There’s a moment in this week’s episode when I realized what was happening and screamed. Actually screamed. Rhekha Sharma’s Commander Landry was screaming too. No, not the dead one, the Terran one. Because this week, we’re back in the Mirror Universe. Kind of? The dude in the bowler hat and tweed suit smoking a cigar in an Adirondack chair and reading a fake future newspaper in front of a random door stuck in the middle of the frozen tundra on an uninhabited planet near the Gamma Quadrant didn’t specify.
It’s complicated. Let me back up.
So my theory about Georgiou’s illness last week wasn’t too far off: David Cronenberg (IMDb says the Space Nazi enthusiast is named Kovich, but I don’t think anyone has said it onscreen) catches wind of Georgiou’s illness and shows up at Culber’s med bay to offer context on her (very creepy, kind of cool?) bio-diagnostic results. She’s not the first case he has seen; the last guy who suffered from this particularly nasty condition had jumped into this dimension from Star Trek’s other controversial timeline, the one J.J. Abrams created in his 2009 film when an older Spock fails to save Romulus from its sun’s supernova and instead creates a black hole that flings both him and Nero, Eric Bana’s Romulan rage machine, back in time, where he destroys Vulcan as revenge. (It’s known as the Kelvin timeline because — actually, don’t worry about it.) The guy from the Kelvin timeline ended up becoming a “time soldier” in the Temporal War, the time-traveling duties of which triggered his illness.
Long story short, your body’s molecules tend to get mad when they’re dragged across both time and universes! (It remains unclear why Georgiou’s illness started with PTSD flashbacks, but I’m sure we’ll learn something about those memories next week.) Her illness has worsened, and now she enjoys intermittent moments wherein parts of her body simply reject corporeality. And because her space-and-time jumps were far greater, because the Mirror Universe has “drifted” so far from theirs over the past 900 years, and since the Temporal Accords expressly forbid any of the obvious fixes (like sending her back in time or back to the Terran Universe), Kovich suggests it’s going to get a lot worse than the other guy’s case did before it eventually kills her. (And doctors were authorized to euthanize the other guy in the end. Yikes!)
Naturally, Georgiou is being very mature about the whole thing and violently bullying anyone who dares to show her an ounce of compassion. Even when Culber has the computer cross-reference Kovich’s files with the Sphere data and it produces exactly one chance for recovery — on a remote, uninhabited planet called Dannus V — she would prefer to die by Michael’s hand, unsuccessfully goading her into fights with throwing axes. Only after Michael points out that giving up and resigning herself to be a medical footnote when there’s another option is a coward’s death does Georgiou agree to try this last-ditch attempt.
Dannus V is all the way out near the Gamma Quadrant and the galactic rim, so the mission will require the spore drive, which means they’ll need authorization to take the Federation’s most valuable asset on a wild goose chase for one crew member. Despite this episode basically being Georgiou’s A Christmas Carol, the wildest part comes not when the emperor steps back in time through a magical door to confront the ghosts of her past in an effort to save herself from a singularly horrible death, but when Charles Vance, commander-in-chief of Starfleet, protector of all that remains of the Federation, authorizes the mission. Poor Saru is trying so hard to honor the wishes and policies Vance set forth from the get-go and tells Michael that “the needs of the many” — the Emerald Chain is about to conduct a “military exercise” nearby — “outweigh the needs of the one.” But like a horribly inconsistent parent, the admiral has suddenly decided his rules are more like rough guidelines and contradicts Saru in front of his crew, reasoning that a faraway mission will both keep the Discovery safe from the Chain’s clutches and keep Georgiou from making things worse in an attempt to die as violently as possible. (It does not, however, explain why Vance apparently declined to even chastise anyone for last week’s “rogue” debacle, which made the Osyraa situation demonstrably worse.) “Take it from an old soul who made a lot of bad calls in his day,” says Vance, suddenly opting for a brand-new, kindly-patriarch leadership style. “A crew member is drowning. If we let her, your whole crew will never look at you or the Federation the same way again. And you will never look at yourself the same way again.”
Had the back half of this episode not substantially addressed the ongoing friction between Saru and Georgiou, I would have been far more resentful of this exchange. First of all, we’ve seen no proof whatsoever that anyone aboard the Discovery even likes Georgiou. Everyone who tolerates or humors her does so either for Michael’s sake or, in Culber’s case, to uphold his Hippocratic oath. While I’m sure most of them wouldn’t wish death upon her, it doesn’t seem as though a practically unheard of illness killing the hateful, homicidal dictator who has regularly vocalized her preference for death would necessarily be bad for crew morale, especially since none of them even know about the Dannus V thing. In fact, I’d argue that being forced to go along with this mystery mission without any details whatsoever, especially if it ends up costing Federation lives, would create more morale problems than it would prevent. To say nothing of the fact that, toward Saru himself, Georgiou has never been anything but insubordinate and hostile at best, virulently racist and threatening at worst. Saru is an infinitely patient, compassionate leader who has extended far more goodwill to Georgiou than she deserves, but to suggest that he would suffer profoundly from choosing to obey orders and save lives over a 5 percent chance to heal a genocidal war criminal who enslaved, farmed, and ate his people is not only insulting, it borders on gaslighting.
That said, I’m willing to take even that logic pretzel if it means Georgiou will finally, FINALLY be forced to reckon with her reprehensible personality and her unspeakable crimes against basically all sentient life. And that’s what happens on Dannus V: They come upon the aforementioned bowler-hat guy, a Cheshire Cat in human form who speaks in riddles until a fed-up Georgiou just opens the door (what’s the worst that could happen? She dies sooner?), which dumps her onto the loading dock of the Discovery in the Terran Universe on the morning of her, Burnham, and Lorca’s attempted coup. Terran reflexes kicking in, she recovers quickly from the shock, getting briefed by Captain “Killy” on the first “slave uprisings”; the dedication ceremony of her brand-new flagship, the Charon; and, when she presses Smooth Tilly, the status of Michael and Lorca’s plans. Lorca is apparently carrying out extrajudicial executions and saying it’s on her orders; the pair want people to believe she’s either weak or out of her mind or both, allegations not helped by the fact that Georgiou wants to nip the revolt in the bud rather than let it and their subsequent executions play out publicly.
Sonequa Martin-Green plays with that tension beautifully; you can tell she’s delighted to finally get to be her own mirror this week. She has the swagger of an abandoned orphan adopted by the most powerful woman in the galaxy down pat: She’s spoiled, resentful, and psychopathically cruel in a way that surprises even the dictator who raised her. Michael and Georgiou are in the mess hall, and Michael has just bragged about blinding and cutting off the hands of a family of artists to make their art more valuable. Then the screaming starts. A Kelpien slave who appears to have started vahar’ai has spilled something on Landry’s boot; another Kelpien who rushes to help and apologize is shoved out of the way by security, who drag the guy off to be butchered. All the while, Georgiou’s expression is changing. (Here’s the part where I started yelling too.) Because that second Kelpien, once just a “gift” from Georgiou to Michael, is Saru. When Michael deems his groveling to be insubordinate and tries to have him sent to the butcher as well, Georgiou shouts “NO!” and the entire mess hall goes silent. She scrambles, saying she has decided to “take him back” from her: “When I’m finished, he’ll wish he were dead, but his service will reach the level of art.” She retires to her quarters with him, where she reveals her knowledge of vahar’ai and insists that he tell her about his former “master’s” plans. “They fear that you have changed,” he says carefully. “If they knew even that you’d learned the term vahar’ai, they would be unsettled.”
Now, look. Is this a sufficient reckoning to address how Georgiou has treated Saru? Hell, no. Prime Universe Saru doesn’t even know it’s happening; he’s busy coming to terms with the fact that the Federation distress signal coming from the Veruben nebula turns out to have come from a Kelpien vessel. And Georgiou still seems fine with slavery in general; she saves not-Saru from being butchered but seems to have been fine with the other slave going to be made into soup. And then she conscripts not-Saru as a spy, which suggests that she’s still treating this whole experience not as a reflection on her past sins as much as a wish-fulfillment wonderland where she gets to engineer a win in places where she lost originally. (Not that she really needs him as a spy: Terran Stamets does a horrible job of attempting regicide on Michael’s behalf, coming up not even from behind but from the side to stab Georgiou at the dedication ceremony. She slits his throat and continues her speech about loyalty’s importance to the strength of the empire as though she’d just swatted a fly.)
And it does remain to be seen whether the show will end her saga the right way. The majority of “Terra Firma, Part 1” is obsessed with the relationship between Georgiou and Michael. We spend half the episode relentlessly focused on how Georgiou’s semi-toxic relationship with Prime Michael is defined by her definitely toxic relationship with Terran Michael, and how Georgiou has romanticized “picking her up off a rubbish heap” while that story is the root of Terran Michael’s resentment. The Butcher of the Binary Stars will want for nothing, but she’ll never escape the shadow of her mother the emperor, nor will she ever be treated by Georgiou as more than an idea, an extension of herself. In Georgiou’s mind, her betrayal and subsequent escape were her biggest failures. (It’s unclear whether she had an opportunity to execute her in the original timeline, too, or if catching her this time and actively deciding not to is the result of this wish-fulfillment wonderland.) The episode is overall pretty uneven, to the point where it would make sense if Georgiou comes away from this having learned only half the lesson. It’s very possible that the only true atonement we’re going to see from her, if she survives, will be limited to Prime Michael and maybe a stubbornly quiet shift in how she speaks to her Kelpien captain. But being forced to face the hideousness of her past is an incredibly solid start for a show that until today I was convinced was never going to touch the topic again. (Best case scenario, of course, would involve a frank conversation between her and Saru when she returns. Second best, she starts obeying his orders without complaining.) As Georgiou says herself as she sends Michael off to the agonizer while she figures out what to do next, their story is as yet unwritten, so here’s hoping its conclusion isn’t all about maternal guilt.
Personal Log, Supplemental
• Is anyone else creeped out not by the fact that Mirror Lorca and Burnham are sleeping together, but by the fact that the show won’t stop mentioning it? Please don’t make us watch Sonequa and Jason Isaacs kiss.
• Still no sign of Gray. Adira is furious with him and now also in denial about it. At least they understand that “he doesn’t get to decide what’s good for” them. That’s more wisdom than I had at 16!
• Another cool ship name alert: The Kelpien doctor who sent out the distress signal mentions having been contacted by the captain of the U.S.S. Hiraga Gennai. Hiraga Gennai was an 18th-century Japanese doctor and inventor whose inventions include an electrostatic generator and a thermometer, among others. He apparently also wrote an essay called “On Farting.” Bless.
• Book’s “usefulness” to the Discovery crew was put on hold this week as Saru basically tells him to chill and wait for his moment to prove himself … even though he does prove he has a good network of informants by independently confirming what they already know about the Chain’s activities. Underwhelming!
• The way Terran Owo and Terran Michael lock eyes as the former disarms the latter when they catch her trying to escape? That’s a look that launches approximately 200 slashfics.