Although its sophomore season did a much better job of balancing self-interrogation with nostalgia for Star Trek’s past, the debut season of Discovery creatively flatlined with its full-on retreat into the Mirror Universe. Even before original series architect Bryan Fuller left the show, there were plans to go to Trek’s iconic alt-reality...but they sound so much more fascinating than MAGA Captains.
Speaking on the 400th episode of Robert Meyer Burnett’s Robservations series, Fuller briefly touched upon his more abstracted approach to Star Trek that was in the works when he was first developing what would become Discovery. In particular, he went into a detailed examination of how he had intended to approach our heroes visiting the crueller, harsher, yet still eerily familiar world of the Mirror Universe, in ways that felt both reflective of our current climate and honoring what made the Mirror Universe such a fearsome and compelling concept in the first place.
“The thing that really fascinated me in sitting down and crafting the story for Discovery was the human condition,” Fuller began. “I thought that there are elements in the Mirror Universe that we have seen that have sort of boiled to the broadest ends of the spectrum and everything felt really binary. And what I really wanted to do in setting out was looking at the minutiae of simple decisions that have a cascade effect on our lives. So, it’s not about gold lamé sashes and goatees versus no sash and clean-shaven. It is more about we are at forks in the road every moment of our lives and we either go left or right.”
For Fuller, what that meant was less a simplistic story of the Discovery crew facing off against their Terran Empire counterparts (as we ultimately got in the final show), but instead something that felt more reflective about the emotional questions that come from being faced with a literal representation of the alternative to every moral choice they’ve ever made.
“It makes me think of Joe Menosky’s speech in [the Star Trek: Voyager episode] ‘Latent Image,’” Fuller went on to say, drawing upon comparisons to other times Star Trek has engaged with this kind moralistic thought experiment. “The Doctor has a Sophie’s Choice, he can only save one life. And he chose Ensign Harry Kim versus this other ensign and it is a split-decision, and it causes his entire program to unravel because he can’t handle how his choice was always going to cost a life. It was his Kobayashi Maru. So, there was something in the mistakes made by Burnham in ‘Battle of the Binary Stars’ that had this ripple, but the Mirror Universe was always meant to be an exploration of a small step in a different direction.”
Ultimately, unlike what we got on Discovery, this would’ve looked quite dissimilar to what Star Trek fans might have anticipated when they were told they were getting a Mirror Universe story, akin to what we got with sinister duplicates, fascistic imagery, and yes, even an Agony Booth or six.
“It wasn’t necessarily the Mirror Universe we know from all of the other series,” the producer admitted. “It was something that was closer to our timeline and experience, so you can still recognize the human being and go, ‘What did I do? How did that seem like a good decision for me in that moment and how do I continue with my life forward?’ And everything was a sort of an extrapolation out on that. So, there were things that I wanted the Mirror Universe to function in a narrative exploration of like ‘Oh fuck, if I just didn’t do that one thing, everything would be better,’ as opposed to, ‘I don’t recognize that person, I don’t know who that person is, because they are a diametric opposite of who I am.’”
But while it may not have carried the symbology and iconography of Mirror Universe trappings we’ve come to expect, Fuller’s idea feels right at home with what made the Mirror Universe work as a concept. That original episode in Star Trek is iconic for so much more than just the entire genre of facial hair it introduced into science-fiction pop culture. What made “Mirror Mirror” such incredible television is not just the way our heroes viscerally reacted to the inherent alienness of their alternate selves, but what was also still so chillingly similar about these counterparts too, especially Spock. The Mirror counterparts that were transported over to the prime Trek reality are so quickly detained, because they’re horrifying people incapable of masquerading as good—but Mirror Spock is the real threat, the real scare of it all, because he’s pretty much just actual Spock with his moral core inverted. He’s recognizable as person even while also being entirely unrecognisable in his ethics.
It is that kind of fear that it seems Fuller’s version of the Mirror Universe would’ve likewised examined. It at least says something more about those themes from “Mirror, Mirror” than having the surprise twist of the series be that your show’s captain is actually just the kind of guy who runs around paraphrasing Donald Trump quotes, at least.
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