“The Galactic Barrier” is the next stop in Star Trek Discovery.
With “The Galactic Barrier,” Star Trek Discovery, as it did in “Stormy Weather,” revisits the site of some of the original Enterprise’s more memorable adventures. The new Dark Matter Anomaly is faster and more powerful than the one Tarka destroyed. Discovery prepares to begin its urgent mission to travel beyond the Galactic Barrier and contact Species 10-C.
Commander Bryce stays at Starfleet Headquarters to work with Kovich on communications issues, but Adira Tal rejoins the ship. Also aboard are two presidents: T’Rina of Ni’Var, and Federation President Rillak. Rillak and Burnham have a private, frank exchange about their respective roles, hoping they can avoid the tension of their mission in the fourth season’s premiere episode.
Both Discovery and Book’s ship will need programmable antimatter to move through the Barrier. Tarka leads Book to a planet where they can find some. It’s the site of the now long-abandoned Emerald Chain work camp where Tarka was held prisoner a decade earlier.
Through a series of flashbacks, we learn Tarka shared a cell with a scientist named Oros (played by Osric Chau, pictured above), with whom, over time, he became friends and lovers. Oros was building an interdimensional transporter in hopes of escaping to Kayalise, which his people believe the most peaceful of all possible realities. Oros invited Tarka to go to Kayalise with him. Tarka helped Oros finish the work, which they powered, in part, with programmable antimatter.
When Oros and Tarka tried the transporter, it failed. Guards broke into their cell and assaulted Oros, revealing Tarka had agreed to betray him in return for Tarka’s own freedom. Tarka apologized to Oros, removing the neck implants through which the Chain controlled them. Oros forgave Tarka and urged him to escape. He did, promising to return. When he returned, the camp and Oros were gone, but Tarka found the Golden Ratio—the couple’s symbol for Kayalise—carved into a wall. Tarka believes Oros survives, and wants to join him in Kayalise.
For its part, Discovery endures a tough and technobabble-laden trip through the Galactic Barrier. And, a classified message from Admiral Vance arrives: The DMA is three days away from threatening Earth, Titan, and Ni’Var in the Alpha Quadrant. Burnham wants to share the information with the crew and delegates; Rillak does not. But once the ship is safely through the Barrier, Burnham convinces Rillak only trust and honesty can ensure the mission’s success, and Rillak informs the crew of the changed situation and the even higher stakes.
Star Trek Discovery finally fleshes out Ruon Tarka’s backstory
If technobabble is your favorite thing about Star Trek, you should get a kick and a half out of “The Galactic Barrier.” Anthony Rapp is to be commended for delivering lines like “Vacuum-state fluctuations are creating discrete bubbles of protected space that pass through the Galactic Barrier at random intervals” intelligibly and with a straight face. This episode is adhering to the dramatic principle that things must get worse for characters before they get better, but it also shows off this season’s tiresome penchant for manufacturing dangers out of thin air.
Fortunately, the episode’s heart is the relationship between Tarka and Oros. Watching the two captive scientists form a bond by reciting every third digit of the Golden Ratio as they fall asleep is unique and beautiful. Wisely, the writers hold the revelation that Tarka agreed to betray Oros before he knew him until the end of the story. It comes as a gut punch to the viewers as well as to Oros, making Oros’ forgiveness of Tarka and their parting all the more poignant.
We also get to enjoy some lovely character beats among our established characters. The scene in which Dr. Culber assures Saru his feelings of awkwardness around T’Rina are normal is delightful, and adds depth to the later scene when T’Rina quite authentically asks Saru to sit with her as a comforting presence. And while Adira’s return receives minimal attention in the episode, Stamets’ declaration that he will “always reach for [them] if it seems [they’re] hurting,” something his father never did for him, gives hope that we can break the cycles of emotional deficit and disconnect of previous generations.
As usual, Star Trek Discovery delivers absorbing, cinematic special effects, including a nifty Wizard of Oz-in-reverse use of color when the ship enters a “spatial cell” within the Barrier. Ultimately, “The Galactic Barrier” is an uneven but serviceable episode that might have been strengthened had it focused exclusively on Tarka’s welcome and engaging backstory.