SINCE BEFORE YOUR SUN BURNED HOT IN SPACE, AND BEFORE YOUR RACE WAS BORN, I HAVE AWAITED… A SPOILER!
First, I’m sorry if you really loved STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s tenth episode of season three, the conclusion of the 2-part “Terra Firma.” I don’t mean to ruin it for you. But I need to tell this to people…to SHOUT it!!! This is a major, major screw-up I’m talking about, and I’m not kidding. So before I get to this week’s review, let’s talk about…
HOW THE GUARDIAN OF FOREVER WORKS
Okay, I can accept that the Guardian of Forever is now a cigar-chopping, bowler hat-wearing punster named Carl. Hey, people change. My old friend Nick is now Calista. Why can’t a giant rock donut time portal transform into a wooden door and spawn a comedic spokesman? I’m fine with all that.
But what I am NOT all right with is changing the essential rules of the Guardian of Forever!
“The City on the Edge of Forever” is arguably the best of the seventy-nine TOS episodes. At worst, it’s in the top three. And one of the reasons the story works so well is because Kirk and Spock are on a mission to literally save reality as we (they) know it. And in order to restore that reality, Kirk must sacrifice a woman he has fallen deeply in love with—a generous, compassionate, forward-seeing woman who could otherwise be destined for greatness if she did not need to perish in order for time to correct itself into a proper, utopian future that she herself dreamed of (whew…looooong sentence!).
Edith Keeler had to die, and we all felt Kirk’s aguish upon realizing that agonizing, unavoidable truth.
So let’s review how the Guardian works:
- If you go back in time and change something significant, reality shifts when you get back.
- If you then go back in time and fix what you broke, everything in the present returns to normal.
My friends, this did NOT happen in “Terra Firma, Part II”…
In Part I, Georgiou steps through the door, and we don’t yet know what’s going on. Is it a head trip? A holo-advenute? Is she really back in the Mirror Universe 930 years in the past? Some fans thought Carl might be a member of the Q Continuum (I hoped not because that would be a total deus ex machina move). Others noticed that the newspaper that Carl was holding—The Star Dispatch—featured the same name and logo that appeared on the newspaper header in Spock’s tricorder in “The City of the Edge of Forever.” These eagle-eyed fanatics surmised that the Guardian of Forever might somehow be involved in all of this…
Those OCD fans won the bet, of course. And that means that Georgiou really DID travel into the past because that’s what the Guardian of Forever does (and apparently, he/it can send travelers across universes, too!). We also learn that the Guardian was used during the Temporal Wars to screw up the timeline by one side and then the other side. Of course, we also know about timeships like the U.S.S. Relativity from Star Trek: Voyager, slingshotting around the sun, the Orb of Time, the Nexus, chroniton transporter accidents, Q, red matter, and a bunch of other convenient methods that exist for going back and forth through time in Star Trek‘s long history (assuming you don’t have a blue police call box handy).
But forget all of those other time travel methods. We are using the Guardian of Forever for this two-parter, and that means we need to follow its rules. And the main rule, the whole reason we have to “Back to the Future” anything we do during a Guardian trip, is that if you change the past in any major way, you return to a totally DIFFERENT future.
This means that when Georgiou went back to the Mirror Universe to become herself shortly before killing Michael Burnham—and then chose NOT execute Michael—Georgiou changed history. Of course, you could say that Michael ended up dying anyway, just a few weeks later…so no harm, no foul. But wait! According to Carl, Mirror Georgiou is drawing her last breath in that moment. She’s pretty much dead. So are Landry, Stamets, and a whole bunch of others.
But hey, why does this matter if it’s another universe? Who cares who lives and who dies?
We care! And it’s because all of this happened BEFORE the U.S.S. Discovery arrived there back in the first season! So now their whole experience in the Mirror Universe will be different. They will never encounter Empress Georgiou or Landry or Stamets…all of whom had very significant interactions with the crew! In fact, the Discovery took Georgiou back with them to the Prime Universe…something which would NOT have happened if the Empress were, y’know, dead!!!
And of course, if Discovery didn’t bring Mirror-Georgiou back with them, she couldn’t have helped defeat (and create) Control, and she wouldn’t have come forward in time with them. And so Georgiou’s molecules would never have started to break apart (because she wouldn’t have even been on the ship), the crew wouldn’t have needed to follow the yellow brick sphere data to see the Wizard (er, Guardian), Carl would never have sent Georgiou back, and none of this would even have happened.
Which means that all of it would have happened!
Which ensures that it wouldn’t happen…except then it would, leading to it not happening, which means it did happen, but then it didn’t…
MY BRAIN HURTS!!!
Anyway, Georgiou went back and changed so many things. She sbotaged the coalition rebels in their infancy, empowered the Mirror Kelpiens, and placed the Terran Empire in jeopardy a decade before Spock gets a chance to do the same. Oh, and without Georgiou around to kill Lorca, who knows what maleficence he would have gotten involved with!
So when Georgiou emerges from the doorway/gateway, reality should have shifted. But it hasn’t. And that’s just wrong with a capital WRONG. The writers are not following the rules of the Guardian of Forever!
I don’t want anyone to think that this picky little piece of Trekkie obsession ruined the episode for me. It didn’t. But it certainly didn’t help either!
For me, this episode started out pretty uninteresting and finished just barely interesting. And the main reason reason I felt this way was because I JUST DON’T CARE ABOUT THE MIRROR UNIVERSE. And frankly, I never really cared much about Empress Georgiou either. As I’ve said in previous blog entries, I thought of Mirror Georgiou the same way as I did Dr. Smith on the original Lost In Space (not the new series and new Dr. Smith; she is much more compelling). But the original Dr. Smith served no real purpose other than comedy relief, and the only reason the Robinsons didn’t just execute him in order to make their lives easier (and safer!) was because they were good people. I’m not sure that I wouldn’t have just spaced his ass. And I kinda feel the same way about Georgiou on the Discovery.
So this episode had two strikes against it from the moment it began. I have no emotional connection to the mirror doppelgängers. I care about their prime counterparts, and if the Terrans were threatening my heroes, I’d care more because I’m invested in (most of) the U.S.S. Discovery crew. Indeed, many of the best Mirror Universe visits in Star Trek history worked because the doppelgängers put the “good guys” in danger, so we knew whom to root for.
In “Terra Firma,” however, I didn’t really have a horse in the race because Georgiou isn’t exactly a fine, upstanding member of society, and Mirror Michael is just as bad or worse. So what…I’m rooting for the lesser of two evil twins? C’mon! It’s like watching your least favorite football teams play each other, and you want both to lose! And not only that, but part of me AGREED with Mirror Michael. A kinder, gentler Georgiou isn’t necessarily what that universe needs. We already discovered in Deep Space Nine what horrendous results Prime Kirk’s “pep talk” to Mirror Spock had wrought. The Terran Empire fell, and what replaced it was arguably worse. So maybe Georgiou was better off the way she had been originally.
Of course, we eventually find out that this was all a “test” by the Guardian to see if Georgiou had grown as a person. But for half of the episode, we viewers are simply watching all of this palace intrigue unfold in utter ignorance. And so we don’t know whether or not to root for or against the “reformed” Georgiou. After all, everything in this universe is backwards and upside down—just look at the opening credits…!
So maybe being good is bad and bad is good in the Mirror Universe. Not knowing about the whole “test” thing left me ambivalent as I watched all the literal back-stabbing. And hey, raise your hand if you knew all along that Mirror Michael was just faking allegiance to the Empress in order to betray her at the end. I knew it was coming as soon as Michael was first thrown into the brig. No surprises on my end.
Oh, and speaking of surprises, raise your hand if you expected to see Mirror Lorca. I’m raising mine, and frankly, I’m kinda disappointed that this is the one time they did something that I didn’t expect! I realize that they only had 30 minutes in the MU this episode, and they had to focus on Georgiou and Michael. And yeah, Lorca would have been really distracting. But even so, it might have made the first half of the episode just a little more interesting to see him again.
The other big stumble (in my mind) by the writers is that, lo and behold, Georgiou’s problem has been solved by the deus ex Carl, after all! When sci-fi writers need a fast and easy solution, they can always create an omnipotent being who will wave his/her wand and make everything okay.
The only trouble is that it can leave an audience feeling hollow and unsatisfied—even if your wizard/magician is a really cool rock donut concept from 54 years ago that the writers decided to resurrect out of nowhere for no reason other than to give MICHELLE YEOH a way off the series so that she can star in a different one. And let’s face it, having her step into the Guardian without any images in the time vortex (also not the way the Guardian works, folks!) allows Yeoh’s new series to be anywhere and anywhen. So it was a good tool to use. My only complaint is that the “Wizard” granted Georgiou’s “wish” because she proved “worthy.” There’s nothing really inspired about that kind of writing.
Of course, the writers have also just foreshadowed the end of the season (only three episodes left). In order to “fix” the damage of the Burn, someone probably needs to go back in time and prevent it from ever happening in the first place. But there’s no more time travel in the future—treaties and a civilization resisting temptation have ensured that Discovery can’t go back in time. There’s no machine or method that would allow them to do it.
Oh, wait—now there is. So let me make the following prediction (and we’ll see if I’m right in a little under three weeks)…
- The crew will uncover the secret cause of the Burn in the next episode or two.
- The only way to fix it will be to go back in time and put right what once went wrong.
- Admiral Vance won’t allow it. Time travel is verboten in the future!
- Saru, in a fit of roguish rebellion that makes him truly grok Michael for the first time, disobeys direct orders and heads to back to Carl.
- The last episode of the season takes place back in time as the crew rushes to stop the Burn. And of course, they succeed.
- Time shifts, Starfleet and the Federation never fall, and the galaxy is one big, happy place again.
Now, here’s where I’m gonna go out on a limb: I’m also predicting that the “fix” doesn’t restore the Federation to greatness but instead makes things WORSE. Admiral Vance is still there in the future waiting for them, but now he’s a schmuck, and the Federation is a bully, ruling over a galaxy rapidly running low on dilithium as Starfleet has begun hoarding it all. He who controls the methods of transport controls all!
Hmmm, maybe the crew then has to go back again to make sure that the Burn does happen, stopping themselves from stopping the Burn…but I’m not as certain of that part of the prediction.
Okay, one last thing to complain about: the toast at the end. Gag me with a gagh! It was like toasting a fungus after finally getting rid of a yeast infection!
The toast scene was really intended to honor the actress who played Georgiou, the amazing Michelle Yeoh, but the cast could have done that privately off-screen. The fact is that Mirror Georgiou was a horrible person, a pain in all of their asses, and did not deserve or earn that toast. In fact, in toasting to her merciless honesty, not one of them was truly honest to say: “Frankly, I’m glad to see her gone.” Because frankly, I’m glad to see her gone! As much as I love Michelle Yeoh, Georgiou didn’t fit into this series and should never have come forward in time to begin with.
And by the way, where was the toast when Commander Nhan left less than a half-dozen episodes ago??? There’s a crew member who deserved a heartfelt send-off!
Okay, I’ve said my piece. With luck, this is the last we’ll see of the Mirror Universe for a long, long, long time. Get on to finishing the Burn plot that you writers have spent so much time and energy setting up. You’ve got us fans intrigued and hooked. Now you’ve got three episodes left to impress us. Please make them count!
POST SCRIPT – Since publishing this blog, I have gotten many people suggesting (some more politely than others) that the Guardian somehow changed or “evolved” in the 920 years since Kirk and crew encountered the entity. So I would like to remind them of the following line spoken by the Guardian in “The City on the Edge of Forever”…
I was made to offer the past in this manner.
I CANNOT CHANGE.