Warning: The following contains spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery
Star Trek: Discovery got off to an explosive start. The Federation finds itself embroiled in a new conflict with the suddenly resurgent Klingon empire, and lead character Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) sees her career in ruins as she’s court-martialed for mutiny at the end of the second episode. But perhaps the most shocking development so far was the swift, brutal demise of the USS Shenzou’s captain, Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh). Fans probably should have suspected something was up when Yeoh was listed as “Special Guest Star” in the opening credits.
The first two episodes of Discovery frame the relationship between Georgiou and Burnham as the show’s beating heart, a captain and her trusty first officer whose relationship transcends rank. This was, of course, part of Discovery’s ingenious trick of making the first two episodes essentially a prologue to what the show will actually be. Georgiou’s death was not only personally devastating for Burnham – who had betrayed Georgiou during the escalating Klingon conflict – it also set up the character for a redemption arc down the line.
Still, this is Star Trek, so it’s perfectly reasonable to wonder: could Captain Georgiou return to the world of the living? The answer, like most things in the world of Starfleet, is complicated.
For one thing, it seems a virtual certainty that Georgiou will continue to play a role in Discovery via its flashbacks, which producers have confirmed will be part of the series’ structure going forward. It seems highly likely we’ll see more of the relationship hinted at between Georgiou and Burnham in the latter’s earliest days in Starfleet, when Burnham was still attempting to properly balance her Vulcan upbringing with her human nature, a task Georgiou seemed eager to assist her with. That would not only give us more insight into Burnham, it would also make the sting of Gergiou’s death linger throughout the series.
But flashbacks are not really a true resurrection. The prospects of Georgiou somehow returning to life are remote. Her death seems to be a defining moment for Burnham, one that will remain with her moving forward as she attempts to redeem herself. That said, there is plenty of precedent for resurrection in Star Trek. Star Trek III: The Search For Spock was an entire film devoted to bringing Spock back from the dead, and Star Trek Into Darkness essentially posits that Khan’s superhuman blood can bring back almost anyone from death (as it does Captain Kirk in that film). It just seems highly unlikely that’s in the cards for Georgiou.
However, when series producer Alex Kurtzman was asked about Georgiou’s fate in an interview with EW, he had a curiously coy answer.
EW: So Georgiou is really dead, right? You’re not pulling a Jon Snow on us?
Kurtzman: Here’s what I will say: Yes, 100 percent, she’s really dead. That being said, have patience with us.
Kurtzman’s call for patience is curious. Could he be teasing a return to life? He was involved with Star Trek Into Darkness and its magic Khan blood storyline, so he already has a history of resurrection within the franchise; however, that statement could also be teasing her presence in flashbacks as mentioned already.
It seems much more likely Kurtzman is hinting at something a little left of center. Discovery director (and Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Commander William Riker) Jonathan Frakes recently let slip that the series will be visiting the Mirror Universe at some point during its debut season. First glimpsed in the original series episode “Mirror, Mirror,” the Mirror Universe is a darker, parallel reality where people have doppelgangers who tend to be evil mirrors of themselves (often with very cool, evil facial hair), hence the “mirror” moniker.
Both Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Enterprise took memorable trips to the Mirror Universe. It tends to be an opportunity for actors to stretch their legs a bit, playing hammier, more menacing versions of themselves. Deep Space Nine effectively utilized the Mirror Universe in a few ways, the most notable being Commander Benjamin Sisko’s emotional encounter with a decidedly different version of his deceased wife, Jennifer. It’s not difficult to imagine Burnham having a similar encounter with a Mirror Universe version of Georgiou; a woman who looks just like her dearly departed mentor, but featuring none of her virtuous ethos that so deeply shaped Burnham’s own worldview. There’s a lot of storytelling potential there, and it would be a good way to keep a fantastic actress like Michelle Yeoh in the mix without negating Captain Georgiou’s sacrifice.
So while there are some possibilities for how Georgiou could continue to have a presence on the show, an actual resurrection seems highly improbable. Part of the appeal of Star Trek has always been the sense that these are explorers traversing the wild west that is deep space. Danger is an inherent element of that setup, and if death can be reversed with little consequence, part of the series’ appeal is devalued.
A good template for Georgiou’s future in the series might be Tasha Yar. As the Enterprise’s security officer in the first season of The Next Generation, she was an integral part of that show’s rocky first season, but actress Denise Crosby felt her character was being underserved and requested to leave the show. Rather than simply writing her out, the character was killed on an away mission, deeply affecting her Enterprise crew mates, and providing the show with a sense of genuine peril it hadn’t enjoyed up until that point. Tasha Yar would return in the classic alternate reality TNG episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” becoming a more compelling and important character in death than she ever was in life.
These are early days for Star Trek: Discovery. By their very design, the series’ first two episodes haven’t told us much about what sort of show this is going to be. Ironically, we haven’t even visited the USS Discovery yet. But Captain Georgiou’s death is the galvanizing event of the first two installments, the moment when it becomes crystal clear that things are not going to be easy for Michael Burnham. Michelle Yeoh will likely still be around in some capacity, but undoing that defining moment would be genuinely shocking.
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