“Hey, look. Their computer even has voice recognition!”

The fourth season was just more overt in its callbacks, casting veteran performers in either their most iconic roles or in parts very firmly associated with their most iconic roles. Along with all the continuity references and shout-outs, these familiar faces served to assure audiences that Enterprise was part of a much larger extended family. If Brent Spiner was a quirky cousin while Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis were a compassionate aunt and uncle, William Shatner was the grandfather… or the godfather.

In a way, it seems entirely appropriate that the deal fell through at the last minute. In a way, it seems more appropriate that Enterprise should be the Star Trek show that almost booked William Shatner rather than the only live action Star Trek spin-off to feature a guest appearance from the man who played Kirk. It is a near miss, with Enterprise straining toward legitimacy and narrowly missing out on the ultimate validation. This near miss speaks a lot to Enterprise as a whole, a show that was often better than most realised while never quite breaking out.

Defiant till the last.

Defiant till the last.

Still, while In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror Darkly, Part II fail to land William Shatner, they do work really hard to integrate Enterprise into the larger tapestry of the shared Star Trek universe. The episode might not feature a guest appearance from mirror!Kirk, but it manages something almost as impressive. In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror Darkly, Part II host a guest appearance from the original Constitution-Class starship. The original Enterprise herself is effectively the guest star.

Of course, there’s a bit of fiction there to maintain continuity and to keep things relatively straight. Much like William Shatner would have played mirror!Kirk instead of James Kirk, the familiar and iconic sets are nominally those of the USS Defiant lost during The Tholian Web. However, these is no mistaking the look and feel of that bridge or those corridors or those meeting rooms or that green wrap-around. The Defiant is a surrogate for the Enterprise, a way to integrate Enterprise more thoroughly with the rest of the canon.

Reed alert.

Reed alert.

As Enterprise approaches the finishing line, it becomes increasingly nostalgic. It is worth noting that In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I marked the most thorough recreation of the classic bridge set since The Turnabout Intruder. Although both Relics and Trials and Tribble-ations had featured scenes set on the bridge, the production team had only recreated small segments of the iconic studio set. In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I featured a full two-thirds recreation, lovingly built from the ground up.

That bridge set became an emotional site for everybody involved in the show. It is worth noting that many members of the production team, including Manny Coto and Mike Sussman, had photos taken on the set. (Seth McFarlane had to make do with the NX-1 bridge.) In many ways, it recalls Sunshine Days, Vince Gilligan’s penultimate episode of The X-Files. In that episode, the production team had lovingly recreated the house from The Brady Bunch that promptly became a tourist attraction for all the cult television geeks in the Los Angeles television industry.

"Check out my sweet ride, y'all."

“Check out my sweet ride, y’all.”

In some ways, this nostalgia can be forgiven as an indulgence of a dying television series. This is Enterprise working through its own bucket list. During the In Conversation group interview, Mike Sussman suggested that all the speculation over a hypothetical fifth season tends to ignore the fact that the production team got to do pretty much everything they wanted to do during the show’s fourth year:

Every year, on any show, you’re just trying to stay ahead of the train. I don’t recall any deep plans being made about, “What’s going to happen in season five?” The writing was kind of on the wall from the beginning that season four was probably going to be the end. So we weren’t really holding anything back. Everything we wanted to do for the most part – for every part – we got to do.

While Manny Coto might have liked to visit the cloud city of Stratos or incorporate Shran into the regular cast, the truth is that the writers got to accomplish a lot of what they set out to do before the season even began. The ideas didn’t always manifest as they expected, but the vast majority of them got in one way or another.

Peace and long life. Yeah, right.

Peace and long life.
Yeah, right.

In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II are the ultimate expression of this. Much like the later mirror episodes on Deep Space Nine, particularly Through the Looking Glass and Shattered Mirror, it feels like the production team are looking upon the two-parter as a much-needed excuse to blow off some steam. Director James Conway, who also directed Shattered Mirror, acknowledges as much in the episode’s commentary:

It’s always great – and the actors love it – when you get to play these really big broad versions of themselves and let loose all of the frustrations they’ve had for all these years have to stay within the confines of a character. They all embraced it. They had such a good time.

It is worth noting that episodes like Crossover, Through a Glass Darkly, Shattered Mirror, In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II all arrived late in the production season, at a point where the cast and crew were exhausted and on the verge of collapse. For better or worse, these episodes allowed the writers and the performers to cut loose.

May(weather) day...

May(weather) day…

Of course, there is a very reasonable (and credible) argument to be made that these sorts of episodes can wander too far into campy self-indulgence. Connor Trinneer is not a big fan of these episodes for precisely this reason, being particularly critical of how broadly he was asked to pitch his performance:

A lot of people liked those Mirror, Mirror episodes, which I hated. And you might have seen more of that, those throwback episodes, because people liked them. I tell a story about that in the Q&A’s at the conventions. I walked in and did my take on how this guy was supposed to be and the director (James Conway) said, “I want him to be a little gruffer.” I said, “You mean, like a pirate?” And he said, “Yeah, do it like a pirate.” So I was like, “Arrggghh, arrrgghhh, arrrggghhh.” I did the scene and he went, “Cut. Print.” I said, “No, I was kidding.” He said, “No, it’s great. That’s what we’re doing.” So, the entire time I was like, “That’s not what I meant.” I’d say, “Come on, Jim!” But I think you would have seen more of that throwback stuff.

Trinneer raises a valid point. It is possible that a lot of the affection for In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II is rooted in the fact that it had been over half a decade since the last mirror universe episode. There were Voyager episodes that kind of counted, like Living Witness, but they were certainly not annual occurrences and rarely indulged in camp to the same degree. (Bride of Chaotica! probably comes closest.)

Commanding presence...

Commanding presence…

In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II can be written off as an excuse to vent some steam. The concept probably would have grated if it been extended much further. Although Mike Sussman argues that the production team accomplished all that they had wanted to achieve in the four seasons, there was a lot of speculation about what might happen during a hypothetical fifth season; in particular, there was a clear desire to return to the mirror universe. Braga suggested setting the whole season there. Coto wanted a “mini-series within a series.”

It seems highly likely that the law of diminishing returns would have set in. In fact, there are signs of strain even within In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II. While In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I has the central drive to reach the Defiant and a mutiny to keep the audience invested, In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II feels bloated. There are points at which In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II seems almost like a chain of random events that happen without any development. In particular, Archer’s delusions and his fight with the Gorn feel like unnecessary diversions.

Quit talking to yourself, dude.

Quit talking to yourself, dude.

Of course, to the production team, the diversions are the point. In the documentary Before Her Time, Manny Coto talks about the joy of incorporating the Gorn into the fourth season:

We had to get a Gorn in there. I always wanted to do a Gorn. I wish that our Gorn had looked a little better than it did, but I would have loved to have done more Gorn stuff in season five, which would have been fun to explore. Maybe a mirror universe… I think we had talked about doing mirror universe Gorn. You know, expanding that whole thing. Because the mirror universe was kind of a way to expand the whole mythology – to touch on a whole mythology – without breaking canon. That was going to be our way to explore fun avenues that we weren’t able to explore in the regular universe.

Between Coto’s fixation on the Orions and the Gorn, and his self-acknowledged “fetish” for Colonel Green, it seems like a pretty safe bet that Coto’s favourite colour is probably green.

Gorn to be wild.

Gorn to be wild.

In some respects, In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II are the most essential of the fourth season episodes. They take the fourth season’s esoteric fixation on continuity (already reaching critical mass with Affliction and Divergence) and push it to its very limits. In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II represent the show’s nostalgic id run rampant and untamed. This is an episode that is at once a sequel to The Tholian Web and a prequel to Mirror, Mirror.

In terms of “the canon” and the larger franchise, this is very much what the fourth season has been pushing towards. If mirror!Archer is the embodiment of everything nasty and brutish about Archer, then In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II are everything alienating and insular about the fourth season as a whole. As the reconfigured opening credits and theme suggest, this is not a regular episode of Enterprise set in the mirror universe. It is a mirror version of the show. Coto described it as “the mirror universe version of the show.”

In the mirror universe, Orion slave girls get better work attire.

In the mirror universe, Orion slave girls get better work attire.

It is too much to describe this as an exorcism. After all, Coto still gets to do his Colonel Green story with Demons and Terra Prime before Berman and Braga try to fit the entire show between the scenes of Pegasus. This obsession of continuity and history for the sake of continuity and history does not end with In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II. It does not even end with the Berman era as a whole. If anything, the continuity obsession of the fourth season feels like an appetiser for the JJ Abrams films. Into Darkness seems to echo backwards across this fourth season.

As with a lot of the fourth season’s continuity fetishism, it is very hard to hate In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II. These are two episodes of Star Trek that will make no sense to anybody but the most hardcore of fans. However, they arrived at a point where it seemed like only the most hardcore of fans were still watching. Much like there is a difference in watching a musician play to a stadium or a dive bar, the fourth season operates with a different set of expectations and thresholds.

"Well, don't we look just fabulous?"

“Well, don’t we look just fabulous?”

Would Enterprise have fared better if it adopted this approach from the first season, as many involved with the production have argued? It is impossible to know for certain without access to a time machine. While Enterprise never attracted spectacular viewing figures, it did have a much larger audience in its first season. Would that audience have responded better to these extended love letters to the minutiae of Star Trek continuity than they did to the bland and indistinct stories that defined so much of the first year?

Again, it is hard to know without speaking in generalisations or making blanket assumptions. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the hardcore fans posting on the internet lambasting the first season and praising the fourth were very much the minority. Massive franchises like CSI and NCIS have demonstrated that there is a market for bland and formulaic episodic storytelling, even in the twenty-first century’s increasingly diversified market. There is every possibility that wider audience might have rejected Enterprise even faster if it had embraced this style earlier on.

In one ear and out the other...

In one ear and out the other…

It has become increasingly common to refer to the Star Trek franchise as “cult” television. That is certainly an apt description of certain phases of the franchise’s existence, those that never penetrated mainstream culture. There is a credible argument to be made that Deep Space Nine was the most ambitious and engaging show in the franchise, but it was very definitely a “cult” production without the saturation that made The Next Generation such a monstrous success. The Next Generation got an Outstanding Drama Series nomination at the Emmy Awards.

The Next Generation succeeded despite spending a significant portion of its seven-season run trying to distance itself from its direct predecessor. The Romulans and the Klingons were only reintroduced late in the first season, following the spectacular misfire of the Ferengi in The Last Outpost. After fighting tooth and nail to get the episode made in the first place, Ira Steven Behr has talked about how he struggled to get the word “Spock” into the script for Sarek. Gene Roddenberry urged Brannon Braga never to watch the original Star Trek.

Blue him away.

Blue him away.

To be fair, the show’s perspective softened in later years. Unification, Part I and Unification, Part II acknowledged Spock’s importance to the franchise and permitted him to confer his blessings upon the crew. In many ways, Relics used Scotty to explore the complicated relationship that existed between Star Trek and The Next Generation. However, there was always a tension there. It could be argued that the show’s insistance on standing on its own two feet was a large part of what made it such a massive phenomenon in popular culture. It carved out its own niche.

Enterprise never quite found that same courage of its convictions. It dropped the “Star Trek” from the title sequence in its opening seasons, but it went out of its way to acknowledge the rest of the Berman era shows. The first season featured a guest appearance from Rene Auberjonois in Oasis, an episode that was very heavily influence by the Odo-centric Shadowplay. Ethan Phillips and Jeffrey Combs played Ferengi in Acquisition. The Nausicaans reappeared in Fortunate Son. The show was keen to emphasise its connection to The Next Generation.

Chin up!

Chin up!

Again, the reality of Enterprise‘s cancellation is a lot duller than most critics would contend. Enterprise might have been a weak show, but weak shows can prosper and survive for extended periods of time. Enterprise was not a good television show in its first two seasons, but it was also subject to political concerns completely divorced from its relative quality or lack thereof. The first two seasons of Enterprise were horribly flawed, but any discussion of the show’s cancellation must acknowledge that the show was subject to the larger instabilities within UPN itself.

With all of this in mind, it seems unlikely that adding more in-depth and broader continuity references to the earlier seasons of Enterprise would have made it a better show. Would Rogue Planet have been a stronger episode if it introduced the Tholians? Would Vox Sola flow easier if the alien squid monster were replaced by the giant space amoeba from The Immunity Syndrome? As much as the fourth season might fixate upon continuity, that continuity is not the key to its success. The fourth season has a clearer sense of purpose than the first two years.

"You know, maybe leading the party in a red shirt was not the best idea."

“You know, maybe leading the party in a red shirt was not the best idea.”

The heavy emphasis on continuity in the fourth season of Enterprise is not sustainable. It is a quirk that can be forgiven by virtue of the show’s looming demise. The fourth season of Enterprise is not a viable long-term model for the franchise. In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II are not heralds of a bold new approach to Star Trek; they are eulogists afforded the comfort of nostalgia as the coffin is lowered into the ground. In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II are flawed pieces of television, but they still feel earned.

Who could deny a dying show one last indulgence? In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II certainly make for a much more satisfying indulgence than These Are the Voyages…

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20 Responses

  1. >Would Rogue Planet have been a stronger episode if it introduced the Tholians?

    Yes. It still would not have been good, but Tholians would have made it objectively better.

    Happy to help!

  2. The period sets (in this and “TATV”) are gorgeous. I don’t know if it’s nostalgia, or kitzch, but I prefer this to the garbage NX-01 sets.

    The effect of seeing the Enterprise-D again, in hi-def, had a remarkable effect on my mind. I gave the episode a pass for that alone, though it was maddening watch for many.

    • I find that the Enterprise D looks almost uncanny on digital video as opposed to film. I think that’s due to the lighting, though. Oddly enough, I think the TOS bridge looks beautiful when shot on digital videa, which is probably down to the more stylised lighting effects.

      • True. TOS had much more atmospheric lighting. (Each time Kirk’s eyes are lit, but his face is dark, take a drink.)

      • I particularly love the random coloured spotlights on Kirk’s Enterprise. I’m not being sarcastic. I miss that vibrancy and atmosphere.

    • The sets on the NX-01 are one of the only things I like about the series, I like the functional, gray look of it all.

      The TOS sets are beyond goofy and cheesy, so its fun to see them meshed with more modern sets.

  3. I like these episodes. Are they deep, meaningful episodes? No, but it’s about a mirror universe where everyone is literally a mustache twirling comic book villain, none of the episodes are “deep”. Plus these episodes are far better than the DS9 series of episodes in the mirror universe. Also it’s Enterprise, I’m not expecting that much. I enjoy this two parter in any case

    • I don’t know. I think the episodes are smarter than they’re given credit for. They present a grim militaristic version of Star Trek right before the big two-parter in which a bunch of xenophobic fascists attempt to dictate Earth’s future. I think that it works quite well as a weird cautionary tale, demonstrating what’s at stake (in a metaphorical rather than literal sense) when Archer takes on Paxton in Demons and Terra Prime. The fourth season is largely about laying the foundations of the Star Trek universe, then you get two episodes of the antitheses of that, then you get an episode in which mankind must decide what future it actually wants.

      Although I would argue that the two parter is nowhere near as good as Crossover. All the other DS9 mirror universe episodes, yes. Crossover, nope.

      • Crossover is okay, it’s certainly not one of my favorite DS9 episodes, certainly not a “great” episode, IMO. The rest of them are just “meh”

        I don’t think that the “Terra Prime” group was analogus to the “evil empire” in the mirror universe, I think it was more an isolationist group. Or maybe you’re right and the mirror universe is more brilliant than I give it credit for.

      • In the Demons/Terra Prime episode, Paxton’s insistence on a “human-centred consciousness” is very much the philosophy of the mirror universe. Had Paxton been in Montana during First Contact, he would have been holding the shotgun. Paxton is very much of the “make Earth great again” persuasion. After all, for all his talk of isolationism, he is quite eager to steal from other cultures; the Rigelian gene therapy, T’Pol’s DNA. T’Pol paints him as a hypocrite, and she’s right. But it seems like there’s more to it than that. (Does it seem likely that Paxton would, for instance, be content to let the other major powers develop their technology and influence around Earth? Or does it seem like this little show of force is simply the start of something bigger?)

        Paxton’s a threat to the fundamental fabric of the Star Trek universe because he rejects the idea of unity and equality. Which I think is very clever. In a Mirror, Darkly offers a glimpse of what Paxton’s “human-centred consciousness” might look like. Indeed, Archer and his crew are notably more explicitly racist than the mirror universe characters in TOS and DS9. I think there’s a very clear and very clever arc there; we see something approximating Paxton’s vision before returning back to Earth to confront Paxton.

        Paxton’s philosophy amounts to the idea that …

        A new era is at hand, an era that will expose the concept of interspecies unity as an absolute and vicious lie. An era that will witness the advent of a human-centred consciousness that will place our world before all others. As of this moment, mankind casts off the shackles of alien interference and now determines its own fate.

        … that sounds a lot like the nonsense mirror!Archer believes.

      • To me, Yesterdays Enterprise is a more proper Trek take on the “dark alternate universe”, also the Borg are basically the best “mirror universe” Federation, funny most don’t realize that 😛

      • I’d still give that to Crossover, if only because “Kira could be Dukat, but for the grace of God” is one of the most breathtakingly cynical arguments that Deep Space Nine ever made. But, yes, Yesterday’s Enterprise is phenomenal.

      • I don’t like Mirror Kira, she’s not a very good villain, she’s so cartoony and uninteresting IMO. Same with Mirror Garak, which I believe Andrew Robinson himself hated for being such a 2D character, though given that the normal Garak is so complex, I guess he is a fitting Mirror version! 😛 Again, I don’t really like the Mirror DS9 episodes, or find the Mirror Universe very interesting.

        I thought the Evil Empire in the “Mirror Universe” was just a cartoon take on the Roman Empire, with literal mustache twirling villains who are evil for the sake of being evil, nothing deep or profound behind it? I thought Paxton was more of an analogy and metaphor for isolation and xenophobes, most of which don’t have dreams of conquest and enslavement? “Human centered consciousness” to me just sounds like “Humans first”, not go around in imperial regalia chewing the scenary.

      • “Make Earth Great Again” if you’re referring to Donald Trump, he’s a perfect example. While he’s a liar, he’s gaining ground by being more “anti war” and “isolationist” than Clinton, and that fits in the more xenophobic “far right” politics he’s catering to.

      • Well, to be fair, Trump’s foreign policy also involves making Mexico pay to build the wall to keep them away from Earth, taking oil as “spoils” from the countries that rightfully own, and ramping up collateral damage against perceived terrorist threats. Calling Trump an isolationist is in some ways accurate, but the realities of globalisation mean that he needs a foreign policy. And the foreign policy he has outlined is decidedly imperialist, in terms of being “America first” and seeing the rest of the world existing as subservient to that.

      • “Trump’s foreign policy also involves making Mexico pay to build the wall to keep them away from Earth”

        He wants to outcast all of Mexico into outer space? Now I gotta admit that’s ambitious…

        All joking aside, yeah but that’s not “imperialist”, that’s isolationist, it’s also proposed in such a way it can never be done, hence why Trump is even bothering to say it, and flip flopping back and forth.

        “taking oil as “spoils” from the countries that rightfully own”

        Actually I think he said it about ISIS, but besides, that is indeed “imperialist” though it’s not cartoon evil empire stuff, esp since the US does this already and has since its foundation. I mean Clinton proposes the same, even Sanders proposed the same. The only people against this are leftists like the Green Party and various socialist groups.

        “ramping up collateral damage against perceived terrorist threats.”

        Again, this is indeed true, however he doesn’t propose anything we’re not doing, and while terrible, is hardly indicative of a Napoleonic complex.

        ” Calling Trump an isolationist is in some ways accurate, but the realities of globalisation mean that he needs a foreign policy. ”

        Well the reality is Trump and the class he’s apart of heavily empower themselves via “globalization” and cheap slave like labor, so it’s not like he’s serious about any of this. I mean I want a president who will tear TPP/TTIP and NAFTA up, but he won’t be it, I seriously doubt it anyway.

        “And the foreign policy he has outlined is decidedly imperialist, in terms of being “America first” and seeing the rest of the world existing as subservient to that.”

        It’s actually less so than the status-quo as its just largely retreating and leaving conflict zones. It’s still “imperialist” in the sense he’s not railing against American corporations and military influence on behalf of them, but it’s less so than Clintons and the Democrats, who are more “evil” and cynical in this sense.

  4. Oh and Hoshi was kinda hot in this two parter

    • Yep, and so was T’Pol.

      Again, it ties back to that TOS sexy thing were talking about. The backlit sequence of Hoshi and Archer making out, lit in a provocative sixties style, seems infinitely sexier to me than any creepy “rub down” scenes for the earlier episodes.

      • The uniforms also. I think these two parters are pretty much remakes (in a good way) of “Mirror, Mirror” they capture the feel perfectly.

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