The Valkyrie Directive and I are back with another collaborative post, this time looking at the gender dynamics of the Star Trek Mirror Universe (if you missed our last post on Trek’s women villains, it’s here). Feel free to join in the discussion by reblogging with your comments!
TrekkieFeminist: So today we wanted to chat about the mirror universe episodes and the way they portray the mirror versions of the main female characters.
I think we have is to put this in perspective, because unlike the usual Trek episodes, these aren’t showing how the future should look.
thevalkyriedirective: I think we should remember that when they created the original episode, “Mirror, Mirror”, they didn’t exactly know where Star Trek would go – or that they’d be returning to that universe ever again. So I imagine their original intention was simply to show a parallel universe where things were…less moral, I suppose.
It’s a reflection of the prime universe, because the people and planets are all pretty much the same – but the history and behaviour and ethics of the people are quite different.
TrekkieFeminist: In terms of significance, throughout mythology or literature the motif of evil twins or doppelgangers has been used to provide contrast and tension and I think it does that here.
In some ways I think it’s supposed to caution the audience that things could turn out like this, and in that way it reinforces the positive traits and ideals of the main Trek universe. For example, the way we see at the end of “Mirror, Mirror” that Spock can turn things around.
thevalkyriedirective: I definitely saw it as a very Roddenberry-esque warning – that this could easily be our future. I think funnily enough the Enterprise intro and title sequence for “In a Mirror, Darkly” actually demonstrates this the best way. They showed that in the Mirror Universe, the Humans reaction to First Contact was to shoot the Vulcans and steal their ship! That, more than anything, is the warning – that our reaction to first contact with aliens will determine our future.
The reason this is so poignant is that watching it as an audience today, we’re fully aware that either result is possible – because although humans often work together in peace and harmony, far more often things devolve into war and hatred and intolerance.
TrekkieFeminist: Yes! That’s probably my favourite part of the ENT episodes.
But when we’re talking about women in the mirror universe, one observation that I think holds true throughout is that women’s power is often dependent on using their sexuality. I’m guessing this is supposed to be tied into to the fact that people are more selfish, cutthroat, and every man (or woman) is out for themselves.
thevalkyriedirective: Yes, it’s very much the idea of a person having to use every skill at their disposal. And in the women’s case, it’s using their sexuality as a weapon – because that’s really how its presented, more than anything else.
TrekkieFeminist: Maybe this is a good segue into a bit of a closer look at “Mirror, Mirror”, because that’s where it all started and you can definitely see that happening with Uhura and Marlena.
I’d love to start with a look at Uhura, because what we’re seeing is prime Uhura adopting mirror universe traits.
In my view, it’s one of Uhura’s best episodes. She recovers quickly from telling Kirk she’s afraid and fakes out everyone by being simultaneously sexy, manipulative and cutthroat. In one episode they massively broadened her character’s abilities. Contrast that with the mirror universe guys, who ended up in the prime universe and didn’t have that cunning to pull the wool over the prime crew’s eyes.
thevalkyriedirective: “Mirror, Mirror” was definitely a fantastic episode for Uhura. I found the mirror people in the prime universe one of the sillier parts of the episode actually…that they were these…psycho rage monsters. Considering that one of the main skills of the people in the mirror universe appears to be their ability to deceive and manipulate, the fact that they didn’t just didn’t really make sense to me.
But that’s really my only gripe with the episode! Because you’re right, Uhura got to be such a badass – not only did she have the guts to step into a hornet’s nest and do her job, she was able to hold her own against mirror Sulu – both in terms of manipulating him as a distraction, and then being able to pull a knife on him and keep him at bay.
TrekkieFeminist: She’s a really important part of the plot and I just love it. So the other female character is Marlena, and she’s also really interesting, especially for TOS. She’s basically the property of the Captain and to some extent she’s limited by that but she’s capable of a lot and she makes her own decisions.
thevalkyriedirective: Marlena’s fantastic, I’ve always adored her – because yeah, she’s the “Captain’s Woman”, but as we see in the episode, that’s a position that it takes a lot of guts and strength and cunning to achieve and then hold.
Because the rest of the episode shows that crewmembers advance by assassinating their superiors, and I always felt that “Captain’s Woman” was a position in its own right – and one that she might have had to take down other women to get to. Surely to be accepted and invited into the Captain’s bed – and life – she would have had to be the best of the best.
It’s so much more than just sleeping with the Captain – she gets her own power from the position and uses it to not only help the Captain, but also herself. It’s a really interesting issue I think, because there are definitely sexist overtones – the whole idea of a man owning a woman is just squicky.
TrekkieFeminist: For sure. It did make me uncomfortable the parts like Kirk’s line: “You’re the Captain’s woman until he says you’re not.”
But then, she’s one of the few people who figures out Kirk isn’t really mirror Kirk and then she helps him in his plan. And I like how classy and decided she is when she realizes she can’t go back to the prime universe with them.
So it’s icky for sure, but we can still see her as somewhat powerful, because she clearly had to win that position, as dubious an honour as that might be for someone in the prime universe.
She talks about how she’ll be the Captain’s woman again “if I have to go through every officer in the fleet” and she asks to come over to the prime universe to “hunt fresh game”.
Anyway, I think we can talk a bit more about the “Captain’s Woman” and what it’s possible for women to attain in the mirror universe when we get to Hoshi in “In a Mirror, Darkly”, but first, we confirmed there are 5 DS9 mirror universe episodes, and we’re not going to go through them all, but I think we need to look at the main female characters, maybe starting with Intendant Kira, because she’s the first one we see, in “Crossover”.
thevalkyriedirective: I think it’s pretty undeniable that, like her prime counterpart, the intendant is a complete badass, and also completely terrifying. She’s just such a fantastic character because she really is the opposite of prime Kira. She’s just as ruthless and manipulative as her Terran Empire counterparts on the ISS Enterprise, but pushed even further because she rules over Terok Nor and has absolute power over it.
TrekkieFeminist: I love how she takes the self-centredness of the TOS mirror universe to a whole new level; basically consumed with narcissism and hedonism. Although that’s also her hubris. But I think she’s more of a deeply-skewed and amoral reflection than a complete opposite of prime Kira. For example, it’s clear she likes to think of herself as having a more moral purpose than some of the other people in the Alliance and sees doting on her favourites as evidence of how she’s less cruel.
thevalkyriedirective: Yeah, that brings me to an interesting point one of my followers on the Directive brought up, that there is actually an interesting parallel between the Intendant and Gul Dukat – especially the idea that while they are both ruthless oppressors who rule Terok Nor with an iron fist, they both consider themselves to be the just, honourable, benevolent ones! I had one of those “Why didn’t I notice the parallel?!” moments when it was pointed out to me!
TrekkieFeminist: Wow, interesting! They also both have those people who are their “favourites” and they do what they see as favours for them that are also ways of controlling them. And it’s that ultimate arrogance that lets them do that. Like think about how Intendant Kira buys that dress for prime Kira and it’s similar to the ways Dukat treats Kira Nerys and Kira Meru.
thevalkyriedirective: Ooooh, that’s even more creepy because it’s probably something the writers didn’t even realize. Dukat also bought Kira a dress in the episode “Sons and Daughters”, when they’re bonding over Ziyal, except in that case, Kira is disgusted when she realizes what’s happening and returns it.
TrekkieFeminist: While we’re on clothing-related discussions, how do you feel about the intendant’s catsuit?
thevalkyriedirective: Usually I’m the first in line to loathe a catsuit. But this is probably the only example I can think of when I think it works. And that’s solely because the Intendant – like her fellow mirror universe women in the Terran Empire, with their midriff baring uniforms – is using her body and her sexuality as a weapon. So to me it wasn’t a ratings grab – because it wasn’t at odds with her character. She owns it.
It’s not like Seven or T’Pol where you know it doesn’t fit the character and is only used to appeal to the audience.
TrekkieFeminist: I agree. I mean, she can at least make it look functional. And compared to the TOS mirror uniforms she looks powerful, not vulnerable.
Intendant Kira is also about using her sexuality to gain pleasure for herself, as well as control over others.
thevalkyriedirective: Exactly, she’s such a narcissist that it’s really like she’s wearing it for herself, to remind herself how attractive she thinks she is. Here’s a quote:
Of the costume, Robert Blackman stated, “If you were to put the two uniforms together, you’d say, ‘Well it’s kind of a shiny gray version of the rust.’ It’s not that I’ve exposed more of her body – it’s exposed pretty much the same way it always is. What’s the difference? She’s the difference. It’s how Nana wears it. It’s what she does. She walks like a provocative woman, with her legs crossing in front. She uses her hips, and a whole other kind of body English than she normally uses.” (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion)
TrekkieFeminist: I think the mirror universe episode I like the least in general and for its representation of the Intendant is The “Emperor’s New Cloak”. In that one she starts out imprisoned and eventually gets her power back, but she’s clearly taken down a peg or two and it’s just kind of disappointing seeing her not so much at the top of her game.
thevalkyriedirective: Hmmm, I don’t remember it well enough, other than mirror Ezri making out with the intendant and then mirror Leeta…Which I want to cringe at because why do the lesbians have to be the “bad girls”? Why couldn’t we have seen prime Ezri or Leeta going out with ladies?
TrekkieFeminist: I do like the thing with the intendant and Ezri, even though I know that it doesn’t make up for the lack of same-sex relationships in the prime universe. But I like how it plays into intendant Kira as basically out for pleasure wherever it may lurk. And the representation is improved by the fact that Ezri turns out to be halfway decent and helps the good guys so it’s not associating same-sex attraction with evil.
thevalkyriedirective: This is a nice quote about this very issue:
Speaking about the Intendant’s apparent sexual orientation, which is revealed as bisexual in the episodes “Through the Looking Glass” and “The Emperor’s New Cloak”, Visitor revealed, “I never intended for the intendant to be bisexual. I think that was an assumption that everyone, including the writers, made after the character fell for Kira in “Through the Looking Glass” [Visitor is mistaken here, it was actually “Crossover”]. But that had been total narcissism on her part. It had nothing to do with sexuality. I never liked that people took her for bisexual because she’s an evil character. There are so few gay characters on TV, and we really don’t need an evil one.” (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion)
And that ties in with probably my favourite quote on the intendant…
Of the Intendant, Nana Visitor stated in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion,
“It’s very much me. I mean, I hope I don’t send people to their deaths or anything like that, but yeah, that is more of who I am.”
TrekkieFeminist: Nice! The Leeta thing is a bit weird though. She goes up to Ezri and says “Captain Smiley wants me to debrief you” and it’s clearly innuendo but given all the weird sexual property stuff in the mirror universe it’s not clear that Leeta isn’t being given as a sexual reward.
thevalkyriedirective: Hmmm, I always took it that the two of them were already involved? But it’s been so long since I’ve seen it I really couldn’t say how it was intended.
TrekkieFeminist: Could be. It just caused a niggling uncertainty for me.
thevalkyriedirective: I think the thing about the intendant – and the entire mirror universe – is that I’ve always loved it because it’s a great opportunity to see the actors as completely different characters.
And the intendant in particular – it’s always a pleasure to watch her, not only because of how delightfully narcissistic and evil she is, but because everything about her is different – the way she moves is all her. I think it’s “Resurrection” when she has to pretend to be Major Kira, but you can still see it’s the intendant from her walk! Nana Visitor was just fantastic.
TrekkieFeminist: Agreed. The physical differences that Nana did really made the character. Not all the other characters went nearly that far (e.g. Smiley, Garak were very similar to their prime counterparts).
thevalkyriedirective: Yeah, I’ve often wondered why some were wildly different but others weren’t so much.
TrekkieFeminist: Jennifer Sisko is actually a good example of someone who I don’t think differed a ton, and I think that’s has pros and cons.
Obviously we never really get to know Jennifer in the prime universe because she’s dead by the time the series starts, but we’re always led to feel that she’s almost angelic or saintly. We never really hear anything bad about her. She was always a devoted wife and mother, with a good sense of humour, and very smart. And Mirror Jennifer is like that too. The worst thing she does is half-kidnap prime Jake, but she does that out of a need for maternal fulfillment.
Mirror Jennifer makes the ultimate choice that we expect a devoted mother to make: she ends up sacrificing herself for her child (well, her prime counterpart’s child). The absent/sacrificed mother character is so done that to have it repeated in the mirror universe episodes was just boring for me. I think it could’ve been more interesting to show her as being more complex in her motivations.
thevalkyriedirective: What we know about prime Jennifer could just be a fond memory though, no one wants to think of the bad aspects of someone they loved who’s died.. .But I do agree, there wasn’t really much “evil” about her in the mirror universe…Maybe they could’ve shown more about what it takes to survive as a Terran slave – even a well off one, in the Alliance. But didn’t she hate Ben in her first episode? I thought they were estranged?
TrekkieFeminist: Well she hates mirror Ben, but at the end she figures out prime Ben isn’t her husband and she’s a lot nicer.
thevalkyriedirective: Well you could argue it’s enough of a change. The whole idea that they’re not a loving family and didn’t have Jake because they don’t like each other sounds like enough of a difference to me. But she was definitely more… bland than many of the other mirror universe women.
thevalkyriedirective: It’s still fairly manipulative to kidnap your prime counterpart’s son to force your prime husband to come and help you. So that’s a little bit of that ruthlessness coming through…
I think many of the Mirror U people are so used to deception and manipulation and selfishness driving everyone around them, that it’d be hard to resist the allure of people being genuinely nice to you, so I can understand why Jake would have gotten to her.
TrekkieFeminist: I just would like her to have been less saintly. I found her motivations made sense, but I would’ve liked more of a divergence from the sacrificing mother trope.
The part that bothers me the most probably of all the mirror universe episodes is the part in “Through the Looking Glass” where prime Ben, pretending to be Mirror Ben, sleeps with mirror Jadzia.
thevalkyriedirective: Ah yep, I’m with you there!
TrekkieFeminist: It’s technically rape by deception and I have a really hard time believing Ben couldn’t have thought of a way to say no to mirror Jadzia without her catching on to his real identity. He’s clearly in charge. At least mirror Jadzia slaps him for it later.
thevalkyriedirective: I just thought it was mostly creepy because I mean, its Dax, how’s he going to look prime Jadzia in the eye after having sex with her mirror counterpart?! Surely he could have found a way to turn her down! It was just really unnecessary – I don’t like to think that prime Ben’s sense of “duty” extends to sleeping with the mirror counterpart of his oldest friend’s current host.
TrekkieFeminist: I totally expect more from Sisko.
thevalkyriedirective: Me too
TrekkieFeminist: As far as Mirror Jadzia goes otherwise, I think she’s fine but not as awesome as prime Jadzia.
thevalkyriedirective: Yeah, she’s pretty much equally badass, but we only see her for a tiny bit. So let’s go to “In a Mirror, Darkly”, which has got to be one of my favourite Enterprise episodes of all time.
TrekkieFeminist: Interesting. I like parts of it for sure but I’m interested to know what makes it your favourite?
thevalkyriedirective: Well, as I’ve said, I adore how the mirror universe lets our regular characters have fun and we get to see their “evil” counterparts. So that’s part of it. I also love the fact that its set entirely in the mirror universe – including the title sequence.
I guess the thing that always elevated it for me, apart from seeing all our usual characters be “evil”, was the ending, with Hoshi Sato declaring herself Empress!
TrekkieFeminist: I think this episode is super imaginative. I really like that they set it in entirely in the mirror universe because it avoided all the inconsistencies that get created when you try to move people back and forth, like in the DS9 eps where it just seems absurdly easy to cross over.
But I felt really cheated when I watched it because I knew from Tumblr pictures that Hoshi became Empress and I didn’t realize it wouldn’t be until literally the last scene. I mean hopefully had the show continued, we would’ve seen more of her as Empress, but as it stands by itself, I had the sadz.
thevalkyriedirective: Ohhh, well I didn’t know in advance!
TrekkieFeminist: I wasn’t able to find out if they knew the series was ending when they wrote it. If so, I think I would’ve preferred a one-part episode with more about the characters’ motivations and less Hoshi/T’Pol catfighting.
thevalkyriedirective: I read a tweet from Brannon Braga, when researching for this chat, that said they tossed around the idea of the entire season five of ENT being set in the mirror universe, which I didn’t think would have worked at ALL, but I think they definitely would have set more episodes there!
I always liked the different layers of politics and deception in the mirror universe episodes – I think that came through more in Enterprise and DS9 than TOS.
TrekkieFeminist: I agree. The politics and being unsure of people’s plans was masterful in this one. And it reinforces how we were looking at the role of “Captain’s Woman” in TOS: that it’s a position you have to put effort into and that carries power with it… Though I could have done with less Archer/Hoshi silhouette making out.
thevalkyriedirective: Yes exactly, Mirror Hoshi really was a fantastic character – ruthless, manipulative, and more importantly, ambitious.
Considering the amount of sex and nudity they managed to get into the regular show, I really wasn’t surprised that they added some in the already “sexier” mirror universe.
TrekkieFeminist: Mirror T’Pol for me is a bit more of a disappointment. I like some things like how emotionally complicated she is, but I hate seeing her brought down at the end, and even her last line about how “It may take centuries, but one day humanity will pay for its arrogance”, to me didn’t quite make up for it.
Ugh, and I’m bringing up the catfight again. This part:
T’Pol: “I’m surprised you’re not exhausted from all the beds you’ve jumped into recently.”
Hoshi: “Commander Tucker told me I should give you a few pointers in that area.”
I can’t get behind that, even if it is the mirror universe.
thevalkyriedirective: Ugh, yeah, pitting the only two female characters against each other? I’d have much rather they formed an alliance.
TrekkieFeminist: That would’ve been so cool. If there were more episodes it would’ve been awesome to see Hoshi bailing T’Pol out as she awaits execution and deciding she needed her skills.
thevalkyriedirective: Especially because it would have explained how the Vulcans had come to serve in the Empire by the time of TOS – I can’t see Spock being the XO on the Enterprise if Vulcans were still second class citizens.
Luckily the novels have us covered! I had to check but I was right, there are a couple of anthologies set in the Mirror Universe, and one of them has a short story “Age of the Empress”.
In it, T’Pol escapes, goes to aid rebels on Vulcan, but then when one of the rebels tries to kill her she switches sides, helps Hoshi escape and defeat the rebels – and Empress Sato names her Supreme Regent of Vulcan – and she helps counsel her from then on
TrekkieFeminist: Very cool! Back to mirror T’Pol for a second, I remember now there’s a part where Archer says he’d totally kill her except no one else has the skill to do her job. So she may be overall slightly better than I remember. If it weren’t for the catfight and her getting captured and interrogated at the end I might be mostly happy.
TrekkieFeminist: Oh, so I was just looking back at my notes and there’s a line that seems to reinforce the “Captain’s Woman” = property thing, where Hoshi says to Archer: “Tradition says that whatever belonged to the previous Captain is yours for the taking.”
Then they make out and she tries to stab him but Archer grabs her ponytail and holds up his knife and says, “I expect you to be in a better mood when I get back.” That part really creeped me out. Maybe part of the reason she takes over is because this is BS!
thevalkyriedirective: Bleh, well that’s unfortunate. But I think even though it’s really problematic, it does make sense in the context of the mirror universe. And doesn’t diminish from the awesomeness of the mirror women. Yeah, tradition sure as hell doesn’t stop her from kicking all their asses and declaring herself Empress!
So that’s where we wrapped up. It’s a long post but we know there’s still more that could be said. Join the discussion in the comments!