Sep 18, 2020
The emperor’s new closed time-loop: Star Trek: Discovery “Terra Firma, Part 1”
Previously: Discovery learned the Burn’s point of origin was the Verubin Nebula, and there’s a Federation distress signal coming from inside the nebula. Book was grateful for the Federation saving his ass again, and wanted to join up. The Discovery became one with 100,000-year-old Sphere Data that’s now becoming sentient and trying to protect the crew. And finally, There’s Something Wrong With Georgiou—she thinks she’s dying, but it’s not that cut and dry.
But pretty much everything I just mentioned, minus the Georgiou thing, is irrelevant this week, because guess what? We’re heading back to the Mirror Universe. Surprise!
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Sure, the episode title of “Terra Firma” was a tipoff that something Mirror Universe-related was about to happen, but I didn’t think we’d actually be spending most of the episode there. You ever notice whenever this series goes into the Mirror Universe, they never announce it beforehand? They have to know by now that most viewers don’t care about this Terran Empire crap. But I guess they’ve got to do it, and give Emperor Georgiou and Michelle Yeoh her big sendoff before she moves over to that Section 31 spinoff that only five people are looking forward to.
In Discovery’s sickbay, a holo-scan of Georgiou’s entire body is constructed before our eyes, starting with her skeleton and circulatory system and building up from there. Culber is getting a visit from David Cronenberg as the weirdo Terran-obsessed Federation scientist of a few episodes ago. According to the captions, his name is “Kovich”, and after much fan speculation that he did something to Georgiou to make her go nutty, it turns out he had nothing to do with her current condition.
To at last explain What’s Wrong With Georgiou, Kovich pulls up a classified file that contains a hologram of an alien wearing a Starfleet uniform like the one from The Next Generation’s early seasons. Kovich says this is “Lt. Cmdr. Yor”, and he’s a “Time Soldier” who fought in the “Temporal Wars”. Wait, his name was Yor and he was possibly… a hunter from the future?
Kovich says one thing they learned during the Temporal Wars is that time travel can make a person seriously ill, especially if that person also happens to be from a parallel universe. He says Yor here came not only from the year 2379, but from a universe formed by the “temporal incursion of a Romulan mining ship”. And yes, he’s talking about the Kelvin Universe that was the setting for the reboot movies. And now fans are all a-titter that this episode has “canonized” the Kelvin timeline, but I think the presence of Leonard Nimoy as Old Spock in those movies kind of already did that.
Yor is the only person they know of who “moved across time and dimensions”, at least until Georgiou. All of his molecules were screaming out because they wanted to go back in time, or back to his own reality. Yor was suffering so bad, they eventually ended his life through euthanasia. Culber asks why they couldn’t send him back to his own universe, but Kovich explains this was against the iron-clad “Inter-Dimensional Displacement Restriction, part of the Temporal Accords”.
Kovich suggests they just lock up Georgiou in the brig until her time comes, because the last thing they want is a Terran running loose on their ship with nothing to lose and a strong desire to go out in a blaze of glory. Culber thinks maybe their ship computer’s might have a better solution, and the computer instantly comes up with one.
In the mess hall, Georgiou is eating alone, and every time she reaches for her wine glass, her hand passes right through it. And everyone else looks at her like she’s just having some sort of dementia episode instead of dissociating from reality on a molecular level.
Tilly comes over to help, and Georgiou suggests that the ship’s new Number One is going to get everyone killed eventually, and reminds us of her “Captain Killy” nickname from the Mirror Universe for no particular reason. Tilly knows there’s a problem with Georgiou’s hand, but Georgiou proves her wrong by slapping a bowl of soup all over her uniform. Burnham tells Georgiou to go see Culber, and she heads there, but not before saying they should just put her down “like a dog”.
In Saru’s ready room, we learn the solution the computer came up with: The Sphere Data wants them to take her to an uninhabited planet in the Gamma Quadrant called Dannus V. No explanation, no rationale, the computer didn’t show its work; it just keeps telling them to go there.
Kovich says a sentient ship’s computer is “great for movie night! Doesn’t mean we should trust it.” Culber’s only response is a dopey, “It was bringing the crew together!” Saru learns Georgiou only has a “five percent chance of survival” if she goes there, but zero if she stays onboard. Saru says that alas, this is one time when the “needs of the many must outweigh the needs of the one”, because once again, all of Starfleet is on high alert to deal with some imminent Emerald Chain threat that will never, ever come to fruition.
But hey, look, Admiral Vance is here too, and he’s giving Discovery the go-ahead to travel to Dannus V. Which makes this, what, the fourth time in as many episodes that Discovery was supposed to stand ready to deal with the Emerald Chain, but went galivanting across the galaxy instead? Do you get the feeling maybe Vance has no interest in letting Discovery get anywhere near an actual engagement with the Emerald Chain? They did almost start a war with them last episode.
Before Vance approves the mission, he wants to know if Burnham can really make the hard choice when it comes to Georgiou, and “let her go”. He knows that Burnham wasn’t able to make the call about Airiam—presumably, he’s talking about the time Burnham hesitated in blowing Airiam out of an airlock when all life in the galaxy was on the line—but Burnham promises she’ll never hesitate again. Everyone is dismissed except Saru and Vance. Vance points out that a member of Saru’s crew is dying, and he can’t just stand by and do nothing, or else the whole crew will never look at him (or Starfleet) the same way again. Vance says they’ll deal with the Chain and beams out.
Burnham finds Georgiou in the ship’s gym, beating the hell out of some heavy bags. Georgiou thinks it’s ludicrous that some computer is sending her to die on an uninhabited planet. It seems she’s longing for a more respectable death, because she starts trying to fight Burnham, hurling an axe at her, and smacking her around, and coming at her with a sword. But Burnham just stands her ground. Georgiou yells that in her universe, being murdered by her own Burnham would have been an honor, for both of them, and um, since when did the Terrans become Klingons? I don’t recall too much talk about dying “honorable deaths” on the other Trek episodes that dealt with the Mirror Universe. But Burnham says an honorable death could be waiting on that uninhabited planet.
Georgiou then talks about how in the Mirror Universe, she adopted Burnham as a child after she found her living on a “rubbish heap”. She says that like her mirror counterpart, this Burnham is just as eager to bend people to her will, but the only difference is “you lie about it to yourself”. Finally, Georgiou caves in and says, “Lead me to my death, Angel Michael!” But first, Burnham slaps a Fitbit on Georgiou’s arm. Apparently, this is “Death’s alarm clock”, which is precisely programmed with how much time Georgiou has left to live. It’s got a light on it, and Georgiou has until it turns red. Okay, someone’s taking the “ticking clock” plot device a bit too literally this week. I’m kind of doubting even 32nd Century medical science could predict someone’s life expectancy down to the second, but that’s Star Trek for you.
Discovery spore-jumps to Dannus V, and Saru and Tilly go to say goodbye to Georgiou. This is pretty clearly the last time they’ll be seeing her, because they give her a long farewell. Saru says he’s learned just as much from her as he did from the “prime” Georgiou. He shakes her hand and says, “Good luck, Emperor,” while getting choked up. Then Tilly steps forward and tells Georgiou, “You’ve been good for me. Weirdly.” She hugs Georgiou, who has no idea how to react. And now Georgiou is all choked up too, and I’ll just assume this emotional display is really the actors saying farewell to Michelle Yeoh, because these characters have never displayed the slightest fondness for each other before.
Georgiou and Burnham beam down to Dannus V and find themselves in an empty snowy landscape, which Georgiou calls “a perfect place to die.”
There’s a scene where Stamets finds his protégé Adira all frustrated, because their algorithm is “stuck”, and Stamets gets it unstuck, and he correctly diagnoses that Adira is angry because their boyfriend Gray still isn’t appearing. And I can’t say I care too much about the motivations of a force ghost who likely only exists in Adira’s mind, so let’s move on. The algorithm finishes, and it turns out that the Starfleet distress signal from the Verubin Nebula actually does contain some bonus video content. They look at… something… and go run to tell Saru what they found.
There’s a brief scene of Book and Saru in the corridor, talking while on the move. Book says he can be of service to the Federation, mentioning he learned through his courier network that the Emerald Chain is conducting “training exercises” which aren’t really exercises. Saru thanks him, but says the Federation already has that intel, and tells Book to just chill and wait for his “moment” to be useful.
Meanwhile, Burnham and Georgiou are down on the planet, walking through the snow, which is obviously echoing Burnham’s long walk across a desert planet with the prime Georgiou in the show’s premiere episode. As they talk, Burnham wonders why Georgiou picked her Mirror Universe counterpart off that “rubbish heap”, and Georgiou explains that the other kids ran up to her begging, while Burnham looked content where she was, and was “prepared to be your own salvation”.
Suddenly, Burnham picks up a lifesign right where they’re standing. They turn around and take in the absurd sight of a man in a derby hat sitting next to a giant wooden door, while smoking a cigar and reading a newspaper.
The man (played by Paul Guilfoyle, Det. Brass from CSI) introduces himself as “Carl”, and shows off the newspaper headline, which announces Emperor Georgiou’s painful death. “Read all about it, huh?” And the paper is the Star-Dispatch, the same one that announced Edith Keeler’s death in the TOS episode “The City on the Edge of Forever”. The paper has other references to that episode (e.g., an ad on the back for the 21st Street Mission soup kitchen with the slogan “Let Me Help!”), leading most to conjecture that Carl and his door here are the new version of the Guardian of Forever. Others have speculated they can’t actually say “Guardian of Forever” in this episode because of some sort of dispute with the estate of “City” writer Harlan Ellison, but nothing like that has stopped them from reusing the Guardian in tie-in novels, Star Trek Online, and an animated series episode.
Burnham asks what this is, and Carl replies, “This is obviously… this!” He continues to give evasive answers and little jokes (“What do you call a cute portal? A-door-able!”) until he finally hints that Georgiou’s only hope is to go through the door. Burnham asks where it leads and gets, “It doesn’t lead, it follows.” Burnham scans it, and it’s just a door. Georgiou’s body starts getting all digitally distorted again and Burnham tells Carl to do something, but he’s content to sit back and read his paper.
The snow dissolves into a starfield, and we zoom in on Saru’s ready room, where Adira and Stamets are showing him the video they decoded from the nebula. It’s a holographic message from a Kelpien, saying she’s Dr. Issa of the “KSF Khi’leth”, and her ship was expecting to be rescued by the USS Hiraga Gennai but it never arrived. They also note that in the video, Dr. Issa is showing signs of radiation burns.
The transmission ends and they say it predates the Burn by a few years. The ship is still there, broadcasting this signal over a hundred years later, and Stamets says they can “open a back door to the systems” and find out what’s going on inside. Saru says they won’t tell Vance for now, since he’s focused on the Emerald Chain. He’s understandably taken by the fact that the ship was manned by Kelpiens, and he dismisses everybody so he can watch the transmission again.
Back on the snowy planet, they’re still arguing about Georgiou going through the door that we all know she’s eventually going to go through. Carl talks in more riddles until Georgiou at last says this is her five percent chance and she’s going to take it. Carl says that while she’s in there, her death-countdown bracelet will stay green, somehow. Georgiou starts to open the door, but Burnham tries to stop her. Georgiou replies with a very welcome, “God, Michael, know when to shut the hell up!”
She steps through the door… and just like that, she’s back in the Mirror Universe. She’s Emperor Georgiou again, and she’s just stepped off a shuttlecraft in the shuttlebay of the ISS Discovery. The entire crew, led by Mirror Tilly, welcomes her with a big salute and a cry of “Terra Firma!” And… welcome back to the Agony Booth’s ongoing look at the Mirror Universe episodes that gave the site its name! And we’ll be in the Mirror Universe’s past for the remainder of the episode, with no cutaways to anything in the “prime” universe or “current” timeline.
Also among the crowd are Mirror Owo, as well as the mirror version of Landry (Discovery’s chief of security for a few episodes before she got killed by a giant tardigrade), giving Rekha Sharma her second opportunity to come back from the dead on this show. Georgiou addresses Tilly as “Captain Killy” and gets a status report about a potential slave revolt.
As they walk through the corridor, Georgiou figures out “this is the day we christen the Charon”, and also the day “Lorca betrays me”, which places these events as being prior to when Prime Discovery crossed over in season one, though there’s no explanation for how Georgiou has both traveled back in time and replaced her past self. Tilly is thrown a bit by Georgiou’s phrasing, but eventually confirms that yes, Captain Lorca is plotting against her. But don’t get hyped up for a Mirror Lorca reappearance, because Jason Isaacs doesn’t make a cameo in this episode, and I doubt he’ll be appearing in part two either.
Also, Georgiou knows that Burnham has betrayed her, and she and Lorca are “sleeping together”, and today’s the day Burnham will try to take her throne. Tilly wants to know if they should arrest Burnham, but Georgiou, having knowledge of the future, knows this is her big chance to change the way things unfold.
The whole crew is in the mess hall at a big soiree, and Georgiou watches them entertain each other in various ways. The mirror version of Bryce uses a Terran dagger to knock a gourd off the head of Mirror Nilsson. Mirror Stamets and Mirror Culber have fun shocking themselves with agonizers, and hanging out with them is the actress who played Airiam last season. Is she supposed to be Mirror Airiam, or someone else? Also, Mirror Saru is here, serving as a slave beside other Kelpiens.
Tilly announces the Emperor’s presence to the crowd, and everyone salutes her and bows. Then Mirror Burnham struts in, sporting the same hairstyle as when Prime Burnham impersonated her. She says, “Hello, mother,” and the two share a power handshake.
Cut to Georgiou and Burnham catching up on old times, and this Burnham is of course more savage than the woman that Georgiou is used to. Mirror Burnham talks about visiting some celebrated artists, and blinding them and cutting off their hands to make their existing artworks all the more valuable, and Georgiou is disturbed by this. Meanwhile, one of the Kelpiens spills something on Landry, so she makes a big show out of screaming at him and calling for a butcher and saying they’ll dine on him tonight. Saru immediately apologizes for his friend and tries to console him, while Burnham watches from afar and says how much she hates Kelpiens.
Georgiou talks about how she thinks Lorca is moving against her, but Burnham pretends she hasn’t seen him in a year. Burnham then screams at Saru until Georgiou puts a stop to it. Everyone is astonished at this show of mercy, but Georgiou says she wants Saru as her own personal slave now.
In Georgiou’s quarters, she says that Saru is allowed to speak now, and asks him about the Vahar’ai. Saru is stunned she knows about this, but Georgiou says he can trust her, and points out that his threat ganglia aren’t dropping. If you’ll recall, the threat ganglia were basically Kelpien Spidey-Sense, so this convinces him she’s no danger to him. She asks what Burnham and Lorca are “whispering in the dark”, and Saru says they both think Georgiou has gotten soft; if they even knew she had heard of the Vahar’ai, they would smell weakness. So, even before Georgiou got replaced by her kinder, gentler future version, she was already being accused of weakness? Georgiou wants Saru to be her eyes and ears from now on, and then he helps her put on her ridiculously ostentatious robe and crown.
On the way to the christening of the Charon, Georgiou comes upon fighting in the hallways, and it seems Rhys has challenged Owo for head of security on Charon. Georgiou and Burnham place bets on the fight, and Georgiou says Owo is more “loyal” so she’s certain to win. Sure enough, Owo is soon mercilessly pounding the crap out of Rhys. But Georgiou’s got places to be, so there’s no time for Owo to kill him. Rhys is led away as he declares, “This isn’t over!”
In the shuttlebay, an audience is gathered as big ribbons unfold from the ceiling, and dancers slide down the ribbons and perform aerial acrobatics. Mirror Stamets tells the story of Georgiou’s life in rhyming verse while the acrobats act it out, and it’s all about Georgiou being pure of heart and vanquishing all her enemies.
Everyone applauds this performance of Cirque du So Lame, including Mirror Detmer, and there sure doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with her in this universe.
Stamets then opens the curtains behind him, revealing the massive ISS Charon flagship outside, complete with the mini-star it uses as its power source. Georgiou rises and stands in front of it, so that her crown perfectly encircles the Charon’s mini-sun, and gives a speech about how she has “seen our future” and she knows it will be glorious. Stamets and Burnham shoot looks at each other, and Stamets creeps forward with a dagger to kill Georgiou.
Georgiou promises that she won’t allow everything she’s accomplished to be destroyed, and to punctuate her speech, she turns and stabs Stamets in the neck. Everyone sits stunned until co-conspirator Burnham stands up to yell, “Long live Georgiou! Terra Firma!” I’m not sure when yelling out “terra firma” became part of the whole Mirror Universe milieu, but whatever.
The crowd applauds as Stamets lays there, very dead. You might recall that in the original timeline, Mirror Stamets made telepathic contact with Prime Stamets through the mycelial network, and that’s how our Stamets learned they had to destroy the Charon to save all life in the multiverse. But here, the death of Mirror Stamets means that’s likely not happening, leading some to speculate Georgiou just spawned a parallel Mirror Universe timeline. Me, I’m pretty sure this is a “Tapestry” type semi-fantasy sequence, especially since Georgiou replaced her past self with no explanation, and her death countdown has been magically put on pause. My guess is “Carl” is helping Georgiou to realize that trying to change the Mirror Universe is pointless, so her only other option will be to return to the 23rd Century prime universe and rejoin Section 31; I mean, this episode is pretty clear that she has to either return to her own universe or her own time to survive.
Burnham is in the corridor when she’s confronted by Tilly and Owo. Georgiou appears and tells her she needs “better assassins” and says, “Confess and I’ll spare your life!” Burnham just laughs, and can’t believe the Emperor would be weak enough to consider sparing her life after an assassination attempt. But Georgiou wants to know the real reason Burnham conspired against her. Georgiou says she’s done everything for Burnham, even plucking her off that trash heap. Burnham yells back, “I was master of that trash heap! And now I’m nothing!” She says she’s little more these days than a shadow of her mother, whereas Lorca truly loves her, and he “honors me”. She becomes completely unhinged as she confesses to planning a coup with Lorca, and betraying Georgiou, and if she had the chance, “I’d do it again!”
Burnham kneels down, preparing for her execution. Georgiou unsheathes her sword, but in an echo of the scene in the gym with Prime Burnham, she stops herself short, only drawing a few drops of CGI blood from her neck. And the best part is the reaction shots of Tilly and Owo looking bummed out that they didn’t get to see Burnham beheaded. Georgiou says, “That is the easy way! And I know how that story ends!” And as of now, “our future is unwritten,” and Burnham can now open up the dirty window and feel the rain on her face.
Georgiou says, “Take her to the agonizer.” So, they’re still calling it the “agonizer”, then? In TOS, and Enterprise, they called it an agony booth, but for some reason in these episodes, they keep calling it an “agonizer”. Come on, guys, just call it the “agony booth” once. Throw me a bone here; I need the search engine hits! It’s like they’re personally trying to spite me because I make fun of their silly show.
Anyway, that’s the episode. I won’t get into all my criticisms of the Mirror Universe again because I’ll just sound like a broken record, but suffice to say it’s hard to care about a story when you’re not dealing with a “real” universe, and pretty much anything can happen at any time. We’ve routinely seen major Mirror Universe characters get killed and it’s always completely consequence-free. Hell, on the Mirror Universe episodes of Enterprise, they actually blew up the Enterprise, and it barely made an impact.
Next time: More Mirror Universe antics, and I really don’t care. There are some hints that Georgiou is going to try to make over the Terran Empire into something better, but I think she’ll fail.