“Terra Firma, Part 2”
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, Episode 10 – Debuted Thursday, December 17, 2020
Teleplay by: Kalinda Vazquez; Written by: Bo Yeon Kim & Erika Lippoldt & Alan McElroy
Directed by: Chloe Domont
A serious follow-up to last week’s more campy first part, Sonequa Martin-Green and Michelle Yeoh create a strong character study with a few bonus moments of delight. With some twists and turns and explorations of Trek mythology, this is an episode that will be long remembered and much discussed amongst fans.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
“I believe you can change, as I have”
Picking up right where we left off but with the pace slowed way down, Mirror Michael is tossed into the ISS Discovery brig where the Emperor is determined to break her. Fully committed to her Terran redo, Phillipa wants to remold this rebel Burnham into something like her new favorite from Prime. This kinder, gentler Georgiou also has a vision of a better Empire, “we can be more, but first we must remake ourselves.”
But we are still in the land of agonizer booths. The tough love rehabilitation is put under the not-so-kind administrations of Captain Killy, yet it is a bit of peer pressure combined with a sentimentality that appears to get through to the defiant daughter. Once she’s back on Team Emperor, Michael commits to eliminating all co-conspirators, as she and her sidekick Detmer play bad cop/psychopathic cop until Keyla herself became the final loose end to tie up… except for the elusive Lorca.
“This is who I have always been… you made me.”
As Georgiou binge-watched Michael’s torture sessions on TV, she had some quality time with her new pal Mirror Saru, who seems to be the only person around who really gets her. She even saves his life again, recommending he (and his Kelpien friends) find a quiet place to go through Vahar’ai instead of being culled. For all the glam and camp fun of it, these moments are the strongest in the MU, with Doug Jones continuing to impress. Now this slave is genuinely worried that the new Emperor and her peaceful methods to quell the growing alien coalition threat are going to get her killed. She is still ruthless and considers democracy to be hilariously fragile—okay, maybe she has a point there—but Georgiou is showing that she really has changed.
As for Michael, not so much. After a truncated search for Lorca comes up empty at Risa, she reveals her true power-hungry nature, and takes another shot at grabbing that gold ring. Following a mini civil war on the detention level pitting Michael’s new traitors against Georgiou’s loyalists, it is the Kelpiens that make the difference with some impressive fighting that includes Saru pwning Culber. A beautifully choreographed and heartbreaking final showdown ends with Mirror Michael again meeting her fate at the end of a sword, with Georgiou following it up by dying in Saru’s arms. You just can’t catch a break in the MU.
“Was any of it real?”
And we’re back! Snapping out of her Mirror Universe trip, Georgiou finds herself back on Dannus VI only a minute after she walked through the door and went unconscious, but her Fitbit says she has been gone for three months. Trippy. Carl is still here of course, and abstruse as ever with “See that’s what you do with doors, you pass through.”
The enigmatic doorman has a brand-new version of tomorrow’s newspaper, and this time it says “Emperor Georgiou’s Fate Uncertain.” So, things are looking up. Yet the Emperor’s original problem persists… she cannot survive in this time and place, and Carl confirms that she is no longer a good fit back home in the Terran Empire (a place she has lost interest in anyway). At this point, they are as confused as the audience as to what exactly is going on here and so Carl finally drops the reveal on who he really is: “I am the Guardian of Forever.” Bam.
“Where the hell have you been?”
Up on the Discovery—that’s USS, not ISS—the season-long mystery investigation continues on a slow burn. See what I did there? Adira and Stamets are struggling to break through the radiation around the distant nebula containing the Kelpien ship, which is the latest big clue. And like a wisecracking phoenix, a licorice-chomping Reno thankfully returns to our lives to complain about them rerouting all her power. Jett’s been busy upgrading the ship and she’s given them all she’s got. But Book—yes he’s not just a handsome empath—has the solution: a subspace Wi-Fi booster made by the Emerald Chain.
This bit of distraction on the Disco was just what this very heavy episode needed, and in fact we could have probably used a bit more of Reno moaning about what all these crazy kids are doing to her ship. Later Admiral Vance chimes in, and he’s in a bit of a mood over the use of Chain tech and feeling a bit out of the loop back at HQ. Osyraa—ugh, remember her?—is bugging him and he takes it out on poor Saru, accusing the captain of being distracted by Kelpiens. But even Vance skirts “badmiral” trope territory when he begrudgingly gives them the green light to continue their investigation.
“You are my Phillipa”
Back with Carl of Forever, he explains he used to be just a simple space and time portal, but s**t got real during the Temporal Wars, so he went into hiding. No longer will he let any Tom, Spock, or Harry go through to the past; now you have to run through the demo version. The good news is, Phillipa gets his thumbs up. Sure, she skewered her daughter—again—after Michael killed all who opposed her. But she tried playing nice and she saved Saru, so “A” for effort. Now for realzies she will be sent back to a time in the Prime universe when it was close enough to the Mirror Universe for her molecules to remain attached. The Guardian may be billions of years old, but he has become much more user-friendly in the last thousand or so.
Now comes the hard part, saying goodbye. It may be Discovery-style melodrama, but Martin-Green and Yeoh sell this touching goodbye. Like a combination of George Bailey and The Grinch, Georgiou has learned her lesson and is ready for what awaits her with a whole new—dare I say, hopeful—outlook, and a bit of advice for Michael to be all she can be. And with that Georgiou, Carl, and his gateway vanish in a puff of fan service. The goodbyes for Georgiou go into overtime with an unnecessary Irish wake on the Disco, where suddenly everyone has nice things to say about their pet tyrant. But I keep thinking about Georgiou’s parting words — telling Michael her destiny is in the captain’s chair… a chair currently occupied.
Let’s get serious
This is one of those part-two episodes that continues the story but feels like a very different episode. The smash into a slower pace, a character focus, and the darker and more serious tone are a bit jarring at first. But it is all befitting what is one of those milestone episodes, in this case saying goodbye to a key character and actor who was there from the start. And like in part 1, there were many scenes and moments which were nods to those early days of Discovery, including ending Michael spending time with The Emperor the same way this journey began in “The Vulcan Hello,” with a Georgiou inspiring Michael to seek out her destiny to be better, and specifically to command… which is the greatest destiny one can have in Star Trek.
This all worked to an extent, but like so often with Discovery, they take things a bit too far. Sometimes it feels like the characters on the show treat Emperor Georgiou with the reverence, respect, and honor that the cast and crew have for the real-life legend Michelle Yeoh. So while the actress is deserving IRL, some of these in-universe character moments can feel unearned. And Yeoh is worthy of praise for her work in this two-parter, which has been her best acting on the series to date, for either of her characters. Sonequa Martin-Green was also strong, and both Mary Wiseman and Emily Coutts added some nuance to the camp of the Mirror Universe, revealing more of the everyday terror it must be to live there. And what else can be said about Tig Notaro, except more please.
It’s not entirely clear if Georgiou’s actions in the Mirror Universe will have any impact on that timeline, if they even happened at all, or was the whole experience was just a test by the Guardian. It could be they are keeping this vague so it can be explored in her upcoming series or with future visits to the MU from Discovery itself. Georgiou mentioned the character San from her visions in passing, but this still feels like a loose end that may get picked up in the Section 31 show.
Not including Jason Isaacs as Mirror Lorca may make sense because his presence could have been a distraction from the focus on Yeoh and her exit, but maybe they shouldn’t have kept talking about him in part 1, setting up a bit of an expectation that he must be coming in part 2.
Turns out the theory was right and Carl was The Guardian of Forever, from the classic TOS episode “City of the Edge of Forever.” No doubt this blew some fans’ minds, especially those who don’t freeze-frame to read headlines on a newspaper prop. And bringing in such an iconic character/device/portal lends weight to an episode, giving some more honor and respect to Michelle Yeoh’s big goodbye.
Discovery did of course play with the concept of the Guardian to make it their own—as they do—and fans can reasonably debate the reasons for the changes. And it can be argued they were honoring “City” writer (and famously curmudgeonly sci-fi author) Harlan Ellison’s original vision of Guardians as a race that controlled the Time Vortex. But mainly what they did is make the Guardian into a character you can have an interesting conversation with, and a character with his own agency and motivations. These are all good things that you want with a character, but it raises the question of why bother with the Guardian at all, beyond the fan service.
The jump into the 32nd century was to take Discovery “beyond canon” and on to “fresh snow.” But at times it feels like this show is afraid to walk out on that snow and it can’t quit calling back into canon. While we have met some very interesting and well-written characters like Vance and Kovich, they haven’t been taking any risks when it comes to creating new civilizations, which is of course at the core of Star Trek. It could possibly honor Star Trek, even more, to carry on the tradition of superbeings by making Carl their own character. He was already interesting before we even knew he was the Guardian, which could make him less interesting or at least, less likely to be their own recurring Q-like character.
In the end “Terra Firma” was an excellent, enjoyable, fun episode that got watered down a bit by spreading it into a two-parter. While this may befit the exit of a major star and setting up her eventual return in a new series, like in season one, the trip to the MU started to wear out its welcome. It’s time to get back to the neglected main storylines of season three.
Random extra bits
- To reflect the Mirror Universe theme, the visuals for opening credits are shown in negative and upside down.
- All the action takes place on ISS Discovery for production reasons, but they could have handwaved some excuse that the ISS Charon or ISS Shenzhou are not seen.
- The coalition that was forming against Terran Empire was comprised of Romulans, Tellarites, Klingons, Andorians and potentially Denobulans, Rigelians, and Coridanites. This could be the same Alliance headed up by Mirror Voq/Fire Wolf, which Michael called a “coalition of hope” in season one.
- In the Prime Universe, the Coalition of Planets was the predecessor to the UFP.
- Georgiou’s TV could “kill with a push of a button,” which indicates she had a Tantalus Field like Mirror Kirk of the ISS Enterprise.
- Mirror Michael wore a similar prison jumpsuit (black of course) as Michael Prime after she was convicted of mutiny (against Prime Georgiou)
- Mirror Lorca uses the alias “Vicar.”
- In the MU, Risa has rings.
- For an evil universe, the brig cells and meals seem pretty nice… except for the agonizer sessions.
- Apparently, the 13th century Mongol Empire leader Genghis Khan is highly respected by the Terran Empire, even though he allowed conquered people to keep their own cultures.
- Reno says the ship was upgraded with polaric warp conduits. Polaric Ion Energy was highly volatile and banned in the 23rd century after the Discovery left.
- This episode has the unusual combination of a “teleplay by” with a “written by” credit (usually it either just “written by” or “teleplay by” and “story by”). Likely this is due to some WGA attribution arcana.
- Line of the week: “Kelpien flesh is too high in cholesterol and it’s stringy.”
- Bonus line: “This isn’t food, it’s candy. It’s practically an accessory.”
More to come
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