Star Trek Canon Just Changed the Way Its Galaxy Works

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Spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Season 4, Episode 10, “The Galactic Barrier.”

In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Bones prods Kirk by saying he knows his friend resents his desk job when he’d rather be “out there hoppin’ galaxies.” Despite the immortal perfection of this line, Kirk, Bones, and pretty much everyone within the Trek canon rarely actually hops galaxies at all. For all the boldly going where no one has gone before, leaving the galaxy is pretty uncommon within the various narratives of Trek. And yet, in the second TOS pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” the Enterprise left the galaxy. And now, in a game-changing episode of Discovery, “The Galactic Barrier,” Starfleet is trying that trick again. But this time, everything is different, even though some of it is kind of the same. Here’s what Discovery has changed about the Star Trek galaxy, literally…

In order to desperately contact the unknown species known only as “Ten-C ” Starfleet sends the USS Discovery to cross the galactic barrier. Whoever created the DMA (Dark Matter Anomaly) lives beyond the confines of our galaxy, which is something that Book and Tarka know, too. Basically, both Book’s ship and the USS Discovery are racing to the edge of the barrier, and in order to get through it without any bizarre side effects, each ship is getting doused with a bunch of programmable anti-matter. Tarka makes it clear that without this kind of extra protection, “nasty sections” of the Galactic Barrier can “eat through shields and fry your frontal cortex.” But why?

Tarka is Clearly Referencing Gary Mitchell

Tarka’s line about the barrier having the ability to “fry your frontal cortex,” can only be a reference to the very first Captain Kirk episode filmed, and the second pilot of Star Trek, ever, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” In that episode, the USS Enterprise specifically is ordered to leave the galaxy, mostly to explore. This results in Gary Mitchell and Dr. Elizabeth Dehner getting their cortexes “fried,” and developing super-ESP powers as a result. Basically, Gary Mitchell becomes a kind of mash-up of Professor X and Magento and Kirk has to kill him with a rock. (Note, contemporary Star Trek just can’t stop and won’t stop referencing Gary Mitchell! Check out last year’s Lower Decks opener, “Strange Energies.”) 

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So, it would seem that the programmable antimatter is the thing that will protect the crew from the “nasty sections” where somebody could potentially get unwanted Gary Mitchell powers. Tarka’s assertion about “nasty sections” also does double-duty. In a sense, it seems like it’s possible that only parts of the Galactic Barrier have pockets of “strange energies” that can make you go all Gary Michell. Still, the fear of going through this barrier is still pretty strong, because Starfleet has not done it in a very long time. 

Was “Where No Man Has Gone Before” Classified? 

 Early in “The Galactic Barrier’,’ Admiral Vance mentions “they’re leaving the galaxy, we’ve never done that before.” 

Now, the Enterprise-D unwillingly got thrown to other galaxies in “Where No One Has Gone Before” in TNG, and Kirk and the gang went through the barrier three times in TOS, once with the Gary Mitchell action in “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” again, in “By Any Other Name,” when a bunch of aliens from the Andromeda galaxy hijack the ship, and finally in “Is There In Truth No Beauty?” (Note: the aliens in “By Any Other Name” are oddly called the Kelvans, but there’s no connection between them and the USS Kelvin or the Kelvin Universe of the reboot films.)

So, what is Admiral Vance talking about? Presumably, he’s referring to the contemporary version of the Federation and Starfleet that has existed post-Burn in the 3180s and now, 3190s. It’s also possible that Kirk’s mission to the Galactic Barrier might have been partially classified. People in Lower Decks know about Gary Mitchell’s “strange energies,” but do they know everything about the Enterprise leaving the galaxy? Discovery canon tells us that Spock successfully made everything about the crew of DISCO classified, which seemed to stick well into the 32nd Century. So, who knows? Maybe part of Kirk’s OG barrier mission was not made common knowledge. After all, Kirk does falsify his logs at the end of that episode, leaving out details about how Mitchell and Dehner died. 

Discovery’s new galactic barrier is still the old galactic barrier

For longtime fans, the appearance of the Galactic Barrier in DISCO’s “The Galactic Barrier” will be somewhat familiar. For one thing, it’s very pink which is exactly the same color it was in both classic and remastered TOS. Other than the crew’s newfound way to survive the barrier, the other big change is the various bubble-pockets that Stamets finds that help gets the ship across the barrier safely. Why were these little bubbles not around for Kirk? The answer is probably because, again, as Tarka mentioned, there are different sections of the barrier.

Because the classic Enterprise didn’t actually make it out of the galaxy, and in all cases, had to double back, Discovery is actually taking the larger Trek canon into new frontiers, literally. At the same time, the callback to TOS here is pretty clear: It may be now possible to make it out of the galaxy without dying or turning into a telepathic mutant. But it still isn’t easy.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 airs its last three episodes over the next three Thursdays on Paramount+.

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