I’ve been trying real hard for 5 weeks to find the good, the hope, in Star Trek: Discovery. The positivity and the hope are what give the franchise its heart. Even the movie reboots lean more towards the positive and the hopeful. The most recent episode of Discovery, “Choose Your Pain,” did just the opposite.
While Star Trek V: The Final Frontier may not be my favorite Star Trek movie, it does include one of my favorite James T. Kirk lines, “I don’t want my pain taken away. I need my pain.” In truth, the pain we suffer makes us who we are. It can help us learn and grow. Side note: Kirk’s “Go climb a rock” t-shirt, from The Final Frontier, quite simply, rocks. In this week’s opening, we see Burnham dreaming; she’s in the spore drive and suffering the same physical pain she believes the creature, or tardigrade, suffers while guiding the USS Discovery through space. Throughout the episode we see a connection between Burnham and the tardigrade. Burnham is out of sorts and the tardigrade is out of sorts. Burnham is trapped on Discovery and the tardigrade is trapped on Discovery.
After Captain Lorca is captured by the Klingons, Saru is acting Captain and tells Burnham to do whatever it takes to get the tardigrade “working” again – a living thing that has essentially shriveled up into a hibernation-like state in order to protect itself from the pain the Discovery crew constantly inflicts on it – where’s the hope and positivity in that pain? Luckily, Stamets agrees to help Burnham find a solution to the pain being inflicted on the creature. They discover a human can be injected with tardigrade DNA and pilot the ship during a Black Alert. Convenient. I just have such a difficult time with Burnham being the only person on the ship that cared for the creature and the constant torture it was forced to suffer at the hands of Starfleet officers.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, at its heart, dealt with animal conservation – and the danger we put ourselves in when we dismiss the importance of life forms that are not human. While Discovery does not seem to understand this, at least Burnham does.
I was pumped to see a reiteration of this character from The Original Series, but I did not expect to sympathize with Mudd. Lorca is captured by the Klingons and thrown into a cell. Turns out, the Klingons let prisoners decide who will suffer pain, or a beating, at the hands of their captors. Mudd always chooses the other guy. Not sympathetic…but wait. We get some backstory on Mudd. He insists the only crime he’s guilty of is loving too much. He also insists that he understands the Klingons; that Starfleet arrogance “destroys the little guy.” OK. Then we meet another prisoner, Ash Tyler, who claims to have been on the Klingon ship for seven months – that he was captured during the Battle at the Binary Stars.
At first, Lorca seems suspicious, but then accepts the fact that, as Tyler puts it, “the [Klingon] captain took a liking to me.” This still reeks of suspicion, but Lorca, a battle hardened captain, lets his suspicion go. But, back to Mudd. Lorca and Tyler form an escape plan and kill their Klingon guards. Lorca makes the decision to leave Mudd behind – to face a certain tortuous existence at the hands of the Klingons. This is cold blooded, callous, and cruel.
At least in The Original Series, Mudd was responsible for the suffering of the Enterprise crew. Here, Mudd has done nothing to increase the suffering of the captain. Lorca is not the captain Starfleet needs. Kirk at least marooned Khan and his crew on a planet he thought was hospitable. Lorca is ruthless. Hope and positivity? Nope. Also, Tyler must be a Klingon spy and Lorca appears blind to that fact. I wonder if we’ll see Mudd again. If we do, he’ll definitely have a bone to pick with Starfleet.
3. Funny lines?
Star Trek dropped the f-bomb for the first time ever in this episode. Cursing is great for emphasis! But here: meh. The f-bomb was delivered by a character perceived as sweet and inexperienced, Sylvia Tilly. She was excited about science, which I’m into, but it just didn’t hit home. It doesn’t function as the heart of the episode, of the search for discovery, as it should; it functions as a one liner in a dark episode with little hope. Next, a science officer, a fungi specialist no less, states “You say portobella, I say portobello.” Long sigh. When Burnham is trying to convince Stamets to help her help the tardigrade she relies mainly on flattery. His response, “I know I’m brilliant. What are you trying to get out of me?” At least Stamets can deliver some quality one liners.Continued below
I’ve barely discussed this character. I’m thinking it’s because he’s boring. I understand his function on the ship; he’s a straight man that follows the rules to the letter. Once Lorca is captured, Saru is the acting captain and decides to ask to computer to track his performance as compared to past Starfleet captains. There was a nice mention of top captains we’re familiar with like Jonathan Archer and Christopher Pike. It doesn’t seem like success as a captain is something that can be quantified, but that’s what Saru wants to do. When he asked what qualities all of these captains possessed, one was compassion. Where was the compassion for the tardigrade? (I can’t get over it.)
Saru and Burnham have a heart to heart at the end of the episode. Saru lets her know he’s not afraid of her, but instead, jealous. He’s jealous of the time she had with their former captain, Georgiou. Burnham gives him the Georgiou’s telescope and Saru tells her to save the tardigrade. Burnham releases the creature into space which, fortunately, works. She does say, “My hope is that what makes it the most happy, is to be free.” I can’t help but think Burnham feels trapped on the Discovery, just like the tardigrade. This is why she is so empathetic to its plight. Saru serves as a foil to Burnham, but somehow this just makes him boring.
5. Random Thoughts
Captain Lorca destroyed his own ship at the Battle at the Binary Stars so the crew wouldn’t have to suffer torture and humiliation at the hands of the Klingons? He killed all of them, but he survived. How can anyone get behind this character? Maybe there’s a twist or some reason he’s so unlikable.
I’m so very excited that the Stamets/medical officer Hugh Culbert relationship was confirmed in this episode. I thoroughly enjoy the fact that their relationship is treated as any other. Just two people brushing their teeth in their quarters discussing the events of the day.
Spoiler to follow: What the heck happened to Stamets?! Did that tardigrade DNA create a Stamets double? A mirror image of the real Stamets? Alternate universe Stamets? Star Trek isn’t really a cliffhanger kind of show, but I’ll take it here. The lack of positivity and hope in the Discovery universe is turning Star Trek: Discovery into a show that just isn’t Star Trek. I guess I’m choosing my pain every week.