The Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Mirror, Mirror" provided the franchise with much more than a parallel universe filled with evil counterparts and a bearded Mr. Spock.
Debuting in the second season, the now-iconic tale placed Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, Lt. Commander Scott, and Lieutenant Uhura aboard a familiar-yet-hostile vessel, where violence and treachery replaced peace and exploration. The four U.S.S. Enterprise officers united to navigate the malicious environment and search for a way home, all while attempting to uphold the Federation's noble principles in a galaxy under Imperial rule. Cadets, listen up as we break down "Mirror, Mirror" into its most crucial shards.
Entering the Storm
Written by Jerome Bixby and directed by Marc Daniels, the episode began with an away mission to the Halkan homeworld, where Kirk failed to acquire the natives' consent to mine dilithium on their planet. The captain hoped to continue negotiations, but a rough ion storm prompted him to order the Enterprise's transporter room crew to beam up the landing party. Kirk, McCoy, Scotty and Uhura materialized on their ship... for a moment. The final destination revealed itself moments later, as the four found themselves aboard the I.S.S. Enterprise.
Initially unaware of the circumstances, the Starfleet officers had been diverted to a parallel dimension when their transporter beam became affected by the ion storm. Now known to fans as the Mirror Universe, local space was ruled by a brutal Empire built on terror and conquest. Led primarily by Terrans, the regime sought to impose its will and destroy anyone who opposed them. Ruthless by nature, the I.S.S. Enterprise's crew resorted to espionage and assassination to move up the ranks and advance their stature within the Empire.
A Realm of Reflection
At first glance, the Mirror Universe appeared as the polar opposite of the reality occupied by the Federation — bloodshed over conflict resolution. Dear friends, including Chekov and Sulu, emerged as murderous conspirators. Spock turned up… with facial hair. These significant differences clearly demonstrated the extreme variation between the two dimensions, but a closer inspection of "Mirror, Mirror" reveals so much more.
The most prominent example is Mirror Spock, whose logic, interest in science, and underlying empathy reflected characteristics present in his Prime Universe doppelgänger. The Mirror Halkans still held to their pacifist beliefs, even as they faced imminent destruction from Imperial phasers. The similarities were not confined to alien species, as Marlena Moreau expressed such distaste for Mirror Kirk's lethal Tantalus field and the Empire's deadly atmosphere that she wished to return with the Federation officers to their reality. Mirror Spock ultimately aided the U.S.S. Enterprise's officers with their plan to depart and considered Kirk's advice about reforms for the Empire. From this perspective, many characters depicted in the Mirror Universe literally mirrored their Starfleet counterparts.
The Triumph of Starfleet Training
In a realm where betrayal and backstabbing prevailed, Prime Kirk and his colleagues distanced themselves from the Imperials in a way that extended beyond their morality. Confused by the situation upon their arrival, Kirk's crew employed teamwork and scientific principles to assess their status, develop theories as to their whereabouts, and devise a means to return home. Kirk led the effort, but his crew carried out his orders from a place of respect rather than fear. The captain listened to Scotty's observation regarding the reaction between the transporters and the ion storm, McCoy assisted the engineer with his plan to recreate the circumstances surrounding the beaming incident, and Uhura distracted Mirror Sulu from discovering her group's handiwork. Such collaboration denoted a mutual trust among equals and a confidence in their Starfleet training.
The landing party even sought to introduce those values to the Mirror Universe, as Kirk seemingly encouraged Mirror Spock to ally with Marlena and utilize the Tantalus field to bring change to the Empire. Marlena never protested when Kirk mentioned the device, apparently open to the notion of cooperating with the bearded first officer. Kirk's cadre beamed back to their Enterprise minutes later, which left fans to wonder how events would transpire in the Mirror Universe. At least, for a time...
The Halkan Conundrum
Safe in his own reality, a comfortable Captain Kirk told the Halkans about the Federation's amicable intentions and showed his willingness to honor the Halkans' wishes pertaining to their precious dilithium. Forced into the Mirror Universe, a rattled Kirk encountered a similar quandary, except these Mirror Halkans owned nothing he desired. Kirk had no interest in securing dilithium for this strange Empire, and wiping out the Halkans would maintain his cover while his officers contemplated an exfiltration strategy. Nevertheless, Kirk never considered sacrificing the Mirror Halkans for his benefit.
The Mirror Universe portrayed a darker version of reality, but it also tested the U.S.S. Enterprise crew's resolve. Would our beloved heroes fall to this evil that they wished to avoid? From sparing the Mirror Halkans to refusing to order Mirror Chekov's execution, Captain Kirk and his away team continuously validated their idealistic words with equally virtuous actions. Perhaps the true lesson to be learned from "Mirror, Mirror" was one about witnessing a world filled with malevolence, but testing whether or not we could retain our virtues in such a grave place.
By any measure, Kirk's crew passed with flying colors and escaped on their own righteous terms.
This article was originally published on February 11, 2019.
Jay Stobie is a freelance science fiction writer who contributes articles to the official Star Trek website and Star Trek Magazine. He can be found on Twitter at @CaptStobie and Instagram @JayStobie.
Stay tuned to StarTrek.com for more details! And be sure to follow @StarTrek on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.