Last week’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery (“The Galactic Barrier”) had an oblique reference to the classic sitcom Gilligan’s Island. This may have just been a bit of fun, but other clues in the episode point to how this could have been a clue about where the show is headed.
“A three hour tour”
“The Galactic Barrier” started with a meeting of the First Contact Committee, headed by Dr. Kovich (David Cronenberg). A mission to try to make contact with unknown Species 10-C, who reside outside the Milky Way, was being prepped and Kovich was being pressed for answers for planetary delegates going on the mission. Kovich dryly commented:
Kovich: It’s nice that they’re all so eager for a three-hour tour outside the galaxy.
And just in case you didn’t catch it, Saru noted, “It will take longer than three hours,” to which Kovich replied simply, “Figure of speech.”
Indeed, a “three hour tour” is a figure of speech, one familiar to any fan of old sitcoms as it comes from the theme song of the classic 1960s sitcom Gilligan’s Island, which describes the premise of the show. The “fateful trip” for the SS Minnow started with a three-hour tour, but they were caught in a storm and almost lost, where the seemingly permanently damaged ship “set ground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle.”
For three seasons between 1963 and 1967 (going from black and white to color), the crew and passengers of the SS Minnow were stranded on that uncharted desert isle, where they got up to all sorts of shenanigans while awaiting rescue.
“Discovery might not be coming back”
The “three hour tour” reference could simply be a fun gag, but the Discovery writing team isn’t known for that kind of thing. Plus the rest of “The Galactic Barrier” set up the premise that the mission the Discovery was setting out on was perilous.
The possibility of it being a one-way trip clearly weighed on Saru. For the past two seasons, he has been growing closer to Ni’Var President T’Rina, who was also present at Starfleet HQ. He sought her out to say what he thought might be a final goodbye, getting the courage to finally tell her how he felt.
Saru: When last we spoke, you suggested we might share a meal. I would very much like to take you up on that offer. But Discovery is leaving very shortly and… as you know, we may not… So, I thought I should… um, tell you, while I’m able, how much our new friendship has meant to me.
And when President Rillak told Admiral Vance she’d decided to join the mission, he was blunt in his assessment:
Vance: They’re leaving the galaxy. We’ve never done that. You know as well as I do, Discovery might not be coming back from this.
This led to a dramatic goodbye scene between the two characters who have exemplified leadership of the Federation and Starfleet in the 32nd century. For the first time, Vance addressed the President by her first name as he realized, “I can’t talk you out of this, can I?” And season four had previously seen other big goodbyes, most notably with Tilly leaving the ship to teach at Starfleet Academy, possibly setting Mary Wiseman up to appear in a potential Academy series, along with and others who stayed behind, including Cronenberg’s Kovich (who sent Dr. Hirai in his stead).
These and other scenes before the ship departed all carried the weight of the stakes of their mission, but they could also be telegraphing that–like that of the SS Minnow–this may be a fateful trip for the USS Discovery. And luckily for Saru, T’Rina ended up coming along—so like Mr. Howell and Lovey, they can continue their story.
“Everything that’s beyond our galaxy to explore”
It’s often commented that the Howells and other castaways from Gilligan’s Island were very prepared. They may have been planning on a three hour tour, but they were packed for much more, with plenty of outfits for their years on that island.
The USS Discovery is also planning ahead. After Kovich made his “tour” quip, Vance asked Burnham how soon she could be ready to depart. While again ominously noting how this could be goodbye, she also indicated they were planning ahead, telling Vance:
Burnham: Two hours to finish loading and to give my crew time to say their goodbyes.
Later, to emphasize this point, Saru told the captain, “All additional supplies are loaded and secured,” so the USS Discovery is ready for whatever their fate may be without needing to resupply.
There was also a dramatic goodbye scene between Mr. Saru and Bryce, who was staying behind at Starfleet HQ. However, this one also had an element of hopeful optimism about the future. Bryce has been working with Kovich on extra-galactic communication and he told Saru:
Bryce: Not sure we’ll figure out galactic barrier communication soon enough to help with first contact, but a breakthrough anytime would be huge. I mean, the possibilities it would open up, everything that’s beyond our galaxy to explore, I’m pretty excited, obviously.
This issue of communication could be important. As of the end of the episode, the USS Discovery still could not make contact after leaving the galaxy. The crew of the SS Minnow also struggled with this; the Professor even attempted to build a telegraph, powered by the crew.
“Not many people have gotten to see this”
Getting through the Galactic Barrier was harrowing for the crew of the USS Discovery, requiring the ingenuity and skill of the crew, and they still only barely made it with seconds to spare. The crew remarked on finding themselves outside the galaxy with this exchange:
Rhys: It’s weird to see so few stars. Space has never felt this… empty.
Nilsson: Not many people have gotten to see this.
They underestimated the negative energy from the barrier and were only able to get through it by hitching a ride inside of a vacuum bubble that was naturally flowing through. There was no indication that the same could be done the other way around.
Their main concern is to complete their first contact mission and get Species 10-C to shut down the DMA, but with three episodes left in season four, there is plenty of time to worry about the rest later. And just like with Gilligan, the skipper, the millionaire and his wife, the movie star, the Professor, and Mary Ann, what matters most is the crew of the USS Discovery will have each other, and they have shown that together, they can do just about anything.
Another fateful trip?
But what’s next for Captain Burnham and the crew of the USS Discovery? As noted, the episode “The Galactic Barrier” set up some pretty high stakes for the crew, telegraphing that this mission may be a one-way trip. Of course, that is nothing new for this group, who jumped through a wormhole at the end of season two to head into the far future and escape the evil AI named “Control.”
Could season four be heading towards a similar setup? After two seasons in the 32nd century, the crew of the USS Discovery succeeded in their mission to protect the galaxy from Control, helped restart the United Federation of Planets after the devastation of The Burn, and (presumably) will save the galaxy again from Species 10-C. So perhaps for the crew of the USS Discovery, the Milky Way has become a bit of “been there, done that.” Could all the foreshadowing, the big goodbyes, loading the ship up with supplies, and yes, making a joke about Gilligan’s Island, all be leading up to the crew of the USS Discovery finding themselves as castaways?
It seems possible that season four could end on yet another cliffhanger, leaving the fate of the Discovery’s ability to return home in question. Skipper Burnham and her little buddies could find themselves stranded in the deserted island that is the great gulf between galaxies. Unlike Star Trek: Voyager’s mission to return home, what if the Disco crew chose to explore another galaxy, keeping in touch with Starfleet all the way (thanks to that extragalactic comms Bryce and Kovich keep talking about)? Last year, Alex Kurtzman talked about a desire to explore “different areas of the universe that haven’t been explored before” for potential future shows, but it certainly seems like it could also be done with Discovery. Perhaps the next final frontier could be an entirely new galaxy.
Season five has been ordered and work is already underway, so just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale… but you will have to wait until next year.
There are always possibilities
So, how serious are we about this? Well, a little bit—and of course, that Gilligan reference may just be a gag. But we do feel that season four has been set up to end in some kind of cliffhanger, and even with the “fresh snow” of the new setting of the 32nd century, the writers could be longing for an entirely blank slate, especially with so many other Star Trek shows running, each making their own Milky Way canon.
What say you?
Do you buy into the Gilligan Hypothesis? Do you have your own theory on how season four will end? Let us know in the comments below.
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