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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Emperor’s New Cloak (Review)

The Emperor’s New Cloak is a disaster.

To be fair, it is not a messy disaster. There is nothing particularly novel in how terrible The Emperor’s New Cloak actually is. Most of the awfulness is carried over from Through the Looking Glass and Shattered Mirror. The sharp decline in quality and merit of the mirror universe episodes since the concept’s reintroduction in Crossover has become a gentle slope. The Emperor’s New Cloak is unfunny and broadly homophobic nonsense, clumsily plotted and horribly paced. If it sets a lower bar for these mirror universe episodes, that bar is not appreciably lower.

Not quite having a blast…

The Emperor’s New Cloak is terrible in the same way that Prodigal Daughter and Field of Fire are terrible. It is as though Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has reached a point where its bad episodes are no longer surprising, simply uninspired. No audience member watching The Emperor’s New Cloak will wonder how any of these ideas made it to screen. There is none of the novelty that defined the horrors in episodes like Meridian, Let He Who Is Without Sin… or even Profit and Lace. There is just a creeping sense of fatigue.

In some ways, it makes sense that the most disappointing episodes of the seventh season should be affected by this feeling of exhaustion. The end is nigh, the production team have been working on the series for seven years. Even their bad jokes are no longer shocking, simply tired.

A dark moment for all involved.

On paper, The Emperor’s New Cloak doesn’t sound so bad. As with One Little Ship during the sixth season, the episode seems to exist to insulate Deep Space Nine from criticisms that it takes itself too seriously. After all, Deep Space Nine was a show which devoted its final two seasons to an existential war for control of the Alpha Quadrant and which tackled hefty themes like religious belief and human morality. Given the high stakes and bleak drama of episodes like The Siege of AR-558, it stood to reason that critics could attack the show for being “too dark” and “too serious.”

It was easy to lose sight of just how ridiculous the Star Trek universe could be, populated with aliens who had silly foreheads or jargon that did not make any real sense. As much as Star Trek was an influential and thoughtful piece of popular culture, it was also very goofy on occasion. Bread and Circuses featured a space-age Rome that looked a lot like the contemporary United States. The Omega Glory featured an alien world where the “Yangs” and the “Kohms” fought over the United States constitution. The Savage Curtain featured the sight of Abraham Lincoln in a rocket chair.

“And don’t forget that The City on the Edge of Forever featured a talking door.”

Ira Steven Behr made this argument in The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion:

“Yes, Star Trek is great drama, and yes, there are great serious episodes, but every now and then we have to do something that says something else,” Ira Behr says, grinning. “The Emperor’s New Cloak,” he explains, allowed the writers to address those people in the viewing audience who tend to “point fingers at us and say, ‘You guys think you’re so serious, but deep down insider, Deep Space Nine is a pretty silly show’, and we got to respond, ‘Hey, you know what? We’re both!'”

It is not a bad idea in principle.

A little too Quarky at times.

There is something to be said for engaging with the goofiness at the heart of Deep Space Nine. After all, many of the show’s strongest episodes were willing to engage with ridiculous premises in a way that would not have been possible in a more grounded and serious television series like Battlestar Galactica. In fact, many of the best episodes of Deep Space Nine have a decidedly cheeky sensibility to them; Quark and his family (and Odo) get thrown back to Roswell in Little Green Men, Jake and Nog engage in a chain of deals involving immortality and Weyoun in In the Cards.

There is something to be said for a willingness to slaughter a franchise’s sacred cows, to remind the viewer at home that not all of this is to be taken seriously. The Emperor’s New Cloak feels like an attempt at something like this, to the point that it’s very title could be a sly reference to the self-important seriousness of the Berman era Star Trek shows. The Star Trek franchise is a vital and important part of the pop culture canon, but every once in a while it makes sense to remind the audience that this is all a make-believe world with sometimes hazy internal logic and bound by rules of television.

Rom to improve.

Rom spends most of The Emperor’s New Cloak nitpicking at the logical inconsistencies of the mirror universe with all the sincerity and commitment of an internet message board poster. As Ira Behr conceded in an interview with Cinefantastique, Rom’s role in this episode was to parody this archetype:

Rom is trying to figure out the alternative universe. I just thought Rom stood in for all the fans who want logic and who want it to make sense, and want it to be taken seriously, something that is inherently not that serious. He cracked me up every time he tried to label it, or tried to find a definition of it. To me it spoke a lot about the fans and Star Trek, his little arc in that show, the need for it all to make sense in the most obvious way. To really enjoy the alternate universe episodes, you just have to let go, you have to relax your sphincter a little bit and not be so anal about it, and just try to have some fun. We all love, obviously, the Intendant, and we just had a lot of fun with  those characters. It was not an easy show to do, because it is tough to do get the tone right. The whole thing was pretty funny.

This commentary on certain behaviours within the franchise fandom has aged particularly well. After all, there are legions of fans who complained about Star Trek: Enterprise and Star Trek: Discovery because they were prequels that did not look like they had been produced in the sixties, or the fifties.

Fuller concerns.

As such, the fundamental concept of The Emperor’s New Cloak is sound, even if it is a premise that requires a great deal of skill and craft to get right. There are a few handful of elements of The Emperor’s New Cloak that aren’t god-awful. There are a few moments in the episode when the gag seems to work, and it is possible to see what the production team were trying to do with the episode, even if those moments are too few and far between for a forty-five-minute block of television.

One of these moments comes early in the episode, with an uncreditted guest appearance from recurring player James Darren. Darren joined the Deep Space Nine ensemble late in the sixth season, in the episode His Way. Darren played a hologram named Vic Fontaine, a lounge singer in a recreation of sixties Las Vegas. However, in The Emperor’s New Cloak, Darren plays a flesh-and-blood human being who is promptly murdered by mirror!Bashir during a firefight. It makes absolutely no sense, given what the show has established about the mirror universe.

Lounging about the station.

That is a fairly good joke, because the punchline unfolds off-screen. The joy comes in imagining detail-obsessed fans trying to make sense of a little detail that is completely absurd, even given the sheer ridiculousness of the mirror universe as a concept. It is worth looking at how the fandom resource Memory Alpha attempts to make sense of the scene:

Unlike his counterpart, this Vic was not a hologram. It was not specified how this was possible, though – since mirror Fontaine is never actually called “Vic”, and is only referred to by his last name – perhaps he was actually the counterpart of Felix, whom the holographic Vic’s program was modeled after, similar to how The Doctor was modeled after Dr. Lewis Zimmerman.

It is a perfect illustration of the kind of obsessive “overthinking it” behaviour that Rom is supposed to be parodying, turning James Darren’s very short appearance into the perfect meta-gag. The joke is not so much the appearance itself, but the manner in which certain detail-oriented fans respond to the gag. It is a work of demented genius, and easily the best joke in the episode.

Zek is all ears.

And this is precisely the problem. The Emperor’s New Cloak has a fairly solid premise, but it only really has one good joke surrounded by any number of exhausting and unfunny gags. Indeed, even the wonderful guest appearance from James Darren is promptly sabotaged. First, Quark goes to the bother of actually explaining the joke, which immediately makes it less funny. “You’re not a hologram,” he gasps, which is something that is thunderingly obvious to even the most inattentive viewer.

More than that, the scene (and the act) ends with another inane statement of the gag, with Quark and Rom shocked at the sight of mirror!Bashir gunning down the mirror universe equivalent of the familiar lounge singer. “I can’t believe it,” Quark gasps. “Julian just shot Vic Fontaine.” Rom responds, “I thought Vic was his favourite singer. No wonder they call it the alternate universe.” The idea of Bashir gunning down Vic Fontaine is not particularly funny to begin with, but having characters explain the nonsensical nature of the image as an act break sucks any fun out of the scene.

The Emperor’s New Cloak did not just kill Vic, it killed comedy.

The Emperor’s New Cloak is populated with frustrating moments like this. Rom’s running commentary on the mirror universe isn’t a bad idea, but the execution is just terrible. Rom’s criticisms are trite and banal, lacking any real insight or wit. “You’re supposed to be the good guys,” Rom protests as the scruffy rebels turn out to be genuinely unpleasant. This is hardly an incisive criticism, given that these are the characters who had previously kidnapped Benjamin Sisko in Through the Looking Glass and held Jake Sisko to ransom in Shattered Mirror.

Similarly, The Emperor’s New Cloak seems overly intrigued by the idea that mirror!Brunt might be a decent person in sharp contrast to the self-serving nature of the regular universe’s Brunt. It is hardly a novel concept, but The Emperor’s New Cloak spends an inordinate amount of time on it. “He’s so nice,” Rom reflects almost immediately upon meeting mirror!Brunt. When Quark wonders if mirror!Brunt poisoned Rom’s tube grubs, Rom responds, “Maybe in our universe he’d do something like that, but not over here. Over here, everything’s alternate. So he’s a nice guy.”

Rebels without a clue.

This leads to a whole heap of circular logic, in which Rom acknowledges that not every concept in the mirror universe is a direct reflection of the regular universe. “The tube grubs here should be poisonous, because they’re not poisonous on our side,” Rom reflects. “But if Brunt gave us poisonous tube grubs it would mean he wasn’t as nice as we think he is. But he has to be nice because our Brunt isn’t.” It is an old logical paradox. If intent and consequences are both opposite of what they should be, then intent becomes equivalent.

Rom’s nitpicks are extremely lazy. “Brother, I just realised something!” Rom proudly declares at one point. “This is suppose to be an alternate universe, but their Captain O’Brien seems as nice as our Chief O’Brien.” This is a very trite observation on a number of levels. Most obviously, the basic decency of Miles Edward O’Brien has been a universal constant dating back to Crossover. mirror!O’Brien has repeatedly and consistently shown to be a fundmentally good person, in spite of the darkness around him.

“Please, I’ll do whatever it takes. Just get me out of the rest of this episode.”

More than that, the idea that the mirror universe is “bizarro world” is a very reductive interpretation of how the concept works. After all, even Mirror, Mirror seemed to suggest that things were more complicated than that. As much as a familiar character wearing a goatee has become pop culture shorthand for “evil duplicate”, the episode suggested that mirror!Spock was fundamentally decent and a remarkable individual in any universe. The mirror universe was not created to provide a one-for-one reflection of individual characters, but a twisted counterpart to the Federation.

In some ways, this hints at the greatest disappointment of the mirror universe as employed in episodes like Through the Looking Glass, Shattered Mirror and The Emperor’s New Cloak. There was always something campy and absurd about the mirror universe, as with a lot of aspects of the Star Trek franchise. However, the basic underpinning of the idea was interesting. The mirror universe is a window into what the world might look like if things were just a little bit different. The best mirror universes touch on this idea.

Hey, Terran! Terran-ise this!

Mirror, Mirror wonders what might happen if the Federation were to be an empire? Given that the Federation was an extrapolation of Kennedy-era America into the distant future, and given stock comparisons between the United States and the Roman Empire, this was a powerful image. Star Trek would return to that idea repeatedly over its run, often offering twisted reflections of the Federation and the United States that looked more like futuristic (or modern-day) versions of the Roman Empire in episodes like Balance of Terror or Bread and Circuses.

Even beyond that original idea, the best mirror universe episodes asked interesting questions. Crossover wondered what the universe might look like if Kirk were forced to confront the consequences of his meddling in the affairs of other. Resurrection asked whether a person was shaped by their experiences or by some innate sense of self. In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II returned to that futuristic fascistic Roman imagery right before suggesting a new “human-centric consciousness” in Demons and Terra Prime.

What a heap.

As such, there is something slightly frustrating that The Emperor’s New Cloak should be the mirror universe episode that opens with a tribute to writer Jerome Bixby. Bixby was responsible for the concept of the mirror universe, which had a massive impact on popular culture even beyond the Star Trek franchise. However, Bixby treated the concept as something worthy of exploration and examination, instead of just a bizarro vacation spot for those weeks when the production team wanted to do something campy and absurd.

As such, Rom’s criticisms of the mirror universe feel disingenuous. Rom’s critiques are facile and obvious, but they also serve as an indictment of the poor choices made by the writing time. Rom can only insist that the mirror universe is meant to be the exact opposite of the regular universe because the writing staff has spent the past four seasons insisting on that simplistic interpretation of the concept. The writers insist on having Rom critique the fact that these characters don’t all fit in this neat little box, when nobody but the writers has been trying to put them into it.

Trilled to be here.

This is one of the more frustrating aspects of the half-hearted attempt at fannish nitpicking in The Emperor’s New Cloak. It is predicated upon a number of unverified (and even unsuggested) suppositions about how the universe is supposed to work. Rom is confused by mirror!Ezri’s decision to work for the Alliance. “She’s a Trill,” Rom protests. “So, shouldn’t she be with the rebels fighting against the Alliance?” What exactly is the basis of Rom’s assumption, beyond the fact that it gives him something else to complain about.

When was it ever confirmed in the mirror universe episodes that all Trill are opposed to the Alliance? In Crossover, it was made clear that the Alliance had toppled the Terran Empire, and that Vulcans and Terrans had been enslaved. It was never confirmed that Trills were part of the Terran Empire. After all, Deep Space Nine has never explicitly confirmed that Trill is officially a member of the regular-universe Federation. The series danced around the point in episodes like Invasive ProceduresEquilibrium and Rejoined.

Things did not work out as Intendant…

To be fair, this could be read as a valid criticism of certain strains of fan criticism, of the tend of certain vocal segments of the fanbase to elevate certain assumptions to the status of unquestionable “canon.” There are any number of fan beliefs that do not conform to the reality of the show as it actually exists; “Vulcans do not lie”, “Vulcans are not jerks”, “Kirk was a leader who led with his gut.” There is something to be said for pointing out the absurdity of making these assumptions.

Unfortunately, The Emperor’s New Cloak never engages with this idea. Nobody ever points out that Rom has absolutely no basis for any of the assumptions that he is making, and that he is wrong for believing that something as messy and complicated as an entire universe can be reduced down to first principles. It is an undercooked idea, the laziest and easiest possible execution of what might have been a compelling premise. More than the other Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine understands fandom; just look at Trials and Tribble-ations. So how does The Emperor’s New Cloak mess it up so badly?

First teleport of call.

If Rom has to offer nitpicks, it would make more sense to point out the more fundamental absurdities about the mirror universe as a concept, something that reaches beyond the straightforward bizarro logic that inevitably leads to paradoxes and contradictions. Given how radically the two universes have diverged, given how differently history has unfolded, how does it make any sense for these characters to exist in both places? Shattered Mirror touched on this with the lack of a mirror!Jake, but the issue extended beyond that.

Crossover got around that by making a point to avoid introducing one-for-one mirror counterparts; mirror!Bashir and mirror!Dax did not show up until Through the Looking Glass. However, if one accepts that character map one-for-one across these parallel universes, the logical absurdities begin to build up. What are the odds of Sisko’s parents still meeting if Terrans are now slaves? If Julian Bashir is born in both universe, does that mean mirror!Bashir is developmentally disabled? If mirror!Jadzia has a symbiont, why does the chain break with mirror!Ezri?

Things come to a (bulk)head…

Following these questions might lead to madness, but it is certainly a more compelling (and defensible) madness than the superficial observations that Rom offers at intervals within the episode. If Rom is going to criticise the mirror universe, there are so many more interesting (and accurate) criticisms than “… well, then it’s not really a mirror universe, is it?” This is perhaps the biggest issue with The Emperor’s New Cloak. It is not so much that one recurring bad joke, but the general sense of laziness that pervades the episode.

The writing in The Emperor’s New Cloak is almost unforgivably lazy, even beyond the whole plot contrivance of “the Regent wants a cloaking device despite the fact that the audience has already seen Alliance ships cloak in Through the Looking Glass.” The plotting and pacing are terrible. Scenes go on too long, are placed awkwardly in the narrative, and the exposition is just awful. There are any number of scenes and beats in The Emperor’s New Cloak that slow down the story for too long to tell the audience something they already know, something they can intuit, or something that will be restated later.

“Repeat ourselves? Never!”

For example, there is a scene between mirror!Garak and the Regent in which the Regent discovers the wonders of Ferengi beetle snuff. However, the scene exists as a dumping ground for incredibly basic character and plot exposition. “I must talk to you about the Intendant,” mirror!Garak protests. “It’s taken us over two years to track down that treacherous wench. We should eliminate her and be done with it.” This is a very obvious character motivation, reinforced only two scenes later when the Intendant is brought to the bridge.

However, the Regent doubles down on the “as we both already know” dialogue in that scene. “I want that cloaking device!” the Regent insists. “Think of it. With a fleet of cloaked ships I will be able to crush the rebellion once and for all.” This is a plot point that has been repeated and restated countless times over the course of the episode. It was the fairly obvious implication of Zek’s message to Quark in the teaser. It was a source of concern for mirror!Bashir and mirror!O’Brien on Terok Nor. The audience does not need that information restated.

Look on the bright side, we’re due at least one more half-Ferengi-centric episode before the end of the series.

This tendency to over-explain things carries over to the climax of the episode. As mirror!Bashir and mirror!O’Brien stalk the Regent, they consider the situation. “For all we know, the Regent may already have the cloaking device,” mirror!O’Brien states. “In fact, he might have us in his sights right now and we wouldn’t even know it.” However, the audience already knows that the Regent has the cloaking device working. And then the episode cuts to the Regent stalking the mirror!Defiant. He reflects, “They have no idea that we are behind them.”

That is how cloaking devices work. That is literally the only thing that cloaking devices do. That is the sole plot function that cloaking devices serve. Now, it might be necessary to explain this idea once in the episode, if the cloaking device came out of nowhere or had not been properly seeded. However, The Emperor’s New Cloak is an episode that is explicitly about a cloaking device. So explaining the basic mechanics of cloaking devices at this point in the story is condescending and patronising, and it kills the rhythm.

The Regent’s policies are murder on morale.

It isn’t just the climax. The Emperor’s New Cloak kills a number of its jokes by over-explaining them, and by getting the time wrong. At one point, as they journey deeper into Alliance territory, Quark and Rom worry that the Regent might kill them. “By bringing him the cloaking device, you’ve proven yourself useful,” mirror!Ezri reassures them. “Believe me, the Regent never gets rid of anyone he finds useful.” There is then a quick cut to the Regent killing one of his soldiers to test out his new studded gloves. It’s an obvious joke, but a reasonably effective one if paced right.

The problem is that The Emperor’s New Cloak messes up the pacing of that very straightforward (literal) punchline. The episode should cut directly from mirror!Ezri’s confident assertion to the dramatic undermining of that assertion. Instead, the scene continues for two more lines after mirror!Ezri tries to reassure Quark and Rom. “I hope you’re right,” Quark reflects. “Me, too,” Rom agrees. These lines add absolutely nothing to the scene. It should be incredibly obvious that Quark and Rom hope that mirror!Ezri is right. However, they do spoil the rhythm of the gag.

Bi the way.

The mirror universe characters were never particularly well-developed, but they’ve descended into broad caricatures by the time that Deep Space Nine reaches The Emperor’s New Cloak. The Intendant was at least an intriguing concept in Crossover, a reflection of Kira as Gul Dukat. By The Emperor’s New Cloak, the Intendant is a nymphomaniac paranoiac, a character trait flattened out from her intriguingly self-centric sexual obsession with Kira in Crossover. Nana Visitor isn’t exactly phoning it in, but she’s not trying too hard either.

That said, it is not as if the script give her anything interesting to play. The Intendant is a character who spins dramatically with little or no provocation. At one point, she murders mirror!Brunt, fulfilling the running gaga of killing off a different mirror universe Ferengi in each episode. “He was going to betray me,” the Intendant warns mirror!Ezri. “I could see it in his eyes. You wouldn’t do that to me, would you? Would you?” Maybe the Intendant is really paranoid. Maybe the Intendant is being emotionally manipulative. However, The Emperor’s New Cloak never gives the audience reason to care.

“You mean actually having sex instead of just alluding awkwardly to it…? I have never tried that before.”

Similarly, the mirror universe’s fixation on PG-13 sexual kink is more irritating than provocative at this point. At one point, the Intendant appears to exchange sexual favours with the Regent in exchange for the return of Terok Nor. “I have never tried that before,” the Regent concedes, after some fevered whispering. The Intendant coos, “Few men have, but I think you’ll find it very stimulating.” There is nothing particularly new or surprising about the awkwardness with which the mirror universe tries to be sexy while just being skeevy. It is just tired.

Similarly, even the homophobia that permeates The Emperor’s New Cloak feels like old hat. It is still upsetting and frustrating, but it also feels eerily inevitable. There is nothing surprising in the revelation that Quark does not have a shot with mirror!Ezri because she is in a relationship with the Intendant, and Rom’s frustration on discovering that mirror!Leeta is also a lesbian. The Star Trek franchise struggled to represent gay and lesbian characters throughout the Berman era, so it is deeply frustrating that the mirror universe should be the only place such characters can exist.

Les(bian) is more.

There is something very cynical about the presentation of the lesbian and bisexual characters in the mirror universe. Their sexuality is not an expression of character or agency, it is not an example of represenation. It is part of the long tradition of female homosexuality and bisexuality being used to satisfy the male gaze. As Anya Josephs argues:

Queer women—specifically femme-presenting queer women—are often viewed as sex objects just as (or even more than) straight women are. A huge percentage of pornography features “girl-on-girl” scenes. I was unable to find a specific number, as anytime I searched anything related to the word lesbian, I was simply barraged by dozens of links to explicit websites. A popular tactic in television series is to include a lesbian kiss during the final week of a series because it boosts viewership among men. There are dozens of TV shows and other kinds of media where women are romantically or sexually involved with each other for the pleasure of male viewers, and far fewer where genuine lesbian relationships are shown. The sexuality of queer women is drowned out by imitations of it centered at pleasing male viewers.

It is worth noting that, even in the mirror universe, male homosexual attraction is still strictly out of bounds. As Oliver Keane notes, “sci-fi seems far more comfortable with lesbian romance than gay; probably something to do with the assumed audience being mostly straight and male, thus supposedly titillated by the idea.”

Daxuality.

Indeed, The Emperor’s New Cloak never bothers to explain the how or the why of the relationship between mirror!Ezri and the Intendant. mirror!Ezri cares about the Intendant enough to literally cross universes in order to free her from the Regent, but is not so shaken up that she would demur the advances of mirror!Leeta at the end of the episode. How did mirror!Ezri and the Intendant meet? What interests and experiences do they share? What does mirror!Ezri see in the Intendant as a romantic and emotional partner? The important thing is that they get to make out.

mirror!Ezri is woefully underdeveloped. One of the great tragedies of this troubled stretch of the seventh season is that the three weakest episodes – Prodigal Daughter, The Emperor’s New Cloak and Field of Fire – all centre around Ezri Dax in some way. This is unfortunate, if only because Nicole deBoer does great work in the role and because the writers do a pretty impressive job of integrating her into the season overall. However, the two big Ezri-centric (and the one mirror!Ezri-featuring) episodes in the middle of the season are sizable creative misfires.

Mirror-bent for leather.

This is a shame, because there are any number of interesting avenues to explore with mirror!Ezri. Image in the Sand and Shadows and Symbols made it clear that Ezri never intended to be joined with a symbiont, so there is something potentially interesting in meeting a version of the character who has not been through this particular trauma. After all, the audience never got a chance to know Ezri Tigan, the young woman who was thrown in the deep end when she became the ninth host of the Dax symbiont.

The Emperor’s New Cloak demonstrates complete lack of interest in mirror!Ezri as a counterpart to the series’ newest cast member. mirror!Ezri is essentially the same as all the other mirror universe iterations of the regular characters. Like mirror!Bashir or mirror!Garak or mirror!Sisko or mirror!Worf or mirror!Jadzia, mirror!Ezri is louder and hammier than her mainstream counter. mirror!Ezri is more prone to violence, with The Emperor’s New Cloak clumsily trying to juxtapose the timid regular version of Ezri with her badass leather-bound alternate self.

“You may feel a sharp stabbing pain.”

In some ways, this touches on the big missed opportunity of these three Ezri-related stories in the middle of the season. The big appeal of Ezri, particularly when juxtaposed with Jadzia, is the sense that the audience is watching somebody struggling with a massive weight for which they were not prepared. The audience never got a sense of who Jadzia was before the Dax symbiont, and there is never a sense that Jadzia would ever have considered anything beyond becoming a host. Ezri has a much more interesting arc, because she did have a life before the Dax symbiont.

Prodigal Daughter, The Emperor’s New Cloak and Field of Fire all brush up against the interesting character-defining questions about Ezri and her relationship to Dax. Prodigal Daughter asks who Ezri was before she was joined. The Emperor’s New Cloak wonders who Ezri might be if she was never joined. Field of Fire puts Ezri in literal conversation with one of her former hosts. These are all interesting questions, and they should provide a nice framework for character growth and development. However, none of the scripts are willing to explore these ideas.

A word in his ear.

There is a pervasive shoddiness to The Emperor’s New Cloak, of the kind that tends to affect Star Trek shows in their later seasons. When Quark and Rom return to Terok Nor, there’s an extended sequence of an extra fumbling clumsily with the strap on her sidearm. It is very obvious, and it hard to believe that an director, editor or producer could have missed the distracting awkwardness of a background extra wrestling with her prop. It all plays into that pervasive feeling of “that’ll do” that runs through the episode.

Again, this is entirely understandable. The Emperor’s New Cloak is essentially a study in televisual entropy. The production team have been doing this for seven years now, it makes sense that some sense of fatigue would begin to set in. The most remarkable thing about the seventh season of Deep Space Nine is not that this fatigue sets in, but that it is (mostly) confined to the three episodes running from Prodigal Daughter to Field of Fire. The rest of the season ranks among the finest seasons of Deep Space Nine.

“Well, at least I don’t have to go to the mirror universe this time. Good luck, gentlement”

(To put this in perspective, most of the seventh seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager feel just as tired as these three episodes. Neither The Next Generation nor Voyager manages a conclusion anywhere near as ambitious or bold as the “final chapter” of Deep Space Nine. Instead, the final season of The Next Generation wheels out long-lost-relative-after-long-lost-relative, while Voyager continues to offer stock Star Trek narratives without any sense of pending closure.)

The Emperor’s New Cloak is not so much awful as it is exhausting, a number of interesting ideas bound up in a tired execution that struggles to find any rhythm or to do anything compelling with its premise.

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17 Responses

  1. Mirror Vic Fontaine the Rambo esque android!

    Combine that with two of the Trekkie bette noires: mirror universe and ferengi episodes.

    I think Ira was trolling us that week.

    (I love Ezri’s look in this episode, pity it didn’t carry over.)

    • Yeah, it’s so transparently absurdly awful an idea that you can’t help but imagine Behr chuckling to himself.

      INT. DEEP SPACE NINE WRITERS’ ROOM – DAY

      DAVID WEDDLE and BRADLEY THOMPSON are arguing over the leftover donuts. RONALD D. MOORE and RENE ECHEVARRIA are currently debating how they can possibly tell all the stories that they need to tell within the remaining episode count.

      IRA BEHR sits silently at the end of the table. Even underneath his sunglasses, his eyes are glazing over. He has heard these arguments before. He knows no answer is forthcoming.

      Slowly, Ira’s eyes drift across the office, across the disorganised thoughts scattered across the workspace. Ron’s latest half-constructed model of the Enterprise. Rene’s memo on the candidates to play Laas in “Chimera.” Gradually, Ira’s eyes pan across the white board. It is a mess of contradictions and notes written by several different hands. “DESTROY THE DEFIANT?”, “OH NO, ODO!”, “NEEDS MORE GARAK!!!”

      Ira’s attention is drawn to the planned episode down the right-hand side of the board. “LAS VEGAS HEIST.” “SECTION 31 STORY.”

      He pauses, taking in the last two items. “MIRROR UNIVERSE EPISODE.” “FERENGI EPISODE.”

      He reads them again. “MIRROR UNIVERSE EPISODE.” “FERENGI EPISODE.”

      He squints. The image blurs, almost as if the two titles are being overlaid with one another. “FERENGI MIRROR UNIVERSE EPISODE.”

      As the argument between Ron and Rene reaches fever pitch, both trying to figure out how to cut an episode from their plans for the rest of the season, a smile slowly creeps across the face of Ira Steven Behr.

      FADE OUT

  2. I must be the only Star Trek fan who likes “The Emperor’s New Cloak.” Which is actually a surprise for me, because I’ve found most Ferengi-centric episodes to be underwhelming, and I thought the three DS9 Mirror Universe episodes after “Crossover” were a waste of space. So having a Mirror Universe episode starring the Ferengi sounds like something I would absolutely despise… but I actually enjoyed it.

    Unlike you, I thought most of the humor was great. Rom lampshading everything to death had me chuckling almost non-stop.

    Thinking about it, perhaps one of the reasons why this one worked so well for me was that it starred Quark. He is a often a very self-centered, amoral character, and those qualities seem to make him much more successful at navigating the politics of the Mirror Universe than any of the much more ethical Federation or Bajoran occupants of DS9. At the same time, even with all his flaws, Quark is still much less reprehensible than most of the Mirror Universe inhabitants, and so gets to be the hero without the story compromising who he is.

    To top it off, we do finally get some sort of closure to the whole Mirror Universe arc, with “Smiley” O’Brien and his rebels winning a pretty definitive victory over the Alliance. Of course, given how seemingly *everything* inevitably goes pear-shaped in this reality, it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise if five minutes after Quark and Rom went home the Mirror Universe version of the Borg showed up to assimilate everyone.

    My only complaint is that the Intendant made it out of this alive. She has got to be the absolute worst aspect of the multiple DS9 episodes focusing on the Mirror Universe, and I would have loved to see her get what was coming to her.

    Oh, yeah, I’m still curious how Quark and Rom, once they made it back to their universe, avoided getting killed by General Martok!

    • Yeah, I’m not sure that I buy it as the end of the mirror universe arc, given that it’s literally just one ship in combat with another ship. But, then, the political and military aspects of the mirror universe never made sense to me. (How are the rebels holding Terok Nor? Is Bajor still a member of the Alliance? If so, are the rebels occupying Bajor?)

  3. I’m sorry, but your homophobia criticism is seriously lacking perspective. If this was something from, like, 2005, alright, but 1999 and in STAR TREK of all things? You gotta see things in context. Yes, it is two sexy women, but it is still two unambiguously queer women in a mainstream TV show and FIRST straight up lesbians in Star Trek. And perhaps if this was the only example of queerness in DS9, but given how non-heteronormative it was (for the time and under Rick Berman’s watchful eye protecting us from the gays), giving us romance between two women that wasn’t at all trying to be titilating before, I can’t help but see it as anything except as easily the best part of the episode. Yeah, it’s made to be sexy, but it’s still a positive potrayal and it is made clear they are both not interested in men at all. It’s not the greatest representation, but it is way better than nothing. Similarly like Uhura just being there at all meant something in TOS.

    PS, anybody else annoyed by the “Have you found yourself atracted to him” gag in the ENT finale? Like, it was the last episode they had nothing to worry about and they couldn’t just say “yeah, Reed had hots for Trip”? I don’t think they were obligated to make Reed bi or anything (I do think lack of any gay characters at all was hypocritical of them though) but come on, a joke like that is just cruel.

    • In a way, it reminds me of all the half assed regeneration on Doctor Who. First Lumley, then Melody and then the general. Finally we get a female doctor who, long past when anyone still cares, or when it would have made a differnece.

      Except Trek still doesn’t have an unambiguously gay character , and Doctor Who has seemingly dozens.

      • This is also fair. As great as the Whittaker casting is, for multiple reasons – she’s really great – it does arrive very late.

    • I think in a world where Friends had had a lesbian wedding, where Ellen was a prime-time sitcom with an openly lesbian lead actor and character, I think there’s really no excuse. Even Will and Grace, which is by no means an ideal representation of gay life, was about to begin. I might have been willing to cut The Emperor’s New Cloak if it arrived five or ten years later, but the Berman era continually fumbled the ball on this point.

      And I say that as somebody more forgiving of the Berman era than most.

  4. Hi there, I’m also a fan of Star Trek and I think your review is quite interesting. Keep it up in the future!

  5. Urg, this episode.

    I remember you really like ‘Crossover’ Darren but I don’t think the Mirrorverse ever really recovered from getting rid of the Terran Empire. Sure evil Klingons and Cardassians have a certain space opera charm but seeing a Fascist version of the Federation still in power would be much more powerful and unsettling (and still give opportunity for space opera hi-jinks.)

    • I like Crossover more as a one-and-done than as a set-up for the recurring gag that the mirror universe became. I think it was just a great concept to basically revisit a world that Kirk had changed, and explore how unilaterally intervening (and then just swanning off) doesn’t lend itself to building a stable and idealistic utopia.

      • I’m not sure I fully get that line to be honest. Isn’t Mirror!Spock far more to blame than Kirk for screwing things up? I got the impression that Kirk basically only vocalised feelings Mirror!Spock had been having for a long time.

        (And ‘unilaterally intervening’ seems a somewhat… unsympathetic way of putting ‘attempting to escape a Fascist dystopia after being accidentally stranded there’.)

      • To be fair, Kirk effectively instigated a palace coup in a world that he only just discovered existed, without offering any support or aid afterwards. No nation-building, no economic aid, no military support. It’s a really interesting prism through which to examine the premise of Kirk flying through space, making the universe a better place with absolutely no follow-up.

  6. Hm. I do see the flaws in this episode, but I found myself snickering over the guilty pleasure of watching dim-witted Worf and equally dim-witted Garak, both of whom really are the polar opposites of their DS9 counterparts. I especially enjoyed the scene where the Ferengi try to buy time by taunting mirror Garak into torturing them “for information”, when mirror Garak just wasn’t clear on the concept at all.

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