An emotional powerhouse on Star Trek: Discovery this week laid the groundwork for some big future events in the franchise. It just happened to do so with the help of a classic piece of franchise iconography in the process
“Terra Firma, Part 2” resolves Emperor Georgiou’s arc on Discovery this season. Her body had been slowly breaking down from dimensional and temporal displacement thanks to traveling from not just her own reality but nearly a thousand years into the future. It threatened to violently tear her apart but also managed to give the character a way out that didn’t end in, well, violently tearing her apart.
After being tested with how much she’s grown as a person since she was brought over to Star Trek’s prime reality, Georgiou was given a chance by a strange, omnipotent being presenting himself as a fancy bowler-hatted man named Carl. She passed his tests, and now she can travel back in time to a period where the Prime and Mirror realities were cosmically closer together, putting her body back into a stable state, but cutting her off from the people she had learned to care about aboard Discovery.
Carl did all this by revealing his true nature: he wasn’t just any one of Star Trek’s latinum-strip-a-dozen godlike beings—he’s the Guardian of Forever. To put it more plainly, they’re a great big ol’ time-space door that, today, made its third appearance in the franchise for the first time in 47 years since The Animated Series’ “Yesteryear.”
If you don’t remember just who the Guardian of Forever is, the oddly-shaped portal/stone gateway first appeared in one of the most iconic episodes of the original Star Trek: Harlan Ellison’s “The City on the Edge of Forever.” It’s the omnipotent being that Kirk, Spock, and McCoy found after the latter went a bit doolally on an overdose of Cordrazine, beaming himself down to a mysterious planet the Enterprise was investigating for some temporal anomalies. Those anomalies were caused by the Guardian of Forever, an ancient entity that sat at the nexus of all timelines in the Milky Way.
The construct of an ancient, forgotten race, the Guardian was a gateway to any point in time and space, and a sentient being despite being a construct. It could telepathically communicate with people, respond to external stimuli, and also send them through a gateway to any known point in history. The Extremely High Dr. McCoy flung himself into 1930s New York and accidentally altered the course of Starfleet’s history, necessitating Spock and Kirk to go on an ultimately heart-breaking mission to the period to rescue their friend and the present as they knew it.
So what’s the Guardian of Forever now doing 922 years in the future on an entirely different planet? This time, “Carl” is hidden away when Georgiou and Michael encounter them on Dannus V, an icy planet just outside the Gamma Quadrant. And there aren’t multiple Guardians of Forever, it turns out. As Carl explains, they’re a product of another piece of Trek history, this time from more recent shows: Star Trek: Enterprise’s Temporal War.
A cold war fought between Temporal Powers, including the Federation and a faction known as the Na’kuhl, the Temporal War turned hot in a now-alternate 29th Century. The Na’kuhl disavowed the Temporal Accords agreed to by all other time-travel-capable societies to limit the manipulation of time. Attempting to gain power over the universe, they plundered history creating paradoxes and changing timelines until a coalition of forces—helped in part by Captain Archer and the mysterious Daniels—defeated Vosk, the Na’kuhl leader before he could turn the cold war into an even more devastating conflict. It’s from here that new accords were signed forbidding time-travel outright, leading to Admiral Vance’s skepticism of Discovery when he first learned the ship had reached the 32nd Century through time-travel, albeit from a time before the accords were written.
Which brings us to “Carl”—the Guardian of Forever, sensing the disruptions to time that Vosk’s conflict caused, decided to relocate onto a new planet away from prying eyes, after multiple factions in the Temporal War attempted to use their abilities for evil. This is why, it turns out, it puts on the guise of a quaint human with a taste for fetching headgear.
It might have only been to lay the groundwork for Georgiou’s exit into her own Section 31-themed spinoff, but it was still a cool way to interweave two time-themed elements of Star Trek’s past into its new, far-flung future.
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