(written from a Production point of view)
Captain Burnham and her crew must go where few have gone before: beyond the Galactic Barrier. Meanwhile, Book learns the truth of what drives Ruon Tarka.
At Federation Headquarters, President Rillak chairs a meeting of the DMA task force, including Captains Burnham and Saru, Fleet Admiral Vance, General Ndoye of United Earth, President T'Rina of Ni'Var, Dr. Kovich, and Dr. Hirai, an expert astrolinguist. Kovich begins by stating that whatever they knew about Unknown Species 10-C was wrong, and how they thought the first contact would go, it wouldn't; the destruction and reappearance of the DMA meant nothing concrete, and the very act of making contact with the 10-C might well be perceived as aggressive. He also points out the fact that they attacked the DMA with an isolytic weapon. Vance protests that "they" did no such thing, as it was Booker and Tarka acting unilaterally, but Burnham points out that the 10-C might not see the difference, and they would have to point out the distinction. Ndoye asks if that wasn't what the universal translator was for, but Kovich sarcastically responds that the translators were there to translate confirmation bias from Federation Standard into Klingon, earning a laugh from Hirai. As the others glance at him, Hirai explains that they take the success of the translators for granted because they tend to look for and find people similar to them, people who communicate verbally for instance, but since they knew nothing about the 10-C, it was naive to assume that the translator would even work. T'Rina notes that the purpose of the task force was to establish the parameters for successful communication, and asks if they were now saying that was impossible. Kovich points out that the Vulcans had surveyed Earth for close to a century before making first contact, but the USS Discovery would be leaving in twenty-four hours; Burnham adds that they had to start the communication process somewhere, as the oversight committee had questions; so did the planetary delegates. Kovich concedes that they would all like to be present at contact, and wishes he could be himself, but has other urgent matters to attend to. Ndoye is incredulous, thinking that there was nothing so urgent as this; Kovich replies that he intends to keep it that way, and that they would be in good hands with Hirai. Just then, a Starfleet aide whispers in Burnham's ear, and she requests that Rillak and Vance accompany her.
The three are briefed by Commander Stamets, who reveals that the new DMA controller is the same size, but significantly more powerful than the one Booker and Tarka destroyed, and was churning through space at a faster rate. He estimates that the DMA would move to a new harvesting location within the next 12 hours, at most. Vance asks if this was a prelude to retaliation, but Stamets has no way to know. Rillak also asks if there has been any contact from Booker, but Burnham has not received any word from him; she believes it was imperative that they begin the first contact mission as soon as possible. Rillak reminds her that a number of delegates are en route, including the representative from Ni'Var, but is forced to agree with Burnham: they cannot afford to wait. Vance asks Burnham when she can be ready to depart, and Burnham answers she can leave in two hours, once her crew finishes loading supplies and says their goodbyes; she and Stamets leave to return to Discovery. "It's a hell of a thing," Vance concludes, and Rillak agrees. She then tells the admiral that it was her constitutional duty to inform him that she was transferring her powers temporarily to the Vice-President, as she was intending to leave with Discovery. Having been the Federation's top ambassador for twenty years, she believes that her experience would be ideal for the mission, given the complexities they faced. Vance protests, saying that Discovery was leaving the galaxy, something that had never been done, and that they might not come back. He tells her that she is essentially the Federation now, but Rillak counters that this was why it was crucial that she be there when contact was made. Vance can see he cannot talk her out of it; Rillak praises his efforts thus far as Starfleet's commander in chief, and is confident that whatever came next, he would get them through that as well.
Aboard his ship, Booker bluntly tells Tarka that he has found a habitable planet for him to settle on, and has packed a bag for him. He is clearly incensed, as the DMA had returned more powerful than before because Tarka wouldn't back down. Tarka protests that all the evidence indicated an internal power source, and attempts to justify his action with both the scientific process and his discovery that the DMA's power source was external, coming from within the 10-C's hyperfield. Booker intends to go through to the 10-C's space himself, but Tarka points out that the mycelial network does not exist within the hyperfield, and that the galactic barrier had "some especially nasty sections". He sarcastically asks, provided Booker makes it through the barrier, how he plans to obtain the power source. Realizing he was in over his head (despite thinking Tarka an "asshole"), Booker asks how to make it through the barrier, and Tarka responds with programmable antimatter, applied to the shields to repel the negative energies of the barrier; Discovery would have to do the same thing. Booker asks how he intends to find any without getting caught, and Tarka replies he knows where there's a stash.
Back at Federation Headquarters, Saru tells Lieutenant Commander Bryce that they would be leaving once Discovery's shield upgrades were complete, and expresses regret that Bryce would remain behind to continue the work with Kovich. Bryce is not sure they would have working extragalactic communications before they made contact, but that any breakthrough at all would be "huge", opening up new possibilities for exploration beyond their galaxy. He does admit he would miss them, however, and Saru returns that sentiment, saying that any voyage without him would be "quite the adjustment". Bryce wishes them all luck. As Bryce leaves, Saru turns to see T'Rina standing nearby, and nervously approaches her. She had invited him to share a meal with her last they spoke, and he would like to take her up on that, but Discovery was leaving shortly and might not come back. Still, he expresses the thought that what they had might be more than friendship. Before T'Rina can reply, she is approached by one of her aides, and asks him to excuse her, leaving Saru with a question unanswered.
Aboard Discovery, Burnham is pleased to see that Ensign Adira Tal has returned from Trill, and asks about Gray. Adira replies he is doing well, and enjoying his Guardian training, and they think that both are where they need to be. Burnham is glad to hear this, and feels it was good to have them back again. Stamets agrees wholeheartedly as he mentions the work they put in on the shield upgrades. Adira is modest, thinking it was not that big a deal, but Stamets continues to gush somewhat like a proud parent, saying that the emitters would be damaged on the journey, and if Adira wasn't there to repair them, Discovery might not make it through at all. Adira somewhat awkwardly says they had to go back to work. Burnham encourages Stamets to "hang in there", before receiving a message: the president was waiting for her.
In her ready room, Burnham asks to speak frankly, before making clear that she did not want Rillak questioning her orders on the bridge. Rillak had thought they were clear between asking a question and questioning. Burnham confirms they are, but also points out that introducing doubt among the crew would endanger the ship. Both make sure their purviews are clear to the other: the ship and crew was Burnham's concern, diplomacy and delegates were Rillak's. The parameters set, Burnham returns to the bridge, where Saru reports the additional supplies were loaded, and the delegates had been settled in, though he refers to an Earth adage about "herding cats". Lieutenant Commander Nilsson reports that the mycelial network would thin the closer they got to the barrier, so Stamets would bring them four light years from the edge, and proceed on warp drive from there. Burnham orders Lieutenant Commander Detmer to take the ship to safe distance, and Lieutenant Christopher to open a ship-wide channel. Addressing the crew and delegates, Burnham reminds them that many had dreamed of "going where no one has gone before" when they were young, but had not expected to do so under the circumstances they were in. Once they entered the barrier, they would be beyond comms contact and on their own, while innumerable worlds waited for them to make contact with the 10-C and ensure the DMA does not do any more harm. It would not be easy, but with this ship and its crew united, Burnham is confident they will succeed. She then orders black alert. Vance watches from Federation Headquarters as Discovery activates its spore drive, and quietly wishes them Godspeed.
Discovery arrives, but Lieutenant Commander Owosekun reports they were nine light years from the barrier – five more than expected, which would affect their schedule. Stamets apologizes, saying the spore drive had not been used this far out before. Burnham asks Saru to update the delegates, then orders Detmer to set a course for the barrier at maximum warp.
Saru encounters Dr. Culber in the corridors, and begins to ask him to spread the word about the situation when much to his surprise, he spots T'Rina; he had not expected her to join the mission. The delegate from Ni'Var did not arrive before Discovery left, and so T'Rina chose to represent Ni'Var herself. Culber is amused as he realizes Saru expressed his feelings, but Saru replies he would not have done so if he had known she would be on board, and cannot conceive of any situation more awkward. Culber remembers when he first met Stamets, he was taken by his blue eyes, and obsessed over his every word. Saru is somewhat reassured that he is not the only one made to feel foolish by his feelings, and continues with Culber to inform the delegates.
Meanwhile, on an unknown planet, Booker reminds Tarka that he had told him the programmable antimatter couldn't be beamed up, but he didn't see any shield generators preventing that. As they get closer, Booker sees a spire stretching into the sky, and in a rage draws his phaser, demanding to know what Tarka is playing at. He recognizes the structure as part of an Emerald Chain work camp. Tarka insists it was not what Booker was thinking, and that the camp had been out of commission for years. Booker realizes this was the work camp that Tarka escaped from, nearly ten years before, and wants to know the story before they proceed. In a series of flashbacks, Tarka tells him about when he was put in with another scientist working on a dilithium alternative, Oros, the friend Tarka had mentioned at the summit at Federation Headquarters. He saw that Oros had been put to work on the same project he had, but saw equations he didn't recognize, intended for travel. He admits they had not been friends at first, but both of them found it a relief to have someone else to talk to again. Tarka saw him sitting up in bed one night, running galactic distance equations, but using a variable he didn't recognize; when Oros was surprised, Tarka reminded him he had been alone in a cell and needed to pass the time, so he ran numbers too. Oros asks how long he had been alone, and Tarka admits he had lost track, but thought it was four or five years. He used to talk to himself, narrating his day, just to hear words aloud. Oros comments on how that meant he had forgotten how to interact with others or respect boundaries, and Tarka laughingly admits he has. He suggests a trick he uses to fall asleep: counting the digits of the golden ratio. When Oros thinks that too easy, Tarka suggests using every third digit. As they count off to one another, Oros soon falls asleep. In the present, Tarka explains it took a year, but they became friends; under Osyraa and the Chain, they were all they had. Booker finally relents, and asks how much farther to the programmable antimatter stash; Tarka replies it was just beyond the trees. Booker finally lowers his phaser, and both proceed.
Meanwhile, Discovery comes out of warp at the edge of the galactic barrier, and the crew stares in wonder at it for a moment. Lieutenant Commander Rhys asks if it was wrong if he thought it was "pretty damn cool", and Saru agrees that frontiers were always "cool", and wishes they had more time to enjoy it. Burnham puts them to work, ordering a double check of the shields and a multi-phasic scan of the barrier to figure out what they were getting into, and better yet how to get out of it.
Owosekun reports the shields were ready, and Nilsson confirms all systems were nominal. However, Saru notes the negative energy concentrations were higher than anticipated, meaning the shields might not hold out even with the upgrades. Stamets is already working on it, noting that if they made it through, they should thank Heisenberg rather than him for that. He reports that vacuum-state fluctuations are creating discrete bubbles that pass through the barrier at random intervals, comparing them to spacial cells. If they could position the ship inside one of them, they should be able to ride it through to the other side. Burnham points out the lack of consistency in the spacial cells, and Stamets confirms this, with 95 percent of them being too unstable, showing up in grayscale, the negative energy not concentrated enough to achieve equilibrium; the "colorful ones" were the best bet, and Zora had found one nearby that would work, sending the coordinates to the helm. Burnham orders Detmer to plot a course. Detmer warns that the ride will be bumpy. Burnham orders red alert, as Discovery moves in. As they enter the barrier, the crew's visual spectra is affected, turning to grayscale as well, which would change back as soon as they were through. The shields quickly begin to drop; the spacial cell was not large enough to contain the ship, and Saru estimates another twenty seconds. Lieutenant jg Linus warns of gamma rays from a radioactive burst approaching from port, and Detmer adjusts course to ride it out. The cell forms in front of them, and Detmer is able to bring them inside safely. Burnham orders repairs made to the shields, and to hold position. Just then, Rillak arrives on the bridge, needing a word. When Burnham protests it was not an ideal time, Rillak explains she had received an encrypted message just before they entered the barrier, for both her and Burnham's eyes only.
At the Emerald Chain work camp, Booker notices Tarka's expression, and asks if he was "good", and Tarka replies he is. Just then, a cloaked ship flies overhead, one that Booker recognizes as a courier looking for salvage; flying that low, it was not their first trip. He asks if they would have found the antimatter, but Tarka is confident that it was hidden last time he was there. He admits he comes every year, and Booker asks him why. Flashing back to his time at the camp, Tarka and Oros are going over their numbers again, and Tarka is annoyed as one "always trips [him] up". Oros jokingly notes that for someone who says he was not hard on himself, he was being hard on himself. Just then, an alarm sounds, Tarka thinking it was someone trying to escape. But Oros panics, remembering the last time he heard that sound, something had happened to the last engineer he had worked with, his hand going fearfully to his neck. Tarka comforts him as he huddles, sobbing, until the alarm ceases. As he calms down, Oros asks Tarka why he had done that; Tarka replies he had never had a real friend before. Oros finally opens up about the equations he had been working on when he and Tarka met: the variables were for multiverse positioning, and that he had a way out. Tarka thinks there isn't a way out, not with the slave controllers in their necks. "True," Oros concedes, "if one were traveling in this universe." Tarka realizes Oros was designing an interdimensional transporter, and Oros confirms he had been working on it for years. Tarka's mind boggles at the immense power required for such a device, but Oros believes combining the camp's geothermal power source with the warp core they were building would work. Tarka asks where he would go. Oros explains his people's belief in a place called "Kayalise", meaning something like "home" in their language, a place beyond suffering… a place without the Emerald Chain. He had been searching for it for years, and his calculations proved it was real. Tarka thinks it sounds like paradise, and Oros offers to take him along. Returning his mind to the present, Tarka pushes on to claim the stash.
Back on Discovery, Rillak and Burnham review the message sent by Fleet Admiral Vance just before they entered the barrier. The DMA has moved to a new harvesting location in the Alpha Quadrant, and that based on their projections, gravitational waves would begin impacting Ni'Var and Earth within the next seventy-one hours. Rillak believes they had to turn back, but Burnham insists they push forward and make contact, and that she would have to inform the crew. Rillak protests, saying that the news would spread beyond their control, but most of Discovery's crew considers Earth home, and Burnham believes they deserve to know. Just then, the ship shakes, and Saru calls Burnham back to the bridge. Detmer reports the spacial cell they were in had merged in a cluster of forty-two others, like a traffic jam. Burnham asks how long it would take to clear, but Saru is unsure, thinking it could be moments, hours, or even weeks. Given the news they had just received, Burnham and Rillak exchange glances.
Burnham asks Stamets if he has a solution, and Stamets believes he does; another cell is forming near a current, which they could ride out of the barrier. Zora does not believe the shields will hold that long, but Stamets suggests using the cells blocking them until they collapse. Burnham is wary, given the exposure to the negative energy that would result, and Owosekun estimates shields would hold for approximately five minutes. Stamets, however, says he is "cautiously optimistic… ish" about their chances. With no options, Burnham orders a course plotted.
In the work camp, Tarka enters the space that had been his "home" for close to two years, and that the programmable antimatter had been held in the cabinets nearby. Tarka's mind goes back to his time there, working on equations with Oros, seeing one of the symbols carved into the nearby wall. Booker finds the cabinets empty, but Tarka reveals a spot under the wall, buried in the sand; he and Oros had stolen a supply to use for their transporter. Booker thinks they never finished it, but Tarka confirms that they did, but had to use it sooner than expected. The Emerald Chain was shutting down the camp, and they decided to make their escape. Tarka sees the device Oros has constructed and calls it a "masterpiece", and Oros acknowledges he could not have made it without Tarka's help. He wonders if they have enough power; Tarka points out they were drawing from the entire warp core. They make their preparations and activate the transporter, but the power fails within seconds; they need more energy. The alarms suddenly go off, and both realize the Chain was on to them, a thought confirmed when the door to their cell opens, and an armed guard enters. Booker asks what happened after that, and Tarka concedes Booker had been right, that he was "the worst kind of asshole". Booker understands the feeling, having blamed his father for negotiating with the Chain, but realized perhaps he found it easier to blame his father than to face the fact that ultimately, he was powerless to stop them. He saw that desire to avoid being powerless as what drove him, and perhaps what happened to Oros was what drove Tarka. However, if they were going outside the galaxy together, Booker wanted to know who he was dealing with.
Tarka recalls being beaten by the guard in his cell… who reveals that Tarka told Osyraa about Oros' transporter in exchange for his freedom. He had told her that it would never work. Tarka struggles with the guard and ultimately takes his weapon, shooting him dead. Tarka is remorseful about his betrayal, having made the deal before he got to know Oros, and promises to get them both out. He uses the guard's weapon to first disable and remove his own slave controller, and then Oros'. He tries to help Oros to his feet, but his ribs are broken, and is in too much pain to move. Oros forgives Tarka, who believes he doesn't deserve forgiveness, but Oros assures him he too would have done anything for freedom. Oros would find a way to fix the transporter, and they would go to Kayalise together, but he urges Tarka to leave now. Tarka promises he will come back for him. Tarka hid in a cave for a week, and when he came out, there was a massive power surge in the camp, and ships leaving. When he returned, the camp was deserted. Oros was gone, but Tarka found their symbol for Kayalise, the symbol for the golden ratio. He believes Oros made it to their new home. He continued to return every year, hoping to find another sign, and eventually built his own transporter… but could not find the power source, until the DMA. That, Tarka concludes, was who Booker was dealing with.
At the galactic barrier, Discovery loses one of the forward shield emitters, and Adira reports they are working on the repairs. Detmer reports a few more minutes to reach their target spacial cell, which Saru estimates will carry them outside the galaxy within the hour. Owosekun reports the shields were at four percent, and Stamets reports he could probably buy another 30 seconds of time. Christopher worries that was not enough, but Nilsson assures him that within a month, he would be skiing at Zermatt again; when asked what she would do, she would go to Astoria in Oregon, a place she calls "heaven". Detmer and Owosekun both think of Hawaii, while Rhys plans to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Detmer then reports she is locked onto the target cell. Burnham orders the extra thirty seconds for the shields, and Stamets jokes he will try not to kill them, something Burnham considers "always appreciated". As Owosekun counts down, Detmer expertly manuevers the ship through, until with six seconds to spare, they reach their target. Burnham tells Saru to get repairs started, then leaves him the conn while she confers again with Rillak.
In engineering, Zora compliments Stamets' effort, but Adira points out how close he cut it; Stamets retorts that he likes living on the edge. He then confesses that he had been a little "enthusiastic" in their prior interaction with the captain, but he had been concerned about them, given their separation from Gray. Adira admits it was different, but not "bad different", and plus they got to tell him all about it when they returned. Stamets decides to offer a "fair warning" that he would always reach out if he felt they were hurting, as his father had never been supportive for him, he would be more supportive for them. Adira considers themself warned.
In Burnham's ready room, Rillak acknowledges being moved about hearing what Earth meant to the crew, but was still wary about revealing the news from Vance. Burnham thinks that there was something else – where they were now, they could control who knew what, and not much else. She admits this was a hard place to be, earning a somewhat pained chuckle from the President. For Burnham, Earth and Ni'Var were the only homes she had ever known, and she admits that what she was now was angry: at the situation, at the creators of the DMA, at Booker… and at the possibility that they could fail. Rillak asks if Burnham's mother Gabrielle has returned to Ni'Var yet; thankfully, she remains with J'Vini on Pijar. Rillak's mother's family was on Earth, and her partner had just started a new research project on Luna. Burnham had not known this, and had wished she had said something; Rillak does not believe that would help him, but Burnham counters that it would help her, pointing out that all the people on Discovery had out there was one another. They had to support each other, which is what the crew had done all throughout, but to do so required honesty, both with themselves and one another. "Let me know where you land," she says, as she leaves the President alone with her thoughts.
Back on Booker's ship, Tarka has applied the programmable antimatter to the shield generator, and tells Booker they could go when ready. Booker tells him not to blame himself for leaving Oros behind, but for Tarka, there was not a day that went by where he didn't. Booker hopes he finds him again. Along the way, Tarka points out, they would stop the DMA and save billions of lives, which he calls the "definition of a win-win". Booker replies he will take it. "Now let's get through the damn barrier," he urges.
Aboard Discovery, Detmer reports they are officially out of the galactic barrier and outside of the Milky Way Galaxy, to applause from the bridge crew. Rhys notes it was weird to see so few stars, not used to seeing space so empty – or quiet, as Christopher puts in. Nilsson adds that so few people had seen such things before. Detmer asks if she should put in a course to rendezvous with the 10-C, but Rillak steps in, saying they should address the ship first. Burnham agrees, and has Christopher open a ship-wide channel for the president. Rillak announces they have met and overcome the first challenge of the mission, and thanks them for their bravery, their strength, and their focus. Unfortunately, she has difficult news to announce: the DMA has moved, and is in range of Ni'Var, Titan, and Earth. The bridge crew (with the exception of Burnham, who looks on in approval) watches in stunned silence as Rillak continues to speak. In the crew lounge, Saru approaches T'Rina as she finishes speaking with General Ndoye, and offers his apologies for the news. T'Rina asks him to sit with her a while, as she finds him a "comforting presence".
In her quarters, Burnham reviews the scans of the hyperfield with Rillak, who comments that she preferred it as a "blob of radio waves". Burnham indicates their scans show a planet two light years from the field with no signs of life, and is sending a team to investigate for the first contact. Burnham thanks her for giving the news to the crew, but Rillak thinks they could have done so together; why did Burnham want her to do so alone? Burnham replies that in times of crisis, people needed to know their leaders were not rattled by uncertainty or overwhelming odds, and that there was a plan… and that they would be okay. Rillak was their president, and she could give them confidence and a sense of security. Burnham acknowledges that Rillak was her president as well. Rillak is grateful they were able to connect before meeting the 10-C, and Burnham points out they stood no chance of communicating with them if they could not communicate with one another. Looking out the viewport as they warped through extragalactic space, Rillak asks what they would find once they reached the hyperfield, and Burnham admits she had no idea – but whatever it was, they had to succeed.
- This is the first episode to depict the galactic barrier since TOS: "Is There in Truth No Beauty?". The original USS Enterprise entered the galactic barrier three times, the others being in TOS: "Where No Man Has Gone Before", "By Any Other Name". While the USS Enterprise-D was flung far from the Milky Way Galaxy in TNG: "Where No One Has Gone Before", it was implied that this was a function of the Traveler's power to exist outside normal space-time, and no interaction was had with the barrier itself.
- Ruon Tarka makes reference to the barrier being composed of negative energy that could destroy one's frontal cortex in describing it to Book. In TOS: "Where No Man Has Gone Before", several crew members were killed, and Elizabeth Dehner and Gary Mitchell were transformed into psychically powered beings, as a result of contact with the barrier.
- Among the devices seen on the conference table at the beginning of the episode are a prominently featured 2380s-90s combadge (likely a nod to the forthcoming Star Trek: Picard season two premiere) as well as other 24th century combadges, a 23rd century communicator, and 22nd and 23rd century universal translators.
- The first time the office of Vice President of the United Federation of Planets has been mentioned canonically.
- Kovich notes that the Vulcans surveyed Earth for almost a century before making first contact, a fact depicted in both ENT: "Carbon Creek", PIC: "Mercy", and Star Trek: First Contact.
Links and references
- Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham
- Doug Jones as Saru
- Anthony Rapp as Paul Stamets
- Wilson Cruz as Hugh Culber
- Blu del Barrio as Adira Tal
- Oded Fehr as Fleet Admiral Charles Vance
- David Cronenberg as Kovich
- Shawn Doyle as Dr. Ruon Tarka
- Chelah Horsdal as Laira Rillak
- Tara Rosling as President T'Rina
- Annabelle Wallis as Zora (voice)
- Hiro Kanagawa as Dr. Hirai
- Phumzile Sitole as General Ndoye
- Osric Chau as Oros
- Emily Coutts as Lt. Cmdr. Keyla Detmer
- Patrick Kwok-Choon as Lt. Cmdr. Gen Rhys
- Oyin Oladejo as Lt. Cmdr. Joann Owosekun
- Ronnie Rowe, Jr. as Lt. Cmdr. R.A. Bryce
- Sara Mitich as Lt. Cmdr. Nilsson
- Orville Cummings as Lt. Christopher
- David Benjamin Tomlinson as Lt. jg Linus
- Christopher Allen as Orion Guard
- Jayne Dineo as Discovery sciences crewmember
- Andrea Gallo as Discovery sciences crewmember
- J. Adam Huggins as Discovery engineer
- Pamela Mars as Discovery bridge crewmember
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