‘Star Trek Discovery’ Season 3 Episodes 9 and 10: Terra Firma
Emperor Philippa Georgiou’s journey comes full circle when an unexpected entity ushers along a new beginning.
I love Emperor Georgiou. A conclusion I had not come to at the end of season one. In fact, my opinion would most likely have been completely different. After the first two episodes of Star Trek Discovery, I felt I had been duped. I felt I had been had. Let’s take a step back and dissect exactly what happened. The first two episodes took everything I had known and loved in a Starfleet captain and killed it by killing Captian Philippa Georgiou. A bold move, but one which left us with Captain Georgiou’s imperially evil mirror counterpart at the end of season one. And if not for the brilliant actor behind the character, Michelle Yeoh, I probably would have rejected the idea outright.
Obviously, the Star Trek Discovery showrunners were playing the long game. And as season three comes to a close, we get to see a very changed Emperor Georgiou take a new and unexpected path. A change so subtle, that even the most die-hard Discovery fans would not have seen the amount at which the character had truly progressed. In the end, much like prime-Georgiou, mirror-Georgiou’s destiny lies elsewhere.
Season 3, Episodes 8 and 9: Terra Firma
The two-parter, Terra Firma 1 & 2, starts by directly addressing Georgiou’s health issues; the former emperor is not in a good place, mentally or physically. Doctor Culber continues his work to get at the root of Georgiou’s problems, which entail both disturbing visions of her past, with what looks to be a destabilization of her physical makeup. While the temporal effects of time travel have been the cause of many of the crew’s mental problems this season, Culber theorizes that adverse effects due to interdimensional travel could be at the root of Georgiou’s issues. A theory that Kovich backs up with a previous case of a known interdimensional and temporal traveler, Commander Yor, who was unable to survive a similar trip from the Kelvin timeline; stating that our molecules yearn to operate within the time and dimension in which they are created.
Kovich infers there is nothing that can be done, as the last successful interdimensional crossing was over 500 years ago. With the understanding of the root cause of the problem, Culber then consults the vast knowledge of Discovery’s sentient computer system, Zora, who suggests the ship head to Dannus V, where the possibility of an unknown solution to Georgiou’s problems may exist — with only a 5% chance of survival due to the rapid progression of the illness. While Georgiou’s odds of survival are still minimal at best, Burnham is able to convince Admiral Vance to allow Discovery to jump to the location. Fearing the worst, Captain Saru and First Officer Tilly offer a few heartfelt goodbyes, as Burnham and Georgiou prepare to beam down to the planet's surface to see what mysterious solution awaits.
Upon arriving on the planet’s snowy surface, Burnham and Georgiou proceed on foot to the exact coordinates provided by Zora. In the short hike to the specified location, we get a beautifully blocked scene analogous to the opening scenes of the series premiere, where prime-Georgiou and Commander Burnham traverse a desert planet to help a pre-warp civilization. The imagery of the footsteps in the snow compared to the footsteps in the sand of the opening episode gave strong hints that this may be the bookend to Michael and Philippa’s journey together.
After reaching the coordinates, the two find a strange entity named Carl, who appears out of nowhere. While Carl initially presents as a Q, we are given several clues on the entity’s true origin. First off, upon careful examination, Carl is holding a newspaper that is from the same outlet shown in a beloved Star Trek episode, The City on the Edge of Forever — The Star Dispatch. Also, one of the headlines on the paper reads “Good Soup”, which was the name of Edith Keeler’s outreach program from the same episode. Then there’s the newspaper headline announcing Emperor Georgiou’s death, leaving us wondering if Georgiou would have to meet a similar fate as Edit Keeler in order to keep the timeline intact.
If the headline pronouncing Georgiou’s death didn’t throw our collective sleuthing off the trail, the doorway-portal itself was enough to keep us guessing. As the doorway-portal more closely resembled something from twilight zone versus the forever-gate from the classic original series episode. After being coerced by Carl that a trip through the gate may be the solution to her state of decay, Georgiou briefly reasons with Burnham before entering the doorway.
Upon entry, Georgiou finds herself back in the mirror universe at a time right before she would be been betrayed by mirror-Burnham. Revisiting this critical point of time and space allowed us to see the fall of mirror-Burnham, though it doesn’t take long for us to see that while everything was in place to play out as it had before, Georgiou had something much different in mind this time around.
It quickly became apparent that Georgiou’s time in the prime universe had changed her for the better. The nurture and influence of the Federation, while not perfect, had subtlely changed the former emperor over the last two seasons. The former emperor Georgiou was not the same, and she would try her best to wield her enlightenment upon her former mirror-existence; ending in a fever pitch in which mirror-Michael would reach the same predestined fate, but this time with Georgiou leaving no stone unturned in an earnest attempt to reclaim Michael's loyalty. The true beauty in this mirror-diversion was seeing a changed Georgiou back in her element, in a time and place that once fit like a glove now being a place of discomfort and consternation — with the redemption of mirror-Burnham being the main goal.
The journey into the mirror universe would also see the former emperor make an appeal to Kelpian slave mirror-Saru. Stating to the Kelpian that she had seen his race pass through Vahar’ai and that his race has the potential to be so much greater. A notion that inspired and garnered the Kelplian’s trust for the emperor’s final showdown.
While able to convenience mirror-Saru of his potential greatness, Georgiou’s plea to mirror Burnham would not be so successful. As Georgiou attempts to deter the mutinous motives of her adopted daughter, Burnham fights it at every turn. Though, after months of torture, Burham seemingly begins to turn and pledges her loyalty; an effort Georgiou looked to cement by having mirror-Burnham execute each of her would-be co-conspirators in the process. In the end, it was all a ruse on the part of mirror-Burnham, as a final showdown between both Georgiou and Burnham loyalists left mirror-Burnham dead, and the emperor at the brink of the same.
As emperor Georgiou’s life begins to fade from her showdown with mirror-Burnham, she awakens back on Dannus V, unsure if what she had just experienced was all just a dream. Georgiou’s bio-monitor reads that a total of almost three months had passed, though Burham states that she had only been unconscious for a few seconds. Carl strongly implies that what Georgiou experienced was an alternate mirror-universe, more or less framing the journey as a test for the former emperor; one that she apparently passed with flying colors. Puzzled at what exactly just took place, Burnham confronts Carl again on who or what he is — and the entity reveals all.
In a beautifully climactic moment. Carl reveals that he is the Guardian of Forever — with a resounding shift in the tone of his voice, and a beautiful reveal of the door portal turning into the Forever Gate we know and love from the beloved original series episode. Any attempt to quantify the awesomeness of seeing this scene play out would be an understatement. While the Guardian has been re-used in the animated series and some books, seeing it return in the television canon was an unbelievable moment. In the Guardian’s revelation, it states that it had been in hiding, after being used as a pawn during the temporal wars; especially poignant considering the time and place in which Discovery has landed.
While Georgiou had passed the Guardian’s test, she was not out of the wood just yet. As Kovich stated, our molecules yearn to operate in the time in place in which they are from. Finally, the Guardian offers Georgiou one final trip through the portal. While we don’t know exactly when it would send her, we would have to assume it would be a trip back to somewhere around the 2250s, though theoretically, it could be anytime when the mirror and prime universes were still in alignment.
Michael and Georgiou embrace each other one last time. At this moment, Emporer Georgiou finally reveals all the true feelings she has had for prime Michael in their short time together. The feisty relationship between the two had undoubtedly progressed from borderline-hostile into unspoken respect and admiration — culminating in an incredibly powerful moment. A moment in which emperor Georgiou states that Burnham has given her a new lease on life, and in doing so, showed her a new way to live; stating that her path and Burnham’s Philippa death may have always been destined to happen. To which Burnham reply’s, “You are my Philippa.” Georgiou offers one last piece of advice to Burnham by iterating her vast untapped potential, before stepping through the forever gate and out of the life of Michael Burnham forever.
As much as we needed to focus on Georgiou’s journey in this two-parter, we did get one step closer to figuring out the source of the burn, as Adira’s decryption algorithm finally decodes the signal coming from the Verubin Nebula. Within the nebula, we find a ship called the Khi’eth, a Kelpian research vessel that became trapped while attempting to investigate a dilithium nursery a few years prior to the burn. The message was conveyed through a holo-message from a Kelpian research scientist, Dr. Issa, to whom Saru becomes instantly smitten. Saru puts his team to work on an effort to gain control of the ship’s systems remotely, in an attempt to get more information on how the vessel became stranded within the nebula and moreover, what it may know about the burn.
Meanwhile, Cleveland Booker makes it known to Saru that he wants to be a part of the Discovery crew, lending his experience and knowledge to Starfleet’s mission. Saru is skeptical of the former courier’s intentions and tells Book to be ready whenever an opportunity arises to prove himself. Lucky for him, Stamets and Adira are unable to gain remote access to the Khi’eth due to weak signal strength, a problem Book remedies with a quick study of Starfleet’s technical and field manuals, and a little Orion syndicate technology from the 32-century that can amplify a signal strength through subspace.
I love Philippa Georgiou — mirror and prime alike. While Captain Philippa Georgiou’s rather short debut conveyed the standard of the apex Starfleet Captain, Emperor Georgiou conveyed the untapped good in all of us if given the right set of circumstances. In looking back, it's the journey to surface that undiscovered virtue in the former emperor that I have grown to appreciate. A journey that originally left Michael with hopes to find some semblance of her former mentor in the emperor, but ultimately pivoted to acceptance and a profound appreciation in what the hardened Georgiou brought to the table; an appreciation that may have been made even more apparent to the commander after a year alone in 3188.
Taking a step back a bit, I think the biggest loss of all will be that of Michelle Yeoh on Star Trek Discovery. Michelle Yeoh has been the true beacon on a hill — and each and every time she is on screen, it’s a genuine treasure. As Captain Georgiou, I can’t gush enough about the way in which she embodied the idea and demeanor I envision in the best of us. And as Emperor Georgiou, the pure disposition of evil was conveyed so emphatically, I was left wondering if the character would ever be redeemed. Polar opposite characters that were both expertly portrayed by Michelle Yeoh in a way in which I never once doubted the authenticity of either. I think we also have Michelle Yeoh to thank for some of the expert martial arts seen in Discovery, from her showdown with Leland to the final fight with mirror-Michael. Of course, behind-the-scenes rumblings have been aflutter centered around Michelle Yeoh getting her own Section 31 show with the inclusion of Shazad Latif back as Ash Tyler. I remain bitter about Michelle leaving Discovery, but am optimistic about her return in a show of her own.
Finally, I really appreciate what the showrunners have done in this episode arc. They could have very easily let Georgiou’s departure been a simple ten-minute plot point that sent Michelle Yeoh off to her new series — but they didn’t, they dug in. They established the rules around her departure at every turn, including the temporal effects seen among the crew, the inclusion of Kovich to explain some of the rules around the misaligned universes, the references to the Kelvin-verse with Commander Kor, and the intriguing flashback and molecule destabilization. Bravo on the groundwork that truly created a sendoff worthy of an emperor! In the end, Terra Firma once again leaves us wondering what caused the burn, one of the few remaining mysteries presented this season. Let’s hope the revelation will be as interesting as this look back into the mirror universe has been.
More Observations and Thoughts
- Nice way to tie the Kelvin-Universe back into the television timeline. Kovich explicitly mentions the temporal incursion of a Romulan mining ship with occurs in the Star Trek 2009 movies.
- Dr. Issa is portrayed by the same actor to portrays Syriana, Saru’s sister, in season two.
- When Jet Reno pops up talking about them stealing the power supply. While this scene felt very throw away, I kind of think it’s going to be impactful. She’s integrating polaric-warp conduits into Discovery?
- Burnham did not let Saru know the exact details of Georgiou’s departure, was she just protecting the Guardian of Forever?
- Sonequa Martin-Green’s performance as mirror-Burnham was magnificent.
- A non-cybernetic Airiam makes a return on the I.S.S Discovery, also Neilson has dark hair.
- Rekha Sharma makes a return for the mirror universe as Lieutenant Landry, sadly only to be killed again.