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‘Star Trek: Discovery’ 3.09 Review: Terra Firma, Part 1

All hail Emperor Georgiou!

Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) and Michael (Sonequa Martin-Green) in 'Star Trek: Discovery'.
(Image: © CBS All Access)

Our Verdict

The success of “Terra Firma” will largely depend on next week’s resolution, but for now, Georgiou’s self-discovery is enthralling.

For

  • 🖖🏻Excellent exploration of Georgiou's growth since Season 1.
  • 🖖🏻The campy evil of the Mirror Universe is always fun.

Against

  • 🖖🏻Plot kicks into gear on a quirk of convenience.

This article contains spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery.
Check out our review of last week's episode here.

Star Trek: Discovery’s first season peaked with its reveal of the Mirror Universe, melding the campier elements of the franchise’s classic plot device with the new show’s sinister darkness, attempting to update Trek to modernity with otherwise mixed success. Keeping the former Emperor Georgiou as a holdover was a great decision in the aftermath of that season, as not only is Michelle Yeoh a deviously talented actress, but hers and Michael’s (Sonequa Martin-Green) legendarily antagonistic rapport and the love-hate relationship that binds them together is inherently compelling. Each is burdened with the regret of the mirrored versions they knew having died, and they hold on to one another from a sense of the love they lost, simultaneously hating that the other is not the person they once knew.

The first half of “Terra Firma” starts us on an exploration of Georgiou’s growth, showing us that maybe there’s more to her now than being the fallen god-queen of an army of imperial space fascists and that she might have picked up some humanity during her time in the Prime universe. Admittedly, the route the episode takes getting us there seems a little too convenient, as the Discovery computer vaguely gestures towards a planet that it promises totally has a potential cure for Georgiou’s disease but doesn’t offer an explanation or mechanism that the crew can take on more than faith. The revelation that Georgiou’s disease is the result of her combined dimension-hopping and time travel, accelerated by her universe drifting away from the Prime universe, is interesting not just from a mechanical standpoint, but from a symbolic one, as Georgiou resists others’ desire to help in a proud Terran push to die in glorious battle. But confronting her death, as Michael points out, is its own form of cowardice when the help of others has the potential to save her.

The resulting trip delivers Georgiou and Michael to a snowy planet inhabited by a jaunty figure in a pea coat bowler hat named Carl. He shows Georgiou a freestanding door she may pass through for her chance at survival, a product of some godlike power that we are not yet privy to. (My bet is that Carl is a Q, though it would be pretty great if his presence were left ambiguous and teasing.) The door leads Georgiou back in time to her own dimension, to the day that her own Michael, her surrogate daughter, betrayed her in Lorca’s coup.

It’s through reliving her past that both we and Georgiou recognize that she has grown empathy in her time removed from her seat of power. She no longer wants to see Kelpian slaves, particularly Saru (Doug Jones) beaten and belittled. She displays weakness to Captain “Killy” (Mary Wiseman, slipping back into the delectable evil of her Terran persona) by admitting that she does not want to kill Michael as a traitor. She ultimately fails to follow through on executing Michael, despite being confronted with Michael’s feelings of having her identity stripped by being groomed as Georgiou’s successor. That makes a hell of a cliffhanger as Georgiou’s change is exposed to her honor guard and Killy, and it leaves me anxious to see her arc resolve in next week’s episode.

Meanwhile, Discovery is still weaving the threads of its overarching plot in the background of the episode’s first act, so it’s worth exploring the conflicts at play. Adira (Blu del Barrio) is still anxious and upset over Gray’s (Ian Alexander) disappearance, but they still manage to decode the musical transmission from the source of The Burn. It turns out to be a Kelpian vessel, news which affects Saru deeply and might end up being cause for him to compromise his own loyalty to Starfleet principles. Book (David Ajala) is eagerly looking for ways to help out with his roguish connections, butting heads against Saru’s worship for protocol. Most surprising is Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr) overriding Saru in allowing the Discovery to transport Georgiou away from the escalating conflict with the Emerald Chain. Vance has so far been a force of antagonism, cautiously welcoming the Discovery but also restricting them from heroics that might utilize them more fully. To see him prize the life of one crew member so highly, imparting on Saru the lesson that allowing someone to die on his watch would haunt him, is an interesting dimension to the man that has thus far remained hidden.

The success of “Terra Firma” will largely depend on next week’s resolution, but for now, Georgiou’s self-discovery is enthralling. I do worry that Discovery is priming us to lose one of its most interesting characters, since Yeoh is set to headline a spin-off series about Section 31, but if this two-parter is a long goodbye, this first part is an effective primer to a worthy conclusion to her arc.