****SPACETIME DOORWAY-SIZED SPOILERS!!****
The conclusion to last week’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery is now available for streaming on CBS-All Access. “Terra Firma, Part 2” is written by Kalinda Vasquez, Bo Yeoh Kim, Erika Lippolt, Alan McElroy and directed by Chloe Domont. Overall, the story is a fitting sendoff to the character of Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), though it might also be the beginning of her own rumored Section 31 spinoff series (?). There is also a surprise/non-surprise revelation about the true nature of the enigmatic “Carl” character (Paul Guilfoyle)…
“Terra Firma, Part 2.”
Picking up where “Terra Firma, Part 1” left off, we see mirror-Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) after a long torture session in the Mirror Universe’s ‘agonizer’ (aka “agony booth“). Once released, an enraged Michael runs on all fours towards the forcefield to her cell, accusing her tormenter Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) of going soft. Michael tells Philippa there is a coalition of planets that smell blood on the dying Terran Empire. Philippa tries to reason with Michael, telling her she has other plans to save the Empire–a different way to rule that will eliminate the constant threat of uprisings. Michael is unswayed, and Georgiou puts her back in the agony booth…
Note: The “Coalition of Planets” is the earliest name of what eventually became the United Federation of Planets in the Prime Universe, as we learn from Star Trek: Enterprise. It was initially comprised of Earth, Vulcan, Andoria, Tellar and Denobula as well–these are some of the same worlds that Michael warns might pose a threat to the Terran Empire. The volatile Andorians later become leading members of the dangerous “Emerald Chain” by the 32nd century, after the Burn cut off travel to most of the Federation’s peak 300-plus member planets 120 years earlier.
Later, in Philippa’s stateroom aboard the ISS Discovery, Captain Sylvia “Killy” Tilly (Mary Wiseman), the malicious counterpart to the nervous ensign in the Prime Universe, pays the Empress a visit, demanding to know why the traitorous Michael is allowed to continue consuming oxygen on her ship. Philippa assures her she has a plan, and sends the sadistic young captain to do her best at breaking Michael–but not to kill her. Killy does her best. Philippa secretly wishes she didn’t have to be so harsh with her adopted daughter (whose Prime-counterpart she’s grown very close to), but she can’t show such weakness or sentiment to her subordinates. After her interrogators leave, a disheveled Michael receives a visit from mirror-Detmer (Emily Coutts). Detmer asks her about their resistance leader, Capt. Lorca, but Michael tells her secret-ally she fears Lorca might be gone.
Note: Neither Michael nor Detmer is aware that Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) has been accidentally transposed to the Prime Universe, where he’s taken his (presumed) dead doppelgänger’s place as captain of the USS Discovery (see: Season One). Mirror-Lorca would spend most of the first season trying to return to the Mirror Universe using Prime Discovery’s unique spore drive system, and he succeeds.
Philippa goes to visit Michael in the brig, where her daughter is lying limp from sheer exhaustion following her experiences in the agonizer. Trying once again to reach the spent Michael, Philippa recounts a story of how she used to calm her as a child, after rescuing her from the garbage heap (and later adopting her). She once saw the restless child discover a field of fireflies, which seemed to calm her down.
Note: Michael’s scientific side, which was given more guidance in the Prime-Universe, was no doubt fascinated by the beautiful, glowing Earth insects…
Once Philippa learned that young Michael found the fireflies soothing, she would walk the young girl out there every night. She regretted when Michael later outgrew her fascination with the fireflies. Gently, Philippa leaves a clear globe filled with the incandescent insects in the brig next to Michael, in the hopes the angry woman might come to see the sincerity of Philippa’s offer to rejoin her side. As Philippa leaves, a withered Michael takes a few bites from some nearby food she’d previously knocked aside…
A tired, bedraggled Michael is brought before Georgiou by armed guards; Philippa orders the guards to leave. Once alone, Michael drops to her knees and begs forgiveness, pledging her renewed loyalty to her Emperor and adopted mother. Not enjoying Michael’s indignity, Philippa asks her to stand up, accepting her daughter’s oath, but only on the condition that she doesn’t come back until she offers proof of her renewed commitment–which means the betrayal of Michael’s former co-conspirators.
In Discovery’s corridors, we see Security Chief Ellen Landry (Rekha Sharma) with her phaser drawn, stalking Michael’s ally Detmer. Landery is quickly killed by Michael, who sneaks up on her. Michael and Detmer kill off Bryce (Ronnie Rowe Jr.) and the other conspirators as well.
Note: One has to wonder how anything ever gets done on a mirror-universe starship, with officers constantly killing each other for promotions or to curry favor. It’s simply too chaotic to be sustainable, but it does make for fun viewing. It also gives the actors a chance to sink their teeth into playing pirate-versions of themselves…
A triumphant Michael returns to Georgiou with all of the badges from her former co-onspirators whom she’s killed to demonstrate her renewed loyalty. Philippa seems unconvinced, until Michael then turns her phaser on her closest ally, Detmer, and kills her too! Now the job is done. All the rats are eliminated, and Philippa welcomes Michael back into the fold.
Note: It’s too bad the returning Lt. Landry (Rekha Sharma), is killed yet again. In Season One, we saw her killed by the tardigrade in the Prime Universe, her mirror-self was then killed at Lorca’s side in an alternate version of the Mirror Universe, and now her Mirror-self is killed yet again, as Georgiou tries to change the timeline. No matter the circumstances, poor Lt. Ellen Landry is always a casualty, it seems…
Philippa has dinner with her triumphant daughter. Michael is surprised to learn that Kelpien is no longer on the menu; Philippa explains that Kelpien meat is “too high in cholesterol” (trying to cover her newfound disdain for eating sentient creatures). The Empress tells her daughter that she’s also actively sabotaged the nascent Coalition’s rebellion through back channel contacts. Michael is gratified to hear that her mother took her advice. In return for this favor, Philippa probes Michael, asking if she was in love with Captain Lorca. Michael avoids answering directly, which invites Philippa’s suspicion. Sensing the unease, Michael quickly offers that Lorca’s subspace codename in their resistance was “Vicar” (“substitute”). The two of them will use the codename to locate him…
Note: I was halfway hoping that we’d see a brief return of Jason Isaac’s Captain Lorca from Season One. I never thought I’d ever want to see that ill-tempered monster of a captain return, but Isaacs was such a terrific actor, that it’s hard not to miss him–no matter how evil his character may have been. While his cameo of Isaacs would’ve been nice, there is an even more interesting cameo from a TOS classic “character” later on in this episode…
After dinner, the servant-Saru (Doug Jones) meekly brushes his Empress’s hair. When Philippa tells the grateful Kelpien that he won’t be returning to Michael’s ownership, he tells her that he doesn’t expect to live long enough to serve either of them, as he is due to be culled in the cannibalistic harvesting ritual of his people known as Vahar’ai. From her experience with the Prime Universe’s Saru, Philippa tells the anxious Kelpien that he can easily survive Vahar’ai, and that he will lose his fear-threat ganglia as well. She then tells the curious Kelpien (who has no name in this universe) of a Kelpien she once knew…a Kelpien who survived Vahar’ai, and would go on to captain a starship! With mirror-Saru’s renewed hope, she tells him that the best way he can honor his culled ancestors is to live to see the new Empire she is trying to remake. Once alone, Philippa looks at the wrist monitor that was given to her before she left the 32nd century; it is glowing green, for now…
Note: Saru and Georgiou have always had a special connection. Even in the Prime Universe, she is the very first human he ever encounters, when her starship answers his radio message from Kaminar (see: Discovery Short Trek “The Brightest Star“). He later serves under her as a science officer aboard the USS Shenzhou (see: “The Vulcan Hello” “Battle at the Binary Stars”).
The ISS Discovery locates an associate of “Vicar” in a shuttlecraft orbiting the planet Risa–a surly character named Duggan (Daniel Kash). Hailing Duggan’s shuttle without success, Duggan becomes a bit more talkative when Capt. “Killy” fires phasers on his shuttle.
A defiant Duggan warns Georgiou that the Romulans and Klingons are also conspiring to overthrow her Terran Empire. Georgiou shrugs off his warning, saying that the Romulans and Klingons can’t stand each other, and are too mired with infighting to pose a threat to her Empire. Tired of talking, Philippa then has Duggan beamed directly into the Discovery brig.
Note: Both the exterior and interior of the Discovery are ‘scaled back’ to their 23rd century, pre-32nd century refit looks for this episode, albeit redressed with Terran Empire lighting, decals and other minor flourishes to remind us that this isn’t the Prime Discovery. Nice continuity.
Georgiou goes to see their prisoner in person. Once at Duggan’s holding cell, Philippa is disappointed (but not entirely surprised) when her daughter Michael pulls a phaser to her head. It was a trap; mirror-Culber (Wilson Cruz) also shows up with a phaser trained on his Empress. Michael tells her captive mother, “You shouldn’t have trusted me.” A regretful, but still-dangerous Philippa counters, “I never did, not like I wanted to.” Just then, Michael and her fellow conspirators are surrounded by Killy and the armed Kelpien servants, who are still loyal to their Empress. A firefight breaks out.
It’s total chaos, as a newly confident mirror-Saru takes advantage of his post-Vahar’ai transition into the stronger, more confident version of himself (just as we saw occur with him in Season Two, when he shed his fear ganglia). He tosses the mirror-Dr. Culber into the air like a rag doll.
Note: The extended fight sequence, with its dutch camera angles and ‘biff-sock-pow’ fisticuffs, almost felt like a PG-13 version of the fights we saw in the 1960s Batman TV series, especially the slightly comical sight of Saru tossing Culber (or his stuntman) into the air.
Killy’s forces make short work of the other conspirators. With their forces killed or otherwise occupied, Michael and Philippa are alone, locked in mortal combat. Michael’s seething anger for the woman she once thought of as a mother is brought to a full boil. Philippa has tried, but realizes that she’s failed; her beloved Michael is a lost cause in this universe. She will never regain the allegiance of the daughter she once had.
As the battle reaches a head, Philippa unexpectedly impales Michael with her jade sword, the words “I’m sorry” involuntarily (and truthfully) slipping from her lips. Feeling the sting of her daughter’s death within herself, Philippa collapses as well. With the battle over, Saru rushes to Philippa’s aide, assuring her that doctors are coming (presumably not mirror-Culber, who’s probably dead or at least out cold). Pained by her failure to bring Michael around, Philippa loses consciousness…
… and awakens in the snow, back on the wintery landscape of Dannus 5, with “Carl” (Paul Guilfoyle) nearby. Philippa asks the enigmatic man, dressed in mid-20th century garb, if any of what she experienced in the Mirror Universe was real. “You passed through,” Carl answers enigmatically. Michael insists that Philippa was only unconscious for less than a minute, but Carl reminds her to check her wrist monitor–which reveals several months of accumulated data from her time in the Mirror Universe; it was real, alright. A frustrated Michael, tired of Carl’s cryptic answers, demands to know exactly who he is, to which he bellows in a booming, familiar voice, “I am the Guardian of Forever!” The simple wooden framed doorway suddenly transforms into the familiar asymmetrical shape of the time portal from classic Star Trek’s “City on the Edge of Forever,” complete with a swirling, “Stargate”-like temporal vortex within in its ‘donut hole.’
Note: This is the first live-action appearance of the Guardian of Forever since 1967’s “City on the Edge of Forever,” written by the late Harlan Ellison (with many contentious rewrites for the final broadcast version by Gene Coon and Dorothy Fontana as well). The Guardian did make a second appearance in the animated Star Trek episode “Yesteryear” (1973), written by the late Fontana. I’m sure if the infamously litigious Ellison were alive today, CBS would be getting a few calls from his lawyers right about now (haha). I will delve more into the Guardian’s reappearance after this synopsis.
The Guardian is an omniscient machine-being (“both and neither”) that used to offer occasional time travel to willing participants, until it was exploited for missions of destruction during the Temporal Wars (one of the reasons the remnants of the Federation have forbade all time travel in the 32nd century). The Sphere Data aboard Discovery, with its vast knowledge of the universe, was able to locate the Guardian, despite its hiding out on Dannus 5. Philippa begins to phase out again, as she did before passing through the doorway, because she’s still out of synch with both this century and this universe–she doesn’t understand why. The Guardian gently explains to her that she wasn’t sent back to be cured, but to be weighed… to see if she could set a different course for herself. Philippa’s sojourn back to the Mirror Universe revealed to her is that she is no longer the same person who left it; her experiences with prime-Michael and her Discovery crew-mates have permanently changed her. Sometimes you really can’t go home again. The Guardian offers her an alternative–she could return to the past, in order to better synchronize her atomic structure, but not to the Mirror Universe. A new beginning.
Note: This new beginning for Philippa feels like an opening for the long-rumored Section 31 spinoff series, which might finally happen now that Georgiou is returning to her native timeframe. While I’m a huge fan of Michelle Yeoh, I’m not sure how a feel about a return to the “darker, edgier” Star Trek that a Section 31-based show would no doubt require. Discovery had its first two years mired in ‘edginess’, and it feels a tad backwards returning to it, especially since the third year of Discovery finally sees Star Trek recapturing some of its familiar optimism again.
With the Guardian ready to receive Philippa yet again, she turns to Michael, “You gave me new life.” Georgiou regrets that she couldn’t be more like her Philippa, to which a tearful Michael says, “You are my Philippa.” The normally secretive Georgiou also tells Michael about the mysterious San, whom we saw tortured in her painful flashbacks–he was someone very close to her once. Before they part, Philippa adds, “You have always been far greater than you imagine, Michael.” Michael adds, “So have you, Philippa.” Georgiou then steps into the portal, and into her uncertain future…
Back in the 32nd century Prime Universe Discovery’s engine room, Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Adira (Blu del Barrio) are still coping with the problems of the crashed Kelpien vessel, Ki’eth, which crashed into the Verubian nebula 125 years ago. The engineers are trying to lock onto the vessel’s systems remotely to learn more about what happened to the vessel, but are prevented from doing so by heavy subspace interference that they can’t penetrate. In walks engineer Jett Reno (Tig Notaro), munching on black licorice. She’s told she can’t have food in the engine room, to which she corrects, “This is candy… practically an accessory.” Reno is concerned that Stamets and Adira are siphoning off too much power from a system she is attempting to upgrade.
An eager-to-assist Booker (David Ajala) walks in with a piece of technology from his ship, which he ‘appropriated’ from the Emerald Chain (the Andorian-Orion alliance, currently threatening the Federation). He’s been brushing up on Federation protocols (chiding Reno for her licorice), and by reading the manuals of the ship, he thinks his device will allow them to amplify their signals through subspace and access the systems aboard the Ki’eth.
Note: This entire engine room scene was jarringly placed between the scenes with Philippa, Michael and the Guardian on Dannus 5, and it is smothered in technobabble. Don’t get me wrong–I love the actors in this scene, and Tig Notaro is (as usual) wonderfully deadpan in her line delivery, but the scene’s placement, right between the Guardian’s-reveal and Philippa’s goodbye, shatters the mood like an icepick. More of an editing problem than a writing problem. I just wish they saved all of it for after the Guardian of Forever post-reveal on Dannus 5 (which I’ve done in my synopsis here–you’re welcome). The Philippa story is the heart of this episode, not how Booker helps the engine team tech their way out of a problem. This was my biggest nit with this otherwise fine episode.
Later, during a holo-conference with Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr), the Starfleet CIC expresses his concerns about enemy technology from the Emerald Chain being used in Discovery’s engine room, reiterating what a precious commodity the single spore-drive starship is to the remaining Starfleet. Booker assures Vance it’s worked well on his own ship for the past few years. With the other officers dismissed, Vance also asks Saru about the Ki’eth, and he sympathizes with how emotional Saru must’ve been to see other Kelpiens again. The admiral wonders if that sentiment was why Saru didn’t immediately report his findings on the Ki’eth. Saru tells Vance that he just wanted to be certain first. Just then, Saru receives news that Michael is beaming back from Dannus 5…alone.
Note: In “Terra Firma Part 1,” Saru told Philippa that he knew he’d never see her again. He was right, of course. That ol’ Kelpien intuition again…
Not wanting to report Philippa’s now-illegal time travel to the admiral (Discovery’s in enough hot water), Saru prefers to simply list Philippa Georgiou as ‘gone.’ In the mess hall, the assembled officers toast their departed comrade. Tilly calls her a badass. Detmer says she loved how Philippa walked in her high leather boots (I loved Detmer’s line–it felt like the sort of unscripted, unintentionally funny remark that someone might actually say at a memorial). Finally, it’s Michael’s turn. Michael recalls, with some fondness, that the ill-tempered Philippa could be a real pain in the ass sometimes, but that she also meant more to her than she could ever know. Raising her glass, Michael says the salty Mirror Universe-native was “That most unexpected of gifts, and she will be missed–to Philippa!”
“A gateway to other times and dimensions…”
Okay. I was wrong. In last week’s column, I said the mysterious “Carl” was either a member of the Q Continuum or he was, as others speculated, the “Guardian of Forever” (seen in TOS’ “City on the Edge of Forever” and TAS’ “Yesteryear”), but my gut was telling me he was a Q. Well, my gut lied. It turns out Carl is the upgraded, user-friendly interface of the Guardian. I don’t mind being wrong, as the Guardian’s reveal was well done, with Carl’s own voice segueing into original voice actor Bart La Rue’s declaration of “I am the Guardian of Forever!” It was a genuine drop-the-remote moment.
The Guardian’s reveal in “Terra Firma Part 2” doesn’t necessarily contradict our previous information about it, either. It’s not inconceivable that an omnipotent, omniscient machine-being (both and neither) time portal would find ways to upgrade itself (“I am my own beginning, my own ending”). To avoid detection, the Guardian apparently learned to suppress its own “waves of turbulent space displacement,” which allowed Kirk’s Enterprise to locate it back in 2266 (a few years after Discovery leaped to the 32nd century). The upgraded Guardian also retained an ability we saw in TAS’ “Yesteryear”; the ability to temporarily halt its time flow in order to allow a traveler to enter the precise spacetime of their choosing (this was very useful to help Spock aid his younger self in that episode–easily the best of Star Trek TAS). The Guardian subsequently learned to leave its previously fixed location on the Time Planet, allowing it to hide in a remote corner of the galaxy following its misuse in the Temporal Wars (shame it didn’t appear on Star Trek: Enterprise). The Guardian’s “Carl” interface also harkens back to the late writer Harlan Ellison’s original concept for humanoid “Guardians” of Forever; a group of robed, omniscient wise men who guarded eternity (from his original script for “City on the Edge of Forever”). Personally, I find that image a little of robed, white-bearded guys guarding all of spacetime to be a little too Old Testament for my taste. I prefer my spacetime portals nice and doughnut-y, thanks.
Given that the Guardian can send others back in time as well as other dimensions (in keeping with Spock’s original supposition), it makes perfect sense that it can access the Mirror Universe. It’d be interesting if the Guardian might be used at some future point to access the Kelvinverse, opening for an appearance by a member of the 2009-2016 reboot movie cast (?). Just a thought. A mishmash of Discovery’s timeline with the Kelvinverse isn’t necessarily something I’m advocating, but now that we know the Guardian of Forever is alive and well in the 32nd century? Well, as Spock would say, “There are always possibilities.” Further use of the Guardian would also, presumably, be forbidden by the 32nd century’s Temporal Accords.
I also wonder if Philippa’s final use of the Guardian, and Michael’s failure to stop her, would also be seen by Admiral Vance as a violation of the Accords if the truth were to come out? A topic for a future episode, perhaps. Saru reported Philippa as dead to avoid such a consequence. I’m assuming Vance knew something a little spacetime-funky might’ve happened with Georgiou’s exit, but he decided to look the other way.
Ultimately, “Terra Firma Part 2” gave Philippa Georgiou (the incomparably cool Michelle Yeoh) a terrific send-off, and a clever use of the Guardian of Forever (its first live-action appearance in Star Trek since 1967), which is well-woven into the current series’ mythology. It’s possible we may see Philippa again, if she is, indeed, headed off to her rumored Section 31 spinoff series.
As the Guardian might say, “Many such journeys are possible…”
Star Trek: Discovery (and most of Star Trek) is available for streaming on CBS All Access right now in the United States, and Netflix in overseas markets. To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during the current coronavirus pandemic. The current number of COVID-19 related deaths in the United States are over 307,000 as of this writing and that number is increasing by thousands daily. The newly-developed vaccines are slowly working their way into the general population (with frontline workers being first priority, of course), so for the time being, so please continue to practice social safe-distancing wherever possible, wear masks in public (even if you are vaccinated; the vaccine’s immunity isn’t permanent), and avoid crowded outings as much as possible. With the holiday season upon us, let’s all try to keep any get-togethers safe-distanced, outdoors (weather permitting) and in small numbers, please!
Live long and prosper!