Monday, May 16, 2005

All Bad Things, Part II

Are we maybe actually in the Mirror Universe?

I get no pleasure from bashing anything about Star Trek. I don't like being in the company of writers who have used the demise of Trek to show off their superior disdain. I wish I could say that those who talk about fatigue were proven wrong by the last episodes of Enterprise. But they seemed to me to be evidence of fatigue, though not necessarily in the audience.

Because unless it's just me, the last six episodes were a mélange of bad ideas, good ideas badly executed, not well-thought out stories and no real direction to characterization. So many plot threads never tied, so many themes never matched or explored very far; so many anomalies unexplained; so much pointless motion as a substitute for real story action... Put them together and you have an unpalatable menu of ways that a series can go wrong: a flatfooted joke with a flatfooted twist ("Bound"), giddy obsession with nostalgic production values for two hours of pointless violence and histrionics (the Mirror Twins), two hours of a decent idea with another excellent guest star, but slack and undramatic storytelling (Demons, Terra Prime) and a finale with no center, no edge and no thanks.

The best that anyone has said for "Bound" and the mirror episodes is that they were "entertained," whatever that means. Personally I'd like some solid storytelling with intriguing themes and characterization with my 23rd and 24th century aliens, starships and uniforms. (Oddly enough, the originals are all readily available in several different media of TOS and TNG episodes.)

The mirror universe episodes began by trashing one of the most important moments in Star Trek history (and certainly one of the most memorable during the tenure of Berman and Braga): the first contact in First Contact. If Star Trek represents hope to many people, then this moment embodied that hope.

But instead of a handshake, the inventor of the warp drive whips out a machine gun, kills an unarmed alien, and leads his fellow earthlings to pillage the Vulcan science ship. It is shocking and heart-breaking, and as I watched it the first time I thought: it's going to be hard to see this moment in First Contact now without thinking of this version, so this had better be worth it.

For two hours I waited for it to be worth it, and it never was. I don't blame fans who managed to see this as an illustration of how the Star Trek future could go bad, because they really want Star Trek to mean something. But for the people responsible for this episode, this excuse can only be classified as cynical rationalization. These episodes were execrable exercises in pointless game-playing, laden with relentless violence and cheap villainy.

Was the premise of this mirror universe even credible? War-ravaged 21st century earthlings pillage one small ship of its technology and rule the galaxy, turning the Vulcans into slaves? That leaves a lot up to the imagination, especially considering what we see of the Enterprise earthlings. Empress Sato indeed. That great twist of the apparently subservient sex slave being the real master was so brilliant, why not use it twice in a row?

Peter Weller's presence and subtle acting, and Levar Burton's direction, made "Demons" the best of a bad lot, but as reviewers have pointed out, not a whole lot makes sense (Trip and T'Pol going "undercover" etc.). Both this and "Terra Prime" failed to either explore or explicate the worthy theme of xenophobia.

For example, the Terra Prime earth-firsters were of various races and nationalities. Wasn't that an opportunity for an Enterprise character to point out the analogy? Why else have a mixed race set of xenophobes? But with nothing said, the image sends a mixed message: like, these people can't really be serious. What is so threatening about the half-alien baby? We're supposed to know. Nobody shows us why they feel threatened. (Maybe Weller's performance here was too subtle.)

Michelle Erica Green makes a similar point about the series, that too much was told and not enough happened. This is bad storytelling, from people who have been involved in good storytelling in the past. I can't say I understand it.


Anonymous said...

You're not very familiar with what the Mirror Universe is all about in regards to Trek canon are you? May I suggest you view TOS's Mirror, Mirror episode - it might help you understand.

Captain Future said...

For a comparison of "Mirror, Mirror" and the first Enterprise mirror universe episode,see my post below,"Trekcheck:Mirrors" (you can find it on the site index or at )

You'll notice that the Enterprise version is different from all previous in that it is a total mirror universe, with no one from the ordinary universe in the story. In my view, this is a fatal narrative difference.