Written by Jerome Bixby and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Marc Daniels
There’s a theory about life and the decisions we make that is the basis for many science fiction television shows and movies. Each time we decide on a path to take, somewhere, in some “alternate universe” life goes on how it would if the other path had been taken.
A landing party consisting of Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), and Chief Engineer Scotty (James Doohan) are negotiating for the mining of dilithium crystals with the Halkan Council when a severe ion storm approaches. Kirk orders them beamed up, but something happens as a result of the storm.
The Enterprise they beam up to is something different than the one they left. Order and discipline are brutally enforced. The uniforms they wear are quite different and are heavily augmented in gold. The logo of the Federation has a sword going through a planet in a much more aggressive fashion. Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) sports a beard.
Captain Kirk figures out that somehow the ion storm caused the landing party to switch places with their counterparts in a mirror universe. As the four try to assimilate into the world they have landed in, Captain Kirk also assigns Scotty and Dr. McCoy to figure out a way to get them back where they belong.
Meanwhile, the Captain has direct orders from Starfleet to destroy the civilization below them. He must also contend with an assassination and coup attempt by Chekov (Walter Koenig). The world he has been brought into is one where the Federation is behaving more in a way like the Klingons do. They are imperialistic and aggressive, as demonstrated by the orders they are given to crush the planet and the Halkan Council into submission.
The parts detailing the crew’s exploits in the mirror universe are done exceptionally well. This part of the script is well fleshed-out and gives great detail. It’s suspenseful and fun to watch the four crewmembers interact with the crew counterparts in that universe and wait to see how the situation will resolve itself.
Where Mirror, Mirror doesn’t measure up is showing what it’s like for their counterparts in the regular Star Trek universe. There’s a brief scene of a crazed Captain Kirk being taken away by security, but other than that interaction between Spock and mirror-Kirk, there’s no real depth to what it was like when the mirror-universe crew was beamed on board a more congenial Enterprise. At the same time, while I watched these moments, I cringed at thinking what they might have been like. Shatner descends into overacting as the mirror-universe Kirk. He does a great job as Kirk trying to forestall the destruction of the Halkans and buying time for he and his crew to find a way back to their own universe, but the other character just seems like he’s trying too hard.
The parallels are good, and the actors all really get to stretch a bit. Leonard Nimoy manages to differentiate the two Spocks while not creating too much of a different character. The mirror-universe Spock has a general wild look to his eyes at times, letting viewers know that it seems his human side might be a bit more primal and shining through. However, Kirk can see he is also guided by the same logic his own Spock possesses.
Some of the best scenes come between Nichelle Nichols and George Takei. I love the sexual interplay between the two. Even though she is from a different world, Uhura here manages to play the part and manipulate Sulu exactly how she wants. She’s crafty and cunning either way, although her motivation is more survival than anything else. I would have really loved to have seen her mirror universe counterpart. Walter Koenig also has some terrific moments where he shows he’s more than a typical ensign reciting one or two lines for each episode. In Mirror, Mirror he gets more lines and gets a character that in many ways is more developed than his counterpart.
The setting is familiar and different at the same time, which helps for getting a better feel of what’s going on. It’s easy to accept the setting and it works quite well for fans and non-fans alike. Non-fans might not quite grasp all the nuances, but for most the episode will be one everyone can enjoy equally.