In principle, I'm a fan. I think it's great. It has a powerful central idea and it feels like a story with a point, unlike DS9's last mirror universe episode, Crossover. Unfortunately, though, I have a problem with Avery Brooks.
It's another mirror universe episode, obviously, the second in Deep Space Nine and chronologically the fifth in Star Trek (depending on how you count it). I remember when that universe was cool. It's been gutted. Most of the mirror-regulars are resistance fighters against the Alliance of Evil Aliens, i.e. it's standard SF with nothing to challenge the audience or invert the expected moral order. That's true of Sisko, Bashir, Dax, "Smiley" O'Brien, Tuvok (eh?) and Rom, although there's a twist in one of those. Yes, that's Voyager's Tuvok, by the way. Admittedly Sisko's ex-wife (still alive in that universe) is working for the Alliance, but only out of misplaced idealism and she's Still A Nice Person.
The baddies are the same ones we saw last time, i.e. Intendant Kira Nerys and her sidekick Garak. Nana Visitor's going all-out as mirror-Kira once again and I thought she was a lot of fun, but she's being used as a panto villain. She's introduced in a Cleopatra outfit, being luridly bi-erotic with her attendants, which sets the tone.
The plot's great, though. To quote Ira Steven Behr:
"We certainly had enough stuff that could have kept that show going another hour. I thought the Sisko/Jennifer relationship was interesting. It was a nice way to bring Jennifer back, and I think we'll meet her again. Jake is going to have to see her at some point. The action stuff was pretty cool. I thought that the look of the show was good. My only complaint is that we had to cram so much into too little time."
What's more, he's right. Sisko gets kidnapped in our universe by Smiley in the pre-credits sequence, which is a great opening. (That sequence also gives some screen time to the regulars whose mirror equivalents got killed in Crossover.) Now stuck in the mirror universe, our Sisko explains that all this isn't his problem, that he doesn't really care and that he'd like to go home, please... only to be asked to save his wife. In our universe, Jennifer Sisko died five years ago. Here, she's still alive, but unfortunately there are lots of people who want her dead, because she's working on a trans-spectral sensor array that would let the Alliance crush the Rebellion. (I feel as if I'm talking about Star Wars.) If Sisko doesn't act, either the rebels will kill his ex-wife or else fail in the attempt and end up getting annihilated.
This is fantastic. It should be emotionally intense, since Sisko's going to be dealing with his dead wife, who thinks he's a sleazy cheating pirate. What's more, this will mean impersonating his dead scumbag mirror counterpart and going up against a tyrannical empire of slavers.
However that's not accounting for Brooks.
Does he ham it up this much in his regular episodes, or only when he's impersonating his mirror counterpart? He's actively off-putting. He'll throw in distracting pauses, especially when purring in that rich, deep voice of his. It's the kind of line delivery that could superficially be described as Shatneresque, except that Shatner completely filled his ripe performance, whereas Avery's is empty.
Sometimes he's acceptable. At other times, he's annoying and makes it harder to concentrate on what's going on. Above all, though, check out what should have been the episode's high point, his scenes with his ex-wife. These should have been mesmerising, but they're not. They're almost worthless. They're a void where the episode's heart should have been. Brooks's mannered performance in their big scene only convinced me that he was a human being about 20% of the time, although there's nothing special about Felecia M. Bell's performance either.
Sisko in that scene should have been a tornado of emotion, but Brooks is flat. He's not giving us the tensions and emotions that his character couldn't not be feeling.
That said, though, the scene's also being undermined by the plot logic. Why doesn't Ben Sisko just tell Jennifer that he's his own alt-universe counterpart? (It can't be because he's worried about her not believing him, because everyone and his dog knew all about mirror universes in Crossover. Besides, Jennifer's such an amazing scientist that she's the only person in the galaxy who can finish building a nearly complete sensor device. The Alliance has no one else who knows science, or can even read notes.) The answer to this question is, of course, because the script's tying itself in knots trying to set up Jennifer Sisko realising for herself at the end that this isn't her Ben. Nice moment, shame about the bad logic that led to it. There's also the more obvious question of why Sisko didn't point out that the Resistance are planning to try to assassinate Jennifer if his mission fails. I'm sure this news wouldn't have surprised her, but it seems at least basic courtesy to pass on that kind of information.
I also didn't buy Intendant Kira not having Smiley executed. That's what she'd been going to do at the end of Crossover, when he escaped. (Anti-reason for this: the showrunners are trying to avoid the mistake they made last time, i.e. killing too many regulars.)
That said, though, I'm fine with O'Brien's magic cylinder-waving seeming to violate Crossover's claim that they'd made it impossible to use transporters to jump between universes. Firstly, he's O'Brien and hence clever. Secondly, I hadn't believed the claim in Crossover in the first place.
I have big problems with this episode, but in some ways it's superb. I'd be a huge Star Trek fan if its storylines always had this much punch. It's just that the episode also has crippling flaws, not to mention logic defects and other such niggles. Notice the black Americans saying to each other, "The way I see it, freedom is a whole lot better than slavery." Mmmm, subtle. Better performances could have made that less sledgehammer-like, but it's also showing how far these mirror universe episodes have travelled from their subversive evil starting point.
It's still great in important ways, though. Broken and frustrating, but nonetheless great.