How much you enjoy “Terra Firma, Part 1” (and, I’m guessing, it’s follow up next week) will depend largely on your affection for the Mirror Universe. It takes a while, and we have to have a Godlike Being and a mysterious door to get there, but the last twenty minutes or so of “Firma” follows Georgiou as she relives one of the most important days of her life: the day she executed her adopted daughter, Michael Burnham, for conspiring with Lorca to assassinate her and take over the empire. Up until that point, “Firma” is your usual Discovery episode, jumping between characters, giving us a bit more info about the Burn mystery, and checking in to see where everyone is before we move into the season’s end game. But once Georgiou steps through that door, everything in the Prime universe disappears, and we’re back in the land of gaudy gold uniforms, sneers, and Agony Booths.
I honestly thought the show had put all that nonsense behind it back in the first season. We did a bunch of Mirror Universe shit, had a few good twists, and left with a replacement Michelle Yeoh, and that was more than enough. Georgiou has been snarling and sniping ever since, and while it always seems a bit weird that a fascist dictator who most definitely murdered people is hanging out with what are basically Science Care Bears, Yeoh is clearly enjoying herself, and it at least offered some tonal variation from the usual hugs-and-crying approach.
Only now Dr. Cronenberg has figured out that Georgiou is dying from temporal dislocation, due to her being from another universe and jumping forward in time, and the Sphere consciousness (I don’t think you can really call it “data” anymore) has found a possible cure. There’s only a five percent chance of it working, sure, but it’s still better than nothing. So Discovery heads to Dannus V, where Georgiou and Michael beam down, meet a man named Carl wearing a bowler hat and find a mysterious door that leads Georgiou into her old life.
This was not a direction I was expecting the season to go, so points for that. It’s difficult to assess it critically because it’s unclear how this new twist is going to resolve; it’s so unmoored from everything else we’ve seen in season 3 that there’s nothing to set it against. Still, it’s at least possible to try and judge it on its own terms, and while I can sort of see the appeal here, I’m having a hard time seeing the point.
At the end of the episode, Georgiou spares the Terran version of Michael’s life instead of executing her on the spot for treason; whether this is because Georgiou is trying to alter the future, or else a sign of her developing humanity, or a mixture of both, remains to be seen. But while that’s a concept that could’ve been interesting for a standalone earlier in the season, it’s a bizarre choice for right now. As far as we know, this has nothing to do with the Burn, or with Michael et al’s efforts to return the Federation to its former glories, or the Emerald Chain. It’s ostensibly about saving Georgiou’s life, but it’s not as though Georgiou is a central character for the series. If anything, this season has seen her role reduced even more than usual, and if this turns out to be the way they decide to send her off for good, well, it’s still a weird way to go about it.
I really can’t stress this enough: the last act is literally just more Mirror Universe nonsense. It’s the same trick they always pull: remember those people you like? What if they were meaner and dressed like extras in a C&C Music Factory video, and also wore a lot of eye shadow. There’s nominal suspense in seeing how the slightly-less-evil Georgiou will handle a reality that expects her to be a monster, but in no way does this justify multiple scenes of everybody putting their meany faces on and glowering at each other. It’s goofy, and I guess I could see enjoying it on that level, but there’s no reason for there to be this much of it, and no reason to spend this much time on a character this disconnected from nearly everything else on the show.
There are some nice moments before this as well. I liked Vance telling Saru that it’s worth putting in the effort to save a dying crewmember even if it means putting the needs of the one ahead of the needs of the many; it’s both revealing that Saru would have erred on the side of caution after Michael’s earlier adventures, and edifying to see that Vance remains a by and large stand up guy. (There’s obviously still time for a twist, but as of right now, I appreciate that the future Federation isn’t corrupt or stupid.) Adira manages to translate most of the algorithm, and we learn that it’s from a Kelpian ship; the Kelpians were stranded and waiting for a Federation ship to rescue them. The message is from several years before the Burn, but it feels like the mystery is getting closer to a solution.
Which is why it’s so frustrating to spend so much time watching characters who will never be relevant again sneering and getting stabbed in the neck. The contrast between the “evil” and “normal” versions of, say, Detmer or Michael or anybody else is nowhere near as interesting as Trek writers seem to think it is; once the novelty is gone, there’s no depth no matter how much they try to create it. The Terrans are boring. They don’t even have the novelty of Klingon face ridges. They’re comically selfish and comically sadistic, like if the legions of Cobra (or S.P.H.I.N.X.) suddenly went live action and flew space missions. And much as I like Yeoh, Georgiou is just not that compelling on her own to justify this.
I’m holding out hope that this is all going to come together before the end; that somehow, we’ll learn the Terrans were responsible for the Burn, or that Carl will be anything more than an obvious construct. While far from perfect, Discovery’s third season has done a good job in more fully embracing the self it clearly wants to be, developing its ensemble and leaving behind the forced continuity of the past. To see it fumble so strangely as it heads into the finale, especially with such an unforced error, is disappointing. Fingers crossed that I’m even more wrong than usual on this one.
- I don’t love all of Georgiou’s insults, but “Saru’s walking command blunder,” re: Tilly, was pretty good.
- I don’t really get Dr. Cronenberg’s deal, but I am enjoying him. Also, the Temporal Wars sound amazing.
- A lot of the emotional core of the back half of the episode comes from Georgiou’s conflicted relationship with the Terran version of Michael; but given that this is the first we’ve seen of that Michael (she was already dead by the time Discovery met Lorca, I think), and given that this version of Michael doesn’t really have a lot in common with the real Michael, the emotions don’t land. It’s not inspiring or moving that Georgiou chooses not to execute her surrogate daughter. It’s predictable, and disappointing in that it signals we’re going to be stuck in this storyline for a while yet.
- Oh, Adira is still stressed about Gray not talking to them. In case you were wondering.