“Execute me, Mother!” — Star Trek: Discovery’s “Terra Firma, Part 1”

Secret Hideout’s Trek shows—with the notable exception of Lower Decks—has been surprisingly free of the more cosmic ends of the Star Trek universe. We’ve had the Metrons, the Q, the Organians, the Prophets/wormhole aliens, etc.—but none of those folks, or anyone like their super-powerful selves, have shown up on Discovery, Short Treks, or Picard.

Until now.

I have to admit to being hugely disappointed that Paul Guilfoyle’s character didn’t introduce himself as Q, because he certainly felt like a Q to me. Certainly, Guilfoyle’s delightful, cigar-chomping performance is in the same mode as John deLancie, Corbin Bernsen, and Suzie Plakson. How-some-ever, he just identifies himself as “Carl.”

Another reason why I got Q vibes from him, of course, is because he does for Georgiou what Q did for Picard in “Tapestry“: giving her a chance at a do-over in a critical part of her life.

The primary plot here is finally explaining what’s wrong with Georgiou. Unfortunately, you can see the strings a bit too readily. Kovich informs Culber—and the audience—that the combination of travelling to a parallel timeline and travelling in time has adverse physiological effects. We’re seeing it in Georgiou, and it was also evidenced in a Starfleet officer named Yor who was involved in the Temporal Wars. Kovich says there’s no cure and that their best bet is to euthanize Georgiou.

However, that can’t happen, and here’s where the strings come in. After all, Michelle Yeoh is supposed to star in a Section 31 series. And that’s the real problem with “Terra Firma,” it’s obvious that everything that’s happening here is in service of getting Yeoh into place for her TV show. So we establish that there’s no way for her to survive both in a different quantum reality and in a different time, and then we have to concoct extraordinary circumstances to get her back in time without allowing the same for the rest of Discovery (since you’d think they’d want to go home, right?).

And so Discovery finds something in the sphere data, which now apparently includes everything from every computer everywhere: there’s a world that has a solution for Georgiou. So Discovery goes there with Vance’s blessing. (Saru actually is willing to stay behind for the greater good of Starfleet, but Vance either (a) doesn’t want to condemn Georgiou to a horrible death or (b) wants to get rid of her, so he authorizes it. Well, okay, Vance also tells Saru that it’s important to help your crew whenever possible, though Georgiou barely qualifies. Whatever, it’s just more strings.)

The planet is covered in ice, probably more filming in the Iceland locations used for “That Hope is You” and “Far from Home,” and it’s an amusing bookend to the first time we saw Georgiou and Burnham in “The Vulcan Hello,” when they were wandering around a desert planet. Eventually they find Carl sitting on a bench reading “tomorrow’s” newspaper, which tells of Georgiou’s death, and he says she can avoid it if she walks through the door that has also appeared in the middle of the snow.

That door leads to the Mirror Universe, specifically the launch of the I.S.S. Charon, Georgiou’s flagship, as first seen in “Vaulting Ambition.” It’s the I.S.S. Discovery under the command of Captain Sylvia Tilly that is bringing Georgiou to her new ship.

For all that this is all manipulative and deus ex machina-ish, this foray back into the MU provides some entertaining insights in Georgiou. Initially she is thrilled at the chance to go all Sam Beckett and put right what once went wrong. She knows going in that Lorca and Burnham are plotting against her, and she knows going in that killing Burnham won’t actually do her any good, since she’ll still be deposed and wind up in the wrong universe. So while she is able to expose Burnham’s coup attempt (which also involves killing Stamets), she doesn’t have Burnham executed, instead sending her to the agony booth.

What’s interesting about this is seeing how Georgiou has changed. For all that she continues to posture and act like the psychopath she truly is, being on Discovery has changed her. (It reminds me of how Garak was changed by exposure to the Federation on Deep Space 9, and how that was brought into sharp relief when he, too, was given the chance to go back to his old life and it proved an awkward fit in “The Die is Cast.”) Georgiou isn’t as comfortable in her role of fascist as she was before. Of particular note is that she can’t help but treat Saru differently, because after spending so much time with Captain Saru, it’s impossible for her to think of slave Saru as anything but a person. Of course, she uses it to her advantage, using her knowledge of the vahar’ai to gain his trust. (Saru, in a nice touch, is shocked that Georgiou would lower herself to be aware of the vahar’ai.)

Then comes the greatest revelation, and the one thing Georgiou didn’t know going in to get her do-over: why Burnham betrayed her. Georgiou loves Burnham like a daughter, a love that is sufficiently powerful that it bleeds over into the Burnham of the mainline universe. But then, after her coup is exposed and Burnham is kneeling before Georgiou waiting to be condemned, she reveals the truth. Yes, Georgiou rescued the orphaned Burnham from what Georgiou describes as “a trash heap.” But Burnham explains that that was no kind of favor: she was the at the top of that trash heap, and she preferred to reign in that particular hell than serve in Georgiou’s heaven.

Despite the manipulations, this is an enjoyable episode, mostly for, as usual, the little touches. There’s Georgiou’s goodbyes to Saru and Tilly, the former a nifty show of respect from both Kelpien to emperor and vice versa, the latter an amusing moment where Tilly hugs Georgiou, which you suspect the acting XO is doing mostly to fuck with Georgiou’s head. (Yeoh’s look of utter bafflement at the hug is priceless.) There’s Guilfoyle’s delightful performance as Carl. There’s mirror Bryce challenging mirror Owosekun for the latter’s place as the head of Georgious imperial guard. There’s the triumphant return of “Captain Killy.” (Well, her debut, really, since prior to this we’d only seen Tilly posing as her.) There’s the presence of Rekha Sharma’s mirror Landry, not to mention mirror Detmer, sans cybernetic implants, sitting with Burnham. (Having said that, it’s weird that nobody ever mentions the I.S.S. Shenzhou, even though Burnham and Detmer are supposed to be that ship’s CO and XO.) And there’s the nifty list of all of Georgiou’s titles.

Best of all, though, are the performances of Yeoh and Sonequa Martin-Green. Yeoh is never not amazing, and she beautifully and subtly plays the seventeen kinds of agony Georgiou goes through in this episode.

However, Martin-Green just owns the episode. For the first half, she’s the mainline Burnham who wants to try to help Georgiou because of the guilt she is still carrying over her role in the mainline Georgiou’s death. And then for the second half, we finally get to see the mirror Burnham (like Tilly, we only saw the mainline version posing as her previously), and Martin-Green just kills it. The psychosis, the resentment, the naked hatred that she kept hidden under the surface until it all just explodes at once all over a stunned Georgiou. Mirror Burnham views Georgiou’s love for her as her greatest weakness.

We’ll see where this all goes next week, of course, as there’s still Part 2 to go. Will they bring Jason Isaacs back to reprise Lorca? Will we see more of Carl? Will we find out just who Kovich is exactly? Tune in next week…

Keith R.A. DeCandido has written two tales that take place in the Mirror Universe, The Mirror-Scaled Serpent, a short novel in the Obsidian Alliances trade paperback that features the MU versions of the Voyager characters, and “Family Matters” in the Shards and Shadows anthology that tells a tale of the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance.

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