Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Picard, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
Terra Firma, Part I told one of the most interesting Mirror Universe stories I’d seen in a long time. Though the setting can feel one-dimensional, with acting performances that cross over into hammy pantomime, the first half of this story focused on Georgiou. It showed how she’d changed, how there was nuance and different factors to her character that had never really come to the fore. Though there were still many of the familiar Mirror Universe tropes – including some pretty dire acting performances – it was a solid setup to an interesting story. I was hopeful for more of the same this week.
Sometimes two-part episodes are best watched back-to-back. The Best of Both Worlds is a prime example, as is Voyager’s Equinox. I was genuinely annoyed when Equinox ended on a cliffhanger when it was first broadcast! But we’re off-topic. There was no way I was waiting a whole week to watch Terra Firma, Part I! But I did re-watch it before sitting down to Terra Firma, Part II – and I stand by what I said last time: it’s a great episode.
When taking the two parts of Terra Firma together, I’m in two minds. On the one hand, the scenes in the Mirror Universe could have been a single episode of their own, capped off with Georgiou’s departure. But on the other hand, given the passage of time Georgiou experienced after crossing through the doorway, we could have had three episodes or even more expanding on her story and showing even more of how she’s changed since crossing into the Prime universe.
The passage of time was not especially well-conveyed in Terra Firma, Part II. Because the entire Mirror Universe section of the story was shown as one long unbroken sequence, with no scenes set aboard Discovery or back on Dannus V, it felt as though everything Georgiou was experiencing was happening in close to real-time; a decision compounded by having her remain aboard Mirror Tilly’s ISS Discovery instead of going to the ISS Charon or really anywhere else. When it was noted that time had passed, the dialogue choices felt like bare exposition, dumped into the episode solely to tell us time had passed. Because of this, there’s at least part of me that feels Georgiou’s time in the Mirror Universe was rushed.
That’s not to say we needed to spend much more time in the Mirror Universe, but rather the way these sequences were conveyed, both this week and last week, needed to be structured better to show us how long she had been there. The Mirror Universe, as I said last week, is not my favourite Star Trek setting. For a one-off visit it’s okay, but spend too long there or with Terran characters and its limitations become apparent. We came close to – but didn’t quite hit – the limit of what the Mirror Universe is capable of over this two-part story.
Aside from Georgiou, who continued her theme from last week of having significantly changed as a character, everyone else in the Mirror Universe felt flat. Sonequa Martin-Green was clearly having a whale of a time as Mirror Burnham, but her performance was atrocious. The character is little more than a caricature; a pantomime villain. We spent a lot of time with her over these two episodes – because Discovery can’t ditch Burnham for more than a few minutes! – and unfortunately the character and the performance grated on me practically the whole time.
Mirror Saru and Mirror Tilly got a little more screen time this week, and both had some points of interest. Tilly appeared torn between loyalty to the Emperor and her belief in the Terran way of doing things, questioning Georgiou’s decisions on several occasions. Saru was more nuanced, and apparently whatever differences exist between the Mirror and Prime Universes do not extend to Kelpiens, because aside from being more subservient – the result of a life of slavery, no doubt – he was more or less his Season 1, pre-vahar’ai self.
Speaking of Mirror Tilly… there’s no easy way to say this, but the Mirror Universe’s tight-fitting black-and-gold uniforms did not flatter Mary Wiseman. In fact several characters looked out-of-shape in their Mirror Universe costumes, and it’s a shame. I’m not picking on someone for their weight or body type; I’m not exactly slim myself so that would be completely hypocritical. But as a point of costuming I think some of the Terran uniforms have to go down as a miss.
As mentioned, the bulk of Terra Firma, Part II continued Georgiou’s story from last week. She remained in the Mirror Universe and made some genuine attempts to reform the Terran Empire. This was kind of the core of the Mirror Universe storyline – along with her interactions with Mirror Saru and Mirror Burnham – but I feel we needed more screen time to see her efforts unfold. As with the passage of time, it seems many of Georgiou’s moves to reform the Terran Empire took place off-screen. We were treated to some interesting character moments, but missed the crux of the story that the characters were involved in.
For example, at one point Georgiou is made aware of an impending coalition of several races under Imperial jurisdiction. Burnham wants her to attack and destroy them militarily, but Georgiou found a peaceful solution instead. None of that was shown on screen, however, and aside from a couple of lines referencing what she’d supposedly done, there was nothing to that storyline. It could have been cut entirely, and the story refocused onto Georgiou and the coup being planned by Lorca. Though Carl did reference Georgiou’s actions later in the story, this element didn’t feel well-developed in the moment; almost a “blink and you’ll miss it” affair.
You know I like to nitpick, so let’s do that. In Discovery Season 1, Georgiou’s base of operations was the ISS Charon. That was her “palace,” as Burnham referred to it. Yet in this two-part story, Georgiou remains aboard the ISS Discovery despite the Charon supposedly being made ready for her. Obviously the team behind Discovery wanted to re-use existing sets instead of rebuilding the Charon’s interior, and that’s understandable. But if that’s the case, why bother referencing the Charon at all last week? Why not simply say that Georgiou arrived weeks or months before her new flagship was commissioned? Given that both parts of Terra Firma clash with the events depicted in Season 1’s Mirror Universe story arc, that wouldn’t have been any more of a consistency issue than the one which already exists.
I’ve re-watched Terra Firma, Part II, but I’m still not clear about what happened to Georgiou. She experienced three months’ worth of the passage of time, and Carl seemed to suggest that she was indeed in a parallel universe. But whether it was the same one she originated from is not clear. Logically you’d think it would be, but there are two points that run counter. Firstly, Georgiou’s technobabble ailment could be cured in two ways, according to Kovich and Carl – returning to her own universe or to her own time period. And secondly, some of the events depicted in both parts of Terra Firma clash with the events of Season 1.
This poses two problems. Firstly, if Georgiou was genuinely re-living her time in the Mirror Universe, we’ve created major inconsistencies within Discovery’s own internal timeline. And secondly, even if we can ignore or excuse things like Stamets’ death and Burnham’s supposed execution, if Georgiou was genuinely sent back to the Mirror Universe, she made major changes to that timeline, including getting herself killed. How would that impact the way Season 1 would have unfolded?
This is why time travel is so difficult to get right, not only in Star Trek but in fiction in general. It’s too easy to stray off the beaten path and end up creating a time-loop or a paradox; in this case, Georgiou and Burnham’s deaths occurring before the arrival of the Prime version of Discovery under Lorca’s command.
Speaking of Lorca, I deliberately kept him out of my theories this week because I didn’t expect to see him return. However, for a two-part episode that didn’t include the man himself, his name was brought up a lot. A reference or two to his coup would have sufficed, yet the storyline of both parts of Terra Firma was largely structured around this character. For Lorca to then be wholly absent was odd, and the lack of a resolution to his coup leaves at least part of the story feeling unfinished.
Because, as mentioned, the storyline of Georgiou’s Mirror Universe experience diverges wildly from what we saw in Discovery Season 1, we can’t assume that Lorca’s absence is because he’s in the Prime universe or that he’ll arrive shortly after her death. It’s just a void in Terra Firma’s story; an entirely unseen antagonist for Georgiou.
After spending some time trying to push for reforms to the Terran Empire – and having seemingly accepted her return to her own time and place – Georgiou tries to work on Mirror Burnham, torturing her and trying to bring her to heel. It seemed obvious that a betrayal was coming; both versions of Burnham are stubborn and single-minded, and despite the torture of the agoniser booth, when she pledged herself to Georgiou something definitely seemed amiss – and so it proved.
I did like Burnham’s betrayal of Detmer. Having “killed” several other leaders of the coup, Mirror Detmer was one of the few remaining. We got a flash of the old Georgiou as she ordered her protégée to kill her with only a single word. One character that I thought the episode was setting up for a bigger role was Mirror Owosekun. At several points in both halves of the story she seemed concerned about Georgiou’s newfound softness, and as the camera lingered on her as the head of the honour guard it seemed like she might join with Burnham or even land a blow on Georgiou herself. It was a bit of an anticlimax when that didn’t happen.
The climactic moment between Mirror Burnham and Georgiou ends with them stabbing one another after a fight. Unfortunately this moment, which was the finale of the Mirror Universe part of the story, was let down by some poor CGI work. Georgiou’s sword as she stabbed Burnham looked just awful, and in addition appeared to wobble unnaturally as it was stuck in her abdomen. The sword had no weight to it; it looked like a hollow CGI shell as it was supposedly being plunged into Mirror Burnham, and for such an important moment, more care needed to be taken.
Discovery’s CGI work has been generally of very high quality, and I don’t like to bash the animators and artists, especially given the difficulties they had working on Season 3 during the pandemic. But this moment was one of the most important in the episode, and when all of our focus was drawn to the sword, it needed to look better. As it is it looks like a video game item that clips through Burnham’s body rather than any kind of solid, substantial weapon causing her an injury. Despite this CGI effect taking up no more than two or three seconds of screen time, it was distracting and didn’t work as intended.
So the culmination of Georgiou’s return to the Mirror Universe was one of failure, at least in terms of her ambitions. But what it showed to us – and to her – is how much she has changed, even if the Mirror Universe hasn’t or can’t. The time she’d spent away from the Terran Empire had shifted her perspective, softened her, and changed the way she wanted to govern. All of that is incredibly positive and makes her a far more nuanced and interesting character.
I just wish we’d seen even the tiniest hint at this change before Terra Firma, Part I. In every appearance since leaving the Mirror Universe toward the end of Season 1, Georgiou has been a flat, one-dimensional character with little going on besides a devious nature and inclination toward violence. The only time I can recall her being anything other than that Terran stereotype was in Season 2’s worst episode: The Red Angel. And then her actions, particularly towards Burnham, just seemed out-of-character. So while I love that this storyline showed Georgiou how much she’s changed as a result of her time with Starfleet and the Federation, and that it ties into the theme of the season of showing how much good the Federation can do, it feels like it comes from nowhere, and her transformation from the woman who stomped Leland’s corpse to a bloody pulp a few episodes ago to a character Mirror Saru says can’t possibly be Terran is extreme and seems to happen quickly.
Had we seen, over Georgiou’s recent appearances, a growing tolerance and appreciation for Saru, even a line or two of dialogue or a wordless expression of gratitude or concern, we could say that there had been evidence of this transformation building across the season. But there wasn’t. And that’s a double-edged sword, because while it makes the two parts of Terra Firma absolutely fascinating and shows Georgiou at her best, it doesn’t feel particularly well set-up, and when you’re going to make such a major change to an established character, some kind of prior setup is essential.
In Season 2, Saru fell victim to basically the same thing. This is speculation on my part, but I feel that vahar’ai – the process by which Kelpiens lose their threat-sensing, fearful nature and become bolder and braver – was a response to criticism of Saru’s cowardly nature in Season 1, and an attempt by the writers and producers to get rid of that element of criticism in the most extreme way possible. I’d also make that same argument, by the way, for Discovery’s departure from the 23rd Century, but that’s a topic for another time! Whatever the reason was, Saru’s transformation from cowardice to bravery was extreme and out of the blue in Season 2 – and I’d argue that Georgiou’s transformation here is similar.
Despite that, however, I liked the change in Georgiou that we saw over this two-part story. Now that we have seen what appears to be her final end as a Discovery character, setting up perhaps the beginning of the upcoming Section 31 series, she’s a far more interesting and complex protagonist for that show. Given that the premiere of the Section 31 show could very well be Georgiou’s next appearance within Star Trek, Terra Firma sent her out on a high.
It also left the Section 31 series with many different options – including where in the timeline it could be taking place. We’ll come to that in my theory post in the next few days, but suffice to say that Carl left Georgiou’s destination ambiguous.
So we come to Carl! I guessed in my last theory post that Carl could be the Guardian of Forever, and so it proved in Terra Firma, Part II. That revelation was spectacular, and connected Discovery and The Original Series once again. I had a huge smile on my face when Carl revealed his true identity – not just because I’d theorised who he could be ahead of time! Carl and the mysterious door – which was revealed to be the familiar portal – were presented in Terra Firma, Part I as the kind of weird, Roddenberry-esque sci-fi creation that we could’ve seen Kirk and his crew encounter in The Original Series. It turns out that was literally true!
Discovery has paid homage to The Original Series more than any other Star Trek show, and while Season 3 has allowed for more references to The Next Generation and subsequent Star Trek productions, I’m glad that we still got this big tie-in with The Original Series. Carl could have, for example, turned out to be a Q, and that would have changed very little in Georgiou’s story. But the Guardian of Forever is such an iconic part of the Star Trek franchise, with The City on the Edge of Forever often called The Original Series’ finest episode, so this particular tie-in just seems to work beautifully.
It also manages to tie up one possible loophole in the whole “time travel has been outlawed” storyline, as the Guardian of Forever moved to a different location to avoid the portal being used in the Temporal Wars. Though there are still problems with the idea of an outright ban on time travel which every faction from the Borg to the Dominion are supposedly following, the decision to have the Guardian of Forever essentially be in hiding means that at least one of those has been resolved!
The choice of character actor Paul Guilfoyle for the role of Carl was inspired. Though he didn’t spend a lot of time on screen in either half of the story, the moments we got with him were outstanding. His performance as Carl embodied the “weirder” side of Star Trek that was present much more prominently in the Roddenberry era but has fallen out of favour. Even in a season which has primarily dealt with things like the Burn and the collapse of the Federation, I appreciate that the writers took some time to include the Guardian of Forever.
I wonder if we’ve seen the last of the Guardian of Forever this season. I’ve talked for weeks about how there have been connections to the Short Treks episode Calypso, and wondered in particular how the USS Discovery could find itself abandoned in a nebula only to be discovered by Craft – who appears to be a human from around this time period. With Georgiou having seemingly departed the series altogether, my theory that she would be the one to take the ship back in time looks dead. But with the rediscovery of the Guardian of Forever, if there was a need for Discovery to travel back in time – and there isn’t right now, but such a need could arise – perhaps this is how it happens.
Carl explained to Georgiou that her time in whatever variant of the Mirror Universe she was sent to was a “test” to see how far she’d come and how much she’d changed. Despite being unsuccessful in her ambitions, the mere act of having the ambition to change the way the Terran Empire was governed demonstrated to Carl that she deserved a second chance. And she got one – being sent through the Guardian of Forever’s portal to an unknown time and place.
Georgiou’s departure was emotional, and her scene with Burnham as she readied herself to step through the portal genuinely packed a punch. Both actresses put in fantastic performances, and the agony they felt at parting was beautifully expressed on screen. Although Burnham succeeded in her mission to save Georgiou’s life, she still lost her – and that makes for a bittersweet ending to a storyline set up in Die Trying, when Georgiou’s condition first manifested itself. For Burnham, this is the second time she’s lost Georgiou following the death of her Prime counterpart in Battle at the Binary Stars – but this time she got to say goodbye, and could accept the parting.
One thing I’m not clear on is why Discovery set up a little deception regarding Georgiou’s condition. After arriving in the future she was absolutely fine, but only after meeting the mysterious Kovich at Federation HQ did her health worsen. There was thus an implied connection between the two events, one which the writers deliberately set up as a misdirect. I’m fine with stories being unpredictable, and with “obvious” solutions not panning out; those can feel like well-executed twists. But in this case it does feel deceptive to imply a link between Kovich and Georgiou’s condition only for that to have been pure coincidence.
Speaking of Kovich, given that the character seems to be coming back, perhaps even in Season 4 as well, it’s a shame that he and Georgiou won’t get any more opportunities to spend time together. The way Cronenberg and Yeoh talked around one another in Die Trying was riveting to watch, and it’s sad that we won’t get any more of that. Kovich absolutely can contribute to the story in other ways – he’s far from a one-trick pony – but he was certainly at his best when dealing one-on-one with Georgiou.
Finally we come to the remainder of the episode aboard Discovery. Burnham doesn’t explicitly tell Saru what happened to Georgiou – for some reason – but he understands that she survived. However, the two of them don’t explain this to the crew, or at least don’t seem to, and I’m not really clear on why that was. Would it not have been better for the crew to understand that their mission to Dannus V was a success? Admiral Vance made clear to Saru that his crew would “never look at [him] the same way” if he didn’t go above and beyond for her, and while he did take her to Dannus V in search of help, surely the outcome for crew morale would have been better if Burnham and Saru explained what actually happened.
The crew hold a wake for Georgiou in which several characters get a turn to speak. Tilly, who hasn’t had very much to do since becoming acting XO, stepped up and delivered a sweet line in honour of her fallen crewmate, as did Saru. Burnham stole the show, of course, with a longer speech about how much Georgiou had meant to her. And again, this was a deeply emotional moment. It was also very well acted by Sonequa Martin-Green – in stark contrast to her hammy, over-the-top performance as Mirror Burnham earlier in the episode.
After last week saw the revelation of a Kelpien vessel in the Verubin Nebula – which is believed to be the Burn’s point of origin – we got a little more information this time. With everything in the Mirror Universe to wrap up, as well as Georgiou’s departure and the fallout from that, I was certain there was no way we’d see Discovery travelling to the Verubin Nebula this week, and so it proved.
We did get some minor moves toward that destination, though, as well as further hinting at the Emerald Chain possibly making a move against Discovery rather than against Federation HQ. While attempting to access the sensors of the derelict Kelpien ship, Book installed a piece of Emerald Chain technology – a signal booster – in Discovery’s main engineering. Admiral Vance was especially concerned about that when he found out, and I suspect his concerns will be valid – there could be a way for the Emerald Chain to track Discovery using a “backdoor.”
We did get to see Reno return briefly, and I always enjoy Tig Notaro’s performance. There was a little bit of technobabble about upgrades to the ship from Reno – this could prove important later on, or it could simply be a throwaway line, I can’t tell. Regardless, it was great to see her back. After confirming that they had indeed hacked into the ship, we didn’t actually get to see any of the results of that hack – though I’m sure we will next time. The dynamic between Stamets, Reno, and Adira is interesting, and the addition of Book to that scene in engineering was fun. We haven’t really got to see Book spend much time away from Burnham, so it was nice to see him getting a chance to interact with other characters. As we saw with Narek in Star Trek: Picard, when you only allow a character one or two options for who to spend time with, it can make them less interesting in some respects.
So that was Terra Firma, Part II. There was a lot going on for Georgiou, for the franchise overall, and for Burnham. There was less going on for the other ongoing storylines of the season, but that’s okay. Sometimes it’s nice to step back from the big continuing storylines and have more of a standalone story. Past Star Trek shows were largely episodic, after all!
I enjoyed seeing the transformation in Georgiou’s character, and it’s provided a far better setup to the upcoming Section 31 series than I had expected. I’m now genuinely curious to see where and when Georgiou will end up – and how that will connect to Section 31. I have some ideas about that – as I’m sure a lot of fans do! – so stay tuned for those theories.
Despite falling victim to some of the same Mirror Universe tropes that have plagued episodes in that setting, the two parts of Terra Firma have to go down as among the best Mirror Universe stories in the whole Star Trek franchise. The contrast of the changed Georgiou with the unchanged setting was genuinely fascinating to see, and her desire to reform it and bring in changes was interesting – and heartbreaking when she couldn’t manage it.
There was a lot to love about Terra Firma, Part II. I was thrilled to see the Guardian of Forever – and hear its original voice which had been lifted from The Original Series. Georgiou’s arc across the two parts – while it could have been built up to more in previous episodes – was emotional and made for some of the best character work of the season so far.
With this semi-standalone story now wrapped up, Discovery should be setting off to the Verubin Nebula to chase down the next lead on the Burn. What will happen when they arrive there? I can hardly wait to find out!
Star Trek: Discovery is available to stream on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.