“The Galactic Barrier”
Star Trek: Discovery Season 4, Episode 10 – Debuted Thursday, February 24, 2022
Written by Anne Cofell Saunders
Directed by Deborah Kampmeier
With a lot of flash and filler, “The Galactic Barrier” is more of a setup for what comes next than a fulfilling standalone episode. Ostensibly focused on galactic sci-fi action, the episode’s true strength turned out to be a more personal exploration of some of the lingering character arcs of the season.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
“Frontiers are always cool”
Book and Tarka blowing up the DMA has rushed the first contact mission, so Dr. Kovich brings some universal translator props along to a bigwig meeting to make the point they don’t even know where to start when it comes to communicating with Species 10-C. He wishes the mission luck as he is going to stay behind to remain mysterious, introducing quirky communication specialist Dr. Hirai to go in his stead. The new DMA is more DMA-y than the last, giving them just 12 hours before it moves on. President Rillak volunteers herself for the mission, deciding her authority and skills are needed, with an ominously touching goodbye with Admiral Vance. Gulp. Suru has an equally ominous goodbye with Bryce. Double gulp. With the Disco loaded up and upgraded with Galactic Barrier shielding, Captain Burnham and the Prez negotiate divided responsibilities with Michael handling the ship and Rillak in charge of diplomacy.
With a nice little speech complete with some classic callbacks and her new catchphrase, off they go to the actual final frontier, finding the barrier in its roiling awesome and terrifying beauty. The new programmable antimatter shielding will prevent everyone from going all silver-eyed crazy, but they find getting through harder than expected. Thankfully, Stamets has a brand-new plan for the ship to ride through, protected inside a giant technobabble space bubble, requiring this finely tuned crew to work together in an impressive bridge ballet. While they await the crossing, Vance sends word to Burnham and Rillak that time is running out, the DMA is on the move—and, naturally, headed straight to Earth and Ni’Var (née Vulcan). As the leaders debate telling the crew the news, right on cue, their space bubble gets caught in an epic “traffic jam”… one that could take weeks.
“That’s who you are dealing with ”
After epically screwing up the destroy-the-DMA plan last week, Book is set to dump Tarka off on some random pre-industrial planet, but the wily scientist worms his way back, arguing he can get them through the barrier to take down the DMA from the source. He even knows where they can find a “stash” of that programmable antimatter for the shielding—and that location is a former Emerald Chain work camp. Sure, let’s keep trusting this “a—hole” (hey, he said it). Turns out this was the camp where Tarka was held prisoner and forced by Osyraa to work on a dilithium alternative warp drive, paired up with another alien scientist. Oros is that friend Tarka talked about a few episodes ago, the one he wants to reunite with.
Over a couple of years, Oros and Tarka bonded over math and grew close… apparently very close. They hid programmable antimatter as they secretly worked on an interdimensional transporter that could take them to “Kayalise,” a mythical parallel universe that turns out to be a real “paradise.” But of course, Tarka had a backup plan, betraying his friend to The Chain. When their escape attempt failed, they got separated. Oros forgave Ruon, who has been returning every year to this alien world in hopes of a reunion, convinced his old companion made it to that paradise. And with the power of the DMA, he can too. Now re-shielded and re-bonded, the pair is ready to head out of the galaxy.
“I cannot envision any situation more awkward”
Even with all the sci-fi action and backstory revelations, the episode found some time for some character catchups. Saru and T’Rina’s budding romance had an awkward moment as the Kelpien got Vulcan-blocked by some aide after trying for his own ominous goodbye, only later to find T’Rina on the mission, as her delegate didn’t make it to HQ in time for departure… oh boy. Good thing he has his new wingman Culber around to advise him that “beginnings can be messy” and it’s all going to work out, just like it did with Paul.
Speaking of Stamets, he is creating his own awkward moments, being the overly proud dad, boasting to the Captain about his returned adopted kid Adira, back from their time away on Trill (with Gray left behind). As Paul beams, Adira is ready to puke from embarrassment in front of the Captain. Later, Stamets admits he lays on the enthusiasm a bit thick as his way to help Adira cope with leaving Gray behind, which turns out is not a biggie. But the cuddly curmudgeon admits his dad wasn’t there for him, so he is going to be “extra” there for them… aww.
“We have to support each other”
The bubble holdup solution is to find another faster bubble, but getting there isn’t going to be easy on the bridge’s flame throwers and spark generators. As systems fail one by one and shields dwindle, the crew shares some on-the-nose stories about what they want to do when they get back home to Earth, that planet they don’t know is in peril. With some impressive flourishes by the crew and the visual effects team, they make it with a whole six seconds to spare. In another calm in the storm, Captain and POTUFP have yet another mid-mission sidebar in the ready room. Michael argues for the truth, showing how her connection to both threatened worlds only keeps her focused. Rillak reveals her own personal connections to Earth, including the news that her partner is currently on the Moon.
The Disco eventually makes it past the barrier, and with the crew elated to venture where few have tread, the President decides it’s time to tell them the truth. The DMA is days away from the home systems, and she feels their pain. Things wrap up with Saru consoling T’Rina, who really needs his special brand of “comforting presence.” Burnham and Rillak also have a moment, where these two powerful women finally bond in their shared determination and trust. Together they all face the uncertainty that lies before them.
“The Great Barrier” is another one of those mid-season Discovery episodes where a lot of things are going on, but much of the action is in service of what comes next. After much setup, it appears the show is once again leaving the big reveals to the end, spending much of this episode just getting through that titular barrier. It took the time to set up even more for the final three episodes with intriguing mysteries like Kovich’s more important project, Bryce’s unfinished communication project, and the mention of a new extragalactic planet with potential Species 10-C clues.
While some of this can get frustrating, the episode shined through a focus on the characters, which has always been a strength of writer Anne Cofell Saunders. Perhaps the real “Great Barrier” was the one of communication, which was finally broken through in a number of storylines, like Rillak and Burnham moving past their conflict to shared respect, Saru finally making that connection with T’Rina, and Tarka revealing what truly motivates him. This recurring theme was set up at the start with Kovich’s show-and-tell of the various translator devices, then driven home at the end by the on-the-nose comment by Michael, “If we can’t communicate with each other, what chance do we have with them?”
And Culber talking Saru through his insecurities sends a nice message to all those who ever felt awkward knowing they are not alone, which has always been an important message built into Star Trek. The season theme of uncertainty (mentioned out loud twice during this episode) had some political allegory woven into it this week with Burham’s message about how leaders (like the President) need to show how they are “not rattled by uncertainty or overwhelming odds.” But the mention of confirmation bias (even in a sci-fi context) seemed out of place. All of this is a reminder this season was written early on in the pandemic, which is this season’s muse.
Going home again
“The Galactic Barrier” didn’t do much in terms of worldbuilding, but we did learn a lot more about Tarka, making him a bit more sympathetic. It turns out the “home” he keeps talking about is just another name for Kayalise, the paradise universe where he hopes to find his friend Oros. Even Tarka’s bad people skills were explained; turns out he was held in isolation for years by the Emerald Chain. Reconnecting with Oros, perhaps the only real connection he has ever had, is what drives him. Although why he needs the super-massive power of the DMA is now even less clear as apparently Oros’ transporter was powered through geothermal energy and a warp drive. Perhaps, although Tarka might not admit it, he lacks the same scientific skill as Oros.
We learned the spore drive is limited to work within the galaxy as the mycelial network “thins out” at the edge. This makes the USS Discovery just another ship out there beyond the edge. And this episode did seem to make a big deal out of crossing that line with a number of moments highlighting the risk they were taking and telegraphing that not everyone may be coming back. We get some nice added dimensions to the bridge crew as they share what they will do once they get back home; however, such declarations are often ominous signs. And in this case, the whole segment was a bit hammy coming right after Michael’s talk about the crew’s connection to their home planet.
Strong performances, especially Shawn Doyle (Tarka) and Chelah Horsdal (Rillak), and outstanding visual effects elevate this tenth episode just enough to recommend it. But after four seasons, it’s clear Discovery may work better with their arcs playing out over shorter seasons, and this will actually be the case for season five, which will have ten episodes. “The Great Barrier” will probably play very well as part of a binge-watch; unfortunately, for now, we have to wait to see how the final three episodes of season four play out.
- This is the fourth Discovery screenwriting credit for co-executive producer Anne Cofell Saunders, who joined the series in season three.
- This is the first Star Trek credit for director Deborah Kampmeier, who was mostly known for writing, producing, and directing independent films before starting to direct for television in 2019.
- The titular Galactic Barrier was first encountered in the second Star Trek pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”
- There is another reference to that episode (and Star Trek’s opening narration) in Captain Burnam’s speech, saying “When I was a child, I like many of you, dreamed of going where no one has gone before.”
- Vance says that the Discovery is “leaving the galaxy,” adding “we have never done that.” The USS Enterprise did so in “By Any Other Name,” and there have been some other examples of extragalactic travel in Star Trek, however, he may have just been speaking about more recent history with the 32nd century Starfleet.
- Main cast member Blu del Barrio returns as Adira after being absent for two episodes.
- Book said he got the coordinates for the 10-C system from Haz Mazaro, from the episode “All In.”
- President Rillak was an ambassador for 20 years.
- Stamets told Captain Burnham she should “thank Heisenberg” for his plan to use get through the Galactic Barrier, referring to German physicist Werner Heisenberg and science of Quantum Fluctuation derived from Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.
- The golden ratio discussed by Oros and Tarka is the mathematical ratio defined as “the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities.” The Greek letter phi (as seen in the episode) symbolizes the golden ratio.
- Dr. Hirai is a specialist in astrolinguistics, xenophonology, and theoretical semiotics, all of which are real disciplines; however, xenophonology currently is related to “conlangs,” or created languages (like Klingon).
- Michael’s mother Gabrielle Burnham is not in danger, as she is still on the monastic world Pijar with J’Vini, who is serving her sentence of rehabilitative meditation.
- The alien planet Book and Tarka visited was shot at The Lafarge Quarry outside of Toronto, which the series has now used multiple times.
- Do traffic jams still exist in the 32nd century (or 23rd)?
- Kovich mentions Vulcans studied humans for “almost a century” before making First Contact, which tracks with the story told in Enterprise’s “Carbon Creek” set in 1957, almost a century before First Contact in 2063.
- Kovich says leaving the galaxy for members of the First Contact Committee will be like a “three-hour tour,” indicating Gilligan’s Island reruns continue into the 32nd century.
- In addition to Ni’Var President T’Rina (Tara Rosling) and Earth General Ndoye (Phumzile Sitole), the Committee delegation included an uncredited Ferengi, with no lines of dialogue.
- A collection of universal translators/communicators featured on Star Trek: The Original Series, The Next Generation, Voyager/Deep Space Nine, Enterprise, and Picard were arrayed on the table for the committee.
More to come
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