In its final season on air, the Star Trek prequel series Enterprise finally found its feet. Under a new show runner, the series finally became the prequel series it was originally pitched as being. It explored and tied-in with many aspects of Trek's lore. One of the most exciting moments of that came as the show was beginning to wind down prematurely. In A Mirror, Darkly brought Enterprise into the Mirror Universe made famous by the Original Series episode Mirror, Mirror and explored throughout Deep Space Nine's run. As it turned out, the two-parter was to be among Enterprise's finest hours.
For one thing, the two-parter holds a particular claim to fame within Trek. Unlike previous Mirror Universe encounters, this tale wouldn't see one of the regular cast members crossing over to meet his counterparts in another universe. Instead it would take the viewer full stop into it without any regular characters being our "in". It was a bold move and one that could only have happened in a show that established itself and its characters well enough to really not worry about alienating viewers. Given Enterprise's ratings by this point in production, it might have even mattered by the choice was a bold one and highly successful.
The first episode opens with a choice just as bold: reprising a sequence not from the series but from the feature film Star Trek: First Contact. The scene wonderful melds together newly shot material with what was then almost a decade old material. It's hard to tell where the melds are except for a couple of shots towards the end which speaks to the effort put into it by the show's makers. The choice of reprising the particular scene, a crucial one from that film's climax, also gives the viewer a big, visceral moment of knowing that they are in for something very different indeed.
As if that wasn't enough, the title sequence represents a marked change. Beign set entirely in the Mirror Universe gave the production team a chance to play around with the title sequence and its oft-ridiculed opening song. Reedited and with a different piece of music behind it, the title sequence mixes in familiar elements from the title sequence with footage culled from Paramount war films (I recognized shots from The Hunt For Red October and The Sum Of All Fears) along with action shots taken from throughout Enterprise's run. It's another big, bold move that changes the stakes for the 40 minutes or so that follows.
Like with previous Mirror Universe episodes in Trek, the fun of these episodes is watching the cast members play different versions of familiar characters. Part one is set largely on Enterprise itself and features the return of Vaughan Armstrong as Forest whom isn't an admiral but is instead captain of the Terran Empire's flagship. Having Armstrong back is fun because it allows us to see two characters in particular in a very different light. The first is Scott Bakula's Archer whom one senses has been passed over one time too many and has finally found his chance to climb up the ranks. Given the goodhearted, sometimes too keen to do the right thing nature of the Archer we normally see in the series, the Mirror Universe Archer comes as a revelation as a man who is almost ruthless at times in a performance one might not have expected out of Bakula. The other big surprise comes out of one of the series' most underutilized cast members as Linda Park's Hoshi gets recast into the Captain's Woman role that we saw Barbara Luna's Marlena play back in Mirror, Mirror but with an updated 21st century edge. They're surprise performances to say the least.
They aren't alone though. All of the Enterprise regulars get some interesting moments in this episode though some get more than others. John Billinsley's normally jovial Dr. Phlox is a perfect example of what these Mirror Universe episodes can do as his jovial attitude gets filtered into a performance that is almost repulsive at times in its deviousness. Dominic Keating's Malcolm Reed also gets some interesting moments as well, especially with Bakula's Archer, as does Jolene Blalock's T'Pol in a role that is quite different from what we normally see her play. While Anthony Montgomery and Conner Trinneer end up being shuffled to the back proverbially speaking, they get some screen- time that shows enough of their Mirror counterparts to wet appetites.
The other great thing is the episode's tie-ins to larger Trek mythos, as was the case with the entirety of Enterprise's final season. The episode not only ties into the Mirror Universe but also sees a return appearance in Enterprise of the Tholians, including a full-on version of one of them accomplished by some neat CGI work. The Tholians appearance also allows a tie-in with another Original Series episode which debuted them leading to the episode's McGuffin and eventual finale. Mike Sussman ties all of these elements together into a fast paced story that, under the direction of James L. Conway never lets up all the way to its cliffhanger ending.
The end result is one of Enterprise's best episodes. From its opening right down to its cliffhanger ending, the first episode throws the viewer full on into the Mirror Universe and never lets them come up for air. Along the way we're given some of the regular cast's best performances playing very different versions of themselves as well as a solid tale that ties into larger Trek lore both within and outside the Mirror Universe. This was only the beginning though...
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