Discovery‘s “The Galactic Barrier” in Review
With a new DMA having appeared, the Federation soon discovers that the controller for this one is more powerful, so it feeds faster and moves in twelve hours rather than a week. The Federation assemble their first contact mission, including President Rillak and T’Rina, while the Discovery crew prepares to try leaving the galaxy – but not before being briefed by Kovich, who is clearly familiar with Gilligan’s Island, promising a three-hour tour – and Adira returning to duty.
Book and Tarka, meanwhile, have also figured out the bad news, but need to get a stash of special antimatter for the shields in order to pass through the galactic barrier without either being fried or turning into silver-eyed superbeings. Actually, you’d think that’d suit Tarka pretty damn well, but there you go. Discovery also needs the antimatter shielding, for the same reasons, because the mycelial network peters out before the edge of the galaxy, and therefore the spore drive won’t take them past the barrier.
Things go awry when Discovery’s shielding won’t last long enough, and so the ship has to get inside “cells” of stable areas that flow through the barrier. Nobody on board seems worried about the silver-eyed-god risk, so who knows if that’ll come up in future episodes. Rillak and Michael do get concerned about how much to let the crew know about the new speeded-up version of the DMA, or the fact that it’s heading for an area that can threaten both Earth and Vulca- er, Ni’var, simultaneously.
Yep, things just got tense, and pacey. But not for long, as Tarka takes Book to the former Emerald Chain camp where he can tell his expository backstory about the other scientist he connected with and tried to invent a multiversal transporter with, so they can find their old stash of antimatter… and let Tarka have some flashbacks that are meant to make him more layered and complex, but really just slow things up to remind us that he might as well have “Captain Backstabber” tattooed on his forehead.
Acting-wise, Shawn Doyle maintains a good job of playing Tarka as an arrogant scumbag, but is less convincing at trying to make him sympathetic – he just did too good a job on the scumbag part. The object of his obsession was passable, but unmemorable.
It’s great to see David Cronenberg return as Kovich, and it’s good that Blu del Barrio is back as Adira, too, keeping that good chemistry with Anthony Rapp’s Stamets.
Wilson Cruz continues to make a good counsellor out of Doctor Culber, and it’s strangely nice to be reassured that Saru is still on with T’Rina. Plus, Saru knows about herding cats!
Unfortunately, when it comes to the regulars, Sonequa Martin-Green is a weak link, partly because her journey to the vaunted captaincy was completed already, and partly because she’s really going for it with the whispering-all-the-important-speeches thing that makes half of them damn near impossible to follow under the music and sound effects. Variety is the spice of life and choosing “quieter than the rest of the soundscape” for your big moments is a less wise choice.
David Ajala is still doing great, though, albeit lumbered with inconsistent writing that has him flip more than I can really believe Book doing. But he always does his best, and there were a couple of good moments when I thought he just might strand Tarka in the camp and do his own thing.
The galactic barrier does look a bit different now, and the stable cells thing in it feels kind of silly – it’s not a blood flow from Fantastic Voyage – but it is impressive nevertheless, and does feel like we’re crossing a line to where no man has gone before… It also certainly leaves one desperate to meet the 10-Cs and see what’s out there.
All things considered then, this actually was, in general, a better episode than last week’s – at least it didn’t retroactively turn its prior two arc episodes into padding, and it gave us some nice moments. With the ramping up of the response to the new DMA and reconnecting with all the recurring crew (with the exceptions of Jett Reno and Gray), this actually felt like the “reacquaint yourself with the show” return from mid-season hiatus episode, and that really is what it should have been. It is slowed with the Tarka stuff, but feels so much like the mid-season return that it works as an enjoyable, tense, and dramatic return to the show anyway. So, there’s room for improvement, but also signs of improvement.
David A McIntee is a writer and historian who has written for properties such as Doctor Who, Star Wars, Final Destination, and Stargate, as well as having written several adventures in the Star Trek franchise for Pocket Books. He has contributed many pieces to the magazines Star Trek Explorer (née Star Trek Magazine) and Star Trek Communicator, as well as having written nonfiction books about Star Trek: Voyager.