Stardate: 2267, along with an unknown date in a parallel universe date
Original Air Date: October 6, 1967
Writer: Jerome Bixby
Director: Marc Daniels
“What will it be: past or future? Tyranny or freedom?”
Kirk and crew fail to persuade a Council on the planet Halkan to mine dilithium crystals on their planet while an ion storm gathers overhead. Kirk pledges not to use overwhelming force to destroy the Halkans in exchange for the dilithium crystals. However, when Kirk, Bones, Scotty, and Uhura beam back aboard the Enterprise, the ion storm causes a strange transporter malfunction. Much to his horror, Kirk notes that the general appearance of the ship has been altered, the behavior of the likes of Spock (now brandishing a goatee) has become “brutal, savage.” The crewmen are fierce and violent, easily instigating mutiny, and readily willing to now destroy the Halkans on the planet below. Torture in an “agony booth” is a preferred means of punishment and Kirk apparently has an alluring mistress named Marlena Moreau (BarBara Luna).
Kirk masquerades as the captain of this strange new ship, all the while it becomes clear the transporter malfunction has launched them into an alternate, parallel universe. Kirk learns that in this parallel universe, the Federation has been replaced with a harsh, tyrannical “Terran” empire and that Kirk once gained command of the Enterprise only by assassinating Captain Pike and this was followed by a massacre of 5,000 people on Vega IX. The crewmen all use a strange hand signal reminiscent of the Nazis and they now don strange golden robes. Alternative Kirk rules the ship as an iron-fisted warlord. However, when Kirk refuses to immediately destroy the Halkans, an imperial order is issued for “bearded” Spock to kill Kirk and resume command of the Enterprise.
Through a series of covert foibles, Kirk et al manage to hatch a plan to return to their universe via the alternate transporter, however they are nearly prevented by “bearded” Spock until he mind-melds with Bones and learns the truth. In the end, he helps Kirk, Bones, Scotty, and Uhura transport back to their own universe –but not before Kirk courageously tries to persuade parallel Spock to pursue a higher, more logical path.
In the trademark light-hearted epilogue back aboard the Enterprise, Kirk teases Spock about his mirror persona, while Spock notes how savage vicious and ugly their doppelgängers were while imprisoned. Spock suggests it was a welcome change of pace. The episode ends as the real Marlene Moreau appears (she has recently joined the Enterprise crew).
“Mirror, Mirror” is a classic example of a parallel universe flawlessly implemented in Star Trek. This essential episode marks a wonderful opportunity for the cast to flex their acting muscles while trapped inside a parallel universe where injustice rules the day. In fact, this episode reveals some of the finest acting in the whole series by Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nicholls, and especially George Takei whose scar-faced obsession with Uhura is a surprising twist.
Transporter malfunctions are somewhat commonplace in Star Trek, already in TOS we have seen a similar malfunction in “The Enemy Within” leading to Kirk’s good and evil sides being split apart. While at times we should be concerned about technology being used to its maximal effect, in some cases we should perhaps be more concerned about malfunctioning technology, thereby revealing strange new modes of being. Technology is not error-proof.
Writer Jerome Bixby (1923-1998) was a prolific fiction writer known for his 1953 short story “It’s A Good Life” which became the basis of the classic Twilight Zone episode. This episode was the first of four Star Trek scripts he drafted which were made into episodes. He based this story on one of his short stories entitled “One Way Street.” He crafted many other Western and Science Fiction novels which inspired movies like Fantastic Voyage and Alien, as well as certain writings by Isaac Asimov. Mr. Bixby died in 1998 at the age of 75.
Director Marc Daniels (1912-1989) was a World War II veteran and notable television director for a number of different shows. During his career he was nominated for several Emmys, two Directors Guild of America awards, and four Hugo Awards. He is tied with Joseph Pevney for most TOS episodes directed.
Star Trek Trivia:
- Star Trek’s mirror universe concept will later be employed to great repute in Deep Space Nine and other iterations. An alternate universe became the grounds for the new series of films taking place in the “Kelvin” timeline.
- This episode was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1968 (it lost to fellow Star Trek episode “City on the Edge of Forever”).
- “Mirror, Mirror” regularly ranks among critics as one of the best episodes of TOS.
- BarBara Luna contracted strep throat while filming this episode.
- Controversial at the time, Star Trek was one of the first television shows to display a woman’s exposed belly button.
- Fred Steiner crafted a wonderful score for this episode, based on “Balance of Terror.”
- South Park spoofed this episode in which Cartman dons a goatee in an alternate reality.
- Many subtle distinctions can be seen in the topsy turvy mirror universe –for example, phasers are worn upside down.