Star Trek: Discovery season 3, episode 9 review: "You could tie your head in knots thinking about the temporal mechanics"

Star Trek Discovery season 3 episode 9
(Image: © CBS/Netflix)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

"Terra Firma, Part 1" gets a little sidetracked in the opening act, but as soon as it focuses on Georgiou and her return to the Mirror Universe, it’s an absolute blast

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Warning: This Star Trek: Discovery season 3, episode 9 review contains major spoilers – many of them set to stun. Boldly go further at your own risk…

Philippa Georgiou has been the standout character in Star Trek: Discovery’s third season. As the rest of the crew have done their best to assimilate into the 32nd-century life, she’s carried on (mostly) as usual, a withering quip here, a moan about Federation protocol there. Even severe blackouts and phasing in and out of reality haven’t affected her ability to provide a witty one-liner for any conceivable occasion. 

"Terra Firma, Part 1" takes Discovery’s MVP back to home territory, as the show makes a welcome return to the Mirror Universe that’s been a Trek staple since the Original Series. If only the episode didn’t take so damn long – half of its running time – to get her there… That tardiness is just about excusable because this is the first half a two-parter, and there are other arc plots that need to keep ticking along. 

For starters, Adira and Stamets have decoded the distress call emanating from the Verubin Nebula, source of the mysterious melody that’s been cropping up throughout the season, and supposed epicentre of the Burn. It turns out it was sent by a Kelpien scientist who was investigating a dilithium nursery before getting stranded in the nebula. She was left waiting for a rescue that never came, and her final message has been broadcasting on a loop for over 100 years. Captain Saru chooses not to brief Admiral Vance on the discovery – he reasons that his superior officer will be busy dealing with the Emerald Chain, but you suspect the decision owes more to the sight of a fellow Kelpien on the ship than Starfleet protocol.

Book’s brief appearance, meanwhile, feels more like a contractual obligation than crucial to the episode. Passing on intelligence about Emerald Chain “training exercises” from his courier contacts is kind of useful, but it’s nothing Saru didn’t already know. Ultimately his request to do something more useful for Discovery than simply sitting back and reading the field manual is a distraction from the main event – Georgiou’s story.  

It’s appropriate that legendary movie director David Cronenberg returns as shadowy Starfleet agent Kovich, seeing as Georgiou’s affliction borders on the body horror territory that’s long been his trademark. Her body is being torn apart because she not only travelled 900 years into the future, she also crossed dimensions from her native Mirror Universe. Molecules, Kovich explains, don’t much like being away from the time period where they were created, and Georgiou’s double displacement is too much for the space-time continuum to handle. Future Starfleet has only recorded one such case before, that of a time soldier from the Temporal Wars. He crossed over to The Next Generation era from a parallel universe created by the “temporal incursion” of a Romulan mining ship – almost definitely the Narada, the vessel that accidentally created the alternate Kelvin timeline of J.J. Abrams’ first Star Trek movie.

Though Kovich says there’s no cure, Dr Culber uses Discovery’s Sphere data-enhanced computer to come up with an alternative – if they visit the planet of Darrus 5 on the edge of the galaxy, Georgiou’s chances of survival will be 5% rather than a flat zero. 

Saru, clearly thinking he’s saying what his boss wants to hear, opts for a “needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one” approach, advising that Discovery should stay where it is to help the fight against the Emerald Chain. Admiral Vance breaks with usual form, however, and tells Saru he’ll have to live with the regret if he doesn’t do all he can to help Georgiou. So, after some surprisingly tearful farewells – who knew Tilly and Saru liked Georgiou so much? – Burnham and Georgiou beam down to the barren surface of Darrus 5.

While the wide shots of the pair wandering around the empty wastes are an echo of Burnham and (prime) Georgiou’s first-ever appearance in season one, what they find there is very different. The closest thing to a life sign is Carl, an out-of-place old guy with a penchant for dad jokes and talking in riddles. Having the portal take the form of a bog-standard Earth door – whether it’s metaphorical or not – is overly cute, and it’s disappointing nobody could think of a better route back to the Mirror Universe. That said, the fact that Carl is reading a future copy of The Star Dispatch, a newspaper that featured in classic TOS episode "The City on the Edge of Forever", is a wonderful nod to past Trek – you can’t fault Discovery’s attention to detail when it comes to Easter eggs.

Although the means of getting there may be slightly tenuous, as soon as Emperor Georgiou returns to the Mirror Universe, the episode kicks into another gear. She’s instantly transported to the ISS Discovery, before the prime USS Discovery crossed paths with its Terran counterpart in season one. Georgiou’s flagship, the Charon (later destroyed by prime Burnham) is about to go into service, and Gabriel Lorca is preparing his coup to take control of the Empire – along with the Terran version of Burnham.

You can’t overstate how much fun it is to be back with the bloodthirsty Terrans. Unleashing the Discovery crew’s evil twins – there are also some blasts from the past, with deceased officers Ellen Landry and Airiam still alive and well in the Mirror Universe – gives the cast the chance to ham things up spectacularly.

And Georgiou has changed significantly in her time away. While she’s an apex predator in the normal Trek universe, here she’s the voice of reason, as prone to thinking things through as killing someone where they stand – not always the best move in a civilisation where mercy is considered a sign of weakness punishable by death. 

Having experienced these events before, she’s in a position to change the future. Maybe fixing her timeline will ensure she never loses control of the Empire, and never has to escape to the prime universe – saving her from her unfortunate fate in the 32nd century. You could tie your head in knots thinking about the temporal mechanics but mostly it’s just fun to watch one-dimensionally evil people doing horrible things to one another. All hail her most imperial majesty!

New episodes of Star Trek: Discovery season 3 land on Thursdays on CBS All Access in the US, and on Fridays on Netflix in the UK.

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Richard is a freelancer journalist and editor, and was once a physicist. Rich is the former editor of SFX Magazine, but has since gone freelance, writing for websites and publications including GamesRadar+, SFX, Total Film, and more. He also co-hosts the podcast, Robby the Robot's Waiting, which is focused on sci-fi and fantasy.