Here’s what Lovarzi thought of the Star Trek Discovery two-parter ‘Terra Firma.’
I’ve never hidden the fact that I’m not a big fan of Philippa Georgiou. When we first met her, she was quite tedious, the stereotypically perfect captain who Michael looked up to; then we met Georgiou Mk II, from the Mirror Universe‘s Terran Empire. This gave Michelle Yeoh the chance to do something a bit different, to snarl a bit, to flex those acting muscles. Sadly, she never felt like she really plunged head-first into this darker side. It all seemed pretty one-note.
That’s why I wasn’t especially looking forward to ‘Terra Firma,’ in which we learn why this Georgiou is so ill, why she’s falling apart, why she’s going to die. Certainly none of my fears were allayed by Part One. In that opening part, she and Michael travel down to the uninhabited Dannus V, which the Discovery’s systems (plus the Sphere data) suggest houses the only chance Georgiou has.
It’s an intriguing set-up, and more so when they meet an enigmatic stranger who opens a portal, seemingly taking Philippa back to the Mirror Universe – except that’s not quite true. This is what could have happened; here, she’s given the option to change her fate, to stop herself from killing the parallel universe’s version of Michael, to set the Terran Empire back on track.
And, in Part One at least, this is where ‘Terra Firma’ fell apart.
It doesn’t entirely make sense: the Mirror Universe, established in The Original Series, worked so well in Star Trek Discovery Season One, indeed proving a real highlight of the show and proving that it had what it takes to rocket the Trek franchise into the 21st Century.
But here, in Season Three, it all feels a bit… Shakespeare in the park? This is coming from someone who is a big fan of the Bard: nonetheless, sometimes, you take the plays out of the theatre and they collapse, despite their ability to relate to everyday life and drive to the core of humanity. They have to be in good hands. In ‘Terra Firma,’ it’s as if everyone is presenting a hammier version of themselves.
It feels, at best, forced, and, at worst, cringe-inducing. It does at least give Yeoh the chance to show some nuance, but in the first part, it’s simply not enough. Even the nastier, sadistic version of Tilly isn’t quite as on-fire as she was in Season One.
The melodrama overshadows other interesting developments, like Stamets and Adira discovering the source of The Burn, and finding a distress signal – from a Kelpian. Presumably this will lead to some major character developments for Saru in the remaining episodes of the series.
But then much of that is shoved to one side to focus on the Mirror Universe. It’s a staple of Trek, and so it’s been really interesting to hear how the continuities have separated further as time has moved on. Yet Part One leaves much to be desired, and is sadly the worst episode of Season Three so far.
Fortunately, that’s where ‘Terra Firma’ Part Two comes in. This second episode goes some way to redeeming the arc. Many issues from Part One are smoothed out here, as Philippa is given more to do. Yeoh gets more material to work with. She’s saved Michael – now what?
And suddenly, you notice how Georgiou has changed. It’s been subtle, meted out over the past couple of seasons, but seeing her reverting back to her Terran instincts, albeit out of necessity, fitting back into rulership and stopping herself being overthrown by punishing Burnham in the most brutal ways possible, is particularly surprising. Yeoh turns in her best work, showing compassion when it’s needed, spliced with a bitterness and brutality you’d forgotten Philippa was capable of.
Her relationship with Saru, guiding him through Vahar’ai, the biological change Kelpians previously thought meant their deaths, is similarly surprising but genuinely touching. Saru, even enslaved by the Terrans, is intuitive and smart, cottoning on about what Philippa’s knowledge of Kelpian biology actually means.
This makes the ending all the more down-heartening, but there is an upbeat tone in what these events have meant for Georgiou. It’s a great ending for fans of The Original Series too, as a character last seen on-screen a few decades ago returns, or at least reveals himself. It’s a wonderful throwback, reinforcing the franchise’s continuity, explaining where he’s been all this time, and maybe – just maybe – promising more for the future of Star Trek Discovery… or indeed another related show, like Picard or Strange New Worlds.
Because ‘Terra Firma’ is a backdoor pilot – setting up Philippa Georgiou’s spin-off series, provisionally titled Section 31 – it achieves what it sets out to do, but it stumbles somewhat (I’m reminded of how Discovery took a couple of episodes to get going too; if ‘Terra Firma’ is essentially Section 31‘s beginning, this two-parter is fortunately more enjoyable than Star Trek Discovery‘s debut). I’m still not sure the character has what it takes to front a new programme, but Section 31 itself is an intriguing idea, and her reported co-stars should make the series worth a shot.
Nonetheless, I’d quite like Star Trek Discovery back next time please.
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