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Star Trek Dis - Season 1 - Episode 05

Star Trek Dis - 1x05 - Choose Your Pain

Originally Aired: 2017-10-15

Synopsis:
While on a mission, Lorca unexpectedly finds himself in the company of prisoner of war, Starfleet Lieutenant Ash Tyler and notorious intergalactic criminal, Harry Mudd. Burnham voices her concerns about the repercussions of the spore drive jumps on "Ripper."

My Rating - 5

Fan Rating Average - 5.63

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Problems
- The ship that abducts Lorca is stated to be a D7 class battle cruiser, but looks nothing like previous depictions in other shows. It should have looked more like this.
- When Culber is using a tricorder on Stamets, the screen misspells his name as "Staments."

Factoids
- Saru asks the computer to list Starfleet's most decorated captains, which are as follows: Robert April, Jonathan Archer, Matthew Decker, Philippa Georgiou, and Christopher Pike.
- The Buran, previously commanded by Captain Lorca, was ambushed about a month into the war. The Klingons boarded it and Lorca managed to escape, after which he destroyed the ship to prevent his crew from suffering at the hands of the Klingons.

Remarkable Scenes
- Mudd: "I used to have a life, captain. A good one. A respectable business. That all got blown up because of your goddamn war." Lorca: "Starfleet didn't start this war." Mudd: "Of course you did. The moment you decided to boldly go where no one had gone before. What did you think would happen when you bumped into someone who didn't want you in their front yard?"
- Tilly: "You guys this is so fucking cool!"
- The tardigrade going into some kind of protective hibernation to save itself.
- Saru ordering Culber to force the injured tardigrade into powering the spore drive one more time. Culber's response: "I will not be party to murder."
- Stamets subjecting himself to the spore drive to save the tardigrade's life.

My Review
This episode does much to recover from the missteps of the previous two. Opening with Burnham struggling with the morality of exploiting the tardigrade to gain a tactical advantage over the Klingons taps into the stuff that made Voy: Equinox so good. It took longer to get here than it should have, but it's still good stuff nonetheless. Ultimately, this is a fairly uplifting episode compared to the others so far. Burnham gets to free the creature, Lorca gets to atone for past sins to some degree, and Stamets gets to be a genuine hero. And when the science nerds are geeking out over their research, the story nearly breaks the fourth wall when Tilly exclaims her excitement with Star Trek's very first "fuck," as though the characters themselves are glad the writers finally let them do some real science and tapped into the spirit of Star Trek in a real way for the first time since the opening moments of the pilot.

There are only shades of it though. Turns out Starfleet is hunting for more tardigrades and doesn't seem all that interested in wrestling with the ethics. Even Saru refuses to hear out Burnham about the harm they were doing to the creature; a surprising development for a character who thus far has seemed beyond reproach at all times. He later comes around and pleads with Burnham to "go save its life," which was a nice piece of character development, but the payoff was a bit lackluster as the immediate consequence was for Burnham to recklessly dump it into space without the slightest clue as to whether she would be saving the creature or inadvertently executing it.

While it's certainly true that real life tardigrades are pretty hardy and it's reasonable to assume a macroscopic one that lives in space can probably survive a vacuum, just because an animal has tolerance for extreme conditions doesn't mean that such extreme conditions are in fact its ideal habitat. They never figured out how the tardigrade got aboard the Glenn to begin with and never got any hard information about what exactly the tardigrade's natural habitat actually was. So when Burnham saved its life, the whole thing amounted to a lucky guess based on a hunch. Happy endings are nice, but happy endings that just as easily could've been hubris aren't quite what the spirit of Star Trek is all about. Except of course when Janeway flies head first into a binary pulsar. But at the time in Voy: Scientific Method she was pumped up on drugs by bad guys to keep her dopamine levels high specifically to make her act erratically. Plus she hadn't slept in four days and had been in constant pain the whole time. Janeway's recklessness was an act of desperation. Burnham's was just reckless.

There were other, smaller deficiencies in the story as well. Saru's anger and/or jealousy directed towards Burnham regarding her closeness to Georgiou wasn't at all compelling. And we're treated to Stamets getting into yet another petty argument with someone. This time it was Burnham over whose idea it was to use a living creature as a navigational tool. It was also distinctly odd that we never got any real details about what exactly Tyler went through with that Klingon female captain. Luckily these weak storytelling beats were far less numerous and distracting this time than in the past two episodes.

Perhaps the most notable piece of storytelling in this episode is the breadth of character development we get for Lorca. It turns out Lorca was such a valued officer that after losing his previous ship with all hands that he was swiftly given another command and given free rein to fight the war however he saw fit, to such an extent that he frequently goes on unsanctioned missions that are only just now being reined in. The reason for his light sensitivity is revealed here too. Interestingly Lorca lied to the admiral about why he doesn't get his eyes fixed, citing a supposed distrust of doctors. He later reveals to Tyler during their escape on the Klingon space peacockraider that he doesn't want to fix his eyes because the pain helps him remember what he did to his previous crew.

The backstory of the Buran sets up Lorca as a tragic character in ways very reminiscent to Burnham. Both of them inadvertently caused the deaths of people they care about, but in many ways Lorca appears to be struggling with his version of this far more, despite being arguably less culpable. Besides his generally unhealthy obsession with the study of war and his masochistic desire to not fix his eyes, it was also particularly disturbing to see him throw Stuart, Harry Mudd's innocent pet against the wall, nearly killing it, for no other reason than to upset Mudd. This kind of completely unnecessary casual cruelty and indifference towards life are indicators of Lorca's poor mental health. As was Lorca's prior eagerness to capture and experiment upon the tardigrade. Likewise, while perhaps an intentional homage to Kirk's actions in TOS: I, Mudd, it was pretty horrifying to see Lorca leave Mudd in the hands of the Klingons; striking him even on his way out. Earlier Mudd tried to remind him that there are billions of civilians at risk on the ground while Starfleet makes war in the skies above them. Ultimately, Lorca's first duty is to protect civilians like Mudd, but he seemed all too willing to forget that simply because Mudd was selfish and obnoxious, as though that should deprive him of his human rights as a Federation citizen.

The surprising star of the show this episode though was Stamets. After a weak start at the beginning, Stamets enlists fully in Burnham's quest to unlock the full potential of the spore drive without causing further harm to the tardigrade. Then he bravely risks his own life to save both the tardigrade and his ship when he pilots the ship out of danger by taking the tardigrade's place as the spore drive's navigator. Shortly thereafter, Stamets also gets the distinction of depicting the first gay romantic relationship in a Star Trek TV series in the episode's closing scenes. Seeing Stamets and Culber in private together was a nice piece of character development that would've been nice to have gotten earlier. It makes them both suddenly feel far more relatable. We could've done without that sinister hangover effect from piloting the spore drive cliffhanger though. It felt forced and wasn't really needed. It would've been far more touching to end on Culber begging Stamets not to put himself in danger like that again, leaving the threat of lasting side effects from piloting the spore drive to be more of an implied threat rather than hamming it up like they did with that cliffhanger.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Rob UK on 2017-10-18 at 4:19am:
    Talk about mudding the waters of continuity.

    I apologise i couldn't resist the pun

    We all know the spore drive has to fail so embarrassingly that it is bad luck to even talk about it, it's like watching paint dry waiting for the cliffhanger/impending disaster to happen, this is why we have never bloody heard of it before, well unless you are a fan of the real Paul Stamets like myself, if you don't know google Paul Stamets Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World and educate yourself

    Still struggling to watch an episode in one take
  • From Matthew Kay on 2017-10-18 at 4:52pm:
    My main beef with this show is that everything happens so damned fast. Like the Kelvin films, it feels like it's been scripted by someone who watches TV on fast forward, despite the streaming format allowing for more in depth exposition.

    As Eric has said I think, the 'show don't tell' principle is one of the consequent problems. Like the Saru scene where he admits to jealousy - we have just been handed that bit of character exposition on a plate. We don't deserve it yet and it feels unreal.

    Likewise the progress of the spore drive / tardigrade storyline. Over in a blink. No up front discussion of the glaringly obvious moral issues, but suddenly Saru's conscience is on full show at the end and the whole thing is resolved in two minutes behind Lorca's back. And of course by an unexplained Burnham shortcut - basically magic, which is becoming too common and an unwelcome part of the show's makeup. It's not inconsistent since she's always like that - it just undermines suspension of disbelief. Tory from BSG is wasted in a similar display of implausible fast-forward plotting.

    I'm aware that the fact these guys are at war is a massive narrative factor. But we don't know them any other way. When Sisko or even Sloane act ruthless and ends-justify-the-means in DS9 you know the character through long burn earlier development or because there's a long and meaningful section of dialogue. Even the interplay between Sisko and Garak in that one episode is about 10 minutes longer than the genuine character development time we've had on this whole series. (The glib BS you get when characters like Lorca and Stamets are grandstanding is just superficial nonsense, not plausible character time.)

    Discovery people - please stop trying to skip to the end, build your characters, build your world, earn your payoffs!

    One last thing - I feel like this time period has been done to death. It's full of hokey continuity built on 60s/70s terrible production values and now pretty backward social values. Leave it alone'
  • From Kethinov on 2017-10-18 at 5:06pm:
    Well said, Matthew. I completely agree.
  • From BSHBen on 2017-10-19 at 4:20pm:
    Kethinov - thanks for continuing to post your detailed reviews! I'm still on the fence about the show, as I think are many people. I wish it would slow down and better earn its character and plot development. So far it has established the groundwork to make Stamets, Burnham, Lorca, and particularly Saru all multifaceted and memorable characters, but I'm worried that it won't deliver properly upon the setup. We'll see. There's plenty of potential here and "Choose Your Pain" is my favorite episode so far.

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