In the tenth episode of the third season of Discovery, Georgiou tries to navigate a universe she may never fit in. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of death, torture
Well, that destroyed me.
It took a while for me to figure out what it was that Georgiou was doing. By the end of “Terra Firma, Part 2,” I was able to grasp Georgiou’s mindset in this alternate timeline. (And I do think the Guardian’s words confirm that an actual separate timeline was created when Georgiou was sent back.) But during the episode itself, I wondered if she had figured out what this whole thing was. Now that I know she had no idea, it makes the events so much more meaningful because Georgiou simply chose to do things differently with a second chance. She had no endgame in mind except to try another way. And why?
Because she learned that you could live differently.
It might seem simplistic, but there’s an immense emotional weight to Georgiou’s actions across this two-parter. “Terra Firma” puts Georgiou to the test—quite literally—to measure not just her heart, but to help approximate where she might fit. And as we see across the second half of this arc, Georgiou’s mindset has been irreparably altered because of her time in the Prime universe. As she is pushed into each new scenario after the reveal of the Charon, her experiences allow her to consider new solutions.
The first major one is in Burnham’s cell in the brig. There’s a remarkably tender scene between Burnham and Georgiou, and it demonstrates Georgiou’s love in an intimate manner, one we’d not really seen from Terran Georgiou before. But it’s undeniably a sweet moment of recollection on Georgiou’s part, and it’s the closest thing we’d ever seen that acted as a demonstration of motherly love. So much of the time in the Prime universe, Georgiou fought against the emotions she felt toward Michael, but in that cell, next to the woman she saw as a daughter, Georgiou could admit a love that was true and pure.
What’s so interesting about all of this is that it is filtered through the Terran experience. Terran “love” is expressed through jars of fireflies between torture sessions; it is expressed through offering people the chance to assassinate their co-conspirators as penance; it is expressed by refusing to allow Kelpiens to be served as part of a meal, while still keeping them in servitude. And it was shown when Georgiou listened to Michael and had the Vulcan and Klingon alliance crushed through backchannels. Georgiou acts within certain expectations of this universe, all while slowly and quietly subverting them.
Well, relative to us, I suppose. Because each of these choices that Georgiou made announced loudly to Michael that her mother figure had changed. Each of them demonstrated mercy, kindness, or creativity, and in the Terran universe, that was a sign of weakness. Even the very admission that one must rule an empire by allowing certain concessions was seen as part of Michael’s justification for her coup. That’s the terrible irony, isn’t it? Michael was acting within the very system that Georgiou taught her, so it was practically impossible for her to see things the way the new Georgiou did.
So maybe this was futile in that sense. Maybe Georgiou never could have changed Michael Burnham. But once Georgiou dies in Saru’s arms, she’s pulled out of the alternate timeline, and we learn that Georgiou did change her world. She made choices that would forever alter the timeline.
Some of the most powerful moments in this episode are when that change is acknowledged. There’s a haunting moment when Saru warns Georgiou not to be so open with her differences, encouraging her to go back to where she came from. It’s even more meaningful when you find out that none of this was an illusion, that Saru genuinely was able to pick up on the fact that this Georgiou was fundamentally unsuited to the Terran Empire. It may have been her home at one point, but like Burnham throughout this show, Georgiou was changed by her experiences. She even admits it outright to Terran Michael’s face, saying that she’s seen another way to live. It hit as hard as it did because Georgiou—stubborn, irascible Georgiou—has fought this epiphany for a long time now. But there, in that timeline, she had to admit the truth.
Her change is what allowed for survival. And isn’t that a Terran value, too? Georgiou’s choices allowed the Guardian of Forever (who I completely forgot from season one of The Original Series until I was discussing this episode with a friend!!!) to find a time in which she could fit. This was a test, but it was one that was real and that mattered. Georgiou’s return to Dannus V didn’t negate it or erase it. The timeline continues without her and for the better. After everything that the Guardian went through—after all the times they were exploited during the Temporal Wars—Georgiou used the opportunity given to her to choose peace.
And that mattered.
Once I realized that this very likely is it—the final time we’ll see Philippa Georgiou—I started to lose it. Michael’s goodbye to Georgiou hurt to watch because I have longed to see this admission of affection and love between them. I won’t say that it came too late, though. I think it was right on time, exactly when these people needed to say what they did to one another. Both of them have grown so much since the start of the show, and I love the way that Georgiou was allowed to go out: with dignity, respect, and care. She chose to leave this way after admitting the truth about herself and her life and to do all of it to Michael Burnham.
This Michael Burnham.
Georgiou’s emotional goodbye to Michael was one of the finest moments this season, y’all, the culmination of storytelling that began with the Battle at the Binary Stars. At the edge of that portal, Philippa Georgiou could finally be honest, and thus, her goodbye to the woman who pulled her into a new universe was emotional, sincere, and even tinged a bit with regret. But there was so much hope there, too. Hope that Georgiou could discover her true self in this new world in the past, hope that Michael could accept that she was captain material, hope that these two people did everything they could to be what the other one required.
It is a testament to the writing on this show that a character like Terran Georgiou, who had done such terrible things, could earn a “funeral” like the one at the end of “Terra Firma, Part 2.” Everything that was said of Philippa in that scene was sincere and honest. It didn’t feel like the writers hoped we would understand why this character had such an impact on the crew. No, we knew it. At least I did, and that’s why this episode made me cry as it did. This fate is sad, of course, but it’s not sad because it was like the loss of other characters, like Prime Georgiou or Airiam. If this Georgiou had been able to stay, I know she could have done great things. But she’s set to live out the rest of her life where she may fit better into the world, and I don’t doubt she’ll change everything there as well.
I’ll miss you, Philippa Georgiou.
The video for “Terra Firma, Part 2” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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