Written by Jerome Bixby
Directed by Marc Daniels
Season 2, Episode 10
Production episode 60339
Original air date: October 6, 1967
Captain’s log. Kirk is leading a landing party that includes McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura to negotiate with the Halkan Council over mining rights—which the Halkans are refusing. The Halkans have a history of total peace, and they cannot risk the Federation using the dilithium crystals to take even one life, as that would violate their ethics. Tharn, the head of the council, points out that they could take the dilithium by force, and Kirk smiles and says they won’t, and that he should consider that.
A nasty ion storm is buffeting the Enterprise in orbit, and Kirk orders the landing party beamed back and a course set to clear the storm. However, something goes wrong with the transport, and the landing party find themselves in the transporter room of a much different Enterprise. Everyone’s uniform is different, there’s a logo with a sword through an image of the Earth all over the place, four security guards stand at the transporter room door, and Spock has a Vandyke beard. Everyone gives Kirk a very formal salute upon their materialization.
Spock asks for a status update, and Kirk neutrally says, “No change.” So Spock calls the bridge and orders Sulu to start phaser barrage on Halkan cities. Spock then disciplines Kyle for not operating the transporter properly, said discipline involving an agonizer, which personnel keep on their belts, and cause great pain when applied.
Kyle also reports that there was a power spike in the transporter like nothing he’d ever seen. Kirk snatches on that and says that McCoy had best examine all four of them in case there are any ill effects.
Once they’re safely in sickbay, they can talk openly, with Kirk having been saluted endlessly in the corridors en route. McCoy is appalled at sickbay, as everything is all rearranged and messed up—but the spot on the table where he spilled acid has the exact same acid stain on it. They go over what happened—they all remember briefly materializing in their own Enterprise at first, then fading and appearing in this parallel universe. They hypothesize that the alternate landing party was beaming up at the same time and they were exchanged—which means that their counterparts must be on their Enterprise.
Kirk sends Scotty to engineering to trash the phaser coupling and blame it on the ion storm, then figure out how to get them back home. He also sends Uhura to the bridge to go over Kirk’s communiqués from Starfleet Command and find out what his orders are and what his options are.
Uhura arrives on the bridge, which gets her a lascivious look from Sulu—who’s wearing security red rather than command gold, and who also has a scar on the left side of his face. Sulu wanders over to Uhura’s console to hit on her (starting with “Still no interest, Uhura?” so at least she’s spared having to pretend to reciprocate), which only ends when Kirk walks on the bridge, saluted by everyone. Uhura informs him that communications suffered no storm damage, and sotto voce she adds that Kirk’s only option is to eliminate the Halkans if they won’t cooperate.
Kirk then sits in his command chair, which is much comfier than his usual. Sulu announces that phasers are ready to fire on primary target, but Kirk orders Sulu to stand by. Unfortunately, Scotty can’t inspect the phaser controls without authorization from security, which, of course, Scotty can’t get.
After Scotty reports to the bridge that there’s no damage, Kirk stalls by asking Uhura to contact the Halkan Council to talk to them again. Spock finds this odd, as they have already refused the Empire and must be punished. But Kirk insists.
This version of Tharn is far more haggard, and Kirk gives him twelve hours to change his mind. He then orders phasers shut down and announces that he’ll be in his quarters, and has Uhura order McCoy and Scotty to meet him there (Uhura gives him a “can I come with you?” look and Kirk gives a “there’s no way to justify taking you off the bridge” look back). Spock points out that Kirk’s bizarre behavior will have to be reported, which Kirk assuredly says Spock is at liberty to do.
While Kirk is giving orders, Chekov pushes two buttons on his console and joins Kirk in the turbolift. When they arrive on deck 5, Kirk is ambushed. Chekov plans to assassinate him, thus allowing everyone else to move up in rank. But Wilson, one of Chekov’s pet thugs, attacks Chekov instead, allowing Kirk to get the upper hand. By the time Kirk’s own pet thugs arrive, Chekov’s other two henchmen are dead and Chekov is unconscious. Wilson wants to work for Kirk, figuring that, while Chekov offered to make him a chief, Kirk could make him an officer. Kirk agrees to employ Wilson, then socks him in the jaw so he doesn’t get too uppity.
Kirk meets McCoy and Scotty at his quarters. McCoy reports that two of his staff were betting on how long it would take an injured crewperson to pass out from the pain of his injuries. Scotty says the technology, at least, is basically the same, even if the people aren’t.
Kirk turns on the computer, which, instead of saying, “Working” in a pleasant female voice, says, “Ready” in a harsh male voice. After securing this computer session, to be accessible only by him or Scotty, he confirms that the mix of ion storm and transporter could result in a switch between parallel universes. The computer records the procedure for artificially re-creating those conditions and Scotty looks it over.
While he does so, McCoy muses on what kind of people they are. Kirk asks for “his” service record, learns that this Kirk took command by assassinating Pike and his first actions involved exterminating entire populations. Kirk cuts it off before it can go past his first two missions as captain.
Scotty can do it, although he’ll need help, and McCoy is volunteered to be his assistant. The only issue is that the transfer of power will show up on Sulu’s security board, so he’ll need to be distracted.
Meanwhile, back in the mainline universe, two security guards throw Kirk into the brig, where McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura already are. The foursome are rather confused by their changed uniforms, the weird behavior of everyone, and Spock’s lack of a beard. Spock finds the other Kirk’s offers of money and power to be fascinating and wanders off, leaving a confused, shouting Kirk behind in custody.
Back on the I.S.S. Enterprise, Spock—trailed by a Vulcan bodyguard—talks to Kirk. He says he’s pleased that Chekov’s assassination attempt failed, as he has no desire for command—he prefers the simpler duties of science officer, plus he’s less of a target where he is now. Chekov himself is in the agony booth being tortured. As they walk through the corridors—Kirk’s own bodyguard walking alongside Spock’s—they discuss the Halkan situation, and Kirk’s odd behavior.
Scotty and McCoy go to engineering—a hypo of McCoy’s getting them past the security guard—while Kirk goes to his quarters to find a woman in his bed. This is Lieutenant Marlena Moreau, who works in the chemistry lab, and is also the Captain’s Woman. She wonders what he has planned, since sparing the Halkans is out of character, and she’s also surprised that he was caught off-guard by Chekov.
Spock then informs Kirk that he received a private message from Starfleet Command. He is violating regulations by informing Kirk of its contents: if Kirk hasn’t completed his mission by planetary dawn, Spock is to kill Kirk and take over as captain.
Moreau is impressed with Spock’s loyalty, especially since he’ll die for it. She activates the Tantalus Field, and Kirk soon learns that it’s a weapon that Kirk plundered from an alien laboratory that can make anyone simply disappear. She focuses the device on Spock and offers to kill him, but Kirk stops her.
After she departs, Kirk calls Scotty, saying they have a three-hour deadline, but Scotty informs him that it’s only half-an-hour because the initial exchange increased the field density between universes. Once it gets too big, they’ll never be able to switch back. In ten minutes, he’ll be ready, and Uhura will need to distract Sulu.
Spock detects a high level of computer activity in engineering, but when he queries the computer, it tells him that it’s voice-locked to Kirk and Scotty only. Spock’s computer then detects Sulu performing a security sweep on Spock’s communications, and the first officer angrily asks why he’s doing that. Sulu explains that he also detected the unusual computer activity—and he also can guess what Spock’s secret orders are. They verbally fence for a bit, Spock making it clear that his Vulcan operatives will avenge his death, which makes Sulu more than a little apprehensive.
Moreau comes back, having changed into a sexy dress. Apparently, Kirk and Moreau’s relationship has grown stale, but Kirk’s charisma impresses her. However, when he excuses himself to go help Scotty with his sabotage, she assumes the relationship is over. But when he kisses her, it’s with significant passion, and Moreau realizes that this isn’t the Kirk she knows—he’s showing mercy. He also makes it clear that she’s the Captain’s Woman until he says she isn’t.
Then he heads to the transporter room. She goes to the Tantalus Field and trains it on Kirk.
Scotty signals Uhura to distract Sulu. She does so, giving in to his seduction long enough for his smooching her to keep him from noticing the alarm on his board. Once that’s done, she slaps him, saying she changed her mind again, and pulling a knife on him when he protests. She leaves the bridge and heads to sickbay. Scotty and McCoy do their part to transfer power, but Kirk’s accepting of the transfer in the transporter room is interrupted by Spock. He leads Kirk to sickbay at phaserpoint—the intent was to question McCoy, since he’s probably more susceptible to his interrogation techniques than Kirk, but he sees the whole landing party present. A fight ensues, and it takes all four of them to take Spock down.
Scotty is ready to head to the transporter room, as they don’t have much time, but McCoy insists on treating Spock, as the head trauma they inflicted on him could kill him. Then they’re interrupted by Sulu and four of his guards. His plan is to assassinate Kirk and Spock both, setting it up so that it looks like they killed each other, leaving Sulu himself in command.
However, Moreau has been watching this all on the Tantalus Field, and she uses it to eliminate Sulu’s henchmen. Kirk himself takes Sulu out.
McCoy insists on treating Spock, so Kirk, Scotty, and Uhura go ahead to the transporter room. They find Moreau there. Kirk thanks her for saving their lives, and she asks that they take her with them in return. But they can’t, the transporter is only calibrated for four. She insists on going with her phaser, but then Uhura disarms her.
The power cuts out, but that turned out to be a delaying tactic on Spock’s part. He woke up and mind-melded with McCoy, so he knows everything now. He wants his captain back, so he’ll operate the transporter. They only have a couple of minutes, but Kirk takes that time to plead with Spock. The empire will inevitably be overthrown, which Spock says will happen in two and a half centuries. So why support an empire that’s doomed to failure? Kirk encourages Spock to change that prediction, to bring about a better galaxy.
Spock says he’ll consider it, particularly after Kirk tells him about the Tantalus Field.
The exchange works, and the landing party finally makes it home. Spock explains that he saw through their counterparts far more quickly because it was easier for the U.S.S. Enterprise crew, as civilized folk, to pretend to be barbarians than it was for the I.S.S. Enterprise crew, as barbarians, to pretend to be civilized.
Kirk also meets the mainline version of Moreau, and it’s only a little awkward and creepy.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Apparently, ion storm + transporter = universe switching because science! And to avoid any further attempts to explain things, everything’s kept theoretical, and when we get to the part where the computer says it knows how to re-create the exchange, it’s put on a tape and Scotty reads it off-camera—we know Jerome Bixby doesn’t have a good scientific explanation for what happened, so he contrives to keep himself from having to come up with a bad one.
Fascinating. The alternate Spock is basically exactly the same as the mainline one—a bit nastier, and he views profit as a virtue, but not overwhelmingly different. Well, except for the beard, anyhow…
I’m a doctor not an escalator. When Scotty recruits him to help with his rerouting of the warp power to the transporter, McCoy says, “I’m a doctor, not an engineer.” Scotty’s rejoinder: “Now you’re an engineer.”
Ahead warp one, aye. The alternate Sulu is also security chief, has what looks like a dueling scar, and is pretty good at his job. He only loses in the end because of the Tantalus Field.
Hailing frequencies open. At first, Uhura is all afraid and scared and confused because she’s just a girrrrrrl, but later she plays Sulu like a two-dollar banjo and disarms Moreau quickly and efficiently.
I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty works a miracle to get the transporter to do what needs to be done, because he’s just that awesome.
It’s a Russian invention. The alternate Chekov gets ballsy and tries to assassinate Kirk after he doesn’t follow proper procedure. It’s the action of a dumb kid getting ahead of himself and he pays for it by being put in the agony booth.
Go put on a red shirt. Most of the noncoms on the I.S.S. Enterprise serve as henchmen for the officers, though two of Chekov’s henchmen are killed by a third. Sulu, of course, has the whole security detail at his disposal, but four of his dudes are wiped by the Tantalus Field.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Women in the MU’s Starfleet often advance, or at least improve their position, by attaching themselves to men. Moreau is the most obvious example, but when she thinks Kirk has rejected her, she mentions a commander who’s interested in taking her on. Sulu obviously wants Uhura to be his woman, but she doesn’t seem to be interested.
Channel open. “May I point out that I had an opportunity to observe your counterparts here quite closely. They were brutal, savage, unprincipled, uncivilized, treacherous—in every way, splendid examples of homo sapiens, the very flower of humanity. I found them quite refreshing.”
“I’m not sure, but I think we’ve been insulted.”
Spock insulting humanity, Kirk wondering if he should take offense, and McCoy confirming it.
Welcome aboard. Vic Perrin, having previously done the voices of the Metron in “Arena” and Nomad in “The Changeling,” steps in front of the camera this time, playing both iterations of Tharn. Barbara Luna plays both versions of Moreau, Garth Pillsbury and Pete Kellett play hench-thugs on the I.S.S. Enterprise, and recurring regulars James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, and John Winston all do double duty as both versions of their characters.
This episode was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1968. It lost to “The City on the Edge of Forever.” It was Bixby’s second straight year with a Hugo nomination in that category: he was nominated the year before for the movie Fantastic Voyage, for which he wrote the story. (He also lost that one to a Trek episode, “The Menagerie.”)
We are introduced here to the Mirror Universe. On screen, we saw the MU again on the DS9 episodes “Crossover,” “Through the Looking Glass,” “Shattered Mirror,” “Resurrection,” and “The Emperor’s New Cloak,” which served as sequels to “Mirror, Mirror,” and on the Enterprise two-parter “In a Mirror, Darkly,” which served as a prequel.
In addition, the MU has been seen in tons of tie-in fiction. In particular, DC, Marvel, and IDW all did direct tie-ins to this episode in comic book form. DC’s was in the “New Frontiers” storyline in issues #9-16 of their first monthly series, by Mike W. Barr, Tom Sutton, & Ricardo Villagran (later collected in the trade paperback The Mirror Universe Saga), which revisits the MU in the movie era. Marvel did a one-shot called Star Trek: Mirror Mirror by Tom DeFalco, Mark Bagley, & Larry Mahlstedt, which picked up on the I.S.S. Enterprise right after this episode’s conclusion. IDW’s Mirror Images miniseries was a prequel, showing how Kirk took command of the I.S.S. Enterprise.
In addition, several novels have picked up the MU, among them Diane Duane’s Dark Mirror, Susan Wright’s Dark Passions, David Mack’s The Sorrows of Empire and Rise Like Lions, the “Shatnerverse” novels by William Shatner with Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, as well as short novels and short stories in the anthologies Glass Empires, Obsidian Alliances, and Shards and Shadows. (Your humble rewatcher made two contributions, the Voyager short novel The Mirror-Scaled Serpent in Obsidian Alliances and the short story “Family Matters” in Shards and Shadows.) Novels in the post-finale DS9 and Stargazer series have also visited the MU.
Spock having a Vandyke beard would take root in popular culture as a method of showing that someone is really their evil counterpart.
The computer reports that Kirk took command of the I.S.S. Enterprise after assassinating Christopher Pike, who was established as Kirk’s immediate predecessor in charge of the U.S.S. Enterprise in the mainline timeline in “The Menagerie.”
The final scene with Kirk and Moreau was used as the basis for the final 23rd-century scene in DS9‘s “Trials and Tribble-ations,” showing Sisko getting Kirk’s autograph, using greenscreen technology to put Sisko in Moreau’s place.
The alternate Sulu wears red, as he’s also security chief, which means that George Takei is the first speaking character to wear all three uniform colors—he wore blue in “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” and gold the rest of the time.
McCoy mentions spilling acid “a year ago” in sickbay, which your humble rewatcher dramatized in The Brave and the Bold Book 1.
To boldly go. “Captain Kirk, I shall consider it.” The iconic evil-counterpart episode, the gold standard to which they’re all held, and even though it’s been beaten to death and overdone everywhere in the science fiction landscape from a serious treatment in Doctor Who to a humorous one in the short-lived comedy SF show Quark to the seemingly endless returns to the MU on DS9, this episode still remains compelling viewing.
The episode is a perfect storm of good acting, good writing, and good directing. Marc Daniels does expert work, aided by some superb costuming and set design work, in creating an Enterprise that is at once exactly the same yet completely different. The constant motif of the empire logo is particularly effective, as is something as simple as a raised back on the command chair to show how much more of a hedonist Kirk is.
Most everyone plays their part well, from Shatner’s bellowing of “Let me go!” and his smarmy attempts to bribe Spock on the U.S.S. Enterprise, while his performance on the I.S.S. Enterprise while pretending to be his counterpart is nuanced and impressive. Nichelle Nichols is much more effective when Uhura’s allowed to be a strong character instead of a whimpering damsel—she’s the latter for the episode’s first half, but once she reports to the bridge, she starts actually acting like a professional. George Takei makes his Sulu magnificently evil (the scar is kinda redundant), which is more than can be said for Walter Koenig, whose gloating over Kirk before he fails to assassinate him is mostly just sad. On the other hand, nobody does a scream of agony better than Walter Koenig, and it gets quite a workout in the agony booth scene…
But the most interesting performance is Leonard Nimoy’s because, even though Kirk plays it for laughs at the end, bearded Spock really isn’t that different from our Spock, and it’s kind of scary. Then again, for all that he’s a sex symbol and the most popular character in the franchise, Spock is also, for the most part, kind of a jerk. He’s condescending, he’s sarcastic, he’s dismissive, he’s sexist—it doesn’t require much change for him to be a good fit for the MU, when you get right down to it…
Warp factor rating: 10
Next week: “The Deadly Years”
Keith R.A. DeCandido had an up-and-down 2015, but it ended well, and is looking forward to a most excellent 2016. Happy new year, everyone!