Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 Episode 9 Review: Terra Firma, Part 1

Star Trek: Discovery puts Emperor Georgiou front and center.

Michelle Yeoh as Georgiou in Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 Episode 9
Photo: CBS

This Star Trek: Discovery review contains spoilers for Season 3, Episode 8.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, Episode 9

The Mirror Universe works best when we know the characters and world it warps well. The fascinations of visiting the Mirror Universe often come in observing the characters (and actors) we know and love exhibit wildly different behavior (and looks)—for example, the franchise’s original visit to the Mirror Universe came in Season 2 of The Original Series, only after we had properly gotten use to a Spock without facial hair. This is why the Discovery‘s original visit to the Mirror Universe back in Season 1, while not without its high points, was a bit of a waste of the Mirror Universe setting. We didn’t know the characters and world well enough at this point in the show’s run to appreciate the Terran deviations from the show’s status quo. (I liked Ensign Connor as much as the next fresh-faced character who died in the Battle of the Binary Stars, but when he pops up alive in the Mirror Universe, it’s more of a “huh” moment than an “OMG” one.)

By Season 3, a season with the best and most consistent characterization yet, this is no longer the case. We know Burnham and Saru and Stamets and Michael and Tilly (OK, we always knew exactly who Tilly was). In Season 1, I was constantly Googling the bridge crews’ names because the show invested so little time in giving them any kind of characterization. Now, when the Mirror Universe versions of Joann and Rhys face off in a hallway brawl for promotion, I know enough about these characters to know this would not happen in our universe. (I would still like to know more about these characters though, please.)

And we know Emperor Georgiou, better than we ever did Captain Georgiou. Season 3 of Discovery has spent a fair amount of narrative time exploring how Emperor Georgiou’s time spent with the supportive, earnest, and idealistic crew of the Discovery has changed her from a singleminded tyrant into a tyrant who also knows the Kelpien term “Vahar’ai,” and her unexpectedly earnest goodbyes with Saru and Tilly are a testament to that. This episode wouldn’t work if we didn’t care about Georgiou, if we didn’t think there was a chance that, when placed back in the ultimate position of power in the Mirror Universe, she might make different kinds of decisions after her time spent with Discovery. Because, as fun as it is to see Captain Killy again, a Mirror Universe episode needs stakes and thematic focus too. And, in “Terra Firm, Part 1,” all of that comes from Georgiou.

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For as long as Emperor Georgiou has been in our universe, she has been talking about the glory of her own. She is constantly comparing the Federation to the Terran Empire, and finding the former wanting. It’s a coping mechanism, sure, but that doesn’t make her feelings on the matter any less true. Now, when Georgiou steps through Carl’s mysterious door, she is given the chance to return to her world before everything fell apart. It’s a dream come true, but is this still Georgiou’s dream? Now that she’s gotten to know our version of Michael, one with a deep well of compassion for Georgiou, surely Mirror Michael’s shallow hate hits different?

One needs look no further than Georgiou’s interactions with the Mirror Universe version of Saru, who is a slave, than to see that Emperor Georgiou has changed. When Mirror Michael orders Saru be made into dinner for a absurdly minor “error,” Georgiou saves him, making him her eyes and ears on the ship. At this point, it’s unclear if Georgiou does it because she feels something like compassion for Mirror Saru or if she simply knows she can probably trust him more than most other people around her, but it’s certainly the kind of measured move that the Emperor Georgiou we originally met never would have made.

The episode ends on an abrupt and anti-climactic cliffhanger, the kind that feels more like a fade-to-black before a commercial break than the end of a first-parter: Georgiou gets Mirror Michael to admit that she has been plotting with Lorca to overthrow her, and chooses not to kill her daughter but rather to bring her to The Agonizer. Again, is this a decision based in compassion or strategy? Is the growth that even Georgiou recognizes in herself grounded in empathy or something else? If the cliffhanger has any narrative tension, it comes in this question. Because I don’t actually care what happens to Mirror Michael; I care what it says about, for lack of a better term, Georgiou’s soul.

I’m not convinced all of this isn’t some kind of test put into motion by some “higher” power trying to decide if they want to save Georgiou or not. (That Carl guy has Q vibes, is all I’m saying.) Either way, it’s an interesting narrative thread for Discovery to follow, albeit one that probably would have been served better by an episode fully devoted to its exploration. Instead, the first half of “Terra Firma, Part 1” awkwardly checks in with some larger plots, most notably the mysterious nebula-based distress signal related to the source of The Burn, before diving into a full-on Mirror Universe episode. I would have loved to see what this story would have looked like if it could have been completely Georgiou-focused, though I also understand why that would have been hard to justify—especially for a two-parter. As it stands now, it’s hard to judge the success of this episode without having seen the next episode, so mundanely abrupt was this ending.

While “Terra Firma, Part 1” may have its structural faults, it also does something incredibly clever: it makes Georgiou the audience surrogate in the Mirror Universe, the one character who knows what we know, aligning the audience with her point of view. It creates a bond between Georgiou and the audience, and that kind of narrative element can be an incredibly powerful thing. I hope “Terra Firma, Part 2” doesn’t waste it.

Additional thoughts.

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If this isn’t a Q-like test, then Georgiou maybe just created a new Star Trek timeline.

It would have been interesting to see Adira in the Mirror Universe. Are they Trill here? What does non-binary identity look like in the Terran Empire? Does Adira just murder anyone who misgenders them? Because that would be awesome.

Sonequa Martin-Green looks like she is having so much fun portraying Mirror Michael.

If this is a backdoor pilot for Michelle Yeoh’s Star Trek spinoff, then it is an impressively thorough one.

There is a Jason Isaacs-shaped hole in this episode. I keep waiting for Lorca to come around the corner and… he doesn’t.

David Kronenberg is back. He gives us some important backstory about what the heck is up with Georgiou. Basically, creatures are not made to travel too far from their own time and universe. Kronenberg only knows of one other person who has traveled through both time and away from their own universe, and… things did not end well for them.

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While Kronenberg may not have an appaling solution to Georgiou’s illness, the Discovery computer does (hey, Zora), with a major assist from the Sphere data. According to the computer, Georgiou has a 5% chance of survival if she travels to Danus V. The computer gives very few details on what that chance might look like, but Georgiou and Michal eventually learn that it looks like a smarmy man in a bowler hat and a door to the unknown amidst a snowscape.

Visually, Georgiou and Michael traipsing across a deserted yet beautiful planet had to be a callback to the opening scene of this show.

It’s great for movie night, doesn’t mean we should trust, it is a hilarious and understandable take on Zora.

Saru is 100% ready to sacrifice the needs of the few for the needs. ofthe many, but “Terra Firma, Part 1” begins to ask the question: What will happen when he’s the one who really cares about the few? The distress call related to the source of The Burn came from a Kelpien ship that was investigating a dilithium nursery inside of the nebula over 100 years ago and Saru really cares about it. Kelpian, over 100 years old.

“Your crew member is drowning. If you let her, your crew will never look at you or the Federation ever again. And you’ll never look at yourself the same way again.” Admiral Vance has been a cool addition to this season.

“You’re never going to get the death you want here.” Michael, attempting to motivate Georgiou to fight for her life.

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Not so unlike my Burnham. Bending people to your will. The only difference is you lie to yourself about it.

Whenever Georgiou and Michael have a scene in profile together, all I can think about is how long and beautiful their hair is.

This episode should have been called “Death’s Alarm Clock.” Fight me.

“Where I’m from, we were prime and you were the mirror.” “As it should be.”

Saru tells Georgiou that he has learned as much from her as he did from Captain Georgiou, which same, but also Saru spent way more time with Captain Georgiou than we did.

“Number One, I suspect your crew may survive you after all.” No once can freeze out Tilly forever.

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“I just cost us so much time.” Oh, man. Adira’s critical voice is so relatable. This truly is a crew of perfectionists.

Book maybe wants to join the Federation?

“Perhaps I should join your Phillipa Georgiou in hell.”

“What do you call a cute portal? A-door-able.”

“Why is it here?” “So she can go through.” Carl’s got jokes, you guys.

The way Mary Wiseman delivers that reading of Georgiou’s titles. *Chef’s kiss*

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“I slept with him a few times last year, but I quickly grew bored.” Mirror Michael’s Lorca update made me laugh.

A Christ crown and absurdly high-necked robe? Emperor Georgiou has lewks.

“If strength is what my Michael seeks, she will find that I have more than enough.”

“If you have something to say to me, say it.” “You need to find better assassins”

“Do not confuse growth with weakness.” I’m just gonna keep quoting this episode.

“I was master of that trash heap.”

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Give me the Michelle Yeoh spinoff now, please.

Rating:

3 out of 5