We are currently in the middle of a Golden Age of Star Trek. Star Trek: Discovery has ended a strong Season 4 and Star Trek: Picard is currently in the middle of a fascinating sophomore season. The animated series Star Trek: Prodigy and Star Trek: Lower Decks were well-received by both critics and fans and will both return for their next seasons later in 2022. On top of that, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds will follow the adventures of the starship Enterprise under Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) some years before the events of the original Star Trek series.
The Season 2 premiere of Picard picks up about a year and some change after the end of Season 1. Admiral Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) has come fully out of retirement as Chancellor of Starfleet Academy. When he is called once again out into the stars to investigate one of those pesky spatial anomalies, he finds himself zapped into what seems to be an alternate universe, courtesy of his old nemesis, the incredibly powerful Q (John DeLancie). This is the closest thing to a journey into the Mirror Universe that any alumni of Star Trek: The Next Generation has done. In this spirit, here at the nine best Star Trek Mirror Universe episodes, from across the franchise.
“Despite Yourself” (Discovery, Season 1, Episode 10)
Star Trek: Discovery spends the most time in the Mirror Universe of the other series (so far). Its Mirror Universe debut, “Despite Yourself” is a little disorienting. This partially stems from the bold move of dropping the cast into the Mirror Universe so late in the season, but also from the unresolved plot strands which carry over from the Prime Universe.
Coming off of a major victory for the Federation while in the midst of the Klingon War, Captain Lorca secretly programs new coordinates for a spore drive jump. Commander Stamets (Anthony Rapp) just made 133 micro-jumps in a row, and the jump into the Mirror Universe traumatizes him. Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) confronts Lt. Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) over the truth about his physiology, triggering his “real” identity, the Klingon Voq. Tyler kills Culber, leaving his body with the catatonic Stamets. This horror takes a backseat to the crew’s understandable confusion as they find themselves in the brutal Mirror Universe, and must pose as their savage “ISS Discovery” counterparts and find a way home.
“Through the Looking Glass” (Deep Space Nine, Season 2, Episode 23)
Some time after the first crossover between the Prime and Mirror Universes since the Kirk and Spock era, the Mirror version of Miles O’Brien (Colm Meany), (nicknamed “Smiley” for his grumpy demeanor), develops an interdimensional transporter. He kidnaps the Prime Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) and forces him to impersonate the Mirror Sisko, who has died since becoming a resistance leader. Sisko must persuade the Mirror Jennifer Sisko (Felicia M. Bell), a brilliant scientist fighting against the rebellion to switch sides. Since Jennifer died at the hands of the Borg during the battle at Wolf 359, Sisko can’t help but intervene.
With the notable exception of Lower Decks and Star Trek: Prodigy, the current incarnation of Trek shows have seemingly gone all-in on a Serious, Weighty tone. This makes a rewatch of the Deep Space Nine Mirror Universe episodes a relatively jarring experience. Its “alien soap opera” vibes come off as a campier version of TNG’s generally straight-faced seriousness. “Through the Looking Glass” brings the always-welcome Colm Meany to the forefront as it catches up with the apparent mess of a Mirror galaxy, but is unfortunately the last of the DS9 Mirror entries worth your time.
“The Wolf Inside” (Discovery, Season 1, Episode 11)
We learn more about the tumult engulfing Discovery’s Mirror galaxy in “The Wolf Inside.” The as-yet-unseen Emperor is preoccupied with quelling a rebellion, and has tasked the ISS Shenzou — captained by Michael Burnham — with destroying the recently-discovered rebel stronghold. Prime Burnham will not pretend to this level of amorality, and must balance her convictions with appeasing the ever-scheming Mirror crew’s suspicion. She and Tyler discover the leader of the anti-Terran resistance: this universe’s Voq. The Mirror Sarek (Burnham’s adoptive father in the Prime Universe) is a resistance leader, and via a mind meld comes to understand the promise of Burnham’s Federation. Voq triggers Tyler, who attacks him, jeopardizing the delicate balance Burnham tries to achieve.
Any show is a bit shaky during its first season, and Discovery is no exception. “The Wolf Inside” suffers a bit from stretching the Voq/Tyler reveal as far as possible. As ever, the main cast appears to be having a fine time vamping it up as their evil twins. Still, elements of “The Wolf Inside” might have been best woven into the surrounding episodes rather than a standalone placeholder.
“Vaulting Ambition” (Discovery, Season 1, Episode 12)
Still catatonic in the physical world, Stamets’ psyche is trapped in the mycelial network. His Mirror Universe counterpart finds him and helps guide him out, revealing that the entire network has become corrupted. Stamets finds an echo of the deceased Hugh, who explains that the Mirror Stamets has exploited the mycelial network for his own gain, and its spreading corruption will mean the end of all life everywhere if left unchecked. Burnham discovers that the Terran Emperor — none other than the Mirror version of Philipa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), Burnham’s now-deceased former captain, mentor, and surrogate mother — has been using Stamets to develop a bioweapon. This weapon has been draining the mycelial network, which cannot regenerate fast enough. She also realizes that Gabriel Lorca was in fact from the Mirror Universe all along. Lorca escapes his confinement in an Agonizer and frees his followers, who join him in his mission to restart his coup against Georgiou.
With Ash Tyler now firmly sidelined and under guard back on the Discovery, the show’s extended foray into the Mirror Universe finally hits its stride. “Vaulting Ambition” is an exciting installment from beginning to end. This is largely due to the winning pair of Sonequa Martin-Green and Michelle Yeoh, who are excellent in their scenes together. The two of them share an energetic chemistry, which is deepened by the ongoing mother-daughter relationship. Georgiou meets a different, arguably more complex version of the person she knows in the Prime Burnham. This conjures a complicated set of emotions, which Yeoh expresses brilliantly.
“What’s Past is Prologue” (Discovery, Season 1, Episode 13)
The long Mirror Universe arc comes to a head in “What’s Past is Prologue.” Burnham and Georgiou manage to defeat Lorca, ending his coup attempt and resulting in his demise for once and for all. Stamets and Discovery’s crew discover a way to escape destruction once they have destroyed the bioweapon on the Emperor’s ship. Discovery launches a surprise attack and in the ensuing melee, Lorca is killed, but Burnham beams Mirror Georgiou back to Discovery, which escapes both destruction and the Mirror Universe via the mycelial network.
“What’s Past is Prologue” is an excellent example of what Star Trek: Discovery can do when every element of its storytelling comes together. Stamets gets a version of closure as Hugh’s voice guides him through the mycelial network, and Burnham’s perhaps reckless choice to bring Mirror Georgiou into the Prime Universe sets up a rich mine of conflict which will carry over into the next two seasons. Not to mention keeping the fantastic Michelle Yeoh around.
“Crossover” (Deep Space Nine, Season 2, Episode 23)
Deep Space Nine’s wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant was, in retrospect, a perfect device to jumpstart a Mirror Universe episode. In Season 2, we finally got the first canonical crossover since the original Star Trek. Some kind of anomaly sends Dr. Bashir (Alexander Siddig) and Major Kira (Nana Visitor) into the parallel realm and onto a darker version of DS9. Kira’s döppelganger, the Intendant, runs DS9, part of a Klingon-Cardassian Alliance which overtook the Terran Empire after Mirror Spock took control and tried to change things. Bashir and Kira escape with the help of the Mirror Sisko and O’Brien, and spark a Sisko-led rebellion along the way.
Deep Space Nine’s later Mirror Universe entries appear to coast on a species of high camp that never really works. In “Crossover,” however, we get to watch the cast ham it up with such scenery-chomping abandon , one wonders if they felt a little repressed in their tightly-wound Prime incarnations. Nana Visitor in particular is a vampish delight as the black leather-clad, bisexual Indentant Kira, who is by turns seductive and ruthless in equal measure. “Crossover” fills in Trek lore with some intriguing details, and it’s a shame the show’s Mirror episodes only go downhill from here.
“Terra Firma” Parts 1 & 2 (Discovery, Season 3, Episodes 9 & 10)
Season 3 of Star Trek: Discovery finds the crew nearly a thousand years into the future, navigating a very different galaxy than the one they left behind. As Discovery struggles to knit together a fractured Federation (warp drive is impossible due to an event which wiped out most of Starfleet and has rendered dilithium unstable), Philippa Georgiou has been experiencing episodes of violent sickness and disorientation. Since the Mirror and Prime Universes have been drifting steadily apart, her molecules themselves are becoming unstable. The crew discovers a planet which seems to hold the key to her recovery: a mysterious fella named Carl guards a doorway into her Mirror Universe past.
“Terra Firma” digs deep into franchise lore to catch up with the Guardian of Forever, a sentient portal to anywhere across space and time featured in what is arguably the original Star Trek’s greatest episode.
“Mirror, Mirror” (TOS, Season 2, Episode 4)
A transporter accident sends Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Dr. McCoy (DeForrest Kelley), Scotty (James Doohan), and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) to the dark parallel reality which would not become known as the Mirror Universe for many years to come. They find a way to escape with the help of Mirror Spock, who is moved to try and change the empire for the better.
The original Star Trek introduced the Evil Twin trope into the show’s canon without knowing how influential the Mirror Universe would prove to be. Shed of franchise meta-baggage, “Mirror Mirror” is just a very entertaining sci-fi yarn as it tries out a premise that would prove to be evergreen. Canonically-speaking, Discovery establishes that Kirk and crew’s crossover was in fact not the first time the two realities had intersected. This may prove important to the upcoming Strange New Worlds series, which covers the pre-Kirk Enterprise years.
“In a Mirror Darkly” Parts 1 & 2 (Enterprise, Season 4, Episodes 18 & 19)
Captain Forrest (Vaughn Armstrong) of the ISS Enterprise rules with an iron fist until his first officer, Commander Archer (Scott Bakula) stages a coup and takes over. He orders the ship into Tholian space and discovers the USS Defiant, a starship from around a century in the future, from a parallel universe where Archer is captain. The ensuing power struggle ends with Archer assassinated and Hoshi Sato (Linda Park) taking over the Defiant and demanding tribute as Empress.
Star Trek: Enterprise holds a complicated place in a Trekkie’s heart. Despite an awful theme song, certain sexist character tropes that were already outdated, and a clunky attempt at serialized, vengeance-based storytelling, Enterprise still deserved more time to right itself before cancellation. That didn’t happen, but we did get its shining two hours in the form of “In a Mirror Darkly.” The two-parter functions as a kind of sequel for the Original Series episode “The Tholian Web,” wherein the Defiant vanished into interdimensional space, but dispenses with the Prime Universe altogether. Free of any need to adhere to continuity or even win over new audiences, the entire Enterprise team delivers an entertaining variant on the Mirror Universe theme which may have inspired Discovery‘s immersive approach to that darker, endlessly fascinating parallel realm.
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