How Star Trek: Discovery’s BIG Twist Sets Up Section 31

A very famous element from Star Trek: The Original Series, the Guardian of Forever, has returned to Discovery.

Michelle Yeoh's Georgiou Meets The Guardian of Forever in Star Trek: Discovery Season 3
Photo: CBS

Massive spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery, Season 3, Episode 10, “Terra Firma, Part 2.” 

Before our sun burned hot in space and before even my toddler could pull off a reasonable William Shatner impersonation, time portals and paradoxes have been a staple of science fiction. Whether it was Bradbury’s butterfly or Heinlein’s bootstraps, those who love outer space sci-fi have been preconditioned to also love time travel sci-fi, forever. Kirk and Picard told us that “space” is the final frontier, but they failed to mention that the Star Trek franchise is sometimes at its best when it also travels in time, a concept that was introduced early on in Trek canon with the Guardian of Forever.

The most recent two-part epic of Star Trek: Discovery — “Terra Firma Parts 1 &2” — delivered pools of sorrow, waves of (nostalgic) joy and managed to send one character back in time, and then, across the multiverse. Michelle Yeoh’s Philipia Georgiou believed nothing was going to change her world, but now it seems she’s headed to a world where no one (in Star Trek) has gone before.

Here’s how the latest nostalgic call-back to Star Trek: The Original Series also (finally!) sets-up the long-discussed Section 31 Star Trek spin-off…

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How Star Trek: Discovery connects to “The City on the Edge of Forever”

By the end of “Terra Firma Part 2,” we learn two things: First, Mirror Georgiou’s time in the Prime Universe has made her way nicer than she lets on. Second, old guys hanging out on snowy planets wearing bowler hats are probably sentient time portals in disguise. When Burnham confronts Carl (Paul Guilfoyle) for his bizarre and elusive behavior, he finally reveals that he is the physical embodiment of the Guardian of Forever. BEHOLD! (We kind of called this by accident last week, but honest, we didn’t know!)

So, is Carl a person? Is Carl an alien vortex with a pocket watch? Recall the answer the Guardian of Forever gave Kirk when asked something similar: “I am my own beginning, my own ending.” Okay, so maybe Guardian Carl hasn’t changed that much in nine centuries.

That said, since the year 2267, and the events of the TOS episode “The City on the Edge of Forever,” the Guardian of Forever has become more helpful. Not only does Carl give Georgiou a second chance to fix the Mirror Universe, he also gives her a third chance at doing something important with her life.

As established in the previous episode by Kovich (David Cronenberg), Georgiou can’t remain in the Prime Universe version of 3188, but as demonstrated by the story of “Terra Firma,” she can’t really go back to her job as Emperor of the Terran Empire either. So, now, a third path has been forged for Georgiou. The Guardian of Forever is sending her back to a point in history where the Prime Universe and the Mirror Universe has yet to diverge. And, with that step through the most famous time portal of all time, Michelle Yeoh is seemingly headed to her own spin-off series.

How Georgiou’s trip through the Guardian of Forever sets up Section 31

Although the crew of the USS Discovery treats Georgiou’s departure as her death, we all know she’ll be alive in whatever time period she’s being sent to. This move very neatly takes Georgiou out of the timeline and dimension of Discovery, and puts her into the world of yet another Star Trek prequel series. Up until this point, Alex Kurtzman and others involved with the Michelle Yeoh Trek spin-off series have been very hush-hush as to what the show will actually be about, or when/where it will be set. This Yeoh-centric Trek spinoff has been in the works since late in 2018, but now, it seems like we have some kind of idea as to what it will really be about, namely, what awaits Georgiou on the other side of the time portal.

Where in the Star Trek timeline can the new show even take place?

Okay, so when did the Mirror Universe and Prime Universe actually become two separate realities? The fact that Georgiou is called a “daughter of Rome,” could suggest that the differences between the Mirror Universe and the Prime Universe actually do date all the way back to the ancient Roman Empire. In the Enterprise two-part episode, “In a Mirror, Darkly,” Mirror Phlox implies that the literature of the Prime Universe is similar to the Mirror Universe, but that the characters are “weaker.” That said, he also says that Shakespeare exists in both universes. This led a lot of fans to assume that the divergence occurred sometime after the 16th Century. 

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But, do we really think the new Michelle Yeoh Star Trek series will take place in the 16h Century or in Ancient Rome? Well, stranger things have happened, but it still feels unlikely. We don’t actually know that the Mirror/Prime divergence occurs that far back, because it seems more possible that it occurs much closer to the present.

Could Section 31 take place in present day?

If we only think about the opening of “In a Mirror, Darkly,” and all the talk about April 5, 2063 in the Discovery episode “Die Trying,” then it seems possible that the date of divergence is “First Contact Day.” In the good universe, this is when Zefram Cochrane greeted the Vulcans on Earth. In the Mirror Universe, that’s when Cochrane shot the Vulcans and raided their ship.

So, what happened differently on Earth prior to that point that made Cochrane into that kind of person? It seems reasonable that a Star Trek series set sometime in the early 21st Century could answer that question. We don’t know a lot about what led to World War III, and how all of that fits in with the Eugenics Wars, exactly, mostly because there’s been a ton of retcon over the years. 

Trek canon still says that World War III happens in the early part of the 21st Century, and is mostly over by 2063. If Georgiou is going back to time before 2063, before First Contact, we might get a very interesting show. We talk a lot about the optimistic future of Star Trek, but what did it take to get there? Is the new Michelle Yeoh spin-off like Man in the High Castle meets Westworld meets, that TOS episode “Assignment: Earth?” (And if so, can she meet Gary Seven?)

If Section 31 does take place before all of Star Trek, then we’ve got a paradox

Ever since Section 31 was introduced in Deep Space Nine, we’ve been told it’s a spy organization as old as Starfleet. In fact, it’s called Section 31, because there’s a section (number 31) in the Starfleet charter that allows Starfleet to do whatever it needs to do to protect Starfleet. But, if the new Section 31 series takes place before Starfleet exists, then we could see Georgiou creating Section 31 with the idea of Starfleet in mind. This would retroactively mean that Michelle Yeoh’s Georgiou could become the most important character in Starfleet history, simply because she (might) create a spy club that protects Starfleet, even before it exists. 

If all of this shakes out anywhere close to these guesses, then, you could say, that the future of the Federation is being pulled up by Michelle Yeoh’s bootstraps. 

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Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 is streaming on CBS All Access. As of this writing, there is no release date announced for Section 31.