In many ways, Resurrection is the mirror universe story that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has been trying to tell for the better part of three seasons.
It is the most obvious of parallel universes, the classic variant on the “there but for the grace of God…” story that science-fiction tackles so effectively. After all, both Mirror, Mirror and Crossover were episodes that used the mirror universe to posit alternate versions of the Federation and the Occupation. It makes sense that the next logical extension of this Star Trek high concept would be an episode focusing on alternate versions of specific characters. How different would a person be, if they were to be transposed to an entirely different context?
Deep Space Nine tried to touch on this with Through the Looking Glass and Shattered Mirror, two mirror universe episodes that centred around the character of mirror!Jennifer Sisko. Through the Looking Glass allowed Benjamin Sisko to come face-to-face with his long-dead wife, while Shattered Mirror allowed Jake Sisko to spend some time with his deceased mother. Unfortunately, neither episode really lived up to that potential, hampered by weak performances from Felecia Bell and by the distraction of high camp.
Resurrection is very much the third attempt that this very basic story, and suffers a little bit from that sense of fatigue. However, the execution is substantially better this time around. While Philip Anglim is hardly the franchise’s strongest guest performer, he is a better actor than Bell. More than that, keeping the action anchored on the “real” Deep Space Nine stops the story from veering into high camp. It might be damning with faint praise, but Resurrection is probably Deep Space Nine‘s second best mirror universe episode.
In an abstract way, it makes sense to use the mirror universe to tell this sort of story. It makes even more sense given that Through the Looking Glass and Shattered Mirror allowed the mirror universe to detach itself from the mainstream universe. In Mirror, Mirror and Crossover, the mirror universe served as a vehicle for commentary upon the larger Star Trek franchise. In Mirror, Mirror, the Terran Empire was a horrific reflection of the Federation. Crossover was written as a critique of Kirk’s tendency to intervene in alien cultures.
Those sorts of stories are no longer possible with the mirror universe as it developed in Through the Looking Glass and Shattered Mirror. Over the third and fourth seasons, the mirror universe devolved into a weird tourist destination, a place to which the writers and actors might retreat in the hope of playing as “space pirates!” in a hackneyed space opera. The mirror universe itself would not become an interesting place again until In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II literally rolled back the clock.
If the mirror universe can no longer be used as a commentary on Star Trek itself, it makes sense to use the mirror universe as a springboard to tell interesting character-driven stories. Star Trek works best when it develops alien cultures in interesting directions, developing characters from those foreign realms in an intriguing manner. The mirror universe is particularly special because it allows for such a direct contrast. The mirror universe allows the audience to see what a given character would be like if circumstances were different.
It makes a great deal of sense for Deep Space Nine to tell this sort of story, given that the series is particularly invested in characters and individuality. More than any other Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine develops and explores its supporting cast in interesting and exciting ways. It is very much character-driven Star Trek. At the same time, Deep Space Nine also invests much greater faith in people (and in people’s inherent decency) than it does in governments or command structures.
As such, Deep Space Nine is the perfect vehicle for a story like this. At its core, Resurrection is a story that asks whether concepts like fundamental goodness are absolute or relative. What does it mean to be a good person? Is goodness an innate quality, something that transcends background or circumstances? What happens if a truly wonderful person were to grow up in a horrific and brutal environment, to a world where their decency never got the chance to manifest itself?
It is an interesting question, one very much of interest to Deep Space Nine. After all, the final two seasons of Deep Space Nine are largely about placing fundamentally decent people in horrific situations and watching as they try to hold on to their humanity in the midst of carnage and chaos. In some respects, Deep Space Nine is as optimistic about the human condition as any other Star Trek show, believing that people’s basic decency can endure in the harshest of circumstances. So it is no surprise how Resurrection resolves this question.
Of course, while Resurrection plays into some of these core themes in the final two seasons of Deep Space Nine, the episode does remain quite apart from the Dominion War that opened the season. If You Are Cordially Invited… was a coda to the opening six-episode arc, then Resurrection is really the first standalone episode of the sixth season. It is a story that could easily have been told in any other season of the show, the first episode of the sixth season that does not rely on the status quo established by Call to Arms.
There are some minor references to the changed state of affairs. “Worf, any news from General Martok’s scout ships?” Kira asks. Worf replies, “They report no Dominion activity along the border.” When the Intendant tries to sneak into the cargo bay, she is stopped by security. “It’s the new protocol,” the guard explains. “The war.” Even the interpersonal character threads carry over. When Dax suggests that Kira invite Odo for dinner, Kira responds, “I’m not ready for that. Odo’s not ready for that. Let’s just forget that you brought that one up.”
However, these references are very minor compared to the sprawling introductory arc. As such, Resurrection marks a point of transition for the show. Ira Steven Behr has argued that the episode faces a lot of unfair scrutiny as a result of that fact:
As for Resurrection, not only was it my idea but much of the episode as it appeared on screen was the work of myself and Hans Beimler. So, if you’re going to cast stones, you may as well throw them at the right people. I think part of the disappointment that some fans felt with the episode is due to its placement in the season. After the six-parter and the wedding, an episode like Resurrection seemed almost like an afterthought. But any episode with Nana Visitor can’t be all bad. I think she did a lovely job. And though I don’t think it’s the best episode we’ve ever done, I believe we’ve done worse.
Resurrection is actually credited to writer Michael Taylor, who submitted the script for The Visitor but was heavily rewritten by René Echevarria. Taylor would go on to join the writing staff of Star Trek: Voyager.
Of course, even allowing that Resurrection was an episode that makes a great deal of sense in the context of the mirror universe as a narrative construct and in the context of the broader themes of Deep Space Nine, there are still any number of strange choices. Most obviously, there is the decision to use the character of mirror!Bareil Antos to compare and contrast the life lived by the same individual across two very different timelines. After all, Bareil was hardly the most compelling of characters. He did not demand a return.
To be fair, there are a number of reasons why the production team might have chosen a character like Vedek Bareil as the centre of a story like this. Most obviously, the entire primary cast have already encountered their doppelgangers; Jake is the obvious exception, having never been born in the alternate universe. Even Worf was reimagined as “the Regent” in Shattered Mirror. As such, there is no regular cast member who could meet the necessary requirements, given that they have each been established to have a counterpart.
(Of course, this also somewhat undermines the thematic point of Resurrection. There are any number of counterparts to fundamentally decent people in the primary universe who have been warped through their experiences in the mirror universe. Kira Nerys is the most obvious example. Kira has one of the strongest moral compasses on the show. At the very least, she has the most moral certainty. However, the Intendant is basically an extended riff on “what if Kira was Gul Dukat?” If Kira can be bent, what chance do other characters have?)
In terms of secondary cast members, very few major recurring guest stars have yet to reveal themselves in the mirror universe. The undiscovered wormhole in the mirror universe rules out Dominion characters like Weyoun. Gul Dukat is an obvious choice, but would prove the inverse of the episode’s point. Revealing mirror!Dukat to be decent would suggest that decency is not a constant. Damar is not firmly established enough at this point to support an episode like this. Martok is perhaps the most obvious candid currently on the show.
However, the production team settled on the character of Vedek Bareil, a recurring figure from the first three seasons of the show who was killed off in Life Support because the writers had nowhere to go with him as a character. Actor Philip Anglim believes that the character owes his revival to a small but vocal section of the fanbase:
“The community of people who appreciated my work on the show has been peerlessly kind and stalwart. Nothing pleased me more than their passionate work to resurrect Bareil,” states Anglim. “I was and am in awe of their energy and dedication. It was a validation that few actors are luck enough to receive.”
The actor feels he owes Resurrection to those fans, “and I am only sad that the journey ended there.” In the episode which brought him back, Anglim played Bareil Antos from the mirror universe, where Kira’s evil twin The Intendant sought absolute power over Bajor. She plotted to steal an Orb from the chapel on Deep Space Nine by sending a duplicate of her own double’s lover – a thief, a liar, seemingly the opposite of Vedek Bareil.
“All of those colors and dimensions that we call heroic or villainous are morally ambiguous,” reflects Anglim, who adds that the pure first Bareil is an exception. “There are larger and smaller forces of heroism or villainy in all people and all roles. Life is ambiguous, after all, and most heroes do not see themselves as heroic, and most villains do not see themselves as villainous.”
To be entirely fair, there is any number of reasons for using Bareil in a story like this that go beyond those aggressive and campaigning fans who called themselves the rather ominous “Friends of Vedek Bareil.” Looking at the needs of this story on its own terms, Vedek Bareil is a perfectly defensible choice, even if Philip Anglim is hardly the franchise’s strongest recurring guest stars.
However, there is something to be said for treating Bareil as a paragon of virtue within the world of Deep Space Nine. The character was introduced in In the Hands of the Prophets as a benign counterpart to Kai Winn, and served as an ally to the crew during the strife of The Circle and The Siege. Bareil was considered the favourite to replace Kai Opaka, although his self-sacrifice to protect her reputation in The Collaborator only affirms his status as a fundamentally decent individual. His self-sacrifice in Life Support stops just short of martyrdom.
It is a cliché to argue that Deep Space Nine is the most morally ambiguous Star Trek show. It is less murky than its reputation suggests, possessing a very strong moral core and incredible faith in individuals. However, it is a bit more complicated than the other Star Trek shows, in that it accepts that even heroes are imperfect. No other Star Trek show would allow a hero as compromised as Odo in Things Past, Children of Time or Behind the Lines. The terrorists on Voyager would never get to defend their violence as Kira does in The Darkness and the Light.
So it makes sense that Bareil would serve as the embodiment of basic uncompromised decency in the world of Deep Space Nine. In fact, Ronald D. Moore insisted that the very vocal “Friends of Vedek Bareil” had no impact on the inclusion of the character, who was just a good fit for the story:
The emergence of Mirror Bareil came during the break session on Resurrection (which was called something else at that point). We wanted to do a Mirror universe story in which the Intendant came over to our side for a change, and we were grappling with what she wanted and how it would impact on our characters when Ira came up with this idea. To be honest, I nearly blew a gasket, having no real desire to see Bareil again, but even I had to admit that it made for a much better story. We were aware of the “Friends of… ” group, but their influence, if any, was to keep Bareil that much farther away from the things we wanted to do. I’m happy that they’re happy now, and they’ve sent some very nice and very polite thank-yous to us here on staff since Resurrection aired.
At the same time, the cult following that developed around the character is a fascinating example of the unpredictable branching of fan culture. Bareil never seemed the most dynamic or compelling of characters, so the passion of his fans is most striking.
However, the introduction of mirror!Bareil presents the biggest issue with Resurrection. Philip Anglim is not a particularly charismatic performer. This was not really an issue in earlier episodes, because Bareil was presented as a very stoic figure. His calm demeanour in In the Hands of the Prophets contrasted with the fire-and-brimstone rhetoric of Vedek Winn. He was an island of stability amid the political chaos of The Circle and The Siege. He was more of an ideal than an individual in The Collaborator. He was transformed into a machine in Life Support.
Resurrection stands apart from other guest appearances by Philip Anglim, asking the performer to play a daring space rebel. Of course, this is par for the course in mirror universe episodes. Avery Brooks had great fun in Crossover and Through the Looking Glass, chewing scenery with reckless abandon. The Intendant might have devolved into a tasteless parody of a sexually-empowered bisexual, but Nana Visitor really relishes the opportunity to vamp it up. The problem is that Resurrection pushes Anglim far outside his comfort zone.
To be fair, the Berman-era Star Trek franchise frequently ran into trouble when trying to write “rebel” characters. The writers often struggled to capture William Shatner’s effortless devil-may-care attitude. For some reason, writers on the nineties iteration of the franchise had trouble crafting plausible rebel characters; The Outrageous Okona comes to mind, an obvious attempt to build an episode around a “Han Solo” knock-off that falls so flat on its face that the title seems sarcastic.
On Star Trek: The Next Generation, William T. Riker was obviously introduced as the Kirk analogue on the crew, but the vast majority of his character arc was given over to the idea that he was nowhere near as rebellious as his reputation would suggest; consider Shelby’s criticisms of him in The Best of Both Worlds, Part I and The Best of Both Worlds, Part II, or his arguments with his younger self in Second Chances. Similarly, attempts to present Jonathan Archer as “Kirk’s childhood hero” in Star Trek: Enterprise fell similarly flat.
As such, mirror!Bareil is not a particularly compelling or engaging character, despite a few nice touches. The short double date sequence with Worf and Dax is a charming bit of set-up and pay-off, with mirror!Bareil telling a seemingly tall tale about stealing a mek’leth from a Klingon warrior, allowing Worf to get indignant, and then revealing that he has stolen Worf’s mek’leth. However, this sequence is the exception that proves the rule. mirror!Bareil is far too broody and introspective to seem like a convincing rogue.
As such, the arc at the centre of Resurrection is entirely predictable. It is not really a surprise when the Intendant shows up, revealing that mirror!Bareil is embroiled in a long con to steal the Orb of Prophecy and Change, because it makes sense for mirror!Bareil to have some hidden agenda. It is also entirely predictable that mirror!Bareil spends the final third of the episode angsting over whether or not to go through with the theft before finally betraying the Intendant. This is the easiest path for an episode like this to follow.
There is also something quite trite in the episode’s conclusion, with mirror!Bareil returning to the mirror universe with the Intendant. It is a decision that makes no sense, from either a plotting or a character perspective. “When she wakes up, I’ll have a lot of explaining to do,” mirror!Bareil jokes after stunning the Intendant. Kira continues, “And if you don’t have the Orb, she’ll kill you.” mirror!Bareil shrugs it off. “Maybe. That will certainly be her first reaction, but I’ve talked my way back into her good graces before. I’ll be all right.” This seems optimistic.
Resurrection tries to frame mirror!Bareil’s return to the mirror universe as the organic conclusion to his character arc, but it feels decidedly forced. Confessing that the Orb showed him a vision of a happy life on Bajor, Kira asks what is wrong with that. mirror!Bareil responds, “Nothing. It might even work, for a while. But eventually I’d find some way to ruin it. I’m a thief. I belong with her.” Given that the character literally just refused to follow through on a planned theft, this seems like a counter-intuitive story and character beat.
As such, the ending feels like a contrivance in service of broader concerns. The writers very clearly do not want mirror!Bareil to stick around for longer than the allotted forty-five minutes. There are any number of reasons why this might be the case. The production team might not want to reintroduce a version of Bareil as a recurring character. Less cynically, the show just finished a sprawling multi-episode arc, so it makes sense to want to tell more self-contained stories. Whatever the reason, Resurrection strains to tidy away any dangling threads in the neatest manner possible.
There is also a sense that the story itself is underdeveloped. Ultimately, it turns out that the Intendant and mirror!Bareil are trying to steal the Orb of Prophecy and Change to set themselves up as spiritual leaders of mirror!Bajor. However, the mechanics of the plan are left somewhat hazy. Most obviously, it’s unclear why mirror!Bajor would worship the Orb. Do mirror!Bajorans even worship the Prophets? Given that the mirror!Bajorans are unaware of the wormhole, it seems like the Prophets may not even exist in the mirror universe.
“Who are the Prophets?” mirror!Bareil asks at one point. “Our gods,” Kira explains. “You do have gods, don’t you?” mirror!Bareil shrugs at the question, despite not even recognising the term. “Of course we do.” Kira presses, “You don’t sound too sure.” mirror!Bareil outlines his logic. “That’s because I leave them alone, they leave me alone.” As such, how does the Intendant even know that the Orb will work in the mirror universe? The Prophets do not seem to meddle in that alternate world, and so it is strange to just assume that the Orb would work.
This opens up all sorts of broader questions about the Intendant’s plans and the mirror universe as a whole. After all, Through the Looking Glass and Shattered Mirror tended to gloss over the question of how mirror!Bajor stood in the grand scheme of things. If the rebels seized Terok Nor, what about Bajor? Did Bajor just stand by and let the rebels take the station? Were they neutral? If so, why is the Intendant so concerned in building a power base on mirror!Bajor, if it is not a major player in the grand scheme of things. If it can’t protect itself, how could it protect her?
Of course, Resurrection has little interest in asking or answering these questions. The truth is that the mirror universe has long-ceased to be a coherent concept, and instead is more a loose assemblage of genre tropes. The smartest decision made in writing Resurrection is the decision to take the characters away from the mirror universe. The Orb of Prophecy and Change is really just a macguffin in the broader context of the episode, a plotting convenience, even if the Intendant’s plot is only thinly-sketched.
Still, there is an interesting story here. It is surprising that it took Deep Space Nine so long to use the mirror universe to tell this kind of tale. It is natural to wonder what a person’s life might be like if things had been different; this basic theme informs Next Generation episodes like Second Chances or Parallels. This interest extends beyond conventional science-fiction. A little over half a year after the broadcast of Resurrection, the film Sliding Doors would use a parallel universe narrative to tell a love story about how one small event changes the course of various lives.
It is interesting to wonder whether this recurring fascination reflects broader anxieties playing out across nineties popular culture. With the end of the Cold War, western liberal democracy underwent a crisis of identity, reflecting upon the world that existed at the turn of the millennium. Part of this was reflected in an uncertainty about the nature of reality, with films like The Matrix and The Truman Show and Dark City insisting that reality was a fragile construct. However, there was also a question about the role of the individual in a world driven by larger intangible forces.
Is mirror!Bareil nothing more than what his world has made him? If Bareil Antos had been born to the savagery of the Alliance, would he have been just as ruthless? Is mirror!Bareil guided by invisible hands? Or does mirror!Bareil have some agency rooted in his own involuble sense of self? It should be noted that this question of self-determination in the face of historical forces also plays out in Statistical Probabilities, albeit in a slightly different manner. Both Resurrection and Statistical Probabilities are stories about individuals embracing their own agency.
These stories explain the appeal of alternate universes as a storytelling device, dealing with grand themes like determinism and identity. Interestingly, there is some debate about whether the science actually backs any of this up. Ethan Siegel argues that the theoretical physics are much less compelling:
The singularity theorem tells us that an inflationary state is past-timelike-incomplete, and hence, most probably did not last a truly infinite amount of time, but rather arose some distant-but-finite point in the past. There are a huge number of Universes out there — possibly with different laws than our own and possibly not — but there are not enough of them to give us alternate versions of ourselves; the number of possible outcomes grows too rapidly compared to the rate that the number of possible Universes grows.
Of course, this is all speculative. But it is fun to speculate. Much like faster-than-light travel or the transporter, parallel universes are an interesting science-fiction concept that can be used to explore all manner of potentially interesting ideas.
Of course, the truth is that Resurrection is effectively the third time that Deep Space Nine has tried to tell this particular story. mirror!Bareil is surprising similar to mirror!Jennifer in terms of plot function; the idealised (and deceased) lover of a regular character who is brought back as a mirror universe doppelganger. It is a compelling emotional hook. It is also something that the writers attempted with both Through the Looking Glass and Shattered Mirror, even if it was smothered under layers of camp.
The script even acknowledges this overlap. “I know what you’re going through, Major,” Sisko urges. “When I met the other Jennifer Sisko it was very confusing, to say the least. I knew she wasn’t my wife, but sometimes she would smile at me a certain way and then the light would hit her eyes, and it was my Jennifer. At least, that’s what I wanted to believe.” Kira acknowledges, “Captain, I know this man is not Vedek Bareil. He doesn’t talk like him, he doesn’t act like him. He’s a totally different person.”
However derivative this might seem, and how repetitive this plot might be, it is still satisfying to see it finally executed competently. By stepping away from the heightened space opera of the alternate universe, and by following two mirror universe characters into the regular universe. While the Intendant remains a campy villain, the anchoring of Resurrection in the grounded mainstream universe allows it to focus more on the story being told than in the ridiculous aesthetics that dominate Through the Looking Glass, Shattered Mirror and The Emperor’s New Cloak.
Resurrection is not the strongest of episodes. It is flawed in a number of very apparent ways, from the predictability of the plot to the awkwardness of its central guest character. Its plotting is based largely upon conveniences, and its resolution is entirely too tidy. Nevertheless, it is an interesting use of the mirror universe as a concept, finally following through on a plot that had been suggested as early as Through the Looking Glass. If Deep Space Nine absolutely has to return to the mirror universe, Resurrection is a far more satisfying story than The Emperor’s New Cloak.