WHEN SPOILERS WALKED THE EARTH!
We interrupt this season’s main plotline about the Burn for a 2-part return to the Mirror Universe. Please enjoy.
Now, I understand that many fans LOVE the Mirror Universe (or MU, as anyone who doesn’t read Marvel Comics is allowed to abbreviate it). And frankly, I’m kinda one of them. “Mirror, Mirror” remains one of my favorite TOS episodes. And I cheered the first time the folks at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine surprised us with the trip across the threshold. Everything was different now with the MU, as apparently Spock DID mange to topple the Empire, and 24th century Terra had gone from interstellar bully to bitter victim. But by the time DS9 aired their fifth and final crossover episode, I was feeling a little bored of the same old routine.
Had DS9 plucked the Mirror Universe bare?
The answer came with a resounding “Heck, no!” when Star Trek: Enterprise aired a two-parter titled “In a Mirror, Darkly,” and we saw the final fate of the U.S.S. Defiant from the TOS episode “The Tholian Web.” Fans loved this two-parter more than almost any other episode of that four-season series.
So is it any wonder that the next Star Trek television series, DISCOVERY, made a return to the Mirror Universe in its very first season? And it included what was supposed to be the biggest surprise plot twist of the entire series—that Captain Lorca was from the MU himself!—although a lot of fans (including me!) saw it coming many episodes earlier.
But Discovery‘s trip to the Mirror Universe wasn’t as interesting as previous crossovers…for a number of reasons. First, many fans agree that it lasted too long: four episodes (out of fifteen) were spent there when two or three episodes would probably have sufficed. It made the plot seem stretched out and somewhat boring. Add to that the convenient contrivance that nearly everyone from the main cast just happened to be near the emperor…who just happened to actually be an emPRESS and the doppelgänger of Captain Philippa Georgiou. It’s a small multiverse after all!
Perhaps most problematic is that the various people we saw in the MU were “evil” versions of characters that hadn’t really been developed much in the nine previous Discovery episodes. Unlike TOS, DS9, and Enterprise–where the audience had literally dozens and dozens of episodes to get to know the prime characters—this time we’d had just two episodes of Georgiou and seven for most of the Discovery crew. In other words, it was hard to truly appreciate the doppelgängers because we didn’t know much about who they were doppelgänging!
Fortunately, as this season’s Discovery returns to the MU for another 2-parter with their ninth and tenth episodes “Terra Firma,” we don’t have that same problem any longer. We know all of the “prime” characters much better now.
However, this latest episode still had some issues to overcome, and I’m not sure if they succeeded…
Again, I have to say that it wasn’t a “bad” episode, per se. I realize there’s a lot of folks out there who wish I’d just either hate on Discovery or else embrace it unconditionally. But alas, this series is full of gray areas (no, not the Trill), and with an episode like this one, I can’t simply say “it totally sucked” or “it was a pure triumph.” It had elements of both
Before looking at the MU part of the episode (which took over pretty much completely from the mid-point onward), let’s start with what came first…
INTO THE J.J. VERSE
And suddenly, with half a one sentence of dialogue, the alternate universe of the J.J. ABRAMS reboot Trek films is now officially a “thing.” I haven’t heard any fan complain about this scene so far. It had everything we wanted: Kovich, Culber, a first season TNG uniform, mention of the Temporal Wars, and a fleeting reference to what the studios would like fans to call “the Kelvin timeline.” Oh, and we also got a good, believable, and minimal-technobabble explanation for Georgiou’s mysterious condition. She traveled between universes AND across time, and her molecules want to be in two different places/times at once (and neither of those is where she currently is) but can’t do that. So she’s totally screwed on a quantum level.
So far, so good. But then we have…
BAD-TO-THE-BONE BITCHY BASHING OF BURNHAM (AND EVERYONE ELSE)!
Okay, we get it. Empress Philippa Georgiou is not a nice person. She’s arrogant, conniving, merciless, cruel, contemptuous, belittling, resentful, angry, and just an asshole to people. But here’s the problem: I don’t want to root for a bully like that because of what it says about me as a person. At points earlier this season, the writers tried to “soften” Georgiou’s edges just a bit. She obviously cares about Michael, and she even helped out the crew a couple of times (in her own interests, of course).
But with this episode, all of that softening is now completely out the airlock. The bitch is back. Again, I get it. We need to show Georgiou trying to deal with her impending demise by lashing out at everyone so she won’t miss them and vice-versa. Also, it will give her a character arc during this two-part episode to come back from the dark place and emerge into the light. Rah, rah.
Except I still can’t root for her. I look at Georgiou as the lowest of the low, the abuser with no regrets, and frankly (especially after witnessing her behavior early on in this episode) someone whom I won’t miss if she’s gone…despite loving MICHELLE YEOH as an actor. And right now, most fans are assuming that this 2-parter will, indeed, be where Philippa Georgiou finally departs from this series—more on that shortly, but first…
SETTING UP SARU
Raise your hand if you see the following plot development coming: Saru will face a choice of either following orders or “going rogue” (like Michael does on a regular basis) in order to save his trapped Kelpien comrades. This will provide the first true “Saru episode” of the season and help him grow even more as a character.
If so, I’m all-in on that. I’ll resist the temptation to point out yet another contrivance by the writers that, of all the races of the Federation, the ship that sent the pre-Burn distress call was crewed by Kelpiens. (And did anyone notice the actress who played the Kelpien Dr. Issa was the same actress, HANNAH SPEAR who played Saru’s sister Siranna? Does that have significance, or was it just to save money because they already had the plaster mold for her head?) Obviously, in order for Saru to place the good of the few over the good of the many, he’s gonna need all the motivation the writers can give him—and that means Kelpiens. Okay.
And speaking of the good of the few or the one, kudos to the writers for making Admiral Vance such an AWESOME character! Granted, they could still screw it all up by having Vance turn out to be another back-stabber like Lorca, but right now, he’s at the top of my “favorite Starfleet C-in-C” list. His fatherly advice to Saru was, in my mind, one of the best, most impactful moments of the entire series so far—and it justifies every time James T. Kirk placed the needs of the one over the needs of the many…
OH, AND LET’S NOT FORGET ADIRA AND BOOK
In a scene that seemed to be included simply to make sure the viewers didn’t forget that we’re still trying to unravel the mystery of the Burn, we have a brief check-in with Adira and Stamets. Apparently, Adira isn’t sleeping and forgot to “unpause” the computer to solve the problem. Been there, done that. Oh, and the Gray Ghost is still MIA. Got it.
Also, on another deck, Mr. Cleveland Booker would like to join the crew. Great. But Saru says he’ll pass. Not great? I guess we’ll just have to wait to see where this goes. Fine.
Meanwhile, it’s time for…
THE BIG GOODBYE
Many fans have already surmised that this 2-parter will be Georgiou’s farewell to Star Trek: Discovery. After all, most of us were surprised that she came along to the future in the first place, since Michelle Yeoh was supposed to star in the new “Section 31” series that CBS was planning (and may or may not still be planning) to launch. Hard to be in two places/times/universes/shows at once, so Georgiou needs to move on/forward/back/sideways/whatever.
Of course, some fans don’t want to believe it: “Say it ain’t it so, Georgiou!” But Saru says his goodbye, Tilly gives Philippa a great big hug and says something nice (God knows why!), and even the walk across the snow with Michael harkens back to the first scene of Captain Georgiou and Commander Burnham walking across the sands of a desert planet to poetically bookend Georgiou’s tenure on the series. This time, fortunately, they didn’t have to fly all the way to Jordan but instead only needed to drive a few dozen kilometers from Toronto on a snowy winter day in Ontario, Canada. Pretty!
CARL, YOUR DOORMAN?
Okay, I need to take a quick detour back to the 1970s. Who here remembers the sitcom Rhoda starring VALERIE HARPER? There was a never-seen-on-screen character, voiced by the late LORENZO MUSIC (who also voiced Garfield and a bunch of other familiar characters). The character’s name: Carlton, the doorman. This slow-witted fellow would call up to Rhoda’s apartment on the intercom, often saying hilarious things.
And now, four and a half decades later (or 1,200 years, if you prefer), we now have Carl, your doorman. Coincidence? Homage? I’ve got no idea, but I felt I needed to say something.
Okay, back to the blog…
For some strange reason, the ship’s computer tells them where they might find help for Georgiou but no other details…like HOW??? That’s like asking my browser for a recipe for baklava and having it give me directions to the supermarket! And then, once Discovery arrives at the planet and detaches its nacelles (WHY, GOD, WHY????), the computer tells them where to beam down on the planet…but then they have to WALK??? Why not just beam down to the spot they need to be? Whatever app they’re using on Discovery, folks, I think it’s glitchy!
But hey, a little Lord of the Rings walkabout through beautiful scenery never hurt anyone, right? And at the end of the…um…trek, we meet (drum roll please!)—Carl. Now, I wasn’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition, but I certainly wasn’t expecting Carl (played by CSI alum PAUL GUILFOYLE). I do have to say, I’m intrigued by this Patton Oswaldish punster with a cigar, newspaper from tomorrow, and a strange door to…somewhere. On the one hand, I get a distinctly Doctor Who vibe from him (step through the door…all of time and space). But that’s a whole separate franchise. A number of fans have offered the guess that this is not Who but Q. To be honest, I wouldn’t put it past the writers to toss in a little Q ex machina…but with puns? That would make him Pun-Q (you’re welcome).
Anyway, I’m intrigued but apprehensive. If the Q are somehow involved in the Burn, then BOOO!!! (Boo-Q!) That’s not a mystery worth solving because fixing it simply involves finding a way to ask really nicely. And even if the Q didn’t start the dilithium fire, they can always just snap their fingers and fix it all…again, if we ask them REALLY nicely. So here’s hoping that Carl is not a Q. But then, what is he? I hope that gets explored and explained. If he’s just a White Rabbit pointing Alice to the looking glass, and that’s all we end up getting, then BOOO, too!!!
AND—YAWN—BACK TO THE MIRROR UNIVERSE
My apologies to those of you who enjoy visiting the MU. Actually, I don’t mind going there if there’s something new to discover…a fresh and unique perspective to offer. But apparently, this is the same old Mirror Universe we spent four intense and grueling episodes in two seasons ago. The only difference is that we’re going back a little bit further to see how Georgiou was betrayed by Michael. Big whoop.
But here’s the real reason the whole (head?) trip into the MU doesn’t work for me: it’s not really defined or explained to us at all. Is it a head-trip? After all, the MU has drifted far away from our universe in the last 930 years, ergo, crossing over isn’t really possible anymore. So what the heck is this gateway, and who is its guardian (see what I did there)? And the other part of that equation: Georgiou is ALSO traveling back in time nearly a millennium! So either this is all in her head, that is one super-powerful wooden door, or she’s tapped those mirror ruby slippers together REALLY hard.
And if it is a head trip, then so what? What is Georgiou supposed to do? It was barely a month ago that Adira went into her mind to face her demons and regain her memory. Is Georgiou doing the same thing? If so, how is that supposed to help her poor, decaying molecules? And what IS she supposed to be doing here? Facing her demons? Finding herself? What am I supposed to be rooting for and rooting against? By not telling, the writers have left me completely uninvested emotionally in a character that I never much cared about to begin with.
And that leaves the rest of the characters in the MU, none of whom I care about either. Even though I now know the prime versions of Detmer, Owosekun, Rhys, etc. better than I used to, seeing them all dressed in gold and leather, constantly scowling, and covered with dark eyeliner like ancient Egyptians still isn’t enough to get me invested in any of the doppelgängers. Stamets gets stabbed in the neck after reciting a silly poem (stick to haiku!), and I think “So what?” Saru is back to his old, super-afraid self? Been there already, done that. There’s a fight “to the death” in the corridor for a leadership position on the Charon? It’s not like we haven’t seen that before a few times, right?
The only “new” things we really got to see were the real Captain Killy, the real Mirror Michael, and of course, a not-so-merciless Georgiou. And as it happens, those were the only things that interested me in any way for the last half of the episode…and even they got very boring very fast. Killy is essentially just a nefarious ass-kisser like everyone else in this universe. As for Michael, I thought that SONEQUA MARTIN-GREEN played her a little too uptight. There’s so much tension between Mirror Michael and her empress “mother” that it’s hard for me to understand why Georgiou has such affection for either universe’s Michael. Sonequa plays Mirror Michael like a spiteful teenager trying to smile her way past a mother she loathes. And so, when Georgiou (unexpectedly?) spares Michael’s life, I was once again unfazed. Why not just kill her? Because Georgiou is kinder and gentler now? Great. But aren’t we trying to hold Georgiou’s molecules together?
When the episode abruptly ended without a real cliffhanger, I felt like it was such a waste of 22 minutes. We have no idea whether this is all in Georgiou’s mind or if she really is somehow rewriting actual history. And again, how does any of this help her survive? We didn’t even get to see Lorca (although I assume he’ll appear next episode or else it’s REALLY a waste).
At this point, I’m looking forward to part two because—and ONLY because—I want to get past this detour and back to our regularly scheduled Burn plot…already in progress.