Shaka, when the spoilers came.
What an amazing week it's been for sci-fi aficionado. The first three episodes of Season 5 of "The Expanse" have arrived on Amazon Prime, the second season finale of "The Mandalorian" airs on Friday and the "Terra Firma" two-part "Star Trek: Discovery" episode has concluded on CBS All Access. So, sit back, sup some Earl Grey tea or even a glass of Bloodwine and soak up some of the best sci-fi TV currently has to offer.
Every "Discovery" devotee had a theory about who the mysterious Carl (Paul Guilfoyle) on Dannus V would turn out to be; some believed he might be a member of the Q Continuum, others suggested he might even the Guardian of Forever from the "Original Series" episode "The City on the Edge of Forever" (S01, E28) written by Harlan Ellison and widely regarded as one of the best episodes of any incarnation of "Star Trek." And we will of course get to all that shortly.
We start straightaway in the Mirror Universe onboard the ISS Discovery and we get a super-quick glimpse of one of those nonsensical VFX shots that show the supposedly vast space inbetween decks. We haven't seen one of those since the second season. It's purpose is to set up a tracking shot through the actual corridors of the ship, ending up in the brig, which is where Mirror Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) is being thrown. It actually works very effectively, except for the utterly absurd representation of Discovery's infrastructure.
We pick up more or less right where we left off last week. Burnham is begging Emperor Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) for the right to have an honorable death, but Her Most Imperial Majesty isn't having a bean of it; oh no, she's still trying to "save" her daughter. The dialogue is almost Shakespearean and the performances are very theatrical, darling, which is fun every now and again — and a trip to the Mirror Universe is always good excuse to indulge in such overacting — but "Discovery" is beginning to make a habit of it and we're not in the 1960s anymore.
Georgiou has Burnham thrown into an agonizer booth and tries to pass off her decision to re-forge her into a loyal subject as a greater sign of strength rather than just killing her. She hands the job of interrogating Burnham to Captain Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), who is probably the single best character in the "Discovery" Mirror Universe. Also known as "The Slayer of Sorna Prime," "The Witch of Wurna Minor" and "Captain Killy," she delights at the prospect of the task ahead of her. Roll opening credits … which are interesting this week.
The color has been switched out to a royal navy blue and many of the graphic animations are either upside-down, reversed or inverted, all of which is meant to represent the opposite nature of the Mirror Universe. And while not as much effort has been made as with the Mirror-opening credits on the "Enterprise" two-part episode "In a Mirror, Darkly" (S04, E18 & 19) at least some effort has been made.
The torture continues, but this is the Terran universe, so it's not exactly subtle. It's a far cry from the excellent "Babylon 5" episode "Intersections in Real Time" (S04, E18) when John Sheridan is interrogated or the outstanding and often-quoted "Next Generation" two-part episode "Chain of Command" (S06, E10 & 11) where Jean-Luc Picard is almost broken or even "Battlestar Galactica" where both Saul Tigh and Kara Thrace are tortured in very different ways on New Caprica in the "Exodus" two-parter (S03, E03 & 4). No, this is much more moustache-twirling villainy.
Mirror Keyla Detmer (Emily Coutts) visits Burnham in the brig and begs her to give in to Georgiou's demand for unconditional allegiance. Georgiou herself later visits while Burnham is asleep and softly regales a story from her childhood about how fireflies at night used to comfort her. Then she places a globe full of fireflies gently next to the bruised and battered Burnham and leaves the cell. She's clearly going to put quite a lot of effort here to turn her adopted daughter to her side, will it be enough though?
It appears that it might be as the next thing we see is Burnham being escorted into the royal chamber and kneeling before her Emperor. As proof of her newfound loyalty she must hunt down and execute all those co-conspirators involved in Captain Lorca's coup d'etat. Even poor Commander Landry's (Rekha Sharma) script notes just read, "Run down corridor. Get shot in back."
Burnham tosses the Terran Empire badges of all those she has killed onto the dining table as Georgiou is enjoying an apéritif with Tilly and Joann Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo). She then turns and stabs Detmer as well to be thorough. Afterwards, mother and daughter, who have an increasingly Freudian relationship, sit down for dinner and everything seems to be just fine. Kelpien ganglia is off the menu though, permanently it seems; turns out it's stringy and high in cholesterol anyway.
Post dinner, the Emperor confides in Saru (Doug Jones) who tells her that his Vahar'ai is coming, which prior to the events in the episode "An Obol for Charon" (S2, E04) had been lethal to the Kelpiens. Georgiou was on Discovery at this point, so she knows and indeed explains to Saru that it need not mean the end, he can survive it. Watching the relationship between Georgiou and Saru grow in the Mirror Universe has definitely been a highlight of this two-parter.
In order to well and truly quash this uprising, it's necessary to find Lorca, so after having tracked some coded transmissions that he apparently sent, they set off in the ISS Discovery to find him. Instead they find one of Lorca's associates, a man named Duggan (Daniel Kash) in a shuttlecraft, which they quickly disable. They beam him directly into the brig and begin to question him when Burnham pulls out her phaser, shoots him in the head and then points it at Georgiou. It seems the Emperor's efforts weren't enough after all.
A squad of Imperial Guards enters the brig, all of its members pointing their phasers at Georgiou. Burnham begins her maniacal monologue about saving the Empire and how they'll sing songs about her, when Tilly and a small number of crewmembers (are there any left?) loyal to Georgiou burst in and a firefight begins. But what's really cool is that a handful of Kelpiens, including Saru, pour into the room and join the fight on Georgiou's side.
As a result, the Emperor's forces quickly gain the upper hand and now it's just down to a one-on-one between mother and daughter. However, even that doesn't last too long as Burnham only has a dagger and Georgiou has that big, bad sword she used to lance Lorca in the episode "What's Past Is Prologue" (S01, E13). It's not long before Burnham meets a similar end and she too is skewered.
Speaking of Lorca, it seems all that hype about Jason Isaacs briefly reprising his role was just a lot of plasma exhaust. Despite being mentioned by name so prominently in both episodes and even featuring in Georgiou's nightmarish flashbacks in previous episodes, Mr. Isaacs was a no-show. And frankly, that's a disappointment.
Unfortunately for Georgiou, she picked up a wound herself in the duel with her daughter and Saru rushes to her side, reassuring her that medics are coming, but she begins to slip away, finally waking up back in the snow, in the Prime Universe, with Carl and Burnham. For them, she's been "gone" for less than a minute, but for Georgiou, she's been gone for considerably longer.
Was this the real Mirror Universe we saw in the first season of "Discovery" or a construct of sorts created by Carl? Saru's last words as Georgiou slips away from the Mirror Universe might seem to suggest that. On the flipside, her biosensor wristband that Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) gave her last week has accumulated over three months' worth of data.
And then comes the big reveal, Carl is the Guardian of Forever.
It's a call back to an Original Series episode where, while in orbit around an unexplored planet, the USS Enterprise under the command of Captain Kirk (William Shatner) passes through some peculiar time waves and wreaks havoc with the ship's systems. In a freak mishap, Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) accidently stabs himself with a hyposyringe full of a potent stimulant called cordrazine. He goes a bit bonkers and beams down to the surface of the planet. Kirk, Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) et al follow him down and find a strange, sentient spacetime portal that calls itself the Guardian of Forever. McCoy leaps out from behind a rock and jumps through the portal and instantly history is changed. The away team is now stranded because the Enterprise is no longer in orbit, because the Federation no longer exists.
Following the Guardian's instructions, Kirk and Spock carefully time their own jump through and end up back on Earth, in New York City, circa 1930 and must undo the damage done by McCoy. Joan Collins also stars and this is widely regarded as one of the best episodes of "Star Trek" ever.
According to the Guardian, he is in hiding, nowhere near his original location and has been since the Temporal Wars. Georgiou was sent to Dannus IV and subsequently tested to see if she was worthy of using the spacetime portal. Turns out, she is and the only way for her to survive is to be sent back in time to an undisclosed place, when the two parallel universes were aligned, so that her molecules might not fly part. A long, drawn-out farewell follows as you'd expect and through the portal she steps.
Meanwhile, back to the story arc onboard the Discovery, Lieutenant Stamets (Anthony Rapp), Adira (Blu del Barrio) and Commander Jett Reno (Tig Notaro) are trying to hack the systems of the KSF Khi'eth that was detected last week in the Verubin nebula. Book (David Ajala) comes along and offers to help by using Emerald Chain technology to boost their signal. Data begins to download, but we don't get to see any of that yet. Instead, Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr) struggles to find a reason to slap Saru on the wrists for using Emerald Chain tech, but he doesn't really have a legitimate reason
Burnham returns to the ship alone and is immediately comforted by Book, before being debriefed by Saru. Finally, everyone gathers in the mess hall to hold a wake in memory of Georgiou.
But some interesting questions about the Guardian remain. Did he let himself get used in the Temporal War? He says, "Back in the day it used to be, 'Sure, come through. Just don't screw up history or you'll have to fix it.' And then the Temporal Wars happened, and everyone was killing everyone else and trying to use me to do it."
But if he's a master of time, how did he not know about the Temporal Wars? Maybe the Temporal Wars have to happen to teach the younger races in the galaxy the dangers of time travel. Maybe the Guardian is the last of a really, really old race, like an Ancient from "Stargate SG1" or a First One from "Babylon 5"? Maybe … he's a Time Lord. Don't laugh, plans for a "Dr. Who/Star Trek" crossover were once considered.
"I would have loved to have done a 'Star Trek' crossover. The very first year, we talked about it. Then 'Star Trek' finally went off air. Landing the Tardis on board the Enterprise would have been magnificent," Russell T. Davies told The Times in 2009.
This episode would've succeeded had "Discovery" been following an episodic structure, but it isn't. The concluding installment actually makes the first part work much better, but when there are only 13 episodes in this third season with just three remaining and it's following a seasonal story arc, it might have been nice to have some more of the plot.
While trips to the Mirror Universe are almost always entertaining, this wasn't the best. That accolade goes to the afore-mentioned "Enterprise" two-part episode "In a Mirror, Darkly" (S04, E18 & 19). In essence, the primary purpose of this two-part episode was to set up the forthcoming spin-off that may or may not be called "Section 31" and that's about it. And it feels like we've been shortchanged. However, since it was a launch vehicle for Georgiou's next chapter, Yeoh was naturally a centerpiece and in that respect, she carried both episodes well.
"Star Trek" needs to reinvent itself. It's an unpleasant fact staring every fan in the face. And no doubt many will disagree, but what cannot be argued is that the unmatched high quality of the first three episodes (and we can tell you, the rest of them too) of the fifth season of "The Expanse" shows what can be achieved with a well-written, well-managed sci-fi drama…and the old formula of "Star Trek" is looking tired. We've said it – I've said it before, I'd like to see "Star Trek" move away from the nostalgia-driven mentality dominating the writer's room. A little bit here and there is fine, but let's cut the umbilical cord now. It's really not necessary to drag us all through the Good Old Days again, we did them once already. Times have changed.
"The Expanse" has earned itself a place on the highest podium of science fiction drama, along with "Babylon 5" and "Battlestar Galactica." Even the team behind "Stargate" tried to very bravely reinvent that franchise in an attempt to remain fresh. The result — "Stargate Universe" — was a new spin-off totally unlike any other incarnation of the show and it was brilliant. Had it not suffered from the same bureaucratic shortsightedness that tragically killed so many other burgeoning shows, it could've taken the story into some extremely interesting places.
No other successful sci-fi dramas rely quite so heavily on technobabble or smart-matter or super-convenient plot devices that can permit a solution to any potential problem, like the spore drive or the sphere data that now make the USS Discovery a miracle-like addition to the Federation. (If it gets unexpectedly blown up, like the Razor Crest, then I'll happily take all of this back.)
Rating: 7 out of 10
Decompress the shuttle bay ✓
- This would've worked if "Discovery" was following an episodic story arc.
- Georgiou's character is so much better suited to the Mirror Universe.
- Watching the relationship between Georgiou and Saru grow is a highlight.
- Tilly's glee at being able to torture Burnham was thoroughly entertaining.
- The Guardian reveal was fun and the use of the original voice was great.
Use the tractor beam ✗
- Alas Rekha Sharma didn't get any lines in this two-parter, not one.
- All the Lorca hype went nowhere, a cameo from Issacs would've been cool.
- How the blazes did the Guardian let itself get used in the Temporal Wars?
- Saru is thinking more like Burnham, will he apologize for demoting her?
- When is the Discovery crew going to get around to changing their uniforms?
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