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The Future Will Be Carpeted: An Analysis of ‘Deep Space Nine (S7E12)’

“The Emperor’s New Cloak”
7.12 (aired February 3, 1999)

“I’m really beginning to hate this universe!”
    — Rom

Over the course of seven seasons, DS9 ran five episodes taking place in, or revolving around characters from, the universe established in the classic TOS episode “Mirror, Mirror.” The quality ranged from pleasantly diverting to execrable, and one of DS9’s most highly regarded episodes happened because the writing staff took a break from the Mirror Universe for season five. So, after five episodes — a longer arc than Sisko vs. Eddington got — what did the Mirror Universe amount to? And perhaps more importantly, what was the point? The answer to both is “not much.” Although that doesn’t necessarily make it bad, “Resurrection” notwithstanding.

The original Mirror Universe episode, season two’s “Crossover,” was a lot of fun, mostly due to watching the main cast play against type. There’s even the added treat of getting to watch what would happen to Odo if he was hit with a phaser, without the added emotional trauma of it being our Odo. And for those who missed the episode, what happens is roughly the same thing that would happen if you microwaved a pressurized container of tapioca pudding. Had the writers simply left it there, the Mirror Universe would have been just fine. That episode finishes with the beginning of the nascent Terran Rebellion under pirate king Ben Sisko and engineer Smiley O’Brien. There’s enough hope to walk away from that universe forever and feel fine about it.

The writers didn’t do that. I suspect because the increasing serialization on the show made them long for one-off assignments where they could let their imaginations run wild, kill characters without consequence, and generally do things the goody-goody heroes never would. The irony, of course, is that in returning to the Mirror Universe, they created yet more continuity they were now beholden to. The Mirror Universe gained its own life, had its own stories, and the more the show returned to them, the more it was clear they would need a send-off like any of the other long-simmering plotlines.

By season seven, though, the Mirror Universe was all but out of gas. The waning interest in the shows was evident, first when they skipped the fifth season’s episode entirely in favor of the vastly superior “Trials and Tribble-ations,” then in “Resurrection” which was a Mirror Episode in which no one actually went to the Mirror Universe, which is a little like a Fast and Furious movie where everyone rides a bicycle. The problem was, after that mess, they were more or less locked in. You can’t leave the Mirror Universe there.

So, the writers did the next best thing. Since the beginning of the show, Ferengi episodes were used as comic relief. DS9 is darker than the other Trek shows, so they needed levity wherever they could find it. Usually, it was with our favorite capitalists, desperate to make a buck in the midst of a post-scarcity utopia. Ferengi are also the perfect underdogs. Small and weak, they tend to get pushed around by the alpha males of the Alpha Quadrant. Whenever Quark and Rom win one for the good guys, it’s extra sweet. “Profit and Lace” and “Resurrection” were both so bad the only way to do another of their ilk was to combine them. It is with impeccable reasoning, we arrive at a Ferengi/Mirror Universe episode. It’s also one of the better ones, maybe since the first, partially because it owns just how ridiculous the entire concept is.

Quark is still lost in his “storyline” about being in love with Ezri, although it does lead to a great scene where he essentially bribes his god for help in the romantic arena. Ezri, wearing a lot of leather and even more blue eye shadow, barges in and pulls a knife. Nicole de Boer is clearly having a blast with this new Ezri, and her enthusiasm might be infectious. The rest of the cast look like they’re having a bit more fun with the premise than usual. Anyway, she’s holding Grand Nagus Zek in the Mirror Universe, captured when he crossed over to exploit new business opportunities. She’s willing to give him back in exchange for a cloaking device. While the episode claims the Mirror Universe lacks cloaking technology, in the very first one, we saw Cardassian warships decloaking. Oh, well. Just a minor continuity snarl in a series practically known for them.

Quark and Rom waste no time in stealing the cloak from Martok’s ship, which is exactly as good an idea as you think it is. Rom also had the bright idea of cloaking the cloak, leading to a wonderful sequence of Armin Shimerman and Max Grodénchik hauling an invisible nothing down the corridors of DS9, then bluffing Sisko and Martok during a conversation about what color the walls are. It more or less sets the tone for what we’re watching.

Predictably, once in the Mirror Universe, Ezri betrays the Ferengi. Turns out she’s the Intendant’s girlfriend, and this is all part of Kira’s plan to get out of jail and back into power. Nana Visitor was not a fan of the idea of the Intendant as bisexual. Her interpretation (which I tend to agree with) is that her attraction for Regular Kira was narcissism at its purest, and having her kiss Ezri was little more than a puerile thrill. And on the subject of sexuality (which Trek is notoriously squeamish about), any notions of hetero- vs. bi- vs. homosexuality are modern inventions and are highly unlikely to apply cross-species. And if you think this is merely an elaborate, over-intellectual excuse for why I’m okay with Kira and Ezri kissing… well, it’s not just that.

Ezri finally turns on Kira when the Intendant kills Ezri’s partner, Brunt. This Brunt is a nice guy, and I don’t quite mean it in the modern pejorative sense. He’s mutely in love with Ezri, although it doesn’t look like he’s expecting her to suddenly change her spots. Mirror Ezri is strongly implied to be exclusively on Team Sappho, which no doubt launched a thousand fanfics. Ezri then teams up with Quark and Rom to bust them out of Alliance jail, save them from mustache-twirling villain Mirror Garak, and sabotage the cloak at a crucial time, allowing the Defiant to capture Regent Worf. This more or less is the final victory of the Rebellion over the Alliance, which I’m pretty sure was only named that way to confuse Star Wars fans.

The best thread of the episode predictably comes from Rom. He spends the entire time puzzling over the metaphysics of the Mirror Universe. Things aren’t precisely opposite —  for one thing, tube grubs are still delicious and not poisonous — and he can’t quite wrap his head around it. “This universe makes no sense!” he gripes, before going back for seconds (and thirds) of Brunt’s delicious, non-poisonous fried tube grubs. Rom is all of us in this episode, desperately trying to apply logic where there is only the writer’s whim. The Mirror Universe, and DS9 as a whole, needed Rom there to comment on the action, to send the Mirror Universe off into the sunset. Just after pantsing it.

A comic episode is the perfect note to finish this strangest of diversions on the DS9 schedule. It’s a silly concept on the face of it, and only became sillier with how seriously it was treated. It was time to let the air out of the universe. Yet for all this, the Mirror Episodes had perhaps the most life, being continued in prequel form in Enterprise. A fun idea will never truly die. Or maybe it’s just that writers will always be looking for a way to spice things up.

Next up: Ezri hunts a serial killer with her personal Hannibal.

Justin Robinson, Fanbase Press Guest Contributor



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