Dec 14, 2020
It’s a wonderful empire: Star Trek: Discovery “Terra Firma, Part 2”
Previously: The Burn’s point of origin was traced back to the Verubin Nebula, and there’s a Kelpien ship inside broadcasting a distress call. Book wanted to make himself useful to Starfleet, so Saru told him to wait for his moment. But most importantly, There Was Something Wrong With Georgiou on a molecular level, as her whole body cried out to go back to the Mirror Universe. On Dannus V, she met a guy in a bowler hat who sent her through a door, back in time, and across dimensions, where Empress Georgiou was determined to make the Terran Empire into a kinder, gentler hegemony.
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This has to be the most boring Mirror Universe episode since “Resurrection”, as all of Georgiou’s plans and schemes to remake the empire boil down to torturing Mirror Burnham and nothing else, and anything even remotely interesting happens offscreen. Beyond trying to reform Georgiou’s evil empress image so that she can be the hero of the upcoming Section 31 show, there’s really not much point to this one. So if you watch this episode and happen to fast-forward to the part where they return to the “real” universe, you probably won’t miss that much.
But we do open in the Mirror Universe again, and zoom in on the ISS Discovery in space. The camera passes through the ship’s hull, travels briefly through the Space Mountain carnival-like funhouse that is the ship’s interior, and finally ends up in a corridor where Mirror Burnham is being taken to the brig and thrown into a cell. Georgiou confronts her and it’s the same yadda yadda from last episode, where Burnham says she should be dead by now, and she wants that honorable death, and Georgiou allowing her to live will only be seen as a sign of weakness. She thinks Georgiou had the Charon built because she wants to retire to a “palace in the sky” while everyone else is still fighting on the ground.
But Georgiou, who can walk through the cell’s forcefield somehow, notes that the Terran Empire is constantly putting down revolts and uprisings, and it doesn’t have to be this way. She says that even Genghis Khan knew he had to give his subjects something to live for. Burnham’s response is to spit in her face.
Georgiou orders her into an agony booth, which they still insist on calling an “agonizer booth” for some reason. What the hell, guys? You can fanwank all over “The City on the Edge of Forever” and even use the same Star-Dispatch newspaper logo as that episode, but you can’t get this right? As she’s dragged into the booth, Burnham warns of an alliance forming against Georgiou called the “Coalition”, which not only involves the Klingons and the Andorians and the Tellarites, but also the Denobulans, Dr. Phlox’s species; is this the first time they’ve been mentioned since Enterprise? Burnham gets thrown into the booth, which causes her body to erupt with red electricity.
Georgiou watches her being tortured on a screen in her quarters, and yes, that is a Tantalus field control panel next to the screen. This is confirmed when Tilly enters and wonders why Burnham is still alive, because Georgiou could kill her with the push of a button. “Mirror, Mirror” pretty strongly implied that only Mirror Kirk had one of these, and it was a secret to everybody else, but who’s keeping track? Regardless, Georgiou wants Tilly to “break” Burnham instead, and turn her back into a loyal subject.
And then we cut to credits, and this week they appear to be flipped upside down and converted to a negative image. Because we’re in the Mirror Universe, you see. It’s this kind of ingenuity that keeps me coming back to Discovery week after week.
Back from credits, we get a long, long montage of Burnham being tortured in the brig, and refusing to eat, and being loaded back into the booth while Tilly demands she “name your co-conspirators”. To which Burnham replies, “Rot in hell, bitch.” Meanwhile, Georgiou is waxing lyrical in voiceover about how hard it is to be a parent, as if torturing your children for days on end is just another form of tough love.
In her voiceover, Georgiou seems to be addressing Michael directly, and talking about how she knows there’s no other way to reach her. As she speaks, Culber shows up in the brig to bring Burnham back to life just so she can get tortured some more.
Mirror Detmer eventually pays a visit to a broken and beaten Burnham, telling her that she should just give in, and it’s not worth this much suffering. Burnham asks about Lorca, but Detmer says no one’s heard from him. “I don’t think he’s coming.” And that applies to this episode and any potential Jason Isaacs cameo as well. They constantly mention Lorca, but he never shows up, which to me is just bad writing. And toward the end of the episode, there’s an appearance by a no-name rebel character that I’m sure was supposed to be Lorca until plans fell through.
Georgiou’s voiceover continues, and we find out she’s delivering this speech in the brig to an unconscious Burnham. She talks about how when Michael was little, she had night terrors, until she started sleepwalking, and one night Michael ended up in a field of fireflies and became calm. And now Georgiou’s got a whole fishbowl full of fireflies, and she promises to bring Michael “all the fireflies”, and it’s all a ham-handed metaphor for how Georgiou wants to bring the Terran Empire into the light. Burnham wakes up and sees the fireflies, so she gets up and finally eats something.
Later, Burnham is brought to see Georgiou. She kneels and salutes her mother and apologizes. She swears her loyalty to Georgiou and promises to name her co-conspirators. In fact, she’ll “execute the traitors with my own hands,” and Detmer will help her, even though we saw last episode that Detmer is probably one of those traitors.
Cut to Landry walking through the corridors when she suddenly gets ambushed by Detmer. They have a phaser shootout and Landry escapes, only for Burnham to show up and kill her. Burnham reaches down and removes Landry’s Terran Empire badge, and that makes it three times Landry has died on this show in as many seasons. They should keep finding ways to bring Rekha Sharma back every year, just to kill her off again.
Cut to Burnham and Detmer marching into Georgiou’s ready room, where Burnham tosses Landry’s badge onto the table, which for some reason plays out in ridiculously slow motion. The slow-mo continues as she tosses out Bryce’s bloody badge. Then she dumps a whole batch of badges on the table and says this is “all the rest”. Georgiou asks if that’s really all of her co-conspirators, and there’s actually one more: Burnham pulls out her dagger and stabs Detmer, who dies while Georgiou casually sips her wine.
Now that Burnham has proven her loyalty, allegedly, she dines alone with Georgiou. Burnham notes that the kitchen no longer serves Kelpien, and Georgiou lies that it’s because Kelpien meat is “too high in cholesterol”. Yes, the leader of the galaxy’s most tyrannical regime is now worried about… the LDL numbers of her crew. Given all the murder and assassination that happens on this ship, is heart disease that high a priority? What’s the average life expectancy in the Terran Empire anyway, 38?
Burnham also notes that Georgiou went ahead and took down the “Coalition”—completely off-screen, of course—which means she was actually listening when Burnham warned her about it. Georgiou says she listened because she knew it was the truth, and she wants to know the truth now. She asks where Lorca is, but Burnham doesn’t know. She asks if Burnham is still in love with Lorca, but Burnham promises she’ll kill him when they find him. In fact, they appear to have a lead on his whereabouts, because Burnham knows he’s using the alias “Vicar” on underground channels. Georgiou laughs because vicar means “substitute”, and Lorca was always an “underachiever”.
Later, Slave Saru brushes Georgiou’s hair, and he breaks the news that he won’t be able to serve her for much longer, because he feels his Vahar’ai coming on. Georgiou tells him that the Vahar’ai is “not an end”, and if he just waits out the madness, he’ll survive and become stronger than before. She explains she once knew a Kelpien named Saru—Kelpien slaves don’t have names in the Mirror Universe—who not only survived Vahar’ai, but became a starship captain. Slave-Saru gets all freaked out, wondering who she is and literally asking what she did with the real Georgiou. He tells her to go back to wherever she came from, but she insists that she’s Terran and this universe is her home and she’s going to “make it what it needs to be”. She then checks her Death Timer Fitbit, which still shows green.
On the bridge, it looks like Mirror Airiam has become the new communications officer in the wake of Bryce’s death, and it is indeed confirmed in dialogue that this character is Mirror Airiam. She says they’ve zeroed in on a message sent to Vicar, and Burnham immediately knows it’s from some guy named “Duggan” who’s one of Lorca’s lieutenants.
They track Duggan to a shuttlecraft in orbit around Risa, and Tilly tells Mirror Nilsson, the new navigation officer following Detmer’s untimely demise, to head there at maximum warp. And then it seems like they get to Risa in about five seconds, but I’m sure this is some sort of directorial flourish.
They find the shuttlecraft that belongs to Duggan, and they fire on him to disable his engines. Duggan hails them, and he gloats that Lorca is rallying the Klingons and the Romulans against Georgiou. But he refuses to tell them where Lorca is, so Burnham has him transported directly to the brig.
Tilly, Owo, Georgiou, and Burnham all head down to the brig, I guess so everybody can experience the majesty of Duggan in person. He talks some smack to Georgiou, then calls Burnham a “snake”, and finally Burnham shoots him and turns her phaser on Georgiou. Unsurprisingly, Burnham swearing her loyalty to Georgiou was all a lie.
And this had to have been a Lorca cameo in the script, right? I’m assuming the original intention was that they would finally track down Lorca and Burnham would kill him. But without Lorca, this whole scene is pointless, because we have absolutely no reason to care about this Duggan guy. Also, why was he in orbit around Risa? Risa has nothing to do with anything that happens here. They could have used any planet name, but for some reason they chose Risa. Random fanwank, I guess.
Right on cue, Nilsson and Rhys come in with phasers blazing, and take out Georgiou’s guards, so I guess Burnham didn’t kill all her co-conspirators after all. Burnham declares that she’s in fact saving the empire, but Georgiou repeats that it doesn’t have to be this way, and there’s another way to rule. Tilly comes to the rescue and starts shooting, and a big fight scene breaks out, and some Kelpiens even rush in with phaser rifles. Burnham fights Georgiou, while Slave-Saru tosses Culber around using his post-Vahar’ai super-strength. Meanwhile, it’s Owo versus Rhys (the rematch) and Tilly versus Nilsson. Eventually, Nilsson is dead, Rhys is dead, and it’s down to Georgiou and Burnham fighting behind the forcefield in Duggan’s cell.
Burnham pulls out a dagger, while Georgiou pulls out her big sword. Georgiou takes Burnham’s dagger in the neck while simultaneously running Burnham through with her sword. As Burnham collapses, Georgiou whispers, “I’m sorry.”
Burnham dies as Georgiou pulls the dagger out of her neck and falls to the floor. Saru runs to her as she bleeds out all over the place. He holds her and thanks her, and tells her he “passed through” his Vahar’ai. This segues us back to the snowy planet of Dannus V, with Carl saying, “She passed through!” It appears that from Burnham’s point of view, Georgiou walked through that door and instantly passed out, and only a minute has elapsed on Dannus V.
Georgiou is totally confused and asks what day it is, and Carl holds up another newspaper headline that says her fate is now “uncertain”. Georgiou wonders if anything she just experienced was real, and he tells her to check her Death Countdown Fitbit. Sure enough, it has “three months’ worth of bio-data points”, even though only one minute passed for everyone else, so basically, it’s a Jodie Foster situation where her bracelet recorded 18 minutes of static.
Georgiou cries out in pain as she gets all digitally distorted again. They continue to demand to know who Carl is, and he finally announces, “I am the Guardian of Forever!” And he even gets overdubbed with a clip of the original Guardian speaking in “City on the Edge of Forever”. The door shatters apart, and all the pieces reassemble to form the CGI version of a familiar big stone donut.
And now that we’re out of the Mirror Universe, we’re free to cut back to Discovery, where Adira and Stamets are having trouble hacking into the systems of that Kelpien ship trapped in the nebula. And then Jett Reno wanders in, chewing on a black Twizzler. Stamets is shocked because he hasn’t seen her in forever, and she says she’s been busy working on some technobabble, and the translation is that Tig Notaro only appears on this show when her schedule permits.
Then Book comes in with a way to amplify subspace signals, so they can get through to the Kelpien ship. He says he studied up on Starfleet tech manuals and is now making himself “useful”. Yep, he’ll be Discovery’s Chief Engineer soon. Just remember you heard it here first. But the catch is, he’s using an Emerald Chain device to amplify the subspace signal. Everyone finds this highly unusual but it works, and now they’re getting data from the Kelpien ship.
However, in keeping with this show’s pattern of teasing out the mystery of the Burn for as long as possible, we won’t learn what they find out until next week. For god’s sake, there are only three episodes left this season. Now is the time to drop some major revelations!
And then it’s back down to the planet, and the aftermath of the stunning reveal of the Guardian of Forever, which results in… general confusion on the part of Burnham and Georgiou, who have no clue what a Guardian of Forever is. Yep, just like the revelation of a few weeks ago that Vulcans and Romulans have reunified, the importance of this bombshell is totally lost on characters who come from a pre-TOS timeframe.
Carl explains that he used to be a spacetime portal who was mostly left to his own devices, but then the Temporal Wars happened and all the various factions were trying to use Carl to fight their battles. So he picked up and moved to this undisclosed location near the Gamma Quadrant where no one could bother him. And Burnham realizes that only the Sphere Data, with its 100,000 years of knowledge, could have extrapolated the current location of the Guardian and sent them here.
But Georgiou is still getting digitally distorted, and she’s still dying. Carl says he can help her, and the reason he sent her back to the Mirror Universe was because she first had to be “weighed”, i.e., “tested to see if she’d make different choices”. Okay, so the Guardian of Forever is now the St. Peter of the Star Trek universe, judging who’s worthy? But Georgiou says that despite the different choices she made, everything turned out the same, and she ended up killing Mirror Burnham again.
But Carl says all that matters is she “tried for peace”. Also, she saved a Kelpien, who will go on to “save others”. So, the Mirror Universe events we witnessed actually happened, and it wasn’t all just in Georgiou’s head? Again, Mirror Stamets was killed off last episode, but back in season one he was key to saving the whole multiverse. So what’s the deal here?
Carl activates the stone donut and tells Georgiou that it will send her to a time when the Mirror Universe and Prime Universe were “still aligned”. And he actually uses the terms “Mirror Universe” and “Prime Universe” here. You know, I can accept people saying “prime universe” on this show, but the only reason anyone in the real world calls it the “Mirror Universe” is because it first appeared on an episode titled “Mirror, Mirror”—there’s no in-universe reason to call it that.
Carl says, “When you’re ready, just walk on through.” And Carl himself walks through and disappears. And now it’s time for the big, teary farewell between Burnham and Georgiou. Georgiou says Burnham gave her “new life”, and she’s reminded of a chance she had long ago with someone named “San”, but there’s no time to talk about that now. Oh great, so after innumerable flashbacks to Young Georgiou wailing over a dead guy named San, we don’t even find out who he was. Those flashbacks were certainly time well spent.
They hug, and now they’re both crying. Before she goes, Georgiou tells Burnham that Saru is not the only one “suited for the captain’s chair”, so I guess they’re still setting things up for Burnham to eventually become Discovery’s captain. They say goodbye, and Burnham gives the Vulcan live long and prosper salute, while Georgiou does the Terran salute. She walks through the stone donut and disappears, and so does the Guardian.
In Saru’s ready room, he and Book are having a chat with Admiral Vance on the holo-communicator. He’s a little disturbed by them using Emerald Chain technology to get in touch with the Kelpien ship, because it “could compromise Discovery’s systems”. He tells them to be careful, because the Chain is running out of dilithium, and they’d love to get their hands on Discovery’s spore drive, and he warns Book that if he wants to help, he’ll have to follow Starfleet protocol. Just then, Saru gets word that Burnham has beamed back aboard the ship, and she’s alone, without Georgiou. Book rushes off to console her, while Vance offers his “condolences” about Georgiou. “I know you will all feel her absence.” Uh… Georgiou who?
Book meets up with Burnham in a corridor and holds her, and then we cut to Burnham giving her report to Saru, such as it is. She won’t say that Georgiou is dead, but only that she’s “gone” and she’s never coming back. Saru replies, “Then she is deceased.” She’s not a casualty. She is… list her as missing.
In the mess hall, everyone’s gathered for a memorial to Georgiou. It seems they all have fond memories of this person who barely interacted with anyone on the crew beyond slinging insults at them. Tilly calls her a “badass”, while Detmer says she liked her walk and her boots, and Jett Reno loved her lack of tact. Everyone continues saying kind things about her until Burnham pronounces, “She was a pain in the ass!” and they all laugh. But she was “Like a mother, almost. Like a sister, almost. I loved her… and hated her.” She makes a toast to Georgiou, and yes, let’s all raise a glass to the woman who enslaved and murdered countless people, mercilessly tortured her crew, and ate the brains of a sentient species.
Is anyone actually going to miss Mirror Georgiou on this show? Michelle Yeoh is a fine actress, as she proves again in this episode, but most of the time she was reduced to strutting around like a dominatrix and tossing off asinine quips. And redeeming a character who’s basically Space Hitler doesn’t bother me as much as it does some fans, but I think she would have been more easily accepted as an anti-hero if she’d been another evil Terran captain, or an evil Terran admiral, and not the leader of the whole shebang.
I’d like to think this is the end of Trek’s forays into the Mirror Universe, but you know they’ll go back; if not on Discovery, then certainly on the Section 31 show. I mean, if you had told me ten years ago there’d be a Star Trek episode where people use the Guardian of Forever to travel into the Mirror Universe, I would have laughed it off as terrible fanfic. And yet here we are. So you know they’ll be revisiting the Mirror Universe again, because the people currently running the franchise can’t resist giving lots of fanservice in lieu of interesting characters and stories.
Next time: Once again, the “next on” teaser provides info that should have been in the episode we just watched. In this one, they learn there’s still a lifesign on that hundred-year-old Kelpien ship trapped in the Verubin Nebula. Discovery pays them a visit, and for some reason Burnham gets altered to look like a Trill and Culber is altered to look like a Bajoran. They discover what looks like a haunted spaceship, while an enemy ship (likely commanded by Osyraa) shows up to annoy them.