WARNING: This article contains large, massive spoiler material for DS9's "Through the Looking Glass". Proceed with caution.
In brief: A fun romp, but about as deep as a piece of tissue paper.
Brief summary: Sisko finds himself taken captive and brought to an alternate universe, where he must take the place of his other self long enough to save a Terran rebellion.
I try to look at each episode individually when reviewing it, as a rule, and not judge it based on what's gone before. However, sequels are a very arguable exception, in my view -- and given that "Through the Looking Glass" depends so heavily on last season's "Crossover", comparisons seem pretty justified in this instance. Unfortunately, those comparisons make "Through the Looking Glass" come up a little short.
"Crossover" managed to combine the novelty factor of seeing everyone behave differently with some keen insights into just how the characters had changed so much. Three of the most important characters in the mirror-universe at that time -- Sisko, Kira, and O'Brien -- had a line that enlightened the viewer so much about what made them tick that little else was necessary. In Sisko's case, it was the "you're looking in the wrong place for a hero, MA'AM."; in Kira's it was "if you [our Kira] don't love me, who will?" or words to that effect; and in O'Brien's case we had "I AM a decent man!" All three of those lines and their surrounding situations did so much to delineate their respective characters that we actually wound up feeling for them while breathing sighs of relief we weren't in their shoes.
Here, though, none of the mirror-characters -- not O'Brien, not Kira, not Dax, not Rom -- gave us any insight into how their lives might have turned out or how different they really were from the characters we already know. Instead, many of them became stock characters for a standard adventure. We had The Wife; The Mistress; The Gadgeteer; The Spy; The Villains; and not much more.
That's a shame, because this show could have been absolutely tremendous with some depth. As it is, it was still pretty entertaining, but the what-might-have-beens tend to have a somewhat negative impact on the whole thing.
There were some nice touches scattered throughout the episode which made it work fairly well. First is the irony of having the Terran rebel bases located in the Badlands; after all the time Sisko's taken to try to stop other rebellions located in it, you'd think he'd know fairly well about hiding places, after all. Second, and far stronger, is the use of Rom as "betrayer" of both sides -- while his initial attempt to turn in Sisko seemed to fit with what we knew about "our" Ferengi, it seemed odd for someone so vengeance-ridden to turn Sisko in. Like Kira, I was completely fooled until it became more obvious that the entire situation was a setup; and assuming it makes sense in retrospect, I rather like being fooled.
Of course, there were a few other points that weren't so well justified. Rom's presence is understandable given what happened to Quark in "Crossover" -- but how did Dax get there? Or Bashir? One of the strengths of "Crossover" was that steps were taken not to give every single regular a counterpart -- while many of them did, less essential characters such as Bashir, Dax and Rom did not. Here, though, they suddenly appear without warning or explanation, and it appears we're just meant to accept them. (What's more, we're meant to believe that mirror-Sisko knew both of them for quite a while; Dax was apparently part of his pirate crew.) That doesn't ring true with me, and seemed more of an excuse to make sure every performer had some screen time. All three of the characters I've mentioned were well played, certainly; but why were they there? [The clincher to this, of course, was including VOY's Tuvok in the mirror universe, but that was cute enough that I'm willing to overlook it.]
[It's also worth noting at this point that "Smiley" O'Brien bears little resemblance in outlook to the one we saw a year ago. A year of war and freedom might do that to a person, but I'm not certain I agree with a change as radical as what we were given.]
The only major disappointments in terms of the characters were Kira and Garak. While Garak was somewhat thuggish in "Crossover" as well, here he was almost reduced to being someone bellowing "pursue!" and making threats, which is a major waste of both the character's and the actor's talents. As for Kira -- well, where we once had a strutting ruler who was more desperate for affection than she ever let on, we now had someone primarily cast as Lecherous Bitch-Goddess 101. Bits of the mirror-Kira we knew were let out now and then (particularly the scene between her and Sisko in her quarters), but not nearly enough.
This show, on the other hand, was probably Avery Brooks's to make or break -- and fortunately, he took it and ran with it. Our Sisko settled into his role as his counterpart with startling ease -- perhaps a little frightening in its ease, in fact. (See below for that.) The only time he faltered a bit, not unexpectedly, is when he had to face Jennifer; when facing his crew or anyone who'd seen him more recently than Jennifer had, he was all pirate, all malice, and not at all the reserved commander we're used to. Brooks's talents went a long way here.
One interpretation of Sisko's ease in adapting, of course, is that the entire show could be called Sisko's fantasy. Think about it -- he got to play pirate, bare his teeth and snarl at people, sleep with Dax, flirt with Kira, mend fences with his late wife, annoy Garak, punch out Bashir, and all without any repercussions from people he'd actually have to deal with again. Step right up, folks; line forms on the left for anyone else who wants in. [Frankly, I have to note that if I were faced with Dax in a tank-top, I probably wouldn't resist too much either ... but that's another issue entirely. :-) ]
Sisko's reconnection with Jennifer was a solid piece of work on the whole, with him knowing just the right buttons to press to spark her conscience anew. I'm not sure Felecia M. Bell did such a good job as Jennifer earlier on in the show, but she seemed fine once the Siskos were reunited. The moment where Sisko points out that she may still be fighting against him instead of choosing an actual side was a particularly strong one.
As for the finale, it was a good pulp-adventure ending for a good pulp-adventure story. Sisko manages to outwit his adversary in the very moment of her victory, and gets to watch all the arrogance and gloating drain out of her face when she realizes he's got her dead to rights. It may not be high art, but it works, and was great fun. Two points are particularly worth noting there -- the first and more obvious is that Kira's oath of vengeance is a clear indication of how the next mirror-tale might be brought to light, and the second is that this is two out of two occasions, from Kira's point of view, that "her" Sisko has foiled her with the phrase "I changed it". Here it was the code; earlier it was his mind. Both were intriguing.
The actual ending itself was a little sudden for my tastes. While we didn't need to see much of Sisko's return to his own universe, I think a little bit would have been nice; as it is, we've no idea how everyone on the station was dealing with his disappearance, or even if anyone figured out where he might have been taken to. (After all, if Sisko figured it out, you'd think Kira or Bashir would as well. Then again, O'Brien's been doubled up so many times it's a wonder we haven't seen a visit to a universe solely populated by his duplicates. I'd imagine
it's called the Smileyverse...)
That would seem to take care of the major points. Despite some of the negative points I've made here, I did enjoy "Through the Looking Glass" quite a bit. It was an extremely fun bit of fluff. The only frustration is that it could have been a lot more than just fun fluff.
So, some short takes:
-- I'm a little perplexed about how O'Brien actually got through to our universe. He appeared to be playing around with the transporters to do it -- but wasn't it said back in "Crossover" that transporter technology was altered to make that impossible? Sure, someone well versed could probably get around that ... but I don't think that describes Smiley.
-- My, but we were reminded of "Star Wars" early on with some of the dialogue. First we had O'Brien saying that a breakthrough "would be the end of the Rebellion", prompting us to ask if it had already seen the end of Kenobi. :-) Then, Kira talks about being "able to locate the rebel bases" -- and finally, the "I still hate you"/"I know" exchange between Jennifer and Sisko strikes me as eerily akin to various Han/Leia exchanges. All we needed was for Garak to say that they were prepared to "crush the rebels with one swift stroke" and everything would be complete.
-- Jennifer obviously knows Sisko isn't her universe's Sisko, but I got the impression Dax might as well. She certainly reacted strongly when he ordered her to put her phaser down -- why?
That about covers it. So, to wrap up:
Writing: Fun for what it was; disappointing for what it could have been.
Directing: Solid and entertaining; everything paced itself out well.
Acting: Bell seemed a little off early on (a lot of staring), but on the whole everything was good.
OVERALL: An 8. Not bad.
Romulans, Cardassians, and Garak contribute to all hell breaking loose.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Do I get a vote?"
"Of course you do. It just doesn't count."
-- Sisko and Kira