"Terra Firma, Part 1" works best if you think of it as the universe trying to teach its central character a lesson, like Groundhog Day did to Bill Murray. The mirror universe version of Philippa Georgiou, who has been a fish out of her universe’s water since she was brought over in the first season, has been walking around the corridors of Discovery for the past two seasons acting mostly like an insufferable jerk who is more caricature than character.
That caricature has at times been amusing (the one-liners are sometimes creative, and her aversion to all things Starfleet makes her an occasionally useful outside voice, when she’s not merely insulting everybody), but it has also become very repetitive and started to wear thin of late. But I’m suspecting now her unremitting abrasiveness this season was a deliberate ploy to set us up for this episode where she has to face the music.
Maybe I’m getting to that point in the season where my enthusiasm starts to taper off, but "The Sanctuary" really didn’t do much for me. It’s … meh. Although there are some good things spread across the ensemble here, the core of it is the epitome of mediocrity. Even though it fell short, last week’s "Unification III" at least tried to be an ambitious Star Trek episode with compelling dialogue. This week’s episode doesn’t seem to be trying to do anything at all, except recycle generic action sci-fi scenes.
Let’s start with the main plot. While I appreciate the attempt to do some world-building in this century outside the immediate orbit of Starfleet Headquarters, the concept of the Emerald Chain, the evil Orion crime syndicate, is an off-the-shelf bore led by an off-the-shelf boring villain. After his labor camp was liberated in "Scavengers," Tolor (Ian Lake) has fallen into ill standing with his syndicate boss/aunt, Osyraa (Janet Kidder), who promptly feeds him to a large creature — because if you want your villain to read as Real Bad, make sure they kill one of their own for failure. Yawn.
An old character resurfaces in “The Tragedy,” and I won’t spoil it until you click through to the full review, but that character alone would be worth this episode.
But this episode does many more and exciting things, and cements this series as a thrilling, crowd-pleasing serial, even if the show’s DNA and success has often been in its episodic beats. Here, Mando — having reached the ruins of a Jedi temple on Tython, where Grogu can hopefully call to other surviving Jedi in the galaxy from a mountaintop while protected by a Force-generated forcefield — teams up with an old acquaintance who has tracked him here to confront him, but instead teams up with Mando when things go sideway.
Naming your episode "Unification III" is a risky gambit, because it implies it’s a sequel to TNG‘s "Unification" parts I and II, in which Spock famously crossed over from TOS and appeared on TNG in an effort to bring the Vulcan and Romulan people together. On the other hand, given how average "Unification" itself ended up being, with its hype far exceeding what it actually accomplished as a story (which was, frankly, not much), maybe "Unification III" didn’t have that high a bar to clear.
I gotta say, I liked this episode, up to a point. There are things I genuinely admired about it. It manages to blend a completely personal story (Burnham’s crisis of self-identity, forcing her to confront herself) with a major Star Trek mythology piece (the status of the Vulcans and Romulans in the 32nd century) and also tie that into the season arcs involving the state of the Federation and the mystery of the Burn. This is accomplished with what may also be the most ambitiously dialogue-heavy episode of the series, which plays like a high-wire tightrope act threading the needle’s eye of intellectualism and emotionalism. A lot of things come together in some deft scenes of dialogue. At times, I found this compelling. Will it walk the tightrope or fall off?
On Corvus, Jedi Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) arrives at the gates of an occupied city and demands an audience with the Magistrate, Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto), with whom she has unsettled business. It’s a standoff, with the guards unable to kill or capture Tano but holding her at bay by threatening the city’s innocent hostages.
In between two nights of this standoff, Djarin arrives at the city and is hired by Elsbeth to assassinate Tano. His reward: a staff made of pure beskar. Of course, since Djarin has come here specifically to bring the Child to Tano, Elsbeth has no idea that she has basically set in motion her own defeat.
“The Jedi” is a masterpiece of cinematic style, mood, and photography, executed in the spirit of an Akira Kurosawa samurai epic, with nods in the editing, cinematography, production design, and the amazing atmosphere that suffuses every scene. I’m no expert on East Asian cinema, and I can’t call out individual shots and match them to their source films, but Dave Filoni has taken an episode of pop-culture television and brought an artistry to it that’s cumulatively effective in how it evokes an overall aesthetic, whether it’s with the composition of particular shots (for example, the long-shot side view establishing Tano about to face off with the Elsbeth on the bridge), or the smoke from the charred forest that hangs in the air in every scene.