“Crossover” (season 2, episode 23; originally aired 5/15/1994)
In which Kira and Bashir have adventures through the looking glass
“Mirror, Mirror” is one of the best episodes of the original Star Trek. While it lacks the emotional weight of “The City On The Edge Of Forever” or the nail-biting tension of “The Doomsday Machine,” the story of Captain Kirk’s trip to an alternate reality where Everything He Knows Is Wrong hits the perfect sweet spot between high concept and camp. It should be ridiculous: the crew of the Enterprise is evil! Superior officers enforce obedience via torture! The agony booth! Spock has a goatee! To be honest, the episode is ridiculous, which is also why it’s so fun. There’s a crazy energy to the episode that the original series so often had, combined with just enough sincerity and genuine creepiness to keep it all from being a joke, and it all culminates in a surprising, and yet entirely explicable, twist: Evil Spock isn’t actually evil. At least, he still operates on the basis of logic and deduction, and by the end of the hour, Kirk is able to convince him that it would be better for Evil Spock and the rest of his kind if they tried to murder each other just a little bit less. Kirk and his friends then return home, comfortable in the knowledge that in their brief time on the other side, they’ve managed to make a difference, and even if they didn’t, it’s not like those people are going to write them or anything.
The Mirror Universe is never mentioned again in TOS, nor does it ever come up on Star Trek: The Next Generation. The concept is striking enough to be memorable, but so outlandish that I wouldn’t have expected it to return, because it seems so difficult to sustain. Parallel universes, sure, but a parallel universe in which all the characters we know and love are bondage fetishists? That’s a bit much. The idea of the TNG cast trying to maniacally laugh their way through an homage makes me very uncomfortable. (Imagine an entire planet populated with Lores.) But “Mirror” is well-constructed enough that its apparent absurdities have surprising depth, and “Crossover” makes good use of those depths, giving Kira and Bashir a chance to visit a place where up is down, black is white, and cats and dogs co-sign the lease. And while it takes a little stretching to buy into all of this, the effort is worth it. This is a cast just aching to get nasty.
Well, except for poor Bashir, who spends most of the episode doing hard labor. Maybe it’s punishment for his obnoxious behavior in the cold open, where he seems hellbent on undoing all the growth he’s managed in the past season or so. Regardless of the reason, this is a Kira episode, as is the other half of this week’s double feature, “The Collaborator.” Where that entry goes the usual (and rewarding) route of forcing Kira to deal with Bajoran history and present-day politics, here, Kira mostly watches in horror at the terrifying new reality she and the good doctor discover. Their method for arriving in The Other Place is the usual sort of hand-waving mumbo-jumbo; in “Mirror, Mirror,” Kirk and the others got caught in a transporter accident, here it’s a glitch in the wormhole caused by a plasma leak. The means don’t really matter. All that matters is one minute everything is fine, and the next, Bashir is being dragged away to work for the Other Odo, while the Other Kira takes our Kira to her office for some light exposition.
One of the reasons this episode is so much fun is the fact that the Other Kira recognizes where our Kira came from almost immediately. She explains that Kirk’s visit to this universe is an important part of their history, and in his efforts to help make life better for Terrans (humans and Vulcans), he actually made everything much, much worse. The Other Spock was successful in his goal to bring about peace and prosperity for his people, but in doing so, left them open to attack from an alliance between the Klingons and the Cardassians. The Bajorans, recognizing a good thing when they saw it, joined up with the aggressors, and now the Other Kira is running Deep Space Nine, oppressing poor humans like the Other O’Brien, and generally being all villainous and sexy and so forth.
It’s a depressing reveal, at least at first glance: one of the most satisfying elements of “Mirror, Mirror” is the way it recognized that even a seemingly “evil” place might be improved if the right ideas were spread around by the right people, and “Crossover” undermines Kirk’s actions almost immediately. It’s not just that his efforts were useless—he actively made things worse for the humans, just by trying to help. That’s a grim twist, although it plays fair with the rules, and certainly fits latter-day Trek, with all its obsession with the Prime Directive and attention to the unpredictable fallout of one’s actions. Besides, part of the entertainment value of an episode like this is seeing just how bad a different reality can possibly get. The writers aren’t going for subtlety. And if we wanted to get really deep, we could also see how this version of life plays to Kira’s fears about her role on the station as an enabler and appeaser. Her need to assert her legitimacy as a defender of her people is twisted back in her face, as the Other Kira and the Other Bajor sold their souls for a good deal.
Admittedly, this never has huge thematic relevance, as this episode isn’t designed to teach Kira an important lesson about who she might have been. The point is mostly to say, man, wouldn’t it be weird Odo was a bad guy, or if Sisko was a rogue, and then run with that. And it works. The second season keeps sneaking up in unexpected ways, from effective character development, to the tossed-off mentions of the “Dominion”; what strikes me most about “Crossover” is its confidence. Deep Space Nine isn’t knocking every ball out of the park, but it has been hitting solid doubles and triples for some time now, and this episode banks on that consistency to pull an over-sized concept into its carefully constructed, semi-realistic world. “A dark parallel reality” shouldn’t have a place on a series worried about politics and consequences and enslavement, and yet it does; everything else is solid enough by now, we’re willing to take high concept in stride.
That’s one of the reasons I love the Trek franchise. Last week, we dealt with exile and addiction, next up we have betrayal and traitors, and right here, we’ve got a lady who seems to be very much hitting on herself. And just as “Mirror, Mirror” gave the original series’ cast an opportunity to let loose (more than usual), “Crossover” is about providing actors with an escape from the normal restrictions of their roles. Avery Brooks is all self-loathing and cunning, Armin Shimerman is all quiet and tragically noble, Andrew Robinson goes full-on villain in the role of the station’s second in command. Nana Visitor has a chance to do her best femme fatale imitation, and is unsurprisingly tremendous. Colm Meaney is, well, the same; O’Brien is O’Brien no matter what universe you visit.
This episode makes use of the show’s backstory, both with the original Trek and the history of the Cardassian/Bajoran conflict, to help shore up the reality of its premise, but it’s also, for all the death and despair, something of a lark. Our Kira takes in everything with the solemnity of someone who knows the horrors of unfettered force all too well, and her relationship with the Other Kira is complex and strangely sad. While the episode never manages the delirious camp of “Mirror, Mirror” (a shift in the mines is no replacement for the agony booth), it gets a lot of mileage out of Kira’s soulful expression, and her wiliness in arranging for her and Bashir’s escape. There’s even a chance that she and the doctor have the same potentially positive effect on the locals as Kirk did in his time, although who knows how badly that will get corrupted once our heroes are gone. Regardless, the very nature of the premise prevents us from getting too worked up. The Other Quark is executed; Bashir shoots the Other Odo, which causes him to explode; and the Other Sisko finds his spine after some prompting from Kira, and he and the Other O’Brien flee the station, presumably to go have adventures. It’s all thrilling and neat, and in the end, Bashir and Kira make it back home safe and sound. “Crossover” is a fine example of what a show can do when it’s willing to loosen up a bit, paying homage to TOS while still managing to strike its own unique tone.
- Curiously, the Other Garak isn’t all that interesting; he’s a plotter and a sneak, but in a standard-issue subordinate kind of way. I guess the character works best when we really don’t know exactly whose side he’s on.
- Between her bath here and her lounging outfit in “The Collaborator,” this appears to be the week Nana Visitor reminds us that she’s comfortable with her body. (And none of this comes across as exploitative, either; Kira is such a strong character that she’s very clearly aware and in charge of her sexuality.)
- Every time I hear “Terek Nor,” I think “Tech Noir,” the goofy cyberpunk club where Sarah Connor met the Terminator for the first time. But maybe that's just me.
- Whole lot of Dutch tilts on display.
- The one part of this that struck me as a bit convenient is the fact that while Kirk’s exploits in the Mirror Universe are known on both sides of the divide, no one’s ever tried to repeat his experience before. Other Kira (or Mirror Kira, if you like) even tells our Kira that transporters were specifically designed to prevent any more crossovers after Kirk’s visit, which is impressive.
“The Collaborator” (season 2, episode 24; originally aired 5/22/1994)
In which Kira has a hard time standing by her man
Vedek Bareil isn’t the most dynamic recurring character on DS9. He’s not even in the top ten. Philip Anglim plays his role with a slow stoicism which is presumably meant to indicate inner peace, but reads like heavily sedated wood. As such, episodes like this one which require him to serve as an emotional focal point don’t connect as strongly as they might. It’s not just the stolidity. Bareil is calm and impassive, and doesn’t say a whole lot. Even if we overlook the fact that the actor doesn’t really have the presence to carry off this much quiet, that still means the character isn’t prone to sharing his inner needs. Much of the mystery of “The Collaborator” hinges on Kira’s efforts to discover Bareil’s secrets. She’s terrified a man she believes in, and has come to love, might have betrayed everything she stands for. But it’s hard to get worked up about the Vedek’s fate, even when he’s getting unsettling visions form the Prophets about suicide and snakes and knife wounds. Bareil is just too unflappable to care about, and his decision to follow the visions and withdraw himself from contention for the role of Kai is, while explicable, not particularly interesting.
Thankfully, Bareil isn’t the protagonist of the hour; Kira is, and her problems come through as clear as always. The vote for Kai is coming up, and all signs point to Bareil beating Winn for the position. Winn being the lovely, kind, and thoughtful Bajoran that she is, she decides to pop up to the station and try and smooth things over with Sisko, presumably to give herself a little more leverage with the other Vedeks. While she’s on board, a Bajoran recognizes another Bajoran named Kubus Oak crossing the promenade. Kubus was part of the Bajoran government during the Cardassian occupation, and as part of the treaty between Bajor and Cardassia, all such collaborators are permanently exiled from their home. He tries to argue with Kira, but she, unsurprisingly, won’t hear it. Things get really interesting, though, when Vedek Winn decides to grant Kubus sanctuary aboard her ship and free passage to Bajor. Kira is suspicious, and for good reason; Winn isn’t simply being kind. Kubus swears that during the occupation, he heard Vedek Bareil speaking with Prylar Bek, a station official who revealed the location of Bajoran freedom fighters (including Kai Opaka’s son) to the Cardassians. Kubus believes Bareil ordered that Bek give up the information, thus ensuring the deaths of 200 rebels.
The basic idea is that Winn thinks she has proof that Bareil worked the Cardassians, and Kira is determined to disprove her evidence, despite the fact that Bareil doesn’t seem all that worked up about the accusation. Winn’s behavior is to be expected. She’s as self-centered and scheming as ever, sucking up to Sisko in a way that implies the two have long been the closest of friends, and calling Kira “child” in way you know really means “fuck off.” She still believes the position of Kai is her Prophet-given right, and she’ll do anything in her power to make it happen. Kubus’s testimony isn’t airtight, but it’s enough to create doubt, and with the odds against her, doubt is all Winn can really ask for.
What makes this interesting is what Kira does. Of course she tries to find evidence clearing Bareil’s name; even if she had no connection with the Vedek, her dislike of Winn would drive her to investigate. The problem is, as soon as she hears what Kubus has to say, the doubts start popping up. Not because Kubus is a reliable witness, or that she’d suspected Bareil before, but because she expects betrayal. It’s something that happens in relationships, especially in the early stages—as soon as we become vulnerable to someone, as soon as we care enough that they can hurt us, we start waiting for the other shoe to drop, presumably on our heads. After a lifetime of fighting an entrenched enemy, living in a world where getting close to someone meant another weak point the Cardassians could exploit, it makes sense that Kira would have trust issues. The episode doesn’t even make a big deal out of it. First she has her doubts, and then, as she does her own digging and finds records tampered with and suggestive evidence, those doubts get deeper, until they become practical certainties. The paradox is, the more she trusted Bareil, the more she was willing to commit to him, the easier it becomes to believe the worst. “I love him,” she tells Odo, but only after she’s already started to think he’s guilty. On another show, this might look like careless characterization—Kira has to be suspicious, or else the episode doesn’t really have a middle. But here, it fits with what we know of her.
While this is going on, Bareil keeps having his visions, and as narrative directions go, it’s an unusual choice. Most of the impact of “The Collaborator” comes from Kira, because she’s the only one we see have an arc, but it didn’t have to be that way. Over the course of the episode, Bareil is first nudged, and then prodded, and finally driven to giving up a position he’s spent presumably most of his life pursuing. In his first scenes with Kira, he seems hopeful about the coming election, modest but comfortable in his potential for success. But by the end, he drops out of the race, a decision which comes partly from his own conscience, and partly in response to the Prophets’ guidance. While we see that guidance for ourselves—a series of dream-like sequences full of symbol logic and foreboding—we don’t see Bareil shift from the man he is at the beginning of the episode to the man he is at the end. While the visions themselves are compelling, they don’t take the place of actual character development, which means the images gradually lose their impact. I’m growing to appreciate the show’s occasional attempts at mysticism, and I especially like the idea of Bareil getting powerful, if confusing, lessons from above. I just wish we got to see him putting those lessons together.
So Vedek Winn becomes Kai Winn, which is utterly terrifying. At first, Kira thinks Bareil stepped aside to hide his complicity in the massacre of freedom fighters, an assumption Bareil is all too happy to confirm. But she doesn’t some more digging, and learns that Bareil is lying; he was away the week before the massacre, and couldn’t have given Prylar Bek (who killed himself, by the way) the order to reveal the location of the fighters to the Cardassians. When Kira confronts him with this, Bareil explains the truth. It was Kai Opaka herself who’d ordered the information released, because the Cardassians had threatened to kill a thousand innocent Bajorans if they didn’t get what they wanted. She gave up her son to protect others, but of course this could never come out, because it would destroy Bajor—their most beloved religious leader, a collaborator? Bareil stood aside and allowed Winn’s ascension because it was the only way he could protect Opaka’s legacy. He and Kira resume their relationship, and everything is fine, except a greedy villain has the most powerful religious position on the planet, and Kira now knows just how easy it is to lose everything. As if she had ever forgotten.
- Odo gets flustered when Kira tells him she loves Bareil. Is this the first hint we’ve had that Odo’s feelings for Kira may go beyond friendship? I think maybe.
- I loathe Winn. Just wanted to reiterate that.
Next week: O’Brien faces “The Tribunal,” and the Dominion makes itself known in “The Jem’Hadar,” as we close out the second season, and prepare for our summer hiatus.