The Final Frontier … for Psychoanalysis?

The original series of Star Trek has garnered enormous amounts of attention among a wide audience since its initial airing in the 1960s.  Because the series has been attended to by so many fans and critics over the years, it is unsurprising that there have been many modes of criticism to dive into the series’ cherished content.

Originally aired in 1967, the Star Trek episode “Mirror Mirror,” can be distinctly understood in terms of Freud’s structural model and the clash between the id and the superego. Due to an ion storm and transporter malfunction, medical officer Leonard McCoy, chief engineer Mr. Scott, communications officer Nyota Uhura, and Captain James Kirk are dropped in a parallel “mirror” universe while their doubles are transported to the familiar universe.  In this mirror universe, similar to Freud’s idea of the uncanny, the familiar Enterprise crew and Federation are made unfamiliar and the friendly made sinister.  Typically the characters in the familiar Star Trek universe are thoughtful, driven, and (despite later series’ jokes at Kirk’s expense for failing at this) linked to a sense of duty to the benevolent Federation.  However in the mirrorverse, expressions of male dominance, violence, competition, and sexualization abound, making it a veritable playground of Freud’s id as opposed to the “moralizing conscience” of the superego represented by the familiar universe (Parker, 123).  By Freud’s definition, “the id is a seething cauldron of basic drives in their primitive, selfish and unorganized state,” (Parker, 123). For Freud, this included urges revolving around violence and sexuality.  In the most immediate way, we can understand the representation of the id in the mirrorverse as Kirk first does through differences in costuming. The conservative and plain Starfleet uniforms in the familiar Star Trek universe are placed into unsettling contrast with the phallic representations and heightened sexuality intrinsic to the mirrorverse uniforms.

starfleet uniforms typical

 Typical Starfleet Uniforms Characters from left to right: Mr. Scott, Mr. Spock, Captain Kirk, Leonard McCoy, Nyota Uhura, and Chekov.

This image is representative of the typical uniform worn by the characters while they roam the Enterprise and carry out their individual duties.  These costumes are notable in their simplicity.

mirror verse kirk and spock sword view

Mirrorverse Uniforms Characters from left to right: Mirror Spock, and Captain Kirk (minor characters behind)


The costuming in the mirrorverse is notably different.  One of the most personally startling differences is the addition of Spock’s facial hair.  Facial hair may in this case be representative of heightened masculinity and masculine expression.  This is distinctly different from the way that the familiar Spock grooms himself; the half-vulcan always maintains a well-groomed and completely shaven appearance, he also rarely expresses overtly masculine or dominant traits (only doing so when under the influence of a mind-altering pollen in the episode “This Side of Paradise”).  The other elements of costuming presented here are also indicative of expressions of masculinity and dominance which are absent from the familiar universe costuming.  The presence of swords in particular as a phallic representation is key to understanding the expression of id in the mirrorverse.  All high-ranking members of the crew carry these highly-sexualized weapons with them while on the deck of the Enterprise whereas the familiar crew does not typically do so with their phasers.  There is also the presence of the sashes with their long, hanging lengths of fabric in the front of the uniform and the decorative medals which display presumably masculine accomplishments.

In addition to overtly masculine and phallic traits of the costuming, there are also heavy elements of sexualization in some of the costumes as may be seen in the following screencap:

mirror sexualized uhura 2

Sexualized Uhura and Kirk Characters from left to right: Uhura, Kirk, McCoy, Mr. Scott

Here both Uhura and Kirk are sexualized in different ways according to their gender. Kirk’s arms, as a traditionally attractive part of a man, are exposed and highlighted by the lack of sleeves on the mirror costume.  Uhura’s midsection and legs, traditionally attractive parts of a woman, are also bared in an extremely revealing uniform.  This suggests a heightened sexuality that is also intrinsic to the mirrorverse and common to our understanding of the id.

The urge for display of phallic, sexualized, and overtly dominant features in the dress of the mirror characters is key to understanding them as direct representations of the familiar characters’ repressed urges in the id.  Though there is more to explore in this episode than costuming, the differences in dress of the characters is a surprisingly complete start to comprehending the differences between the superego-driven familiar universe and the id-driven mirrorverse.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: