(airdate: October 6, 1967)
Writer: Jerome Bixby
Director: Marc Daniels
Marlena: Barbara Luna
Lt. Kyle: John Winston
Tharn: Vic Perrin
Wilson: Garth Pillsbury
Kirk's Henchman: Pete Kellett
Captain's Log: Kirk, McCoy, Scott, and Uhura beam up after an unsuccessful meeting with the Halkan Council regarding the mining of dilithium crystals, but due to a transporter malfunction during a magnetic storm they arrive in a parallel universe, having swapped places with their counterparts. This parallel universe is a cruel, barbaric place ruled by an Empire, where mistakes are punished with physical pain and promotion is achieved via assassination. The four of them determine that they can reverse the accident and head back to their own universe, but they need to survive long enough to do so without being detected. The mirror Spock becomes suspicious of Kirk, however, and attempts to stop them. After learning the truth, Spock lets the four of them return - but not before Kirk tries to convince the logical Spock that the Empire won't last, and that he can make a change for the better.
Whoops!: It's sometimes obvious that the stunt doubles in the sickbay fight scene are just that. Chekov's sash disappears in the turbolift, then reappears when he enters the corridor. The last scene in the mirror universe has Kirk ask Spock about when the Halkan prediction of galactic revolt will come true - a prediction we don't actually hear about until that moment.
So what happens to the landing party's mirror counterparts when Kirk and company transport back? Spock seems remarkably uninterested in their fate ("I assume they returned to their Enterprise at the same time you appeared here"), and his assumption doesn't necessarily seem like a logical one. [Unless the same rules that seem to govern time travel (a person can't be in two places at once even if they're in different parts of their personal timeline, as seen in "Tomorrow Is Yesterday") also apply to parallel universes' duplicates, despite not actually being identical people...]
Classic Lines: Mirror Spock: "One man cannot summon the future." Kirk: "But one man can change the present."
McCoy, after Scotty tells him he needs his help: "I'm a doctor, not an engineer." Scotty: "Now you're an engineer."
"In every revolution, there's one man with a vision."
Spock: "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." Kirk: "I'm not sure, but I think we've been insulted." McCoy: "I'm sure."
Don't Wear a Red Shirt: Two of Chekov's henchmen are disintegrated with phaser blasts, while three of Sulu's red-shirted security guards are removed by the Tantalus field.
Alien Love: Kirk shares a kiss with his mirror counterpart's "woman" Marlena. Meanwhile, evil Sulu tries to put the moves on Uhura, which she responds to, but only to distract him from his security board.
Library Computer: The Halkan planet is a red/purple planet, with the bit we see being quite nice: green, with various trees and such. There's also a round dais with a bench that the leader of the Halkan Council sits on. This leader [named Tharn in the credits] is a man with short white hair, dressed in a simple orange tunic. All the Halkans we see have a blue dot with a cross painted between their eyebrows. The Halkans are a society devoted to total peace, and they will thus not permit the use or exploitation of any of their resources if it were possible those resources would be used for violent purposes; the Halkans as a race would be willing to die to prevent that.
On another dimensional plane to "our" universe is a different, parallel universe [a "mirror" universe, if you will - although it should be noted that despite being the standard fan term, this is never used on screen (beyond the title, of course)]. This universe has, instead of the Federation, a brutal Empire dominating the galaxy. This Empire is, like the Federation, made up of humans and Vulcans [and possibly other species, although we don't see any others; the Enterprise episode "In a Mirror, Darkly" will establish that this is the Terran Empire], but rather than a society built on cooperation and fellowship, the Empire is based on fear and domination. The symbol of the Empire is the western hemisphere of Earth with a large dagger stabbing down through it. Many of the individual elements are the same in both universes: both have versions of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scott, Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov [although it should be noted that this may not hold for everyone: Kirk's bodyguard is called "Farrell" but isn't played by the actor who previously played Farrell, Jim Goodwin]; technology seems roughly the same in both (such as transporters, phasers, computers (albeit with a male voice), warp drive, etc., as well as the Enterprise herself - although here she's known as the ISS Enterprise), with only minor differences in instrumentation; and events are largely similar, as both ships are orbiting the Halkan planet at the same time because of their dilithium resources.
There are some differences, however; personnel salute their superiors here by placing their right fist over their left breast and then pushing their open hand straight out in front of them [in a combination of both the Roman Empire's and the Nazis' salutes], and while the uniforms are largely the same, instead of the arrowhead patch on the left breast, there's the symbol of the Empire on the right breast, and assorted decorations on the left breast. [It's not clear what these are; almost none of them are the same from person to person, and not everyone has them. Best guess is they're military decorations.] In addition, the officers wear a gold sash tied around their waists, and everyone's openly carrying a phaser and dagger, as well as an agonizer - a small device with a large red button that, when placed over the heart, caused intense pain in the recipient. The women's uniforms were more altered than the men's; instead of a short dress they wore a miniskirt and an abbreviated tank top showing plenty of midriff. Kirk's uniform resembles his alternate wraparound tunic, but in shiny gold and with no sleeves, while Spock is wearing a dress uniform with the collar open. [There's no elaborate gold trim on this version, which suggests this is DeForest Kelley's dress tunic. Why the mirror Spock is walking around wearing a lieutenant commander's dress tunic all the time, when no one else is seen to wear one at all, is left unanswered.]
Promotion in the Empire is commonly achieved via assassination; thus, officers frequently employ bodyguards, while aspiring crewmen hire henchmen to assist them. This assassination can be either initiated by an individual (such as Chekov) or the Empire itself, as Spock is instructed to do if Kirk doesn't obey orders regarding the Halkans. [That said, Chekov's comment that "no one will question the assassination of a captain who has disobeyed prime orders of the Empire" suggests there are some at least token rules in place.] Countering this are more extreme forms of discipline: the aforementioned agonizer; the agony booth, which is a large clear cylinder that causes intense pain and eventually death; and the constant threat of violence, with people brandishing phasers and daggers at each other without intervention from security.
As one might expect, the ISS Enterprise crewmembers are a bit different from their Federation counterparts. Captain Kirk became captain by assassinating the Enterprise's previous captain, Christopher Pike. His first action was the suppression of the Gorlan uprising by destroying the rebels' home planet, while his second was the execution of 5000 colonists of Vega IX for some unknown reason. [Given how closely events seem to parallel each other in the two universes - right down to McCoy spilling chemicals in the same place - it seems likely that these were similar to "our" Kirk's first missions, but with more violent outcomes.] His bodyguard is a tall balding man named Farrell, and his "captain's woman" is a young woman named Marlena, who works in the chem lab. Spock is quite similar in that he's still interested in science and dedicated to logic, but that logic appears to have been subverted in favor of the Empire - he has no problem inflicting violence or forcing mind melds on others, for instance. He would prefer not to be captain, as this makes him a lesser target. This Spock sports a [rather fetching] goatee, and his bodyguard is a tall Vulcan male. It's implied that Vulcans in this universe are formidable opponents. Dr. McCoy is a messier individual, and his sickbay is a "chamber of horrors", with assistants betting on how long a patient could last before passing out. Sulu is the security chief (and thus is dressed in a red shirt), with a vicious scar above his right eye and a sadistic streak. He's also third in command, and unlike Spock would be happy to be the captain. He appears sexually interested in Uhura. [See Star Trek Beyond for why this may be significant.]
Standard Empire procedure is to destroy any civilization that refuses to acquiesce to their demands, to serve as an example to other cultures and species. The Halkans were meant to be subject to this procedure via the destruction of their cities from orbit, but "our" Kirk prevented this - although this action meant that Spock had orders from Starfleet Command to kill Kirk if he continued to disobey orders.
A strong magnetic ion storm on the Halkan homeworld caused a power surge in the transporter beam, and since both universes had engaged the transporter at the same time, a freak accident meant that the two landing parties switched with each other across a dimensional plane. This effect was in theory artificially reproducible, but the two-way matter transmission affected the field densities of the two universes, meaning that at a certain point the densities would increase to a point where travel between the two would no longer be possible.
The mirror Kirk plundered the laboratory of an unknown alien scientist, taking a device he called a Tantalus field. This device allowed the user to spy on anyone and wipe them from existence with the touch of a button; Kirk has used it to help his promotions, making rivals disappear. The Tantalus field was concealed in Kirk's cabin behind a wall hanging that slid upward when the right positions were pressed. Only Kirk and Marlena appeared to know about the field.
The ISS Enterprise had a captain's chair with a very high back.
Commander Kenner is interested in making Marlena his woman.
Spock believes that the [unseen] Halkan prediction of galactic revolt against the Empire will come true in 240 years. Kirk used this prediction to convince the other Spock that the Empire is illogical, and that he must therefore take steps to overthrow the Empire sooner, in order to avoid the waste that a doomed Empire would create. [The DS9 episode "Crossover" will establish that Spock was successful, but that there were unforeseen consequences.]
In "our" universe, Lt. Marlena Moreau has been recently assigned to the Enterprise.
This is the only episode of the original (or animated) series in which Scotty calls Kirk "Jim".
Final Analysis: "It's our Enterprise but it isn't." Jerome Bixby provides a hugely entertaining "what if?" story, with a savage conquering Enterprise, and then smartly puts four of "our" people in that environment and forces them to navigate it. It's also a great opportunity for a lot of the cast to stretch their acting chops (George Takei in particular is eye-openingly vicious as the mirror Sulu), and you get the sense that everyone's really committed to this story. Definitely a highlight of the series.
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Page originally created: October 3, 2016
Page last updated: May 21, 2019