This week’s Star Trek: Discovery picks up almost directly where it left off, seated firmly in the Terran universe. Last week’s introduction to the ruthless Terran Michael Burnham should leave us grateful for Prime Burnham, but all it’s done is give us everything we’ve never known we needed.
We begin as Terran Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) is being dragged into the brig, literally kicking and screaming. Emperor Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) and Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo) watch, intent on showing Burnham the error of her ways. Burnham has none of it, challenging her emperor with every word and ever glare, reminding Georgiou of the protocol for disobedience such as hers. Burnham mentions the newly-formed Coalition, an alliance composed of non-human species across the Alpha and Beta quadrants intended to revolt against the Terran Empire. But Georgiou is uncharacteristically patient, determined to reform her murderous adopted daughter – even if it does mean leaving her in the agonizer to reconsider her decisions.
In her office, Georgiou is confronted by the venomously saccharine Capt. Killy (Mary Wiseman). She offers to have Burnham’s accomplices brought to light, so that they may root out dissenters in one blow, but Georgiou insists that Killy tortures Burnham for information instead. The Emperor feels for her daughter, but is resolute in her methods to rewrite her history.
After a clever use of negative exposure in the title sequence, we return to Burnham’s cell. She’s visibly exhausted, stubbornly refusing the tray of food before her. Killy has the guards place her back in the agonizer, asking Burnham to declare her loyalty to Georgiou. Burnham refuses, and we see several attempts to break her spirit. Even Detmer (Emily Coutts) visits, attempting to convince Burnham to submit by informing her that no one’s heard from Lorca.
Georgiou visits again, trying to talk some sense into her sleeping daughter. She fondly recalls chilling memories of a young Burnham who suffered from night terrors and sleepwalking. Georgiou presents Burnham with a jar full of fireflies to help soothe her, just as she did when Burnham was a child. She leaves her there, and Burnham wakes to see the jar, and finally reaches for food.
Owosekun brings Burnham to Georgiou’s quarters as Saru (Doug Jones) watches from the shadows. Burnham genuflects, and the emperor dismisses the others, giving her the chance to once again pledge fealty to Georgiou. She offers to expose her co-conspirators, but Georgiou insists that it won’t be enough to reassure their subjects of her loyalty. Burnham then offers to execute them herself, assuring her mother that she can be trusted.
In the halls, Cmmdr. Landry (Rekha Sharma) strolls along, unaware of Detmer lurking behind a bulkhead. A firefight breaks out, but just as Landry moves in for the kill, Burnham shoots her down, removing her badge. She and Detmer go to the ready room where Georgiou, Killy, and Owosekun are enjoying some kind of cocktail. Burnham slides Landry’s badge across the table as proof of the kill, and several others follow. She even kills Detmer right in front of them for good measure, adding her badge to the pile.
At dinner, Burnham gently laments about Georgiou’s decision to discontinue serving Kelpien. She then confesses to seeing the error of her ways weeks ago, citing stubbornness when Georgiou asks why keep up the façade. Burnham commends the emperor for beginning to dismantle the Coalition, and Georgiou reiterates the importance of her trust in her daughter. She inquires about Lorca again but Burnham insists that she’s done with him, revealing that he uses the code name ‘Vicar’ on back-end channels.
Afterwards, Saru grooms Georgiou as she prepares for bed. He asks that she be the one to cull him when vahar’ai comes, but she swiftly informs him that the condition is a myth and that he’ll survive the ordeal. He reels about the lives lost to a false illness, and she urges him to live a full life, for himself and for them. Her display of compassion leads Saru to doubt if she is actually Terran, then implores her to return to wherever she came from out of fear for her safety.
On the bridge, Lt. Cmmdr. Airiam (Hannah Cheesman) reports that they’ve intercepted a message to Lorca on Risa from one of his high-ranking lieutenants named Duggan (Daniel Kash). Killy questions whether the endeavor is worth the emperor’s time and suggests that she and Burnham go in a shuttle, but Georgiou insists that they all go. Upon arrival, Georgiou orders the shuttle be disabled to keep Duggan alive for questioning.
In the brig, Georgiou and Burnham confront Duggan about the coup. Just as he warns Georgiou the Burnham isn’t to be trusted, she shoots him before turning her phaser on the emperor. Georgiou seems to have been expecting such a betrayal, standing quietly by as members of the bridge crew file in with weapons drawn. Georgiou coolly implores her daughter to reconsider, but Burnham is seething with rage, declaring that her mother should have never trusted her.
Georgiou admits that she never really did, and Killy, Owosekun, Saru, and a few other Kelpiens arrive just in time with phasers firing. A brawl breaks out, and Georgiou’s team gradually wins their battles. The emperor runs Burnham through with her sword, and Burnham plunges a dagger into the emperor’s throat. Georgiou watches the life bleeds out of her daughter just as Saru rushes to her side. As her own life fades, Georgiou is pulled back to the Prime universe.
Understandably rattled, Georgiou shirks away from Burnham and grills Carl (Paul Guilfoyle) for answers. She insists she’s been away for months, but Burnham assures her that she’d been unconscious for less than a minute. When Georgiou phases again, they both demand Carl finally explain who he is. With much pomp and circumstance, Carl reveals himself to be the Guardian of Forever, last seen in the TOS episode “City on the Edge of Forever.” The mysterious door shatters and reforms as the iconic archway into time and space.
Getting back to the actual problem for this season, Adira (Blu del Barrio) and Stamets (Anthony Rapp) brainstorm about restoring the message from the Kelpien ship back on DISCO. Stamets determines that they’ll need power from other systems to complete their analysis, and Lt. Reno (Tig Notaro) enters just in time, chewing a cord of licorice and demanding that they stop. Stamets protests, insisting that Saru has given their project the appropriate clearances.
Just as Adira scolds Reno for eating in the lab, Book (David Ajala) rushes in with a solution. Having read the field manual, he presents a modified piece of courier equipment to boost power output to cut through subspace static. Reno declares that none of what he’s described is actually in the field manual, and Book explains that it was the technical manual that showed him that DISCO’s subspace receivers could be amplified. They squabble a bit before Stamets runs off to update Saru.
Back on Dannus V, Burnham barrages Carl with all the questions. He explains that access to his portal was different before the Temporal Wars, and that he’s hidden on the planet to prevent people from doing more harm to the time-space continuum. When Georgiou phases again, he reveals that she was sent back to be weighed, not cured – to see if her time spent in the Prime universe has changed her. Because she tried to implement peace in the Terran universe, Carl agrees to send Georgiou back to a time when the Prime and Terran universes were still aligned. Carl leaves them to talk it out, and Georgiou expresses gratitude and growth. After an emotional goodbye, Georgiou steps into oblivion.
On DISCO, Saru and Book debrief Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr) on their progress. Vance agrees to allow Book to remain on board before he rushes off to greet a returning Burnham. The admiral then scolds Saru for delaying to report on their findings with the Kelpien ship, but also offers condolences for the loss of Georgiou.
After finding solace in Book’s arms, Burnham debriefs Saru on what happened on Dannus V. Later in the mess hall, the bridge crew celebrates the life of Georgiou, offering anecdotes and tearful jokes over drinks.
In addition to the sleek Terran uniforms, killer eyeshadow trends, and the return of Capt. Killy, “Terra Firma, part 2” gives us our first real taste of filler from DISCO this season. While it’s an understandable stall to set the foundation for the incoming Section 31 series, this episode dwindled in the past and also stalled the high-octane momentum that has been building so far. Seeing old cast members, mentioning but never showing Lorca, the Guardian of Forever were nothing but fan service at what is clearly a pivotal point in this new timeline we’re all anxious to explore. Still, a neatly-tied loose end is always gratifying. With only three episodes left in season 3, this opens the door (no pun intended) for a stellar end to this emotional rollercoaster.