Why does the Star Trek Mirror universe resonate with fans?

On the set of the TV series Star Trek (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
On the set of the TV series Star Trek (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images) /

Star Trek’s most repeated storylines involve “The Mirror Universe.” 

Every Star Trek series has, at one time or another (sans Star Trek: The Next Generation/Star Trek: Voyager), paid homage to the Terran Empire and we fans (and the general public) seem to love it.  Star Trek: The Original Series’ “Mirror, Mirror” got TV Guide’s attention in October 1967, publishing a tantalizing picture of a satanic, goateed Mr. Spock.  They were as curious as fans were with this provocative, and obvious allusion to Satan.  Wow!  Who wouldn’t want to tune in?

Action/adventure debauchery your thing?  More Evil Star Trek, please

Jerome Bixby, who wrote the episode, explained his inspiration for “Mirror, Mirror.” (collider.com)  Could a belligerent Federation conquer as effectively as they could through diplomacy?  He also reasoned these highly driven people of benevolent Starfleet might also, under completely different circumstances, be equally successful using their cunning skills and intelligence in nefarious ways, furthering the classic adage, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Apparently, this concept was compelling enough to Star Trek fans as “Mirror, Mirror” is routinely cited as a “top 10” episode favorite. Our love for the Terran Empire hasn’t diminished with time, as we’ve revisited it five times on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, twice on Star Trek: Enterprise, and another five times on Star Trek: Discovery, for a remarkable 13 episodes.  If that’s not enough, fan-produced “Star Trek: Continues” also created a very popular sequel episode to “Mirror, Mirror.” Many ST comics have also delighted readers with numerous trips to the mirror universe.

Let’s face it. We are obsessed with power, glory, and – dare I say it – violence and lawlessness; the antithesis of Star Trek principles – but “juicy” and exciting entertainment venues nevertheless.   Who wouldn’t like to know how an ethically compromised Captain Kirk might behave in this alternate timeline?  Interestingly, we’ll never fully know since we were only introduced to Evil Kirk for only a few minutes in “Mirror, Mirror.”  We DID, however, get a pretty hefty dose of Evil Spock and found his behavior logical, plotting, and duplicitous. He operated as “that quiet guy in the corner” you dare not take your eyes off of.  His absence would most certainly mean trouble.

Star Trek’s Mirror Universe is a guilty pleasure we all love

There’s also the “sex” angle, that dangerous “third rail” dangled in front of 1960’s TV audiences suggesting “free sex”, outrageous behavior, flamboyant costumes, punctuated with those two piece bikini duty uniforms created by costume designer Bill Theiss.

Of course, the original episode gave us the most satisfying journey into The Evil Frontier, but Star Trek: Enterprise “In a Mirror, Darkly” also scored a double whammy with the fantastic return of the U.S.S. Defiant – last seen in Interphase space in TOS “The Tholian Web.”   Thanks to time travel,  the futuristic Defiant not only traveled back in time but also crossed into the Mirror Universe becoming the ultimate war machine, pushing Evil Captain Archer and Ensign Hoshi into positions of superior power.

Between the recreated original series sets and Enterprise versions of those skimpy costumes, the lawless Terran Empire made a triumphant and popular return to Star Trek storytelling.

Do we LOVE space pirates?  Of course we do, and their lawless, untethered nature, is liberating and exciting at the same time.  Don’t we also secretly appreciate a good Bond villain, even quoting them after the movie is over? Wouldn’t we love to be the “attention grabber” controversial “bad boy/girl” celebrity in outrageous attire? Secretly we do, and this is Star Trek’s way to deliver it to us.

Maybe Captain Kirk said it best about villain Khan in “Space Seed”, “We can be against him and admire him all at the same time.”  People love lawless pirates. Maybe the only difference between the general public and Star Trek fans is we prefer ours in Star Trek regalia.

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