The following analysis has spoilers (and potential spoilers) for Discovery season three.
Just as we are starting to get some clues about the mysterious Kovich, Star Trek: Discovery introduces yet another mysterious character, also tied into the season’s arc about Emperor Georgiou. The enigmatic Carl appeared in “Terra Firma, Part 1” and he has fans buzzing with theories. But some possibilities seem more likely than others, with one, in particular most likely—but perhaps not our favored choice.
The facts: Carl sends Georgiou home
This week’s episode of Discovery kicked off with Kovich revealing that Georgiou is dying due to jumping from the Mirror Universe AND over 900 years into the future, causing all the molecules in her body to rebel. Georgiou’s condition is particularly acute due to how far the Prime and Mirror universes have “drifted apart” since she left, and her condition is incurable. However, the growingly sentient USS Discovery computer—infused with ancient sphere data and centuries of Starfleet databases—says there is a remote chance for a cure on the remote planet Dannus V.
After jumping to the icy world, Michael Burnham detects up what is described as “not exactly a life sign,” but what appears to be a middle-aged human male in a bowler hat, seated next to a door. Ominously he is reading a newspaper with the headline “Emperor Georgiou Dies Horribly Painful Death.” When asked for his identity, he says (with a bit of hesitation): “I’m, uh… I’m Carl, and you are asking the wrong questions.”
The door itself gives off no discernable readings, but after making some bad puns, the jovial and cryptic doorman reveals it is for Georgiou herself “so she can go through,” adding “the cure to all your ills can be through here. Who knows?” As for that newspaper, Carl reveals it is “tomorrow’s news,” grimly adding “you are still very much alive today, but by all means, continue wasting time.”
Facing certain death, Georgiou decides to use Carl’s door. After she opens it and he theatrically points the way, she walks through to the Mirror Universe. Suddenly she is Emperor again (in full Terran regalia), and it is years before she originally left. Georgiou finds herself on a very important day in her life that she has regretted: the day she killed her adopted daughter Michael.
So this Carl is clearly no ordinary guy. He has the power—or at least controls the power—to send people to different times and different universes. His motivations are unclear, as are the rules regarding how all of this impacts the timeline or can lead to a cure. But within Star Trek, a lot of this feels familiar. Perhaps we have seen Carl or his kind before. There are certainly a couple of likely suspects…
Possible Theory: Carl is Q
Star Trek has no shortage of beings who wield immense power, either through their own nature or via advanced technology. Such beings have been part of the franchise since the beginning, with Star Trek: The Original series introducing us to the Organians, Metrons, and Trelane, just to name a few. This tradition carried on in the TNG era starting with the pilot of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which introduced us to Q, a somewhat whimsical immortal being with godlike power. Q returned several times to play games with the USS Enterprise-D crew as well as paying visits to Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and even Lower Decks. Many of Q’s appearances would be in the form of some kind of test or judgment. Q was part of the Q Continuum, with each Q—all of whom are named “Q”—possessing the same seemingly limitless powers.
Evidence for: Beyond the power to send Georgiou back in time and to another universe, there was something about Carl’s mix of whimsy with a hint of malevolence that felt like Q, especially like the original Q as played by John de Lancie. And there is something about Georgiou’s return to her past that feels like a test. As for dying and being sent back in time to a pivotal point of regret, that feels a lot like the TNG episode “Tapestry,” where Q appears to Jean Luc-Picard in a vision as he lies dying on an operating table, and gives him a chance to revisit one of his biggest regrets as a young man. Picard finds himself back in time and in uniform as a Starfleet cadet, just like Georgiou appeared back in time as the Emperor again. And like her, he is given another chance to change his fate.
In addition, the circumstances in which Carl was introduced on Dannus V was reminiscent of our only visit to the Q Continuum, in which a Q named Quinn took Captain Janeway there in the Voyager episode “Death Wish.” There you could see various Q hanging around an old gas station on a dusty road in the middle of nowhere, including one reading a book called “The Old,” and another with a magazine called “The New.” While the weather was different, there are parallels to the isolated nature. It was also said that Quinn was once exiled to a comet by the Continuum, which is a bit closer in nature to Dannus V.
Counter-arguments: The most obvious strike against this theory is that Carl’s name is Carl and not Q, or even something that starts with Q like Quinn. But it still starts with a hard C sound so it’s sort of in the ballpark. A bigger issue is Carl’s motivation. Q had a particular fascination with Jean-Luc Picard, whereas there is no indication Carl was aware of Georgiou before meeting her on Dannus V. Georgiou wasn’t just sent back home to remove her from a time and universe where she didn’t belong, but to a very specific time in her life. If this is a game or test, it’s not clear why Q even cares about Georgiou. Perhaps the Sphere Data was aware a Q frequented (or was exiled on) Dannus V, and this Q has a penchant for hard-luck cases.
Probable Theory: Carl is The Guardian of Forever
When it comes to methods of time travel in Star Trek nothing is more iconic than The Guardian of Forever, introduced in the first season TOS episode “City on the Edge of Forever,” widely considered to be one of if not THE best episode of the franchise. When the talking stone portal was asked by Kirk and Spock if it was a machine or a being it answered cryptically, saying it was “both and neither,” revealing it was created billions of years prior as “a gateway to other times and dimensions.” When Dr. McCoy—crazed due to an accidental drug overdose—jumps through the portal into the past the USS Enterprise disappears. Kirk and Spock follow him, jumping to a time before he arrived in 1930s America to stop him from altering the timeline.
Evidence for: It has been established that in the 32nd century, time travel has been outlawed following the Temporal War, and in “Terra Firma, Part 1” Kovich revealed the Federation cannot send her home due to the “Inter-dimensional Displacement Restriction” within the Temporal Accords. However, the Sphere data with its unique combination of databases would likely know that the Guardian was capable of doing the job. And when Carl introduced himself, he told Michael and Georgiou they were “asking the wrong questions.” The Guardian was also fixated on questions, introducing itself with, “A question! Since before your sun burned hot in space and before your race was born, I have awaited a question.”
As the Guardian’s gateway scrolled through time it showed historical events including newspaper accounts, which Spock was able to record on his tricorder. He was able to record events both before and after McCoy went through, showing different newspaper reports from after the timeline was altered. The specific newspaper was “The Star Dispatch.”
The Star Dispatch was the newspaper Carl was reading in Star Trek: Discovery. In addition to the headline about Georgiou’s death, his newspaper reported: “Starship USS Jenolan Reported To Be Missing,” an event from the 23rd century (TNG “Relics”), and the ancient history of “Supernova Threatens Tkon Empire” (TNG “The Last Outpost”).
Things tie in to “City on the Edge of Forever,” even more when you look at the back of Carl’s paper, which has an ad for the “Good Soup!” at the 21st Street Mission, the soup kitchen run by Edith Keeler, the pivotal character in “City on the Edge of Forever.” There is even what looks like a possible drawing of Keeler, next to the words “Let Me Help!” something she said to Kirk and he replied “Let me help. A hundred years or so from now, I believe, a famous novelist will write a classic using that theme. He’ll recommend those three words even over I love you.”
The resolution in “City on the Edge of Forever” is to restore the original timeline in which Edith Keeler dies, which became more difficult after Kirk fell in love with Keeler. Spock lays the choice facing Kirk out starkly, saying: “Save her, do as your heart tells you to do, and millions will die who did not die before.” In “Terra Firma, Part 1” Michael is only allowed to go on the mission after answering Admiral Vance’s question, “Will you really be able to let her go when it comes down to it?” As things in Discovery always come back to Michael, the key to this two-parter appears to come to if Michael can let go of Georgiou, like Kirk had to let go of Edith Keeler.
Counter-arguments: The most obvious disparity is that Carl and his door are two separate things, bearing no resemblance to the original Guardian of Forever, although it’s possible the Guardian can create different forms just as easily as it can send people back in time. Also, Dannus V bears no resemblance to the Guardian’s planet, and it is unlikely the original USS Enterprise would routinely travel as far as the edge of the Gamma Quadrant. But perhaps the Guardian’s planet moved, the Guardian itself moved, or there is more than one Guardian. When first encountered, the USS Enterprise located the Guardian due to it emanating powerful time displacement waves detectable millions of miles away, whereas Carl’s door emanated no detectable readings at all.
And the biggest strike against Carl as a Guardian was the precision by which he sent Georgiou back in time. In “City,” the Guardian displayed time in a linear fashion and the traveler would have to jump through based on their observation of how time was progressing. Importantly the Guardian declared, “I was made to offer the past in this manner. I cannot change.” Carl chose a specific (and significant) time and place. And while the Guardian presented itself as a conduit for journeys to the past, there was no indication it got personal, creating the same issues with Q regarding Carl’s motivation to even get involved in helping Georgiou resolve her regrets. Also, changes made in the past via Guardian’s travel had profound impacts on the Prime timeline. If Georgiou succeeds in saving Mirror Michael while thwarting Lorca’s coup a different way, would that not change the events of Star Trek: Discovery, especially if Lorca does not survive? Michael would still be in prison.
Our hope… Carl is something new
Arguments can obviously be made for Carl to be Q (or a Q) or The Guardian of Forever (or a Guardian). His whimsical nature and choice to give Georgiou a chance to revisit her past regrets fit well with what we’ve seen of the Q. The doorway and Michael’s parallel to Kirk having to let go of someone they love point to the Guardian. And the clues in the newspaper tip the scales to the Guardian, if we are assuming Carl is going to be tied into something from Star Trek canon.
As for all of those counterpoints, we have seen Star Trek: Discovery plow through issues like that before when the show wants to bring back elements of Trek’s past. This is the show that introduced its main character as an unknown human sister of Spock. That connection to Spock and the USS Enterprise ended up paying off in season two, spawning the highly anticipated new series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. This leads us to believe Carl is something from Trek history, most likely the Guardian.
While it can be a bit of fun to tie a character like Carl to an iconic entity in Star Trek’s past, one has to ask if there is really a benefit beyond a bit of fan service? And given all those counter-arguments, is it worth going through the twists it will require to make it all fit together, especially with the Guardian? Wasn’t running afoul of canon issues the ongoing dilemma of the first two seasons, with moving “beyond canon” the stated goal of the jump into the 32nd century? As noted before, Carl fits well into Star Trek’s tradition of mysterious powerful entities. So, why not let Carl just be Carl?
Setting up the Georgiou-verse?
Something to keep an eye on in “Terra Firma, Part 2” will be how this trip back to the past sets up what we are expecting to be Michelle Yeoh’s departure from Star Trek: Discovery. Her Section 31 show was set to go into production after season three of Discovery, although the pandemic got in the way of that. Even though it now looks like Strange New Worlds will actually be the first Discovery spin-off to go into production, work has continued on the Section 31 show, which means they need to find a way for Georgiou to exit.
Carl seems to be the conduit for this exit, and he could even possibly be part of this new show. Georgiou’s condition was said to be due to how far the Mirror Universe has diverged from the Prime Universe. It’s possible that the changes she is making in the Mirror Universe are creating her own splinter of a parallel universe, one where she can survive and thrive and possibly travel back and forth to the Prime Universe on her brand new TV show.
What do you think?
Are you as curious about Carl as we are? Do you have a preferred theory? And where do you think Georgiou is headed for her new show? Sound off in the comments below.
More Carl talk in the All Access Star Trek podcast
If you want to hear more about our Carl theories check out the latest episode of the All Access Star Trek podcast, where TrekMovie editors Anthony Pascale and Laurie Ulster go in-depth on “Terra Firma, Part 1.” Check out our podcast section for details on how to subscribe with your favorite podcast app, or listen below.
New episodes of Star Trek: Discovery premiere on Thursdays on CBS All Access in the U.S. and on CTV Sci-Fi Channel in Canada, where it’s also available to stream on Crave. Episodes are available on Fridays internationally on Netflix.
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