"Terra Firma, Part 1" works best if you think of it as the universe trying to teach its central character a lesson, like Groundhog Day did to Bill Murray. The mirror universe version of Philippa Georgiou, who has been a fish out of her universe's water since she was brought over in the first season, has been walking around the corridors of Discovery for the past two seasons acting mostly like an insufferable jerk who is more caricature than character. That caricature has at times been amusing (the one-liners are sometimes creative, and her aversion to all things Starfleet makes her an occasionally useful outside voice, when she's not merely insulting everybody), but it has also become very repetitive and started to wear thin of late. But I'm suspecting now her unremitting abrasiveness this season was a deliberate ploy to set us up for this episode where she has to face the music.
The result is an interesting take on Georgiou (and a good turn for Michelle Yeoh), probably the best one since she's been aboard the show as her mirror version, which is that her standoffishness and cartoon anger mask hidden depths. She's a product of her origins and she doesn't fit in on this side of the looking glass, but perhaps there are things she has absorbed while being here, and now she no longer fits in on the other side either.
It turns out that interrogator Kovich (David Cronenberg) didn't actually do anything to Georgiou except debrief her. Her psychological, physical, and now phase-shifting problems are a result of, he explains to Culber, her being too far outside her own time while also separated from her universe. Her very atomic structure is literally trying to pull her back through space-time, which will inevitably kill her unless a miracle cure is found. Kovich knows of none in previous examples of this phenomenon.
Enter possible miracle: The sphere data (how handy to have that!) points Discovery to a planet that may be the only hope of a solution (I believe it's estimated at a 5 percent chance), even as it's not clear what that solution might actually be. Upon traveling there, Burnham and Georgiou beam down and are greeted by a mysterious superbeing named "Carl" (Paul Guilfoyle), who's in the TOS mold of matter-of-fact down-to-earth chaps (wearing a derby and smoking a cigar), who possesses all sorts of otherworldly knowledge, sitting atop a snow-covered hill next to a wooden door to nowhere, while reading tomorrow's newspaper — which, of course, foretells Georgiou's painful death. The only hope Georgiou has is to step through the mystery door and face whatever is on the other side, which may be her salvation or her doom.
Georgiou steps through the door and finds herself back in the mirror universe aboard the Terran version of Discovery, quite some time prior to the events where we first entered the MU with Lorca in "Despite Yourself." She realizes immediately where she is and recognizes this as an opportunity to change fate. She knows she's about to be betrayed in a coup attempt by MU Burnham courtesy of Lorca — something that ended with her killing Burnham the first time around — but she hopes to change it this time, because killing Burnham, who was like her daughter, has haunted her.
Your mileage with all this may vary depending on how tired of the MU you are. (Once Georgiou steps through the door, we spend the rest of the episode here with her.) But I felt this was an effective and entertaining use of the MU — big, lively, brassy, aggressive, and operatic, right down to its inclusion of a dramatic performance tailored just for dictators. Georgiou knows she's about to be betrayed and is determined to change her reaction, and there's tension in all the margins. We meet MU Burnham, and she's a truly repellent individual; Sonequa Martin-Green is good at selling the simmering (and, eventually, boiling over) madness of a sociopath who is pent up with rage from years of feeling personally stifled.
For Michelle Yeoh, she's finally given a chance to provide some depth and shading, with the gears in her head turning. She has a scene with the enslaved Saru (whom she sees in a completely different light now) that reveals how much Georgiou has actually changed even though she still acts like a barbarian when around all those Starfleet saps. But now her problem is this universe is so set in its evil ways that even if she spares Burnham's life, it may only serve to weaken her own position.
Given that Georgiou is changing history (she kills MU Stamets here during the assassination attempt, and then she spares Burnham's life), I wonder where we will end up by the end of part two. Given how the universe is granting Georgiou a do-over, and the fact that Yeoh is supposed to headline the still-in-development Section 31 series that's forthcoming, I have to assume that by the end of this two-parter one of the following has to happen: (1) Georgiou remains in the past and doesn't return to the 32nd century, and ends up in Section 31 in the 23rd century. (2) This experience will be a major character-building moment that will snap her out of her one-note villain funk so she can later join Section 31 in the 32nd century after her return. (3) Something else. I guess I've covered all possibilities there.
But I can't imagine this will be a return to the Georgiou status quo, because this is clearly leading us somewhere quite different from where we are. Georgiou is not who she used to be. All those Starfleet types and their silly values have gotten to her, as much as she's tried to deny it. Will her personal growth be her salvation in the MU, or her doom?
Now for the clip:
- Because it holds lots of bullets — get it?
- Admiral Vance continues to be pretty awesome. As Trek admirals go, he's up there, coming off as simultaneously authoritative and empathetic. His conversation with Saru about helping Georgiou — which is not paramount to Discovery's strategic position, but may be necessary as a piece of crew morale — comes across as experienced, well-reasoned advice.
- There are scenes here continuing the investigation into the mysterious distress call from the Verubin Nebula, including the revelation that the origin of the message came from a Kelpien ship, which is of notable interest to Saru. These are good scenes of Trekkian analysis, and keep the Burn mystery plot moving along in the background. Really, this season has done a pretty decent job of devoting B-plot scenes to running down this investigation while focusing on A-plots that are mostly standalone outings.
- And other nice details keep the ship feeling alive, including a scene where Adira continues to fret over Gray "leaving," and Book looking for ways of being useful on Discovery by listening for intelligence from his courier sources.
- This series rarely avoids an opportunity to pour on the schmaltz. The scene where Georgiou says goodbye to Tilly and Saru (and Tilly even gives her a hug!) is laying it on thick in a way I don't think the relationships support. Burnham, yeah. Everyone else, no.