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'Star Trek: Discovery' revisits the Mirror Universe in 'Terra Firma, Part 1'

Code zero zero zero. Spoilers. Zero.

One of the main problems that really let down season 2 of "Star Trek: Discovery" was that the plot dawdled along at a very gentle pace for the first half and then with just a few episode to go, turned into a full-on story arc tsunami, creating an awkward and unbalanced feel to the whole season. 

And it feels very much like the same mistakes are being made with the third season currently airing on CBS All Access. The last few installments have felt messy, inconsistent and unbalanced to say the least and this third season has both the highest score we've ever given an episode, and the lowest as well.

The latest installment, the first of a two-part episode called "Terra Firma, Part 1," only adds to this feeling sadly — though, we are willing to concede that it's hard to judge without seeing the second installment and interestingly that wasn't made available to the media for advance review purposes. So either: a) this episode is going to feel surreal and slapdash until we see it together with part 2 then it all makes sense, or b) this episode is going to feel surreal and slapdash even after we've seen part 2 and still makes no sense. 

We also suspect there might be the mother of all cameos in part two, but we'll come to that later as there's a lot to unpack even before the opening credits. In fact, "Star Trek" fans are going to be discussing the events of this episode for some time and we start straight away with something potentially controversial: A big, albeit very subtle, acknowledgement of what's called the Kelvin Timeline.  

 Lt. Commander Yor is the first that we know of to travel between the Prime and Kelvin timelines.  (Image credit: CBS All Access)

This terrible idea was created by J.J. Abrams in 2009 in order to be able to churn out three "Star Trek" movies —  each one more appalling than the last —  that weren't restrained by any form of existing canon whatsoever. This acknowledgement is part of Alex Kurtzman's grand plan to make everything in the "Star Trek" universe connected, in one form or another. It now means that the events in those three monumentally bad movies are officially canon.  

The scene takes place in sickbay, the mysterious Kovich (David Cronenberg) and Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) are talking about Philippa Georgiou's (Michelle Yeoh) condition. (Incidentally, we never did get to see the "quiet talk" Georgiou and Culber were going to have at the end of last week's episode.)

INT. USS DISCOVERY SICKBAY

Culber and Kovich are alone discussing Georgiou's condition as Culber studies a life-sized composite holographic reconstruction of her body and internal organs. 

Kovich: I understand she's been presenting physiological symptoms, but the cure won't be found anywhere in this room, or in this galaxy for that matter. Computer, open classified file Beta-4895-Omega. Lt. Cmdr. Yor, deceased, time soldier.

Another life-sized holographic reconstruction appears, this time it's of a Betelgeusian, Lt. Cmdr. Yor, wearing a Starfleet uniform from "The Next Generation" Seasons 1 and 2.

Culber: Time soldier?

Kovich: Consider yourself lucky to have skipped the Temporal Wars. Amongst the many horrible things we discovered when weaponizing time, temporal travel can make you pretty sick. Turns out our molecules are designed to function in the time in which they're created.

Culber: But everyone on Discovery traveled through time...

Kovich: Yes, but only one of you is also from a parallel universe. Yor here, traveled forward from 2379 and across from an alternate universe created by the temporal incursion of a Romulan mining ship. Before Georgiou, Yor was the only individual known to have traveled across both time and dimensions.

Culber: So, you knew this would happen to her?

Kovich: Suspected. Every molecule fights to either go back in time or jump a cosmic divide. By the end, Yor was in such pain, the doctors petitioned the Federation for euthanasia.

Culber: They couldn't send him back...to his own universe?

Kovich: Not without breaking the inter-dimensional displacement restriction, part of the Temporal Accords, which are ironclad.

Culber: But Georgiou didn't get sick when she first crossed to the Prime Universe...

Kovich: Nine hundred years have passed. The Prime and Mirror universes have been drifting apart the whole time. Yor's experience was a breeze compared to what Georgiou is about to face.

So there we have it; the Romulan mining ship is the Narada from the 2009 movie "Star Trek" that was commanded by Captain Nero who was chasing Ambassador Spock through a temporal distortion to seek (misplaced) revenge for the destruction of Romulus in 2387. By traveling back in time and emerging through the distortion in 2233, they altered the Prime Timeline and created the Kelvin Timeline. Sadly, Kovich doesn't offer any details about why or how Yor traveled through time and parallel universes and we learn no more about his character either. 

The Kelvin timeline and the "new" Prime timeline created when Gabrielle returned to Vulcan as the Red Angel. (Image credit: Scott Snowden/Ketwolski)

It appears there's no solution until Culber asks the computer — that despite not taking the voice of Zora permanently, seems to still be permanently accessing the Sphere data — which in case you'd forgotten, is the only known repository of all knowledge in the entire universe that has merged with Discovery's computer to provide a convenient way for the show's writers to conjure a colorful solution to any given problem. So naturally it comes up with one. 

Apparently the cure can be found on the planet Dannus V, just shy of the Gamma Quadrant, near the Galactic Rim. In a total switch of priorities, Cpt. Saru (Doug Jones) is against the idea, suggesting that the Discovery remain on standby since the Emerald Chain are believed to be conducting military exercises as they did near Argeth, but Adm. Vance uncharacteristically approves of the mission. It seems that no single character remains the same over a period longer than one episode and despite the dialogue explaining their respective decisions, it stills feels out of sorts. 

Georgiou meanwhile, isn't interested in anyone's help, so she's as unhelpful as ever, but she reluctantly agrees. Roll opening credits.

Why didn't the sphere data offer more information about what was on Dannus V?   (Image credit: CBS All Access)

Since the computer only gave Georgiou a 5% of surviving even if she did beam down to Dannus V, she is fully expecting to die. A little farewell precedes her and Commander Michael Burnham's (Sonequa Martin-Green) departure and for once, it's kept to a believable minimum with nice and unexpected exchanges with both Saru and Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman).They beam down to a snow-covered, Canadian-looking landscape and attempt to locate the coordinates the ship's computer gave them. 

Back on Discovery, Book (David Ajala) does a terrible job of explaining to Saru that he wants to join the crew … 'cause that's certainly what we thought he wanted to do at the end of the last week's episode. It's possible we are meant to take from this that Book doesn't fully realize the difference between joining any crew and joining A Federation Crew, but again, this feels like the writers are doing his character an injustice: he's a smart guy, of course he'd realize the difference.   

Meanwhile in Engineering, Lt. Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Adira (Blu del Barrio) make an interesting discovery in the Verubin nebula; the distress beacon is not coming from another, abandoned USS Discovery that we saw in the "Short Trek" episode "Calypso" or even the USS Buran, that we speculated about last week, but it's from a Kelpien starship. The decoded, 100-year-old message is played in the Captain's ready room.  

We're not sure how a recording of the song Attis was humming on the USS Tikhov was obtained.   (Image credit: CBS All Access)

A hologram of a Kelpien appears, she is Dr. Issa (Hannah Spear) of the KSF Khi'eth, registry number 971014. She explains that they are stranded, but they have not lost hope. Six months ago, they were contacted by Captain Robert Weems of the USS Hiraga Gennai who was supposed to be coming to rescue them, but they have heard nothing since. At which point the transmission breaks up. Apparently, the original mission of the Khi'eth was to investigate a dilithium nursery located within the nebula. Using the prefix code — which is a subtle and effectively used throwback to "The Wrath of Khan" — Stamets and Adira hope to access the systems of the Khi'eth. And that's the last we see of any events taking place on the Discovery for this episode, everything is focused on what's happening on the planet below.

Back on Dannus V and in a very bizarre moment, Georgiou and Burnham find the life sign they were looking for, which turns out to be a man in his 70s named Carl (Paul Guilfoyle) reading a newspaper and relaxing in an armchair next to an unsupported door that's just standing there, in the snow. It's the sort of weird, riddle-talking, omnipotent, alien-but-human character that often appeared in "The Original Series" or even like the mischievous entity Q in "The Next Generation." And while it suited the 60s just fine and was dialed down for the late 80s and early 90s, our immediate reaction is that in a show like "Discovery," that's trying oh-so-hard to be more modern, it feels a bit out of place. However, as we mentioned earlier, the second part of "Terra Firma" that airs next week will go a long way to determine how effectively this episode fits into the bigger picture.

The often outspoken Robert Meyer Burnett tweeted about this back in November and suggested Karl 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," but we'll have to hope his identity is revealed next week.

It's good to see print is still doing well in the 32nd Century; Carl and a copy of The Star Dispatch.   (Image credit: CBS All Access)

Carl rambles on about time being wasted and how "the answer follows the question." Georgiou concludes that this must be the solution that the Discovery's computer was talking about and seizes the opportunity by walking through the door … instantly finding herself in the Mirror Universe being greeted by her loyal subjects lead by Cpt. Killy (Tilly's Mirror Universe counterpart) as she sets foot aboard the ISS Discovery from a shuttlecraft.

Turns out we are way back to a time even before most of the events of Season 1 of "Discovery." Cpt. Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) has yet to begin his insurrection against Her Most Imperial Majesty, Mother of the Fatherland, Overlord of Vulcan, Dominus of Qo'noS, Regina Andor, Augustus Iaponius Centarius, Emperor Philippa Georgiou and as such has yet to leave the Mirror Universe and assume the identity of Prime Lorca aboard the USS Buran before he was given command of the USS Discovery as we saw in "Choose Your Pain" (S01, E05). However, this time around Georgiou has retained her memories, consequently she already knows exactly who is plotting against her. 

This brings us to that potential mother of all cameos — will Isaacs return as either Mirror Lorca or even Prime Lorca? And here's the funny thing, in the past Isaacs has spoken about how much he'd love to return to "Star Trek" and how it might be possible that Lorca could have a future in the franchise. But much more recently, when asked about exactly the same thing, he's chosen not to say anything. 

"Taking the fifth. The whole point of having a story told to you is that you don’t know what’s in the story. It’s like asking when someone is going to tell you a joke: 'Give me the punchline and I’ll make my mind up,'" he said at the virtual Dragon Con in September of this year.

Make of that what you will.

Captain Killy is such a more interesting character than her Prime Universe counterpart.  (Image credit: CBS All Access)

Georgiou has some difficulty adjusting back to her Terran Empire environment and must avoid looking weak to her subjects while at the same time finding reasons to save Mirror Saru from becoming that evening's main course. As a result of her time spent in the Prime Universe and onboard the Discovery, she has evidently changed as a human being and now has some compassion for the Kelpiens.

Plus we get to see Mirror Burnham since she was presumed killed in the Lorca-lead uprising. Emperor Georgiou raised her as a daughter, but became jealous of Lorca, when Burnham developed an interest in him as a father figure and later as a lover as we learned in the episode "Vaulting Ambition" (S01, E12). Clearly both Georgiou and Burnham have some Freudian issues to deal with.

Georgiou makes Saru her personal slave and orders that he inform her of any rumors he might hear. She attends a performance of Cirque du Soleil meets Shakespeare in the Park narrated by poor Stamets who always seems to meet a grisly end in the Mirror Universe as the Emperor's new ship is unveiled, the ISS Charon complete with its own mycelial power core and spore drive. 

Jason Isaacs has teased his return to "Star Trek," but will it be as Prime Lorca?  (Image credit: CBS All Access)

Previously, this had been the point at which Burnham had tried to kill Georgiou, but armed with the knowledge of forthcoming events, Georgiou instead stabs Stamets in the neck (see?) and quashes the uprising. She confronts Burnham in the corridor, who as it turns out, just wanted her independence, you know, like every daughter does eventually. But instead of killing her, Georgiou risks looking weak in front of her subjects once again and just gives her a nick on the neck. 

"As of now, our future is unwritten," Georgiou hisses, "Let's make it count shall we?"

Killy gives the beaten and bewildered Burnham a kick in the face for good measure before dragging her off to the agonizer…but Georgiou's loyal followers look on, aghast and upset. Fade to black.

It's always great to see the Mirror Universe in "Star Trek" and this is the best episode with Georgiou since the first season. Her character is so much better suited to the Mirror Universe. It's just…how we got there on this particular occasion is a bit wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey. 

Rating: 6½ out of 10 

 Genesis on tour ✓ 

  • Nice to see David Cronenberg again, even if his character is still underused. 
  • The prefix code of the Khi'eth is a subtle and effectively used throwback. 
  • Great to see Rekha Sharma once more, maybe next week she'll have lines.
  • By far, the best episode with Georgiou since the first season.  
  • They have Cirque du Soleil in the Mirror Universe…aw, that's nice. 

 Genesis torpedo ✗ 

  • Blue lipstick just makes Burnham look like she's got licorice teeth, eeew. 
  • Book's attempt to talk to Saru doesn't feel right for his character. 
  • Burnham's relationship with Georgiou continues to get more Freudian. 
  • When is the Discovery crew going to get around to changing their uniforms?
  •  Who is Carl and why didn't the ship's computer provide more information? 

In other news, Noah Hawley, director of the underrated "Lucy in the Sky" recently said in an interview with Variety, that his "Star Trek" movie is on hold, for the foreseeable future saying, "The treatment is still alive, just in stasis. He’d finished the script and begun hiring designers. It was set to feature a new crew of characters." He also said. “We’re not doing Kirk and we’re not doing Picard."

"That Paramount, through a series of false starts, has been unable to get the feature arm of the franchise back up and running even as CBS has established a bona fide universe of series on the television front is a source of embarrassment for the studio."

He also said in a different interview with Deadline that it no longer appears "to be in my immediate future" as Paramount wants to take the franchise in a different direction.

CBS All Access is the home of "Star Trek: Picard," "Star Trek: Discovery," "Star Trek: Lower Decks" and a host of other original and archival CBS television shows. Subscriptions start at $5.99 a month. You can try CBS All Access for a week free here

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