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The Future Will Be Carpeted: An Analysis of ‘Deep Space Nine (S2E23)’

“This man is a doctor where he comes from. And, there’s an O’Brien there, just like me. Except he’s some kind of high-up chief of operations. And, they’re Terrans. Maybe it’s a fairy tale he made up, but it started me thinking how each of us might have turned out, had history been just a little bit different.”
    — Smiley O’Brien

What is DS9 about? Say it with me, everybody! Consequences! Yes, the point I keep harping on reaches perhaps its most ridiculous extreme in this week’s episode. We’re going to discuss that, but to get there, I need to do a quick sidebar about facial hair.

You know how the quickest way to show that a twin is evil is to give them a goatee? It’s a part of our pop cultural DNA that we seem to be born with. This isn’t because people intrinsically become more evil when they look like they’re trying to play bass for Counting Crows — well, not just that — but because of an episode of Star Trek called “Mirror, Mirror.” That’s the one where Kirk goes into the mirror universe and is shocked to find that a) everything is evil over there and b) Spock can grow facial hair. Kirk preaches the utopian goals of the Federation to Mirror Spock then zaps back to the real universe. The hope is that Mirror Spock can rein in some of the brutality of the Terran Empire and bring peace to a whole other reality.

There’s a sense of narrative d–kery involved in not leaving that alone. That’s what we know and presumably love the DS9 writing staff for. They look at situations, purse their lips, and say, “I don’t think so, guys.” In this case, it’s Robert Hewitt Wolfe, who was the number two guy in the writers’ room after Behr. He said to himself, well, when empires are warlike and brutal, there’s usually a good reason. In most cases, it means barbarians at the gates. The examples he uses are China and the Mongols, and Rome and the . . . well . . . pretty much everybody. Rome was not terribly popular amongst the battleaxe-wielding population of Europe. In essence, Wolfe took an episode full of Roddenberry’s wide-eyed utopian ideals and decided to parse some consequences. Some terrible, terrible consequences.

Kira and Bashir are returning from opening a hospital on New Bajor, which is the first Bajoran colony in the Gamma Quadrant. Kira still does not like Bashir, mostly because he’s the exact opposite of Chief O’Brien. While the engineer is down-to-earth, blue collar, and most importantly a killer of Cardassians, our young doctor is leering, arrogant, and can’t open his mouth without condescending all over Bajoran culture. On the way back through the wormhole, a plasma leak in one of the injectors gives them a bumpier trip than usual. When they emerge, the station is gone — they find it on long range sensors, orbiting Bajor. This is a nice nod to continuity, as the station was moved in the pilot only after the discovery of the wormhole.

To make a long story short, Kira and Bashir have managed to find their way back to the same mirror universe Captain Kirk visited. After Kirk left, Mirror Spock enacted reforms based on Kirk’s teachings, disarming the Terran Empire, preaching peace, and presumably shaving the goatee to reflect his new non-evil nature. Pretty much instantly, the barbarians at the gate — in this case, the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance (Their sigil is a version of the Cardassian owl perched on the three-pronged Klingon claw, and looks like a Nazi eagle.) — promptly came in and crushed them. In a nice bit of continuity/irony (Continirony?), the Bajorans were conquered and oppressed by the humans, making them gleeful members of the Alliance.

Episodes like this are a good time, as the cast gets to play totally against type, and the fun they’re having is obvious. Mirror Kira (known as the Intendant), the commander of the station, spends half the time trying to have sex with anyone around her, and the other half being disappointed her enslaved humans aren’t more grateful. Mirror Garak is her first officer, a brutal Cardassian official who lacks the panache of our version, but still appreciates a well-tailored dress. Mirror O’Brien (nicknamed Smiley by Mirror Sisko) is a trusted slave who helps keep the station running. Mirror Quark runs the local underground railroad and has never even heard of latinum. Mirror Odo is a brutal slavedriver. Mirror Sisko might be the weirdest, as he’s a privateer/kept man in the employ of the Intendant.

The arrival of Kira and Bashir throws everyone into a tizzy. Due to the vast effect Kirk’s visit had on their history, protocol states that anyone from the other side is to be executed. The problem is, the Intendant instantly falls in love with her counterpart, our Kira. I mean, what do you get the narcissist who has everything? Bashir gets thrown into the ore processing pits, where he attempts to appeal to Smiley O’Brien. It’s Mirror Sisko who has the biggest arc and the one who proves instrumental in the rescue. He’s introduced as a swaggering, boisterous pirate, but when the Intendant summons him to her room, there’s a tiny moment when Avery Brooks shows what his servitude costs him. Then, it’s gone under another pirate laugh. Later, as he watches his men get punked by a Klingon, he realizes that it’s time to fight back.

The other reason for mirror universes to exist is to watch major characters get killed in a consequence-free environment — although DS9 would subvert even this later. In this case, both Quark and Odo — a nice bit of symmetry considering their connection in our world — are killed. In Odo’s case, we get to see what would really happen if he’s hit with a phaser, and it’s suitably gruesome. He looks like he explodes in a shower of butterscotch pudding. It’s the death we were all the most curious about, conjuring comparisons to the iconic panel in X-Men when “Days of Future Past” let us see Wolverine get disintegrated down to the skeleton. Marvel knew how awesome that panel was — for a long time you couldn’t get an alternate history without seeing Wolverine’s adamantium bones.

The story ends as one of hope. While Bashir and Kira escape back to our universe, they’re leaving behind a nascent Terran rebellion. Sure, the two most important people in it are a space pirate and an ex-slave, but it’s more than there was. In true DS9 fashion, the writers would keep returning to this reality. It became a tradition, a once-a-year peek into the strange, alternate universe where good guys were bad guys.

Next up: Who’s talking to the Cardassians?




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