The barrier in "The Galactic Barrier" is an arbitrary technobabble device whose sole purpose is to impede our characters' progress in getting from A to 10-C. If it were a compelling and interesting technobabble device, I could forgive that, but the fact that this episode feels so dramatically inert makes this a pretty tough sell.
This is a bridge episode between last week's big development where the isolytic weapon was deployed and a future installment where we get our eventual first contact with 10-C. But when a bridge episode feels specifically like we're being slowed down because there are too many episodes left in the season to unveil the Big Thing right now, it becomes filler.
Granted, there's some decent material in here, mostly involving Tarka and the insights into his past that get us closer to understanding what makes him tick beneath the assholic narcissism-projecting defense mechanisms. Really, Tarka is shaping up to be the most unexpectedly interesting thing about this season of Discovery. We get an entire flashback structure that shows us the relationship between Tarka and his only friend during his years of incarceration by the Emerald Chain — a fellow scientist named Oros (Osric Chau), whom Tarka was assigned by the Chain to work with in an effort to develop a dilithium alternative.
The two became cell mates (and I suppose soul mates) during their years of forced labor where they had no one else to talk to. They also secretly developed a transporter capable of beaming to alternative universes, but which they never had the energy to power in order to escape. When Tarka finally broke free, Oros was left behind, and his fate remains a mystery, but with signs indicating he escaped with the alt-universe transporter. Tarka returns to the prison facility regularly to look for signs of Oros' whereabouts. As worthwhile as some of this is, even it suffers from being too earnest and prolonged.
We're to that point of the season where so much has been built up about 10-C and the urgency of contacting them that we just want to get there already. But instead we get roadblocks and detours — most notably the inexplicable presence of the Galactic Barrier, which I guess is like a (naturally occurring?) perimeter fence at the edge of the galaxy. (This is not to be confused with Star Trek V's Great Barrier, which was a perimeter fence around the center of the galaxy.) The barrier is visually depicted as a dark strip of energy which the ship should just be able to fly over or under. (Why is this not depicted as an infinite wall in every direction? Two-dimensional thinking, indeed.)
Before going through the barrier, Burnham has to make an emotional address to the entire crew about the risks and the Importance of What We Do (especially in light of the news that the DMA has now moved to an area of space that will soon threaten Earth and Ni'Var with its Armageddon-causing gravitational forces). Sigh. Yeah, I get that we're going Where No One Has Gone Before, but the pomp and circumstance plays as an obligatory cloying exercise (especially after we've already made a Big Huge Deal about how we're leaving for this Big First-Contact Mission, possibly never to return). And the resulting arbitrary technobabble jeopardy feels far too routine as these sort of Trekkian Trek things go. Sorry, but the titular "Galactic Barrier" did very little for me. What takes an entire episode should've been compressed into one act.
President Rillak is also aboard for the mission, saying her background as a diplomat means she should be present for first contact with 10-C. It's not an unreasonable idea, I suppose, but the resulting quarrels over turf infringement feel like they're just in the way for the purpose of being in the way, with Rillak putting in her two cents on the bridge and then Burnham feeling annoyed about it.
There are some other character things going on along the edges here (Saru asks T'Rina out to dinner, and her response here is ambiguously not reassuring, but also happens in the middle of a life-and-death crisis, so who knows). But these aren't compelling enough to overcome the overwrought, sluggish pace and the general sense of pretentious import. My patience is wearing thin. Can we move all of this along, please?
"What does God need with a starship?":
- After having gotten this big backstory dump on Tarka and Oros, and because there's this big mystery surrounding the whereabouts of Oros, I'm very concerned about how this might play into the wrap-up of the season arc with the DMA and 10-C. (Please don't let this be another Sukal situation, where we find out Oros is really the mastermind or indirect, unintended cause behind the DMA for contrived reasons.)
- Bryce disembarks prior to Discovery leaving on its mission, and he gets the most lines in his farewell with Saru than in any (and probably all combined) scenes he has been in during the series to date. My wife literally asked, "Who is that?" I said, "That's Bryce. He's on the bridge every week." But here's the thing: I probably wouldn't know who Bryce was either if I didn't write these reviews every week, because the show has done such a poor job of doing anything with this character (and many of the bridge characters, who are placeholders more than characters). Bryce is easily swapped out with Lt. Christopher (Orville Cummings) and no one misses a beat.
- Adira returns to the ship, sans Grey, who remains on Trill. Reno is nowhere to be seen. Last week Nhan returned for a (one-off, I guess?) guest spot. See above regarding Bryce, and I have no idea if we'll ever see Tilly again (although the line was she was not being permanently written off the show when she left the ship). I honestly have no idea what this show is doing with its supporting players, but it's a disjointed mess. I hesitate to suggest it does this so frequently so we can pack in more "emotional" goodbye and reuniting scenes.
- Stamets really needs to get over all the awkward wannabe-Dad weirdness regarding Adira. It's just unprofessional.
- Of course Earth and Ni'Var had to be endangered before the season's end. Gotta have stakes!
Like this site? Support it by buying Jammer a coffee.