“The Mirror” is a rather heavy-handed warning about the tendency of revolutions to lead to tyranny and fascism. Airing within two years of Castro’s rise to power in Cuba, Serling is unapologetic about this episode’s presentation of a fictional version of Castro, a new populist cigar-smoking leader of a small Central American country. If Serling was predicting Castro’s quick demise, he was spectacularly wrong.
As a commentary on the political developments in Cuba in the late 50s and early 60s, “The Mirror” may be flawed in ways that go beyond failing as a prediction of Castro’s regime. It presents a revolutionary leader in his first hours in power as a paranoid, delusional monster, whose grip on himself is as tenuous as his grip on the nation he now leads. He possesses a mirror which reflects the intentions of others, or at least their intentions as he interprets them. And when he eventually looks at himself in the mirror, the reflection of himself is a self that is out to get him; and so he self-destructs.
The fact that the episode doesn’t accurately predict the fate of Castro doesn’t mean much. The history of Cuba is just one case, and the events shown in “The Mirror” are another. The question is whether the possible world in “The Mirror” depicts a pattern likely to be actualized. The history of revolutionary governments in Central and South America since the late 50s show some striking similarities to the sequence of events depicted in the episode. That said, even Serling falls victim to Hollywood’s inability to convincingly portray the non-Anglo characters in this story. Among the actors playing Latino characters, just one is a Latino. All the others are Anglo-Americans/Europeans, and it shows, with fake beards and all. The portrayal of extreme behavior, both by the new dictator, and his pathetic henchmen, is a cartoon-ish portrayal of political acts as self-serving, and parochial. Real revolutions are far more complicated.
More philosophically, and less topically, “The Mirror” does have something important to say about the role of reflection in our practical reasoning, of which political reasoning is a part. The new leader, Clementé, begins to reflect from the very beginning of his assent to power. He reflects on his anticipation of this moment, and on what he would do and feel. The outgoing leader reflects on the real motivation of the new leader, which he shares with the defeated leader, and on the pervasive fear that will serve as the real motivator of behavior. Reflection – looking in the mirror – will reveal the true motivations of the crowd, of the lieutenants, and of one’s own self.
Feldman, Leslie Dale, Spaceships and Politics: The Political Theory of Rod Serling (Rowman & Littlefield, 2010)