In USS Discovery’s sickbay, Dr. Hugh Culber and Kovich observe a holographic scan of Philippa Georgiou. Kovich tells Culber that he is familiar with Georgiou’s condition and calls up an image of Lieutenant Commander Yor, a deceased time soldier from the Temporal War. Kovich explains that time travel can cause sickness because molecules are meant to exist in the time in which they are created. Culber notes that Discovery‘s entire crew traveled through time, but Kovich explains that Georgiou is additionally from the Terran parallel universe. Until Georgiou, Yor was the only person known to have traveled across both time and dimension. He could not be sent back to his universe without breaking the Temporal Accords. Because Georgiou traveled across such a great period of time and because the prime and mirror universes have been drifting apart, her condition will be much worse. Kovich warns Culber not to tell Georgiou she is dying as Terrans would seek a way to die in battle. He recommends instead sedating her and putting her in the brig. Undeterred, Culber has the computer analyze data from the past and present, and to Kovich’s surprise the computer declares it has found a solution.
In the mess hall, as other members of the crew observe, Georgiou finds that she unable to lift a wine glass as her hand keeps passing through the stem. Ensign Sylvia Tilly approaches awkwardly, and Georgiou quickly begins insulting her and notes darkly that if Tilly gets everyone on board killed, perhaps she will be called “Killy” after all, a reference to mirror Tilly‘s nickname. With Commander Michael Burnham observing from afar, Tilly offers to help Georgiou, who rebuffs her and spills food on her uniform. Burnham approaches and says Culber has made a development. The frustrated Georgiou says it “won’t matter” and tells Tilly to simply use “a phaser and put [her] down like a dog.”
In Saru‘s ready room, Culber explains that the Sphere data indicates that a cure for Georgiou’s condition can be found on Dannus V, an uninhabited planet just shy of the Gamma Quadrant, near the galactic rim. Kovich questions whether the computer, which has merged with the AI sphere data, can be trusted, but Culber says he believes it is trying to help Georgiou, though he notes the computer still places the probability of Georgiou surviving at five percent. Saru says that he is sympathetic but that Discovery should remain ready, as the Emerald Chain is conducting something akin to military exercises following their encounter at Argeth. All of Starfleet is on yellow alert. But Admiral Charles Vance overrides Saru and authorizes the mission, though he questions whether Burnham could let Georgiou go if needed, noting that she hesitated to kill Airiam despite the danger to the crew. Burnham responds that incident is why will not hesitate again. Vance restricts the mission details to “need-to-know” for the crew, at Saru’s discretion. Privately, Vance explains that he green-lit the mission because allowing a crewmember to die would forever taint the crew’s view of Saru and the Federation.
In the gymnasium, Georgiou aggressively works out on a punching bag and questions the likelihood of saving her life. She calls Burnham useless and attacks her, but Burnham dodges her blows rather than engage her in combat. Burnham says Georgiou is seeking “the coward’s way out” and says she would never hurt her, to which Georgiou responds with a heavy slap across her face.
Georgiou picks up a sword and holds it at Burnham’s neck, telling her that killing her would have been the greatest honor of the mirror Burnham‘s life. Burnham tells her the only way to achieve honor now is to confront whatever awaits on Dannus V. Georgiou responds that Burnham is like her counterpart in her need to “bend people to [her] will,” except that the prime Burnham lies about it to herself. Georgiou finally assents, and Burnham attaches a wristband bio-scanner to monitor her condition.
Discovery uses its spore drive to jump to Dannus V. Georgiou and Burnham prepare to beam down, with Georgiou arming herself. Saru and Tilly approach to see them off. Saru, noting he and Georgiou have never minced their words, says they may not meet again and tells her he learned as much from her as from the prime Philippa Georgiou.
Georgiou tells Tilly the crew may survive her tenure as acting first officer after all, and Tilly responds that she has “been good for [her], weirdly.” She eschews Georgiou’s proffered handshake in favor of a hug that leaves the Terran slightly flustered.
Georgiou and Burnham beam to the planet, finding themselves on an snowy, desolate planet. Georgiou remarks darkly that it is the “perfect place to die,” and they begin walking to coordinates indicated by the Sphere data.
In engineering, Adira Tal struggles to retrieve the details of the distress call detected from the Verubin Nebula. Lt. Cmdr. Paul Stamets notes that they forgot to reinitiate the algorithm when they input a new storage array. He restarts it and it resumes working. Adira is upset they wasted time on such a mistake, but Stamets notes they are tired and are angry with Gray Tal, whose manifestation has ceased visiting them, though Adira denies they are angry or miss Gray. Stamets posits that Gray may be trying to help Adira by forcing them to make ties with the outside world, though they retort he should not get to decide what is good for them. The algorithm finishes rendering the distress video and Stamets tells Adira to find Saru.
In the corridor, Cleveland Booker approaches Saru to thank him again for helping Kwejian and discloses his desire to remain aboard Discovery. Book offers Saru information gleaned from the courier network about the Emerald Chain’s activities. It matches with Starfleet’s intelligence, but Saru tells Book that the Federation has a certain way it operates. Discovery was eager to prove itself when it first arrived in the future, but had to wait for the opportunity, something Book must do as well, Saru says.
As they travel across Dannus V’s icy plains, Burnham asks why Georgiou chose to adopt the Terran Burnham from the rubbish heap. The other children ran to her with hands outstretched, Georgiou says, but the mirror Burnham “stayed on the heap, prepared to be [her] own salvation.” Georgiou continues to antagonize Burnham, who theorizes that she is lashing out over regret at having killed the Terran Burnham.
They arrive at the coordinates and are surprised to find what appears to be a human man smoking a cigar and reading a newspaper next to a door to nowhere. He reveals the headline of the newspaper: “Emperor Georgiou dies horribly painful death”. The man says his name is Carl but otherwise offers only vague responses, tautologies or puns. The cure to Georgiou’s ills could be through the door, Carl says, but Burnham’s scans find nothing unusual and are barely able to register it. Burnham demands Carl help Georgiou when she has another episode, but he responds that she is antagonizing him because of her anger at Georgiou, surprising Burnham. Sitting down, Carl notes that she should read the newspaper as it has all the answers in black and white.
Georgiou says it reports her death but that she is still alive, but Carl, dangling his pocket watch, responds that it’s tomorrow’s paper.
Aboard Discovery, Saru, Tilly, Stamets, and Adira watch a holographic recording of the distress call. It comes from the Kelpien Dr. Issa of the KSF Khi’eth. Issa explains that her stranded vessel was contacted six months prior by Captain Robert Weems of the USS Hiraga Gennai, which had been two weeks away from rescuing them but never arrived, which Issa speculates could be because the ship could have been destroyed trying to penetrate the nebula. Tilly notes Issa has red discoloration on her face from radiation burns. “It is urgent that the Verubin–” Issa says as the message cuts off; Adira and Stamets could not reconstruct the rest. Stamets explains the message is over a century old and must predate the Burn, but Saru is distracted by the fact that the crew was Kelpien. Tilly explains historical records show the ship was investigating a dilithium nursery in the nebula. Saru notes the ship must still be intact, and Stamets offers to use its prefix code to access onboard sensors via a back door. Tilly offers to debrief Vance, but Saru tells her to wait until they have more substantive news to report.
On the planet, Carl continues to offer frustrating answers to Burnham’s questions about what happens if Georgiou walks through the door. Georgiou determines to go through the door, and Carl warns that while her condition will not worsen, “there are other ways to die.” Burnham tries to say something, but Georgiou tells her to “know when to shut the hell up.” As Carl and Burnham watch, Georgiou opens the wooden door and walks though. She finds herself stepping off a shuttle in the ISS Discovery‘s shuttlebay. Her hair has transformed and she is once again dressed as the Terran emperor. She is greeted by Captain Sylvia Tilly, Joann Owosekun, the head of her honor guard, and other crew, who salute and shout “Terra firma!“
Still confused, Georgiou hides the bio-scanner bracelet, which she is still wearing and now displays a healthy green light. Tilly welcomes her aboard and notes the ship is about to break Terra‘s orbit for their journey. Georgiou tells Tilly to provide a status report, and she describes discontent in the outer sectors and insurrection in slave systems. Georgiou realizes Tilly is describing the first uprising. Discovery, meanwhile, will travel to the Imperial Shipyard on Epsilon Indi IV for the christening of the ISS Charon, Georgiou’s palace vessel powered by a super-mycelial reactor. Georgiou recalls this is the day Gabriel Lorca betrayed her in a coup. Tilly insists she knows of the plot but has nothing to do with it. Tilly says she planned to reveal the plot to Georgiou in private, but the emperor tells her the honor guard can be trusted. Tilly explains Lorca wants Georgiou dead and that the Terran Burnham has also betrayed Georgiou. Tilly notes imperial law mandates execution for such treason. However, Georgiou says she will kill Lorca and bring Burnham back “into the fold,” changing the path of history. Tilly acquiesces but warns Georgiou’s loyalists will not show her mercy should those details become known. Georgiou orders her to make sure that does not happen and says it is not too late for Burnham to make a different choice.
Georgiou arrives at a raucous party where R.A. Bryce uses a knife to knock a vegetable from atop Nilsson‘s head. The crew, including Gen Rhys, Keyla Detmer, Paul Stamets, Hugh Culber, Airiam, and Ellen Landry, drink and party as Kelpien servants, including Saru, work the room. Tilly announces Georgiou using her lengthy name and title. Burnham then arrives, greeting Georgiou as “mother.”
As she sits on a throne, Georgiou notes it has been six months since they saw one another. Burnham describes a recent mission to Kepler-174d, where she visited a family of artists Georgiou mentioned from her own prior scouting mission there. Their paintings and sculptures were “sublime,” Georgiou says. Burnham agrees and reveals she blinded the artists and removed their hands so that their remaining artwork will appreciate in value more quickly. Georgiou, struggling to hide how disturbed she is, says she forgot how “thorough” Burnham could be. Georgiou tells Burnham she can share her cares with her, but Burnham responds only that she is happy when Georgiou is happy.
Suddenly, a Kelpien servant spills kuur sauce on Landry’s boots, disturbing the gathering. She threatens him, prompting his ganglia to appear and her to order him sent to the butcher to make soup. Saru approaches and tells the Kelpien his pain will be over soon and that “the madness” will not take him. Burnham, disgusted, remarks that all Kelpiens should be killed. Georgiou reveals she knows of Lorca’s plot as Burnham feigns no knowledge of it, though she admits they slept together several times. Saru approaches Burnham with a glass of wine, which she knocks from his hand in rage. Burnham orders him also sent to the butcher so his ganglia can be sweetened for dessert, but Georgiou intercedes and claims him as her personal servant.
In her dressing room, Saru thanks Georgiou and says he will learn to serve her. She reveals she recognized the other slave’s illness as the vahar’ai, knowledge that surprises Saru. Georgiou notes Saru has access to intelligence shared among slaves and asks about Burnham’s intentions. He initially resists, but eventually tells her that Lorca and Burnham fear Georgiou has changed and become weak. Burnham cannot love someone who is weak, as that would lead to death among Terrans, Saru says. Georgiou orders him to be her spy. Donning an imperial robe and spiky headdress, Georgiou vows to show Michael “more than enough” strength.
In the corridor, Georgiou comes upon Burnham and others watching Rhys battle Owosekun over the position of security chief on the Charon. The duo wager over the fight, with Georgiou betting on Owosekun because she is loyal to the throne whereas Rhy is only interested in the prestigious title. “Loyalty always wins if the focus of that loyalty is strong and worthy,” Georgiou says. “And feared,” Burnham adds. Just then, Discovery arrives at its destination and Burnham calls off Owosekun, who is pummeling Rhys on the floor.
In the shuttlebay, Georgiou and the crew watch a dramatic performance accompanied by a narration from Stamets describing how Georgiou rose from being a peasant girl to fight off Klingons and become emperor. The curtain drops to reveal the Charon in space nearby. Georgiou rises to address the audience, speaking of strength and enemies attacking from without and within. She suddenly turns and stabs Stamets, who had sidled up to her with a dagger. She resumes speaking, warning of a plot against the Empire. Georgiou resumes her seat on the throne as Burnham stews. Burnham stands and salutes Georgiou, prompting the rest of the crew to do so as well. Burnham leaves quietly.
In the corridor, Burnham is surrounded by Tilly, Georgiou, Owosekun and many guards. Georgiou reveals she knows Burnham is working with Lorca and had planned Stamets’ attempted assassination. Owosekun disarms Burnham. Georgiou tells her to confess in exchange for sparing her life. Burnham is angered at Georgiou’s perceived weakness. Georgiou says Burnham owes her, but Burnham retorts that she was master of the trash heap but now was merely “this reflection of [Georgiou] who can never stand on [her] own.” Lorca loves and honors her, she says. Burnham confesses to the coup and says she would do it again, kneeling for her expected execution. Georgiou draws her sword and heaves it back to strike, but stops after only just cutting Burnham’s neck slightly. She lowers her weapon, calling execution the “easy way” that will lead to one or both of their deaths. Having not executed her, Georgiou says their future is now unwritten and orders Burnham thrown into the agonizer, but not before Tilly knocks her unconscious by savagely kicking her in the face.