Some days, it feels like we’re living in an alternate reality. It’s like we’ve slipped through some mysterious portal and ended up in a world where powerful governments fumble pandemic responses. A world where demagogues make moral arguments that place profits over people. A world more cruel than the one we thought we knew.
Alternate realities have always been constant in genre storytelling, from Thomas More’s Utopia to the DC Universe’s Earth 3. These stories let us examine our fundamental beliefs in a new and unfamiliar context, to test the character of our heroes in radically different situations. For that reason, the Mirror Universe of the Star Trek franchise remains one of the most compelling alternate reality conceits.
Where the Star Trek Prime and Kelvin Universes imagine an optimistic future in which humanity has overcome racism, capitalism, and sexism to take its place in the United Federation of Planets, the Starfleet of the Mirror Universe serves the fascist Terran Empire. As introduced in the 1967 episode “Mirror, Mirror,” in which a transporter accident sends Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and three bridge officers to the Mirror Universe, the Terran Empire strives for human supremacy and rewards barbarism.
Since that episode, the Mirror Universe has been an important part of Star Trek, serving as the setting for five episodes of Deep Space Nine (1993-1999), a memorable two-parter in Enterprise (2001-2005), and most of Discovery’s (2017- present) first season.
Mirror Universe episodes not only allow beloved actors to ham it up as their normally virtuous characters’ evil twins, but also give us an opportunity to interrogate Federation ideals. In these difficult days, Mirror Universe episodes can teach us the value of holding onto hope at all costs, and to keep fighting for our beliefs.