Review: Star Trek Discovery’s “Terra Firma (Part 1)” Treads Familiar Ground in the Mirror Universe

Michelle Yeoh as mirror Georgiou

On this season of Star Trek: Discovery, the ship has been visiting the home worlds of each of the crew members and seeing what they’re up to in the 31st century. This week though, we’re revisiting not only a familiar planet, but a familiar universe, and as such it’s a two-part arc. We also escape the 31st century and return to Discovery‘s origins with the 24th century and the Mirror Universe. “Terra Firma” (Part 1) reflects on Emperor Georgiou’s (Michelle Yeoh) personal growth, but it does so by retreading very familiar territory.

Star Trek Discovery (Season 3)
“Terra Firma (Part 1)”

Omar Madha (director), Alan McElroy, Bo Yeon Kim, and Erika Lippoldt (writers)
Sonequa Martin-Green, Anthony Rapp, Doug Jones and Michelle Yeoh (cast)
December 10th, 2020

This episode opens with a technobabble-filled discussion on the dangers of traveling across time and between universes. This reflects Georgiou’s arc throughout the season and sets up the plot for “Terra Firma,” but it’s really pure fanservice and meta-commentary. Kovich (David Cronenberg) tells Saru (Doug Jones) about a time soldier who came over from an alternate universe created by a Romulan mining ship (the Kelvin Universe) and urges Saru that he should be thankful that the Discovery’s time-travel avoided the Temporal Wars.

Michael in the mirror universe
Michael Gibson/CBS

This is both a love letter and a reference to Enterprise and the J.J. Abrams films, as well as an apology for them. Lieutenant Commander Yor, the time soldier, took part in both of those events, and in doing so was ripped apart by the universe. The biological and pseudo-scientific explanations don’t make any sense, but they don’t have to. What we’re being told here is that if you fall down the hole of constantly indulging in alternate timelines and universes, the story and the characters fall apart and lose meaning. Conversely, we’re being told these kinds of travel are extremely dangerous, but also that they are possible. Here Discovery tries to have its cake and eat it too, by warning against fanservice while also engaging in it. It sets up a return to Discovery’s earlier seasons and plots, as well as further Kelvin-verse crossovers down the line.

Saru sees this for the warning that it is, and wants to avoid it, and serve “the needs of the many” rather than taking on a dangerous mission just to save Georgiou. Vance (Oded Fehr) urges Saru that he must, and Saru complies. Saru has grown so much over the seasons yet he remains meek. Saru of earlier seasons would never suggest sacrificing a member of his crew. Saru has earned his position more than any other Star Trek Captain, but he still acts as second-in-command when operating beside Kovich, Vance, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Georgiou. I feel for this exhausted Kelpian so much, and Doug Jones continues to be an absolute delight in every scene. He does what other captains do backwards and in high heels (literally) and he’s constantly trapped between a rock and a hard place.

Meanwhile in this week’s update on the Burn, we see Adira (Blu del Barrio) and Stamets (Anthony Rapp) working together to decode a transmission concerning the Burn’s origins. It gives them a distress call featuring some Kelpians (Saru’s race), and suggests the Discovery will likely visit Kaminar (Saru’s home planet) next. This scene succeeds for me, not because I care about the Burn as either an event or an ongoing story arc, but because I deeply love the queer family being built on the Discovery. Adira had a lovely coming out last week, and they’re able to be themself, enjoy their work, and find community on the Discovery. There’s a wonderful bond growing between Adira and Stamets, where Stamets has slowly been softening up as part of being their queer space mentor, and they’ve been continually opening up to him and making new engineering discoveries. I’ve had similar relationships in my own life with older queer people mentoring me and treating me as part of their chosen family, and it really feels wonderful to see that unique kind of relationship on screen. I’ve criticized Discovery for its handling of its queer characters (and will continue to do so), but it really warms my gay heart to feel genuinely heard and seen within the Star Trek universe.

Burnham and Georgiou arrive on the abandoned snowy planet Dannus V and meet the mysterious and all-knowing being Carl (Paul Guilfoyle). There’s a funny exchange between Burnham and Georgiou about just how empty the planet is, and how they’re not used to planets this boring. It feels like a pointed joke about Star Wars when the planet looks just like Hoth, and it made me laugh.

Carl shows them a newspaper telling of Georgiou’s death and chock full of references to previous Star Trek stories, and a Twilight Zone-esque door that will take Georgiou exactly where she must go. He’s surreal and charming, and fits in a long line of inexplicable godly beings in Star Trek.

Michelle Yeoh continues to make Georgiou one of my all-time favorite Star Trek characters, and I love that she’s given a two-parter all about her, but it feels wasted on a retread of her earlier storylines. We see Georgiou’s newfound regret and complexity, as well as her devious and murderous qualities, and it’s fun revisiting the Mirror Universe versions of Burnham, Saru, and Tilly (Mary Wiseman), and other crew members we haven’t seen since Season 1. Georgiou brutally kills Mirror Universe Stamets in a wonderfully Shakespearean scene, where he’s performing a play extolling her virtues. But it’s a shame that we don’t get to see a future for either the Mirror Universe or the Mirror Discovery. All of the characters in the Mirror Universe are more dangerous and sexier than their Prime counterparts, but they’re also cardboard cutouts that only exist to serve Georgiou’s self-reflections. While the action and intrigue is very fun and well-done, the stakes feel very low.

This episode is pure fanservice, but the real test will be how the story’s resolved in “Terra Firma (Part 2).” I can’t imagine the writers getting rid of Georgiou at this point, and would be shocked if they did so. But they’ve proven time and again that they’re not afraid of changing up the cast and crew, and it could make for a great dramatic twist. I’m hoping we’ll get a cameo from Jason Isaacs as Lorca. As well, I’m curious to see if Georgiou’s plot in the Mirror Universe will end up intersecting at all with the characters of the Discovery, or if Burnham will end up joining and saving her from herself. More than anything, I hope Part 2 raises the stakes and moves past Season 1 territory. Also, more Carl please.

Sasha Fraze

Sasha Fraze

Sasha Fraze is a professional comic book gremlin. You can find her on Twitter at @schlocking where she's probably sharing random thoughts about comics new and old or retweeting trans news and memes.
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