The Star Trek Mirror Universe Trope

[Warning: Contains Spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery]

It is an old philosophical concept, and later a theory in quantum mechanics, that every choice creates another universe in which the alternative possibility is true.  Not a very practical idea, but it does tend to let the imagination loose.  This was relatively new science in 1967 when TOS episode Mirror, Mirror aired.  In it, Kirk and others find themselves trapped in an alternate reality, where the Federation is replaced by a totalitarian regime known as the Terran Empire driven by individuals with murderous ambition.

Evil Spock in the Mirror Universe
Evil Spock in the Mirror Universe

Fifty years later, the idea is a little worn out.

Every Star Trek series has toyed with alternate realities of one sort or another.  The entire J. J. Abrams reboot is a non-canon alternate reality.  However, the Mirror Universe was specifically used in several episodes of DS9, where it became a continuing saga of its own.  ENT also ran a two-part episode in the Mirror Universe.

Even Red Dwarf got into the game, bringing a much cooler Arnold “Ace” Rimmer over from a better alternate universe.

Arnold "Ace" Rimmer
Arnold “Ace” Rimmer

In my opinion, the Mirror Universe is more appealing to actors and writers than it is to the audience.  It gives everyone a chance to play a different character; even those characters who are unchanged must “act” to fit in.  To me, it is just a distraction.  It may also be a sign that the writers are beginning to run short of good ideas.  In that sense, the Mirror Universe is the Star Trek analog to jumping the shark.

So you can imagine my disappointment when the tenth episode of Star Trek: Discovery has already brought us there.  Worse, the previews of upcoming episodes suggest that we could be spending a lot of time there, possibly the rest of the season.

I was really looking forward to a long story unfolding, being fed a piece at a time of a large master plan.  However, it looks like the writers may have already reached the end of their plan.  They have created a set of characters, many of whom we have barely met, and they have signaled that Discovery is not going to be a series of discrete, Twilight Zone stories.  The producers have built a great set, a visual style, and a deviant spin on Klingons.  Yet they already seem to be reaching into the barrel of old standbys.  I emphatically hope they are doing this to buy time, and that the series isn’t already exhausted before it barely began.

As an aside, the Discovery writers may have missed an opportunity.  Especially given the ambiguity of Lorca’s forthrightness, Discovery could have found themselves the bad guys in a universe that was nicer and more pure than their own.