“Shattered Mirror” (season four, episode 19; originally aired 4/22/1996)
In which Jake loses his other mother…
It must be something of a blessing and a curse to get a regular role in a long-running TV series. On the one hand, you’ve got job stability (which would be difficult to undervalue, especially in the creative arts), and there’s something to be said for having time to develop a part and settle into a world. On the other hand, even if you’re blessed with the most talented and ambitious writing staff in the industry, it is still just one role; I imagine even James Gandolfini had moments in the last year or two when he wished Tony Soprano would go far, far away. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine often has great scripts, and its main ensemble has been given the opportunity to enrich the characters they were hired to play, enough so that I doubt they could have too many complaints here in the mid-point of the run. But still, there are only so many ways Kira or Bashir or Dax can behave and still be consistent, and sometimes, the restrictions that define them must start to chafe on the actors who bring them to life.
Not that the actors’ comfort should be our primary criteria for judging their work, but it’s the best reason I can think of for why the show insists on returning the Mirror Universe again and again, long after any dramatic potential lift in the concept had been wrung dry. The very first mirror episode, back on the original Star Trek, was a fun, campy, and somewhat unsettling excuse to see the goody-two shoes Federation rendered in the worst light possible, combined with the creep-factor of familiar faces going balls-to-the-wall evil. (Plus the revelation that, in any universe, Spock is basically Spock.) The first trip back on DS9 wasn’t nearly as memorable, but it did at least provide a sick punchline to the one brief hope raised at the end of the TOS episode. And it was fun to see Nana Visitor doing her weird Joker sex-kitten riff, while all the ensemble we’d already come to care deeply about hunted around for the backs most vulnerable to knives. As a one-off, it was a cute way to pay homage to the franchise’s roots, and, I’m sure, a fun writing exercise for the staff.
But it doesn’t work as an ongoing saga, in part because every successive visit just reminds us how weird the idea is in the first place. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy were always bumping into ludicrous, blatant symbolic bullshit in the original series, and it worked because that was just how that show was designed; everything was more vital, more immediate, and nobody gave a damn about continuity or science fact. But DS9 is a more rigorous show, and so the folks on the other side of the mirror have to start developing long-term personalities, and it just doesn’t play. Everyone is so cartoony here, from sneering Bashir to pouty, sneering Dax; O’Brien comes across relatively unscathed thanks to his essential O’Brien-ness, and Kira and Worf are both clearly enjoying the chance to let loose, but as entertaining as they are, there’s no real dramatic frisson to anything that happens. We don’t care about most of these people because their only reason to exist is to remind us of the characters we’re actually invested in, and because the show’s version of the Mirror Universe resolutely refuses any serious connection between the parallel selves, this teaches us next to nothing about the “real world” ensemble. So there’s a version of Bashir who’s a dick. He’s not developed enough to stand on his own, and he’s not really a reflection on Julian, because the Mirror-verse Bashir is too generically dickish to be connected to anyone. If it weren’t Alexander Siddig in the role, he would be immediately and completely forgettable. As is, there’s momentary “Oh right, that guy’s different from our doctor,” and once that fades, nothing is left.
What’s even worse is that the contrast between the universes, the fact which made the original episode so potent, is almost meaningless in this context. There wasn’t any question who the good guys were on TOS; while that’s basically true on DS9, the universe of the show is more complex, less interested in good versus bad than in us versus them, when they might also be us, and we might not be who we thought we were. There’s really not much charge in seeing an already morally gray setting turned morally gray but slightly meaner. Take Mirror Garak: He seems to be pretty much Garak, although far more obsequious and pathetic than the non-mirror version. (Gosh, it’s been too damn long since we’ve had a good Garak episode.) I suppose the argument could be made that without his exile to Deep Space Nine, Garak would never have grown into the moderately trustworthy, though still deeply conflicted, character we know and love, but there’s no real effort made to make that connection land. Really, the only way this would have any meaningful dramatic impact is if the contrasts were underlined, and if some of the regular-world characters came into contact with their mirror-world selves. But since Sisko and Jake are the only ones who cross over to the other side, and since Mirror Sisko is dead, and Mirror Jake never existed, it’s a wash.
So, Mirror O’Brien has Jennifer “kidnap” Jake, to force Sisko to help him fix the Defiant so they’ll be able to defend themselves when the Alliance attacks. And so on. It’s passable for what it is, and the episode keeps moving along well enough that it never becomes painful to watch. As for surprises, well, Mirror Nog turns out to be an irredeemable dick who yells at Jake before helping to free Mirror Kira from her jail cell; since Mirror Kira killed Mirror Quark and Mirror Rom, she left Mirror Nog in charge of the bar, which puts him firmly on her side. Not that this is enough to stop her from killing him, mind you. So that’s fun. Michael Dorn clearly relishes the opportunity to go full-Klingon, so that’s also fun. And the space battle that closes out the episode is one of the better I’ve seen on the series; if we’re going to have hollow conflicts, at least they can look pretty.
Otherwise, the only hook for the episode is the return of Jennifer, who gets to meet Jake this time, before she dies (again). It’s an okay idea, I guess, but apart from underlining the obvious fact that Jake still misses his mom (which, duh), there’s no real payoff. Mirror Universe Jennifer isn’t an interesting character, and the actress who plays her still isn’t great. Jake gets to hang out with a replacement Mom for a while, which gets sort of weird and Oedipal because he keeps calling her by her first name, and then she dies in front of him when Kira tries to shoot Jake. Which, come to think, is a bit of a bummer, and the last scene, with Jake and Sisko embracing next to Jennifer’s saintly corpse, doesn’t really strike me as earned. Punishing a character for the sake of drama is a time-honored tradition, but letting Jake briefly reconnect with a presence he’d thought lost forever (even if that presence isn’t his real mom) before forcing him to relive the most traumatic experience of his life, is a cheap shot, used mostly to give “Shattered Mirror” the illusion of depth. Cirroc Lofton and Avery Brooks give it their best, but it still plays as manipulative and shallow, and best forgotten quickly.
- The episode is almost worth it for Sisko’s line introducing Jake to Jennifer: “This is the woman—the one I told you about. The one I met in a parallel universe.” Oh, her.
- The fact that Jennifer just pops in for a visit destroys what little mystique the Mirror Universe retained. It should be at least a slightly big deal for people to pass between places; otherwise, you have to wonder why the “good guys” on the other side aren’t just moving en masse to the universe where everything hasn’t gone completely to shit.
- Apparently, Kira had her phaser set to “Most Dramatic Impact.” Nog dies almost instantly, but Jennifer takes hours.
- This Worf/Garak exchange also made me laugh: “Spoken like a Klingon!” “I’m trying!”
“The Muse” (season four, episode 20; originally aired 4/29/1996)
In which Jake is inspired to new heights of penmanship…
Well, it’s the last appearance on a Trek show of Lwaxana Troi, and thankfully, I don’t have to spend the whole review complaining about the character. Overall, Lwaxana has been well-used by DS9, and “The Muse” provides a fitting cap to her career in the franchise, letting her exit gracefully in a storyline which makes up in sincerity what it lacks in immediate tension or drama. She shows up pregnant, looking for Odo’s help; Odo gives it; and then she leaves. It’s all very low-key. A pity, then, that it isn’t the episode’s only storyline. I’m not sure Lwaxana’s struggles with her latest ex-husband over custody rights would’ve benefited from more screentime, but at least it wouldn’t have been as idiotic as Jake’s storyline, which has the burgeoning writer fall into the clutches of a mysterious alien played by Meg Foster. The alien (the muse of the title) stimulates the creative centers of Jake’s brain with a lot of pseudo-erotic scalp massage, and then tries to drain him dry as he writes his first novel. Wackiness, thus, ensues.
It’s lousy, and immensely silly, although not in a fun way. The whole thing smacks of an early or late Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, the sort of broad, stupid concept that boils down to “aliens are magic, and we are their playthings.” (Actually, that’s pretty TOS too, although it has that cheesy, curtain-heavy sexiness that TNG liked to indulge in from time to time.) The brief glimpse we get of Jake watching for story ideas from above the Promenade is fun, but everything else he does in the episode is goofy as hell, and there’s no real point beyond what happens, apart from the always silly suggestion that great art has to have some kind of outside excuse, as opposed to just being the product of a lot of hard work and time. But really, this is all just embarrassing and childish, and if this is the most interesting plot the writers can come up with for Jake’s artistic ambitions, they should probably just let him go off to the Penington Academy, lest we get an episode in which his latest short story is accidentally downloaded into one of Quark’s holosuites, bringing the characters to life, or something equally lame.
Anyway, there’s not much to say about it. In fact, there isn’t much to say about “The Muse” in general; the whole thing reeks of a certain creative exhaustion that tends to hit series late in the season. Between this and “Shattered Mirror,” it must’ve been hard for the show’s fans, but at least “The Muse” has Odo and Lwaxana hanging around, having fun and being nice to each other. Pairing these two characters together was the smartest Lwaxana-related idea anyone on a Trek show ever had; Odo’s isolation and loneliness mean that Lwaxana’s forceful personality actually do some good, and also allows Majel Barrett to be tender and a little sad, which suits her much better than forced antics. Given that the last time we saw her, she was going through the Betazed version of menopause, it’s surprising to find out she can still get pr pregnant, but hey, aliens and whatnot. The father of the baby, Jeyal, played by Michael Ansara (this time he’s not a Klingon, but a Tevnian, which translates to “regressive gender politics and a face like a hammerhead shark), is determined that the infant, a boy, be raised by men, as is the custom of his people. Lwaxana objects, hence her arrival on the station. You’d think she would’ve realized Jeyal would come with some baggage, but she didn’t believe she could get knocked up either, so she probably assumed it wouldn’t be an issue.
Jeyal barely registers, though. The real point of all this is to give Odo and Lwaxana some time together, and the few scenes we get of them hanging out are quite sweet. Odo somehow makes Lwaxana necessary in a way she so often wasn’t, and his open, and completely guileless fondness for her makes us like her more in turn. There’s a fun scene with the two of them playing hide and seek in Odo’s apartment (Lwaxana immediately realizes the giant jungle-gym-like structure in the room is for shape-changing), and it all builds to a wedding without a lot of fuss. Not that Odo is permanently marrying Lwaxana; he just determined that under Tavnian law, the new father has say over what happens to the baby, supplanting the biological dad. So he and Lwaxana will get hitched, stay together long enough for the marriage to be binding under Tavnian law, and the baby is protected.
The downside being that Jeyal wants to attend the wedding, and if he objects to Odo’s sincerity, he can null the arrangement. This presupposes Jeyal is an honorable man, obviously, since if he was truly determined to keep the child for himself, he’d object no matter what Odo said. Really, the only reason the clause is there is so Odo can give a very nice speech about how much Lwaxana means to him. He slightly oversells the case, for obvious reasons, but the sentiment is heartfelt, and reinforces just how nifty this small, heartfelt relationship has been. Lwaxana’s limited appearances on DS9 mean that she never entirely wore out her welcome, and it also means that the connection between her and Odo them always seemed fleeting, a rare moment’s peace in two disparate, complicated lives. And, as Lwaxana herself reminds us, she’s still legitimately in love with Odo, which means they can never spend too much time together—she would always want something he wasn’t prepared (or able) to give.
I’m not sure there’s enough here to justify the episode, and “The Muse” is mostly forgettable, lacking a strong center to hold itself together; its pleasures are minor, but they do exist, at least. Neither of this week’s entries is utterly without merit, but it does sting a bit to run into them both at once, a speed bump double feature that squanders momentum as we move into the final part of the fourth season. Five episodes left; here’s hoping things pick up soon.
- “The day I met her is the day I stopped being alone.” I may have to steal this.
- I like how eager Odo is to help Lwaxana.
Next week: Sisko makes a surprising discovery about a close friend in “For The Cause,” and then has to deal with the Jem’Hadar in “To The Death.” Promising!