In a Mirror, Darkly
I'm so behind. I haven't even written an entry for Subrata and Susan's wedding from two weekends ago. And you're not going to read one tonight. Instead, it's time for a little geek-fest.
Can you believe that it's been nearly as long since Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered (18 years) as it was between the premiere of Star Trek and the premiere of ST: TNG (21 years)? And now, the last of the "second-generation Trek" series, Star Trek: Enterprise, is going off the air, cancelled after four seasons.
I stopped watching Enterprise after the first season, when it showed the same aimless lack-of-storyline and bland characterization that had defined TNG and Deep Space Nine (I never really even bothered with Voyager). But the hype of the final episodes of Enterprise got me interested, mainly in the two-parter from these past two weeks which is effectively a sequel to the original series episode "The Tholian Web".
In "The Tholian Web", the Enterprise (Jim Kirk vintage) finds its sister ship, the Defiant, falling into a rift in space. The forces from the rift drove its crew insane, and they killed each other. The Enterprise is nearly captured in an energy web created by the alien Tholians and Kirk is nearly stranded on the Defiant, but of course is rescued just before the Defiant vanishes for good. (The episode isn't really about any of that; it's about how Spock and McCoy cope when Kirk is presumed to be dead, and like the best classic Trek is a good character drama.)
"In a Mirror, Darkly" is at once a big classic Trek geek-fest and one of the strongest concepts of any second-gen Trek episodes I've seen. It answers the probably-unasked question, "Where did the Defiant go?" It went to the mirror universe! This dark counterpart to the main Trek universe, from the original episode "Mirror, Mirror", features a galaxy in which the Federation never arose, instead Earth grew up into a vicious Empire, a realm in which back-stabbing and ruthlessness are the norm. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine featured several episodes about the mirror universe, but I only saw one of them, in which it was revealed that the Empire was eventually conquered by its alien enemies. It was a pretty mediocre episode, like most of DS9 I saw.) In "Darkly", we see the crew of the first Enterprise commanded by Captain Forrest (Vaughn Armstrong), effectively hijacked by first officer Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) to head to Tholian space where Archer has learned of a ship from the future having been lured by the Tholians and captured. Yes, it's the Defiant.
The two-parter is loaded with little bits for classic Trek fans: A Tellarite (from "Journey to Babel"); several Vulcans; Trip having been damaged by Beta Rays (from "The Menagerie"), and one of the more memorable alien aliens from the original series (this and the Tholian are portrayed using CGI). But it's especially fun to see the imitative sets of the classic Trek Enterprise. I don't know how much was real and how much was CGI, but there were hallways, a Jeffries tube, the Captain's quarters, and a pretty substantial replica of the Bridge. Plus lots of classic-era uniforms, and some nifty CGI of the ship itself, often making short work of the primitive-by-comparison ships of Archer's era.
The story itself was pretty tense, but had its ups and downs. The biggest "down" was Bakula's performance as the evil Archer. This Archer isn't a nuanced individual, and Bakula has the lack-of-nuance down pat - which isn't really a compliment. Ranting and putting on his "grumpy face" were about all Archer seemed to do here. Jolene Blalock as T'Pol is a little better, but not a whole lot. I've never really bought Blalock as a Vulcan, and her over-emotional portrayal here seems very much at odds with the mirror-Spock in "Mirror, Mirror". Balanced against this is Linda Park as Hoshi Sato. I found Sato to be a downright saccharine character in the first season, but Sato's counterpart is seductive, treacherous, sneaky, and vicious, and Park carries it off surprisingly well.
The story's downfall is that it isn't much more than a big geek-fest. It has a slightly surprising twist at the end, but it's only surprising because second-gen Trek has been so antiseptic that it's hard to believe they'd actually go this route. But it doesn't really tie into the "real" universe in any way other than an indirect glimpse of Archer's future (not that it tells us anything we didn't already know). It's not just self-contained, it's effectively isolated, without the ring of hope that gave "Mirror, Mirror" that extra punch.
Still, despite its flaws, I lament that the creators of Star Trek these past two decades couldn't come up with episode ideas anywhere near this interesting even one episode in four. If they had, I might have kept watching. Instead, relentless mediocrity has been the watchword of the four series of my adult life. Alas.
Still, it was a fun bit of nostalgia. Guess I'll stick around for the last 3 episodes of the series to see how it all ends up. As if we don't already know.