The USS Enterprise is in orbit of a planet ruled by the peaceful Halkans. A landing party consisting of Captain Kirk, Doctor McCoy, Lieutenant Uhura, and Scotty are on the planet to convince the Halkans to allow the Federation mining rights. The inhabitants of the planet, however, are convinced that Humans Are the Real Monsters, and despite Kirk's assertion that if the answer is "no" then they will simply be on their way without troubling the Halkans further, the aliens remain entirely unconvinced.
The landing party beam back to the Enterprise. But it all goes horribly wrong, and our heroes find themselves Trapped in Another World. In this Alternate Universe there exists not a peaceful confederation of planets, but instead an Evil Empire that slashes and burns its way across the galaxy. The first and most obvious change is that Spock has got a goatee beard; but there are other signs: nearly all the walls of the Enterprise are emblazoned with a logo of a sword through the planet Earth, and there are also agony booths around, used for punishing misbehaviour among the crew.
Finally finding a moment to take refuge alone, our four man crew attempt to figure out what happened. They reason that an ion storm around the planet disrupted the transporter and sent them to a Mirror Universe by accident, swapping them with their own counterparts from this universe. They make a plan to return home, replicating the unique situation that brought them here. But until then they will need to try and blend in as best they can. (As for the unsettling thought of what their counterparts are doing, it later turns out that Spock back in their own dimension has it under control; their barbaric character was immediately obvious to him and he had them hauled to the brig right away.)
In his quarters, Captain Kirk meets Marlena Moreau, who introduces herself as "the Captain's woman". He resists the temptation to Boldly Come, instead subtly pressing her for information. Moreau introduces Kirk to the real source of his evil counterpart's power: the Tantalus field, a device which he stole from an alien planet, and which allows him to evaporate people at the touch of a button. Kirk, naturally, resists the temptation to push it and see what happens.
Our crew put their plan into action. While Lieutenant Uhura distracts Mirror Sulu from his security monitoring board, Scotty shorts out the main phaser couplings and siphons power off to the transporter. Kirk, in the meantime, has to deal with an assassination attempt by Mirror Chekov, and another possible attempt from Mirror Spock. In the sickbay, a fight breaks out between the crew and Mirror Sulu's gang of thugs. Marlena Moreau evens the odds by using the Tantalus field to remove Mirror Sulu's gang, and our crew triumph. But Mirror Spock arrives on the scene. His curiosity about the crew's bizarre behaviour since returning from the surface has been piqued, and he performs a Mind Rape on the doctor to get the full story.
Moreau guides Kirk to the transporter room, but then performs a HeelFace Turn, deciding that she would rather come back to the prime universe alongside Kirk. To this end she pulls a phaser on him and starts making demands. Captain Kirk Wouldn't Hit a Girl, but thankfully he's not required to, because Lieutenant Uhura sneaks up behind Moreau and instigates a Designated Girl Fight (which she wins). One further obstacle comes in the form of Mirror Spock, who arrives on the scene alongside the crew...
- Kirk: You're a man of integrity in both universes, Mister Spock.Mirror Spock: You must return to your universe. I must have my captain back. I shall operate the transporter. You have two minutes and ten seconds.Kirk: In that time I have something to say. How long before the Halkan prediction of galactic revolt is realised?Mirror Spock: Approximately two hundred and forty years.Kirk: The inevitable outcome?Mirror Spock: The Empire shall be overthrown, of course.Kirk: The illogic of waste, Mister Spock. The waste of lives, potential, resources, time. I submit to you that your Empire is illogical because it cannot endure. I submit that you are illogical to be a willing part of it.Mirror Spock: You have one minute and twenty-three seconds.Kirk: If change is inevitable, predictable, beneficial, doesn't logic demand that you be a part of it?Mirror Spock: One man cannot summon the future.Kirk: But one man can change the present. Be the captain of this Enterprise, Mister Spock. Find a logical reason for sparing the Halkans and make it stick. Push till it gives. You can defend yourself better than any man in the fleet.Scotty: Captain, get in the chamber!Kirk: What about it, Spock?Mirror Spock: A man must also have the power.Kirk: In my cabin is a device that will make you invincible.Mirror Spock: Indeed?Mirror Spock: It is time.Kirk: In every revolution, there's one man with a vision.Mirror Spock: Captain Kirk, I shall consider it.
Mirror Spock activates the transporter and sends them home. Back in the prime universe, Captain Kirk goes over the events they have experienced, and is then surprised to discover that a new Lieutenant named Marlena Moreau is among his crew. But he stops just short of telling her "And You Were There".
The website The Agony Booth is named after the torture device featured in this episode.
- Actual Pacifist: The Halkans. Interestingly, they're like this in the Mirror Universe as well.
- Agony Beam: Both the Agony Booth and the Agonizer are classic examples.
- Almighty Janitor: Mirror Spock rather enjoys his duties as a science officer, and doesn't terribly want to take Kirk's job because it would mean spending less time on his research and more time having to deal with The Chains of Commanding, to say nothing of how it would make him a bigger target.
- Bare Your Midriff: The female uniforms. Uhura's very toned abs.
- Beard of Evil: The Trope Maker and the Trope Namer. Ironically, Mirror Spock is just about the least evil crewman in the Mirror Universe, though his logical mindset still masks a sociopathic indifference to human emotion.
- Bribe Backfire: Mirror Kirk offers our Spock money, a starship command, or whatever else in exchange for releasing him from the brig. Spock, of course, isn't even slightly tempted.
- Chastity Dagger: Not that women in the Mirror Starfleet are chaste, but they're quite likely to have to defend themselves against unwanted male attention.
- Continuity Nod: Captain Pike is mentioned, as Mirror Kirk killed him to get his job.
- Dare to Be Badass: Kirk's final speech to Mirror-Spock dares him to change the illogical, wasteful cruelty of the Empire into something better.
- A Day in the Limelight: For Uhura, along with (Mirror) Sulu and Chekov. Not for nothing is this episode considered one of the show's finest ensemble pieces.
- Deadpan Snarker: Kirk gets a moment when he returns to his quarters after Mirror Chekov tries to assassinate him.McCoy: [Touching Kirk's split lip] What's this?Kirk: It's called "blood."
- Description Cut: Kirk ominously ponders what horrors their evil counterparts are wreaking on their Enterprise where they would have full run of the ship. Cut to the prime Enterprise where they are getting tossed into the brig by a thoroughly unperturbed Spock, who apparently identified the doubles immediately.
- Designated Girl Fight: Uhura and Marlena. Doubles as a Curb-Stomp Battle, as Uhura totally owns Marlena from the word "go".
- Despotism Justifies the Means: Discussed by Mirror-Spock."Terror must be maintained or the Empire is doomed."
- Determined Doctor: Despite Kirk having had to knock Mirror Spock out when he risked interfering in their plan to return home, McCoy insists on saving him — which pays off for them in the end.
- Didn't Think This Through: When Mirror!Sulu tries to have Kirk killed, he brought three Red Shirts armed with phasers to do the deed, and wasn't equipped with the same. Then the latter are quickly removed from the equation, leaving him outnumbered four-to-one with only a knife on hand ... which actually worked in his favor; if he'd brought a phaser, Marlena likely would have eliminated him with the Tantalus Field, as opposed to Kirk KO'ing him.
- Disintegrator Ray: The Tantalus Field, the reason Kirk's still in office despite everyone and their dog trying to assassinate him for a promotion.
- Doppelgänger Gets Same Sentiment:
- Kirk shows more softness than one would expect toward the Mirror Spock, who (despite being better than Mirror Kirk) is as ruthless as one would expect from the Mirrorverse. This probably has something to do with his close relationship to his own Spock. Kirk even comments on how alike they are.
- There are some suggestions that this is reciprocated - Mirror!Spock seems quite willing to forgive Prime!Kirk for nearly killing him. Besides, even in the Mirror Verse, apparently Kirk and Spock share some kind of relation, considering how Mirror!Spock seemed genuinely reluctant to obey the order to kill Kirk, in fact, even warned him about it at considerable risk to his own life.
- Another example appeared in the script and the James Blish novelization but not the episode. In this version, Mirror Chekov hit on Uhura, not Mirror Sulu, and when Uhura got home, Chekov Prime suffered her displaced irritation, much to his confusion.
- The Empire: The Terran Empire, in obvious contrast to The Federation.
- Escort Distraction: Although not really escorting him per se, Lieutenant Uhara does try to keep Mirror Sulu distracted by constantly appraising him, so he won't notice Scott disabling the ship's phasers.
- Evil Cannot Comprehend Good:
- While the crew from our universe are able to blend in fairly successfully, the Mirror crew who were brought over to the Prime universe were immediately caught.Spock: It was far easier for you as civilized men to act as barbarians, than for them as barbarians to act like civilized men.
- Mirror Spock's complete lack of understanding why Kirk left him alive is the reason behind him performing a forced mind meld on McCoy.
- While the crew from our universe are able to blend in fairly successfully, the Mirror crew who were brought over to the Prime universe were immediately caught.
- Evil Is Hammy: Kirk is already hammy enough, but Mirror Kirk shouts with every sentence. Though, this could possibly be justified, as from his perspective, he's dealing with a mutiny by his First Officer.
- Evil Twin: All the Mirror Universe versions of the Enterprise crew. The Halkans appear to be about the same, though their Mirror counterparts are more resigned to their fate.
- Exact Words: Captain Kirk tricks Marlena by saying things that are perfectly accurate descriptions of his plans, but are vague enough that Marlena interprets them to mean that he's got an Evil Plan going on.
- Fanservice: Both male and female. Most notable are Uhura and Marlena in their barely there uniforms, but '60s Shatner had some nice arms.
- The Fettered: Probably best exemplified by this bit of dialogue:Halkan: Captain, you do have the might to force the crystals from us.Kirk: But we won't. Consider that.
- First-Name Basis: This is the only Original Series episode in which Scotty calls Kirk "Jim".
- Gender Flip: The ISS Enterprise has a masculine computer voice, in contrast to the feminine voice on the USS Enterprise.
- Good Scars, Evil Scars: Mirror Sulu definitely has the 'evil' kind.
- Human Aliens: The only thing that differentiates the Halkans from humans is a blue spot on their foreheads.
- Humans Are the Real Monsters: The Halkans believe so. In the Prime Universe, they're wrong. In the Mirror Universe, they're right. Spock has his own take on that subject, of course.Spock: They were brutal, savage, unprincipled, uncivilized, treacherous ... in every way, splendid examples of Homo sapiens; the very flower of humanity. I found them quite refreshing.Kirk [Double Take]: I'm not sure, but I think we've just been insulted.McCoy: I'm sure.
- "I Can't Look!" Gesture: Uhura can't stand to watch Mirror!Kyle suffer the agonizer treatment.
- I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder: As Scotty needs help, McCoy says "I'm a doctor, not an engineer", but Scotty retorts "Now, you're an engineer."
- Innocuously Important Episode: The Mirror Universe seems like yet another one-off thing from '60s Trek...until Star Trek: Deep Space Nine revisits it, followed by Star Trek: Enterprise and Star Trek: Discovery.
- In Spite of a Nail: In the alternate universe, there's a repressive Empire in place of the Federation of Planets, but there's still a starship Enterprise with many of the same crew mostly in the same positions. Partly explained by the mechanism of transfer requiring a certain amount of similarity: it could only have happened between two universes which both had a Kirk, a Scotty, a McCoy, and a Uhura doing the same thing at the same time.
- Instant Sedation: Used by McCoy to deal with the guard on the engineering section.
- Kirk Summation: Surprisingly, it actually works.
- Klingon Promotion
- Apparently the only way promotion happens in the Imperial Starfleet. Mirror Kirk himself was promoted by assassinating Mirror Captain Pike. Mirror Sulu and Mirror Chekov both attempt this maneuver in the episode itself, impressive considering it takes place over a few hours!
- Mirror Kirk apparently protects himself from hourly attempts to invoke this trope by using the Tantalus Field to kill anyone who might be plotting against them, wherever they are on the ship.
- Knife Nut: All of the Imperial Starfleet officers carry them as standard weapons. Mirror Sulu seems especially fond of his.
- Large Ham: Most of the Mirror Universe inhabitants, but in his brief appearance, Mirror Kirk takes the cake (surprise, surprise...).Mirror Kirk: I...ORDER YOU...LET ME GO!
- Mind Rape: Mirror Spock takes the capabilities of the mind meld to their worst possible conclusion.
- Mirror Universe: Again, the Trope Namer, as well as the Trope Codifier.
- Unbuilt Trope: This story helped to popularize the Mirror Universe trope, but it didn't take the good-evil reversal as far as later shows would. Spock, despite his mirror-universe Beard of Evil, was "a man of honor in both universes" (though Mirror Spock definitely had a darker personality than his prime counterpart), and the Aliens of the Week, the Halkans, didn't change at all- the only difference with them was that Starfleet wouldn't live up to their fears, while the Terran Empire would.
- More Deadly Than the Male: Marlena doesn't need a knife or a phaser when she can use the Tantalus Field to kill anyone long-distance. Though it should be noted that said field was originally Mirror Kirk's.
- Oh, Crap!:
- Mirror Kyle is terrified when Mirror Spock prepares to punish him for not performing the beam-up as well as he was supposed to.Spock: Your agonizer.
Kyle: No, Mister Spock!
Spock: Your agonizer, please.
Kyle: No, Mister Spock! I tried! I really tried!
- Mirror Sulu reminds Mirror Spock that "the Captain's enemies have a habit of disappearing": and Mirror Spock replies with a line that causes Mirror Sulu to react with a nauseated grimace:"If I am successful, you see yourself a step nearer to the captaincy. I do not want to command the Enterprise. But if it should befall me, I suggest you remember that my operatives would avenge my death: and some of them ... are Vulcans."
- And speaking of "disappearing", when Mirror Marlena uses the Tantalus Field on Sulu's men during his attempt to get rid of both Kirk and Spock, and Mirror Sulu suddenly finds himself outnumbered four to one.
- Mirror Kyle is terrified when Mirror Spock prepares to punish him for not performing the beam-up as well as he was supposed to.
- Plot Armor: This even extends into the Mirror Universe: Mirror Spock, Mirror Sulu, and Mirror Chekov are all spared when by rights they ought to have been killed, solely by virtue of being played by the regular cast. (Although to be fair at least Mirror Chekov is made to suffer, and although Mirror Spock is resuscitated when he is knocked out, Mirror Sulu is simply left unconscious on the floor.)
- Praetorian Guard: Imperial captains have a personal guard to prevent random acts of Klingon Promotion.
- Properly Paranoid: The captain's chair on the ISS Enterprise has the taller back than on the USS Enterprise. Since assassination is a normal means of advancement, the captain needs to protect his back on the bridge.
- Punishment Box: The Agony Booth again.
- Putting on the Reich: The Mirror Universe officers greet one another with the Roman salute (aka the Nazi salute).
- Red Shirt: One element of consistency between the two universes. Two attempts on Kirk's life lead to five redshirts going bye-bye.
- Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: When one of Mirror Chekov's henchmen switches sides, he mentions that while Chekov promised him a promotion to chief, Kirk could make him an officer. Our Kirk approves, then belts him to remind him who's the top dog.
- Sensible Heroes, Skimpy Villains: Girls in the Mirror Enterprise bare their midriffs as well as their legs, and Mirror Kirk's uniform does a nice job of showing off William Shatner's nice chest and arms.
- Slouch of Villainy: The normally uptight, well-disciplined Starfleet Redshirts are seen leaning against the turbolift entrance to the bridge.
- Smug Snake: Mirror Sulu. In every one of his scenes he's up to no good, and he doesn't even try to hide it.
- Sure, Let's Go with That: Marlena suspects that Kirk's unusual behavior is part of a scheme to gain rank and power. Kirk plays along with a technically true statement of his intentions that Marlena interprets to mean that he's planning to take over the Empire.
- Tap on the Head: Subverted: hitting Spock over the head with a vase is noted to be fatal without quick medical intervention.
- Villains Blend in Better: Inverted; see Evil Cannot Comprehend Good.
- You Called Me "X"; It Must Be Serious: This is the only time in both the series and the original movies that Scotty calls Captain Kirk "Jim", when he begs him not to stay behind to operate the transporter. It's not lost on Kirk either, who gently but firmly reaffirms his order.
- What Happened to the Mouse?
- We never see what becomes of the Halkans in either universe, or the deals regarding the dilithium crystals.
- There's no time in the episode to definitively establish what happened to the Mirror landing party after Spock threw them in the brig. However, note that when the Prime party gets home, Spock is waiting for them in the transporter room — with a pair of redshirt guards. He likely deduced how they would return and held the Mirror party waiting on the pad so that they could be exchanged by the transport.