We open on a comm badge from the 2390s mysteriously placed on a conference table at Federation HQ. Gathered around a table are the various delegates – including Mr. Saru (Doug Jones), President T’Rina (Tara Rosling), and General Ndoye (Phumzile Sitole) – who are responsible for crafting First Contact with Species 10-C. Dr. Kovich (David Cronenberg) addresses the group, impressing upon them the fact that they are grossly underprepared for the task ahead. He eludes to communication being the largest obstacle before them, and introduces Dr. Hirai (Hiro Kanagawa) as their resident communications specialist. Kovich also reveals that he will not be accompanying the delegates on their mission to the Great Barrier because of other duties (perhaps a Star Trek: Picard crossover?)
Capt. Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr), and President Laira Rillak (Chelah Horsdal) are called away to receive new information about the DMA from Cmdr. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp). The new controller has apparently been upgraded and is churning space much faster than its predecessor, turning their week cushion into mere hours before it will move on. Burnham and Stamets head back to Discovery to prep for the departure, and President Rillak stays behind to tell Vance to obey the vice president because she’s going with them. Vance protests, but Rillak reminds him that her 20+ years as a Federation Ambassador has prepared her for such a task. Rillak reassures him, acknowledging his triumphs in the Federation thus far.
Meanwhile, Cleveland “Book” Booker and Dr. Ruon Tarka (Shawn Doyle) are regrouping on Book’s frigate. Book is still (understandably) pissed at Tarka for being so dang trigger happy. Tarka shares that in order to pierce the Great Barrier, they’ll need certain modifications to the shields to make it through safely. Tarka conveniently knows of a place to find the necessary materials to make the adjustments.
Back at Federation HQ, Saru chats with Cmdr. Bryce (Ronnie Rowe, Jr) about his assignment with Dr. Kovich. Spotting T’Rina, Saru steels his nerve and approaches her and clumsily tells her how he feels before she’s called away.
On DISCO, Capt. Burnham walks the halls and encounters Stamets and Ensign Adira Tal (Blu del Barrio), who is freshly back from their time on Trill. When the captain inquires about Grey, Stamets quickly intervenes, shifting the discussion back to Adira’s achievements instead. Adira hurries back to their duties, and Burnham commends Stamets on his efforts with them.
Burnham then goes into a meeting with President Rillak, where she takes the opportunity to clear the air and smooth over the prickly nature of their relationship. They agree to stay in their own respective lanes during the upcoming mission. Once on the bridge, Burnham addresses the ship one final time before jumping towards the Great Barrier.
After the titles, Burnham learns that they’ve jumped further away from the Barrier than intended, and warp the rest of the way. Saru goes to inform the delegates of the delay, and runs into Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) along the way. He starts to ask Culber for more advice about T’Rina and runs directly into her. Saru is taken aback that she’s even onboard, and she reveals that the delegate from Ni’Var couldn’t get to DISCO in time for their departure. When she walks off, Culber guesses that Saru has already said something to T’Rina, and Saru laments about how awkward of a situation he was in. Culber comforts him by sharing an anecdote of when he first met Stamets. At ease, Saru thanks the doctor, and together they head off to warn the delegates.
Meanwhile, Book and Tarka are at the last known location of the programmable antimatter needed to reconfigure the shields. Book is still wary of Tark, and follows him to a now-abandoned Emerald Chain labor encampment. Book flips out and holds Tarka at phaser-point, demanding answers. Tarka launches into a flashback-fueled recollection of his time enslaved under the Chain, and the fellow scientist Oros (Osric Chau) imprisoned alongside him. Through this recall, we learn that Tarka had been confined to work in solitude for 4 to 5 years, and that Oros wasn’t accustomed to having co-workers, let alone friends. Book agrees to go further for the antimatter, but he’s clearly unsettled by being so close to a labor camp.
Discovery approaches the Galactic Barrier and things are getting choppy. Stamets determines that the safest way through is by way of spatial “bubbles” that will repel enough of the negative energy to buy them some time. After flying into one of those bubbles, President Rillak interrupts with some urgent news from Admiral Vance.
Back on the planet, Book and Tarka narrowly dodge a departing cloaked ship, and Tark has more flashbacks about his time with Oros. We learn more details about their friendship, and that Oros had developed an interdimensional transporter.
On DISCO, Burnham and Rillak watch Vance’s message where he shares the devastating news that the DMA has shifted it’s position and is heading towards the Alpha Quadrant, with Earth and Ni’Var being in immediate danger. Burnham moves to inform the crew, but Rillak insists that this new intel be kept under wraps. Before they can reach an agreement, they learn that their spatial bubble has gotten stuck among others indefinitely. Burnham presses Stamets to get them clear, casting imploring looks at Rillak all the while.
Book and Tarka explore the ruins of the labor camp. Book is getting increasingly more aggravated, but Tarka pauses his reverie to reveal the stash of programmable antimatter hidden by himself and Oros ten years prior. Sensing the scientist’s mood, Book consoles Tarka, revealing what drives him to destroy the DMA. In the flashback, we learn that their first attempt was unsuccessful causing them to ultimately get separated. Tarka is convinced that Oros made it out of enslavement, and is committed to building his own transporter to meet him.
Back on DISCO, the bridge crew list their favorite places on Earth as they battle through the Barrier’s hostile conditions. While they cut it close, they manage to avoid disaster, and Burnham pulls Rillak into her office for another talk. Down in engineering, Stamets and Tal breathe a sigh of relief together. Stamets then goes on to excuse his behavior from earlier, explaining that his dad was never the emotionally supportive type and that he wanted to be better than that. Tal graciously accepts the explanation, and ensures their Space Dad that everything is okay.
In her ready room, Capt. Burnham and President Rillak hash out what to do about the new DMA approaching the Alpha Quadrant. Burnham suggests honesty with themselves and amongst each other, so that they can be honest enough to support the crew in such a harrowing mission.
On Book’s frigate, a much more docile Tarka informs Book that the shield modifications are in place. Book then attempts to console the scientist for leaving his friend, and together they focus on the task at hand.
DISCO successfully breaches the Galactic Barrier, and the bridge crew basks in the spectacle of extra-galactic space. Burnham congratulates the crew before they head to the coordinates of Species 10-C, but Rillak steps in to address the crew, telling them the truth about the DMA. After the news, Saru joins T’Rina in the lounge, offering comfort in wake of the terrible news. She asks him to sit with her, grateful for the comfort he brings her. In the ready room, Burnham and Rillak go over the specs of Species 10-C’s hyperfield. Burnham mentions a nearby planet in hopes to shed some light on the mysterious field. The two of them patch up old wounds and connect with each other, presenting a more united front as they DISO approaches yet another great unknown.
There is definitely something to be said about learning more about Ruon Tarka and his obsession with finding the DMA. It served as a beacon for Book, grounding him for the first time since the loss of Kwejian. Having so many delegates on board for First Contact is a bit nerve-wracking, especially since General Ndoye seems perpetually aggravated that Earth is involved in any of this. Dr. Hirai appears to be the wild card, but the new bond between Burnham and Rillak inspires a sense of hope for whatever comes from confronting Species 10-C.